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 couldnâ€™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 didnâ€™t hate (turns out younger me found flying absolutely petrifying, but thatâ€™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. Â 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 donâ€™t know what itâ€™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 â€“ that was always the highlight. Every time.
A beautiful Qantas Boeing 747-400 – Photo: Owen Zupp
This is a guest post written by Owen Zupp, who has previously written a few great stories on AirlineReporter. Zuppâ€™s background ranges from charter work and flight instruction to ferry flights, flight testing, and he has served as both a Chief Pilot and Chief Flying Instructor. With over 25 years in airline operations, Owen has flown both domestically and across the globe from his Australian base. He holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Management and his writings on aviation have been published around the world and received various accolades and awards. He is also just a cool guy! -Editor
When it comes to the QANTAS Boeing 747, as the Beatles famously sang, â€œI heard the news, today. Oh boy!â€ â€¦. although not officially. There may be life in the old girl yet.
The news broadcasts were showing footage of the â€œQueen of the Skiesâ€ making a flypast of Sydney Harbour, proclaiming that it was the final commercial service for the 747 in QANTAS colors. Meanwhile, my website and phone were bombarded with a common theme, â€œIs it true?â€ To be honest, I believe that it is highly likely, although I am yet to see an official announcement.
Since the commencement of the Stand Down, I have doubted whether the QANTAS 747 would return into commercial operations when the pandemic has passed. It has been a fine servant to the airways and all that it has safely conveyed, however, its planned retirement was well underway, before Covid-19 ever took its vile grip on the world. Still, there is no official statement to say that the 747 has retired from commercial service with QANTAS. Even so, it seems an opportune time to reflect on ‘the Queen”, as she is set to be on the ground for the time being.
A TWA, featuring the Boeing 707, ad seen in The Saturday Event Post in 1959 – Image: Jeremy’s Collection
I love looking back at old airline advertisements that promote a new type of aircraft that will soon become the flagship of the fleet. We are talking about the iconic birds of yesteryear; like the Lockheed Constellation, Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and Lockheed L1011. However, there was one aircraft that let the world know that your airline has arrived (literally and figuratively): the 747 Jumbo Jet.
Before I continue, letâ€™s make sure we are on the same page about the definition of â€œflagship.â€ I really hate it when people just say â€œwell, Merriam-Webber defines <insert word here> asâ€¦â€ because it is just a super lazy way to get your point across. Whatever, it is really easy to do it that way…
flagÂ·â€‹shipÂ |Â \Â Ëˆflag-ËŒshipÂ Â \
1:Â the ship that carries the commander of a fleet or subdivision of a fleet and flies the commander’s flag
2:Â the finest, largest, or most important one of a group of things (such as products, stores, etc.)Â â€”often used before another noun
In AvGeek terms, the flagship is often the coolest airplane that they have that will make passengers think “golly gee, that is a swell plane and I want to fly on it, I am going to take that airline” (I actually tried to make that sound sarcastic, but that is how I legit feel when I am looking for flights).
With so many airlines moving to smaller aircraft (B737, A320, E-Jet, and A220) and operating aging fleets (B767,B 757, A330ceo, etc), what aircraft do they see as their flagship today? I found some that were pretty obvious, and others that had me scratching my head. I am making my best guesses based on the information that airlines put out there to the public, so I might be wrong. With one or two, I am pretty sure that I am wrong. Let me break it down by airline, let you know what I found, and you tell me if you disagree.
What a view! – Photo: Owen Zupp
This is a guest post written by Owen Zupp, who has previously written a few great stories on AirlineReporter. Today, he is sharing some parts of his new book, Boeing 747. Queen of the Skies: Reflections from the Flight Deck (we get no kick-back from the book, just want to share some cool AvGeekness — yes, that is now a thing). Zupp’s background ranges from charter work and flight instruction to ferry flights, flight testing, and the airlines. He has also served as both a Chief Pilot and Chief Flying Instructor. With 20 years in airline operations, Owen has flown both domestically and across the globe from his Australian base. He holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Management and his writings on aviation have been published around the world and received various accolades and awards. He is also just a cool guy! -Editor
To many, the Boeing 747 is more than merely a means of air travel. Affectionately called the â€œQueen of the Skiesâ€, its arrival transformed the globe and over more than half a century it has carved its own niche in the history of aviation.
Its significance was recently impressed upon me by the number of queries I have received, both in person and via my website, that relate to the Boeing 747. Even though my career has seen me operate a hundred different types – the â€œQueenâ€ continues to consume the lionâ€™s share of interest.
I have been fortunate in that as an airline pilot and aviation writer, I have been privy to some very interesting 747 operations. From flying over the Antarctica to ferrying a fifth engine beneath the wing, I have been able to research and share a range of experiences.
As a consequence, I thought it was time to put these stories together in one place and the title, â€œBoeing 747 – Queen of the Skies. Reflections from the Flight Deckâ€ was born.
What follows is an excerpt from the title. It relates to the chapter, â€œMagnificent Desolationâ€, which saw a Boeing 747-400ER venture southward to the frozen continent of Antarctica.
The last United Boeing 747 sitting at SFO – registrationÂ N118UA
It is okay to get emotional over an airplane. That is what I kept telling myself anyhow as I experienced United’s final 747 flight recently. I was sad that this was going to be a huge milestone for the retirement of Boeing 747 passenger service. I was also happy and excited to be a part of this historic event. Turns out I was going to be able to experience a few firsts and quite a few lasts on my journey. This was to be my first time flying on a United 747 and this was also going to be my first time flying backwards.
Party at the gate
Pilot signing flight paperwork
Retro ticket holder, retro flight attendants
At one point I was asked something along the lines of, “There is one other U.S. airline (Delta) that is still flying the aircraft, not to mention British Airways and others. Why is this such a big deal?” At first, I almost felt insulted, but then I realized that from a non-AvGeek perspective, why make a big deal about this plane, with this airline?
First off, I think it is like visiting a really good friend or family member you don’t get to see very often and it is hard to say goodbye. You start out saying “well, I guess I better get going,” and three hours later you aren’t quite out the door yet and still sharing stories of good times before finally parting ways. This was the first goodbye stage between me and the 747.