OVER the past 50 years, millions of people all over the world have looked up as a 747 jumbo jet has flown over their heads and wondered, usually out loud: “How the bloody hell is that thing in the sky?”
I still marvel at it. And I still get a thrill when I find that the plane waiting at the airport gate has that distinctive roof bubble.
It’s not my absolute favourite machine in the world but it’s certainly up there.
Which is why I was sad to hear this week that, thanks to the 747’s thirst for fuel, Boeing has pulled the plug.
Back in the Sixties, everyone assumed the future of air travel would be glamorous and sexy and supersonic.
That’s why Britain and France teamed up to make Concorde — which IS my absolute favourite machine in the world.
But giant American airline Pan Am thought differently.
They wanted a plane which would carry lots of people cheaply, which meant it had to be big. So they went to Boeing and, in just 28 months — a staggering achievement — the 747 was born.
It was not an easy birth. Pilots found in test flights that the wings would flutter.
So, to solve the problem, engineers fitted ballast made from depleted uranium.
There was also a problem with engines stalling for no obvious reason and an even bigger problem with the regulations, which said all passengers should be able to evacuate the cabin in less than 90 seconds.
That’s just about possible when there are only 90 people on board but not if there are 600. Especially when 100 of them are up on the top deck.
Still, they solved the issues at breakneck speed — by throwing people out and breaking their legs — and even though one of the first planes crashed into a post while landing and ripped off its undercarriage, the 747 went into production. And straight into another problem.
A massive recession meant no airline was going to be daft enough to spend millions on one of the new behemoths, so in an 18-month period only two were sold. Both to Aer Lingus.
Eventually, though, the 747 caught on and, soon, it became the only realistic way of giving yourself epic jet-lag.
It was fast, too. Not as fast as Concorde, obviously. But when there’s a tail wind, pilots often have to ease back on the throttle of a 747 to stop it going through the sound barrier.
And then there’s the safety record. Over the years a few have crashed but subsequent investigations have almost always found the plane wasn’t to blame. It was shot down, the pilot had been impatient or there had been a mistake with the servicing.
Usually, though, the plane would survive. On flight UAL 811 from Los Angeles to Sydney in 1989, the cargo door blew off, taking several square feet of fuselage with it.
Nine passengers were sucked out and at least one went through the number three engine, which immediately broke.
Shortly afterwards, flames began to appear from engine number four so the pilots, suffering from giddiness as the oxygen system had been knocked out by the explosive decompression, had to shut that down too. But despite all this, the plane landed safely and no further lives were lost.
Over the years, the 747 has been militarised and turned into an airborne command-and-control centre for the US President. It’s been used as a fire engine, carrying 20,000 gallons of water to douse forest blazes. And it’s carried space shuttles on its back.
But it’ll be remembered most of all for the joy it brought to the world, taking people to places they could never have visited before it came along.
There’s no other plane like it. It even had a face like Thomas The Tank Engine. I shall miss it.
GINA Prince-Blythewood, the female director of new action movie The Old Guard, says that “being able to throw a punch . . . is the biggest giveaway in an action film with women”.
That’s presumably why she cast Charlize Theron in the lead role.
Having seen Mad Max: Fury Road and, better still, Atomic Blonde, you get the sense that if you bumped into the South African actress in a pub, you’d be very careful not to spill her pint.
THERE have been queues round the block in London for a pair of limited-edition Air Jordan 1 OG Dior training shoes which cost, wait for it, £1,800.
They are not made from gold or the foreskin of a rare whale. The laces are not studded with rubies and there is no platinum in the soles.
They are just shoes.
But somehow, it has been decided they should cost more than the very tidy 2004 Mini Cooper I saw on Auto Trader this week.
I NEEDED this week to set up an online presence for my new farm shop and, like every other old person, I called my daughter who popped round to help.
In a blizzard of activity, she went online, bought something called a domain name, started a new email address, linked it to my phone, and then, by pressing and holding various buttons, created an Instagram account.
Throughout the whole process, she gave a running commentary, explaining what she was doing and why, and it was incredible.
Because although I could tell she was speaking in English, I literally didn’t understand a single word she said.
WHENEVER countries are asked to check their beaches for cleanliness, Britain always sends an army of boffins to the coast with test tubes and pipettes and some litmus paper.
And having analysed the reports, we always say our beaches are filthy.
Every other country, meanwhile, does no checking at all and says their beaches are fine.
And I’m beginning to wonder if the same sort of thing is going on with the coronavirus figures.
According to the latest numbers, there have been 15 Covid deaths in India for every one million people in the population.
The number for Pakistan is 22, Turkey is 62, Egypt is 34 and Russia is 72. Whereas in Britain, it’s a whopping 656.
This is seen as proof that we are the dirty man of the world, that we don’t wash our hands, that we cough all over one another and that our useless Government has done a terrible job.
Or is it actually proof that we are the only country that’s counting properly?
TWO out of three people in Britain aged 18 to 24 think the Battle of Britain might be something to do with the English Civil War.
So there’s a message for the BBC.
If it’s serious about wooing younger audiences with something inspirational and educational, that shows 19-year-olds doing something truly heroic, how about clearing the schedules this weekend and showing the Battle Of Britain movie.
I SEE it’s now possible to suffer from something called “unconscious racism”. This means you are being racist when you don’t think you’re being racist.
So let’s just get this straight. I’m currently thinking about making a sandwich. I know there’s a bit of cold chicken in the fridge and I’m wondering whether to add some mayonnaise.
This means I’m not thinking about robbing a bank. So, does that make me a bank robber?
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