The queen of the skies - part III

Northwest launched the 747-400 in the middle of the 1980's while Boeing was still busy delivering 747-200's and 300's to its customers world wide. Northwest always had a very developed network in the Pacific Rim so it needed a large aircraft capable of more nonstop flights between the United States and Asia.

The 400 is a much improved variant compared to its predecessors which I talk about in my previous page. The 400 has retained the upper deck of the older 300 but it has new features such as winglets on its wingtips hence better fuel efficiency and longer range, new cabin interior design and a new flight deck where CRT (Cathodic Ray Tubes) replace the dials and the flight engineers station is gone. The flight deck of the 747-400 has EFIS (Electronic Flight Information System) displays like its sisters 757, 767 and 777 twinjets have, there are still dials on the flight deck but the number of dials and switches has drastically decreased. All the work the flight engineer used to do, flight planning, checking fuel gauges, estimating remaining fuel upon arrival at destination, checking engine data, is done with the help of the FMS (Flight Management System) and the EICAS (Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System) display between the captain and the first officer's CRT flight displays. This is briefly how the FMS works: the captain and first officer enter flight data at the beginning of the flight before the push back, and once the aircraft has departed the pilots can monitor the progress of the flight and know the exact ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) with fuel remaining at destination. All jetliners made in the 1980's or after have these features on their flight deck.

The 400 was interesting for a number of major airlines around the world since it was launched by Northwest, it was attractive to the airlines for its superior range capability, it could fly many nonstop routes with full payload which previous models were not able to, one example is the SYD-LAX nonstop flight. Until the 400 arrived in 1989, only the SP could fly the route nonstop with a full payload of pax and/or cargo. Other airlines that were quickly following Northwest were United, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Singapore, Air France, South African Airways, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. I remember besides Northwest which was first to fly the 400 in 1989 on the nonstop JFK-NRT flight, British Airways, United, KLM and Qantas were among the first customers to take delivery of their first 400's in 1989. Qantas flew the type nonstop from LHR to SYD in 1989 but they could do so only with an empty pax or cargo loading and a full load of fuel, only four Qantas captains were on the aircraft, and maybe one flight attendant but there were no passengers. Since then, British Airways and Qantas have been flying the 400 on the busy LHR-SYD route but a stop is required either in Singapore or Bangkok for refueling and crew change.
I took my first trip on a 400 with South African Airways back in 1995 non stop from MIA to CPT. On the return flight from CPT to MIA I was invited by the captain to visit the cockpit in flight, I had all the time to watch the sequencing of waypoints on the FMS and PFD (Primary Flight Display); what a memorable cockpit visit. It was an all night flight. Of course, today no airline would allow any cockpit visit in flight after the tragic events of 9-11.
The Freighter version was launched by Cargolux in 1993. The upper deck length is reduced to the original dimension for one reason: to save weight. Since there are only at the most five crew members and no freight takes up any space on the upper deck, there is no point in keeping it stretched. Other operators of the 747-400F include Atlas Air, TNT, Singapore Cargo, Cathay Pacific Cargo, JAL Cargo and Air France Cargo, as far as I can think of. Some operators convert their pax 747-400 into freighters, those converted aircraft are designated 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter).

In the middle of the 2000's, Boeing announced a newer variant of the 747: the 747-8. It was designed with the same technology of the new 787 Dreamliner, to compete against the Airbus A380 as the successor of the 747-400. The 747-8 was launched initially as freighter by Cargolux and Nippon Cargo, other operators including Cathay Pacific Cargo, Emirates Cargo and more recently Korean Air Cargo followed. In passenger version, Lufthansa and Korean Air have shown interest in the 747-8. In 2008, Boeing announced the production of the 747-400 would be terminated once all remaining orders would be filled. The production line of the 747-400 closed in 2010. The 747-8F did its maiden flight in 2010 out of Paine Field WA and the passenger version of the 747-8, the 8i did so a few months later early in 2011. The 747-8i, which showed up at the Paris Air Show in June of 2011, was unveiled in an orange house livery, as opposed to blue, because orange is the color of sunrise.

Unfortunately the 747 has suffered quite a few major disasters in its nearly 40 years of operation. The three most memorable ones everybody remembers are the Tenerife disaster in 1977, which I talk about in my KLM page, the Lockerbie disaster in 1988, and the TWA 800 disaster in 1996. The Lockerbie disaster was the bombing of Pan Am 103 bound from LHR to JFK.

I will not finish my 747 section without writing this conclusion:

The Boeing 747 is, in my opinion, the most beautiful flying machine mankind has ever invented. It has graced the skies for almost four decades, it has carried hundreds of millions of passengers, millions of tons of freight, on millions of miles around the world. Until the A380 arrived in 2007, it was a distinguished aircraft in a class of its own. It will continue to fly for several more decades to come, definitely as a freighter. The Boeing 747 definitely deserves the honor of being named the queen of the skies.
One day in the Summer of 2011, I bought lunch at a food kiosk in New York. I had a chicken sandwich and a soda, it cost me 7 Dollars and 47 Cents. The guy behind the counter says: 7 47. "Like the Boeing!" I responded. The guy looked at me strange, he didn't understand what I meant but anyway, all he wanted was his money, so I paid, I left the food kiosk and enjoyed my lunch thinking of the 747.
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