By Lindsay Slogrove
Some sad news on BBC World this week, reporting on one of the coronavirus’s latest victims.
One of British Airways’s last passenger-carrying Boeing 747 Jumbo jets went on its final flight to a Mojave Desert graveyard, joining hundreds of others that suffered the same fate – stripped bare to be turned into aluminium cans.
The 30-minute documentary captured its final take-off and landing with a teary pilot saying farewell to the Queen of the Sky. (Yes, Boss, it was unscheduled and I couldn’t tape it so I did watch it with half an eye. Sorry. It was BBC, though, so technically news).
Covid-19’s effect on travelling has forced the airline industry to scrap the 747, which made its first flight in February 1969 from New York to London, and change to smaller, more cost-effective alternatives. Cargo versions will still be used.
Fellow seniors may challenge the memories ahead, but even as a child I caught the excitement around this giant.
Living near the old airport, the planes coming in and taking off became a kind of a clock: when the old Shackleton took off in the morning for sea patrol and rattled the windows, we knew where we were supposed to be and what we should be doing.
The Mirages, Impala, Dakotas and Hercules, the choppers and those wonderfully noisy Harvards, one of our favourites, all flew low and loud past our house.
Airports also had viewing decks where families could go for a couple of hours of plane-spotting, and I vaguely remember them extending runways and aprons to welcome the new Jumbos.
When we finally saw the Jumbo, it was breathtaking. These were just magical beasts, opening a world of possibility.
Back then many people couldn’t afford to fly, and the 747 was designed to be able to carry more people, thus reducing the cost and expanding access to air travel.
Eventually getting to fly in one was just as awe-inspiring as it was seeing it for the first time. A window seat just behind the wing let you see every shimmy and feel every bit of the power the engines unleashed, but you still couldn’t believe the speed or that you were actually going to get off the ground. Landing with the flaps down and reverse thrust was a heart-pounding wonder.
Another big beauty I managed to fly on was the double-decker Airbus A380, and that felt even huger. A colleague and I sat upstairs and were filled with awe that a monster this enormous would even get off the ground. Sadly, during some googling, I found reports that Covid-19 was threatening these aviation marvels too.
Nothing is more tragic than the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, but losing something that was magical stirs the soul.
This devilish virus is and will continue to have a long-lasting impact on our lives in so many ways that are still unknown.
Remembering what clever humans achieved with the Jumbo should inspire us to believe in what we can accomplish in the times ahead.
* Slogrove is the news editor
The Independent on Saturday