Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 - Photo: Jeremy Dwyer Lindgren | JDL Multimedia

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer Lindgren | JDLMultimedia

Somewhere in Massachusetts, a mid-’90s family photo album possesses the first photo I ever took of a Boeing 747. It was a Virgin Atlantic bird at Orlando International.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw the photo, but I can still recall it clearly twenty-five years later: poorly framed through the window of a Delta 737-200 that I definitely did not appreciate enough at the time; the distinctive Virgin red tail towered over everything else, glowing in the humid, golden-hour Florida air.

While Disney World itself might have been the highlight of going to Disney World for most kids, the airport and the airplanes were the far and away winner for me. I loved every detail that I didn’t hate (turns out younger me found flying absolutely petrifying, but that’s another story).

The curbside chaos at Boston Logan, with barking state troopers and bustling skycaps. The busyness of the terminal, filled with people and the promise of going to new places.  All the different airlines and airplanes, many of whom are no longer with us. The smell of the forced air on boarding (gosh I love that smell). Riding that skytrain thing, I don’t know what it’s called, at the airport in Orlando.

It was thrilling to ten year old me.

Yet craning my neck out the window, trying to steal a glimpse of the Virgin 747s after landing – that was always the highlight. Every time.

Several years later, license and camera in hand, I’d drive my ’93 Oldsmobile the 45 minutes into Boston to plane spot. Boeing 747s were still very common then, and an evening plying the terminal B garage would reward you handily: Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Northwest all came and went in the daily Eurorush.

Virgin’s colorful 747s, though, were always a highpoint. Especially if Lady Penelope, clad in birthday girl livery, came through, as she often did.

I had to have photographed the jets dozens of times during those early spotting years, but I couldn’t tell you where those photos are now. I probably stashed them on a hard drive in some stupid, poorly organized folder tree that made sense to 2003 me. If I ever find them – and they have eluded me so far – it will be a good day. But I think they’re long gone.

I left Boston for Seattle in ‘08, and haven’t seen the old birds much since. Occasional sightings in New York, a lucky break during a layover in Vegas. The last time I saw one in flight was four years ago. It was such a pleasant surprise, and I took the time to watch it disappear from view.

I never flew on one. Well, not on Virgin anyways, and following today’s COVID-related retirement, I never will.

That makes me sad. Part of me doesn’t feel like the loss of a machine should make you sad, but here we are.

I had planned to fly on one this fall. Planned to recreate that photo, too. Landing in a humid Orlando, under the soft, golden hour sun. The big red tail in a poorly framed composition, waiting for me.

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is a Seattle-based aviation fanatic with a knack for content creation. He specializes in writing on commercial aviation and feature stories, alongside award-winning photography and video that has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and represented brands across the globe.

http://www.jdlmultimedia.com
The Impact of COVID-19 on US Commercial Passenger Airline Fleets
16 Comments
Stewart

The 747s are dropping like flies. A great shame. I had what I was expecting to be my final 2 747-400 (combi!) rides scheduled this year on KLM. Neither will now happen; first was cancelled and second will be a subbed 787 if it’s possible to travel by then.

Roibert

The Virgin 747’s were as good on the inside as they looked on the outside. Typically great staff, a great ride too if you could snag a seat on the upper deck or in the nose cone. I’ll miss them but things move on … it’s probably better we’re flying 787’s and A350’s — better for the planet … good memories though.

Stewart

Definitely better for the planet, and for the bottom line of the industry. But nothing will ever beat the feeling of boarding the 747, especially for those lucky enough to have turned left and / or gone upstairs.

Dave B

I too will miss the queen of the sky. I remember the first time I flew on a 747, JFK to Heathrow early in my career. Last year I did Seattle to London upstairs. I have no regrets paying BA for the seat assignment.

John Haan

I am so sad to think of the loss of the “Virgin Queen,” their 747-400. I live near Orlando and LOVED seeing up to 6 per day vat the gate! I was planning this fall to fly a Virgin 747 Orlando-London. My niece will be attending the Royal Veterinary School at the University of London. Honestly, did I want to go just for the 747 flight, or to see her and the school. Well, maybe both, but I really hate to see the Queen, 747 stop flying!

