737 vs 747: 6 interesting things you need to know

Which is better 737 vs 747? The 737 and the 747 are arguably two of the most iconic commercial aircraft ever designed by Boeing. These two aircraft were both designed in back in the 1960s and each has done outstanding service these last 50 years.

In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about the Boeing 737 vs Boing 747.

1. Boeing 737 Background and History

The Boeing 737 is a narrow-bodied, twin-engine aircraft that first flew on April 9th, 1967 around 54 years ago as of 2021. The 737 was designed to fly approximately 124 passengers on short-haul routes to destinations where it would be impractical to send the larger and older 707.

Since Boeing was synonymous with big multi-engine jet aircraft such as the B52 and 707, the announcement of the Boeing 737 shocked the world. When the first 737-100 was introduced to the world in January 17th, 1967, the ceremony was attended by flight attendants representing the original 17 airlines that had ordered the plane.

The new aircraft made headlines around the world and the 737 quickly earned the nickname ‘Baby Boeing’ because of its small size. After Boeing revealed the aircraft it became immediately apparent that the main selling point of the aircraft was its 6 abreast seating.

This design offered airlines an alternative to the Douglas DC-9 which had 5 abreast seating. (Boeing: Historical Snapshot, 2021)

Boeing 737 classic

The original 737s sold very well, with United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines being the primary operators of the 737 in the USA. The 737-100s/200s were superseded by the 737 Classic range in 1984. This new variant included the 737-300/-400 and -500 and featured more fuel-efficient turbofan engines, upgraded avionics, and thousands of other smaller upgrades around the aircraft.

737 classic

Boeing built around 1,988 737 Classics which were in production for 20 years until the variant was superseded by arguably the most successful commercial aircraft model of all time. (Simple Flying 2020) 

737 NG

The 737 Next Generation was launched in 1993 and was designed to be a direct competitor to the Airbus A320, introduced with Air France in 1988. This new 737 variant included the 737-600/-700/ -800, and -900. The 737 Next Generation first flew on February 9th, 1997 and was the first 737 model to include a glass cockpit and winglets.

The glass cockpit was a radical departure for the 737 as it removed the complicated gauges and instruments from the cockpit and replaced them with computer screens. This meant that flying the 737 was much safer as the pilot could now focus on flying the aircraft instead of constantly monitoring hundreds of small instruments scattered around the cockpit.

The 737 was also much more fuel-efficient than the 737 Classic and had a longer range thanks to the new winglets. Winglets or wingtip devices improve efficiency by reducing drag caused by wingtip vortices at the edge of the wings.

Boeing-737NG

The 737 Next Generation sold incredibly well with airlines all around the world with around 7,074 built as May 2021. The main operators of this aircraft are Southwest Airlines, Ryanair, United Airlines and American Airlines.

Incidentally, the 737 NG was my first aircraft type as a professional pilot, and what an amazing aircraft it was to fly. If you want to learn more about what is involved in learning to fly the 737 NG check out our post on the B737 Rating For The First Time – here

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The 737 Next Gen was superseded by the 737 MAX in 2017. (Boeing: Historical Snapshot, 2021), (Aerospace Technology 2021)

2. 747 Background and History

The 747 is a wide-bodied, four engine aircraft designed by Boeing to fly over 400 passengers halfway around the world in one sitting. The 747 is the most iconic aircraft ever built by Boeing and arguably the most iconic aircraft to ever fly.

The aircraft’s sheer size and its iconic hump earned the 747 its enduring nickname, the Jumbo Jet.  This marvel of an aircraft was the brainchild of Boeing engineer Joe Sutter who envisioned an aircraft that was larger, more comfortable, and could carry more passengers for a longer distance than any aircraft that had come before it.

On February 9, 1969, Joe Sutter’s dream became a reality when the 70-metre-long aircraft took off for the first time at Boeing’s new factory in Everett, Washington. This achievement was the culmination of 16 months of tireless work by around 50,000 Boeing employees.

If interested in learning more about the 747 development make sure you check out Joe Sutters book (747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet And Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation). You won’t be disappointed!

See it on Amazon

747 Engines

The introduction of the 747 came about due to a reduction of airfares, an increase in air passenger traffic, and increasingly crowded skies in the early 1960s. The 747 was to make use of new technology, the high-bypass turbofan engine called the Pratt & Whitney JT9D.

These engines were more fuel-efficient and quieter than the loud, gas-guzzling turbofan and turbojet engines used on earlier aircraft allowing the 747 to fly longer than any aircraft that had come before it. After the 747 was designed, prior to production, it quickly became apparent that none of Boeing’s facilities could fit the giant aircraft.

