Saturday, July 29, 2017

God Save the Queen

"Wherever we want to go, we go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and sails; that's what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom." -Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), The Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

I first saw The Queen in the summer of 1972 from the concourse of Frankfurt Airport, Germany. She was big, elegant, majestic. Her size dwarfed the other aircraft, and lent lie to her apparent speed. The approach looked impossibly slow, but as she sped past it was obvious she'd need most of the runway before slowing to taxi speed. Dressed in Pan Am livery. Clipper something, the type - Boeing's 747 - had entered service a short few years before.

I had flown "Across the Pond" in a rickety, packed-to-the-gills TWA Boeing 720. We'd departed Philadelphia for London in the dead of night, but stopped in Bangor to refuel. We refueled again to make the hop to Frankfurt.

The 747 - nicknamed "The Queen of the Skies" - came to represent comfort, even back in economy class. High ceilings, a wide body, and enough heft to smooth out all but the harshest air made flying in one a treat.

From the mid-1990s until very recently I sat on a lot of airplanes going to and from Rochester, NY. We sat down one night and guessed that there had been fifty (plus or minus) separate trips. Lots of aircraft. I became adept at finding bargains, getting a good seat, and reading. I was scheduled to fly Denver to Chicago one morning on the new United Boeing 777. We had a last-minute plane change - to a 747. It was beautiful. It was enormous. I should have taken pictures. United flew its last domestic 747 flight yesterday, Chicago to San Francisco. It was packed. 

About a year ago KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, transitioned from its wildly popular 747 service to St. Maarten, preferring an Airbus that gets better gas mileage. Thousands of people flew to that tiny Caribbean island just to see her - a 747 called "The City of Nairobi".  The crowds cheered, the cockpit crew waved and posted a sign in their window. "Bye bye."

Larger, more modern aircraft have (in some ways) supplanted her. But...

At about five o'clock every night a 747 departs Denver International Airport and begins a slow, majestic climb to the northeast. She is full of fuel, baggage and upward of three hundred souls. She wears the Lufthansa livery; the next time she lowers her gear will be on final approach to Frankfurt's international airport. As though it was an everyday thing...which it is.

Long may she reign.

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