back to article Oldest flying 747 finally grounded, 47 years after first flight

The oldest Boeing 747 capable of flight has been shelved. The 747-100 was the 25th to roll off the production line and entered service in 1970 with long-defunct Pan American Airlines, which flew it more than 18,000 times before selling it to GE Aviation in 1991. GE used it as a flying testbed for new engines, a role the 747 …

Silver badge

"The 747-100 was the 25th to roll off the production line and entered service in 1970 with long-defunct Pan American Airlines, which flew it more than 18,000 times before selling it to GE Aviation in 1991."

That's a lot of flights for a long-defunct airline. What could they have possibly been doing?

14
1

>> ... Pan American Airlines, which flew it more than 18,000 times...

> That's a lot of flights. What could they have possibly been doing?

At one flight per day that's 49 years. Pan Am went out of business in 1991, so three flights per day for 20 years would more than cover it. If they count each leg as a flight, a R/T JFK to SFO with a stop in somewhere in the middle – which doesn't seem far fetched – is four flights per day right there.

6
4
Bronze badge

It's a grammar joke Blake St. Claire - as in they were long-defunct when they bought it, not now.

17
0

if the 18K was ACTUALLY TAC (total airframe cycles) then half the number.

0
0
Silver badge

But there would have been downtimes for maintenance so I think I agree, the number sounds too many.

0
0

Puny fifth engine in that pic

I was living in Johannesburg (Sandton) in 1971 when SAA took delivery of its first 747. It brought its replacement engine with it, attached to the wing. Somewhere I have a picture of it flying over our flat on its approach to JNB.

7
0

Re: Puny fifth engine in that pic

The original 747's actually had a fifth engine mount under the wing for ferrying spare engines.

More info here:

https://www.google.com/search?q=747+extra+engine+mount

10
0
I3N
Pint

Re: Puny fifth engine in that pic

Maybe that explains what I saw in 1969 - a 747, flying at altitude, heading off the Washington State coast with an instrumentation boom and contrails.

Fun times in Seattle for a newcomer ... 75% jobs lost in Boeing's commercial aircraft business ... wasn't too good back home at Motorola either ...

Boom and bust ... churn and burn ... tech business for you ... don't tell the kids ...

3
0
Bronze badge

Re: Puny fifth engine in that pic

@Blake St Claire, all 747 models up to the 747-8 had the fifth-engine ops capability. QANTAS still does this occasionally when (in fact they did it recently for a stranded jet in Johannesburg).

The 747-8 models exclusively use the GE engines, which split between the fan and the remainder of the engine and hence can be shoved into a freighter, so they no longer have fifth-engine ops support.

5
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

A venerable workhorse

A good ROI for GE Aviation I imagine.

10
0
Bronze badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

Indeed. Always enjoy flying on 747s, it always feels like an occasion. I've yet to try the airbus A380, but the modern 777s flying now are a little dull by comparison.

10
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

A good ROI, but also a harbinger of enourmous problems for GE, RR, NASA, USAF, and a few other niche operators of the 747. For some jobs; you really do need 4 engines.

For GE and Rolls Royce, they absolutely need a 4 engine aircraft for engine testing. Everyone has been using 747 because it is ideal. Yet with today's trend for large twin jets, one day there will be no large 4 jet airframes left flying. Even the A380 will one day stop operating. So how then would GE and RR flight test an engine?

NASA uses an old 747 as a flying telescope, SOFIA. This is a remarkable piece of kit, extremely useful for a lot of astronomers across the world. The higher it flies, the better it works. A 747 can fly surprisingly high, thanks in part to having 4 engines (lots of surplus power). I don't think that any modern 2 jet airliner gets anywhere near as high, so SOFIA will one day be diminished.

Airforce 1 is supposed to have 4 jets for all sorts of reasons, mostly related to the USA's nuclear chain of command.

Anyway, there's a few operators for whom 4 engines is an imperative, who have been able to pick up 747s (and maybe A340 and A380s) cheaply and easily, and who have gone on to have a truly beneficial impact on our lives (please feel free to reserve judgement about the merits of AF1). When we stop flying 4 engine aircraft commercially, those niche operators are going to be in difficulty; where's their next one coming from?

Anyone got a plan for that?

