What Happened To Corsair’s Boeing 747 Aircraft?

For a relatively small airline, Corsair was a pretty prolific user of the Boeing 747 family of aircraft. Over the course of 30 years, the airline operated 23 of the type across all five members of the product line, from the original -100 to the popular -400 and even the rare 747SP. Last March, as the pandemic bit, the airline took the decision to retire the last of its Queens. Let’s see what happened to all those aircraft.

Corsair 747-400
The most recent retiree from Corsair was the 747-400, but it operated every single type of the family over the years. Photo: Getty Images

The 747-100

The first 747s to arrive at Corsair were the 747-100s. June 1991 saw the arrival of two, and over the next three years, another three arrived with the airline. The very first to arrive was an ex-Pan Am 747, which had also flown for Lionair and Air France before arriving with Corsair. Interestingly, after the aircraft was withdrawn from use in 1995, it got a repaint as fictional airline Oceanic and the fake registration N707CK in order to appear in the Kurt Russel and Steven Segal film ‘Executive Decision.’ You can watch the dramatic ‘landing’ of the plane in the clip below:

The rest of the -100s had less glamorous endings to their operational life. The second to arrive, F-GKLJ, was withdrawn in 2000 and stored at Chateauroux, where it was broken up two years later. F-BPVD was leased from Air France, and therefore returned to that airline when it was finished at Corsair. It was scrapped in 1994, broken up at Oklahoma City.

The other two were similarly withdrawn from use and scrapped. F-BPVE was scrapped in around 1998, while F-BPVG went on to work for Air Atlanta Icelandic for a couple of years after being withdrawn from the Corsair fleet, but was ultimately stored at Pinal Airpark in 1999 and scrapped in 2004.

Corsair 747-100
The -100s all left the fleet by the turn of the millennia. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

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The 747-200

Just like the -100s, Corsair operated five 747-200s over the years. The first arrived in 1992 as a 21-year-old aircraft. It had been taken new by KLM, spent time at Air Siam and Garuda Indonesia, and then joined the Corsair fleet in December that year. Details on when it was withdrawn are sketchy, but it was eventually broken up in March 2003 at Paris Orly Airport.

Another came by a similar route, KLM and Garuda, in February 1995. That one was scrapped at Chateauroux in 2002.

The final three were short-term leases to the airline, likely to provide capacity during busy summer periods. The first was CN-RME, a Royal Air Maroc aircraft that spent summer 1997 with Corsair before returning to its owner. It’s been stored since 2002.

Corsair 747-200
Some of the -200s were leased from British Airways. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The other two were British aircraft. G-BDXE was a British Airways 747-200, transferred to European Aircharter in 2002 and leased by Corsair for the summer of 2005. It was broken up at Kemble in the UK in 2007. G-BDXF came by the same route, British Airways to European Aircharter, and was also leased to Corsair for summer 2005. In a similar trend, it was broken up at Kemble in 2006.

The 747-300

Six 747-300s flew for Corsair between 1997 and 2007. The first had flown for Singapore Airlines and Ansett Australia before arriving with Corsair. It stayed with the airline for seven years before joining the Air Atlanta Icelandic fleet.

Corsair 747-300
The 747-300s spent a decade with the airline. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Interestingly, after being sent for storage at Kemble, the aircraft was transported by road from Gloucestershire to Herefordshire, causing quite a stir. Its destination was the Pontrilas Army Training Area, where it is now preserved as a SAS training aid.

747 relocation on M4
The move from Kemble to Herefordshire caused quite a stir on the motorway. Photo: Getty Images

The other five have all, over the years, been scrapped. Most stayed with Corsair for between three and five years, but all had arrived as older aircraft. As such, there was limited value left in the 747s by the time Corsair finished operating them.

The 747-400

The most recent members of the Corsair fleet were the 747-400s. Corsair operated six different aircraft over the span of 15 years. Just like the other Queens, these did not arrive with the airline new.

The first arrival was F-WSEX, which had flow with United Airlines from new in 1993. It moved to Corsair aged 12 in February 2005, and stayed there until it was withdrawn from use in 2011. It was stored at Victorville for two years but then, surprisingly, found a new home. It hopped over to Kano Airport to be operated on behalf of Ariana Afghan Airlines. It continued to fly until 2017.

Corsair 747-400
F-HSEX found a second life in Afghanistan. Photo: Eric Salard via Flickr

The next two similarly came from United Airlines as relatively old aircraft. Both flew for around seven years with the French airline before being withdrawn and eventually scrapped.

At the start of 2020, Corsair still had three 747-400s in its fleet. But as the pandemic bit, the airline prepared to wave goodbye to the last of its Queens. All three had been delivered new to United Airlines in 1992 and 1993, arriving at Corsair at around 12 years of age.

All three were withdrawn from use by the end of March 2020. As you can imagine, there’s not much of a second-hand market for 28-year-old 747s right now, so all are in storage at present.

F-HSEA and F-GTUI are both stored in the UK at Kemble. F-HSUN was at Kemble for a while, but was moved to Pinal Airpark in August 2020.

The SP

Corsair was one of a handful of airlines to operate the rare 747SP. With only 45 built, not many airlines can lay claim to operating the SP, but Corsair did for a total of eight years.

As with its other 747s, the SP was well used when it arrived at Corsair. It had been in service with South African Airways from new in 1976, and had spent almost 10 years at Royal Air Maroc since 1985. Aged 18, it arrived with Corsair in October 1994, where it operated to long-haul destinations including Bangkok and Los Angeles as well as closer routes to Helsinki and Mallorca.

Corsair 747SP
The 747SP was first built for South African Airways. Photo: Pedro Aragão via Wikimedia

According to 747SP.com, the aircraft suffered several incidents in its lifetime. In 1997, it hit a finger of the terminal at Paris Orly and was grounded for three days while a panel was replaced. In June 1999, it suffered a wingtip collision with a Philippine Airlines aircraft at Los Angeles International. The wing was severely damaged and the fuel tank was punctured, leading to a two-week grounding.

Finally, at the same airport in September 1999, it was heading to Tahiti from LAX when it entered a closed taxiway contrary to the ATC instructions. It struck several parked vehicles with its number four engine, including two tractor-trailer rigs and a pickup truck.

Corsair 747SP accident
The aircraft struck several vehicles on a closed taxiway. Photo: ICAO

Nevertheless, it was back in service a few weeks later, and continued to fly with Corsair until September 2002. It was ferried to Chateauroux for storage that year, but rather than being broken up, it is being preserved as an educational vehicle. The aircraft is used by GIGN – Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (National Gendarmerie Intervention Group) for training exercises.

Corsair 747SP
F-GTOM in her final resting place. Photo: Alan Wilson via Flickr

Did you ever fly on any of Corsair’s 747s? Let us know in the comments!