sábado, 10 de noviembre de 2012


Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

The Boeing 747-400 (fruit of a modernization stint of five years made between 1984 and 1988 in order to optimize and revamp the 747 design and production) has been the most advanced version of the legendary Jumbo family until the arrival of the 747-8I (which flew for the first time on March 20, 2011, over Everett, Washington, near Seattle, and whose first unit was delivered to Lufthansa on May 5, 2012 ).

Its maiden flight took place on April 29, 1988, being introduced into the market on February 9, 1989, with the first unit delivered to Northwest Airlines, while the last one of the 694 produced was delivered in 2009.

Built with breakthrough assembly methods ensuring a high quality of product, reducing the delivery times and diminishing both production and maintenance costs, it boasts a lower noise and operating costs together with remarkable aerodynamic improvement in comparison to previous models of 747s and features an 1.8 m longer wing with ´winglets´ (created to get a reduced aerodynamic drag), in such a way that the wing tips appear curved upwards, which results in a 3% reduction in fuel consumption and a superior aircraft range, all of which provides remarkable savings for airlines and their passangers throughout the plane operating life, without forgetting the essential factor that it uses advanced materials enabling 1,900 kg less of structural weight in the 747-400 structure, thanks to:

a) Its new highly resistant aluminum alloys located in wing skins, stringers and lower spar chords, featuring more strength and an improved fatigue life.

b) The introduction of new floor panels manufactured with light and tough graphite composite and used in the passenger cabin (the previous ones in the 747-300 were made of metal).

c) Its carbon brakes on the 16 wheels of the main landing gear (offering great resistance and special traits) replaced the previous ones made of steel, allowing an overall weight saving of 816 kg.

On the other hand, from late 2002, every Boeing-747-400 Jumbo began to sport LCD screens providing these aircraft with even greater reliability and capacity to introduce new updated functions, and the crews can get an updating of the mechanical state of the aircraft in flight through the EICAS (Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System), a fairly advanced contrivance simultaneously showing the condition of several systems on one of the screens, unlike what happened in previous models in times when the maintenance technicians only had this information available when the aircraft was on the ground.

It has always been one of the most beloved passenger aircrafts ever made and highly appreciated both by crews and everybody who has ever had the chance of flying inside it, being prominent for its great dimensions (64.4 m wing span x 70.67 m length x 19.41 m height, together with 6.1 m of cockpit width and 541.2 m2 of wing area), its weight (180985 kg empty with Pratt & Whitney 4062 engines, 180755 kg with General Electric CF6-80C2B5F engines and 181755 kg with Rolls-Royce RB-211-524H-T engines, along with a maximum take-off weight of 396900 kg), and its maximum range of 13.450 km (14.205 km in the 747-400ER passenger model ).

Moreover, this significant plane, one of the most important in the history of aviation, has always been a benchmark as to maximum capacity of passengers (up to 416 in three-class configuration and 524 in two-class arrangement) and top speed (988 km/h), with a maximum cruising one of 939 km/h.

It was also the first wide fuselage civil aircraft featuring the longest and weightiest dimensions and the pioneer in the use of high derivation ratio turbofan engines, less contaminant and noisy than conventional turbojets.

Additionally, the steady digitization of all the engineering data regarding its massive fuselage has been very significant for the increasingly production of exceedingly accurate components and the assembly of skin panels through utterly new laser-guided tools.

Easily recognizable for its impressive size and its second floor with further passenger seats on top of the fuselage behind the cockpit, it kept the four-engine wide-body layout of its predecessors, but adding the aforementioned number of technological and structural changes to render a more efficient airframe, along with a two-crew glass cockpit featuring CRT displays which show flight instrumentation along with the previously mentioned EICAS, avoiding the need for a flight engineer, offering more fuel efficient engines, revised fuselage/wings fairings and a horizontal stabilizer fuel tank, as well as featuring an all-new interior with upgraded in-flight entertainment architecture and a stretched upper deck.

Regarding the powerplants, the addition of new engines like the Pratt & Whitney PW4056, the General Electric CF6-80C2BIF and the Rolls-Royce RB21-524G/H/T offered lower fuel consumption and superior thrust, together with a full authority digital engine control (FADEC) adjusting engine performance for improved efficiency.

