She may be quite a rare sight today, but the arrival of the Queen of the Skies once changed air travel forever. Following the first flight on February 9th, 1969, and subsequent entry into service with Pan Am one year later, the Boeing 747 fast became an icon that was to enjoy over 50 years of production in its various iterations. Let’s take a look at which airlines had the honor of first operating each of its models.
Once upon a time
As previously mentioned, the very first passenger 747 to enter service did so with Pan Am. In fact, the airline was very much involved in the development of Boeing’s jumbo jet. Pan Am ordered as many as 25 of the new groundbreaking quadjet and operated the first revenue passenger flight on January 22nd, 1970. The Clipper Young America carried 335 passengers and 20 crew members from New York’s JFK to London Heathrow.
Pan Am was also the first to operate the 747SP (Special Performance), a shortened version designed for a longer range. The type entered service in 1975. A few are still in limited service as governmental aircraft and NASA’s flying telescope, the SOFIA.
Meanwhile, the shorter range 747-100SR was produced in seven units for Japan Airlines, with the first delivered in 1973. Competitor All Nippon Airways was the launch customer of the higher maximum take-off weight version, the 747-100BSR. Boeing made a total of 20 units of the BSR for the two Japanese carriers.
The contention for the 747-200
Meanwhile, Boeing’s second variant of the Queen, the 747-200, has either none or several launch customers, depending on how you see it. Dutch flag carrier KLM was the first to order the passenger version. However, the first to roll off the production line reportedly went to Northwest Orient.
KLM’s first 747 was delivered to Schiphol as PH-BUA. The airline introduced it into passenger service on February 22nd, 1971, on its Amsterdam to New York route. The aircraft was named Mississippi. On November 25th, 1973, it was hijacked by the Arab Nationalist Youth Organization over Iraqi airspace while operating flight 861 from Amsterdam to Tokyo.
Meanwhile, the first order for the 747-200 combi came from Air Canada. For the 747-200F, it was Lufthansa Cargo, with whom it entered service in 1972.
Swissair was first with the rare 747-300
While the -100 and the -200 came in quick succession, it was not until March 23rd, 1983, that launch customer Swissair took delivery of its first Boeing 747-300 – one year after the type had made its first flight. The 747-300 remained in Swissair’s fleet until the year 2000.
Boeing only ever made 81 units of the type, which would turn out to be the least popular of all the models of the Queen. Meanwhile, Japan Airlines took two 747-300SRs, operating them on high-capacity domestic routes, a particular feature of the Japanese market.
Meanwhile, the most popular variant, the increased range 747-400, launched with Northwest Airlines in February 1989. Its very first revenue service flew passengers from Minneapolis to Phoenix. When Northwest merged with Delta Air Lines in 2008, the latter inherited the 16 remaining 747s in the former’s fleet. However, the type remained in service with Delta for less than ten years.
With all the variants included, Boeing built 694 of the type. According to data from ch-aviation, 32 of the passenger version are currently in active service with 16 different carriers. The 747-400M Combi entered service with KLM in September 1989, and the 747-400F went to airfreight specialist Cargolux in 1993.
Qantas took delivery of the first 747-400ER in November 2002 and was to operate six of the aircraft for close to two decades. The final exit in July last year of VH-OEJ Wunala marked the end to the 747’s nearly half-a-century history with the Aussie flag carrier.
The final variant that Boeing went about making out of the 747 series was the 747-8. Production was divided into the 747-8i for passenger operations and the 747-8F for cargo. Launch customer for the passenger aircraft was Lufthansa. The German national airline took delivery of the first out of 19 of the type in June 2012.
While the future of the Queen with the airline remained uncertain throughout the first part of the crisis, Lufthansa has kept many of its 19 Boeing 747-8s in operation. It has even brought back five out of its eight remaining 747-400s after some time in storage and is operating daily flights with what must now be considered the grand old dame of long-haul air travel.
The freighter version was delivered before the passenger 747-8i. The first 747-8F went, again, to Luxembourgian Cargolux in October 2011. Cargolux still maintains a fleet of as many as 14 747-8Fs.
Production of the 747 has already begun to wind down at Boeing’s Everett facilities. The end of the era of the Queen of the Skies has commenced, even if there are still opportunities to travel on the iconic plane out there.
If you want to find a real rarity, you would have to make your way to Iran and fly with Mahan Air. The airline still has a 747-300M in service that is over 35 years old. There are also two 747SPs that are over 40 years old still flying, but you would need to be invited by either Saudi Arabian royalty or the Las Vegas Sands casino company.
How many of the 747 variants have you traveled on? How many airlines and 747 combos have you collected over the years? Leave a comment below and see how they compare to other members of the community.