The Boeing 747: Aluminum Extrusion Leader Taber Recognizes the End of an Era

2023-04-04T19:46:46+00:00March 15th, 2023|

A woman in a white dress stands on the beach gazing into the summer sky at an airplane ascending into the clouds.

On the 8th of September 2022, the world said its goodbyes to one of its beloved queens, Elizabeth II. She was the queen of the longest-reigning British monarch in the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms. Her majesty graciously passed on at Balmoral Castle, Scotland at 96 years old. Today, we will again bid farewell to a queen that connected our world through flight and helped transform the aerospace industry altogether, the Boeing 747.

The last Boeing 747 left the company’s widebody factory in advance of its delivery to Atlas Air in early 2023.

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Known as the “Queen of the skies”, the Boeing 747’s final airplane – the 747-8 Freighter, rolled out its home in Everett, Washington. It will be delivered to Atlas Air for cargo delivery early this year.

The 747 ushered in more affordable long-haul travel by increasing capacity and lowering ticket costs. Designed from the beginning to carry both passengers and cargo, it was always intended to have dual roles. It was known as the first plane to have two aisles, and overhead bins.

“For more than half a century, tens of thousands of dedicated Boeing employees have designed and built this magnificent airplane that has truly changed the world. We are proud that this plane will continue to fly across the globe for years to come,” said Kim Smith, Boeing Vice President and general manager of the 747 and 767 Programs.

The image shows three colored photos. On the top half of the image is a photo of Atlas Air’s cargo plane with the nose of the plane open showing cargo. On the lower right is a line drawing of the world’s continents in white line on a blackboard background with a hand holding a miniature airplane. On the left is a photo of the last Boeing 747-8 being rolled out of a hangar for delivery to Atlas Air Cargo.

A Brief History of the Boeing 747

At the beginning of the “Jet Age” in the 50s, Boeing introduced the 707 – America’s first jet airliner. Compared to its predecessors (piston engines), jet engines were safer, cheaper, and faster. The  demand for flying soon quadrupled through the years (1955-1972). Boeing and Pan Am took the opportunity to develop the 747s that made flying faster, accessible, and financially possible to the people.

Pan Am wanted to accommodate more passengers. By having a plane 2 ½ size bigger than the 707, the seat costs could be reduced by 30%. What was originally planned by Pan Am was to create a double-decker airplane, but instead, Boeing made the 747s wider. To meet the challenges of building a wider airplane, Boeing went with the four-engined jet aircraft. These were initially powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D turbofan engines.

Joe Sutter, known as the father of the 747, led the design team. They along with other Boeing employees, were nicknamed the Incredibles for building the 747 in just 29 months.

Because the design was so big, Boeing had to build a plant around it during its construction in Everett, Washington. Today, that building is the biggest in the world by volume (13,300,000 Million cubic meters equivalent to more than 5,300 Olympic-sized swimming pools) and where the company builds its other wide-body aircraft.

The image shows two colored photos. On the left is a fleet of passenger airplanes parked on an airport runway. On the right is a sunset view of a Lufthansa airplane parked on an airport runway.

The End of an Era of the Boeing 747

A favorite among pilots, this airplane flies and lands beautifully. In agreement is Captain Lyn Rippelmeyer, the first woman to pilot the 747. She was also the first woman to captain a transatlantic flight 747.

Designed for long-haul flights, the 747 made international travel more accessible and affordable. Consequently, it was sought after by most airline companies when it was first introduced. Its elegance and top-notch performance gave the airlines a view that the 747 is legitimized them.

The ending of the 747 comes at a time when the aviation industry is looking to transform itself. Aligning with more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly technologies is the new sentiment. Becoming green and sustainable is a path that most companies and industries aim for to build a better future.

Regardless, this doesn’t mean that we have seen the last days of the “queen of the skies.” She will continue to fly for decades-long according to Boeing. “They’re sending the queen out very fittingly” according to Kim Smith, Boeing Vice President, and general manager of the 747 and 767 Programs.

Currently, there are 396 Boeing 747s still in service today. Among them, 311 are freight, 44 of them are passenger planed, and 41 are for VIP or private service. Six airlines still operate the 747s, with Lufthansa being the largest at 25 in its fleet.

In the beginning, many people said that the 747 would not fly– both literally and financially. But Boeing took a huge risk and like Taber, became one of the pioneers that have shaped our world today.

How Taber helped shaped the Aerospace industry

Aluminum has been key to how man developed flight due to its rich properties and capabilities. The Wright brothers used aluminum for their first airplane in 1903. It had a four-cylinder, 12-horse-power engine modified with a 30-pound aluminum block to reduce its weight.

And since then, various aluminum alloys were used in aerospace engineering and have subsequently increased throughout the years.

Taber offers a full range of aluminum alloys including hard, soft, marine, and armor grade. This is a unique capability in the industry. Inside Taber Extrusion’s new state-of-the-art casthouse, aluminum billets are cast and extruded into a wide range of shapes and sizes.

Taber’s capabilities allow the company to serve several industries, including aerospace and firearms. The hard alloys that are created are ideal for these industries due to their high strength and corrosion resistance.

Components of Aerospace Vehicles including the Boeing 747

We have worked with most of the major aerospace manufacturers in the United States. Our extruded shapes are used for important components of aerospace vehicles:

  • Structural Flight Critical Components
  • Interior aircraft systems
  • Supplemental oxygen systems
  • Electrical/Communication Systems
  • Passenger Comfort Systems
  • Coolant radiators
  • Oil coolers
  • Intercoolers
  • AC condensers
  • Passenger service systems
  • Other fluid/gas systems

Producing profiles for the Aerospace and Defense industries is a foundational capability at Taber. “From the inception, Taber’s Russellville, AR facility has produced profiles for the commercial aircraft manufacturers.” Says Jason Weber, VP of Sales and Marketing at Taber Extrusions, “While Taber is sad to see the new aircraft builds of the 747 end, we’re excited for the future of the next generations of airframes and the sustainment of the existing fleet.”

Since 1973, Taber Extrusions has been known as the industry leader in providing some of the widest, heaviest, and most complex shapes to a variety of industries. This includes aerospace, military, shipbuilding, automotive, sporting goods, architectural, and distribution markets. Taber supplies intermediate to heavy press structural extrusions for various Boeing Commercial airplanes including 747, 767, 777, & 787 airframes.  The company has manufactured aircraft and aerospace extrusions since 1973, servicing the Commercial, Military, and General Aviation markets.

A collage of triangles in various shades of blue, overlying an image of a commercial airplane and the words “AEROSPACE” atop Taber’s gold inverted triangle official logo.

More About Taber Extrusions

Founded in 1973, Taber Extrusions originally pioneered a process for extruding rectangular billet. This enables the company to extrude solid profiles up to 31 inches wide or hollows up to 29 inches. Taber expanded with the purchase of an extrusion facility in Gulfport, MS, in 1995. It houses a new state-of-the-art cast house and two additional presses. In addition, Taber expanded its microextrusion capabilities, and  the fabrication area has been expanded multiple times.

Taber continues to extrude billet in a wide range of alloys and sizes and has diversified its markets beyond the military since its inception to include aerospace, automotive, marine, infrastructure, and sporting goods, among many others. For these markets, the company supplies cast and extruded products in a variety of soft and hard alloys.

Today, Taber Extrusions has completed the addition of in-house friction stir welding capabilities and carries on their offering of extruded aluminum components, value-added machining services, and raw material supply to the North American market – making them a vertically integrated supplier of FSW panels and assemblies never before seen in North America.

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