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The 747 - Queen of the Skies
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To my profound sorrow, that glorious empress of the skies, the Boeing 747, seems fated to go to the scrap yard of aviation history. Boeing Aircraft has announced it will cease production of the 747.

I fell in love with the mighty 747 the very first time I flew in her in 1970 from New York to London. The spaciousness, comfort and elegance of this great bird entranced me after having become used to the workmanlike Boeing 707 and DC-8s, both fine aircraft but ones with no romance. Compared to them, the 747 seemed like a flying palace.

But my biggest thrill was when the 747 set down at London Heathrow. It landed with the delicacy and poise of an elephant – gingerly feeling its way down to a gentle halt. I was amazed that anything so huge and weighty could land so gracefully.

The ‘47’ was indeed an ocean liner of the sky. Its upper deck housed premium seats. There was actually a first class cocktail lounge where passengers could congregate before crass commercial interests caused it to be removed in favor of more seats.

Though exciting, I had seen such a marvel once before: as a child, I flew in 1949 on a Boeing Stratocruiser from New York to Paris.
The Stratocruiser was a civilianized version of the famed WWII B-29 heavy bomber. It was lumbering – as I recall 16 hours to Paris – but it had a cocktail lounge with a piano player in its glassed in nose. I vividly recall watching the Atlantic Ocean pass beneath us. My father, Henry Margolis, got me one of the aircraft’s train-like sleeper bunks. I still remember my anguish at not being able to sleep in the bunk that cost $1,000 in 1947 dollars.

Back to the 747. It civilized air travel and made flying into an adventure. Those were still the days when passengers dressed up to fly, with suits and ties. Stewardesses were young and pretty and the food not bad. The 334,400 kg 747 would slice through rough air and provided a sense of safety and tranquility.

Equally important, the big bird had four engines. In earlier versions, the ‘47’ carried a flight engineer to monitor systems. Automation gradually eliminated the engineer from the cockpit. I have always protested this false economy. The engineer may not be essential for normal flight operation, but when something goes terribly wrong, a flight engineer can be a godsend.

Today, 747’s are being scrapped, or converted to cargo, because their four engines burn too much fuel. Twin-engine aircraft, like the fine Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 series, operate at lower cost. The four-engined Airbus A340, another excellent aircraft, is also meeting the same fate.

The future of Boeing’s new lightweight 787 is so far uncertain. Its composite laminated skin could offer serious future problems.

Modern airline’s motto is cram as many passengers into their planes, skimp on maintenance, and treat passengers like convicts in maximum security prisons.

In fact, modern air travel recalls Dr. Johnson’s wonderful quip in the 18th century about travel by sailing ship: “is being in jail, with the chance of being drowned.”

Of course, passengers who expect to fly long distances for the equivalent of bus fares get what they deserve. The advent of low-cost air travel has made regular fliers miserable and causes increasing air pollution. Twin engine aircraft have mostly driven off safer four-engine aircraft from routes across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Aristocrats of the skies, like the 747, the lovely French Caravelle, the beautiful Lockheed Constellation, and the 990 km an hour Convair 990, could not compete. The new, jumbo Airbus A380 appears fated for the same unhappy end. I flew one of these big boys from Singapore to London two years ago. In a splurge worthy of my generous father, I took a private cabin with a full bed. But again, I couldn’t sleep!

While on the subject of aircraft, one must give a 21-gun salute to Switzerland and its intrepid aviators, Bernard Piccard and Andre Borschberg. They recently completed the first round the globe flight of their entirely sun-powered Solar Impulse experimental aircraft, a feat that required great courage, high piloting skills and endurance worthy of a Charles Lindburgh.

At least Russia plans to buy the new 747-8 cargo version. The Ruskis prize robust, reliable aircraft, something our penny-pinching airline bean counters clearly do not.

(Reprinted from EricMargolis.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. Indeed, we lament the passing of the great 747, as we similarly are saddened by the decline of Civilization, which created that airplane and every other.

    Recently, I flew on a big, blue KLM 747 home from Amsterdam to New York. I bought a seat in a nice area up front. During the flight, I wandered around to the stairs, which I took up to an empty room full of seats above. The lounge was gone, and on this flight at least, nobody was there in that ghost room full of big seats.

    Like Eric Margolis, I remember when flying was special, the attendants were pretty, and the long-distance aircraft had four engines.

