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After 53 years, the last Boeing manufactures its last 747

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Boeing has stopped making a passenger jet that defined long-distance flight in the late 20th century. NPR's Karan Chaudhary has this report.

KARAN CHAUDHARY, BYLINE: After 53 years and more than 1,570 planes, the last Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line in Washington state this week on its way to serve as a cargo plane. The 747 was the biggest and the fastest commercial airliner of its era, its iconic staircase spiraling toward first class.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA")

ALBERT HAMMOND: (Singing) ...A westbound 747.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "747")

LADY A: (Singing) This 747...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOST MY HEART ON A 747")

TOM PAXTON: (Singing) ...On a 747.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GROOVE")

EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) And glide like a 747 and lose...

K CHAUDHARY: I wanted to talk to some experts about the 747, so I called my parents. They're both pilots - Captains Deepa and Rohit Chaudhary. The first time my mom saw a 747 was when she was a small kid.

DEEPA CHAUDHARY: We saw a huge bird coming in to land. And I was so mesmerized, I asked my parents to stop their car and wait for this to land. And I instantly fell in love with that beauty.

K CHAUDHARY: Tom Gray was the instrumentation engineer for the 747. He installed devices to measure things like the pressure and temperature of the aircraft.

TOM GRAY: It flew so many people around the world. I think it made flying cheaper, and more people flew because of the 747.

K CHAUDHARY: When one pilot took a bathroom break during a test flight, Gray sat in command.

GRAY: I got four minutes of flight time on a 747.

K CHAUDHARY: The plane can carry more than 400 passengers and fly at 92% of the speed of sound. That was a major revolution for flying. NASA even used one of these airliners to transport the Space Shuttle.

GRAY: We actually flew the Enterprise off the top of the 747.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERCOM BEEPING)

K CHAUDHARY: Karan Chaudhary, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karan Chaudhary