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FROM CHAPTER 4: THE FINAL FLING
The widebody was one of two key innovations in design introduced on the 747. The other was the pod sprouting from the top of the machine, like a bruise on the head of a cartoon character. It too resulted from the needs of a cargo plane. It would be easier to load cargo if the front of the plane could be swung open, but that left the problem of where to put the flight deck. One early design for a doubledecker had the flight deck on the lower level, with passengers on the upper floor able to look through windows and see where they were going.
The design was dubbed the anteater because of its droopy nose. The idea of shifting the flight deck was revived, but this time it was put on top; the windows rose out of the nose, and the rest of the compartment was swept back to preserve the aerodynamic qualities of the design.
Initially Sutter and his team planned to put radar and other navigational equipment into the space behind the cockpit, but that changed when Juan Trippe saw a mock-up of the plane. Entirely uninterested in mundane matters like navigational equipment, his idea was to use the space as a first-class cocktail lounge. And so the 747's exclusive upper deck was created. Other airlines came up with even odder ideas for the open space created by the new widebodied design. "Some of them wanted downstairs cocktail lounges," recalls Sutter. "They wanted barber shops and hairdressing salons. One joker was even trying to talk to us about a swimming pool. We told him no." The basic design was put in place through 1965: the wide body, the raised hub, the wingspan; once those decisions were made, the rest of the plane fitted in as best it could.
Despite the frantic encouragement of Trippe behind the scenes, Boeing still had the job of selling the plane. Ironically, they had to sell it to Pan Am in particular. As he had done so often in the past, Trippe, in his last great adventure, played the rivals in the aerospace industry against one another. The Europeans were not in the race to build the Jumbo, but Douglas and Lockheed were still very much in the game. Douglas was talking to Pan Am and the rest of the airlines about a 250- to 300-seat trijet, which eventually appeared as the DC-10. It found plenty of takers; more than Boeing was finding for the proposed 747. Other airlines were cool on the new giant, figuring they might buy it if it got built, but doing nothing to bring it into existence. Douglas decided to build the trijet, believing that Boeing was creating a plane for Pan Am alone, and that no market existed beyond Trippe's fevered imagination.
Lockheed went in the opposite direction, stoking Trippe's gigantesque fantasies; it was never difficult to talk the old man into even more ambitious plans. Lockheed representatives scuttled around the industry talking about a tripledecker plane carrying nine hundred people, trumping Boeing's by a factor of three, and arguing that it was a natural extension of the C-5A program snatched from Boeing. Lockheed turned out to be only kidding. The airlines no more wanted to fly such a monster than Lockheed wanted to build it, but they kicked up sand around the 747.
Robert McNamara believed it was a waste of resources for the country to be building two new giant aircraft at the same time, and argued to that effect within the government: Either the Lockheed or the Boeing plane should be built but not both. Trippe intervened personally to win government support for the 747, though, in truth, there was little to prevent Boeing building the plane if its board was so minded. The issue culminated at a meeting in the Oval Office between Trippe, Bill Allen and President Johnson, where a bemused Johnson gave his personal blessing.
Allen was quiet during the meeting. He was not used to seeking presidential permission for a project, and was not sure he liked the idea. Even without this political meddling, Allen was having a tough time back at the ranch. Within Boeing it had been a traumatic year, designing the basic shape of the 747 and steering it through the government and the airlines.
"In those days Boeing was either going to build that airplane or it was going
to give the business to Douglas," Sutter recalls. "And if Douglas had got the
business, then Douglas would be what Boeing is today. But that was all one hell
of a big gamble. The 747 was two-and-a half times as big as the 707, and the
company literally ran out of money while developing the airplane. It was one of
the riskiest decisions ever made. Remember, at that time the Concorde had come
out and proved that supersonic travel was delightful, and Douglas was bringing
out a stretched DC-8. So the 747 was quite a different animal from what anyone
else had conceived...a hell of a lot of people were daunted. The question being
asked by everybody here was would that big thing even fly?"
Copyright ©1995, 1997 Matthew Lynn. Rights obtained from Four Walls Eight Windows.
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