British Airways' last jumbo jets bade farewell to London on Thursday but cloud and driving rain prevented a rare synchronised dual take off for the "Queen of the Skies" which brought long-haul flights to the masses.

Once the world's largest operator of the 747, BA has now retired its entire jumbo jet fleet after COVID-19 curtailed most air travel, accelerating the move to more fuel-efficient planes.

BA chief executive Alex Cruz said it was "a difficult day for everybody at British Airways as the aircraft leaves our home at Heathrow for the very last time".

The airline had planned a rarely seen synchronised dual take off on parallel Heathrow runways but the weather prevented that. The final flights were witnessed by BA staff and engineers who lined up to see them off.

For over 50 years, the 747 has been the world's most easily recognised jetliner with its humped fuselage, four engines and 16 main wheels.

It took its maiden flight in 1969 and soon secured its place in history as the jet which allowed more affordable air travel due its size and range.

Passengers have included John Paul II, who arrived for the first visit to Ireland by a pope on an Aer Lingus 747 in 1979.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile on an Air France jumbo during the Islamic Revolution that year.

BA's predecessor airline BOAC first introduced the 747 on the London-New York route in 1971, and at its peak BA had a fleet of 57 747-400s. 

Plane spotters photograph and watch a British Airways Boeing 747 aircraft as it makes a flypast over London Heathrow airport on its final flight today

Former pilots have relayed how the jet initially took some getting used to, from a cockpit positioned almost 30 feet above the ground and more when angling the nose higher just before touching the runway.

"It was like landing a block of flats from the 2nd floor," Hugh Dibley, a former BOAC captain, told Reuters. 

BA's Cruz said the company wanted to pay tribute to the jets and the millions of customers and BA colleagues who had flown on them. 

The owner of British Airways, IAG, is battling to survive after the pandemic wiped out much of the global flying market. IAG also owns Aer Lingus.

Today's send off featured the G-CIVB and G-CIVY planes.

The  G-CIVB entered BA's service in February 1994, making 13,398 flights, which equates to 118,445 hours and 59 million miles. 

The G-CIVY arrived in September 1998, operating 11,034 flights, which is 90,161 hours or 45 million miles. 

Launched in 1969, and known as the Queen Of The Skies, the hump-shaped planes were much bigger than existing airliners, holding around 550 passengers. 

The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), which later merged into British Airways, flew its first 747 flight on April 14 1971.

BA's first delivery of the 747-400 was made in July 1989 and its last in April 1999.

At its height, the airline was the world's biggest operator of the 747-400, with a fleet of 57.

The plane had 6 foot high winglets on the tips of its wings to improve efficiency, with 16 main wheels and two landing nose wheels. 

Its wings span 213 feet and are big enough to accommodate 50 parked cars, while the tail height of 64 feett is equivalent to a six-storey building. 

In total the model is 231ft long. 

The Boeing 747 is the fastest commercial plane, with a top speed of just over 650 miles an hour. It set a transatlantic flight record between New York and London, making it in under five hours in 2020.

Additional reporting from PA