The First 747 in Commercial Service

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  • The First 747 in Commercial Service

    The 7 year life of the 1st Pan Am interesting read. It ends at Tenerife....

    The “life” of an aircraft is generally quite a mundane thing. It spends 30 or so years in the sky, flying through the same grooves of airspace, with nothing more worrying than the occasional bout of turbulence or heavy weather to ruffle its mechanical feathers. True, it touches down on runways in exotic places and far-flung locations – assuming it is flying long-haul routes. But its three-decade existence is usually a repetitive slog, peppered with an overhaul or two. The afterlife may bring a last photo-opportunity, if the retiree makes it to the fabled aviation “boneyard” in the Mojave Desert. In most cases, though, the final act is a dismantling for reusable parts, and an unsentimental scrapping of everything else. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. And none more exceptional, perhaps, than the Boeing 747-121 which went under the registration N736PA – but was better known as “Clipper Victor”. No other aircraft has a comparable story. It flew for just a little over seven years, between January 22 1970 and March 27 1977 – with the entirety of its service taking place in the colours of Pan Am. But in those seven years, it experienced more than most airliners manage in “careers” four times as lengthy. Much, much more. If you will, its story can be split into three chapters. Triumph In the very first days of 1970, the Boeing 747 was the shiny new kid emerging from a revolutionary engineering block. The Seattle-based aircraft manufacturer had been working on its most remarkable project yet for the best part of a decade – agreeing to Pan Am’s request that it design an airliner bigger than anything that had come before; a game-changer that could carry more passengers for longer distances – easing the growing congestion in the skies and bringing down the cost of air travel in the process. The 747 was a mould-breaker, crafted with an upper deck to accommodate “premium” passengers, and able to transport up to 480 travellers in total. It was so big that Boeing had to build a new plant in which to construct it – choosing a site 30 miles north of Seattle, near Everett. Clipper Victor would be the star of this future-shaping show. But only inadvertently. And with a certain element of farce. When Pan Am committed to putting the first commercial flight of a Boeing 747 into the air, it handed the honour to a different 747-121. Clipper Young America had been the first of these fresh-hewn giants to trundle off the Boeing conveyor belt and into Pan Am employment, and it was this plane that was set to operate the aircraft’s inaugural journey with paying customers in its seats – a non-stop service from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport over to London Heathrow on January 21 1970. Unfortunately for Clipper Young America, it endured an attack of big-night nerves. First it suffered a door malfunction. A late-arriving passenger, bursting aboard, interrupted the automatic closing cycle of the main port-side door in the forward economy cabin. The resultant jamming of the mechanism took half an hour to fix – and by the time the aircraft began to taxi, its engine was starting to overheat. A sudden gust of wind, directly into the exhaust vent of the right outboard engine, would compound the problem by causing the fuel to flare up. “It’s marvellous,” one passenger, Joyce Susskind would be quoted as saying in Time magazine’s coverage of the event. “A dozen bathrooms, and no engines.”

  • #2
    Quite a story.