It hit me when I was driving home from Everett yesterday. Southbound on I-5, I was just passing Boeing Field in Seattle when I suddenly felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I gasped for air as my mind began to race… it was like my brain was a film reel playing nearly 60 years of history at lightning speed. My lip quivered, my brow furrowed and I started sobbing.
Just an hour earlier, I watched the 1,574th and final 747 lift off into the sunrise with its new owner, Atlas Air. I photographed it all… pushback, engine startup, the water cannon salute, taxi, takeoff, and the grand finale: a low pass that ended with a pronounced wing wave as she climbed and climbed, growing smaller and smaller, before fading away into the morning sky.
Over the past couple months, I’ve attended all of the major milestones for this very special airplane: rollout, high speed taxi test, first flight, return from paint, delivery ceremony and flyaway. Even before that, I visited the Everett factory on numerous occasions to watch the plane being assembled. I touched it. I stood inside it. And throughout it all, I maintained an almost stoic demeanor. I was aware of the history I was bearing witness to, but for reasons still unknown to me, I was practically emotionless.
Up until yesterday, there was always a “next” milestone. But, like a ton of bricks, it hit me. I suddenly realized there wasn’t anything left. The 747 had become a legacy airplane program, and our job at Boeing was – for all intents and purposes – done. I lost it.
I’m often guilty of “golden age thinking” – a notion that’s outlined in one of my favorite movies, “Midnight in Paris.” It’s the belief that an earlier time period was better than the one one’s living in today. For me, that usually means the 1930s or the 1960s – both have unique elements of glamour and simplicity. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than content with my life and firmly believe that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, but I actually find it strangely satisfying to “reminisce” about the days of yore, even when those bygone times aren’t ones I myself actually lived in.
Those who know me well, know that I’m an emotional person. But as a historian, I think that actually works in my favor. I become so attached to different stories – the 747, for example – that they become a part of me. It’s like they’re my own memories – things I lived, not things I learned.
I can hear the legendary Joe Sutter pleading for more engineers after Boeing executives asked him to cut 1,000 from his team. I feel the energy, the drive and the determination of all 50,000 Incredibles, working around-the-clock and stubbornly refusing to leave the factory. I can smell the dust, hear the machinery and feel the vibrations of new construction as the world’s largest building takes shape around me. Some people know the promise this airplane holds, but most don’t understand the profound impact it will have on aviation… on humanity. I am there, watching the first 747 come to life.
I’m eternally grateful to everyone who came before me… those who designed and built the airplane, and those who documented the history, preserved the artifacts and told (and retold) the stories. I’m so proud and honored to be part of the team tasked with carrying forth this truly incredible legacy, and can assure you I’ll do my very best to do this story justice for decades to come. To the legendary Queen of the Skies: Our world shrunk and our hearts grew because of you.
3 thoughts on “All hail the Queen”
Well done. I was one of the Incredibles and your writing brought back many memories. I would like to have been at some of the festivities but health made it impossible. May I join you with some of my recollections?
Am easy understanding – I cannot WAIT for the new/reinvigorated Boeing to start shocking the world market again!
Good morning Annie.
I finally read your blog on the final 747. It moved me enough to let you know how much I appreciate your emotional side. Thank you for sharing your feelings. Yes, we can love an airplane. The wonderful Queen was one of those shaped, metal objects that captured your heart and mine as well.
I fell in love with her when she was first revealed. I begged my father to take me to watch her first flight and again when she land at Boeing Field, “since it was so close to home.” I didn’t get to go. He wasn’t in love and wasn’t moved, but an eleven year old boy was. I began drawing her and eventually bought a model. Oh, that exquisite hump. What a glorious place for her captain and his crew to sit, well above the pedestrian passengers. I wanted that seat. I wanted it not for my glory but to get close to her. To really get to know her and relate to her. In 1980 or ‘81 I finally sat it that seat. She was parked on the apron east from the large hanger at Boeing Field. I was inside the hanger supporting the installation of a radome on a 737 for some South American country. Throughout the morning I could see her looking toward the hanger. I would glance her direction from time-to-time hoping she wouldn’t leave. Finally, the whistle blew marking the start of the 30 minute lunch break. I quickly stepped away from my work, grabbed my lunch bag and walked toward the large, open hanger door. She had waited. Though her paint was weathered she looked beautiful in the midday sunlight. I tentatively walked across the apron to get a closer look. As I approached I noticed the portable stairs the allowed entry. I told myself to look like you belong here and promptly ascended the stairs. I quickly located a second set of stairs and made my way toward the hump and the heart of this amazing machine. I stood for a moment just looking. Everything was there. All the gauges, throttle levers, the yoke…..and the captain’s seat. I slowing moved my mesmerized mind and feet toward the seat.
Nobody cared. I had a Boeing badge. They watched me walk toward the plane. They didn’t say anything when I took the steps to gain access. They watched me head up to the cockpit.
I slipped into that left-hand seat with my lunch in hand. I peered out the windows. I couldn’t believe how high about the ground I was. I couldn’t believe I was sitting with her. All that majesty. All of her history. I sat there for a few moments taking her in. Wow. I’m here.
Well, I only have so much time so out came the sandwich. The Queen and I had about 20 minutes together that sunny day on the Boeing ramp. It was a wonderful time and I cherish our meeting.
Now, some forty years later, I’m still in love. She still moves me. I never thought about the day she would wave goodbye and leave Paine Field, the same field where I learned to fly. I’m crushed. I feel like a close friend has left forever, never to be seen again. I watched her wave, over and over again. I couldn’t believe – didn’t want to believe – what I was watching. I had to stifle the emotional welling.
I understand your emotion Annie. I understand it very well. We’ve fallen in love with an airplane and there’s nothing wrong with that. She was way more than an airplane. You don’t call a mere airplane a Queen.
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