The Boeing 747 turns 50!

The Boeing 747, lovingly called the Jumbo Jet has turned 50! Its hard to imagine that this massive aircraft – once the workhorse of most major airlines globally has been around for half a century! It has been one of the most iconic – if not THE most iconic aircraft of all time.

The Boeing 747 first rolled out of the Boeing factory at Everett, Washington (purpose-built to manufacture the Boeing 747) on September 30th, 1968. Even as it stood there outside the factory, many had doubts that it could actually fly. They had never seen an aircraft this massive! How could it even get off the ground let alone fly, people wondered! But fly it did, and on it flew millions of wonderstruck passengers over the next five decades.

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The rollout of the first Boeing 747 at the Boeing factory, Everett Washington. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Building the Boeing 747 itself was a challenge. Such a massive aircraft had never been built before. It would be roughly twice the size of the then Boeing bestseller – the 707. Joe Sutter – known as the father of the 747 and his team spent countless hours conceptualising, designing and building the Jumbo jet (as it would be called later), and all of this before computer aided design tools became available. The Boeing 747 had a distinctive hump, housing the cockpit and an upper deck passenger cabin that gave it a distinctive look that we all have come to adore.

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Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100 HZ-AIE (built in 1981) at BOM in January 2008

Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 747, ordering 25 of these giant aircraft in 1966. It took roughly over two years for Boeing to undertake one of the most complex engineering projects – both in size and sophistication. The Boeing 747 was designed to carry larger number of passengers over greater distances than those possible with previous airliners. Additionally, it was also designed to carry a large amount of cargo with loading of oversized cargo possible through a swivelling nose cargo door. Such a large aircraft also required tremendous amount of power, which was made possible with the development of high bypass turbofan engines. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D was chosen to power the Boeing 747. Four of these engines, each producing between 43,500–51,600 lbf thrust would power the Jumbo jet, allowing it to carry between 350-400 passengers over its maximum range of 4620 nm. By the time it was rolled out of the factory, 26 airlines had ordered the Boeing 747 and their logos were pasted on the fuselage of the first prototype.

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Iran Air Boeing 747-200 EP-IAI (built in 1982) at BOM in Oct 2014

The Boeing 747 first flew on February 9th, 1969 with test pilots Jack Waddell and Brien Wygle, along with flight engineer Jess Wallick. The first flight went smoothly, and the aircraft soon entered into service on January 22nd, 1970 when Pan Am operated the first ever Boeing 747 commercial flight – from New York to London. Since then there’s been no looking back as the Boeing 747 quickly became the long haul workhorse of major airlines from around the world, carrying more passengers and cargo over longer distances than ever before.

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Iran Air Boeing 747SP-86 EP-IAB (built in 1976) at BOM in Sep 2010

One of the Boeing 747’s unique and most loved characteristic was its trademark hump. The front of the hump housed the flight deck providing the pilots with a panoramic view of the tarmac as they manoeuvred the aircraft through increasingly crowded airports. The hump also housed lounges or social areas on early build 747s that gave way to premium passenger cabins in the later variants. The upper deck on a 747 was THE place to be – exclusive to only a select few!

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Business Class cabin on the upper deck of Air India Boeing 747-400 VT-EVA (built in 1996)

As of today – 50 years later more than 1500 Jumbo jets have been built spanning multiple variants – passenger, cargo and even mixed (called Combi) The aircraft has made long haul international travel accessible to more and more people, and has opened up routes that were previously thought impossible.

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Air India Boeing 747-300 Combi VT-EPW (built in 1988) at BOM in Nov 2007

Rapid advancements in engine and airframe technology has made the production of  large airliners powered by twin engines possible today. These twin engined wide-body airliners are capable of carrying almost the same number of passengers as early 747s, over longer distances.  Shrinking profits caused by high oil prices and rapidly dropping airfares have led airlines to ditch four-engined very large aircraft (VLA) like the Boeing 747 in favour of large twin-engined jets like the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330. The two engines mean that they burn less fuel than the quad-engined 747s and are therefore cheaper to operate and maintain. Apart from the Airbus A380 (which could only manage limited sales) there has not been any new large four-engined aircraft developed. All new long haul wide-body aircraft developed will be powered by twin engines.

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Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 9V-SPA (built in 1994) at SIN in Jan 2010

The large twin-engined aircraft although quieter, more efficient and capable of flying longer distances do not quite have the grace and character of the Jumbo. The distinctive nose and hump, high-mounted flight deck and four engines that produce some of the sweetest music on the tarmac provide instant recognition for any aviation enthusiast.

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Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I D-ABYL (built in 2014) at HND in Feb 2018

Despite the preference for newer, more efficient aircraft, the Boeing 747 lives on – finding its place (though in decreasing numbers) in the long haul fleet of airlines around the world. The Jumbo still rules in the cargo world however, ferrying thousands of tons of cargo across the world every single day. The nose cargo door allows unparalleled flexibility for loading oversized cargo inside its cavernous interiors.

