There Was Only One Queen

Baby Boomers have had the good fortune of growing up in The Jet Age. We’ve managed to see a whole lot of firsts in commercial aviation – from props to jets to the jumbo jet. My first jet trip was in 1961 on a United Air Lines Boeing 720, which took my family and me from Baltimore’s Friendship International Airport (now Baltimore-Washington) to Kansas City’s old Municipal Airport to spend Christmas with family before heading off to San Francisco and Hawaii for a two-year stint with my father on Oahu with the NSA before jetting back to the Washington, D.C. area.

Jet travel became possible thanks to great visionaries like Pan Am’s Juan Trippe and Boeing’s Bill Allen. Trippe made air travel possible around the world with a succession of aviation firsts. He took big risks. It seemed there was nothing he couldn’t do. Boeing had a good grasp of how to build jets with the B-47 and B-52 post-war bombers. The problem with the B-52 was the sluggish KC-97 piston tanker, which struggled to keep up with Boeing’s eight-engine 600 mph bomber.

Allen saw this issue and bet the entire worth of the Boeing company on what was known as the “Jet Demonstrator” 367-80 “707”prototype – which led to the KC-135A jet tanker and ultimately the Boeing 707 commercial jetliner. Britain’s misfortune with the failed Comet program (catastrophic crashes from airframe failure) was Boeing’s good fortune. It enabled Boeing to bring high speed jet travel to the flying public.

On a chilly October evening at New York’s Idlewild International Airport (now JFK), Pan American World Airways warmed up a new Boeing 707-121 and jetted for Paris, France at dizzying speed at an altitude unheard of with Pan Am’s classic piston propeller Clippers. Overnight, jet travel was upon us to just about anywhere you can think of around the world.

It wasn’t long after the 707’s inauguration Trippe sent a missive to Allen asking for a really large 600 mph jetliner capable of hauling 400-500 passengers. As in the early 1950s – both men took huge risks to develop the most enormous jetliner ever built – Boeing’s 747 Jumbo Jet.

To build the first 747 prototype, Boeing needed a really big building. It carved out a huge section of forest land outside of Seattle in the middle of nowhere in a place known as Everett with a team led by Boeing engineer Joe Sutter known as The Incredibles. In roughly two years’ time, with strict deadlines and its share of setbacks, The Incredibles rolled out their 747 on September 1968. It took to the skies the following February and the world hasn’t been the same since.

Boeing’s very last 747 – one of the 747-8 freighters, rolled out of the Everett factory amid fanfare and sad farewells and took to the skies several weeks later signaling the end of one hell of an era of air travel. For Boeing and for the flying public, it wasn’t the end – but a new beginning with better technology – the updated 777-X (777-8 and 777-9) which will enter service in 2025. Get ready for a new age of quiet high tech jet travel where the world will become even smaller.

The 777 has already changed the world and been flying vast distances across the globe since 1995. The 747 has gone down in history in more ways than I could ever get into here. Salute! It took a Boeing to shrink the world in wide-body comfort and extraordinary style.

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