First flight +40

February 9, 1969 was cold, cloudy, and windy. In other words, a typical winter’s day in this neck of the woods. But it was also a day that changed everything.

A little before lunchtime on that date, the first 747 took flight. This 747-100, dubbed the “City of Everett” would spend the next 75 minutes flying over the Puget Sound region.


First takeoff – Paine Field, February 9, 1969.

It wasn’t like first flights today, where we know a lot about how the airplane is going to perform even before it flies. In this case, we didn’t quite know what to expect. But it went fairly well.


First flight crew: (L to R) Pilot Jack Waddell, Co-Pilot Brien Wygle and Flight Engineer Jess Wallick.


The “City of Everett” on its maiden flight.

The flight validated what was at the time a huge gamble for Boeing. Today, the 747 stands at more than 1,500 orders, with deliveries to more than 1,400 airplanes and 95 customers.

By the way, as some of you may have noted, this was a double anniversary. On the same date 20 years ago, the 747-400 entered service for the first time.


Joe Sutter, the “Father of the 747.”


747 and chase plane over Puget Sound.


The “City of Everett” today, on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Of course the story doesn’t end with these anniversaries. The 747-8 Freighter is in final assembly in Everett with first flight scheduled for later this year. The 747-8 Intercontinental passenger model will follow about a year later.

Comments (16)

Chris C (South Africa):

The 747 is without a doubt the greatest commercial airplane ever built, period! It is a special privilege to be in an era where we're going to part of the next, exciting chapter of the venerable 747's history in the form of the highly-advanced, efficient and ultra-capable 747-8 family. I'm inclined to believe that we'll see the 747-8 expand its family line to include not only the two current variants, but also we'll see a 747-8ER variant for both versions.

The -8 compared to the original Classic 747s is not only a complete world apart in every single aspect, but is virtually an all-new airplane in the form of a 747 "look alike". I hold high hopes and dreams for the new 747-8, and I firmly believe its best years are yet to come…all the best for the ongoing marketing and sales campaigns for the -8 variants. Without a doubt, the 747, in all her elegant versions, is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of mankind in the field of aviation, period. The 747-8 is an airplane beyond superlatives, but my heart is still with the formidable, ageless 747-400…the -400 opened doors for me beyond my imagination.

Seven hundred and forty seven cheers for the 747! Long live The Queen of the Skies.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

It's a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing these pictures and links.

I find that the 747 is a microcosm of the United States today - or, at least, where the US will be in a quarter century. The speed with which the world has changed, and wealth has spread, has largely been the direct result of actions in and by the United States over the course of its existence. The obvious result of those "universal truths" is that countries that have greater populations than the United States will in time exceed its output.

Now obviously, if you're not the biggest and newest, do you quietly give up trying to be the best? The question then becomes one of how can we be better? How can we change to accommodate this reality?

How can I change to make things work?

And, that's the magic of the 747. The secret of its incredible success. Change.

The new bird being assembled now has a comprehensively reworked wing that took many hours of modeling and testing to come upon. The latest aerodynamic engineering has been fed into the 747-8's wing. I think that sounds pretty good.

Kinbin (Taipei Taiwan):

Kudos to the 747 and to the folks for taking the risk to commercialize the program.

Boeing took on a big risk by turning a supposedly military development into a commercial aircraft. And it paid off.

It has been rather surprising that the US military did not bite on the 747 four-decades back. Over the past four decades, with so many 747s sold, the US military has instead decided on the Galaxy's, Hercules', and Globemasters.

Had they settled for the 747s instead, think of the additional sales potential of the 747s (including the 747-8) as a troop carrier and a cargo aircraft.

Joe Sutter looks sharp in his mug-shot 40-years back. He has since aged well along with the 747, having reviewed the latest 747 variant (Dreamlifter).

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

The 747 is as American an icon as Micky Mouse, Baseball and Jazz and as recognizable as the Volkswagen Beetle, the cellular telephone and the two arches logo of McDonald's.

The Boeing 747 is among the greatest success story in all of commercial aviation, originally intended as a short term passenger plane turn cargo plane in the era when it was believed everyone would fly supersonically in 2707's and Concorde's in the seventies, the 747 has made it's way to being the most successful widebody in the world with over 1,500 ordered.