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Silkway Cargo Boeing 747-400 Freighter 4K-SW888 (built in 1999) at KUL in Apr 2016

The next few years will see more and more airlines around the world retire the Boeing 747s from their fleet, as newer aircraft get inducted. However, the Jumbo will soldier on – in one form or another for at least a decade and a half, allowing the current generation of aviation enthusiasts a chance to marvel at this amazing feat of engineering.

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Trip Report: SQ Premium Economy Experience BOM-SIN A380

Singapore Airlines Premium Economy Experience BOM-SIN A380

BACKGROUND

Singapore Airlines had started retrofitting its A380s with its brand new Premium Economy Class (PY) product. During the retrofitting exercise, the usual A380 service to BOM had been temporarily downgraded to a 777-300ER. However, a couple of months later, the A380 was back on the SIN-BOM sector with the new Premium Economy class on offer.

The SQ PY product looked decent from the ads and publicity material I had seen; although the seats themselves were nowhere close to say the Turkish Airlines Premium Economy seats on their 777-300ERs. I had experienced the Turkish PY some time ago and felt that the seats were pretty close to a regional Business Class product. Nevertheless, I was sure SQ would more than make it up with the onboard service.

I had a trip to Singapore coming up, and was contemplating trying out the PY product on SQ. It meant spending around 150 USD more (one way) as compared to a Y ticket. I was not sure whether it was worth it, but in the end decided to try it out on one leg.

I hoped I had made the right choice and SQ would not let me down.

REACHING THE AIRPORT

I was to fly on SQ 423, the signature overnight departure out of BOM, operated by the A380. This flight has seen a couple of equipment upgrades in the recent years – from a 777-300A to a 777-300ER to the A380 right now.

I left home early anticipating heavy evening traffic on my way to the airport. I wasn’t wrong. What is usually a 20-minute taxi ride in no traffic, turned into an almost 40 minute crawl. Anyway, I reached the airport well in time, and made my way to the SQ check-in counters.

CHECK-IN

There was a longish queue at the Economy counters, but thanks to my Star Gold status, I could use the Business Class check-in counters, which had only 2 people ahead of me.

The check-in process took less than five minutes, and I was handed my boarding pass and the Indian immigration departure card.

Next up was security check, which again took not more than five minutes, and then I joined a long queue for immigration. As it is the start of the peak international departures wave out of BOM, almost all counters were open, and our queue progressed quickly. Post immigration, I made my way to the “Loyalty Lounge” to relax for a bit.

After downing a couple of Kingfishers at the lounge, I made my way to our boarding gate.

Our aircraft was parked at Gate 68 today.

There was a sizeable queue of passengers at our boarding gate, which meant that the flight was quite full.

BOARDING

Sector: BOM-SIN

Airline: Singapore Airlines

Flight: SQ 423

Aircraft: Airbus A380-841

Registration: 9V-SKH

Seat: 31K

Boarding for our flight was announced at 2305, 30 minutes before STD, but ten minutes later than what was printed on the boarding pass. From the massive queue that had formed at the gate, I doubted if we could push back on time.

The boarding was sequential, with Suites and Business Class passengers invited to board first, followed by Star Alliance Gold members. With a quick scan of my boarding pass, I made my way to the aerobridge. SQ Premium Economy Class on the A380 is situated on the lower deck just aft of Door #2, and I boarded through one of the two lower deck aerobridges.

The Premium Economy Class features a comfortable 2-4-2 seating configuration.

I had selected seat 31K, a bulkhead window seat in the first row of the PY section. This meant that I had massive legroom to stretch on this overnight flight. The regular seat pitch in PY is 38 inches.

The seat itself was comfy, wider than the standard Economy seat (up to 19.5 inches wide) and the recline is up to 8 inches. There was a wide double armrest between two adjacent seats. This was good, as I hate people hijacking the entire armrest. The rear portion of the armrest is slightly raised and includes a USB charging port and the headphone port.

Each seat also comes with an adjustable LED reading light, which can be moved to any angle that’s comfortable for you.

Small amenity pouches had been placed on each seat. These were limited edition pouches with SG50 themed motifs and consisted of socks and a toothbrush kit.

The boarding process took around 40 minutes, which meant we were ten minutes past our departure time by the time it was completed. The crew passed around the menus for the supper service on this 5-hour flight.

The menu had a distinctive “Premium Economy Class” branding.

Headphones had already been placed in the seat pocket.

SQ offers bulky active noise cancellation headphones in PY. I was keen on trying them out later on.

The IFE system in PY consists of a 13.3-inch full HD LCD screen. For my row of course, the IFE screen was mounted on the bulkhead wall. The position of the screen means that one has to always look slightly upwards at all times in order to view it. A better arrangement would be to place the screen inside the armrests.