    Let the world know: America produced the Boeing 747 in the 1960′s, decades before anyone else on Earth came even close. We were traveling to the Moon then too, by the way. Compared to then, things now absolutely STINK, but hey, we carried and brought along everyone else to compete with us know. (No one will thank us, however.)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    We never made it to the moon. The Apollo footage was done through front screen projection. See Oleg Oleynik's work on this:

    "A Stereoscopic method of verifying Apollo lunar surface images"

    http://www.aulis.com/stereoparallax.htm
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  2. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment

    Love 747s, even when flying steerage (sorry, no rich father). A magnificent plane and a very safe one after most bugs were fixed (bar the mystery of TWA 800) . Yes, the cargo version was saved for now by Transaero’s contract for 8 (with options of another 12) cargo 747s, which created a scandal in Russia. But Russkies are about to commit a sacrilege–the resumption of production of a magnificent ( and thoroughly updated) in its own right 4 engine Il-96. As per composites in wing and in fuselage, I don’t know–these are immensely strong materials which were around and were evolving since 1960s. What we do not have yet with them is the experience with their fatigue issues, which, unlike metal, could not be easily detected if at all.

    Read More
  3. Composites do not have fatigue issues.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov

    Composites do not have fatigue issues.
     
    https://www.elsevier.com/books/fatigue-of-composite-materials/reifsnider/978-0-444-70507-5
  4. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Buzz Mohawk
    Indeed, we lament the passing of the great 747, as we similarly are saddened by the decline of Civilization, which created that airplane and every other.

    Recently, I flew on a big, blue KLM 747 home from Amsterdam to New York. I bought a seat in a nice area up front. During the flight, I wandered around to the stairs, which I took up to an empty room full of seats above. The lounge was gone, and on this flight at least, nobody was there in that ghost room full of big seats.

    Like Eric Margolis, I remember when flying was special, the attendants were pretty, and the long-distance aircraft had four engines.

    Let the world know: America produced the Boeing 747 in the 1960's, decades before anyone else on Earth came even close. We were traveling to the Moon then too, by the way. Compared to then, things now absolutely STINK, but hey, we carried and brought along everyone else to compete with us know. (No one will thank us, however.)

    We never made it to the moon. The Apollo footage was done through front screen projection. See Oleg Oleynik’s work on this:

    “A Stereoscopic method of verifying Apollo lunar surface images”

    http://www.aulis.com/stereoparallax.htm

    Read More
  5. The real fun was transitioning from a smaller airframe and having to learn to land 2 1/2 stories up. As I’ve aged I’ve had to trade the view out the front for a view from the side, but at least my company pays for business class (not that I can sleep in those, if that is any consolation).

    Read More
  6. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @David Davenport
    Composites do not have fatigue issues.
    Read More
    • Replies: @Jim Bob Lassiter
    Oh really? Then how come all the composite general aviation aircraft I'm aware of are finished in white due to thermal delamination issues from direct sunlight on wing skins?

    A lot of people thought vinyl siding on their houses was permanent too.
  7. Eric,

    I had the same impression of the 747 the first time I few in one (Chicago to Frankfurt) in the 1970s. Foremost of all, I was surprised and impressed it could take off … something so BIG. Then, I noticed the angle of ascent and speed on takeoff: ABSOLUTELY NO WAY! … and I was in fighter operations in the Air Force. I feel the same way about the 747 that I feel about the SR-71: There was genius in this airplane, designed and delivered only 25 after the end of WWII.

    BTW: When assigned to Arctic radar sites in the early 1970s, we were ferried about in DC-3s (or the military designation C-47). I looked in the wheel well. It said, “Delivered US Army Air Corps 1944.” I assumed we couldn’t crash. We were going so slow and the DC-3 was built so well that I figured we would just bounce off whatever we hit.

    Read More
  8. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    TWA 800, a mystery ? I understood that the cause was explosive build up of petrol vapour during the long hot afternoon at JFK…

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov

    I understood that the cause was explosive build up of petrol vapour during the long hot afternoon at JFK…
     
    OK, agree.
  9. Both passengers and airlines prefer the flexibility and smaller seating capacity of twin engine aircraft. There aren’t that many routes that demand 500 seat aircraft and sitting 5 abreast is not pleasant. The logistics of A-380s and 747′s, including getting passengers on and off, cancel out much of the advantage of their larger seating capacity.

    With smaller aircraft now having almost as much range and being able to fly to more airports the need for these goliaths of the sky seems to have passed.

    As noted, in pre de-regulation days there was much to be said for the jumbo jets. I remember TWAs L-1011 when it was introduced had a bar in coach! As long as you were drinking you could sit in the lounge chairs and enjoy first class comfort at coach prices. Don’t think that lasted long though.

    Read More
  10. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Anonymous
    TWA 800, a mystery ? I understood that the cause was explosive build up of petrol vapour during the long hot afternoon at JFK...

    I understood that the cause was explosive build up of petrol vapour during the long hot afternoon at JFK…

    OK, agree.

