On February 9, 1969, the “Queen of the Skies” made her first flight, and début in the world of transportation. The iconic Boeing 747 (aka “Jumbo Jet”), entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route, and has been around almost as long as I have; and it is expected there will still be examples flying in 20 years time. My own memories of the Jumbo date back to when the South African Airways pavilion at the Rand Easter Show had a full scale mock-up of the interior of the aircraft. We were in awe of the rows and rows of seats, and could only dream of flying in one.
My first flight in a Jumbo was on board a Boeing 747-SP from Johannesburg to Seychelles in 1989, and it was chartered Luxair branded aircraft and not a regular commercial flight.
My next flights were with KLM and they were from Johannesburg to Schipol and back and they happened in 2000 and 2001. The return trip was on board a “Kombi” version and the image below I took on my way back to South Africa, but this is not the aircraft I flew in. This is a 747-206B.
In 2008 I flew long haul to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, and this is probably my favourite airline. The image below is of our aircraft on the leg from South Africa, but unfortunately I am unable to identify her. Our return flight was at night so I did not get any images of the aircraft. However, I seem to think these were 747-400’s and they were very comfortable (or as comfortable as you can get in economy).
My next flights also happened in 2008 and that was a return to the UK, travelling with Virgin Atlantic. I do not have pics of the onward flight, but we flew back on 747-4Q8 G-VBIG “Tinker Belle”.
I also managed to watch this lady landing while waiting for a connection at Heathrow. I think she is a 747-400 but cannot be sure.
Strangely enough I have not flown on an SAA Jumbo, although the images below are of the two 747’s preserved at the SAA Museum at Rand Airport that I visited in 2009.
Lebombo is the first Jumbo that SAA operated and she was delivered on 22 October 1971, and was in service for 31 years, 11 months, 14 Days. She landed at Rand Airport on Friday 5 March 2004 and it was a very close landing given that Rand Airport is not as large as the international airports that she was used to. I was fortunate enough to have a tour of her at the museum, although the cockpit and upper deck was out of bounds.
The museum page on the aircraft and her service is well worth a visit (as is the real aircraft).
She was delivered on 11 June 1976 and made her last flight on 0 September 2006. Unfortunately she was not open at the time of my visit, but she does make an interesting comparison to her fleetmate.
It is hard to think that in a few years time we will only see Jumbo Jets in movies or in pictures, however, it could be that this aircraft could enter the realm of long lived classics like the DC3. I like to think that they will be with us for a long time, although realistically there are much more economical aircraft around. It is probably the most recognisable passenger jet to fly, and I do not know about others but I really enjoyed travelling in a Jumbo.
The London Science Museum has a sliced section of a Jumbo on display, although getting a decent image of it is very difficult.
When I saw it in 2017 I could not help but ask myself what happened to the mock-up that I saw as a child? it probably ended up as scrap somewhere.
The skies will not be the same without that familiar shape that we all took for granted, but the replacements are cleaner, more efficient and hopefully safer, but they all however seem to use toilets designed in 1920! I may dislike airports but enjoy flying and I am glad I was able to experience these before it is too late. I have flown on the A340-600 as well as the A380 and neither compare to my experiences with the good old Jumbo.
DRW © 2019, created 09/02/2019