Air Travel in Australia: Boeing 747

Affectionately known as the Jumbo Jet, the Boeing 747 played a significant role in making international air travel affordable for the Baby Boomer generation. A long-haul, widebody commercial airliner, it is among the world's most recognizable aircraft. First flown commercially in 1970, it has held the passenger capacity record for 37 years and was the first commercial wide-body aircraft. The four-engine 747, produced by Boeing's Commercial Airplane unit, uses a double decker configuration for part of its length. Fort many years, the Qantas internatonal fleet consisted exclusively of 747s.

The large wide-body airliner and cargo aircraft was manufactured by Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the United States. After introducing the 707 in October 1958, Pan Am wanted a jet 2 1/2 times its size, to reduce its seat cost by 30% to democratize air travel. In 1965, designer Joe Sutter left the 737 development to design the 747, the first twin aisle airliner.

In April 1966, Pan Am ordered 25 747-100 aircraft and in late 1966, Pratt & Whitney agreed to develop its JT9D, a high-bypass turbofan. On September 30, 1968, the first 747 was rolled out of the custom-built Everett Plant, the largest building by volume. The first flight took place on February 9, 1969 and the 747 was certified in December of that year. It entered service with Pan Am on January 22, 1970, the 747 was the first plane dubbed a "Jumbo Jet".

The quadjet airliner was initially powered by JT9D turbofans, then GE CF6 and Rolls-Royce RB211 for the original variants. With a ten-abreast economy seating, it typically accommodates 366 passengers in three travel classes. The partial double-deck aircraft was designed with a raised cockpit so it could be converted to a freighter airplane by installing a front cargo door, as it was initially thought that it would eventually be superseded by supersonic transports.

In 1985, development of the longer range 747-400 began. The variant had a new glass cockpit, which allowed for a cockpit crew of two instead of three, new engines, lighter construction materials, and a redesigned interior. The 747-400 entered service in 1989, with its Launch Customer Northwest Airlines along with Qantas, Singapore Airlines and other airlines.

Australian flag carrier Qantas retired the last five Boeing 747 from its fleet at the end of March 2020. On Thursday, 26th March, a Qantas Boeing 747-400ER performed a flypast over Sydney Harbour before landing. The final flight was a QF28 from Santiago de Chile to Sydney on Sunday, 29th March 2020.

Qantas has been an operator of the Boeing 747 since 1971 when it received the 747-200, and has operated every version of the aircraft except for the 747-8. The airline is also the sole customer of the (passenger) extended range variant 747-400ER, of which it operated six aircraft until its retirement now. The 747-400ER could fly 500 nm / 925 km farther than the standard -400 model, and it allowed Qantas to operate Melbourne to Los Angeles flights with a fully loaded aircraft, where the conventional 747-400 would have had to operate with restricted weights for such a distance. Qantas retired its last standard Boeing 747-400 in October 2019.
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  • Boeing 747SP

    Boeing 747SP

    A lesser known version of the 747 is the formidable 747 Special Performance. Or the 747SP for short. Qantas engineers had their own definition of what SP stood for, given it was a shrunken version of the other 747s in the Qantas fleet – they affectionately dubbed it the ‘Stubby Puppy’.

    It was 14 metres shorter than the 747-100 but had the same amount of engine thrust and was said to handle like a sports car. The 747SP first took to the skies in 1975 and just over 40 of the type were ever made. The SP ranked as having the longest range of any passenger jet aircraft until the arrival of the Boeing 747-400 in 1988.

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