Trans World Airlines (TWA) was one of the big four domestic airlines in the US and operated from 1930 to 2001. Throughout its 70 year reign, some 300 aircraft flew for TWA, including 37 Boeing 747s. What happened to these aircraft, and where are they now?
TWA’s evolving fleet
As the airline launched in 1930, it operated some unusual and historic aircraft in its time. Notable inclusions include 40 Lockheed Constellations, 41 Lockheed L-1011 Tristars, a huge fleet of 104 Douglas DC3s and the only DC-1 ever built.
By 1970, its fleet looked a little more familiar, largely relying on Boeing’s 707s and 727s, alongside Convair and Douglas aircraft. However, by 1970, TWA had inducted its first three Boeing 747s, and had an order in place for a further 12.
Over the next 15 years, a total of 37 Boeing 747s would join the TWA fleet, mostly 747-100s, but also a handful of -200s and three of the 747SP variants. By 1998, all but one had gone, with the final 747-100 leaving in September 2000, months before the airline stopped trading for good.
TWA had, in total, 27 of the Boeing 747-100 variants. The first two were delivered in December 1969, with a further 15 joining the airline over the course of 1970 and 1971. Eight more arrived in the 1980s, and just two joined later, in 1996.
Nine of the early 747-100s were scrapped by TWA after around 15 or so years in service. Nine more went off to other airlines, with some serving in fleets as diverse as Qantas, El Al and Garuda Indonesia over the coming years. However, all have now been scrapped.
The final nine aircraft all ended up with the Iran Air Force. Six were converted to cargo aircraft by Boeing before heading to the Middle East, while three remain passenger jets. While five are now either scrapped or stored and one was written off, incredibly three remain listed as in active service.
N93118 is still being used as 5-8107, N93113 as EP-CQB and N93101 as EP-AJT. These three old girls are 48, 49 and 50 years old respectively, and a testament to the build quality and longevity of these original 747s.
Sadly, one TWA 747-100 did not have such a happy ending. N93119 was a 24 year old 747-100 which was performing TWA flight 800 on 17th July 1996, going from New York JFK to Paris. After a successful takeoff and climb to FL150, the aircraft exploded, breaking up and spreading debris into the ocean eight miles south of East Moriches.
A four year investigation by the NTSB concluded that the probable cause was a short circuit that allowed excessive voltage to travel inside the center wing fuel tank, causing ignition of the flammable fuel inside. 212 passengers and 18 crew all lost their lives in the incident.
Only seven -200s were ever operated by TWA. The first joined the fleet in 1984, and the last arrived in 1996. The last to leave was N303TW, which exited in May 1998. Two were scrapped by TWA themselves, but the other five went on to work for other airlines before being sent to the big scrapheap in the sky.
Tower Air took two of the 747-200s, joining its all-747 fleet of 30 total aircraft. This charter airline operated from 1983 until 2000, when it was declared bankrupt and liquidated. The two ex-TWA 747s were taken by creditors and eventually broken up.
N304TW went on to work for Air Atlanta Icelandic, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Canada’s Nationair until being bought by an investor in 1994 and subsequently scrapped. N307TW headed south to work for Aerolineas Argentinas for three years, and then to Aeromar in the Dominican Republic, Transjet in Sweden, and Northeast in Swaziland before ending up at Kallat El-Saker Air Company in Libya and being scrapped in 2012.
And finally, N303TW spent some time with Saudi Arabian Airlines also, as well as Aerolineas Argentinas and Pegasus Aviation before being stored in 1999.
The final variant of the TWA 747 fleet to examine is the 747SPs, the baby of the family. All three aircraft arrived in 1980, but by 1986, all had left.
The first, registered N57202 worked for many years for American Airlines. It then spent some time with Kazakhstan Airlines and Air Atlanta before being scrapped. The other two, however, had some interesting times ahead.
N57203 also went to American Airlines for some years but was then converted to a VIP jet and used to transport the Dubai Royal family. In 2004, it changed hands again, becoming P4-FHS and belonging to Ernest Angley Ministries. Named Star Triple Seven, the 747SP is used to transport missionaries and humanitarian aid internationally.
The final SP, and final 747 in TWA’s fleet, N58201 left TWA in 1985 to work also for the Dubai Royal Family (they do love their SPs!). It stayed with them until 2007, when it was bought by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Registered as VP-BLK, it’s now one of two 747SPs that the Sands corporation own, using them to ferry high rollers to and from their properties in Las Vegas.
Did you ever fly on a TWA 747? Let us know in the comments!