As they built an airliner that would change commercial aviation around the world, the engineers, machinists and other Boeing employees who designed and built the first Boeing 747s — and kept building them for more than 50 years — also helped build and change Everett and Snohomish County.
That’s a legacy that will live on even after the last of the “Queen of the Skies” have touched down on runways for the last time, among them a cargo carrier that was the last 747 to roll off the Everett line last week. Yet even that date may not arrive for decades. A few airlines still fly the passenger version of the plane; many more will continue flying freighter versions of the aircraft. And work continues to modify two recently completed 747s to serve as Air Force One for U.S. presidents, replacing the current 747s that have been in service for more than 30 years as the Flying White House.
The milestone of the last 747 built, as reported by The Herald’s Janice Podsada, passed Jan. 31 as an Atlas Air cargo plane was celebrated — as were the more than 1,500 other 747s before it — at Boeing’s Everett plant.
Its sheer size — more than 2½ times that era’s Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 and able to carry nearly 400 passengers in its earliest models — brought changes to commercial flight, forcing airports to adapt runways and gates to accommodate the craft but also putting air travel in financial reach of America’s and the world’s middle class.
That size and its success in democratizing air travel also led to the 747’s end. Boeing, five years ago at the Paris Air Show, admitted there was no longer a passenger market for the four-engine, humpbacked Queen, having been usurped by smaller, more fuel-efficient twin-engine princes, among them the Boeing 737 and the Boeing 777 and 787, both built alongside the 747 in Everett, at least until 787 production was fully moved to South Carolina in 2021.
Yet, even through commercial aviation’s boom-and-bust cycles, the 747 and its sister aircraft influenced growth and change in Everett and the county. In population alone, the city grew from about 40,000 residents in the mid-’60s to more than 50,000 through the ’70s and some 112,000 today.
Jobs with Boeing and other employers brought workers and their families from across the U.S. and around the globe to Broadmoor and other Everett homes, including an engineer and his family from Northern Ireland, via aviation jobs in Canada; another engineer from India and his Swedish wife, by way of the United Kingdom; and a motorcycle-riding machinist, his wife and three children, Black Americans from Chicago, creating at the modest apartment complex a “United Nations of engineering families,” said Malcolm McDowell Woods, whose father, Jack, was a tooling engineer for the 747 line in the late-’60s.
Those immigrants and transplants broadened the city’s culture and diversified an economy that over the last half of the century would watch the city’s leading industry of the preceding 100 years winnow away along the waterfront, one wood and pulp mill at a time.
Beyond some 30,000 employees now working for Boeing in Everett, the aerospace giant’s presence has fostered the growth of other aerospace companies in Everett and throughout the county and has helped bring total manufacturing employment to more than 50,000 workers in the county. That competition has helped launch new technologies, including in aviation’s electric aircraft future, with Eviation in Arlington and magniX in Everett.
For Boeing itself, the end for the 747 brings a new beginning at the Everett plant. Pushed by new orders for its 737 Max, Boeing announced its plans to bring a line for the Renton-built 737 to the Everett plant to ramp up production.
Joe Sutter, the late Boeing engineer who led the 747 program at its start and is honored with his likeness below the cockpit of the last 747, was instrumental in Boeing’s decision to build the 747 in Everett, as recounted in a 2017 Herald story about Boeing’s 50th anniversary in Everett.
Everett was one of three locations considered by Boeing for the 747’s nest. Needing access to rail, highways and a long runway, Boeing looked at Walnut Creek, Calif.; near McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, and Everett’s Paine Field.
Sutter, employee No. 1 for the 747 project, convinced his superiors to stick with Washington state, and Everett won out.
“I don’t think anybody can imagine where aviation would be without the 747,” Sutter told The Herald in 2006.
Or where Everett and Snohomish County would be without the Queen of the Skies and those who built her.