66 327 people cannot be wrong, but they can be cold: The presentation of the first Boeing Model 747 of Air Canada at Montreal-Dorval International Airport

The presentation of the first Boeing Model 747 of Air Canada at Montreal-Dorval International Airport, Dorval, Québec. Anon., “Des milliers de personnes ont vu le géant des airs.” La Presse, 22 March 1971, A 1.

Who in the industrialised countries of this crazy sphere we call Earth has not heard of the Boeing Model 747, the air giant which revolutionised air transport from the early 1970s onward? Who?

Before getting to the heart of the matter, yours truly would like to offer you, in translation, the caption of the above photograph, found in the 22 March 1971 issue of a very important Montréal, Québec, daily, La Presse.

By the tens of thousands, Montrealers flocked to Air Canada hangars to visit the first Boeing 747 acquired by the Crown corporation. More than 60 000 people took advantage of the two-day visit to admire this giant of the skies which will enter service on 25 April between Toronto and Vancouver.

Boeing Airplane Company’s management embarked on the adventure of the wide-body airliner around 1965. This being said (typed?), this American aeronautical giant also wished to produce the supersonic airliner that the American government wished to see go into service during the 1970s, in order to compete with the Sud-Aviation / British Aircraft Concorde, which later became the Aérospatiale / British Aircraft Concorde. In fact, Boeing Airplane staff learned that their employer had won the competition in January 1967.

As designed, the Model 2707 was larger (275 passengers vs. 120 passengers) and faster (approximately 2 870 kilometres per hour (approximately 1 780 miles per hour) vs. approximately 2 165 kilometres per hour (approximately 1 345 miles / hour)) than its Anglo-American rival. It was also far more complex and, in all likelihood, far more expensive.

For many wise men in the aerospace and air transport industries in North America and Europe, the future lied with the supersonic airliner. The Model 747, the designation given to the aforementioned wide-body airliner, spacious but slow, would eventually serve primarily as a cargo plane.

Would you believe that Air Canada was one of the 20 or so air carriers which initialed purchase options for Concordes between 1963 and 1972? The necessary sum of money was deposited in March 1967.

Would you also believe that Air Canada was one of the many air carriers, there were actually close to 30, which initialed purchase options for Models 2707s? The necessary sum of money was deposited, in 2 installments, in September 1966 and October 1967. The option, for 6 aircraft, lapsed when the aircraft was cancelled.

Indeed, the United States Congress decided, in March 1971, to pull the plug on the Model 2707, and this long before the 2 prototypes were completed – a decision which aroused great anger within the aerospace and air transport industries of the United States, as well as in the trade press. The Concorde and its European manufacturers, it was said, would grab all the orders from the so-called Western countries, its Soviet rival, the Tupolev Tu-144, winning all the orders from the countries of the Soviet bloc.

These American fears turned out to be unfounded. In fact, Air Canada cancelled its option for 4 Concorde in June 1972. Worse still, a dozen air carriers, almost all American, did the same between November 1972 and April 1973. These decisions aroused great anger within the aerospace and air transport industries of France and the United Kingdom, as well as in the trade press of the 2 countries.

And no, the oil crisis which exploded on the world stage in October 1973 had nothing to do with these cancellations. American airlines were in all likelihood worried that the potential / unavoidable environmental damage (noise pollution over land, depletion of the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, etc.) that defenders of the Model 2707 had to face would reduce the freedom to action of the Concorde.

In any event, the cancellation of the Model 2707 led Boeing Airplane to lay off more than 60 000 people. From then on, the management all but decided to bet the house on the Model 747.

The prototype flew in February 1969. One of the largest airlines in the world, a now defunct American firm, Pan American World Airways Corporation Incorporated, made the first commercial flight with the Model 747 in January 1970.

Reliable, rugged and versatile, the Model 747 is one of the best airliners of all time.

No less than 1 560 examples of the “Queen of the Sky,” or “Jumbo Jet,” intended for the transport of passengers and / or freight were delivered to nearly 90 civilian operators around the world between 1969 and the beginning of 2021. The last of the 10 or so Model 747s recently ordered should leave the shops in 2022, for a ginormous total of around 1 570 aircraft of this type delivered in more than half a century.

By the way, barely 20 Concordes and 16 Tu-144s took to the sky, and 11 of them (6 Concorde and 5 Tu-144) were not even used commercially. If I may be permitted a comment, these aircraft were / are arguably the most beautiful white elephants of the 20th century.

If I may be permitted another comment, it is fortunate that the supersonic airliner has remained marginal in the history of air travel. With the damage we have caused and are causing to our environment being already alarming, yes, yes, alarming, our good old Earth did not need supersonic heavy metal in its skies. Would you believe that Homo sapiens means wise man in Latin? Anyway, let us move on before I start screaming out of rage.

Canada’s national air carrier was one of Boeing Airplane / Boeing Company’s satisfied customers. Air Canada ordered 13 Models 747s over the years. Indeed, it initialed its first contract in February 1968. Would you believe that the Model 747 was the first airliner manufactured by Boeing Airplane used by Air Canada?

Air Canada’s first Model 747 entered service at the end of April 1971. It flew between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Toronto, Ontario – or vice versa. Air Canada’s last Model 747 was retired from service in October 2004.

Yours truly would like to discuss with you a short but interesting episode in the career of Air Canada’s very first Model 747.

Delivered in February 1971, this aircraft had made its first flight in January. It arrived at Montreal-Dorval International Airport, in Dorval, not far from Montréal, in late February.