Markus

@Jeremy, thanks for poignant reminder that two of my aviation bucket list items are N/L/A as in No-Longer-Applicable now….
1) journeying to London by “turning left” into Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class
2) & unrelated to this article but with demise of the Queen of the Skies… catching KLM’s 747 into and out of SXM (preferably from a prime Sunset Grill seat!)
…you comfort and remind me that I’m not the only AvGeek who looks at today’s aircraft and can’t help but still think of her as the most beautiful “dame” on the tarmac.

Michael Restivo

One of my favorite 747s. Always a joy to see at San Francisco. I had the pleasure to fly a Virgin 747 back in 2006. A beautiful flight. Sadly sfo services switched to A340 and 78s and last year I saw pull up to the gate at Atlanta and it was such an incredible site. Here is to the queen ladies in red. I will surely miss them

Poignant piece, Jeremy. I had the pleasure of seeing their brilliant A340-600s on several occasions, but only caught a VS 747-400 once, at MCO, as luck would have it. Never cared much for the Mouse, but we did leave NASA early so we could catch 67% of Florida’s remaining pax queen operators landing at sunset there. We’ve all known their days were numbered, it’s just so sad it happened so fast, with so many livelihoods, and with a whimper instead of a bang – I imagine Sir Richard had a helluva send-off planned.

Jeremy DL

Agreed. I wish they didn’t fade into the wind.

Antonio

Always loved the 747 but never flew that many of them. Shortest flight on one was the 45 minutes from Hokkaido to Tokyo on Japan Airlines, but I have fond memories of KLM’s 747s (still with us) and the latest-generation Lufthansa 747, which I was lucky enough to fly on the top deck between Frankfurt and Buenos Aires for 14 hours. Never flew a Virgin 747, and wish I had. I do, however, have a key ring made out of the skin of one – attached to my backpack that accompanies me on every journey. Sad that this is as close as I’ll ever get.

Sholto Douglas

5 of the 7 Virgin 747s are currently sitting at my local airport – Manchester UK. Whether, with the forthcoming closer of Gatwick and the reduction in fleet size, they will fly again in service is another question.

You have reminded me of so many things! I grew up just north of Logan and frequently went to the Terminal B parking lot rooftop as well – I took some pictures, but I was mainly logging aircraft registration numbers. When the international flights landed on 22 or 27 or departed from 4 or 9 the views you had as they passed by Terminal B were incredible, I was lucky enough to fly Virgin upper class on both the upper deck and in the nose, always enjoyable. I think I have spent the most time on Qantas 747’s flying LA – SYD – frequently in row 1. It was rare to be awoken due to turbulence sitting that far up front, but when you did it was almost peaceful – have to imagine was very different at the rear of the cabin though. I enjoy the 380, but there will never be anything similar to the noise the 747 front landing gear made when being retracted, followed by the silence when the doors shut. Great memories

Brian W.

For a period of two years. I flew twice a month from LAX to Heathrow on Virgin’s 747s. Flew mostly in business class – they a bar you could sit at. Flew once or twice first class, but considered business better. The best flight I had was on a KLM 747, from Amsterdam to LAX, first class. I, too will miss the 747. However. I now fly on our company Gulfstream 650ER. soon to take delivery of a new Gulfstream 700. You just can’t beat flyin on a private jet. First flight I took was on a Lockheed Constellation, Heathrow to NY, at the age of 15. I was terrified the whole trip, lol. Later in life, I learned how to fly, gaining an IFR license. Flew mostly twin Cessna 420’s, but also have several hours in a Learjet. Never did set foot on a single engine plane, and have no intention of doing so!

Peter C.

You are one of the few people holding a multi rating without first obtaining a single engine. How easy was this to accomplish?

Sholto Douglas

You have reminded me that I flew in First Class on a Qantas 747-138, back in 1975, from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur and then Perth to Heathrow. Those were the days when the upper deck was used as a lounge with a manned free bar and cigarettes. The back of the lounge had a curved sofa and there were maybe 4 armchairs which could be turned to face each other if required.

Sholto Douglas

All 7 VS 747s are now at Manchester where their engines will be transferred to the original frames before the aircraft are returned to the lessons.

The last arrival was this afternoon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *