AFP/Getty Images
Marisa Garcia
June 05, 2017

Often considered the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747 also wears the crown as the fastest passenger aircraft — and her service as Air Force One makes her the most powerful planes in operation.

You can credit the 747's figure for all that speed: the unique hump on her fuselage creates less drag and allows the 747-400 to cruise comfortably at speeds of Mach .84, or 84 percent the speed of sound. (For some perspective, the average passenger plane operates at speeds around Mach .82.) The newer model 747-8 cruises at Mach .855.

But both planes have been tested to their limits and come close to Mach 1. 747s are officially certified by the FAA for speeds up to Mach .92, and the 747-8 was tested up to Mach .98.

The 747 isn't just swift. It also takes credit for making today's high-flying lifestyle possible. It was the first airplane that could seat enough passengers to make long-distance flights affordable. Before the first Pan Am 747 took off, flying was a privilege reserved for a select few with especially thick wallets.

She also holds the record of most units sold for any airplane model in history. Lufthansa took delivery of the 1,500th 747 in 2014 for the 747-8 model.

After more than 40 years in the top spot of long-haul planes, the beloved Jumbo Jet is being replaced by newer, lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft. These may not go quite as fast, but they use fuel more efficiently, risk fewer empty seats, and generally get the job done.

But despite changing market conditions, the 747 has earned a special place in the hearts of passengers and airlines alike. It hasn't been an easy decision for carriers to leave the Queen behind.

“I thought it was a wonderful aircraft. There is no comparison,” ANA’s chief executive officer, Osamu Shinobe, told the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine  in 2014 of the airline's decision to end 747 service. “I feel so sad to see its retirement.”

Nevertheless, some airlines remain loyal to royalty. British Airways, which owns the world's largest fleet of 747s, has no plans to retire the iconic plane. And other airlines around the world have large enough 747 fleets that you won't be hard-pressed (for now) to find a flight on a 747.

And the Jumbo still has important work ahead of her. She serves at the pleasure of the President. Both existing Air Force planes are 747s, and the next pair of Air Force One twins will be upgraded to newer 747-8 models.

There were rumblings that the 747-8 would get "fired" when Donald Trump objected to the program's rising costs. He challenged Boeing to do something to trim expenses, but the impressive capabilities of this flying White House make that difficult.

After taking his first ride on today's Air Force One, however, Trump seems to have warmed up to the Queen. "What can look so beautiful at 30?" he asked.

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