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).

    1. As someone who flew on this plane more times than I can remember, it pains me to read this article about the "Legendary N747PA". You are absolutely correct that the author (I can feel the sardonic, yet as polite as possible response you could give at this absurd statement) did not do their research (sorry barneyb) nor has much aviation knowledge by stating Clipper Juan Trippe flew ~13 times around the earth in er 21 year history.

      Indeed, it was 13 times x 74 which is 971 times around the earth for a total of 34,000,000 miles.
      "Its lifetime statistics are impressive: N747PA has flown more than 34 million miles (more than 63,000 hours), carried more than 3.4 million passengers, and made nearly 30,000 takeoffs and landings. It has gone through 1,890 tires and 330 brake systems, used more than 221 million gallons of fuel, had engine replacements 105 times and received more than 756,000 man-hours of routine maintenance." Peter Greenberg, LA Times April 15 1990

      First flight - April 1969
      Holds (to this day) ALL aviation records for commercial flight time, endurance and of course distance.
      Avg - 50 flights per month (or 400 hours per month for more than 20 years.

      What I find worse than the above is the statement "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)"

      Well they were already rotating I imagine (they had to as they passed V1) so they "elected to take off"?...
      Also - the fellow with the leg injury. Yes he damn well LOVED waiting two hours, because if they landed with nearly 300,000lbs of fuel for a total of 700,000 pounds, what was left of the landing gear would have gone up through the ceiling and everyone likely would ave perished.

      I digress...

  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!

  9. Wow! this is Amazing! Do you know your hidden name meaning ? Click here to find your hidden name meaning

  10. Read my latest post (with corrections) I listed all of N747PA's records which still stand today. Your eyes will pop out!