8
1

Re: A venerable workhorse

Same way they tested them in the beginning, lots of ground testing, taxi testing and then flight test. 747 had a wicked problem with the initial P&W JT9D-3's as the engine case deformed and caused blades to touch the case, never good thing. Fix was a revised engine mount.

Most twins especially the 767/777 have great single engine performance. Given your doing flight test in a lightly loaded aircraft I would expect a few more air-frames kicking around.

BvB

3
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

They have the newer 747-400 that is mentioned in the article.

And they are still being built at a rate of around 6 per year, according to a Register article from January this year.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

Well, anyone round Cambridge (UK not USA) will probably have seen/heard Snoopy knocking around. It's a C130 that for a long time (still?) had a huge engine on it as a testbed for Airbus.

The number of 747 and C130s knocking around, I think we're safe for a year or two...

http://www.qsl.net/g3tso/images/Aviation/SnoopyE.jpg

7
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

Also the cargo versions will be around for some time to come.

5
0
Bronze badge

Re: For some jobs; you really do need 4 engines.

The military tend to like having more than two engines in their big jets. I daresay there'll be surplus, retired tankers (for example), or even the option for approved customers (like those testing engines for air forces, for example) to buy these aircraft new.

(Although I don't expect the engine manufacturers give a damn about having a new plane so long as the thing flies safely.)

7
0
Bronze badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

@bazza, it's not a problem... Remember that most of these jets are the old -100 or -200 models, which were cheap to get (or were donated by their old owners, in the case of SOFIA). There is a plethora of -400 series jet available given that Cathay and Air France have recently retired their last -400 bodies, and British Airways still has over 30 of them in daily use.

GE and Rolls Royce (and NASA) will have *plenty* of jets to borrow/buy/gut/Frankenjet. The Airbus A340 is also still a usable airframe.

Air Force 1 (actually, you mean the VC-25A, the military designation of the B747) is not a problem either because there's an existing requirement from the USAF to Boeing to produce a copy or three as a replacement for the existing airframe. It will likely be a -8 model.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

"There is a plethora of -400 series jet available given that Cathay and Air France have recently retired their last -400 bodies, and British Airways still has over 30 of them in daily use."

I think Delta retired a few -400s several years ago when they closed certain transoceanic flights (like Detroit to and from Manila via Nagoya Centrair).

2
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

The B52 has 8 engines in 4 pylons. The US Air Force is not giving up on the BUFF anytime soon, and an airframe could easily re-purposed for engine testing, even if it meant taking off 2 engines and leave an entire pylon for the engine testbed purpose.

Fully unloaded, I doubt the B52 would face the same problems the 747 can already counter, such as the heavy yaw effect due to the uneven thrust. In fact, the B52 can even LAND way off the center line, since it has "crab landing gear", as in, the landing gear can also be twisted to make a heavy rudder landing, designed primarily for heavy crosswinds situation. The bomber is so reliable and the model so old, that in fact, the children of the first pilots already qualified and joined the Air Force and flew the bomber themselves.

Even so, nothing prevents them from building a whole new fresh 747 for the sole purpose of engine testing, even if the model has no longer any commercial application.

4
0

Re: For some jobs; you really do need 4 engines.

The B52 is the next best thing. It can even land sideways, should a test engine 'freeze' with its throttle open, the BUFF can land with a heavy yaw application, as if was suffering from crosswinds.

And it already runs on 8 engines in 4 pylons. A whole pylon could be spared for the test engine, and the aircraft would still have 6 good engines.

3
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

The BUFF can even get by without a tail, on occasion...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJuEAQbxWRo

4
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

"Yet with today's trend for large twin jets, one day there will be no large 4 jet airframes left flying"

The 747-8 is still being manufactured. While large twinjets represent the majority of commercial aircraft, there is no indication that four engine aircraft will disappear.

"NASA uses an old 747 as a flying telescope, SOFIA. This is a remarkable piece of kit, extremely useful for a lot of astronomers across the world. The higher it flies, the better it works. A 747 can fly surprisingly high, thanks in part to having 4 engines (lots of surplus power)."

