“Oh my gosh. How are we going to get an engine big enough to carry that weight?” That was Joe Sutter’s — father of the Boeing 747 — reaction when tasked with the challenge of building an airplane 2.5 times bigger than the 707 that could hold 350 to 400 passengers. It was the 1960s, and commercial aviation was growing. Sutter led “The Incredibles,” a group of 50,000 Boeing construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators, in bringing the behemoth to life.

The first order for the 747 was placed in April 1966; the aircraft delivered to Pan Am Dec. 13, 1969, and was in service by January 1970. From conception to flight, it was 29 months, and it took less than 16 months to build the largest civilian airplane in the world. The face of aviation changed forever.

The first 747 models introduced the wide-body two-aisle concept with three sections of seats. Its landing gear was also unique. According to Sutter (in a 2005 interview with Global Traveler), “Another critical decision — and it’s something people don’t think about much — is the landing gear. It has to carry the tremendous weight of the airplane. The 747 has four legs with four wheels each. Imagine trying to put four legs of landing gear into the airplane. If it’s not done right, you’ll lose fuel capacity. It’s done very cleverly in the 747. We had some pretty good engineers working on that. They got all 16 wheels into one box.” The aircraft was originally offered in three configurations: all passenger, all cargo and a convertible passenger/ freighter model.

Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental interior © Boeing

Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental interior © Boeing

The 747 evolved since 1966. Its most modern incarnations are the 747-8 Intercontinental and the 747-8 Freighter, which offer the lowest operating costs in the industry today. The aircraft, which can seat 400–500 passengers, also provides enhanced environmental performance. Lufthansa took delivery of the first 747-8 Intercontinental in June 2012.

For all the ways it’s changed, some facts remain the same when it comes to the acclaimed 747 aircraft. Its 6 million parts, 171 miles of wires and five miles of tubing are among the most revered in aircraft engineering. At 63 feet, 8 inches tall and 95,000 pounds, it is a sight to be seen. The aircraft has flown 4.2 billion nautical miles and carried 3.5 billion people, and the numbers grow with each inception of this monumental marvel of modern aviation.