Credit: Rolls-Royce

Cutaway of Rolls-Royce RB211-524G/H-T, the top-notch engine featured by the Boeing 747-400 Ibhayi of South African Airlines appearing in this article and which was delivered in 1998 during the presidential tenure of Nelson Mandela, often making the 9046 km and 11 hour direct flight between O.R Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and Heathrow one in London, accomplishing a formidable flight exhibition six years later during Farnborough 2004 Aviation Fair. Sporting the unique three-spool design and a bit stubby appearance of the high-bypass RB211 turbofan engines lineage, it is the most powerful of them all, producing a thrust of 60,600 pounds, being greatly improved as to fuel efficiency, and combines the best traits of the RB211-524H with the very efficient fuel burners of the Trent to attain unmatched power and performance (along with FADEC), a key factor in a long range passenger airliner, so it was also adopted for the Boeing 767, having likewise been successfully installed in other large aircraft like the Russian An-124-210.

Besides, the Boeing 747-400 sports other top-notch electronics like a Honeywell flight management computer (FMC) which assists pilots in calculating optimal altitudes and routes, along with a Rockwell-Collins central maintenance computer (CMC) which automates troubleshooting tasks.

Moreover, an indicator of the technological progress of this model is the fact that it features 365 switches, lights and gauges, a much lower figure than the 971 on the 747-300, and its cabin boasts a new curved unswept architecture (optional in the 747-400 and standard in the 747-400ER)

Evidently, the Boeing 747-400 and the Boeing 747-400ER (Extended Range) have been improved by the two far superior current best widebody large long range passenger jet airliners in the world: the Boeing 747-8 (467 passengers in a three-class configuration, and 30% quieter and 16% more fuel efficient than the 747-400, also beating him with a 13% lower seat-mile cost) and the Airbus A380 (525 passengers in a three-class configuration), which have more efficient engines (dual rotor, axial flow, high bypass ratio turbofan General Electric GEnx 63.800 lbf 284kN the 747-8 and three-shaft high bypass ratio turbofan Rolls-Royce Trent 970 70,000 lbf 310 kN or two-spool high-bypass ratio turbofan Engine Alliance GP7270 70,000 lbf 310 kN the Airbus A380), are built with lightweight materials, as well as being more fuel efficient.

It couldn´t be other way, because both of them are much more modern designs and feature better technology and aerodynamics, along with the most advanced updatings in avionics, electronics and available materials in the civil aviation industry.

For example, the 747-8I wings have experienced an utter design overhaul, being thicker and deeper and with a recalculated aerodynamics, in such a way that both the bending moments and pressure distribution are different, and the airframe contains some carbon fiber reinforced plastic, which along the introduction of fly-by-wire technology for most of the lateral controls bring about a reduction in weight. And besides, its four last generation GEnx-2B67 engines sport the most updated technologies including composite blades and fan together with a breakthrough turbine generating more efficiency than the engines it replaces, it all with the added benefit of an interior remarkable for its new curved and upwsept architecture prodiding the passengers with a superior sense of space and comfort and an outstanding solid state light emitting LED lighting technology that provides mood lighting and smooth transitions aimed at a more restful flight, as well as helping to improve reliability and maintenance costs;

On its turn, the Airbus A380 (which in 2007 beat the 747-400 Jumbo as the biggest passenger airliner in the world) is the other current driving force in the scope of widebody large passenger aircraft, with its IMA architecture firstly used in military aircraft like the F-35 Lightning, F-22 Raptor and Dassault Rafale) and many other advances.

But in my viewpoint - for reasons that I will explain later- he 747-400 and 747-400ER (in both passenger and freight version) have been the two major derivative updates of the original Boeing 747 airplane created by the 4,500 member team under the direction of chief engineer Joe Sutter in late sixties and presented to the world on September 30, 1968.

Though they have already begun to be superseded by the Boeing 747-8I and Airbus A380 and won´t be probably operating after 2020, I do believe that the Being 747-400 and the 747-400 ER version (the latter using an improved 777-style interior and being the most advanced Boeing 747 Jumbo until the appearance of the 747-8) will go on having the upper hand in some very important sides:

a) Sheer speed: a top velocity of  988 km/h (the same as the 747-8I) and maximum cruise speed of 939 km/h (a bit more than the 917 km/h cruise speed of the 747-8I) is something truly remarkable and important  on ten or more hours travels between 11,000 and 15,000 km, and superior to the 955 km/h maximum speed and 900 km/h cruise speed of the Airbus A380.

