A very SPecial 747 collection trilogy: Part 1 – US Airlines

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Written by Fabricio Cojuc

From the moment I first saw the Boeing 747SP as a 12 year-old kid I immediately loved it. The SP (for “Special Performance”), a shortened and lighter fuselage variant of the original 747, enabled airlines to perform ultra-long haul nonstop missions for the first time. Its chubby look made the “baby 747” particularly special (pun intended).

The first SP was delivered on 05.19.75 to launch customer Pan American World Airways. The famed “Clippers” were deployed mostly throughout its Pacific network. My replica fleet includes N534PA (MSN 21026, 05.07.76) “Clipper Great Republic” and N540PA (MSN 21649, 05.11.79) “China Clipper” (the name is also displayed in Chinese letters) in the classic airline colors, plus N533PA (MSN 21025, 03.05.76) “Clipper Young America” wearing the billboard updated livery and 50th anniversary titles. All wear the famous Pan Am reversed US flag.

Before its delivery, in late 1975 N533PA performed a world demonstration tour for Boeing. This frame is famous for having established a RTW speed record for a commercial aircraft in May 1976, completing a JKF-DEL-HND-JFK flight in slightly under 40 hours. It also became the first 747SP to be scrapped.

In 1985 Pan Am sold its Pacific division to United for $750 million, including all the SPs (11).

United’s B747SP N147UA (MSN 21548, 07.12.78, ex N538PA) is a very special frame, “Friendship One.” In January 1988 it beat the RTW speed record then held by a Gulfstream business jet. It flew a SEA-ATH-TPE-SEA routing in just over 36 hours. United’s fleet traditionally carried the titles “Friendship,” thus “Friendship One” named after a foundation created to raise money for unprivileged children (141 seats were sold on the flight, yielding a donation in excess of half a million dollars). Its forward section featured titles of the project’s sponsors, however these were not applied on the model. The livery, known as “Low stripe Saul Bass rainbow,” was worn by United’s fleet from 1988 to 1993, when “Battleship grey” appeared.

The revamped image, seen on N145UA (MSN 21441, 05.06.77, ex N536PA), contrasted sharply with the former livelier colors. It featured a grey upper fuselage and striped blue tail with a smaller sized logo. Thin pinstripes of orange, red and blue color separated the upper fuselage from a dark blue belly. The titles added the word “Airlines” for the first time, with the legend “Worldwide Service” also visible in the lower front section. This model does not feature the Star Alliance logo, first applied in 1997.

TWA, American Airlines and Braniff were the other three US commercial airlines that flew the SP. The first has proven elusive to add to my fleet so far, but the last two have a special place in my collection.

American’s 747 “Luxury Liner” SP fleet was comprised of two original TWA frames. N601AA and N602AA were introduced in 1986 and allocated mainly to the DFW-NRT and JFK-LGW routes until their retirement in 1994. The sharply polished model is N601AA (MSN 21962, 04.80, ex N57202), which ended its career as a training aid for emergency evacuations in Luxembourg in 2002.

For its part, Braniff International took delivery of three new SPs from Boeing between October 1979 and May 1980. These operated for a very short period of time only, given the airline went out of business in 1982. They were used mainly on the DFW-HNL and DFW-LGW routes. Plans to deploy them on DFW-NRT and DFW-BAH long-haul routes never materialized. My “baby orange” vintage model is N603BN (MSN 21785, 10.30.79). It ended up as a VIP transport with the Royal Flight Oman fleet (A4O-SO) and is still active after 41 years in service.

More good SP stuff to come in part two of this trilogy ….

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Comments (1)

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    Tom Livesey

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    Wow fantastic models. What scale ? 1/144 ?

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