This meant that a new 5.6 million cubic metre assembly plant had to be built in Everett, Washington at the cost of around $1 billion, more than Boeing was worth at the time. When the factory was completed in 1967 it became (and still is as of 2021) the biggest building in the world by interior volume. The factory’s size is so large, that clouds have even been known to form inside the factory. (Boeing 747 Historical Snapshot, 2021)

Boeing 747 Variants

The original 747, the 747-100 sold relatively well, with around 167 being sold to airlines such as Pan Am. However, this variant was quickly superseded by the larger and more powerful 747-200. This model had a larger capacity and newer engines which meant it could fly longer transpacific and transatlantic routes with more passengers.

Another major change that the 747-200 brought was the introduction of cargo & mixed passenger/ cargo to the 747.  The 747 became such an effective cargo aircraft after the 747-200 because this version featured a lifting nose cargo door and a large side door allowing cargo to be moved into the 747 without the cockpit obstructing the way.

As a result of this, the 747-200 was much more of a success with around 389 being delivered up until 1991. 

The next iteration of the 747 came in 1982 with the introduction of the 747-300. This model featured a longer upper deck and new and improved avionics around the aircraft. However, unlike the 747-200, this variant wasn’t as commercially successful with only 81 aircraft being delivered. Instead of viewing this as a setback, Boeing saw it as an opportunity to create the new and improved 747-400. (Modern Airlines, 2021)

The 747-400 was introduced on February 9, 1989 with Northwest Airlines and it really was a gamechanger for Boeing. For the 747-400, Boeing kept the stretched upper deck of the 747-300 but they added additional fuel tanks, improved engines such as the Rolls Royce RB211 or Pratt & Whitney PW4000, new wingtip devices to reduce induced drag which is an unfortunate by-product of lift.

Also introduced was a revolutionary glass cockpit, which meant airlines no longer needed to train a dedicated flight engineer to monitor the aircraft’s engines and instruments. These were now monitored by a computer and displayed on the Engine Instrument and Crew Alerting System (EICAS).

Boeing built around 694 747-400’s with British Airways being the largest operator. Unfortunately, due to more efficient twin-engine aircraft being produced and the Covid-19 pandemic, British Airways was forced to retire its entire 747-400 fleet in 2020. (Boeing 747-400- Aerospace Technology, 2021)

What is the 747 being replaced with?

The 747-400 was superseded by the 747-8 in 2011. This aircraft incorporates many technologies that were created for the 787 Dreamliner such as carbon fibre composites and newer engines. However, the 747-8 did not have the impact Boeing was hoping for as it only sold 154 aircraft, of which only 47 were passenger variants.

This was because twin-engine aircraft are cheaper to operate, more efficient, and much more reliable than in previous years. Four-engine aircraft such as the 707 and 747 were created because the FAA was terrified of flying twin engine aircraft over open ocean. Four engine aircraft offered redundancy in case of failure.

In 1980, FAA director J. Lynn Helms, after being asked about the possibility of flying twin engine aircraft over the ocean, responded with “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let twins fly long haul, overwater routes.” However, by the mid-1980s it became clear that turbofan engines were magnitudes more reliable than older piston engines.

So, in 1985 the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) created the policy, ETOPS or Extended Twin-Engine Operations, allowing twin-engine aircraft such as the 757 & 767 to fly routes that were further from diversion airports such as over remote oceanic regions.

This was the beginning of the end for four-engine aircraft such as the 747 as airline companies were running out of ways to justify having expensive and inefficient four-engine aircraft especially in the era of climate change.

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The future of Boeing seems to be with efficient and long-range twin-engine aircraft such as the new 777x and the 787 Dreamliner. (Simple Flying-747-8, 2021), (SKYbrary Aviation Safety, 2017)

3. 737 and 747 Military Applications

The Boeing 737 and the 747 have been very popular with many military organisations around the world. 

The 737 Next Generation has been the most popular 737 variants used for military applications. The Boeing C-40 Clipper, Boeing E7 Wedgetail, and the Boeing P8 Poseidon are all modified 737 Next Generations.

These modified aircraft are mostly used by the US Air Force, US Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force. The C-40 Clipper is used for logistics and transport for high ranking officers, the E7 Wedgetail is an airborne early warning platform like the E3 Sentry, and the P8 Poseidon is a maritime patrol aircraft. (ZAP16.com, 2021)

What is Air Force One?

Like the 737, the 747 is also used for military applications. The VC-25 also known as Air Force One is most famous 747 variant and arguably the most famous aircraft in the world. This heavily modified 747-200 is used to transport the President of the United States around the world.

The President is very well protected inside this aircraft thanks to numerous countermeasures deployed in and around the airframe. This aircraft is like an airborne White House because the President has a private bedroom, a private office, a room to meet top advisors and generals, a dining room, and a medical facility.