Our captain came online made an announcement that we had closed our doors, and were waiting for our pushback clearance, which would take around 10 more minutes. We finally pushed back at midnight, almost half-an-hour post our scheduled departure time.

THE FLIGHT

One after another, the four RR Trents came alive. The A380 cabin is incredibly quiet, and even with four engines powered on, one could easily talk to fellow travellers without raising one’s voice.

We began taxiing towards Runway 27. There were 3 aircraft ahead of us in the takeoff queue and after nearly 7 minutes of taxiing, we turned in to Taxiway N3 and held short of Runway 27.

Now this was interesting, as heavy aircraft and especially the A380 usually departs using taxiway N1, which allows maximum runway length to be used. However, as N1 was currently shut for maintenance, we would depart from N3 tonight. The cabin lights were dimmed and then turned off for takeoff.

After a couple of minutes of holding for a landing, we turned on to Runway 27 and waited. The four Trents were slowly spooled up to takeoff power, and we began our takeoff roll. The sound of the engines even on the takeoff roll is incredibly low. After a 35 second roll; we lifted off into the night sky in the westerly direction.

After a nice bank to the left, we set course in a southeasterly direction towards Singapore.

The cabin lights were turned back on and the crew began preparation for the meal service. The Premium Economy cabin looked pretty full, so the demand seems to be there.

The drinks trolley appeared first, which is how I like. I enjoy having a drink or two before eating the main meal, and hate airlines that serve drinks during/after the meal.

Singapore Airlines serves champagne in PY, so I decided to try it out. It was served in transparent plastic “flutes”, not real glass ones. Fair enough I think. A pack of roasted almonds and cashews was served alongside. A nice touch!

With champagne in hand, I decided to explore the entertainment on offer. Didn’t feel like watching a movie, so I decided to watch back-to-back episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”. Always a favourite of mine on flights!

The main meal service began soon after. There were three meal options on offer – one international and two Indian.

I opted for the international meal, which consisted of apple coleslaw with toasted almond as an appetizer, “Cayenne Pepper flavoured chicken stew” with sautéed vegetables and potatoes for the main course, and an apricot cheesecake for dessert. It looked quite filling for a five-hour flight.

The meal was served with a bread-roll & butter and a bottle of water.

The crew asked for a second round of drinks, and this time I chose the signature SQ Singapore Sling.

After finishing my meal, I reclined my seat, pulled out the calf rests. I cannot sleep on flights, so it would be helpful to at least catch up on a quick nap.

The cabin crew passed around bottles of water to keep us hydrated through the flight. Another nice touch!

The cabin lights were dimmed and slowly turned off.

ARRIVAL

Roughly an hour before arrival, the captain came online and announced that we would begin our descent into SIN in 20 minutes. The cabin crew did a quick round of drinks, offering water or orange juice.

As we began our descent, the rising sun presented me with this beautiful view out my window.

It became brighter as we approached SIN. The A380 is super quiet on the approach leg, and one can barely hear the engines. Soon we lined up on Runway 02L, and made a smooth touchdown, 10 minutes post our scheduled arrival time.

After a longish taxi, we docked at Terminal 3, which is my favourite terminal at Singapore Changi Airport. The exit from the aircraft was quick, as we were the second group after Suites to leave.

As I made my way to the Arrivals area, I clicked a final departure shot of the superjumbo that brought me to SIN.

I walked towards Immigration, and saw hardly any queues at the counters. This would be a quick SIN immigration for a change at least for me.

SUMMARY

It was a good, positive experience for me in Singapore Airlines Premium Economy on board their flagship Airbus A380. There is a distinct difference in both the hard product and the onboard service as compared to the standard Economy Class. The seats are wider, come with fold out calf and foot rests and recline further. The grey-orange upholstery also adds another level of distinction as compared to Y class.

The F&B service is superior with a wider choice of food including the famed “Book the Cook” available for PY. Champagne (even though it is not the best) is served through the flight along with assorted nuts.

Even though it was worth spending the extra bucks for the PY experience, I feel SQ needs to drive it up a notch or two higher. The seats although good, could be made better – especially in terms of seat width and recline. The Turkish Airlines PY seats on the 777s as quoted earlier are a good example. The amenity kits could be equipped better. Eyeshades and earplugs should definitely be a part of it.

Hope you enjoyed this peek into the Premium Economy experience on Singapore Airlines.

Thank you all for reading!

Inaugural Singapore Airlines A380 flight from BOM – May 31 2014

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The inaugural Singapore Airlines A380 flight out of BOM holds short of Rwy 27

May 31, 2014 – Singapore Airlines started operations with the Airbus A380 super-jumbo out of BOM. This made Singapore Airlines the first airline to operate the massive double-decker aircraft to India. The Indian government had recently allowed airlines to operate the A380 to India, overturning an earlier ban on the aircraft from operating to the country.

9V-SKH operated the inaugural A380 flight, SQ423 on May 31, 2014.