Thanks to its swept-back wings featuring a 37.5 º angle, it is able to fulfil a cruising speed between Mach 0.84 and Mach 0.88, depending on the variant, which turns it into the fastest passenger and freight Boeing in existence, and the quoted angle enabled him to be able to get inside the available hangars.

b) The proved 99% reliability in very long trips of the 747-400 and 747-400ER. It is one of the highlights in the history of aviation. Their safety record is second to none and will be very difficult to beat in future.

c) The convenience and security levels. Vast majority of people having ever had the relish of flying inside a 747-400 or 747-400ER do consider it his favourite aircraft. Such is its charm, its elegance, the amplitude of its two corridors, and above all the comfort of the flight experienced. This is one of the most important and legendary planes ever made, with perhaps the safest flight hitherto for such a huge aircraft.

d) Unmatched flexibility to operate in short, medium and long range routes.

e) Its divided control surfaces and sophisticated three layer flaps minimizing the landings speed and enabling it to land on common airstrips.

f) The utter interchangeability of the Rolls-Royce RB211-524H-T engine between Boeing 747-400 and 747-400ER with the Boeing 767-300 and 767-300ER (as a third powerplant choice for the two last ones along with the General Electric CF6 and Pratt & Whitney PW4000).

g) Commonality with the Boeings 747-8I and 747-8F regarding the economic advantage of sharing similar training and interchageable parts.

The Boeing 747-400 is probably the most recognizable airliner in the world, with its distinctive hump on the forward fuselage which holds both the cockpit and the upper passenger deck, with three possible choices of powerplants: the General Electric CF&-80C2, the Pratt & Whitney PW4062 and the Rolls-Royce RB211-524G/H-T.

From a historical viewpoint, the Rolls-Royce RB211-524G/H-T is very important and significant, because the RB211 breed (whose designing began in 1968 under the direction of chief engineer John Coplin who strived after creating a jet engine using composite materials) was originally developed for the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar which entered in service in 1972, but it is a highly complex turbofan, so from late 1971, Stanley Hooker as a technical director with a team of highly experienced retirees managed to fix the RB211-22 problems and tune it, with steady updatings for many years resulting in better and better versions providing superior thrust, until he reached in 1980 the figure of 53,000 lbf (240kN) with the RB211-524D, far better than the Pratt & Whitney JT9D in terms of performance and efficiency.

And after the demise of Stanley Hooker in 1984, his team went on completing the Maestro´s work, striving after increasing the thrust even more, which resulted in the creation in 1988 of the 58,000 lbf 260 kN thrust RB211-524G and the 60,600 lbf RB211-524H (sporting FADEC) for the Boeing 747-400, with the RB211-524H being also delivered as a third option for the Boeing 767-300 from February 1990.

And when everybody thought that the Rolls-Royce RB211 had reached its maximum potential and it was clear that the Trent models would be the future, Stanley Hooker´s Team managed to create two new optimized and highly updated versions fitting the Trent 700 improved HP system to the RB211-524G and RB211-524H, which gave birth in 1993 to the lighter 56,400 lbf Rolls-Royce RB211-524G-T and 59,500 lbf Rolls-Royce RB211-524H-T, two real masterpiece engines boasting a great reliability, highly improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, which were adequate for both the 747-400, 747-ER and 767-300.

As often stated by Joe Sutter, the 747 airplane basic design was right in 1968 and it´s still right today, with the main requirement of being an excellent good long haul passenger plane but at the same time a top-notch freighter, so on one hand the Jumbo became the benchmark of passenger big aircraft for more than forty years and simultaneously it was the type which really made the freight market what it is today.

To name only an example, the wet-lease operator Air Atlanta, which has flown more than 70 airlines, has been successfully using four Boeing 747-200 and three Boeing 747-400F as cargo aircraft, while it has simultaneously used one Boeing 747-300 and nine Boeing 747-400 as passenger airplanes, even managing to implement two long routes for Virgin: one of them with a Boeing 747-200 flying from Manchester to Boston and a second one from Gatwick to Orlando, also having been flying two 747-200 for Malaysia Airlines since late 2003, and the firm (leading ACMI operator in the world) can be operative at short notice anywhere on earth, to such an extent that they are able to turn a a 747-200 or 747-400 into an executive jet with a capacity of one hundred leather seats.

Such is the huge operating versatility of the 747 Jumbo Concept.

It enabled the full-fledged implementation of the concept of widebody design with the right architecture, steadily improving the all-around capabilities of the 747 different versions, and that´s why this legendary model has lasted so long, being still the best answer for passenger and freighter market alike, a concept currently embodied to its full expression by the Boeing 747-8I and 747-8F (the latest and most advanced version of the 747 Jumbo progeny), which is larger, quieter and able to carry 51 more passengers than the 747-400, offering 16% better fuel economy and 16% carbon emissions per passenger and incorporating the latest in innovative breakthrough technologies also featured by the 787 Dreamliner, also sharing - though in a much bigger size - its overhauled interior design, with a new curved and unswept architecture giving passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, and besides, has better materials in the structure and fifth generation engines rendering more thrust and boasting amazing reliability.

