First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines

The introduction of the jumbo jet, or wide-bodied aircraft designed especially for long-distance international travel, revolutionized the air travel industry and accelerated world travel by the middle classes.

Summary of Event

Between the late 1950’s and 1970, travel by commercial jet aircraft over long distances had been limited to what the industry refers to as narrow-bodied planes. Such aircraft included the Boeing Boeing models 707 (inaugurated in 1959) and 727 (introduced in 1964), McDonnell Douglas’s McDonnell Douglas[Macdonnell Douglas] DC-8, and Lockheed’s Lockheed Aircraft Corporation IL-62. Travel in such aircraft was limited not only by available passenger seating space but also by the amount of fuel that could be stored, mainly in storage tanks in the wings. Although long distances were obviously traversed by such airplanes prior to the introduction of jumbo jets, routes had to be planned with careful attention to refueling possibilities along the way. In terms of transatlantic flights from or to the United States, for example, direct flights originating or ending in noncoastal cities such as St. Louis or Chicago were rare. Aircraft;jets
Wide-body jets[wide body jets]
Boeing 747[Boeing seven forty seven]
DC-10[DC ten]
L-1011[L ten eleven]
Jet aircraft
[kw]First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines (Dec. 13, 1969)
[kw]Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines, First (Dec. 13, 1969)
[kw]Jet Is Delivered to Airlines, First Jumbo (Dec. 13, 1969)
[kw]Airlines, First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to (Dec. 13, 1969)
Wide-body jets[wide body jets]
Boeing 747[Boeing seven forty seven]
DC-10[DC ten]
L-1011[L ten eleven]
Jet aircraft
[g]North America;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
[g]United States;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
[c]Space and aviation;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
[c]Transportation;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
[c]Travel and recreation;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
[c]Engineering;Dec. 13, 1969: First Jumbo Jet Is Delivered to Airlines[10620]
Allen, William McPherson
Halaby, Najeeb

William McPherson Allen was instrumental in negotiating the contracts for the development of the 747. Thus, when Boeing rolled its first 747 off the assembly line in Everett, Washington, on September 30, 1968, and began a rigorous series of tests, a new era in commercial air travel and cargo transport began. The 747’s maiden flight on February 9, 1969, marked the beginning of about one thousand hours of testing carried out by five of the first aircraft set for delivery. It was not until December 13, 1969, that actual delivery was made to a commercial airline company—Pan American World Airways Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). By that date, a full production schedule for 1970 was inaugurated, which provided for completion of one 747 every four and one-half working days.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s main competitor, the McDonnell Douglas Company, was pressing its manufacturing efforts to bring its own wide-body jumbo jet—the DC-10—onto the market. Manufacturing operations began on January 9, 1969. By the end of 1969, the first DC-10 was entering the final assembly (but pretesting) stage in Long Beach, California. The third jumbo jet produced in the United States, the Lockheed L-1011, then being assembled in Burbank and Palmdale, California, was about a year behind the DC-10; plans for its first test flights were set for the end of 1970.

Boeing’s 747 and the jumbo jets that were about to be inaugurated by other commercial companies had a number of impressive specifications that placed them in a category by themselves. The 747 had an increased wingspan and overall length, increased internal passenger cabin width, a higher maximum ramp weight, and increased jet engine thrust. However, it was passenger and cargo weight capacity that was the major, immediately distinguishing feature in “new era” commercial aviation. The 747 could carry up to 490 passengers (or 220,000 pounds of cargo) at speeds exceeding 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) per hour. Its predecessor, the 727, carried between 131 and 180 passengers (depending on the submodel) or a cargo load of up to 46,600 pounds. The 727’s maximum speed of 600 miles (966 kilometers) per hour was comparable to that of the massive new jumbo jet, but the latter’s operating range of around 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometers) clearly outdistanced the 727’s range of 1,700 miles (2,736 kilometers).

Whereas Pan Am (through the efforts of Najeeb Halaby) had the intention of building an operating fleet of some twenty-five Boeing 747 aircraft by the peak tourist season in mid-1970, Trans World Airlines Trans World Airlines (TWA) had plans for greater diversification in its jumbo jet fleet. TWA had placed orders for fifteen Boeing 747’s in 1970 and twenty-two Lockheed L-1011’s for delivery in 1971 and 1972.

About one hundred Boeing 747 aircraft were delivered during 1970. The prototype of the DC-10 flew in September, 1970, and that of the Lockheed L-1011 in November, 1970. Orders for the latter two jumbo jets with middle-range seating (about 350 passengers) by 1971 amounted to about four hundred aircraft. Larger-capacity models of the DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 fully equipped for the long North Atlantic transit route were under production by that time, with deliveries planned for the following year.


By the start of 1969, the International Air Transport Association International Air Transport Association (IATA) had met at its headquarters in Montreal, Canada, to discuss how the twenty-six IATA member airlines that had placed orders for the Boeing 747 would integrate jumbo jet service into existing patterns of air routes throughout the world. IATA had to consider, for example, if the airports at the various locations proposed for jumbo jet service were not only big enough, in terms of landing-strip length, but also technically adequate. In cases where special adjustments would have to be made, IATA was to undertake the task of facilitating discussions among respective airlines, government air control authorities, and airport management organizations to determine if minimal requirements could and would be met in time for jumbo jet service to begin on schedule.

