Boeing’s iconic plane, the original “jumbo jet,” made its maiden test flight in February 1969, ushering in a new era of air travel.
When the first 747 lifted off the tarmac on Feb. 9, 1969, it marked a big leap forward in air travel — emphasis on the “big.”
Boeing’s behemoth could carry around 400 people, more than double the capacity of the then-industry standard 707. It could go thousands of miles farther, too, crossing oceans with ease. And the passenger experience was vastly improved: The wide-body plane was the first to have twin aisles, separate rooms for each class and nearly vertical walls with a high ceiling, creating an open and airy ride.
Air travel soared. According to aviation expert Howard Slutsken, in 1970, its first year in operation, a fully-loaded 747 cut the cost of flying per passenger in half. Soon, every airline wanted the prestige of ferrying passengers in their own 747s. (To date, Boeing has sold more than 1,500 of the planes, a record for any aircraft of its size.)
Airports had to expand rapidly to adapt, providing new lounges, ticket counters and terminals for the hundreds of new passengers arriving and departing on the “jumbo jets.” The press marveled, calling it the “Queen of the Skies,” and Popular Mechanics magazine said in 1969, “The craft is so big and solid-looking that you wonder how it can be supported by anything as insubstantial as air.”
In the 50 years since its debut, the 747 has become synonymous with air travel, helped in no small way by its starring roles in Hollywood movies and as the U.S. president’s flagship: Air Force One.
But despite America’s enduring love for the 747, its appeal is fading for airline operators. In a 20-year forecast released in 2017, Boeing admitted that the demand for the hulking, four-engine aircraft is waning in favor of smaller, more efficient planes. Carriers in the U.S. have already phased out the plane from their passenger fleets (the last was retired from Delta Air Lines in 2017), though it still enjoys heavy use by foreign airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa, and as a cargo plane.
Yet the 747, a wonder of American engineering and industrial prowess, will live on as a symbol of the nation — literally: Boeing plans to deliver two new 747-8s in 2024 to serve as the next generation of Air Force One.
Photos: A look at more major events from the year 1969
It was a significant year in American history. This year, these events mark their 50th anniversary:
Joe Namath guarantees Super Bowl win ... then wins
Jan. 12, 1969: Joe Namath, known as "Broadway Joe," leads the New York Jets to a 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in Miami after guaranteeing the win in advance. Namath would briefly retire from the league in June 1969 over a conflict with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
About the photo: In this Jan. 12, 1969, file photo, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath gives his father, who is wearing an Orange Bowl hat, a big hug in the Jets' locker room after leading them to a 16-7 win over Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl III. AP FILE, 1969
Richard Nixon takes oath as 37th president
Jan. 20, 1969: Richard Nixon is sworn in as the 37th president of the United States at his first inaugural. Spiro Agnew was sworn in as vice president.
About the photo: Richard Nixon holds his left hand on two family bibles and raises his right as he takes the oath as 37th president of the United States on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 1969. Behind his right hand is Vice President Spiro Agnew. Mrs. Pat Nixon holds the bibles. AP FILE, 1969
The Beatles' final public performance
Jan. 30, 1969: The Beatles performed in public for the final time in an impromptu concert on the rooftop of Apple Records in London. The band, which officially broke up in September of 1969, released "Abbey Road" on Sept. 26.
About the photo: The Beatles pose together on Feb. 28, 1968, in an unknown location. From left are Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. AP FILE, 1968
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower dies at age 78
March 28, 1969: America's 34th president and highly decorated World War II general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, dies in Washington D.C. at age 78. After lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, Eisenhower was buried on a family plot in Abilene, Kansas.
About the photo: The body of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda, March 30, 1969, Washington, D.C. At left of flag-draped casket is Pres. Richard Nixon. The wreath was placed by Nixon. AP FILE, 1969
Robin Knox-Johnston sails around the world
April 22, 1969: Robin Knox-Johnston, a British sailor, became the first person to sail single-handed around the world without stopping. On June 14, 1968, Knox-Johnston departed the town of Falmouth, England, in his 32-foot boat named Suhaili. He arrived back in Falmouth after 312 days at sea on April 22, 1969.
About the photo: Robin Knox-Johnston, unseen, on his yacht 'Suhaili' at the entrance to Otago Harbour, Dunedin, New Zealand, on Nov. 20, 1968, almost halfway in his round-the-world solo, non-stop yacht race. AP FILE, 1968
Sirhan Sirhan sentenced in Robert F. Kennedy assassination
April 23, 1969: Sirhan Sirhan is sentenced to the death penalty a week after being convicted in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. His sentence later was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972.
