Civil Aviation

Boeing 747 and Boeing 777 pilot tells why the Queen of the Skies is “Like Mike, GOAT (sorry Lebron)”

The Boeing 777

The Boeing 777 is the largest twin-engine commercial jet transport in service today. In 1990, approval to proceed with its development was contingent on defining an airplane the airlines would buy at a price Boeing could afford.

Innovative processes were developed and implemented that focused on achieving customer preference and reduced program cost. These processes centered on Design Build Teams, Digital Product Definition, and Digital Preassembly.

A few years after delivery of the first airplanes, the data showed that the processes made the 777 the preferred airplane, lowered program costs as predicted, and set new standards and expectations for the development of jet transport aircraft.

The Boeing 777’s unique combination of superior range, outstanding fuel efficiency and passenger-preferred comfort has created long-range success for carriers around the world.

Boeing 777 Vs Boeing 747

But do pilots prefer the Boeing 777 even to the iconic “Queen of the Skies” aka Boeing 747?

An anonymous Boeing 747 and Boeing 777 pilot answers the questions explains:

‘I can only speak from my experience at UAL other airlines might be different, more about that later. At United we called them “the 400” and “the triple” or “triple 7.” Due to 9/11, bankruptcy, recession, seniority, etc, I was on both airplanes twice for a few years and went through training on both airplanes twice each. I also flew the 737, 757, 767, 787, Airbus, so I have some insight into those also.

‘From a pure flying standpoint I liked the 400 a lot better. In fact it’s my favorite airplane. It was one of the last old school manual controls,( not fly by wire,) the controls always felt just right to me, sometimes I had problems trimming the triple just the way I wanted, once I got the triple 7 trimmed right it was a rock, perfect, it just seemed a little difficult to find that perfect sweet spot, the 400 was a little easier to get pretty good vice perfect. To me it flew a lot like the 737. Huge 400 felt pretty much the same as the little guppy. Compared to the triple the 400 seemed to come down a little easier.

‘Most people don’t realize one of the bigger problems for pilots is energy management, rather than a dropping like a rock as most people think it’s sometimes hard to get down fast enough during descent and approach, it’s hard to go down and slow down, I thought the 400 was a little better at this. The triple was a little slicker, more efficient, saves fuel, but required just a little more thought.

Boeing 747, the easiest airplane to land on the planet

‘Here’s the biggest thing though, the 400, biggest baddest airliner in the world for long time, massively huge, multi engine, two deck, nearly 1,000,000 lbs takeoff weight, JUST DAMN BIG airplane, is possibly the easiest airplane to land on the planet. All you need to do is get the thing somewhere close to proper final approach speed, trim it, fly down, pull the power somewhere close to the runway and ground effect and lots of landing gear takes care of the rest. It’s like magic! Occasionally something goes wrong but 90 percent of your landings will be the best you and your passengers have ever experienced.

‘777 is also pretty good and skilled guys can make it land nicely almost as often, but if I was betting my house on a smooth landing I’d pick the 400 over any ANY other airliner every time. In its defense 777 would always be my second choice over any of the others, but still always second.

‘Ok that’s the flying part here’s a few other comparisons, facts and stupid stories. A lot of guys like the fly by wire of 777. That’s more personal preference but that’s what we’re talking about here. I personally didn’t care much about the 2 vs 4 engine controversy having flown a lot of overwater in a single engine airplane in the Air Force. An engine failure on takeoff is a little easier to handle in the triple due to auto throttle setup and some computer help.’

Engine failure in cruise

He continues;

‘An engine failure in cruise is a non event in the 400 because you lose altitude but can legally just keep flying. A cruise engine failure could be pretty big problem in the triple7 because you are generally required to land “as soon as possible.” On polar routes especially, the divert bases are not always very attractive, crappy runways with not much support after landing, COLD could be an actual problem.

‘777 at United had electronic checklists for emergencies, 400 was still using paper checklists. The 777 electronic checklists were VERY good, used correctly (and it was hard not to) they insured completion, proper actions, and proper configurations, especially compared to paper checklists or (sorry [in every sense of the word]) Airbus electronic checklists, for me this might have been the best thing about the 777 although I seldom had to use any of them.

‘777 had more advanced comms, very minor but made crossings a little easier. 777 screens are a generation newer, better integrated and much more capable. 400 screens are functional but limited, slight increase in workload mostly in cruise.

‘For all the pilots with pitifully low self esteem and quite a few of the ones with high self esteem the 400 had a lot of steam. It was unique because it looked different than any other airplane because of the hump. It also made it somewhat more elegant looking compared to all the other airliners. Even now all the twin engine planes look pretty much the same, (small aside and slightly dated, the 787 is a very very elegant twin engine airplane!) 747 was one of a kind for design. Timeless!

EVERYBODY knows a Boeing 747

‘Put up any 2 engine airliner and almost no one can tell you what airplane it is, EVERYBODY knows a 747. It was bigger, faster, had more engines, hauled more people, had bigger first class and business class, more crew, a stairwell to the SECOND floor, was better known, more recognizable. To the outside, and even inside, world the only thing the 400 wasn’t was newer. Everyone loved it and the more people flew on it (especially crews) the better they liked it.

