More than five decades after the first 747 took flight, the last “Queen of the Skies” has come off the Everett assembly line. To mark the moment, we spoke with workers who built the iconic airplane and witnessed the last 747’s construction.
While the 747 transformed international flying for passengers, the 747F freighter version of the jumbo jet essentially created the global long-haul air cargo market and led to Boeing’s dominance in that sector.
When the first 747 freighter was delivered to Lufthansa of Germany in March 1972, “the air cargo market really hadn’t been born yet,” said Darrin Noe, 52, a Boeing cargo engineer for 26 years. “The 747 sort of helped propel the whole industry direction.”
The Boeing widebody freighters that followed — the 767F and the 777F — took design components from the success of the 747F.
“If you go onto even our latest freighters … you’ll see pieces that look exactly the same as for a 747,” said Noe.
What makes the 747 freighter so in demand is its unique nose door, which flips upward to open a gaping maw almost 12 feet wide and 8 feet high that runs the length of the plane.
“It allows the 747 to do things another plane can’t really do,” said Noe.
He’s seen “2,000-and-some-inches-long loads” — that’s 56 yards long — delivered on multiple loaders and fed through the nose into the vast space inside the 747F.
The plane is a heavy hauler, moving military vehicles, loads of cars and large equipment such as drilling rigs.
“It’s hard to get those put on to anything else without breaking them down,” Noe said.
In recent years, he’s seen more high-value cargo on 747Fs, including expensive vehicles such as “Mercedes-Benz with silver plating for trim. Maseratis.”
In 2018, Cargolux flew race horses from Luxembourg to the Asian Games in Indonesia on a 747F.
For livestock, the cargo hold temperature and airflow are carefully controlled. And animal handlers are on board, either in the stalls with the animals or in the four business-class seats in the 747’s upper deck hump, just aft of the cockpit.
The cargo version extended the life of the jumbo jet. For the final 747-8 model, 70% of those built were freighter planes.
Based in Everett, Noe said he routinely walked past 747s in the factory.
“Going through there now and seeing the majority of the tooling already being removed, it’s a little empty,” he said as the final 747 readied to roll out in November. “It leaves me a little teary-eyed.”
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