But the unforgettable sight of the stately 747-400, its exceptional flight characteristics which set new standards throughout two decades, its unique hunch on the forward fuselage and many other second to none features, made that millions of passengers trusted it safely and turn it into a highly beloved real milestone in the History of Aviation,

with such a long lasting versatility and soundness of conceptual design, that even this year, on July 2012, Boeing delivered a 747-400 CF (Converted Freighter) to Evergreen International Airlines.

This plane features some modifications including a new cargo handling system, full overhaul of the aircraft systems, integral main-deck installation, reinforced main-deck door and a further side cargo door, all of which is fulfilled by TAECO in its Xiamen facility, with the help of materials and engineers supplied by Boeing, so the McMinnville (Oregón) firm fosters even more the superb service and reliability already provided by its fleet of nine 747-2 freighters, taking advantage of the lowest operating cost per ton-mile in the industry that has been one of the keystones of the Boeing 747 Jumbo for more than three decades.

It´s only one more example proving that the 747-400 will probably go on still being alive and kicking for some years as a freighter jet, accomplishing its tasks with the high thoroughness, flexibility, security  and speed that have made it famous,

something which has likewise being smartly used by private entrepreneurs like Conrad Kalitta, which founded its firm Kalitta Air in 2000 with three Boeing 747 airplanes and has successfully expanded itself to a current total of twenty-two 747 freigthers (encompassing seven 747-400F and fifteen 747-200F aircraft), able to offer air express delivery of any type of freight around the world), and whose last Jumbo freighter, a 747-400ERF was bought in December of last year.

Even, in July 2011 Lufthansa operated a fleet of thirty 747-400, which go on flying (configured with 344 seats in 3-class layout) along with the two flagships of the German air company: the Airbus A380 (with 526 seats also in 3-class arrangement) and Boeing 747-8I (of which Lufthansa has ordered 20 units, that will be used on long-range intercontinental routes, configured with 362 seats, from Frankfurt to Washington D.C, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chicago and Los Angeles, and whose first one had its first passenger flight between Frankfurt and Washington D.C on June 1 of this year 2012).

Anyway, I do believe that the superb Boeing 747-8I and the Airbus A380 make a class in themselves and will be the pinnacle models of very large widebody passenger airplanes before the arrival of a new turning point in the History of Aviation which will highly probably take place within eighteen years, around 2030, with a change of paradigm in both the design and shape of planes and their performance, redifining the air transport of passengers and cargo on board of large aircraft, by means of new aeronautical technologies that now beginning to be brought to life.

The current configuration of cilindrical fuselage in flagship models like the Boeing 747-I and 747-F, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A320, Airbus A340-600 and the impending Airbus A350 XWB has reached almost its full possibilities for improvements, and besides, that profile inevitably increases the airplane aerodynamic resistance, so presently NASA, Boeing are investing huge sums of wherewithal of their own in deep research and I + D on different lines of investigation mainly aimed at reducing the fuselage friction resistance.

The basic goal is to attain once and for all the highly comfortable, safe, fuel efficient and long range supersonic transport of passengers, reducing as much as possible the weight of the airplanes through the use of state-of-the-art composite materials like carbon fiber in wings and other specific areas, always understanding that the key factor will be a tremendously advanced aerodynamics.

I do believe that the concept of flying wing lacking fuselage or tail and featuring sweptback profile and jet engines, incepted in early 1944 by Walter and Reiman Horten with the prototype Ho IX and specially the basic ideas brought forward by the 1947 Northrop YB-49 Flying Wing prototype featuring eight turbojets Allison/General Electric J35-A5 4,000 lbf (17kN) each and by the Northrop Boeing ATB Project team from 1981 which created the Northrop Grumman B-2, could be retaken, now with hugely improved technology, far better materials, rather deeper knowledge on aerodynamics, much better jet engines, much lower fuel consumption, etc.

The thick airfoil of the YB-49 could not be optimized for high speed performance, because of technological reasons, among them the impossibility to adequately control it, since fly-and-wire technology didn´t exist in late forties and not available then more powerful powerplants were needed.

But a wise arrangement of jet engines on top back area of an ultramodern flying wing built from scratch for supersonic transportation of passengers could pay off, being feasible the attainment of 1.88 Mach (2,000 km h). id est, almost three times faster than the Northrop YB-49 and double than the Northrop Grumman B-2, together with a range of 16,500 km (far superior to the 11,100 km maximum range of the B-2), improving the 14,800 km range of the Boeing 747-8I and the 15,400 km range of the Airbus A380-800.

