By Wook Kim
Updated May 17, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Not so long ago, traveling long distances by air was more or less a luxury reserved for movie stars and millionaires. All that changed on a January day in 1970, when a strange-looking airplane took off from New York and touched down on the cold tarmac of London’s Heathrow airport. Some 37 years later, it is still impossible to diminish the transformative effect of the Boeing 747, the world’s first jumbo jet. With disarming candor and modesty, the chief engineer who supervised the 747’s construction describes how he had to persuade one airline CEO to abandon his vision of a two-deck cabin and why he swapped trade secrets with his Soviet counterparts during the height of the Cold War. Though Joe Sutter’s flat prose can border on the cornpone, this is a modern success story told by an old-fashioned American hero.

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