‘It sort of reflected American culture in the 1970–2000s, bigger is better, and biggest is best. If I asked my neighbor what a 747 looked like he could probably draw it on a napkin, 4 engines and a hump. On the other hand I’m not sure if most people could even tell you how many engines a 777 has.

‘There was a reason the 400 was/is called the “queen of the skies.” Its iconic, and a pretty good conversation starter to tell people you’ve flown it. In a bar I’d rather be a 747 guy. If there’s a right stuff pyramid on the airlines the 747 is at the top (apologies A380).

‘Now for some of the really stupid stuff only an airline pilot would normally think about. While lots of people especially aviation enthusiasts are out there wondering which airplane is better or more interesting, flight characteristic, engines, lights buttons, fly by wire, screens, blah blah blah, many pilots are actually thinking about more important issues…Bunks (or crew rest facilities) of course!

Boeing 777 Vs Boeing 747: bunks

‘The 400 cockpit area was huge and tall. Sitting up there you really felt like king of the world. At United the 400 bunks (pilot rest area) were in a room behind the cockpit seats but still inside the cockpit door. People could change into pajamas or sweats in the bunk rooms didn’t have to worry about passengers seeing you running around. The actual bunk space and bunks were pretty big. You had to get a flight attendant to guard the door to come out and go to the bathroom but otherwise it was great. 777 cockpits by comparison are small maybe 1/3 the size of 400, room for pilots but not much else. United 777s had different crew rest ideas at at various times. The bunk room was just behind but outside cockpit and was tiny by comparison.

‘For awhile pilots didn’t use the bunk and just got curtained first class seats, then we had a first class seat in bunk room and 1 first class seat with a curtain when there were 4 pilots. People didn’t usually change clothes and just slept in uniforms. Then 2 bunks were reinstalled, essentially in a closet and we were supposed to use them. Not sure how we’re configured now especially newest 777s. Back then because of the bunk location beverage/meal carts frequently banged against bunk walls and woke pilots. Some guys REALLY didnt like this. The bunks were smaller and uncomfortable and hard not to bother other person if you needed to get up. Pilots called it the coffin. It wasn’t a good setup.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Boeing 777 Vs Boeing 747: pay rates

‘At the time 400/777 pay rates were the same and flying destinations fairly similar. Because of this I can’t tell you how many times I heard people make their decision which airplane to train on and fly based not on the newest or best flyer but on “the bunk situation.” I think for awhile the 777/400 bunk question was far more important than things like the engine consideration, fly by wire, or anything else. At that time the 400 bunks/rest area were definitely better

‘One more stupid story/fact. Probably the best benefit airline employees have is the ability to fly nearly free. There’s a caveat though, it always space available, so there has to be an open seat/seats, no more customers, somewhere before we get on. One night my wife was trying to ride with us to Sydney, she got the last seat on the airplane. GREAT! We’re just about to close up and get ready to go and the Customer Service Agent comes on, calls my wife’s name, and takes her off the airplane. WTF! They come up and explain the airplane is overweight. WTF! How does a 120 lb woman make a f**king 930,000 lb airplane overweight?

‘How would anyone or any airplane weighing that much even notice. Well she made us weigh 930,078lbs, 78 lbs over, .008%, (about the last 3 swallows of the water bottle in your car!) they couldn’t take off a paying customer so she had to get off the plane to make it legal. If we’d known a little earlier we pilots could have fudged a number (burned 10 gallons of gas) somewhere but it was too late for us to fix the paper work and take off on time, so she had to stay home. We had one empty seat.’

Boeing 747 GOAT like Mike (sorry Lebron)

He concludes;

‘Consider that the next time someone suggests pilots or airlines are being unsafe, this was purely in the name of staying legally safe, even though I can’t imagine it makes an ounce (or 78lbs) of difference.

‘Any way for me it will always be the 400, Like Mike, greatest of all time (sorry Lebron)

‘747 GOAT! Sorry everybody else.’

Boeing 747-400 – Air New Zealand. Commission your custom airliner prints at!

Photo credit: Boeing and Boeing via This Day in Aviation

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • I also flew the 400 (for BAW), and agree with pretty much everything said here! We had a different crew rest configuration – a lavatory and 2 bunks cabin all inside the cockpit door. We had a business cabin on the upper deck, and on services requiring relief pilots had front row seats blocked as rest seats as well – bunks of course were not approved for occupancy during takeoff and landing.
    This led to my wife's “most embarrassing flight experience ever"…..

    She had been with me on a trip to Cape Town, which required one relief pilot. For the overnight return she was in that blocked seat for takeoff, then came into the cockpit, changed into pyjamas and slept in the spare bunk all the way to London. Unfortunately I only remembered she was there about 4 miles out on final approach, and got the relief pilot (now on hte jump seat) to wake her up. As the IFE was off by this stage, a full cabin of business class passengers had nothing to look at except a somewhat dishevelled woman in nightwear rushing out of the flight deck two minutes before touchdown, to take her seat at the front and try to look nonchalant ….

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