An Ode to the 747.
BOSTON–Yes, it is indeed good to be home. It always is. I arrived on a British Airways flight and the equipment was a Boeing 747, which is, I suppose, the most iconic of all passenger aircraft designed and manufactured in this country … and maybe the world.
No sooner had I written that sentence than somewhere inside of me a voice cried out that a legitimate challenger to that title would probably be the venerable DC-3. At any rate, I have a story about both airplanes.
Many years ago, I was sitting in the Kingston, Jamaica, airport waiting for a Cayman Airways flight to Grand Cayman Island. The schedule said it would be one of the two BAC-111 jets the airline had just bought, but it was a DC-3 that came trundling around the corner of the terminal toward the gate.
I let out a groan because the flight–20 minutes in one of the company’s new jets–was now going to take more than an hour. Another passenger, an elderly Jamaican man, was quick to note my disappointment. “Don’ worry, mon,” he said cheerfully, gesturing at the old “gooney bird”, “Dey may be old, but dey never fall down!”
By far my most memorable experience aloft occurred one night sometime in the mid-1980s on a PanAm 747 taking me from Guam back to Honolulu. Not more than a minute or so after take off, while we were still climbing steeply into the darkness, there was a bright flash and a loud bang right outside my window. Scared the crap out of everyone on board, of course, although I clearly remember that there was no discernible change in the behavior of the plane.
Obviously, we had blown an engine and, after another few minutes, one of the flight attendants came on the PA system and in a quavering voice advised us to stay in our seats and keep our seat belts buckled–perhaps the most unnecessary announcement in the history of commercial aviation. A few minutes later, the PanAm captain came on the PA system, confirmed we had lost an engine, and said would have to return to Guam.
He informed us that we were far too heavy to land with all the jet fuel on board that had been needed for the long flight back to Honolulu and we would, therefore, be dumping most of that fuel while circling out over the ocean. Sure enough, 30-40 minutes later, we returned quite safely to Guam on three engines.
And do I have a warm spot in my heart for the 747s? You’re damn right, I do!
I too have a soft spot for 747s, which to me is the very definition of international travel. The planes themselves are beautiful, and–except in the center section, as you mentioned the other day–the seating is more comfortable than in many other aircraft. I’ve also been on a 747 that landed with an engine down, though not nearly so dramatic as your experience. While I know the four engines are not fuel efficient, I always worry a bit when I’m over the ocean in a twin-engine jet. I know modern planes are tested so they can operate with just one, but there’s just a lot less margin for error.
I’ve enjoyed following the progress of your trip, as I do all your posts. It was particularly interesting to get a glimpse of rail travel in different countries.