1988 marked the first flight of the Boeing 747-400: the workhorse of the 747 family. After flying a total of 61 million miles, the very first 747-400 made its final flight to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. It was then pulled across the street to the Delta Air Museum with whom it served.
Delta News contributor Elizabeth Caminiti published a report on the future of the remaining aircraft in Delta’s 747 family as aircraft technology changes.
“As Delta continues to modernize its fleet and improve its Pacific network, the airline plans to retire the remaining twelve 747s in its fleet by 2017,” said Caminiti. “They [will be] replaced with smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft that will enable the airline to operate a wider variety of routes, particularly in Asian markets.”
To pilots, the experience of flying the aircraft is one of a kind.
“Delta Chief 747 pilot Steve Hanlon said the 747-400 was affectionately known as ‘The Whale’ among pilots,” said Caminiti. “Even as large as The Whale was, it was surprisingly maneuverable and fast, typically cruising at .86 the speed of sound with close to 400 people onboard.”
Aviation journalist Cody Diamond had the opportunity to ride on the plane’s final flight 836 from Honolulu to Atlanta.
“As I boarded through Gate 19 at Honolulu Airport, I quickly took a glance into the Delta One business class section in the nose,” said Diamond. “Before heading towards the stairs to the upper deck, I found my seat for the four-thousand-mile journey.”
The captain of the flight relayed to the passengers the significance of the flight and the unique historical event they were part of.
“The captain made an announcement about the special retirement of this airplane: ‘You are part of history tonight, this is the very last flight of this airplane, which was the first 747-400 ever built,’” said Diamond. “It has carried millions of passengers millions of miles since its delivery in 1989.’”
The aircraft arrived in Atlanta and unloaded its very last passengers ever to fly on the aircraft.
“While disembarking through Gate E28 I thanked the crew for the memorable flight and [bid] my farewell to the Queen of the Skies,” said Diamond. “The next time I’ll visit her will be in the Delta Airlines Aviation Museum [Atlanta].”
The retirement of the first 747-400 marked the beginning of 747 retirements around the world, from the very first Queen of the Skies at the Museum of Flight, to the more advanced -400 model, the 747 holds on for life in a changing aviation world.