747: Engine of Growth

By Robert Bigony

March 2016

Boeing became a close friend the first time I viewed 747 No. 1 on the ramp at Honolulu International Airport in 1968-69. As we walked under the plane and viewed the landing gear setup, we all came to the conclusion that it was just a miracle that it could become airborne.

Over a 36-year career with Motorola, 1966-2002, I had the privilege of spending a great deal of time aboard many a 747. The aircraft was a great contributor to the economic growth of the United States, as we were able to schedule a flight to most parts of the world and conduct our business and fly on to the next opportunity.

As a familiar flier on 747s, I became knowledgeable of the different series of aircraft. I called the 200 the "Three Holer" for the three windows showing on the upper deck, and more than often in my early days of world travel they were the original Pan Am inventory.

Being assigned as managing director of our Australian subsidiary in Melbourne, we were always on a Qantas 747 flight to Sydney and then on to Honolulu and on to Los Angeles. We always counted pillow-to-pillow time, and often it exceeded 36 hours.

When the 300C version came on board, we often shared the Combi load with fresh lobster, and what a treat we had when we could book a 747SP and overfly Honolulu, saving another 1.5 hours off of our trip.

When the 400 came in service, we said goodby to our Honolulu stopover and enjoyed a much easier trip into Sydney, often arriving 15 to 20 minutes before the airport opened. On one trip we were on a brand-new 747-400, and a VIP shared a seat in first class with me. During boarding, the purser was checking out his seat and it did not work. We did a quick check and found the control cable was not connected to the seat; after making the connection, all was well and the VIP was able to recline and enjoy his sleep.

I also had the opportunity to work with our South African subsidiary, and four to five times a year would visit Johannesburg, flying a South African 747-300. I would then continue to Australia, flying to Perth on what has to be the loneliest flight path in the world. I often flew on the upper deck. The pilots would leave the cockpit door open and we would visit with them and watch the GPS take us to Perth with the close attention of the flight engineer working to get every ounce of fuel efficiency.

I wish I would have clocked the hours on the 747. I consider it the best business tool we could have had to travel the world and advance the electronics expertise of our company and country around the world.

Later in my career we had access to a Gulfstream and used it on all our trips to Europe and South America, but on the really long-haul trips we more often booked our seat on a 747, enjoying the new amenities and comfort of sleeper seats and superb service offered by those 747 competing airlines.

As I reflect on our success, it was made in partnership with Boeing and their engineering and manufacturing excellence! Thanks to all!