The first Boeing 747 takes off for the first time from Paine Field in Everett on Feb. 9, 1969. (Boeing Co.)

The first Boeing 747 takes off for the first time from Paine Field in Everett on Feb. 9, 1969. (Boeing Co.)

50 years after the 747 first flew, a 797 is on the horizon

With eyes on the future, Boeing’s commemoration of an iconic but fading jumbo jet will be low-key.

EVERETT —It’s been 50 years since the world’s first Boeing 747, escorted by a surplus F-86 Sabre military jet to keep an eye on things, took off from Paine Field on Feb. 9, 1969.

Saturday marks the golden anniversary of the first test flight of Boeing’s iconic jumbo jet.

It had 4.5 million parts, weighed 358,000 pounds and spent 75 minutes aloft. A good start.

Boeing risked a huge portion of its net worth on the 747 program, and a miss could have spelled bankruptcy.

Since then, Boeing has produced more than 1,500, all of them built at the big factory in Everett. But the heady days of its youth as a commercial passenger jet have dissipated like yesterday’s contrail. The last 747 in passenger service with a U.S. airline was sent to pasture a year ago.

Today, the handful of 747s Boeing builds each year are freighters, destined to haul cargo.

That might be among the reasons the company has elected to hold a “digital” celebration to commemorate the milestone.

“From now beyond the anniversary, we’ll be using our digital channels to share content,” company spokesman Nathan Hulingssaid. Boeing is asking fans to sing the 747’s praises on Twitter with the hashtag #WhyILoveThe747.

The low-key approach is reminiscent of the “non-celebration” for the 737’s 50th anniversary, said Richard Aboulafia, a prominent aerospace analyst and vice president of the Teal Group.

It seems to reflect “the company leadership’s preference for future technologies over history,” Aboulafia said. “Sometimes that involves good ideas, like the 777X carbon-fiber wing. Sometimes it involves somewhat absurd ideas, like urban air mobility.

“But the past is the past, particularly since the 747 is clearly a sunsetting program, and the last passenger model has already likely been built,” Aboulafia concluded.

Could the non-celebration also indicate Chicago-based Boeing has bigger things on its mind this year than throwing a nostalgic party?

There are at least two major events on the 2019 calendar. Boeing plans to test-fly the 777X this year, with commercial deliveries to start in 2020.

And the big question Washington and other aerospace states are asking: Will Boeing build a new “mid-market” airplane, the so-called 797 — and where?

The first Boeing 747 during its first flight on Feb. 9, 1969. (Boeing Co.)

The first Boeing 747 during its first flight on Feb. 9, 1969. (Boeing Co.)

So far, Boeing hasn’t publicly revealed what’s on the drawing board. But analysts, who describe development of the 797 as a $10 billion to $15 billion project, expect a decision this year.

At that level of investment, it’s no wonder everyone wants Boeing to build it in their back yard.

But back to that cold, February day. The 747 had missed a deadline, wrote Joe Sutter in his 2006 book “747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation.”

Company higher-ups had wanted the test flight to take place Dec. 17, coinciding with the 65th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, said Sutter, who led the team of 4,500 engineers who created, in Everett, the world’s first jumbo jet.

“There was no doubt in my mind that the 747 would fly; the only question was how well,” said Sutter, who died in 2016.

The “City of Everett,” as the first 747 was named, did not disappoint.

Sutter wrote that when Jack Waddell, one of two test pilots, returned to Earth, he declared it a “a flying arrow … a pilot’s airplane!”

The first 747 today is on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle.

Janice Podsada;; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-38, is the recipient of this year's Henry M. Jackson award. The award recognizes a visionary leader who through partnership, tenacity and a strong commitment to community has created lasting opportunities to improve quality of life and positively impact the regional economy. Photographed in Everett, Washington on April 29, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Rep. Mike Sells: He fought for WSU Everett and worker rights

The retiring legislator is the recipient of the Floyd Award from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

People sit outside the recently opened Amazon Go facility Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Cashier-less Amazon Go buzzing in Mill Creek grand opening

Locals came to check out the high-tech store, with $3 avocado toast and cameras watching customers’ every move.

Joel Bervell (Courtesy photo)
TikTok med student @joelbervell named top Emerging Leader

Joel Bervell, who highlights disparities in medicine, took top honors at an event for 12 rising stars in Snohomish County.