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Aircraft World Cup: Concorde vs B747

by Nancy Jackson BALPA Media and Communications Officer

As the voting in the final of our #AircraftWorldCup draws to a close, we look at the finalists and ask two pilots of these aircraft what makes them so remarkable. 

Boeing 747

Captain Martin Drake, BALPA NEC member

The Boeing 747 is still the first and, in many peoples’ opinions, the very best wide-bodied aircraft, the prototype first flew on the 9th February 1969 entering service with Pan Am in January 1970. It was two and a half times bigger than any passenger aircraft flying at the time.

It has allowed more people to travel to more destinations than any other. From its first conceptions it developed the concept of mass transportation and where the 747 led, others have followed. At any time, it is estimated that there are 100,000 people airborne in a B747. In its first six months it carried over one million passengers; no one is quite sure what that total is today but we are sure its up in the billions.

The 747 was deliberately designed with safety in mind, there are multiple systems for each of the major operating mechanisms any one of which will allow the aircraft to fly safely, this convention has been adopted by all the major aircraft manufacturers, where the 747 lead others followed.

In truth, Boeing only anticipated manufacturing 50 hulls, they have now delivered 1,545 with about 30 more on the order books. They are not just for passengers, there are of course freight variants. However, 747s have also been used for firefighting, space observatories, piggy backing the space shuttle, weapons platforms and of course Air Force One.

What is it like to fly? Well ask any 747 pilot and you will get the same answer: “a dream”, for such a large machine it is a pilot’s aircraft.

The 747 is the most recognised aircraft in the skies today, it epitomises contemporary jet transport.

The plane that changed the world.


Captain Les Brodie, Aerospace Bristol Ambassador and pilot of the last ever Concorde flight

Both aircraft were designed and built in the 1960s, the B747 making its maiden flight on 9th February 1969 and Concorde shortly after on 2nd March 1969.

The B747 was designed around known and proven technology developed from the already successful B707 and consequently entered service shortly after its first flight.

Concorde on the other hand had to conquer new frontiers in aviation. Even in subsonic flight it flew differently to normal aircraft using vortices over the wing to produce lift. Supersonically it was just amazing having to deal with the kinetic heating associated with compressing the air ahead and friction from the air rushing by requiring special paint and cooling systems, the change in position of the centre of lift with increased speed requiring movement of fuel in flight and variable geometry engine intakes to slow the air into the engines to an efficient speed.

Concorde also set industry standards with electronic signalling to the flight controls, engine controls, nose wheel steering and brakes along with being the first airliner to be fitted with carbon fibre brakes.

To take 100 passengers safely to the edge of space at speeds faster than a rifle bullet in perfect comfort took some doing, and required seven years of testing before it entered service, which it did for 27 years, before being retired in 2003.

Voting closes on Tuesday 31st July. Go to BALPA's Facebook or Twitter pages to cast your vote: