The last Boeing 747 is about to roll off the lot. No. 1,574, made for cargo operator Atlas Air, will be handed over in a live webcast ceremony at 4pm ET Tuesday, marking the end of an era in aviation, per CNN. When Boeing 747 test flights began in February 1969, humans had yet to set foot on the moon. Dubbed "Queen of the Skies," the 747 was the world's first jumbo jet and "a symbol of American ingenuity," per the New York Times. Recognizable for its forward hump—with a flight deck above the main cabin to allow for a nose that lifts to allow oversize cargo loading—the plane came out of a partnership between Boeing and defunct airline Pan Am and was multipurposed, built to carry both freight and passengers effectively.
But it almost didn't happen. When it was discovered during testing that there was too much load on the outside of the wing, designer Joe Sutter feared the only solution was a complete redesign that would be too expensive to justify. But twisting the wings turned out to work, allowing for the first maiden commercial flight in 1970, per the Times. The large plane made up of some 6 million parts brought together at a factory in Everett, Washington, "became an instant public sensation" and "a status symbol for airlines," according to the outlet. According to the Seattle Times, the plane could carry 420 passengers, or "three times as many passengers as the prior 707 jet." As a result, "airlines could sell tickets more cheaply, making air travel affordable to the masses," per the NYT.
Boeing has produced several versions of the four-engine plane, with the final 747-8 coming in the early 2010s. The last of those planes all went to Atlas Air, an airline and aircraft lessor. CEO John Dietrich tells the NY Times that the plane's reliability, capacity, and ability makes it perfectly suited to fly large amounts of goods between major cargo hubs. It's less commonly used for passenger travel some two decades after Boeing unveiled the more efficient two-engine 777. But "she is a great symbol for humanity and what we do," Michael Lombardi, a historian for Boeing, tells Deutsche Welle. "She has changed the world, shrunk the globe, and democratized air travel." He adds the 747 is likely to still be flying "at its 100th birthday in 2069." (Read more Boeing 747 stories.)