4 Steps in the Life of Boeing's 747

EVERETT, Wash. ( TheStreet) -- Boeing's ( BA) plan to build the 747-8 is the latest step in the long evolution of a historic aircraft.

The 747-8 will seat 400 to 500 passengers. Lufthansa is the launch customer, with the first delivery scheduled for the fourth quarter.

First flown commercially by Pan American World Airways in 1970, the 747 was the first widebody aircraft, and its hump continues to make it one of the world's most recognizable planes. In 2009, Boeing delivered 747 number 1,400.

But sales have been slowing. Since 2009, just seven 747s, all freighters, have been delivered. Four went to Cathay Pacific, one each to Kuwaiti and Japanese cargo carriers, and one to UPS ( UPS).

The 747-100

Pan Am President Juan Trippe, one of the great pioneers of commercial aviation, encouraged Boeing to build a bigger aircraft. The first flight was in 1969 and Pan Am's first commercial flight took place on Jan. 21, 1970, on a New York-London route. By July 16, 1970, the worldwide 747 fleet had carried 1 million passengers.

In February 1971, the 100th 747 was delivered to another defunct carrier, Braniff Airlines . Later in 1971, the first Boeing 747-200 was delivered to KLM. But in the 1973 oil crisis, the price of a barrel of oil quadrupled to $12 a barrel. This led American ( AMR) and Delta ( DAL) to remove the 747 from their fleets.

The last delivery of the 100 was in 1986 to Japan Air Lines.

The 747-300

Boeing introduced the 747-300 because it wanted to offer increased seating capacity, using a stretched upper deck. The first flight was in 1982.

In 1983, the airplane entered service on a Swissair flight. Unlike its predecessors, the 747-300 had a straight staircase to the upper deck rather than a spiral staircase.

The last delivery of the 300 was in 1990 to the Belgian carrier Sabena.

The 747-400

Development of the 747-400, which had a range of 8,350 miles -- longer than the range of the 300 -- began in 1985.

Boeing rolled out the first 747-400 on Jan. 26, 1988, the same day as the first 737-400. The first flight was operated by Northwest on Feb. 9, 1989. The new plane had a glass cockpit, which enabled a reduction in the size of the cockpit crew to two pilots rather than three. It also incorporated major aerodynamic improvements, including winglets to reduce drag, new avionics, a new flight deck and updated entertainment systems. It typically accommodated about 415 passengers in three classes or 524 passengers in two classes.

The 747-8

Boeing introduced the 747-8 at a ceremony this month in Everett.

"As the only airplane in the 400 to 500-seat market, the 747-8 Intercontinental will give operators an airplane perfectly suited for long, heavily traveled routes around the world," said Pat Shanahan, Boeing vice president and general manager for airplane programs, in a prepared statement.

Boeing said the 747-8 will have 12% lower costs and 16% better fuel economy than its predecessor, the 747-400. Additionally, the aircraft incorporates 787 interior features including a curved, upswept architecture, "giving passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, while adding more room for personal belongings," Boeing said.

So far the airplane has attracted 33 orders, 20 of them from Lufthansa and five from Korean Air Lines.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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