The Pan Am Series – Part XII: The Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747SP and a Record Making Flight

Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Once the Boeing 747 was a fixture in Pan Am’s fleet, the focus in the mid-1970s was toward ultra-long range flights. In the airline’s eye was the important and potentially lucrative New York-Tokyo market. What was called for was an aircraft with a range of 7000 miles and capable of carrying approximately 200 passengers in a mixed class configuration. The flight would be about 13-14 hours duration.

Pan Am was convinced there was a demand in the New York-Tokyo market for such an aircraft and persuaded Boeing to produce a shortened version of the 747 with the range for that route. Iran Air was also looking for a high capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover its Tehran-New York route. What resulted was the Boeing 747SP.

Boeing 747SP - Clipper Freedom

Boeing 747SP – Clipper Freedom

The Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747, and was designed for ultra-long-range flights. Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger vertical stabilizer, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permitted longer range and increased speed relative to other early 747 configurations. The aircraft was also intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011. And until the introduction of the Boeing 777-200LR and 747-8, the SP was the first and only Boeing wide-body with a wingspan greater than the length of its fuselage

The SP could accommodate 230 passengers in a 3-class cabin to a maximum of 440 passengers in one class. Originally designated 747SB for “short body”, Boeing later changed the production designation to 747SP for “Special Performance”, reflecting the aircraft’s longer range and faster cruise speed. Pan Am was the launch customer, taking the first delivery, Clipper Freedom, on 5 March 1976.

Captain Sherman Carr, one of the former Pan Am pilots who flew the Boeing 747SP had this to say about the aircraft:

 “The plane was originally developed for Pan Am to be able to operate non-stop from the U.S. to Hong Kong and be able to stay aloft for over 15 hours. It was actually a regular 747 with upstairs lounge seating but shortened by about 48 feet to make it lighter and additional fuel tanks for longer range. If it’s not loaded with full fuel for extended range flights, the aircraft actually scoots like a hot rod and will outperform any WWII or Korean conflict fighter aircraft and is a lot of fun to fly.  It will roll or loop or do most of the maneuvers you see at airshows but of course this is not authorized so no pilot would ever tell you he had done those things.

The 747SP first entered service on Pan Am’s New York-Tokyo route on 26 April 1976. It was later used on other long-haul routes, including New York-Dhahran, San Francisco-Hong Kong and Los Angeles-Sydney.

Until the 747-400 entered service in 1989, the SP was the longest-range airliner available. Despite its technical achievements, the SP never sold as well as Boeing hoped. The cost of fuel in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, the SP’s heavy wings, expensive cost, reduced capacity and the increased ranges of forthcoming airliners were some of the many factors that contributed to its low sales.  Some of the engineering work on the 747SP, however, was reused with the development of the 747-300 and 747-400 permitting them to fly the same range as the SP with the added bonus of extra seats and cargo capacity.

The aircraft was later acquired by VIP, government and corporate customers. At the end, a total of 45 aircraft were sold. Pan Am took delivery of eleven and disposed of them with the sale of its Pacific Routes to United Airlines.

Boeing 747SP - Clipper Plymouth Rock (John Wegg photo)

Boeing 747SP – Clipper Plymouth Rock (John Wegg photo)

While in service for Pan Am, the 747SP made two record-setting round-the-world flights. From 1-3 May 1976 the “Liberty Bell Express” flew around the world from New York with two stops, Delhi and Tokyo. The flight took 46 hours and 26 minutes over 23,137 miles. And from 28-30 October, celebrating Pan Am’s 50th Anniversary, “Pan Am Flight 50” flew around the world over both the North and South Pole with stops in London, Cape Town and Auckland. The flight took 54 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds and covered 26,706 miles.

