On This Day: Jumbo Jet arrives at Heathrow after maiden flight from New York

Julian Gavaghan
21 January 2014

JAN 22, 1970: The world’s first Jumbo Jet arrived at Heathrow on this day in 1970 after making its maiden flight from New York.

Huge crowds greeted the Pan Am-operated Boeing 747, which was then the world’s biggest airliner - as it touched down in west London.

The 231ft-long jet, which has since been eclipsed in size by the Airbus A380, even had special new, extra-large hangars to store it at Heathrow.

A British Pathé newsreel showed hundreds of journalists and VIP gawping at the impressive plane before queuing to board it for a press flight back to New York.

It then filmed the revolutionary jet, which could carry a record 490 passengers, taking off, with one observer saying “it seemed as though the QE2 had taken to the sky”.

The newsreel then gave the public a captivating first glimpse of what the spacious 747 looked like inside during the dawn of a new jet age.

Glamorous air hostesses, each wearing an immaculate matching pale blue blazer, skirt and jaunty bowler hat, strolled up and down the 186ft-long and 20ft-wide main cabin.

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They are also seen taking trays of food to passengers from some of the six kitchen galleys on board the jet, which was two and a half times the size of most airliners.

The 747, which held the capacity record for 35 years, also had a top deck that served as a first class lounge.

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The hump had been designed so that the Jumbo Jet could easily be converted into a cargo plane.

Boeing feared that with the arrival of Concorde and potentially other supersonic jets fast approaching, the 747 would be rendered obsolete as a passenger aircraft.

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As a result, they had not expected to sell more than 400 – but by the end of 2013, the U.S. manufacturer had sold 1,482 and still had orders for 50 more.

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The Jumbo Jet, which was capable of speeds of 570mph and could fly between New York and London in six and a half hours, fast became one of the most iconic airliners.

Concorde, which could travel at more than twice the speed, was eventually retired in 2003 mainly because it was so expensive to run and was limited to only two routes.

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The Anglo-French supersonic jet, which was rivalled by the Russian Tupolev Tu-144 nicknamed the Concordski, also suffered due to a single deadly crash in 2000.

But the Jumbo Jet, which has since been updated several times with new variants such as the highly popular 747-400 that fit up to 660 passengers, was very economical.

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On important long-range routes – such as flights between London, New York and Tokyo – is helped drive down fares dramatically.

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It remained the biggest airliner to take to the skies before the European-built Airbus A380 entered service in 2007.

It can carry up to 853 people in an all-economy configuration and is 40 per cent bigger that the 747-8.

However, no airliner other than the Jumbo Jet could quite so aptly earn two nicknames: the other being the Queen of the Skies.

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