ABOVE: Boeing 747s have been built for more than fifty years, the last one having left the assembly line in October

After a production run lasting fifty-five years, in which 1.572 aircraft were manufactured, the last Boeing 747 has now left the assembly line. The aircraft, a 747-8F freighter, will be operated by cargo carrier Atlas Air. The 747-8F is the biggest version ever built of the model, and it can carry 20% more load than the well-known 400, while burning 16% less fuel.

Pilot Contributing Editor Bob Grimstead, who flew 747s for much of his career with British Airways, added some personal observations: “The 747 has been operating in commercial service for something like fifty- four years. If the ones about to be delivered operate for the normal thirty-year lifespan of these things, it will have been in service as long as the Douglas DC-3. The reason for the 747’s enormous success is actually its superb efficiency. The empty weight of a Boeing 747-400, even with all the seats, toilets and galleys, is just over 170 tons and yet its maximum takeoff weight (depending on sub-model) is 400 tons or a bit more. That ratio of empty weight to maximum takeoff weight is the best possible arbiter of efficiency, and I cannot think of any other aeroplane type, large or small, that comes anywhere close.

“The Boeing 747 changed the way we live because it was the first airliner to have cargo holds big enough to take all the passengers’ baggage plus many tons of other freight. Airlines used that to ship perishables – notably fruit and vegetables – from all over the world, so for the first time we could have any sort of fruit or vegetable in our supermarkets at any time of the year. We now take this for granted.”