Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Sad Tale of N747PA

N747PA - the second 747 to be built, and the first to be delivered and operated commercially. Seen here on a pre-delivery flight over Sequim Bay, WA - some time in 1970.
The very first 747 wasn't flown commercially, but the second that Boeing built was delivered to Pan Am, and flew with that airline and others, for many years. And here it is - N747PA, high over Sequim Bay in Washington State, some time in 1970. It flew with Pan Am on and off from 1970 until the airline wound up in 1991. It flew the equivalent of 13 times around the earth during its career, and as the first 747 to be delivered to the airline, it was chosen to make Pan Am's final ever flight, in May 1992.

N747PA suffered only one serious accident during its 20-year career, and that was pretty soon after entering service, in July 1971. Due to a series of errors on the part of the ground control and onboard crew, N747PA struck lighting structures at the end of the runway as it tried to take off from San Francisco international airport, causing serious damage to the rear fuselage, landing gear, hydraulics, engines and several passengers.

According to Wikipedia, 'the right main under-body landing gear was forced up and into the fuselage, and the left under-body landing gear was ripped loose and remained dangling beneath the aircraft'.

Most frighteningly, 17ft lengths of girder penetrated the cabin, seriously injuring two passengers seated towards the rear of the aeroplane, one of whom had a leg 'near amputated' by the impact.

After the accident, the crew elected to continue takeoff, circled around for a couple of hours to dump fuel (which I imagine the guy with the severed leg just loved), and then made an emergency landing back at San Francisco. When it came to a halt, the plane collapsed nose-high onto its tail, and several passengers sustained serious back injuries during the botched evacuation, because (duh) the front evacuation slides were too high off the ground. The full accident report is here, if you're interested, and here are some pictures of N747PA undergoing repair.

The remainder of N747PA's operational career appears to have been uneventful. But unusually, things got interesting again after it was finally scrapped in 1999...

A South Korean couple bought N747PA (which by then had been sliced into sections) from a scrapyard in South California in 2000, and had it shipped in pieces at great expense to a suburban lot to the north of Seoul, where they painted it to sorta kinda represent Air Force One (because why not?) and 'converted' it into a noodle restaurant.

The restaurant failed, (there's a pun in there somewhere about 'overheads' but I don't have the energy today) and after sitting in a state of increasing disrepair for years while the owners tried and failed to sell it, N747PA was finally cut up and scrapped for good in 2010. The LA times has a depressing article about the whole sorry affair here. I probably think too hard about this stuff, but these pictures make me sad

The picture at the top of this page is a scan from an 8x10in color print that I found in a junk shop. Taken (appropriately) at sunset, the original print has a very strong orange/yellow color cast which I wasn't really able to correct, so after doing the basics - dust-reduction, contrast adjustment and so on - I converted it to black and white. A few minutes on Google Earth identified the distinctive landmass at upper-left as Paradise Cove, at Sequim Bay - a few minutes flying time from Seattle.

Sunday, 10 March 2013


A Boeing 747-100 high over Washington State. It is carrying the (likely spurious) registration HZ-AGK.
Another Boeing 747, but a full-sized one this time, high over Washington State some time in the early 1970s, probably 1970, in fact. There's a mystery here though - it's in Saudia livery, and carries the registration HZ-AGK, but this registration never adorned a Saudia-owned 747. A 737, yes, and a 777 (still flying, I think) but never a jumbo.

Very VERY close inspection of this 8x10in print reveals retouching paint over the engine nacelles, apparently obscuring Lufthansa logos. So the likelihood is that this is in fact one of two 747-130 aircraft that were delivered to Lufthansa in 1970 (maybe even this one), painted up before delivery to look pretty for Saudia - a client that ultimately bought four 747-100B aircraft a few years later. Mystery solved, probably. Arthur Conan-Doyle would have spent an entire book on that one, but I solved it in two paragraphs.

And... onwards! To a real Saudia 747, and an SP variant (again). And another junk shop find... 

