The very last 747 jumbo jet just rolled off Boeing’s assembly line

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CNN Business

After 53 years and more than 1,570 planes, the last Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line in Washington state Tuesday afternoon, on its way to serve as a cargo plane.

The all-new jumbo jet, with its distinctive second-floor bulge, is probably the most iconic and popular airplane Boeing has ever built. It was even big enough to be used to carry the Space Shuttle from landing strips in California to its launch site in Florida. And a new type of spacecraft is set to be launched by Virgin Orbit as soon as next week, having been carried high under its wing.

The 747 was once the choice of the rich and glamorous, and even royalty. The plane has featured in many films, including the 1973 James Bond classic “Live and Let Die”, or sets made to look like a first-class lounge on the upper level. The 747 still serves as Air Force One, as it has since 1990. Two planes that have already been assembled are now in the process of being converted into the next generation of the presidential jet. Those planes will not be delivered for at least four years due to delays.

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The last Boeing 747 left the company's widebody plant in Everett, Washington, on Tuesday night.  It is due to be delivered to Atlas Air for use as cargo early next year.

Apart from that use, the 747’s days as a passenger plane are almost entirely behind it now. Airlines have moved away from planes with four fuel-guzzling engines like the 747. Rival Airbus (EADSF) dropped its own two-level jumbo jet, the A380, in 2019.

Boeing indicated in 2020 that it would stop building the 747, even in freighter form, because customers either bought the more fuel-efficient 777 freighter or saved money by refurbishing former 747 passenger jets as freighters. They have not yet announced plans for the plant in Everett, Washington. where he is building the 747, but hopes to keep it open. To build the giant plane the facility is 200 million cubic feet, which Boeing says is the largest building in the world by volume.

The passenger versions of the plane could carry between 400 and 500 passengers, about twice as many passengers as one of Boeing’s current jets, the Dreamliner 787-8. But Boeing has not built a passenger version of the 747 since it delivered the last one to Korean Airlines in 2017. This last 747 will go to Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (AAWW), which will operate the plane for Swiss logistics company Kuehne+Nagel. Tuesday’s final plane will be flown to another Boeing facility shop for painting and other final details, before being delivered to Atlas early next year.

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Today only 44 passenger versions of the 747 remain in service, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. More than half of those – 25 – are flown by Lufthansa.

That total is down from more than 130 in service as passenger jets at the end of 2019, just before the surge in demand for pandemic air travel, particularly on international routes where the 747 and other wide-body jets were primarily used. Most of those passenger versions of the jets were grounded during the early months of the pandemic and never returned.

But 314 747 freighters are still in use, according to Cirium, many of which were originally used as passenger jets before being converted into freighters.

“The 747-8 is an extremely capable aircraft, with capacity unmatched by any other freighter in production,” UPS said in 2020, when Boeing indicated it would soon stop building the jet. “With a maximum payload of 307,000 lbs., we use them on long, high-volume routes connecting Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East.”

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The current version of the 747 is 250 feet and 2 inches long, the longest commercial airplane now in service, or about twice the length of the Wright Brothers’ flight. Its wingspan is 224 feet and 5 inches.

Boeing delivered the first 747 passenger jet in December 1969 to two defunct airlines – TWA and Pan Am. Delta Air Lines (DAL) was the last US airline to fly a passenger version of the plane, also in 2017. That was the last year that the last US 747 passenger flights – both Delta and United (UAL) – drew large crowds from the plane. airplane fans, a testament to its continued popularity.

– CNN’s Jackie Wattles contributed to this report

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited Virgin as using the 747 to launch a rocket into outer space.


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