This aircraft has been in service since 1990 and is beginning to show its age. In a press conference in 2019, President Donald Trump announced to the world that the current Air Force One will be replaced by a heavily modified 747-8. (Air Force One | The White House, 2021)

4. 737 vs 747 Safety Record

The 737 and the 747 have both been flying for over 50 years and in short, they both have a very good safety record. Each aircraft carries millions of passengers and flies millions of miles around the world every year.

However, they haven’t got a flawless safety record as they both have had several prominent crashes within some cases significant loss of life. 

737 vs 747

How many 737s have crashed?

Since the first flight of the 737 in 1967, there have been 181 hull-losses, i.e. the aircraft is so severely damaged it can never fly again. This number equates to 2.3% of the 10,692 737s built by Boeing since 1968.

How many 747s have crashed?

The 747 has also had several crashes over the years, but fewer in number than the 737. In total, there have been around 61 747 hull losses or around 4% of the 1,564 747s built since 1970. However, this number indicates a higher percentage of 747s lost to crashes compared to 737s, which could suggest the 737 are safer statistically to the 747.  

What is the deadliest air crash in history?

747 Tenerife disaster

The greatest loss of life in civil aviation history involved two 747s. This crash occurred on March 27, 1977 in Tenerife when a KLM 747 crashed into a Pan Am 747 on the runway. This horrific crash happened because KLM Flight 4805 (piloted by the experienced Captain Jacob Van Zanten) tried taking off in heavy fog without clearance from Air Traffic Control.

Unfortunately, the crew of KLM Flight 4805 did not know that Pan Am Flight 1736, another 747, was still on the runway taxiing towards them. When the crew of the KLM 747 finally saw the Pan Am 747 appear out of the fog in front of them it was far too late.

The KLM 747 slammed into Pan Am Flight 1736, ripping its hump off and destroying a significant portion of the aircraft’s mid-section. After slamming into the Pan Am 747, KLM Flight 4805 flew for a few more seconds before crashing into the runway a few hundred metres from the stricken Pan Am aircraft.

Over 583 people died in the disaster, with around 248 from KLM Flight 4805 and around 335 from Pan Am Flight 1736. By some miracle, 61 people managed to survive the disaster, but they were all from the Pan Am 747. Nobody aboard KLM Flight 4805 survived the crash. It is a tragic irony that the deadliest crash in aviation history occurred on the ground. (Whitmore, 2021), (Simple Flying- Tenerife Disaster, 2020)

Although these numbers may seem alarming, we must remember that these aircraft have been flying for 50 years, billions of people have flown in them, they have logged millions of flying hours, and statistically most people survive plane crashes. 

5. What is the difference between Boeing 737 and 747

  1. The 747 is a superior cargo aircraft for many airlines because the 747 can carry 736 mof cargo and it can be loaded in from the front. This is because the 747’s nose can open thanks to the hump. 
  2. The 747 has flown around 3.5 billion people compared to 2.5 billion for the 737.
  3. The 747 can carry more than 450 passengers, but this number varies with different airlines. This is a greater number than that carried by the 737.
  4. Some would argue that the 747 is more famous and iconic aircraft than the 737. The Boeing 747 has earned the nickname ‘Queen of the Skies’ because of its sheer size, comfort, and appearance. The aircraft is very nostalgic for people as it was often the first plane they flew on to other countries. 
  5. The 747 has a range of 15,000 km (9350 mi) which is nearly halfway round the world. This aircraft allows airlines to reach distant airports in one flight. 
  6. The 747 can cruise around 50 mph faster than the 737.
  7. The 747-8 has not been as profitable as the 737 Max

6. Reasons the 737 is better than the 747

  • Arguably the most successful short haul aircraft ever made. Especially in the United States with over 10000 aircraft being built since 1966.
  • The Boeing 737 is more fuel efficient (per mile) than the Boeing 747. In short, quad-engine aircraft are not efficient and are becoming unaffordable for many airlines. British Airways retired its entire 747 fleet in 2020 and is replacing the fleet with the new 777x.  
  • The 737 can fly out of shorter runways which means they can fly to more destinations.
  • The 737 is smaller with a wingspan of 117 ft (35 m). This means it can fly to airports with smaller terminals and smaller gates. 
  • The 737 has flown more miles than the 747.
  • Percentage wise, the 737 is safer than the 747. 
  • Boeing offers more 737 variants than 747 variants, with around 13 in total.
  • Due to having two engines, the 737 is significantly quieter than the 747. 

Boeing offers more 737 variants to militaries around the world

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737 vs 747 References

737 vs 747

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