One page of several in a full-color, large 1977 Boeing internal brochure, showing mockups of a proposed 'Boeing 747 Executive Airplane' for Saudia. The airline eventually bought three 747-SPs in 1982.
This is a bit special. Nestled inside a large, plain brown envelope in a junk shop near Seattle, I found a bound brochure of full-color photo reproductions of a proposed layout for an 'executive' Boeing 747-SP. Dating from 1977, the designs are pretty... amazing. This picture, showing one of several lounges, is relatively tame. The design team responsible was Walter Dorwin Teague, a Seattle-based design company long favored by Boeing. Saudia ultimately bought three 747-SPs in 1982 for government use. They're still flying, as far as I know. 

So there you go - that's how the 0.01% flies. Or did thirty-odd years ago. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Baby Boeing!

Boeing 747 SP HL7456, in flight over Washington, prior to delivery to Korean Air Lines in 1980/81
A baby Boeing! I'm still not sure whether I think they're the ugliest or the prettiest of the 747s, but the short and fat 'SP' varient is certainly distinctive-looking. 'SP' stands for 'Special Performance', specifically in terms of range. It was originally called 'SB' for 'Short Body' but wiser heads prevailed. Designed in the 1970s at the request of Pan American Airlines and Iran Air, the weight saved by getting rid of so much fuselage meant that the SP could fly further without refueling - meaning that those airlines could run non-stop flights from North America to the Middle East. 

You can't really see it in this picture, but the SPs wingspan is actually greater than its length. The tail is taller than a normal 747, too. Boeing expected to sell more than 200 SPs but the orders never materialised, and ultimately only 45 were ever made. Some are still flying - one services VIP guests coming to and from the casinos in Las Vegas, and one has been converted to an airborne observatory

This particular SP was delivered to Korean Air Lines in 1981, and flew with that airline until 1998, when it was bought by the Boeing Holding Company. It sat at Marana Airport in Arizona for eight years, and attracting no buyers, it was eventually scrapped in 2006. Here's a picture of how it ended up

This image originated from a badly faded, creased and generally crappy 8x10in colour print, found in a junk shop near Seattle. I've done a lot of colour corrections, got rid of the creases and increased the contrast. The result is not completely naturalistic, but I like it. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Naval Aircraft Factory PN-12

Naval Aircraft Factory PN-12 (I think) some time in the 1920s or 30s, with an unknown group of humans.
Let's take a break (temporarily) from huge Boeing jets - this is a much older print of a much older plane. Discovered in the basement of a junk shop North of Seattle, this 8x10 inch print was in poor shape, and had been folded in several places, wearing through the paper almost to breaking point. What did people do before Photoshop...

This print is entirely uncaptioned. I don't know for certain what type of plane this is, or who the group of people in the foreground are, or where they are, or when the picture was taken. Close examination of the print revealed 'NAVY' written on the tale of this plane (the partial word is just visible behind some of the people in the middle) which gave me a clue, and some image searching of 'US NAVY biplanes' eventually turned up the Naval Aircraft Factory PN.

The Naval Aircraft Factory PN series comprised a number of similar flying boats designed during the 1920s and 30s, the last of which were in service with the American Navy until the late 1930s. In 1925, a PN-9 attempted a non-stop flight between San Francisco to Hawaii, ditching in the sea after 1841 miles, but completing the rest of its journey on the water, after the crew improvised sails from fabric torn from its wings.  

Eventually sailing more than 400 miles, the crew reached Hawaii ten days after leaving San Francisco. I can only assume that the reason the plane came down in the first place was the sheer combined weight of their balls.

According to Wikipedia, the same aeroplane was later lost during another long-distance attempt to reach South America, eventually being 'sunk as a navigation hazard after ditching in the Caribbean Sea'.

The group of people assembled in front of this PN are a mixed bunch of teenagers and adults, at the center of which is a stern older gentleman in what I assume is Navy uniform. A fun day out, I'm sure - whatever the occasion. I wonder how many of them are still alive today?