About the photo: Sirhan Sirhan, center, is seen with his lawyers, Russell Parsons, left, and Grant B. Cooper, right, in Los Angeles, 1969. Others are unidentified. AP FILE, 1969
Apollo 10's dress rehearsal
May 18, 1969: Apollo 10 launched from Cape Kennedy as a "dress rehearsal" for the first moon landing that would occur later in 1969. The mission tested all components and procedures for the eventual moon landing mission — except the actual landing. It also transmitted the first color pictures of Earth from space.
About this photo: This May 1969 image shows the three astronauts of Apollo 10 (from left to right): Eugene Cernan, lunar module pilot; Thomas Stafford, commander; and John Young, command module pilot. AP FILE, 1969
The Melbourne-Evans collision
June 3, 1969: The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Frank E. Evans is cut in half in a collision with the light aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne of the Royal Australian Navy in the South China Sea. Seventy-four of the Evans' crew members were killed.
About the photo: Sailors inspect damage to the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Frank E. Evans in the South China Sea, 650 miles southwest of Manila, on June 3, 1969. AP FILE, 1969
Nixon announces first troop withdrawals from Vietnam
June 8, 1969: President Richard Nixon announces the first U.S. troop withdrawals from the Vietnam War. In a meeting with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Thieu at Midway Island in the Pacific, Nixon announced that 25,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn by the end of August and South Vietnamese forces would replace them.
About the photo: U.S. President Richard Nixon meets with South Vietnam President Nguyen Thieu at Midway Island, on June 8, 1969. AP FILE, 1969
Warren Burger sworn in as Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court
June 23, 1969: Warren Burger was sworn in as the 15th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated that May by President Richard Nixon to fill the seat being vacated by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Burger would serve as chief justice until 1986.
About the photo: Chief Justice Warren E. Burger is shown in his office at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 3, 1969. AP FILE, 1969
The Stonewall riots
June 28, 1969: Police raid the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, which led to an uprising and violent demonstrations by members of the gay community. The Stonewall riots are considered to be the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. In 2016, President Barack Obama created the first national monument to gay rights at the site of the Stonewall riots.
About the photo: A man passes The Stonewall Inn, in New York's Greenwich Village, Thursday, May 29, 2014. AP FILE, 2014
Brian Jones, Rolling Stones founder, dies at 27
July 3, 1969: Brian Jones, the founder and original leader of The Rolling Stones who split with the band in June 1969, was found dead in a swimming pool under the influence of alcohol and drugs at his Sussex, England, home at age 27.
About the photo: Brian Jones in London, England, in 1968. AP FILE, 1969
Ted Kennedy's fatal crash at Chappaquiddick
July 18, 1969: Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy drives off a wooden bridge on Chappaquiddick Island after leaving a party at a rented cottage near Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. His passenger, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed in the crash, and Kennedy did not report the crash for 10 hours. On July 25, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the crash and received a two-month suspended sentence. There has been speculation for years that the senator used his influence to avoid more serious charges.
About the photo: This July 19, 1969, file photograph shows U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy's car being pulled from the water next to the Dyke Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Edgartown, Mass. on Martha's Vineyard. AP FILE, 1969
The moon landing
July 20, 1969: Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon after reaching the surface in their Apollo 11 lunar module.
About the photo: In this July 1969 file photo, Aldrin walks by the footpad of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. NASA, AP FILE, 1969
Charles Manson murders
Aug. 9, 1969: Members of a cult led by Charles Manson kill five people in the home of movie director Roman Polanski, including Polanski's pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate. A day later, the group kills supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife at their home. Manson and his followers were indicted in December 1969 for the killings.
About the photo: Charles Manson is escorted to his arraignment on conspiracy-murder charges in connection with the Sharon Tate murder case, 1969, Los Angeles, Calif. AP FILE
Aug. 15-17, 1969: The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair drew more than 400,000 people to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Sullivan County town of Bethel, 85 miles northwest of New York City. The iconic music festival featured legendary acts Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Grateful Dead and more.
About his photo: In this Aug. 1969 file photo, concert-goers sit on the roof of a Volkswagen bus at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair at Bethel, N.Y. AP FILE
Hurricane Camille slams Mississippi, kills hundreds
Aug. 17, 1969: Hurricane Camille slams into the Mississippi coast as a Category 5 storm that was blamed for 256 U.S. deaths.
