SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — On one of its final flights, a United Airlines 747 roared over the San Francisco Bay Sunday as a guest of honor during the annual Fleet Week airshow.

At San Francisco International Airport others gathered to bid the plane that was once a workhorse for United’s international fleet good-bye. Next month the airline will retire it from the fleet.

“It’s like a building, but not really,” said a youngster attending the party. “It’s a floating building.”

That’s how people have been describing the Boeing 747 since it was introduced in 1970. And Sunday morning, the annual United Family Day had a bitter-sweet quality as workers said goodbye to a plane that redefined air travel.

“Everything that Boeing did when they manufactured this airplane and developed this airplane had never been done before,” said Anthony Spaulding, Managing Director, SFO United Maintenance.

Thousands of United employees, families and friends lined up at the airport to tour two of the remaining eighteen 747’s still in service. Carrying more than 340 passengers, the plane had multiple kitchens and seats stretching as far as the eye can see. And first class had more room than some SF apartments.

Francie Louie/Alamo resident
“Uh…I’m not leaving,” said Alamo resident Francie Louie as she sat in the passenger compartment. “This is very comfortable. I think I’m just gonna be a stowaway!”

It was also the first plane to have a second floor. These days the upstairs is more first-class seating, but in the 1970’s the area actually served as a piano bar. And while the cockpit featured switches and circuit breakers not found on more high-tech designs, a long time pilot said it wasn’t as difficult to fly as people used to say.

“Once you get the picture, it’s a pretty forgiving airplane to land,” said Denna Gollner, a 15-year United 747 pilot.

But current planes can do with two engines what the 747 did with four making it too costly to operate.

The final flight from San Francisco to Honolulu will be on November 7th. It sold out in two hours. After that the entire fleet will be retired.

  1. Back in 1970 I was the Ground service Lead that worked and trained all the ground Rampservice that worked the first trip out of Chicago. The Flight was one of many I worked the inauguration, the first dc-8 out of chicago in 1959 and the last in 1982 the first 757, 767, 777 and the airbus 320. Brought in the jet age for United ! Proud to have worked this great aircraft. So-long and keep flying !

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