Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am, had a long and happy relationship with the Queen of the skies. Over its lifetime, the airline would own no less than 65 of the type, but where did they all end up? Let’s take a look.
Pan Am and the 747
Pan Am was the first airline to place an order for the Boeing 747, ordering more than $500m of metal in 1966. It became the launch customer for the type, operating its first revenue flight in January 1971.
In fact, Pan Am worked very closely on the development of 747 with Boeing. In an interview with Air and Space Magazine, lead designer Joe Sutter said, if it wasn’t for the foresight and input of their CEO, Juan Trippe,
“…the 747 wouldn’t have happened. Then you wonder, what would the industry look like today without it?”
Between 1969 and 1991, Pan Am would receive 65 Boeing 747s, according to Planespotters. 44 of these would be the 747-100, 10 of the 747-200 and 11 of the 747SP.
By 1991, Pan Am was already under bankruptcy protection, and it closed its doors for good around Thanksgiving that year. They were the third airline to collapse in 1991, along with Midway and Eastern Air Lines.
Times of terrorism
Pan Am was operating its 747s in difficult times. Tensions in the Middle East, the ongoing Vietnam War and other global issues meant the world was in the grip of terrorism risks, and airlines were a prime target. Pan Am’s 747s had more than their fair share of these problems.
A 747 registered N752PA and named Clipper Fortune, was en route from Amsterdam to New York in September 1970 when it was hijacked. The flight diverted to Beirut, where more gang members boarded the aircraft and was then taken to Cairo where the plane was destroyed with explosives.
In 1972, another Pan Am 747 was hijacked, this time en route from San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon at the time). However, the hijacker was overpowered and killed on landing, and the plane and passengers were safe.
Another 747 registered N754PA, was also the subject of a terrorist attack. In 1982, while operating a service between Tokyo and Honolulu, a bomb exploded, killing one person, injuring 16 and damaging the ceiling and overhead racks. The plane was repaired and went on to work for Air Afrique, Air France and Corsair before being scrapped.
Clipper Victor, N736PA, was not exactly the subject of a terrorist attack, but was destroyed in relation to such events. Due to a bomb scare at Las Palmas airport in March 1977, the aircraft and many others were diverted to Tenerife. When the airport reopened, planes began taking off for their destination, at which time a thick fog rolled in. As Pan Am 1736 was taxiing to the runway, a KLM 747-200 took off without clearance, colliding with the Pan Am flight and killing a total of 583 people.
Pan Am’s Clipper Empress of the Seas, registered N656PA, was hijacked in 1986 while the aircraft was on the ground in Karachi. 20 people were killed, but the aircraft was not damaged. The plane went on to work for Evergreen International Airlines in 1991, but has now been scrapped.
The final terrorist incident is perhaps the most well-known; Pan Am flight 103 saw a Boeing 747 registered N739PA flying from Heathrow to JFK. Clipper Maid of the Seas was over Scotland when a pound of explosive in the cargo hold was detonated, triggering a series of events that led to the aircraft crashing on the village of Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway. 270 people died that day, including 11 who were on the ground in Lockerbie.
The 747SP was pretty much designed for Pan Am. Wanting to connect nonstop between the US and the Middle East, Pan Am lobbied Boeing for a widebody capable of doing this route. Joined in their request was Iran Air, who wanted to fly from Tehran to New York nonstop.
Boeing developed the short fuselage 747SP – Special Performance’ – but it wasn’t a big seller. Only 45 were ever built, 11 of which went to Pan Am. Although only a small fleet, the 747SP set two world records for the airline during the course of their ownership.
In the mid-1970s, the 747SP registered N533PA and named Clipper Liberty Bell broke the round the world record, doing it in 46 hours and 50 seconds, with two stops to refuel on route.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the airline in 1977, Pan Am decided to break a few more records too. This time, the 747SP flight went transpolar, stopping in Cape Town and Auckland and completing the route in 54 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds, achieving no less than seven world records. The plane that took the route was named Clipper New Horizons, but was, in fact, a renamed Liberty Bell.
Every single one of the airlines 747SPs were sold to United Airlines between February 9th and February 13th 1986, in what looks to be a bulk deal.
N504PA flew the Sultan of Brunei for some years, and then the Bahrain Royal Flight. It now works for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, operating as a luxury jet transporting executives and VIP guests of the corporation. One went on to become the Royal Flight for Oman in 1992, and that same plane ended up with NASA, although it is shown as being in storage now.
Another, N536PA, also ended up with NASA and is still in service as their Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). You can see it in action here:
One was written off. N726PA had been converted to cargo but overran a runway at Dusseldorf when landing in snowy conditions in 2005, causing it to be damaged beyond repair.
Liberty Bell / New Horizons, the world record-breaking 747SP, has not been scrapped as yet, but it has not been preserved either. It is most recently shown as being stored at Hamilton John C. Munroe Airport in Canada, under the ownership of a leasing company.
All the rest were scrapped after working a while with United Airlines.
Where are they now?
With many of these airframes exceeding 40 years old, it’s no big surprise to hear that most have been scrapped. However, a handful live on in service, and a few are being preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Evergreen International Airlines has its own aviation museum, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, which is in Oregon. They have three of the former Pan Am 747s ready for display, including one which has been painted as Air Force One for a display relating to presidential transportation.
However, our absolute favorite is N727PA, a 747-200, which has ended up in Sweden, of all places. Here, it is being kept spick and span as a functional hostel for travelers to the country, located on the fringes of Stockholm Airport (ARN).
You can sleep in the cockpit; you can eat breakfast on the upper deck. Heck, you can even sleep in the engines! Could this be the most ingenious use of a former 747 yet? Possibly.