About the photo: This is a Aug. 18, 1969 file photograph of an 85-foot boat that was deposited in the yard of Stafford Cooper in Biloxi, Miss., as part of the wreckage of Hurricane Camille. The boat's anchorage is more than 100 yards from the home and floated in on flood tides. Although it has been about 50 years, since the Category 5 storm hit the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Camille is still one of the benchmarks by which all hurricanes are measured. (AP Photo/Joe Holloway Jr., File) AP FILE, 1969
"Chicago Seven" trial begins
Sept. 24, 1969: The trial gets underway for the "Chicago Seven," accused of conspiring to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. After a long and raucous trial, two were acquitted and the others were convited. In 1970, the Supreme Court overturned the convictions on appeal.
About the photo: Abbie Hoffman, defendant in trial of the "Chicago Seven," charged with indicting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago is shown with newsmen in Chicago, Nov. 8, 1969. AP FILE, 1969
"The Brady Bunch" premieres
Sept. 26, 1969: "The Brady Bunch" premieres on ABC. The sitcom aired for five seasons before going into syndication, where it became increasingly popular in re-runs over the years.
About the photo: Six youngsters line up outside a Los Angeles, California, courtroom June 18, 1969, to await approval of contracts calling for them to play brothers and sisters on a new television series. The series, called "The Brady Bunch," is about a widower with three boys who marries a widow with three girls and will premiere on ABC-TV in September. Left to right: Susan Olsen, 8; Michael Lookinland, 8 1/2; Eve Plumb, 11; Christopher Knight, 11; Maureen McCormick, 12; Barry Williams, 14. AP FILE, 1969
The "Miracle Mets" do the improbable
Oct. 16, 1969: The "Miracle Mets" defeat the Baltimore Orioles, 5-3, in Game 5 of the 1969 World Series to claim their first championship. Led by future Hall of Fame pitchers Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver, the Mets overcame a nine-game deficit to the Chicago Cubs in the National League race, then captured the NL pennant by sweeping the Atlanta Braves.
About this photo: This Oct. 6, 1969, file photo shows New York Mets pitcher Nolan Ryan, left, and catcher Jerry Grote celebrating after defeating the Atlanta Braves to win the National League pennant, at Shea Stadium in New York. Ryan got to pitch in the World Series only once — as a 22-year-old for the 1969 New York Mets. AP FILE, 1969
Oct. 29, 1969: As a precursor to the internet, ARPANET establishes the first computer-to-computer link when a message sent by UCLA student programmer Charles S. Kline reaches the Stanford Research Institute's host computer. The first permanent ARPANET link was established weeks later, on Nov. 21, 1969.
About the photo: Leonard Kleinrock, a computer scientist at UCLA, stands next to the refrigerator-sized computer that made the first-ever connection in 1969 to what was to become the Internet, Thursday, Aug. 19, 1999, at his UCLA office. AP FILE, 1999
Oct. 31, 1969: Wal-Mart incorporates as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
About the photo: In this May 9, 2013, file photo, a worker pushes shopping carts in front of a Wal-Mart store in La Habra, Calif. AP FILE, 2013
"Sesame Street" makes broadcast debut
Nov. 10, 1969: "Sesame Street," an educational show on public television that has helped generations of children learn the alphabet and how to count, makes its broadcast debut.
About the photo: Joe Namath, quarterback for the New York Jets, chats with Big Bird during taping of the children's television show "Sesame Street" in New York studio Monday, Sept. 25, 1972. (AP Photo/Harry Harris) AP FILE, 1972
Massive anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, D.C.
Nov. 15, 1969: In what is believed to be the largest anti-war protest in U.S. history, between 250,000 and 500,000 protesters marched on Washington in opposition to the Vietnam War.
About the photo: With the U.S. Capitol in the background, demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue in an anti-Vietnam War protest in Washington, on Moratorium Day, November 15, 1969. AP FILE, 1969
The first Vietnam draft lottery
Dec. 1, 1969: The first Vietnam draft lottery drawing is held. The U.S. Selective Service System conducted two lotteries to determine the order of call to military service in the Vietnam War for men born from January 1, 1944 to December 31, 1950.
About the photo: Judith Hillenbrand, New York State's representative on the Youth Advisory Committee of the Selective Service System, picks a capsule in Washington, D.C., on the night of Dec. 1, 1969, for the birth-date drawing of the 1970 draft lottery. Opening the capsules at right is Helen F. King. AP FILE, 1969