Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist


Dateline: 9:40 pm December 6, 2017 Filed under:

The highlight of watching my son’s soccer game last month was the rare sight of a 747 taking off from the nearby MSP airport. For me, the highlight of CNU in Detroit (DTW) last year was arriving that the terminal to see a 747 parked at the gate, preparing for the long flight to Seoul (ICN). The 747 still stops people short, a combination of stellar industrial design, a symbol of cultural and technological change, and an encapsulation of the wonder of flight.

People Still Stop to Look – A Delta 747 at DTW in 2016

As a kid there were three 747 departures per day out of MSP (didn’t you learn your airport codes in high school?). Two would leave in the morning, one to Chicago (ORD) and one to Seattle (SEA), both on their way to Tokyo. The third would depart around 6PM each night on the nonstop to London (LGW – yes, Gatwick). This was the one to watch, as it was fully loaded and flew lower as a result. I recall countless times, playing sports at Pearl Park in south Minneapolis, I’d hear the familiar groan of the engines first, before the 747 appeared over the trees. I’d stare up at the sky as a ball rolled past my feet, absolutely in awe of the majesty of the airliner flying overhead, low enough to feel the engines’ thunder if not reach up and touch it, banking towards the north for its overnight flight across the Atlantic.

The last 747-200 in service with Northwest, at MSP, 2008

I’ve only flown on a 747 a couple times. Once was in 1989, nonstop MSP to HNL for a family vacation to Hawaii. That year was pretty exciting for Northwest Airlines and the history of the 747, as 1989 was when the 747-400 came in to service. With a range of more than 2,000 additional miles, airlines around the world opened up new routes. Nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG) and Sydney (SYD) and London (LHR) to Singapore (SIN) were now possible, for example. Northwest could finally fly a fully-loaded 747 from New York (JFK) to Tokyo (NRT). The 747-400 changed international routes for the airlines that utilized them. I visited Post Road with my grandfather several times in early 1989 to watch the daily Northwest 747-400 flight arrive from Phoenix (PHX), its trial route.

Northwest’s first 747-400, as seen from Post Road, 1989 (MSP) – photo by Mike Jackim

Watching planes is a favorite pastime. I recall a pleasant evening at MIA watching planes from an adjacent roadway with a parking lot. Fly in to LAX and stop for lunch at the In ‘n’ Out Burger on Sepulveda. While studying in London in 1996 I ventured out to Heathrow one Saturday morning for some jolly good planespotting. That was an absolute trip, back in the days when the open-air rooftop of the Queen’s Building was still available for planespotting. I was among 50 or so hardy men of all ages who had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning but consult their fleet listings. We were collectively awaiting what at the time was still a rare appearance of the “triple seven,” and of course, Concorde! We all saw what we came for and had a spot of tea.

747 landing at LAX, as seen from the In ‘n’ Out Burger on Sepulveda

My other 747 experience was on British Airways from ORD to LHR in 2005. My wife and I were headed to Brussels (BRU) to see U2, but due to a snafu with my passport, we couldn’t board our scheduled flight in Chicago. After some number of hours at the passport agency the next day in the Loop, we tried standby and couldn’t get on any flight out that day. The next day, when the gate agent at O’Hare saw us arrive again to try standby, he felt pretty bad. He had flown all the way to Australia to see his favorite band, Midnight Oil, so he had sympathy that we missed seeing U2. He felt so bad that he got us upgraded to Business Class. Pretty nice, I must say, with lie-flat beds and champagne. I don’t expect to repeat that experience, on a 747 or anywhere.

747-400 at Heathrow (LHR)

Well, times change, but you don’t have to like it. It will be sad to see the 747 leave the Delta fleet this month. It will fly on with British Airways for a spell, as well as for a few others. Long live the Queen of the Skies!

747s at San Francisco (SFO), around 2008

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