Romancing the 747 with delta air
Moto, a photographer for a Japanese aviation magazine, is going to miss the 747-400. He still prefers the classic passenger jet when traveling from, say, Narita to Atlanta, even if it’s a longer route through Detroit, because he can take some amazing shots — like the pictures of the Aurora Borealis he showed us on his smartphone, snapped from his left-side passenger window just the day before. The reason is that classic 747s still have manual window shades, not electronically controlled shades like newer aircraft, so he can snap away at will.
Different people romanticize the classic Jumbo Jet for different reasons. And Delta, which still has seven 747-400s in operation, honored that nostalgia with a new exhibition unveiled at its world headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, last week.
Called “The 747 Experience,” the interactive exhibit near the Delta Flight Museum takes you inside the very first 747-400 put into service, Delta Ship 6301, now retired and set up for public tours. It’s a double-decker, with the cockpit memorably located up top. Explore Delta Ship 6301 and you’ll see why it was such a game changer.
Ever wanted to walk on the wing of a 747? How about taking a stroll through its inner workings — its miles of wiring and air ducts — or listening in on original flight recordings inside its iconic cockpit?
Big enough to be a museum itself, Filipino aircraft geeks will love the newest addition to the Delta Flight Museum. “The 747 Experience” takes you on a throwback journey to the first days of wide-body jets, and the romance of air travel. There’s a glimpse of the eight-bunk crew sleeping quarters located at the upper rear deck and, yes, even a wing walk — a platform has been added to the right side to allow up to 49 people to stand out and gaze across the right wing.
The exhibit was formally unveiled with Delta and Boeing personnel on hand, plus Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to give remarks.
Flanked by flight attendants and pilots of the original 747, Delta president Glen Hauenstein noted that, while the exhibit marks the end of one era, it signals the beginning of a new one. “This is just another step in our journey to continue to provide the best aviation services across the world,” he said. “While in some ways it pangs our heart that we’re retiring such a beautiful and important aircraft, it’s also opening a new chapter as we bring on new, state-of-the-art airplanes with even more amenities, services and comfort and better fuel economy for a greener and brighter future.”
Delta Flight Museum CEO John Boatright noted the new exhibit will further boost patronage of the museum, which has attracted more than the one million visitors since opening in 1995.
Boeing VP for marketing Randy Tinseth called the 747 “the most recognized airplane in the world,” and lauded pioneering Boeing engineer Joe Sutter who, with his team called “The Incredibles,” helped build the first 747 and bring it to market in less than 16 months. (Sutter passed away two years ago, the year of Boeing’s centennial.)
A few facts:
• Since being launched in 1989 — and acquired from Northwest Airlines during a 2008 merger — Delta Ship 6301 has carried 4.9 million passengers some 61 million miles. That’s farther than a trip to Mars, or 250 trips to the Moon.
• It’s about six stories high and 231 feet long, with a wingspan of 211 feet.
• Its typical passenger load was 376, and it could fly up to 7,365 miles in one stretch, a real advance over other commercial jets of that era. (Fuel-wise, today’s jets may be more economical, but Delta still uses the remaining 747-400s on long-haul flights; the last seven are scheduled for retirement this year.)
• Taken together, all 694 existing Boeing 747-400s have flown about 3.5 billion people, or half the world’s population.
The first 747s came out of a romantic era of US exploration in the late ’60s: it was Pan Am president Juan Trippe who asked Boeing to design a plane that would be like “a great sea ship in the sky.” The newly made wide-body didn’t even have an engine yet that could carry it: Boeing had to ask Pratt & Whitney to come up with a four-engine design to match its bigger capacity.
Since then, 747s have become a mainstay of commercial flight, as well as being used (in modified form) to transport US presidents on Air Force One, and even to piggyback US Space Shuttles to launch sites.
According to Delta Flight Museum curator Tim Frilingos, the 747 was a real envelope pusher: “Back in 1949, if you wanted to get to Tokyo from New York, you’d take a DC-7 and make close to six stops, including one in Alaska. Even just stopping once, the 747 was revolutionary.”
By the mid-’70s, commercial jets were competing with new supersonic models — like the Concorde — for federal R&D funds. With its wide-body design, the 747 won that race, delivering a commercial jet that could carry more passengers farther, and cheaper, than the Concorde.
Seeing the exalted status that the first 747 now occupies at Delta Headquarters, I couldn’t help asking Tim about the fate of the many other retired Delta aircraft out there. Where do most jets go when they retire?
“There’s a spot in the desert for old Delta planes in the southwest,” Frilingos confirmed. “Many get recycled, and some parts are used for existing fleet.”
And are some, as we’ve read, eventually recycled into aluminum Coca-Cola cans?
“Some of them are!” he said with a chuckle. “There’s a lot of material in here that can be taken out and melted down.”
Fortunately, that wasn’t the fate of Delta’s Queen of the Skies.
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Delta Air Lines flies to Atlanta, Georgia and 323 destinations in 57 countries on six continents, serving more than 180 million customers each year. Visit Delta News Hub, as well as Delta.com, Twitter @DeltaNewsHub, Google.com/+Delta, and Facebook.com/delta. For inquiries, call +632 841-8800.