I think some of the contributing factors to it's success was that it came at the right time, with the strong establishment of the middle class in the industrialised nations, more people could fly and with the economies of scale with the 747, the price of a ticket went down. The 747 had no direct competition in size, the biggest passenger plane before the 747 was the Douglas DC-8-61/63 thus allowing many to be sold right away and for a long time to come. Another factor was the high-bypass, high diameter turbofan engine that allowed the 747 to be very fuel efficiant and quiet.

The iconic 747 as we know it today could have taken a very different shape, the jumbo jet could have looked like an anteater with the bulge on the front bottom of the fuselage like what the Airbus Beluga looks like today, or it could of looked like a smaller version of the A380 with the wings mid-fuselage. Their has also been many plans to strech the airframe to as long as 85 metres long and more, and shrink the plane to 184 feet like the 747SP and their was even a proposal a 3 engine 747!

As forty years roles on, the 747 is still as vital today as it was when it went into service thirty-nine years ago with Pan Am and the 747-8 I think will keep the 747 vital for the airlines needs for many more years to come.

Robin Capper (Auckland, New Zealand):

Oh Wow, I was in a 747 on the day. I wonder how many thousand shared that honour.

Last week travelled about 22,000km by 747. The San Francisco - Auckland flight landed on Feb 9th. Thanks to Boeing for a wonderful machine.

Eileen C (Everett, WA):

I was in high school at the time, and we watched the first flight from our living room window . My parents had a great location on a hill north of Edmonds, and it seemed like an eternity between when we started watching, and actually witnessed the flight. (We made sure we were there early enough to not miss it!) The moment finally arrived when the plane first emerged from the trees into our view.

We were amazed at the immense size of this new jet. Watching such an historic event led me to eventually want to work for Boeing, and be part of the experience. I am proud to be part of Boeing and enable my small part of the process to be as effective and productive as possible.

No doubt everyone in my family was inspired by the event. My mom went to work for Boeing after I graduated from college, and eventually retired from Boeing, and my sister is currently a rocket scientist in the Boston area. Life is a journey with many steps.

Elliott P. Fletcher (Everett, WA):

It is hard to believe it was 40 years ago. I was in the Boeing Everett Control Tower where we had a good view & could listen to the radio chatter between our tower/radio room, RA001 & Paul Bennet in the F-86 chase plane.

I still get a similar thrill every time I see a 747 take off.
It is unbelievable what Boeing accomplished in less than 4 years. That first flight was only 31 M-days behind the original scheduled first fight date established at time of Program go-ahead.

Jesse A. Wallick (Green Valley, Arizona):

Thanks for remembering the maiden flight of the 747.

I am proud to be a part of the 747 history. It was a great honor and privilege to work on the 747s for many years. The maiden flight was a moment to remember.

My thanks to the engineers, manufacturing, and all the people who make the new airplane (747-8) happen.

I hope I can witness the 747-8 first flight.

Jesse Wallick
Flight Engineer RA001 (N7470)
Maiden Flight


Mr. Wallick,

I started my career in the flight test organization. Brien Wygle, your co-pilot on the maiden flight, was our leader. During that time, I had the opportunity to watch our test pilots up close.

A flight test pilot has a tough and challenging job. I just wanted to say that I have the ultimate respect for you and your profession.

Thank you for bringing the fabulous 747 to the world.

-- Randy

Robert Millward:

I enjoyed working on the mockup (as a carpenter). I had never seen anything so tall. We were doing interiors so the shell was real. I can't remember how many times the lavatories went back to engineering for correct dimensions.

Even today the plane amazes me. I flew to Sydney via Hawaii and Auckland in October 1987 (the original black Friday?).

P.Sumantri (France):

The 747 is a very interesting aircraft. It opened the way to convenient long distance travel. Indeed, during a very long period airlines bought the 747 for its range because it was the only aircraft that could fly over remote airways.

Over the last 15 years the availability of efficient and reliable engines broke quads and tris domination on long distance routes. Today, very capable twins fly most long range routes. The 747's role fades slowly as ETOPS becomes a common practice.

The above being said, we can't dismiss 747-8i's future too quickly. There are a few trunk routes that will still need big and very big aircraft. The 747-8i and the A380 will serve the market of large and very large aircraft.
The fact that the GEnx engines share many parts of the 787's engines will also help to improve the business case of both the 747-8i and its freighter brother.

