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10 December 2023

Flying machine that made globalisation possible turns 40

By David Robertson

Happy birthday to Boeing's 747, which was 40 years old yesterday. The first flight took off from Paine Field in Seattle at 11.34am on February 9, 1969. It marked the beginning of the age of mass international travel and without this aircraft cities such as Dubai could not have flourished.

The Jumbo Jet, as the 747 became known, made longhaul travel available to everyone. Flying was no longer the preserve of only the rich but was now open to everyone from curious tourists to families.

The introduction of the Jumbo was also a massive step forward in engineering as it was more than twice the size of the 707s that were flying at the time.

Critics said that a 300-tonne plane was too heavy to fly and that it would be unstable. There was a real worry that at high speeds the 747 would flip over, which would certainly have interrupted the drinks service.

Boeing stuck with the project and the Jumbo has become an icon. The plane has also been a commercial success, although Boeing initially only expected to sell 300 or 400 aircraft. It has actually sold more than 1,400 worth more than $350 billion (Dh1.28 trillion) at current prices. Thanks to the 747 the world is a smaller place and it is, arguably, the machine that made globalisation possible.