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The retiring Boeing 747 flying to Florida to help with Hurricane Irma evacuation

Forty-eight years after they first took to the skies, the wide-bodied Boeing 747s are being retired as passenger planes and assigned for use primarily for carrying cargo.

The last domestic flight of the Boeing 747 was expected to depart from Los Angeles International Airport earlier this week, an event marked by a celebration at the Delta Air Lines passenger lounge.

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But with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, Delta added 24 new flights to help evacuate people in the path of the monster storm. Among those flights was a 747 that was dispatched from the Detroit hub Friday to fill up with evacuating passengers in Orlando.

The 747, once known as the queen of the skies, is being replaced by more efficient twin-engine planes. Boeing Co., which now produces only six 747s a year, says it is targeting the cargo market for new customers for the plane.

Delta is expected to be the last U.S. airline to retire its entire Boeing 747 fleet by the end of 2017. Delta said it will use the 747 for a few more weeks on international flights.

At LAX, the last scheduled domestic 747 flight was celebrated with cake and cocktails at Delta's Sky Club lounge. About 50 elite status Delta fliers booked up the first class and parts of the business class section of the plane for the flight to Detroit, said Delta spokeswoman Liz Savadelis.

The passengers were given special 747 ear buds as souvenirs of the flight. As the plane rolled away from the gate at LAX, Delta employees waved orange wands at the departing jet.

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