SEATTLE — More than five decades after the first 747 took flight, the last “Queen of the Skies” has come off the Everett assembly line. To mark the moment, we spoke with workers who built the iconic airplane and witnessed the last 747’s construction.
Kelvin Anderson is an Incredible, one of the original mechanics who built the first 747s in the 1960s.
His son Vic has worked on 747s for the past 34 years and, as team lead on the center fuselage, helped finish the last one.
The pair’s close bond was touchingly apparent as they bantered in November about their Boeing careers and the 747, then toured the assembly line.
Sprightly and trim at 83, Kelvin described a can-do culture that produced the 747 in the 1960s, an attitude he credits to inspirational upper management led by Sutter, the chief engineer.
His team, “close-knit” and determined, pushed forward at a frenetic pace.
“We worked a lot of hours, seven days a week, 12 hours a day for quite a while,” Kelvin said. “I don’t think we ever thought anything but success.”
At the rollout in 1968, he was “ecstatic along with everybody else.”
And when he saw it fly a few months later, “I figured when I’d seen that thing flying, we could fly anything.”
“I still get goose bumps when I see that thing take off,” Kelvin added. “It looks like it’s too big to fly.”
With just a high school education, Kelvin forged a long career as a top Boeing mechanic. For part of it, he served on a crack team that flew in to fix grounded airplanes.
In 1975, when a Japan Airlines 747 slid off a runway in Anchorage, tearing off the back end, he was on a team that spent 90 days working outdoors — “Thank God it was during the summer” — to take off the tail and replace the entire bottom of the rear fuselage.
Now retired in Ellensburg with his wife of 58 years, Kelvin said Boeing has given him a good life.
Vic, 56, clearly absorbed Kelvin’s positive attitude.
When Vic was 10 or 12 and security wasn’t as tight as it is today, he recalls, his dad brought him into the factory and inside a 747 being delivered to the Saudi royal family. “Everything was purple,” he remembers.
“Being around airplanes is all I ever wanted to be,” said Vic. As “a steppingstone” to Boeing, he joined the Air Force and became a crew chief on the F-111.
He’s worked on the 747 for all of his almost 35 years at Boeing. That meant learning multiple skills because, compared to other Boeing jets, far more of the assembly of the 747 is done in-house rather than by suppliers.
The final version of the jumbo jet, the 747-8, “has a lot of technology new and updated, but the actual build process of the airplane is old school,” Vic said. “Some of the tools that we use are some of the original ones they used when Dad was working on them.”
Kelvin retired in 2001 after almost 39 years at Boeing. Vic says he’ll stay five more years, “because I gotta beat him.”
And the aviation thread continues: In November, Vic’s son enlisted in the Air Force, aiming to be a crew chief like his dad.
The end of the 747 has come earlier than Vic expected. Before moving to a new job on the 777X, he asked to stay on the 747 until the last one rolled out.
“I thought I would leave before she beat me to the door,” Vic said. “I got four kids and all of them have grown up with this airplane. The 747 has provided everything I have.”