Story highlights

One of the world's biggest airliners rolled across two Atlanta streets Saturday to its new museum home

Delta mounted a huge three-hour-plus operation to move the first Boeing 747-400 from the airport

The 400 series was Boeing's biggest selling version of the 747, the plane that forever changed air travel

Atlanta, Georgia CNN  — 

It was just a short trip across two streets, really.

Except it involved one of the biggest passenger airliners in the world.

There we were early Saturday morning — perhaps 200 aviation enthusiasts, Delta employees, news media and curious onlookers excited to see how Delta Air Lines would move an approximately 400,000-pound, 232-foot-long airplane from the outskirts of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, down two streets to the Delta Flight Museum.

Twitter and Instagram started lighting up as our photos of the jet began shooting around the globe.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss was about, well, this plane is historic.

It’s the first 747-400 model ever built for a commercial airline.

It’s kind of a star among stars.

Most people know the Boeing’s 747 — the plane that forever changed the airline industry in the 1970s and opened the door to an entire generation of air travelers.

The 400 series was the biggest selling version of the 747. Nearly 700 were sold before Boeing stopped making the passenger version in 2005.

They kept making the cargo version until 2009. Boeing estimates that all the 747s in the 400 series flew a total of more than 5 million flights and more than 17 billion miles.

Delta dubbed this 747-400 Ship 6301.

After 27 years of service — first with Northwest Airlines — then with Delta after the two airlines merged in 2008, it was time to retire Ship 6301 last year.

Delta, along with other passenger airlines, are phasing out their 747s and replacing them with more fuel efficient, twin-engine jets with fewer seats and about the same range.

The Big Move

So, how do you move one of the world’s biggest airliners to its final resting place?

First, you need a powerful towing vehicle. Inside that short and squat little truck, sits the 747’s nose landing gear – which allows the truck to tow the plane.

A team of dozens of Delta workers would walk along side the plane as it slowly rolls across the tarmac and onto Atlanta’s Toffie Terrace toward the museum.

Second you need local police to help you block local traffic.

You need a small army of tractor equipment operators to lift and place dozens of steel plates on the curbs to protect against damage as the jumbo jet’s main landing gear — each weighing more than 6,000 pounds — rolls over the street.

Light posts had to be temporarily removed to accommodate the plane’s gargantuan 211-foot wide wingspan.

There was a real sense among everyone that history was being made.

Workers stopped to take selfies.

Even way up high in the plane’s cockpit window, you could see someone taking photos of the activity down below as it crossed the intersection of Toffie Terrace and Woolman Place.

Parking a giant airplane

When Ship 6301 made the crucial turn into the museum parking lot, the crowd broke out in cheers.

They knew the remaining approximately 700 feet would be relatively easy for the tow vehicle to pull the plane across the smooth flat parking lot to its designated spot near the museum entrance.

Then it kind of turned into a parade.

Delta employees and others – many with huge grins on their faces – escorted the jet into the parking lot. They walked along side each of its wings – hooting and hollering with every second of realization they were experiencing rare, up-close access to a moving 747.

The final 30 minutes was like the world’s most complicated parallel parking test as the plane and the tow vehicle backed up and moved forward again and again.

Finally the crew seemed satisfied with the plane’s position.

High fives were exchanged and it was mission accomplished: a very complicated street crossing for one historic passenger airliner.

CNN’s Thom Patterson writes about aviation. Follow him on Twitter at @thompatterson.