    Read More
  11. @Andrei Martyanov

    Composites do not have fatigue issues.
     
    https://www.elsevier.com/books/fatigue-of-composite-materials/reifsnider/978-0-444-70507-5

    Oh really? Then how come all the composite general aviation aircraft I’m aware of are finished in white due to thermal delamination issues from direct sunlight on wing skins?

    A lot of people thought vinyl siding on their houses was permanent too.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
    Sir, are you sure you are addressing the right person? It was my contention that composites DO have fatigue issues. You are preaching to the choir.
    , @Former Darfur
    Burt and Dick Rutan were very adamant that their designs should be painted white, and that began the tradition, at least in GA. However, there are many different types of composites, and some are good for much higher temperatures than others. The Rutans were also desert rats living in Mojave, which made the solar heat load an extreme case.

    I don't want to open another can of worms, but I never had a lot of love or respect for the Rutans. They used the EAAers and dumped them when they started sniffing real money from corporate work, and they seem to have no mechanical (as opposed to aerodynamic) sense whatever.

  12. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Jim Bob Lassiter
    Oh really? Then how come all the composite general aviation aircraft I'm aware of are finished in white due to thermal delamination issues from direct sunlight on wing skins?

    A lot of people thought vinyl siding on their houses was permanent too.

    Sir, are you sure you are addressing the right person? It was my contention that composites DO have fatigue issues. You are preaching to the choir.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mario
    As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. Strong, relatively inexpensive, capable to take any shape the designers want.
    The romantic, sentimental, nostalgic view of past technologies has its place in the hearts of collectors and purists, but practicality, manufacturability and cost have their place in the hearts of the industry. People vote with their wallets and those who ignore the people do so at their own peril.
  13. According to Boeing ‘accident report’ chart, 777 reliability is 2X better than 747: 0.29 total hull losses per million departures vs 747-400 rate of 0.70.

    All the 777 accidents so far have not been due to the airplane itself.
    The cause of the MH370 loss is so far a mystery. But apparently it flew for a long time before crashing: so probably not an aircraft failure.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
    True, but 747's youth was a very troubled one, to put it mildly, and sadly, otherwise beautifully matured platform, still has a dubious distinction of one of the most massive crushes in aviation history.
  14. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Avery
    According to Boeing 'accident report' chart, 777 reliability is 2X better than 747: 0.29 total hull losses per million departures vs 747-400 rate of 0.70.

    All the 777 accidents so far have not been due to the airplane itself.
    The cause of the MH370 loss is so far a mystery. But apparently it flew for a long time before crashing: so probably not an aircraft failure.

    True, but 747′s youth was a very troubled one, to put it mildly, and sadly, otherwise beautifully matured platform, still has a dubious distinction of one of the most massive crushes in aviation history.

    Read More
  15. @Andrei Martyanov
    Sir, are you sure you are addressing the right person? It was my contention that composites DO have fatigue issues. You are preaching to the choir.

    As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. Strong, relatively inexpensive, capable to take any shape the designers want.
    The romantic, sentimental, nostalgic view of past technologies has its place in the hearts of collectors and purists, but practicality, manufacturability and cost have their place in the hearts of the industry. People vote with their wallets and those who ignore the people do so at their own peril.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Avery
    {As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. }

    How does the fact that you are a glider pilot qualify you to evaluate the fatigue characteristics of composites?

    There is an almost endless list of scientific material available regarding fatigue issues in composites. Even testing for fatigue in labs does not duplicate 100% the environmental stresses an aircraft goes through. Far from it.

    Aluminum has decades of history in aircraft use. Its behaviour is well understood. Composites also need a long time in actual use to tell one way or another.
    , @Former Darfur
    The 747 is a remarkable airplane, but not my favorite even among transports. The 747 is what turned jet travel into a commodity more than any other airplane and made it cheap to fly immigrants: as such it is a virus vector. That isn't its fault. But other aircraft, like the Lockheed L-1011 were more innovative and efficient given the technology of the day.

    The Lockheed Constellation is a beautiful airplane, but its turbocompound radial engines were, and for the few still flying still are, its Achilles heel. They are horrible, horrible maintenance hogs.

    My favorites overall among transports are the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. I think the Caravelle was also a very pretty airplane, sadly I think there are none flying now.

    As far as light aircraft go, there is still a lot to be said for both conventional aluminum construction, and for utility airplanes like the Super Cub, even tube and fabric construction. The fabric lasts for about ten years, at which time it is replaced. A hailstorm will completely write off an aluminum or composite light aircraft but the fabric one will just need recovering more often than not.
  16. @Mario
    As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. Strong, relatively inexpensive, capable to take any shape the designers want.
    The romantic, sentimental, nostalgic view of past technologies has its place in the hearts of collectors and purists, but practicality, manufacturability and cost have their place in the hearts of the industry. People vote with their wallets and those who ignore the people do so at their own peril.

