A Boeing 747-400 commercial jumbo jet was serving as a cargo plane, and it had an embarrassing mishap on September 8. The 747-400 Air Atlanta Icelandic left Liege Airport in Belgium, and while in flight, a part of one of the engines fell off the wide-body plane and hit the roof of a house in a residential neighborhood in Liege. The incident could have been worse, and no one was injured, but it shows the airplane is having difficulties, despite high hopes that it would be a valuable jumbo jet for different roles well into the future.
The engine cowling hit the corner of the roof of the house and then fell to the ground. The residents originally thought their house had been struck by lightning. The roof was not badly damaged. Meanwhile, the airplane landed in Malta and was immediately grounded.
747-400: Massive Use of Aluminum, Wiring, and Tubing
The Boeing 747-400 was a record breaker early on when it was built in 1989. The aircraft used 147,000 pounds of aluminum. That was with 171 miles of wiring and five miles of tubing. The 747-400 had a range of 8,354 miles – able to reach any continent from the United States.
Specs Are Unmatched
At 231 feet long, the airplane can seat 524 passengers. The wingspan is 211 feet. The cabin is 20 feet wide. Cruising speed at 35,000 feet is 565 miles per hour. The rate of climb is 1,500 feet a minute. The maximum take-off weight is 875,000 pounds when carrying 57,000 pounds of fuel. That’s only 0.13 miles per gallon. Each airplane costs around $260 million.
Queen of the Skies
It was designed to carry double the load of people compared to the Boeing 707 and was nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies.” The engines were advanced for the time and were able to save on fuel in the early days. They gave the airplane a tremendous amount of thrust. Designers used the big bird’s size to make backup systems in case there was a catastrophic failure.
Originally Designed for the Military
The 747 series of airliners have been around since the 1960s and were initially designed for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing lost the military bid to Lockheed’s C-5A Galaxy. Then Pan American ordered twenty-five 747s in 1966. The 747 took its maiden flight in 1969 and first trip on Pan Am in 1970. One thousand three-hundred and forty-one 747s have been built since then. The assembly plant in Washington state north of Seattle is one of the biggest buildings in the world where “16,000 suppliers and subcontractors work to deliver their six million parts and components,” according to Aerospace Technology.
Boeing 747-400: Where Else Could You Enjoy a Bar at 30,000 Feet
The airplane had many comforts and even a second deck where operators installed bars and restaurants. But fuel costs were exorbitant, and more fuel-efficient airplanes with two engines made the 747 models obsolete. Four engines just burned too much fuel. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 XWB have better fuel-saving specs.
The Pandemic Hurt
The Covid-19 pandemic bit into passenger demand. This downward spike in tickets sold convinced airlines that the 747 series was too expensive to maintain as some flights had few passengers and many flights had to be canceled. UPS, Qatar Airways cargo, and Atlas Air still bought the 747-8i along with a handful of passenger operators. United Airlines and Delta still fly the 747 along with Lufthansa and Korean Air. Qantas retired its 747 fleet.
President Biden still flies in Air Force One which is a converted 747-200. The 747-8i will replace it. The 747-8i is the last 747 model produced as the end of the manufacturing line will cease this year.
The 747-400 always had the prestige, highly recognized name, and ability to surround passengers in a lap of luxury. The Queen of the Skies would have to end its reign due to fuel costs, the global pandemic, and lower sales. It served the world’s airlines extraordinarily well and had a mostly safe record (aside from the mishap recounted above and 61 hull losses over the decades) with numerous happy customers who took advantage of the bar and restaurant upstairs. It is a shame that the golden era of the jumbo, the wide-bodied jet is coming to an end.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.