In 1967, Boeing mechanics just north of Seattle started riveting together an airplane into an iconic form that many now refer to as the ”Queen of the Skies” and a “true lady.” This true lady — the Boeing 747 — celebrated its first flight on February 9, 1969. The team who worked to make the Queen of the Skies a reality was dubbed “The Incredibles.” But I would imagine none of them could have known how truly incredible their achievement would turn out to be. As history unfolded, we learned the 747 contained the power to shrink our world exponentially.
The 747 was the first commercial airplane capable of long-range travel, and she could reach points anywhere in the world. Not only that, the 747 was the first twin-aisle airplane. As a result, she had double the capacity of any commercial airplane at the time. That fact opened the skies to many, instead of what had previously been reserved for a precious few.
While more people were starting to reach far-flung areas of the world, the 747 would bring the same historic transformation to cargo a few years later.
On March 10, 1972, Boeing delivered the first widebody freighter, a 747-200, to Lufthansa. The delivery marked a new era in cargo shipping. The expanded capability of the 747, with its nose door that could load huge objects, meant that shippers and freight forwarders could deliver more goods faster than shipping by sea or truck. The 747’s capability delivered a monumental boost to air cargo.
“The ability to ship more goods by air changed global trade overnight,” said Darren Hulst, vice president of commercial marketing. “People around the world could receive goods in days instead of months.
Boeing freighters played a significant role in that, and they continue to define the art of the possible today in e-commerce and global trade thanks to their efficiency, versatility and our continuous product innovation to support tomorrow’s market needs.”
Later this year, Boeing will deliver its final 747, ending its decades-long production run. And while the nostalgia runs deep, the historic 747 freighter will make way for more modern and fuel-efficient models like the 777 freighter.
Today, 90 percent of the world’s freighter capacity belongs to Boeing freighters, which fly millions of tons of goods around the globe. And the demand is strong. According to Boeing’s 2021 Commercial Market Outlook, the global freighter fleet (production and conversions) is forecast to grow more than 70 percent from 2019, amounting to 2,610 new freighter deliveries in the next two decades.
The global freighter fleet is forecast to reach 3,435 airplanes by 2040 — including the newest member of the freighter family, the 777-8 Freighter, which is set to deliver in 2027.
While we marvel at all the innovation coming from Boeing freighters today, we know we could not have traveled all these miles, breaking so many barriers, without the first Queen of the Skies forging a smoother flight path for all to follow.