Forty Years of the Boeing 747

Today, it’s exactly forty years since the first flight of the Boeing 747. (Photo: Flight Global).

This significant milestone was discussed on the BBC Radio 4 business programme ‘The Bottom Line‘ on Saturday. During the programme, two key questions were raised: firstly, whether the 747 had changed people’s lives; and secondly, whether the 747 has improved service or not? I listened with interest, as I had just flown back to London from Cape Town from the Wind River A&D Seminars on a British Airways Boeing 747-400 the previous day. 

BA 747-400s at London Heathrow Terminal 5

The question of impact of the 747 on people’s lives is hard to dispute. The 747′s impressive range, speed and capacity have brought long-haul destinations around world within reach of many people, and has also drastically reduced travel times. The 747 also is affectionately referred to by many people as a ‘jumbo jet’, and even after having flown on a 747 many times, I still find it an awesome sight when it comes into view at an airport departure gate.

I think the question about improved service is more subjective – I find that have to almost perform a limbo dance to get back into my economy seat if the passenger in front of me has reclined their seat; but this is due to airlines trying to maximize seating capacity at the expense of individual passenger comfort, rather than being due the manufacturer’s design.

However, continuous advances in technology can lead to incremental improvements in service overall. In recent years, the introduction of Integrated Modular Avionics architectures (which I discussed in an earlier blog ‘ARINC653 software weighs less‘) can reduce the Space, Weight and Power (SWaP) requirements of avionics systems significantly. In some aircraft the reduction in weight of aircraft avionics and cabling can be as much as 500kg, which provides the airlines with the option of carring more passengers and/or cargo for the same fuel load, or alternatively reducing the fuel load and providing more space for passengers (guess my preference). In addition, other technological advances, such as the implementation of continuous descent arrival software algorithms in the latest Flight Management Systems will reduce fuel consumption even further. 

These incremental advances are often applied to aircraft during technology refreshes, which means that the 747 of today is very much more advanced than the first plane that rolled of the production line. Of course, there’s even greater scope for applying these technological advances in completely new designs, so I will be looking forward to stretching out on a British Airways Boeing 787 when it comes into service…

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