29 Jan 2015 by GrahamSmith

The first jumbo jet. Jenny Southan recalls the unveiling of Boeing’s B747 in 1968

It was 47 years ago that Boeing rolled out its first wide-body, double-decker B747, the biggest civilian aircraft to fly our skies until 2005, when the Airbus A380 superjumbo arrived.

With a tail the height of a six-storey block of flats and a wingspan the length of two basketball courts, the B747-100 could seat 452 passengers and had to be assembled in a custom-built factory in Everett, Washington – the largest building by volume ever to be constructed.

The first jumbo jet

The first jumbo jet interior

The aircraft made its first flight in 1969 and, in 1970, was delivered to Pan Am, which used it to serve the New York-London route. By the end of the year, Boeing had built 96 B747s – last June, it made its 1,500th delivery (to Lufthansa) with the latest B747-8 Intercontinental variant, which was introduced in 2011.

In its history, the jumbo has flown more than 5.6 billion people and operated the equivalent of over 101,500 trips to the moon and back.

Many airlines have now retired their B747-400s (the predecessor to the B747-8), investing instead in the more advanced B787 Dreamliner and A380. Virgin Atlantic has seven B747-400s, which it will take out of service over the next few years.

Although British Airways has been sending a number of its -400s to the boneyard, it still operates 46 of them – more than any other airline – and is refreshing the interiors of 18 to keep them going until as late as 2023.

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