In this regard, the intensive research that has been made by NASA since 2007 with the two 8.5% scale experimental unmanned Boeing X-48B flying wings with three small turbojet engines located on top back, built from composite materials and developed under the direction of chief engineering Norman Princen, and featuring a configuration variant of blended wing body airplane could be the previous stage to the future design and building of commercial passenger and freight aircraft with the shape of airwings, able to take more passengers (between 600 and 1000) and cargo at more efficient rates than standard configurations, sporting greater fuel economy, range, reliability and life cycling savings than nowadays jewels like the Boeing 747-8I, Boeing 747-8F, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Airbus A380, Airbus A340-600, Airbus A350XWB, etc, with the added chance of significantly reducing the noise, as proved by the likewise flying wing experimental 3% scale prototype Boeing X-48C, a modified two-engine version of the X-48B.

Notwithstanding, before it, it´s highly probable that in near future there could be passenger jet airplanes lacking windows (windowless jet concepts), some of whose prototypes are in advanced stage, featuring cameras coupled to the wings and fuselage and which would enable the passengers (by means of digital electronic high resolution OLED visualization screens and low energetic consumption installed all over the passenger cabin) to watch the outer landscape in real time and panoramic 360º while they are flying.

Such absence of windows would mean in practice some significant advantages: the reduction of fuselage width, the decrease of weight and a remarkable save in fuel consumption. Not in vain, the air freighters like the Boeing 747-400 CF lack windows, since there´s approximately a 0.75% saving in fuel for 1% reduction in weight.

But the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet in its different versions has endured the elapse of time for 42 years fully operative in a number of air companies as either a passenger or cargo aircraft all over the world, with the 747-400 and 747-400ER as the major and pinnacle derivatives of the original 747 which flew commercially for the first time on January 22, 1970, and throughout that time, it has carried around half of the world´s air freight.

And though the new Boeing 747-8I and 747-8F keep the basic architecture of the initial 747 Jumbo airplane and can be considered highly advanced derivative updates of the 747-400 version, I do believe that albeit not being revolutionary models, their aforementioned great improvements in different aspects, specially in the far better, powerful and reliable GEnx-2B67 engines, the much more innovative technologies (many of which are shared by the 787 Dreamliner), the raked wingtips inspired by the 787, 777-300ER and 777-200LR and replacing the 747-400 winglets (which results in a dwindling of both the wingtip vortices on the lateral wing edges, the drag and the wake turbulences, and the subsequent betterment of fuel efficiency),  their superior airfoils, their significantly improved noise reduction, the better materials in the structure, the state-of-the-art LED lighting, the tremendously comfortable interior design inherited from the 787 Dreamliner, and many other features, turn them into a different class in themselves, clearly belonging to the next generation of widebody passenger jets, embodied by both of them and the A380, though the 747-8 keeps intact the invariable concept which made Joe Sutter´s 747 Jumbo highly successful for more than four decades: its astounding versatility and performance as a passenger and freight airplane alike, something that could be a key factor for sales in the upcoming years, with a greatly intact philosophy.


British Airways is currently the main worldwide operator of the Boeing 747-400 Jumbo

British Airways Boeing 747-400 Jumbo at Heathrow Airport (London) two hours before its departure to John Fitzgerald Airport in New York. January 3, 2013.

with a fleet of 57 aircraft making a number of different routes, including the extensively used Heathrow- New York.

Security on board card photographed in vertical position inside a British Airways Boeing 747-400 Jumbo making the route London-New York. © José Manuel Serrano Esparza

They are equipped with four 

Rolls-Royce RB211-524H engines and are able to reach a top speed of 614 mph (988 km/h) with top-notch levels of performance, comfort and security for passengers and crew, along with the possibility of choosing between World Traveller, World Traveller Plus, Club World and First classes.

Passenger area inside a British Airways Boeing 747-400 Jumbo on January 3, 2013, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean during the flight between London and New York.

Passenger seat screen indicating that the British Airways Boeing 747-400 is approaching New York after a 7 hours flight from London crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

These 747-400 jet airlines are very updated, featuring audio and video system for every seat, very wide space, significant aerodynamic improvements, new avionics and a state-of-the-art cockpit, and are the fruit of forty-four years of experience since 1968, year in which BOAC (which merged with BEA through a 1971 Act of Parliament, which resulted in the effective beginning of British Airways on March 31st, 1974) made the

kit of the new and huge hangar at Heathrow Airport intended for the maintenance of the first Boeing 747-100 Jumbos that entered into service in 1970, with capacity for 350 passengers.

© Text and Indicated Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

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