The Boeing 747 retirement: Farewell to the ‘Queen of the Skies’


Delta’s last Boeing 747 makes its final departure from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International airport in Atlanta, Ga. on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

The 747-100 flying testbed was replaced by a 747-400(Credit: GE Avitation)

The dawn of the jumbo age fades into history as the last 747-100 heads into retirement. The last flying example of the first Boeing 747 variant, the 49-year old aircraft started life as a Pan Am passenger liner before going on to act as a testbed for GE Aviation. Leaving service earlier this month, its final flight was from GE’s Victorville, California engine testing facility to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona 358 mi (576 km) away.

Ever since the 747 was introduced in 1969, it’s been the defining aircraft of its age. It was originally developed as wealthy jet setters gave way to the masses embracing cheap air travel, and the 747 was intended to get in on the ground floor. It was the first of the “Jumbo Jets” and its design was intended to carry hundreds of passengers at a time on regular flights between large hub airports.

GE’s 747-100 was built in 1969 and was the 16th airframe of the production run. It started life with Pan Am as the ” Clipper Ocean Spray,” and flew with the airline until it closed shop in 1991.

The 747-100 first saw service with Pan Am(Credit: GE Avitation)

Boeing was never entirely confident in the passenger boom, so the 747 got its trademark hump with the cockpit on top, so it could be converted to handle freight of any size with the addition of an opening bow door. This left a lot of empty space on top of the hull that was first used as a tiny piano bar, then a first-class dining compartment, Pullman-style suites, and then what would be called business class seating today.

GE’s 747-100 was the last flying example of the first 747 variant(Credit: GE Avitation)

Before Pan Am went bankrupt, the GE 747-100 was pressed into service as a troop transport by the US military during the Gulf War. GE Aviation acquired it in the 1990s and used it for 24 years as a flying jet engine testbed, vetting 11 engine models and 39 different builds. In all, it logged 3,916 test hours for various GE Aviation products.

According to GE, the 747 was well maintained, but its retirement was foreordained by an increasing lack of spare parts and finally by its antiquated navigational system being no longer able to meet modern air regulations. A 747-400 was purchased as a replacement in 2010 and the 747-100 continued to operate until it was donated to the Pima Air & Space Museum, where it arrived on November 15, 2018.

The 747-100 testbed was retired for lack of spare parts and its navigational system no longer meeting modern air regulations(Credit: GE Avitation)

This is my absolute favorite to fly, even more than other 747s,” says Gary Possert, GE testbed pilot, who captained the last flight. “It had some physical characteristics that made it very preferable to handle.

Source: GE Aviation