That isn't entirely correct. SOFIA uses the 747SP jet, of which only 45 were made. The 747SP is a special performance version of the 747-100 with a shortened body, so it is much lighter but with the same power as the 747-100. Any normal commercial jet, twin or four jet, is not going to have the service ceiling of the 747SP. But if NASA needs to replace the SOFA jet, they can just chop the fuselage of any large twinjet, and get the same effect. Power to weight ratios aren't rocket science.

2
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

Just to add to the other options mentioned here by commenters: retired model or old airframe is a problem for airliners but not so much when one does need a special purpose aircraft. Look up "Basler Turbo BT67" - originally a DC-3 which ceased to be produced in 1950, yet the Basler conversion is still actively marketed today and is deemed very useful for some special purposes. Repurposing of readily available 74X frames with perhaps new engines may require a bit more effort than doing the same for a DC-3, but than again, 70 years from whenever Boeing decides to retire the 747 model the converters will perhaps be assisted by much more advanced technology. I wouldn't worry.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: A venerable workhorse

It used to be known as ETOPS - Extended Twin OPerationS.

Until someone realised the self-loading cargo might get a bit worried when they realised that one engine failing might make your average 4-engind bird slow down a bit but you would still have some spare capacity in case another stopped, whereas one engine failing might make your 2-engined aeroplane very, very vulnerable to becoming a very expensive glider...

Of course there were cases of 4-engined aircraft losing all 4 engines - the most famous being the BA 747 being flown by Capt Ron Moody through a cloud of volcanic ash - but there are very few.

1
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

yes.

punt....

0
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

"But if NASA needs to replace the SOFA jet, they can just chop the fuselage of any large twinjet, and get the same effect."

Not quite. The SP has a _huge_ tail in order to cope with engine-out conditions (shorter distance between engine and empenage == smaller moment of force unless the rudder is made bigger)

That huge tail requires a bunch of structural mods at the back end of the aircraft. You can't just shorten an aircraft and plonk on a larger rudder. (unlike lengthening one, where the larger tail is normally left intact as it's too expensive to resize it)

0
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

Of course there were cases of 4-engined aircraft losing all 4 engines - the most famous being the BA 747 being flown by Capt Ron Moody through a cloud of volcanic ash - but there are very few.

Eric Moody, not Ron. And he made the best in flight emergency announcement in the history of aviation, by the way.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress"

4
0

Re: A venerable workhorse

> Well, anyone round Cambridge (UK not USA) will probably have seen/heard

> Snoopy knocking around. It's a C130 that for a long time (still?) had a huge

> engine on it as a testbed for Airbus.

Airbus uses an American-made C130 for testing? Don't they have any of their own planes they can use for testing?

0
0
Silver badge

Re: A venerable workhorse

IIRC, Airbus outsourced the testing of the engine for the A400M to a UK company, who bolted it onto the biggest thing they had handy.

0
0
Silver badge
Childcatcher

Poor Design

It's hard to blame them for making such a poorly designed aircraft, it was only the 1970s. Today we understand that making things that last for extremely long periods of time and that can be properly maintained is just not effective for the manufacturer's cash flow.

Aircraft manufacturers are starting to learn proper design techniques from the automotive sector, but the uptake is slow. Complex and unreliable systems are the way to go. Said systems should be almost impossible to replace and third parties should not be able to produce similar components due to government legislation. Insufficient numbers of replacement parts should be produced prior to manufacturing being shut down.

Is that the smell of burning electronics? No, it's the smell of a vibrant and functional economy.

38
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Are yes, the passing of Properly Built Kit, something to mourn indeed.

Though with aircraft, the limiting factor is primarily fatigue life. Commercial airliners have to be built strong otherwise they'd be useless in service. There's A320s and 737s with way more cycles on them than this 747; they're strong. They're often stronger than military aircraft, which tend to do far less flying.

With 787 and A350, carbon fibre is the primary construction material. Provided it's not abused, this looks like it will last forever. Quite literally. No fatigue. Airlines buying these today will likely never replace them (at least not until something radically better comes along). Upgrades, refurbs, certainly but the airframes themselves should last forever. Boeing and Airbus are building aircraft that will mean they're not building so many in 20 years time.

Today's 787s and A350s will. Scone our grandkid's older-than-us engineering marvels.

6
2
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Today's 787s and A350s will. Scone our grandkid's older-than-us engineering marvels

I hate this keyboard.

