It is very nice to be back on a Boeing 747, still very much the Queen of the Skies. It seems incredible that it is just over 40 years since I first saw one; I was at Crystal Palace watching the motor racing and, used as we were to the endless procession of Boeing 707s and Douglas DC8s, with the occasional VC10 or something else turning in for the run into Heathrow when I looked up to see my first 747 (I’ve never liked the term Jumbo) as one of Pan-Am’s finest swung in. It looked huge compared to all of the others, even if it was barely visible on the photo that I took.
At that time I had yet to fly and, if you ignore a 30 or so feet zoom over an hedge and into a cabbage field when I was knocked off my motor bike, it would be 16 years before a BA 757 whisked me to Aberdeen one evening with one of her sisters bringing me back from Edinburgh a few days later. Whilst a long haul trip and the chance to fly on a 747 was conspicuous by its absence the following years saw me become a Shuttle Warrior as I nipped back and forth to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast so often that I got onto first name terms with some of the cabin crew.
That friendship and my love of the 747 were to be savagely disrupted in the space of less than three weeks starting late 1988 when firstly we saw that memorable image of the nose section of Pan-Am’s Clipper Maid of the Seas in a border’s field. The night she went down I had seen a Pan-Am 747 pass me when it took off from Heathrow as I loaded my bag into my car in the long stay car park. Whether it was flight 103 or one of her sisters I don’t know, but the majesty of the one I saw roar past me bore sharp contrast to the one that lay broken a few hundred miles north.
Around that time I had flown home from Edinburgh on G-OBME, one of British Midland’s new 737-400’s. Amongst the crew Ali and Barbara and their colleagues looked after us well on the short hop down to London and, once again, I made my way out to the long stay car park and headed down the M4 for home. Then came the news of an aircraft having come down on the M1 motorway trying to get into East Midlands airport after engine problems. That aircraft was G-OBME, and Ali and Barbara were amongst the crew. It was a black month.
My first flight on a 747 came in 1994, Gatwick to Newark with Continental and then came something of a flurry, mostly with Virgin Atlantic to California and Florida and the initial impression of them as the Queen of the Skies has been affirmed by experience. Over the years I flown down the back (in the last row you can actually see the fuselage warp during turbulence), right at the very front where you are further forward than the pilots and on the upstairs deck. They are a great aircraft, and about the fastest thing that you can fly on these days after the demise of Concorde, the erstwhile Goddess of the Skies.
So here I am again on one of Seattle’s finest, this one being one of Sir Richard’s fleet of 400 series models for another Atlantic crossing and, as someone of my generation who marvelled at Thunderbirds, there is a pleasure at riding once more aboard an aeroplane named Lady Penelope, the third or fourth time she has swept me over the pond.
You can keep your A380s, so ugly and bloated; the 747 has a much more graceful line and will always be one I carry torch for.