One moody day in October the ‘Queen of the Skies’ landed for the final time. We spoke to 747 pilot Lyndsay McGregor about the aircraft and her feelings on saying goodbye to this majestic machine.
Which three words best describe the 747? Iconic, majestic, recognisable.
Best and worst things about the aircraft? Best: It’s versatility. Freight, people, military, civil, telescopes, laser beams and space shuttles all in and out of a normal size airport.
Worst: Fuel efficiency and environmental impact. In its day it was amazing but today’s big twins show the 747 is past its prime.
Unlike the 380, the 747 has huge cargo capacity which can make for some really interesting ‘passengers’. As well as the standard dog and cat, it’s been know to transport F1 race cars, horses, exotic animals and tons of bees!
How would you rate it in the following categories:
Ease of flying
7/10. The 747 in comparison to the newer fly-by-wire jets is conventional and requires more ‘piloting’. Controlling the speed with the thrust levers, manual trimming and a large control wheel is not much different to flying a 707 back in the 1950s.
6/10. Despite its low cabin altitude, the 747’s air conditioning system don’t compare favourably to modern systems. After long flights the dry atmosphere can make you feel dehydrated. Most 747’s cabins are beginning to show their age and the design of the overhead lockers tend to close the cabin in. But, the 747 is still the private airliner of choice for the rich and famous with plenty of room for your banqueting table, comms suite and lazy boy chairs!
Ease of landing 9/10. The large wing means the 747 is forgiving when it comes to landing. Once in ground effect, get it just right and it will reward you with the smoothest of landings. In strong crosswinds you need to bring your ‘A’ game as even after touching down you have to ‘fly the wing’ as you decelerate to avoid scraping a low-hanging outer engine.
Reliability. 10/10 Joe Sutter, the 747’s designer wanted the Jumbo to be the safest jet in the sky. He engineered systems that were both highly reliable and had plenty of back-up. This redundancy means that failure after failure can occur without compromising the integrity of the flight.
Pilot comfort 10/10 The flight deck is smaller than it’s big twin sisters, it’s noisy as we fly so quickly, and well designed with a few nice touches such as cup holders, foot warmers and an ensuite! I was going to give it 7/10 with 1 point lost for no tray table, another for non electrical seat adjustment and another for temperature control on a hot day, but you can look down on every other jet at the airport and so that alone gets full marks!
10/10. Recognisable from any direction, the 747 pulls off the trick of being huge and beautiful. In plan form those 37.5 degrees of sweep give it a retro look.
7/10. The round dial ‘Classics’ were a marvel; some had mechanical vertical tape engine instruments. The -400 has CRT displays with double the display area of the 767 but they are a few generations behind the technology in the 787s and 350s.
Bill Withers used to fit 747 toilets for Boeing
7/10 I wouldn’t say the 747 is particularly agile, I would compare her to a cruise liner rather than a speed boat. That said, when flying her, she is very responsive especially in roll – and turns with such elegance.
10/10. With four Rb211 engines punching out 56,000lbs of thrust per engine its climb rate can be awesome.
9/10 Due to its swept wing, the 747 can comfortably achieve cruising speeds in the region of Mach .85. It’s great racing other jets home across the Atlantic and winning!
Tell me something I don’t know about the 747:
Bill Withers used to fit 747 toilets for Boeing or; Nobody thought that the 747 would be a success or; A 747 was fitted with a super high-powered laser as the YAL-1 to shoot down nuclear missiles in flight.
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What is the biggest myth about the 747?
That you have to be big and manly to fly such a large aircraft
How did you feel about its final BA flight, what was it like?
Her final flight felt like the end of an era and I was disappointed due to the weather on the day, she didn’t get the send-off she deserved. Whilst sad, it’s a reminder of how aviation is a progressive industry with newer technology and more efficient jets. I felt very proud to have been a part of her legacy and doubt that few airliners will hold the title of ‘Queen of the Skies’.
What was your first flight at the controls like?
It was such a rush and I couldn’t decide if I was excited, nervous or a mixture of the two! I had never flown a Boeing before let alone the 747 and I will never forget the rumble of the four RB211 engines spool up as we took off on our way to Cape Town. It felt like all the hard work, commitment and sacrifices made through my career had built up to that one moment
Which aircraft will you return to after maternity leave, and how do you feel about the prospect?
I am excited and looking forward to returning to work. Whilst I am kept (very) busy during the day, it will be good to have some sort of structure and normality back to my routine. My hope is to return to the A350 or 787 as I enjoy the lifestyle and operational complexities of long haul operations. Whatever type I fly I know it will come as a shock to the system when I have to engage my brain again and start learning!
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Do you have personal preference for Boeings or Airbuses, if so why?
I started my career on the Airbus and spent the first 7 years on the A320 family, so its the jet I feel the most comfortable and at home with. That said, I have enjoyed the Boeing as it feels like a ‘real aircraft’ to fly and I find the manuals and Quick Reference Handbook easier to navigate. When people ask, it’s much cooler to say you fly the Boeing 747, but the Airbus does have a tray table, which makes it a tough call. All things considered, Boeing wins the day
3 reasons why a 747 is better than an A380
Looks. The 747 looks majestic in the sky. When you see her turn it’s with such poise and elegance and the A380, well, you don’t quite get the same vibe.
Convenience. The 747 is nicknamed the ‘ensuite fleet’ as the flightdeck has its own toilet and bunks. You can access all of the home comforts without leaving the fight deck.
Cargo. Unlike the 380, the 747 has huge cargo capacity which can make for some really interesting ‘passengers’. As well as the standard dog and cat, it’s been know to transport F1 race cars, horses, exotic animals and tons of bees!
How would you summarise the BA career of the 747 and its historical importance?
BA really spans the full life of the 747, from joint launch customer of the -100 (as BOAC), to Combis, to launching the -400 in 1989, to losing one to mortar fire in the invasion of Kuwait, to being the largest operator of the 747 for most of its operational life. There were even 747-8Fs in BA colours operated by GSS. For years the 747 was the workhorse of the airline, giving BA its famous ‘billion dollar route’.