    {As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. }

    How does the fact that you are a glider pilot qualify you to evaluate the fatigue characteristics of composites?

    There is an almost endless list of scientific material available regarding fatigue issues in composites. Even testing for fatigue in labs does not duplicate 100% the environmental stresses an aircraft goes through. Far from it.

    Aluminum has decades of history in aircraft use. Its behaviour is well understood. Composites also need a long time in actual use to tell one way or another.

    Read More
  17. The Stratocruiser was derived from the C-97, not the B-29. It was costly to run, its four-bank motors were unreliable, and it had a poor safety record. Pan Am got it out of its fleet as soon as it could, in contrast with the carriers who kept the Constellation in service well into the jet era.

    The airframe was put to its best use as the KC-97 tanker until it was replaced by the 707-based KC-135. It was never successful for its original purpose as a cargo plane.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Former Darfur
    The C-97 was the military Stratocruiser, and both were based on the B-29/B-50 platform. These in turn were modified into the Guppy series of outsize cargo transports used to haul NASA space components and Airbus components for final assembly.
  18. @Mario
    As a glider pilot I can testify for the superiority of carbon fiber composites over any other materials to build sub-sonic aircraft. Strong, relatively inexpensive, capable to take any shape the designers want.
    The romantic, sentimental, nostalgic view of past technologies has its place in the hearts of collectors and purists, but practicality, manufacturability and cost have their place in the hearts of the industry. People vote with their wallets and those who ignore the people do so at their own peril.

    The 747 is a remarkable airplane, but not my favorite even among transports. The 747 is what turned jet travel into a commodity more than any other airplane and made it cheap to fly immigrants: as such it is a virus vector. That isn’t its fault. But other aircraft, like the Lockheed L-1011 were more innovative and efficient given the technology of the day.

    The Lockheed Constellation is a beautiful airplane, but its turbocompound radial engines were, and for the few still flying still are, its Achilles heel. They are horrible, horrible maintenance hogs.

    My favorites overall among transports are the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. I think the Caravelle was also a very pretty airplane, sadly I think there are none flying now.

    As far as light aircraft go, there is still a lot to be said for both conventional aluminum construction, and for utility airplanes like the Super Cub, even tube and fabric construction. The fabric lasts for about ten years, at which time it is replaced. A hailstorm will completely write off an aluminum or composite light aircraft but the fabric one will just need recovering more often than not.

    Read More
  19. @Thirdeye
    The Stratocruiser was derived from the C-97, not the B-29. It was costly to run, its four-bank motors were unreliable, and it had a poor safety record. Pan Am got it out of its fleet as soon as it could, in contrast with the carriers who kept the Constellation in service well into the jet era.

    The airframe was put to its best use as the KC-97 tanker until it was replaced by the 707-based KC-135. It was never successful for its original purpose as a cargo plane.

    The C-97 was the military Stratocruiser, and both were based on the B-29/B-50 platform. These in turn were modified into the Guppy series of outsize cargo transports used to haul NASA space components and Airbus components for final assembly.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Thirdeye
    The C-97 was a completely different design from the B-29.
  20. @Former Darfur
    The C-97 was the military Stratocruiser, and both were based on the B-29/B-50 platform. These in turn were modified into the Guppy series of outsize cargo transports used to haul NASA space components and Airbus components for final assembly.

    The C-97 was a completely different design from the B-29.

    Read More
  21. Different fuselage, but the same wings, and I think the same landing gear and horizontal stabilizer/elevators. The systems were very similar too. I had an uncle who was SAC and I think he said the KB-50J and KC-97 were considered the same type from a pilot training standpoint.

    Read More
  22. @Jim Bob Lassiter
    Oh really? Then how come all the composite general aviation aircraft I'm aware of are finished in white due to thermal delamination issues from direct sunlight on wing skins?

    A lot of people thought vinyl siding on their houses was permanent too.

    Burt and Dick Rutan were very adamant that their designs should be painted white, and that began the tradition, at least in GA. However, there are many different types of composites, and some are good for much higher temperatures than others. The Rutans were also desert rats living in Mojave, which made the solar heat load an extreme case.

    I don’t want to open another can of worms, but I never had a lot of love or respect for the Rutans. They used the EAAers and dumped them when they started sniffing real money from corporate work, and they seem to have no mechanical (as opposed to aerodynamic) sense whatever.

    Read More
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