Air Canada employees, whether they were flight attendants, mechanics or pilots, immediately begin to learn how this juggernaut worked. Employees in the public relations department were busy making it known. Imagine… 365 passengers aboard a flying machine. Rows with 9 seats (3 + 3 + 3) in tourist class, not 4 (2+ 2) as was the case in Air Canada’s Douglas DC-8s. Unbelievable…

Aware of the interest of Mrs. and Mr. Everyone for this marvel of technology which was the Model 747, the management of Air Canada decided to present them its first aircraft of this type, and the first Model 747 registered in Canada actually, for 3 (consecutive?) weekends, in March and April, in Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver. Admission was free in all cases.

The doors to a new hangar at the Air Canada maintenance base at Montreal-Dorval International Airport opened at 10 a.m. on Saturday, 20 March. The first people to enter were speechless at the juggernaut that the Model 747 was. A Vickers Viscount turboprop medium-range airliner alongside it appeared to be pretty small. A brief article in a respected Montréal daily, Le Devoir, described it as a frog beside an ox – an allusion to the one of fables contained in one the compilations published between 1668 and 1694 by the French poet Jean de La Fontaine

And yes, the wonderful collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, includes a Viscount.

Visitors waited patiently in line before boarding. And yes, the presence of the term patiently was very appropriate. If yours truly may be permitted an expression of the terroir, in translation, “a lotta folks were at church.” This being said (typed?), the patience of the visitors was well rewarded. The sheer dimensions of the Model 747’s cabin left them speechless.

Mind you, the ginormous aircraft tow tractor used for the ground movements of the Model 747 also caught some eyes.

Before or after their visit, Air Canada offered visitors a slide show on the work of its flight attendants. This presentation may well have been linked to the airline information booth.

Would you believe that Air Canada took the opportunity offered by the presence of the Model 747 to mention its wish to hire new flight attendants? Applicants had to be bilingual and between 20 and 25 years of age. Unless I am mistaken, they also had to be single. Those selected on a preliminary basis would start their training at the end of April or the end of May.

As the doors to the Air Canada maintenance base hangar closed at 4 p.m., as many as 25 659 Homo sapiens had seen the Model 747.

An even larger crowd showed up at the hangar on Sunday, 21 March. As the doors closed, at 4 p.m. again, as many as 40 668 Homo sapiens had seen the Model 747, for a grand total of 66 327 people.

Two Homo sapiens treated themselves to the luxury of riding to the Air Canada maintenance base hangar on horseback. I kid you not. It must be nice to have so much… hay. Yours truly wonders, however, if the 2 Equus ferus caballus appreciate being “abandoned” by their riders in an unknown place where huge and noisy things constantly took off and landed like huge birds of prey. Just sayin’.

While a few other people travelled to the hangar by snowmobile, the fact was that the overwhelming majority of visitors went to Montreal-Dorval International Airport by automobile. And this was where, if I may be permitted a comment, someone really messed up. Let me explain.

The road to the airport became so congested that many people ended up getting fed up with waiting without moving too much. They then parked their automobiles alongside the road, which obviously contributed to congest the road even more, and started walking towards the treasure hangar. The catch was that the distance separating these individuals and families from said hangar could be as much as 6.5 kilometres (4 miles). And yes, there was apparently a nice breeze on 20 and 21 March. There was even a little snow sometimes. Oh, joy.

During the day of 21 March, the traffic jam reached such a level that a police department that yours truly has not been able to identify apparently asked at least one Montréal radio station to implore the public not to undertake the trip to the Air Canada maintenance base hangar.

And yes, you are quite right, my reading friend, once arrived at said hangar, Mrs. and Mr. Everyone had to queue for a long time to access the Model 747. Oh, joy squared.

Air Canada public relations employees were pleased to point out to journalists present in the hangar that the Model 747 was the 100th such aircraft produced by Boeing Airplane. The American aircraft manufacturer had just delivered a second Model 747 to Air Canada. The third aircraft ordered was delivered around mid-April.

Those same Air Canada public relations employees probably had to do Olympic-class skating to handle the wrathful comments of more than one tired and stiff with cold, and, perhaps hungry, visitor.

And yes, you are right again, my reading friend, the maraschino cherry at the top of the sundae was that, once their visit of the Model 747 was over, Mrs. and Mr. Everyone had to go through another 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) to get back to their automobile. Oh, joy cubed.

Yours truly has the impression that the few washrooms in the hangar were quite busy on 20 and 21 March– and that the lines could sometimes be quite long. Oh, supreme joy.

I imagine a lot of people aimed, oh, 1 or 2 juicy curse words or blasphemes in the direction of Air Canada. Anyway, let us move on.

Our Model 747 served the interests of Air Canada until 1983. Leased to Global International Airways Incorporated, an American firm, for about 4 months, the Model 747 resumed service with Canada’s national carrier until July 1984. It was then sold to one of the world’s largest aircraft leasing firms, Guinness Peat Aviation Public Limited Company. Interestingly, Air Canada then held nearly 23% of the shares of this Irish firm, which no longer exists.

During the following years, the Model 747 was leased to more or less (un)known air carriers, virtually all American, namely

- National Airlines Incorporated,

- People Express Incorporated,

- Tayyarān al-Sharq al-Awsaț – al-Khuțūț al-Jawiyyah al-Lubnānyyah / Middle East Airlines – Air Liban Société anonyme libanaise,

- Flying Tigers Airlines Incorporated, and

- Federal Express Incorporated.

Put to pasture in 1990, the Model 747 was sold to an American financial institution, First Security Bank of Utah Incorporated. Sent to Arizona around August 1993, it was scrapped in October 1995. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones, my reading friend, and heed the guidelines: keep your feet on the ground.

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Rénald Fortier