Boeing 747 takes maiden flight on February 9, 1969.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 2/07/2001
  • Essay 1181
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On February 9, 1969, Boeing flies its 747 model for the first time. The jumbo jet, christened the City of Everett, is the first new Boeing transport not painted in Boeing's traditional prototype colors of brownish-copper and yellow.

Big Bird

Crowds of people gathered at Paine Field in Everett that morning to witness the flight of the largest transport plane in the world. On board were pilot Jack Waddell (b. 1923), co-pilot Brien Wygle (1924-2020), and flight engineer Jesse Wallick (1934-2016). The weather started off bad, but at 11 a.m. the clouds began to thin.

Waddell eased the throttles forward. The superjet accelerated down the runway, its nose lifting. Halfway down the field the giant plane took flight at 164 m.p.h.

Accelerating the craft up to 184 m.p.h., Wadell ascended to 2,000 feet, circled the airport and began climbing to 15,500 feet. Following the 747 was a North American f-86 chase plane, its pilot acting as an observer.

Smooth Sailing

Once at the test altitude, the three-man crew performed a series of tests, including sideslips and a simulated loss of hydraulic power. The tests went smoothly. The crew flew home

At 12:50 p.m., the jet performed a perfect landing at Paine Field. The landing speed was 150 m.p.h.

Interviewed after the flight, pilot Waddell described the craft as "a pilot's dream." He noted the responsive movement of the aircraft, which he referred to as a "two-finger" airplane, meaning that it only took a forefinger and thumb around the control wheel to fly it.

The 747 was tested throughout the rest of the year in the most rigorous flight testing program in aviation history. Along with lab tests, more than 1,400 hours of flight were logged on five 747s, in 1,013 trips aloft. On December 30, 1969, the FAA certified the Boeing 747, and ushered in the era of Jumbo Jets.

By the Numbers

The 747 model has a wing span of 195 feet, 8 inches and a length of 231 feet, 10 inches. This makes the plane 53 feet greater than the 707-300, and 79 feet longer. The 747, at 735,000 pounds, weighs almost twice as much as the 707.

With a cruising speed of over 600 m.p.h., the 747 has a service ceiling of 40,000 feet, and a range of about 6,000 miles. The plane can carry up to 450 passengers, up to 270,000 pounds of cargo, or a mixture of both.

In order to build the 747, Boeing built a new facility in Everett. At 472 million cubic feet of space, it was the largest building in the world.


Robert Redding and Bil Yenne, Boeing: Planemaker to the World (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1983), 193-195, 198; Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 265. Note: This item was updated on May 24, 2021.

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