6
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Can you imagine if Apple made a plane? Fuck me.

19
2

Re: Poor Design

Thank you. This made me LOL :)

6
0
Silver badge

Re: if Apple made a plane?

Glued on engines and buy a new plane if an engine needs replaced?

Need iTunes to load flight data?

19
0
Silver badge

Re: if Apple made a plane?

@Mage,

No, no, the engine is replaceable. But to do so you need to de-install the wing. De-installing the wings starts by removing the captain side windshield. Followed by the autopilot altitude hold knob. Then work your way back from there.

26
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

They kind of did.

1
0
Silver badge
Happy

@J R Hartley: Re: Poor Design

JRH,

even worse, if Microsoft built a car, the handbrake would be in the boot [trunk] and you could only turn left if you had a pink bobble hat on and yellow socks...

Cheers,

Jay.

6
1
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Can you imagine if Apple made a plane? Fuck me.

It would crash as rarely as any other plane, but pilots would look at the crash stats for DC-10s and assume that theirs never crashed in comparison. There would be a lot of unscheduled landings at sea due to pilots "flying it wrong".

And it would only be able to land at Apple's own circular runways, of which there was only one - the roof of their donut headquarters...

10
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

"They kind of did."

That aircraft - The Kelvin 40 - is one of the most ugly that I've ever seen - right up there with the G.A.L.38 Fleet Shadower.

5
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

it looks like a plane made by one of those car modifiers who get rid of everything that's not important - without actually wondering why it was there in the first place.

"it's not been tested, but it should fly because it looks like this other plane that flies"

That's horrible logic. And the plane it "looks like" is significantly different...

7
0

Re: Poor Design

So a "designer" comes up with something that looks like it should be a plane, but doesn't actually perform any of the useful functions of a plane. And, subjectively, doesn't even look all that nice. I don't hate on Apple, but I can see how this is a great analogy.

(How does one become one of these designers? Seems like nice work if you can get it.)

I remember reading an article once about how Concorde looks so amazing, futuristic etc. Particularly compared to the cars of its era. Someone else with more sense pointed out that Concorde's design was a stark and direct result of its functional requirements, rather than following some fashion whimsy. All the more appealing because of it.

8
0
Bronze badge

Re: Poor Design

Funny thing: the keyboard hates you, too. ;)

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Exactly... XB-71, Concorde, and few designs all look very similar due to form following function and not some fanciful design or a "designer". Cars are like that now that the designers of the monstrosity of 50's are all gone and the industry has had a re-think.

3
0
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

Cars are like that now that the designers of the monstrosity of 50's are all gone and the industry has had a re-think.

You say that like it's a good thing.

1
0
Bronze badge

Re: Poor Design

If Apple made a plane? Fuck me.

If you flew on it it could be fuck you....

1
0

Re: Poor Design

"Someone else with more sense pointed out that Concorde's design was a stark and direct result of its functional requirements, rather than following some fashion whimsy. All the more appealing because of it."

Debatable. Because the Concorde design so completely ignored safety concerns, such that a single tire blow out during landing or takeoff could kill everyone on-board. Was safety not one of the functional requirements? Seems like fundamental engineering was ignored, for someone that looked nice.

1
8
Bronze badge

Re: Poor Design

Err, no.

It was a combination of the tyre blowing out (due to a strip of metal on the runway) and sending one of the biggest chunks of rubber up into an area of the fuel tank, rupturing it after the time where a launch could have been aborted.

so your "Completely ignored safety concerns" were actually a combination of four things - The strip of metal leading to the tyre shred which lead to the ruptured fuel tank at a point where stopping was impossible.

The solution from the aircraft investigators was merely to add extra reinforcement to the underside of that fuel tank in case this massively unlikely event occured again.

4
1
Silver badge

Re: Poor Design

'It's hard to blame them for making such a poorly designed aircraft, it was only the 1970s.'

There is a certain element of poor design in the 747, the forward section, with the hump, is an oval cross section. You'd probably noticed. Every time it gets pressurised it's basically trying to become circular which must have required quite a bit of excess weight to get the fatigue life out of them that they've managed.

I'm not sure how the A380 compares, although Singapore Airlines are retiring the first one they got 10 years ago to be and returning it to the leasing company.

1
0

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2017