Anniversaire salué par le Times aussi :
Forty years ago today, a woman stood alone in the snow beside a runway in Seattle and watched as an enormous aircraft rumbled towards her.
Nancy Sutter had heard stories that this huge new aircraft was too heavy to get airborne, too unstable and likely to flip over if it did get off the ground.
But her husband, Joe, was so confident that he positioned Nancy at the exact point where he calculated the giant would lift off. He went to the radio room to talk the pilots through the flight and when he returned to collect Nancy, she was in tears of relief. All the doubts had vanished. Boeing's 747 had taken to the skies for the first time at the exact point where Nancy Sutter had been standing.
With that flight was born the age of mass international travel. The “jumbo jet” was more than twice as big as anything that had flown commercially before, allowing airlines to open the skies to a new kind of tourist. No longer would long-haul flights be reserved for the rich, they would be within reach of the masses.
However, on the morning of February 9, 1969, many of those watching the take-off were unsure whether an aircraft weighing more than 160 tons could fly.
Bill Allen, chairman of Boeing, only half-jokingly told his pilot: “Well, Jack, you've got the future of Boeing riding on your shoulders.”
Jack Waddell, Boeing's test pilot, replied: “Oh boy, that's all I need.”
The one man not concerned was Joe Sutter, the director of engineering on the project.
He told The Times:
“We had done enough that we pretty much knew what the plane was going to do. My
wife, Nancy, came up that day. There were a lot of people out by the runway, but I took her down to the 4,000ft marker because that was where our calculations said the plane would take off. It was bitterly cold and I hated to leave her out there, but I had to go back to the radio room. When I picked her up later she was crying with relief. The plane had lifted off exactly where I'd
said. I was a pretty big hero in our house that day.”
The 747 project was driven by Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airlines. Mr Trippe believed that flying should be available to everyone and he wanted Boeing to build an aircraft
that was much bigger than the 707s of the day. He ordered 25 jumbos and wanted Boeing to deliver the jet — which would remain the world's largest commercial aircraft for 37 years until the advent of the double-decker Airbus A380 - in record time. Pan Am's first jumbo took to the skies in January, 1970.
“I think that is what I'm most proud of,” Mr Sutter, now 87, said from his home in Hawaii. “Given the short time and tight budget, I put a gang together that did a great job.”
The 747 has been so popular that variants of it still dominate international travel. Boeing is developing the 747-8, which is expected to come into service next year, enabling the aircraft to continue flying for decades to come.
Boeing has sold more than 1,400 jumbos in the past four decades, worth, at today's prices, more than $350 billion (£236 billion).
But back in the 1960s, convincing people that the 747 would fly was a tough call. Mr Sutter even spent an hour with Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator who had flown solo from
New York to Paris in 1927 and had gone on to become a consultant with Pan Am. Together,
they went through all the data so that Mr Sutter could prove that the jumbo would not flip over or become unstable at high speeds.
The aircraft took off for its first flight into bad weather. Mr Sutter recalls: “After about ten minutes, Jack Waddell radioed to tell us it was flying well and handling the rough air. ‘You have built a good flying machine', I remember he said.”
Given the longevity and popularity of the 747, it is possible that Mr Sutter built not merely a good
flying machine, but perhaps the best.