The Life and Times of the BA 747 – Britain’s Second Most Iconic Queen

Arguably, during the late ’70s and the ’80s, British Airways were the best airline in the world, partly, because they operated two of the best aircraft in the world at the time. The Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde, which took care of the world’s most lucrative route (London Heathrow – New York JFK), and the Boeing 747. But, in the wake of COVID-19, the Queen’s days have been cut short with the last of British Airways 747s abruptly being pulled from service. As we mourn the British Airways Boeing 747, it begs the question – Why does British Airways own the 747, and how on earth did it end up with so many? This is the life and times of the British Airways Boeing 747.

I went to visit the British Airways Boeing 747, during her dying days: It was a warm summer’s day in early July 2020, and I’d decided to visit Heathrow airport and do a bit of planespotting. As I got the bus round to the north Runway, I saw them: At least 5 Boeing 747-400’s, with their signature hump and iconic nose, and, almost as iconic, that red white and blue speed bird emblazoned along the upper fuselage. I’ve seen that aircraft many times, yet watching it glisten in the sunlight will never, ever, fail to take my breath away.

BOAC 747 First Flight | Source: British Airways

The first Boeing 747 to grace British skies did not belong to British Airways as we know it today, but rather its predecessor – the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation. BOAC began passenger service with their 747-100 on the 14th of April, 1971. This was nearly a year after it was first delivered to the airline due to pilot disputes, but within the airline, the aircraft became a hit. The plane was working toe to toe with the iconic Pan Am, back in the golden days of aviation where the cigarette smoke flew freely and the 70s aesthetic ran rampant.

BOAC was formed post-WWII to solidify those trunk routes across the empire where the sun never set, and that is reminiscent in the fact that many of the routes the Boeing 747 were best at, were some of Britain’s greatest allies and commonwealth countries. As BOAC became BA, and the 747-100s became -200s, those better engines allowed British Airways to well and truly connect the world. Long gone were the days of a lot of little short hops making up the kangaroo route, now Australia and Great Britain were united by one single stop along the way. It joined Cape Town, Beijing, Lagos, Dubai, but where the aircraft outdid itself was in North America, operating to the likes of New York, Toronto, Las Vegas, Miami and Los Angeles.

BA 747 | Source: Frenchspotter06

Right up until the 747s last days, British Airways was still the largest operator of the Queen of the Skies, with over 30 aircraft in its fleet and between 275 and 345 passengers capable of fitting on any given plane. Three jets were painted in special liveries, with BOAC, Negus and Landor representing the illustrious history of these iconic aircraft.

Special BA liveries to celebrate 100 years! Source: British Airways

In my opinion, the 747, is the most significant aircraft ever built, and I bet you that the crew, the passengers and the pilots that flew this beautiful bird will agree with me. It’s sad to see this aircraft go, for sure, but I’m ever so glad that I got the chance to view it.

As we emerge into a post-pandemic world the Boeing 747s days as a passenger aircraft seem numbered. Many airlines who still operated the 747 pre-COVID-19, such as Qantas and KLM, have retired their aircraft. However, all hope is not lost! – the 747 is still a fantastic aircraft and many cargo airlines use the aircraft as a freighter, so the 747 will remain in our skies for many years to come.

Did you ever fly on the Boeing 747? What was it like? What was your favourite livery on this iconic bird? Let us know in the comments!

Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith is a student who lives in London, England. He is a Flight Sergeant in the RAF Air Cadets who also enjoys photographing aircraft in his spare time. Daniel is interested in the history and politics of aviation as well as the engineering behind the aircraft that we take for granted in the modern world!


  • Flew on 747 from London Heathrow to Accra Ghana in February 2020! It was a nice and smooth flight, but I couldn’t help wondering when it was gonna be retired or done up to match current times. Adios Queen of the Skies. You served well!!!