Over the last few weeks we have had the sad news that BA will be retiring their remaining fleet of 31 Boeing 747-400 aircraft. They were always destined to be retired in the next five or so years, but recent events have abruptly brought that forward, and it is certainly very sad news.
BA bought 57 of the 747-400 aircraft with the first arriving from 1989. They have very much been the flagship of the fleet, and at least in my opinion remained so even when the A380 was brought in to service. There is something really wonderful seeing BA livery 747s lined up at Heathrow, or at some far away airport where it is ready to bring you home.
From a personal point of view I had my first flights in a 747 back in 2011, and I have managed to fly on them 38 times in total. Ever since, where there has been a choice I have always picked the 747, although with them being gradually retired in the last few years they have been harder to find. As a passenger and an avgeek the jumbo is by far my favourite aircraft to fly on. It is perhaps one of the best looking aircraft flying, with the distinctive curves and hump, large canted tail, and the four Rolls Royce RB211 engines hung under the wings providing a great takeoff soundtrack.
Some of the best seats were on the unique upper deck, up the stairs and with only 20 seats it was almost like a small business jet with very little indication that you have several hundred passengers sat below you. The first class section in the nose forward of door 1 also offered the opportunity to sit further forward than the pilots. And in 1A/K due to the curvature of the nose you could actually see forward which is not something you get on any other aircraft. I loved hearing the gear rise up after takeoff as the nose wheel was only a few feet below you.
I also went on a pilgrimage to Seattle in May 2018, home of Boeing. I went to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field where you can find and go onboard the first 747 ever made RA001 dating from 1969. For a jumbo fan this aircraft represents genesis.
In 2019 BA painted a number of aircraft in heritage liveries to celebrate their 100 year anniversary. Three of the jumbos were painted, one each with the BOAC, Negus, and Landor liveries. They all looked spectacular, and I managed to go on the Negus livery 747 in August that year when returning from Cape Town. Another 747 highlight in 2019 was at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July where the BOAC livery 747 flew in formation with the Red Arrows, and luckily I was there to see it in person.
There really aren’t many 747 simulators around unfortunately. Our database only has seven entries for the jumbo, and it’s a real shame there aren’t more. In the UK the Simfest 747 is one of the best simulators we have seen and reviewed, and whilst you can watch and follow them on Twitch it isn’t possible to visit unfortunately.
I was lucky enough to fly the BA 747 full motion simulators a few times between 2014 and 2018. For someone used to flying 737 simulators the height off the ground was very noticeable on landing because you just don’t feel as close to the ground in those final moments as you do in a 737. However, it really was very easy to control and the flight controls really didn’t require much force to operate – the main issue can be the throttles and with smaller hands it can be a stretch to get your hand across all four! If you could start to master the very noticeable pitch power couple, and be gentle with the controls, it was very rewarding. I was lucky to have those experiences, as well as fly on the jumbos so many times as a passenger.
My last long haul flight before all the restrictions was on a 747 from JFK back to LHR. A route that the BA 747 has served more than any other. I usually try and get to sleep straight away on such a short overnight flight, but I had decided to stay up as long as possible to enjoy it. I didn’t realise it would be the last time I would fly on a BA 747.
I think anyone who loves aviation will miss the BA 747. It is a wonderful aircraft to look at and to fly on. Farewell old chum. We had some good times together.