The queen of the skies goes quiet

The majestic Boeing 747, designed by Joseph Sutter, ’43, will no longer be flying for one of the world's biggest airlines.



The roar way up high in the sky. That’s what always caught my attention and made me look up. What hit me next was the size of the plane that came into view: four monster engines, wide wingspan, distinctive hump in the front. It was a Boeing 747, the most recognizable and most amazing airplanes ever to take to the skies. The 747 was the world’s first jumbo jet and it revolutionized air travel for the masses. For that, we tip our hat to the late Joseph Sutter, ’43, a Boeing aerospace engineer who is revered as the “Father of the 747.”

But all good things must come to an end, and so it was with the Queen of the Skies. British Airways, the largest operators of the Boeing 747 on the planet, announced in July that it was retiring its fleet due to the devastating drop in travel due to the coronavirus and the cost of operating the plane.

In 2017, American airline companies had already stopped flying the 747 for passengers, though it was still a valuable freighter. Four-engine commercial planes became scarce as time wore on from 1970, when the first Boeing 747 commercial flight lifted off. A series of twin-engine planes made of advanced materials and with far greater fuel economy were able to do what the 747 did, so it began to fall out of favor.

Boeing has stopped making the 747. British Airways had planned to send the 747 out to pasture in 2024 but as travel ground to a halt because of the novel coronavirus, British Airways decided to rip the Band-Aid off now.

And the fact that we will no longer to be able to see the majestic plane in the sky, or sitting at a gate at the airport, Sutter’s impact on commercial aviation is unquestioned. The plane he and his team made had a tail six stories high. It was 2½ times larger than anything that had lifted off before. And it carried hundreds of people to places far and wide at an affordable price, something that was unheard of before Sutter got involved.

But all is not lost. We can always make the trek to the Museum of Flight is home to see the “City of Everett,” the first 747 built back in the outsized facilities in Everett across the way from Paine Field. If you go, be sure to thank Joe Sutter for his imagination, his innovation, his can-do spirit. For he changed the world. Huskies are known for that.