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.


  1. "It flew the equivalent of 13 times around the earth during its career"

    Once around the Earth is about 25000 miles. 13 times would be about 400,000 miles. That would be about 75-100 round trips from LA to New York. Over a 25+ year career of international travel, this airframe flew WAY more than the equivalent of 13 times around the Earth. Probably more like 1500-2000 times around the Earth, based off rough calculations of 90,000 hours of flight time at an average of 500 mph (a very conservative lifetime for an old 747, some have flown for over 130,000 hours before retiring).

  2. Good article man. It is sad to see such a beautiful bird go like that :( Keep up the classic plane pictures!

  3. How did you use Google Earth to identify the location?!!? ??

  4. Here's a video on the accident which also shows the landing:

  5. That'a bummer! You'd think if it really was one of the first late 60's/early 70's B-747's assembled there'd have been interest in restoring the old girl to originality, no? And the fact she's got a 'past-story" should've made her historical material. Public or private!?Hell, I'd have saved her myself if I was eccentric w/ the means! Find a parcel of land (unincorp/unzone) and turned her into pay museum (?) Or even a wild home (?) :)

  6. I worked on this aircraft when I was an A&P for Pan Am at JFK. Sad to see it gone.

    1. Can relate. I fueled it quite a few times when working as a fueler at IAD.

  7. I flew on it when it was in flight test at Boeing.

  8. Didn;t attach my name to the above comment!

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