In its July, 1969, issue, the International Civil Aviation Organization Bulletin
International Civil Aviation Organization Bulletin (periodical) provided a list of some 106 airports in sixty-one countries or dependent territories around the world that had been identified as tentative “targets” for jumbo jet service by 1973. Of these, the United States headed the list, with seventeen prospective airports, followed by West Germany and Australia (with six and five prospective airports, respectively). Within six months, five more airports in six more countries were added. The January, 1970, listing also noted that scheduled dates for beginning service had been altered for some thirty-five airports.

On the other hand, factors were raised by representatives of less-developed countries who found themselves on the IATA list of tentative “beneficiaries” of jumbo jet service but who lacked necessary economic resources to undertake the physical work of airport improvement that would be required. At the same time, transformation of technical services that each airport would have to provide for maintenance of jumbo jets implied a transformation of trained personnel—an added expense that some countries might not be able to meet. An overall estimate suggested that only 15 of 120 potentially targeted countries on IATA’s jumbo jet service list either already had nearly sufficient physical plants for jumbo jet service or realistic economic possibilities for making necessary improvements in their airport facilities.

Officials responsible for existing air terminals recognized that designation of their cities as part of the planned international jumbo jet network would involve runway extensions and expansion in the sheer number of passengers. Nearly five hundred passengers leaving jumbo carriers seeking to make connections with smaller aircraft might create bottleneck problems that had not existed previously.

Although predictions of a rapidly expanding role for air travel by jumbo jet were realized during the first half of the 1970’s, at least two unpredicted factors soon came into play. Both were connected with political problems that erupted immediately before and after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. First, passenger security—not merely technical safety—considerations rose exponentially in the early 1970’s as major air routes suddenly became targets for international terrorism (specifically hijackings). Airport and in-flight antihijacking security measures became an integral part of the international aviation debit sheets. The second unexpected factor was the politicization of international oil market strategies in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war that led to petroleum price hikes. The passing on of much higher fuel costs to passengers did not stop air travel, but there was a noticeable reduction in the number of travelers able to pay the increased ticket prices that were inevitable.

Airlines possessing jumbo jets were thus forced to revise several strategies that had been taken for granted before the fuel cost crisis. First, the number of transatlantic flights would have to be reduced to ensure that the planes would be full enough to pay acceptable levels of profit, and second, the airlines had to decide whether to replace jumbo jets that had been used for flights within the United States and European continents with medium-sized aircraft. By 1990, Boeing had committed major planning efforts and funds to the development of a new model—the Boeing 777—designed to meet what had become a recognized need for a medium-sized, fuel-efficient, and technologically more sophisticated intercontinental aircraft. The 747 family of jumbo jets, however, also continued to be redesigned and produced by Boeing into the twenty-first century. Aircraft;jets
Wide-body jets[wide body jets]
Boeing 747[Boeing seven forty seven]
DC-10[DC ten]
L-1011[L ten eleven]
Jet aircraft

Further Reading

  • Davies, D. P. Handling the Big Jets. 3d ed. London: Civil Aviation Authority, 1973. A practical guidebook discussion of in-flight phenomena associated with large jet aircraft. It is of particular significance for its coverage of experiences that were only then being recorded by pilots and other technically trained personnel responsible for the newly introduced jumbo jets.
  • Green, William, and Gordon Swanborough. An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Air Liners. New York: Arco, 1982. This compact volume, although dated, is among the most detailed manuals of civil aviation, containing specific data on airplanes produced by the major Western and Eastern European countries.
  • Norris, Guy, and Mark Wagner. Airbus A380: Superjumbo of the Twenty-first Century. St. Paul, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2005. The next generation of jumbo jets, the double-deck Airbus A380, is expected to carry up to 853 passengers, hundreds more than the Boeing 747. Aviation writers Norris and Wagner present the development history of the Airbus superjumbo jet with two hundred color photographs.
  • _______. Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969. Osceola, Wis.: Motorbooks International, 1997. Examines the history of the design and development of the largest airliner of the time. Includes more than one hundred photographs and other illustrations.

  • Pedigree of Champions: Boeing Since 1916. 4th ed. Seattle, Wash.: Boeing, 1977. Provides a panorama of the “stars” of Boeing’s civil aviation fleets for more than half a century. Because the 747 jumbo jet was the most recently added major model when Boeing published this documentary edition, it received the most detailed treatment in the volume.
  • Sampson, Anthony. Empires of the Sky. New York: Random House, 1984. Part 1 covers the early history of civil aviation, whereas part 2 discusses the effects of the coming of jumbo jets. These effects include deregulation in the industry, European cartels, and more.
  • Sutter, Joe, with Jay Spenser. 747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. New York: Collins, 2006. An account of the often turbulent history of the making of the 747 by the program’s chief engineer. This memoir opens the doors to the ins and outs of the design and development process, including its politics and triumphs.

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