The last passenger 747-400 rolled out from the factory in 2005. The first passenger 747-8 will roll out in a couple of years when the first wave of 747-400 retirement will start. After celebrating its 40th birthday, 747's life will continue for decades with the 747-8 versions.

From a very personal side, my first long distance flight experience was on a 747. It was the flight that brought me to the land where I founded my family, la France.

Tim (Baltimore , Md):

Mr. Wallick, Jack Waddell , Brien Wygle, Joe Sutter, Juan Tripp, Bill Allen, Malcolm T. Stamper. and all the dedicated people at Boeing who built the 747 .... we thank you for a wonderful plane...

I still remember the first time I got on a 747, I didn't realize I was on a 747 until I looked out the window and saw the HUGE wings.... all I got to say was " WOW " ... and felt a sense of safety on that plane.

I got to fly on 7 747s ... I hope one day I can afford it and fly on a 747-8I ... Mr. Wallick ? would Boeing let you fly with the test pilots on the first flight of the 747-8 F ??

Tim (Irvine, California):

My first flight experience was on a 747 in 1972. Being a little kid, I remember the excitement of stepping on board and passing the spiral staircase to the upper deck. I also remember my father pointing out the curvature of the cabin as it tapered towards the nose.

The inflight movie was "Buck and the Preacher" which was projected with an actual projector with film that dropped from the ceiling. Considering the advances in entertainment technology from the mechanical, analog projectors in 1972 to the individual seatback entertainment systems of today, we can look forward to all of the other technology advancements that the 747-8 will bring compared to that early 747 I flew on as a kid.

Tim (Baltimore , Md):

TIM ? .... lol.. come on now, that projector system wasn't THAT BAD at THAT time ( 1972 ) , I bet most people thought it was the coolest thing ever.
As for me ? sometimes.. getting the in flight soda was exciting for me and the snacks ( other than the take off .. never get tired of take off ).

I still remember coming into Japan on a 747 breaking through the 2nd level of clouds ( there was 3 levels of cloud cover ) ... and the wing passing through the clouds and you could see the tip of the wing, but the rest of the wing had part of the clouds going over it... so neat to see.
I always get a rush to watch and see and HEAR the thrust reversers in action, or the control surfaces.

Cory :

my grandfather flew the chase plane that filmed the 747 in flight. He was very impressed by the size of the plane and that it actually flew. This was a day in history that everyone in aviation should be proud of.

Keith Gunnar (Langley, WA USA):

I was privledged to be on the 747 engineering team from day one, starting in December 1965 in Renton, WA. At the beginning we didn't know how many decks there would be, whether it was high wing or low wing, etc. It was exciting to see the design evolve.

In about 1968 I moved to the new plant in Everett. I was at the Everett field to see the maiden flight, then was quite involved in the flight test program to certify the airplane. I had many interesting test flights including being in the INS certification tests where we were the heaviest airplane to ever take off, going on a non-stop round trip flight from Seattle to New York. Also another non-stop round trip flight from Seattle to Mt. McKinley. I was in the flight deck when we certified the anti-icing system with Jack Waddell flying into really scary storm systems out over the Pacific, complete with lightning, extreme turbulance and heavy icing conditions.

A great airplane!!

Lynn Claughton (Tulalip, Wa ):

Speaking on behalf of my wife's father EDWIN GESSELE, a 40 year veteran of the Boeing Company, was crew chief in Test flight with the #1 747 for many years. Ed started with Boeing in 1948 just out of Naval Aviation. I was privileged to intently listen to Edwin speak of the many test programs that #1 plane went through over the years. Ed once commented to me "that plane brought us a lot of groceries" Ed just turned 89 years old and is living in a retirement residence in Everett, Wa His memory has faded a bit but, I heard him say "the days of me working on planes is about over" which I got a kick out of. His 40 year devotion and commitment to Boeing, and the great people he worked with in the many flights in this famous 747 and the many world sales demonstration tours with other Boeing products, are lifelong treasures Edwin treasures. LARRY CUMMINGS, another long time Boeing standout, who was a major part of the Strato Liner restoration, comes to visit Ed quite often. Many of Ed's co workers are gone now. Edwin sends his best to you all as his thoughts are always with his fellow Boeing associates in FLIGHT TEST.

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