By Eric Yang
on 10.30.13
Photo by Eric Yang

We are surrounded by icons: we drive them, we wear them, we experience them. But up in the air, things are a different matter. Planes, and we mean big ol’ jets, are a means of transportation for so many of us — just a way to get somewhere and (hopefully) without delays and only minor jockeying for overhead luggage space — but in their colossal efforts in moving us from here to there, a few are are more deserving of legendary status than you’d imagine.

747. The Jumbo Jet. Whether you’re a million miler or just look for the cheapest thing on Kayak, the 747 is a plane that requires no introduction. You know it has an upstairs. You know that’s what Air Force One is. You know it’s been around forever and it still imparts second glances through the glass even when you’re beelining it for baggage claim. It’s a stalwart of the skies.

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But let’s put aside the nerdy jet-poetry for a second and talk some statistics. The 747 has earned them. Let’s say you booked a flight to the moon (oh the miles). You would be logging approximately 238,850 miles. One way. The world’s fleet of 747s has made the trip the equivalent of 203,000 times. That’s 42 billion nautical miles across the birds’ lifespan, during which the fleet has ferried the equivalent of 80% of the world’s population. If you’re counting, that’s 5.6 billion people. And these stats are just for civilian aircraft. Its duties as a freighter are equally impressive.

Since its birth in the ’60s as a revolutionary way to tackle long distance flights with large passenger loads, the 747 has undergone several evolutions. Today the 4th generation 747, the 747-8 Intercontinental, is, in our opinion, the finest one yet, though its success has been somewhat marred by its misunderstood approach. In the previous decades while manufacturers focused on making their products bigger, newer and faster, Boeing took a different tack with the 747: efficiency and evolution. Elsewhere, the undeniably successful (and colossal) double-decker Airbus A380 garnered praise, and for good reason. But the bloated machine’s overshadowing of the 747-8 has more to do with its epic proportions than its merits as a machine of pure world transportation or, in our eyes, design.

During its lifespan the 747 has logged 42 billion nautical miles, during which it has ferried the equivalent of 80% of the world’s population.

Though the 747-8 is an entirely new plane, it strikes a familar silhouette to previous 747s. Most may not even notice, but its upper deck, which once only accommodated a lounge or a small premium class cabin, now touts the equivalent square space of a Boeing 737-700. Its four engines are nearly the diameter of a B-29 Bomber’s fuselage. It generates enough power to operate 480,000 32-inch flatscren TVs. It’s the longest commercial aircraft in the world and its wings are the equivalent of four 3-bedroom homes. It can carry 422,000 pounds nearly 7800 miles. Los Angeles to Melbourne with 467 souls on board? Pie.

When Boeing announced the new Queen of the Skies, they launched it with Lufthansa, the German airline giant on June 1, 2012. The airline’s dominance is widely known, it boasts over 116,000 employees, but as it strives to achieve its goals of becoming both a dominant and premium airline, it is banking its success on both an superior flight experience and premium product. Sweeping upgrades, efficient operations and new aircraft like the 747-8 are at the core of that strategy.

Earlier this year Lufthansa invited us to hop aboard their inaugural flight in the 747-8 from Miami to Frankfurt. The new long haul flight would accompany their original launch flight from Germany to Washington D.C. and is now joined by flights to Chicago. For frequent or adventurous flyers, a ride aboard the 747-8 is worth it.

Experiencing an aircraft virtually alone is an odd feeling, even while in the hangar. Without surly crowds, brisk cabin crew and luggage stowage, one gets a chance to see just how much detail and thought is required in the execution and operation of an aircraft. Execution of details are difficult enough for anything — but within the highly constrained canvas of an aircraft you realize that it’s the equivalent of ergonomic chess. Designers are thinking 10 steps ahead of you. We even got to see something we hadn’t known of in the past: the sleeping quarters tucked in the upper area above coach accessed through a small, hidden stairwell.

In addition to the 747-8, Lufthansa also provided us with a glimpse behind the curtains at their vast facilities in Frankfurt, including their flight-ops center: a vast yet surprisingly docile operation. Like the plane, the company’s scale is truly massive — in a way that words can’t describe. Luckily, video can.

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