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Jumbo jet junkyard: The scrapping of a Boeing 747

Boeing’s famous 747 jumbo jet, the workhorse of the aviation industry, has been transporting passengers around the world since its first commercial flight in 1970.

The four-engine aircraft is a remarkable feat of technical innovation and design, with around 75,000 engineering drawings used in the production of the very first 747 jet.

In its lifetime, every commercial jet plane undergoes frequent checks to ensure its structural integrity, with maintenance performed where necessary. Every six years or so, 747 aircraft in many countries undergo a complete overhaul both inside and out.

A recent BBC documentary called Engineering Giants took a close look at the process of a 747 refit, and also at what happens when one of these jumbos reaches the end of its working life, which could be after 25 years or so.

If the plane is retired in Europe, there’s a fair chance it’ll end up at Air Salvage International, a company in the south of England specializing in dismantling these gargantuan flying machines.

Air Salvage International deals with around 40 planes a year, selling on anything of value to airlines around the world on the hunt for spare parts. There’s serious money involved, with an engine going for around $1 million, landing gear for $300,000 depending on age, and cockpit screens for around $30,000 each. Even a coffee maker from the aircraft can be sold on for as much as $4,600, and toilet bowls too – lovingly restored, of course – can fetch somewhere in the region of $800.

Once everything of value has been taken from the jumbo, all that’s left is a metal shell. This is where it really ends for the plane, with a special digger brought in to break it up (video below). After three days of demolition work, little remains of the jet except a pile of torn up, twisted aluminum.

Even this, however, has scrap value to the tune of $55,000, with some ending up as drinks cans or bicycle frames.

Of course, not all commercial airliners end their days in this way. A few are bought by those looking to build an unusual house or hotel, while others might buy a whole cockpit and turn it into a flight simulator, like this guy did.

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