The 747 in Winter

October 11, 2017

THE PHOTO ABOVE shows the prototype Boeing 747 on the day of its rollout from the factory in Everett, Washington. It was September 30th, 1968. One of aviation’s most iconic images, it so perfectly demonstrates both the size and the elegance of the 747. It’s hard for a photograph to properly capture both of those aspects of the famous jet, and this image does it better than any I’ve ever seen. When I was a kid, I had a copy of this picture on my bedroom wall.

Across the forward fuselage you can see the logos of the 747’s original customers. The one furthest forward, of course, is the blue and white globe of Pan Am. Pan Am and the 747 are all but synonymous, their respective histories (and tragedies) forever intertwined. If not for the persistence of Pan Am’s visionary founder, Juan Trippe, the plane might never have existed. And it was Pan Am, on January 21st, 1970, that launched 747 passenger service, its Clipper Victor making the inaugural flight from New York’s Kennedy Airport to London-Heathrow.

But plenty of other carriers were part of the plane’s early story, as those decals attest. Twenty-seven airlines initially signed up for the so-called “jumbo jet” when Boeing announced production in the late 1960s.

My question is, can you name them? How many of those logos can you identify? Here is a high-resolution shot to help you.

The first reader to correctly name all twenty-seven wins an autographed copy of Cockpit Confidential. Send your entry to: (I don’t expect this will take long, and I’ll list the airlines here once there’s a winner. Be a good sport and don’t post the answers in the comments section.)

There are plenty of 747s still out there, but not nearly as many as there used to be, and the number is getting smaller. British Airways, KLM, Korean Air and Lufthansa are for now the biggest operators. In North America, United and Delta are retiring the last of their 747s later this fall. Which is sad for a whole host of reasons.

The 747’s replacement is not so much the double-decker Airbus A380, as many people assume. The A380 indeed has captured some of the ultra high-capacity market, but, with the exception of Emirates’ 100-plus fleet, in very limited numbers. It’s Boeing’s own 777-300, which can carry almost as may people as a 747, at around two-thirds of the operating costs, that has rendered the four-engine model otherwise obsolete. Pretty much every 777-300 that you see out there — and there are hundreds of them — would have been a 747 in decades past. The -300 has quietly become the “jumbo jet” of the 21st century. United, American, and Air Canada are the North American operators of the type.


The aircraft in that photo still exists, by the way, and you can visit it — touch it — at the Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field.


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18 Responses to “The 747 in Winter”
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  1. Speed says:

    As the 747 is replaced in passenger service by newer more fuel-efficient aircraft, some will continue to fly as freighters and fire fighters. Engadget has a pretty good (for a non-aviation source) piece titled, “A 747 ‘Supertanker’ rains retardant on California’s wildfires.”

    Wine Country Fire …

    Cockpit Video …

  2. Mike says:

    Ooops – I forgot to mention. Those of you with access to the BBC (or know how to work Google) should look for ‘Jumbo: The plane that changed the world’ originally made for BBC4 last year.

    There is an enormous amount of archival footage from the development programme as well as interviews with the late Joe Sutter who made the 747 possible.

  3. Mike says:

    If anyone is heading Seattle-wards, there’s really no excuse not to go and visit the Museum of Flight – it’s superb and their collection of planes is marvellous.

    And if you have time, go up to Everett to see the Boeing assembly plant – it will blow your mind just how big the facility is. And they are still turning out 747-800s – not many, but these big handsome monsters are still rolling off the production line; though it’s harder and harder to find a flight still using them.

    Which is a shame as even British Airway’s endless costcutting hasn’t made economy in a 747 entirely unbearable (their new 10-across in the cheap seats 777s are another matter). I hope that I will get a chance to go upstairs before the last of these beauties is retired in favour of something with all the charm and beauty of a dishwasher.

  4. Speed says:

    This is too cool for words. Go to the link below to see the Boeing 747 Matterport 3D Tour …

    This is the aircraft pictured above, now parked under cover at The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field as Patrick wrote.

    If you travel to the tail of the aircraft you can see the experimental mid-air refueling station that never went into production.

  5. Andy Pasternak says:

    Horrific fires in Northern California. Cal Fire is now using a 747 to help fight them….

  6. Mark Maslowski says:

    Flew on a 747 for the first time in June 1970 – Pan Am from London to San Francisco. Sad to see both Pan Am and the 747 go.

  7. Art Knight says:

    My eyes aren’t that good to see the logos, otherwise, I’d be a pilot. What I’m wondering is, why is there dihedral in the horizontal stabilizer?

  8. Daniel Ullman says:

    The fun thing about the 747 was designed with the idea that the SST would be choice of the sort of folks who flew when it was first imaged.

  9. David Deibel says:

    My dad took me to Tucson International Airport in 1969 or 1970 to watch touch and go landings of the 747. I’m not sure why TIA was picked but I remember being really impressed by the size of the plane.

  10. Edward Furey says:

    You really see the fading of the 747 here in Queens, a few miles from JFK. Most of the heavies are twin engined 777s and 330s. Even when a four-engined plane flies over, most of the time it’s a 380.

  11. Matt D says:

    Damn. I got all except the very last one, furthest aft. I stared and squinted, but not triggering any recollection.

  12. DV Henkel-Wallace says:

    There are two I don’t know so I can’t enter 🙁 but what fascinates me is the airlines on that nose that once rode so high but no longer exist. I’ll just mention Pan Am since you mentioned it in the body but there are several other memories on that nose (as well as obsoleted logos).

    • Rod says:

      There were ultimately three or four I just couldn’t make out.
      I’ll be mighty impressed by anybody who can get them all simply looking at that photo.

  13. Chip C says:


    That’s a great photo. It puts it in perspective, age-wise, that someone climbed way up on who-knows-what to get that elevated shot (pre-drone!) and didn’t even bother to load newfangled colour film. But let’s be glad they didn’t, the resolution and tone just wouldn’t have been half what the b&w photo has.

    Kinda thinking that the one with the flight attendants might have been a better choice for your bedroom wall, but yeah, they are kinda blocking the view of the landing gear.

    My *real* question is why the heck the plane left all those tire tracks behind it when they towed it out. Did they drag it with the brakes on? Was there a heat wave across the Pacific northwest? Or do new airplane tires have a coating of roofing tar on them?

    • Speed says:

      The 747 had/has four sets of main gear — two on the wings and two on the fuselage. The wing gear is slightly (slightly when compared to the length of the 747) forward of the body gear so on a tight turn there needs to be some sideways scrubbing of tires.

      The amount of scrubbing is minimized in normal operation by castoring main gear — it can turn left and right. It is my understanding that castoring can be turned on and off (locked-out) in normal operations. Maybe castoring was disabled while the plane was positioned for pictures.

      Designing and building the airplane wasn’t Boeing’s only job. They had to work with airports to make them compatible with this remarkably large airplane that carried hundreds of passengers and their baggage. In addition, larger capacity ground equipment (tugs, baggage handling, ground-start, air conditioning/heat, fuel delivery) had to be designed and manufactured. In some cases runways had to be widened and strengthened.