The Boeing 747 ASB – The Plane That Almost Replaced The 777

Before Boeing brought the 777 to market, they actually had a different design in mind… a converted short long-range 747!

A Boeing 747SP in Iran Air livery, the 747 ASB would use the same body. Photo: Wikimedia

The Boeing 747 ASB was originally envisioned as the perfect medium haul airliner that could fill the niche required by airliners, without having to develop a totally new aircraft. But despite some interest from airlines, the 747 ASB never took off (pun intended). Let’s have a look at why.

What was the Boeing 747 ASB?

Now, the Boeing 747 ASB is a rather special plane because it was never actually built nor did it ever see active service.

The 747 ASB, ASB standing for ‘Advanced Short Body’, was designed in response to Airbus launching the A340 and the famous tri-jet McDonnell Douglas MD-11 in 1986.

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It was essentially a combination of the advanced technology of the Boeing 747-400 combined with the short-body of the 747SP, the special high altitude super long range version of the 747.

qantas boeing 747 retirement
A Qantas 747-SP heading into Wellington, New Zealand, in 1981. Photo: PhillipC via Flickr

What were the Boeing 747 ASB specifications?

When Boeing offered the aircraft, it had the following specifications:

  • The aircraft was to carry 295 passengers a range of 8,000 nmi (15,000 km).

As it was the combination of both the 747-400 and the 747 SP, here is how it matched up

  • The original Boeing 747-400 could carry 416 passengers a range of 7,500 nmi (14,200 km).
  • The Boeing 747SP could carry 276 passengers 5,830 nmi (10,800 km)

For those who noticed the poor range of the ‘long-range Boeing 747 SP’, it was actually developed decades before the Boeing 747-400. Essentially, the Boeing 747 ASB was the 2nd generation of the 747 SP with all the improvements so far.

Compared to the two competitors on the market:

  • The A340-200 could carry 261 passengers to a range of 7,600 nmi (14,100 km)
  • The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 could transport 298 passengers to a range of 6,725 nmi (12,455 km).

Looking at the numbers above, it is clear that the 747 ASB was designed to beat off the A340 from Airbus and keep Boeing’s grip on the 250+ seats market secure. Additionally, compared to the MD-11, whilst it couldn’t carry as many passengers it could fly further.

Boeing also claimed that the Boeing 747 ASB could ‘get there 30 minutes earlier [than else on the market]‘. Although as it was never built, this claim cannot be substantiated.

The aircraft was built for long-range travel and actually had a crew section in the tail of the plane. This is in addition to the two bunks for the pilot crew near the cockpit.

Boeing 747 ASB
The aft crew section that could sleep six crew members.
Photo: Boeing / Flight Global

Why was it never ordered?

The Boeing 747 ASB came at a very strange time for the aircraft industry. Fuel prices were very high and airlines were looking at new fuel effecient twin-engine aircraft like the A330. Thus Boeing was not able to secure any orders for the new Boeing 747.

Boeing would take notice of these trends and go on to release the Boeing 777 only two years later, quietly shelving the Boeing 747 ASB under ‘what could have been’. The two competitors of the 747 ASB would go on to be retired for the same reasons many years later.

One has to imagine that had Boeing sold the 747 ASB, we would not have the 777 series or the new 777X coming out later this year.

What do you think? Would you have liked to have flown on the Boeing 747 ASB? Let us know in the comments.

 

2 comments
  1. The 747SP did not come out decades before the 747. It was a shortened version of the 747-100 designed specifically for long range flights. It had a larger tailplane & simplified lighter flaps. It was designed to meet a PanAm & Iran Air need to fly New York to the middle east. It did have a 5830nm range with 276 seats when released vs the 747-100’s 4620nm range with 366 seats.
    The 747-100 entered service on Jan 22, 1970
    The 747SP entered service in 1976

  2. The 747-SP was also used extensively by South African on their routes out of JNB and Cape Town.

    They replaced them eventually with A340’s.

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