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United's 747 takes final farewell flight

Boeing 747 final flight
Iconic Boeing 747 embarks on final flight 03:20

United Airlines is retiring the jumbo jet dubbed the "queen of the skies." The Boeing 747 revolutionized long-distance air travel when it debuted 47 years ago. Today, the last United 747 takes its final flight — retracing United's very first 747 flight, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

"This has been my whole life for the last 17 years, and it really feels like I'm almost losing a family member," Capt. Tom Spratt said.

Spratt will be sharing the cockpit with Capt. David Smith as United flies the 747 into the sunset. Smith recently brought his dad, a retired 747 pilot, on a flight that brought him back to when he was a kid.

The 747's final approach 05:35

"I still remember my first 747 ride where the seats in the very nose of the aircraft where first class is today... and go up the spiral staircase and sit on sofas is just something that will never be done again," Smith said. 

In 1966 Pan Am asked Boeing for the biggest airliner ever. Starting from scratch and nearly bankrupting the company, Boeing's hump-backed double-decker jumbo jet made its first flight less than three years later.

The 747 entered commercial airline service in 1970 and was an instant sensation.

"Because of its size, because of its -- the economy, because of its range, it made flying affordable," Boeing historian Michael Lombardi said. 

United flew its first 747 route in 1970 from San Francisco to Honolulu. That iconic hump once housed a fancy lounge for first class flyers up a spiral staircase complete with a bar or even a piano. The 747's four engines carried the space shuttle across the country and five U.S. presidents around the world.

Boeing has delivered more than 1,500 747s. But today, the plane is less efficient than new two-engine airliners, leaving its days as a passenger plane numbered.

Henry Harteveldt's first 747 flight was a family trip in 1970.

"It's like your first true love," Harteveldt said. He'll be on United's farewell flight.

"We're saying goodbye to a plane that is an icon of air travel and epitomized commercial flying when it, frankly, was a more gracious, more pleasant experience than it is for many today," Harteveldt said.

Delta will retire its 747 later this year. 

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