Pam Hanlon was Managing Director, Corporate Communications at the time of the flight, and was also editor of the employee newspaper, the “Pan Am Clipper”. Below is an excerpt about Pan Am Flight 50 from her essay about her experiences in that position in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People:

“[T]he most spectacular of all the Pan Am celebrations was a record-setting round-the-world anniversary flight that hurdled both the North and South Poles.  “Clipper 50,” a Boeing 747SP, carried 172 passengers, including aviation enthusiasts and Pan Am loyalists who paid $3,333 for First Class service and $2,222 for Economy; five employees selected by lottery; official guests, among them Miss Universe and Miss USA; a guitarist; caricaturist; hairdresser; members of the press; and a crew headed by Pan Am’s Chief Pilot, Captain Walt Mullikin, and Astrid Seemueller on the flight service side.  Clipper 50 (in regular service, the aircraft was Clipper New Horizons, or N533PA) took off from San Francisco, flew over the North Pole to London, then to Capetown, South Africa, and over the South Pole to Auckland, New Zealand, before returning to San Francisco. * * *  Reservations for the flight were on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the flight was sold out in less than a week after it was announced, due in large part to extensive media coverage of the dazzling plans.  It seems no one was disappointed in the experience.   As Clipper 50 taxied to the gate in San Francisco at journey’s end, Captain Mullikin asked over the public address system, ‘Would you do it again?’ His question was met with a resounding cheer of enthusiastic fliers. ‘Just say where and when,’ one passenger shouted above the rest.”

(left to right) Janelle Penny Commissiong, the reigning Miss Universe; Captain Walter H. Mullikin, Vice President and Chief Pilot; Kimberly Louise Tomes, Miss USA.

(left to right) Janelle Penny Commissiong, the reigning Miss Universe; Captain Walter H. Mullikin, Vice President and Chief Pilot; Kimberly Louise Tomes, Miss USA.

Pam Hanlon’s recollections of her experiences at Pan Am is one of 71 stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Also, in the “B747SP Website“, retired Pan Am pilot Lee Nelson contributed a great story in “A 747SP Love Affair”. This website is dedicated to the 747SP and contains a potuporri of information about the “cutest airplane”.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

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The Pan Am Series – Part I: The Book

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

I am launching a new series of postings about Pan American World Airways to be called “The Pan Am Series”.  My aim is to share the memories of this iconic airline that played such an important role in the development of civil aviation.  Pan Am’s first revenue flight was a Fokker F-VII between Key West and Havana on 28 October 1927.  The last revenue flights were a 747 from New York Kennedy to São Paulo, Brazil on 3 December 1991 and a 727 from New York to Barbados on 4 December 1991.  Pan Am officially ceased operations at 9:00 a.m., 4 December 1991.  The 747 crew was resting in São Paulo awaiting their return flight that evening when the news broke.  The captain of the 727 received the news upon arrival in Barbados. Both their stories will be published in future postings.

I have been a fan of Pan Am all my life, starting as a boy when I watched a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser arrive at its gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after a flight from the Far East with my grandfather on board.

Pan Am's Boeing 377 - the Stratocruiser

Pan Am’s Boeing 377 – the Stratocruiser

My father did a lot of international travel as well and we would meet him at LAX when he arrived on DC-6Bs of Pan Am from South America.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the "Super 6", Clipper Midnight Sun.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the “Super 6”, Clipper Midnight Sun.

During our childhoods growing up in Los Angeles, our parents often took my sisters and me to LAX to visit the terminals and watch airplanes land over Sepulveda Boulevard.   During that time I developed an interest in collecting airline brochures, timetables and baggage tags.  For some reason, I developed a keen interest in the baggage tags and amassed a large collection over the years.  I leaned heavily in Pan Am’s favor because I thought it was the “best airline” and because the baggage tags were more colorful than other airlines.  I also liked the Pan Am timetables because the route map seemingly covered every corner of the globe!

Eventually, our family went on a trip to South America, and we flew on Pan Am!  I remember that day in 1957.  We flew from Los Angeles to Guatemala on a DC-6B, Flight 515.   That was the beginning of my traveling on many more Pan Am flights over the next decades, including on some its most prestigious routes.

As I grew up, I studied the history of Pan Am, and learned a lot of geography from the route maps and flight schedules in its timetables.  I even learned about time zones and the 24-hour clock!   As a college student, I managed to work Pan Am into my studies as an International Relations major, focusing on the international airline system and international politics.  Later, I went to law school to become an airline lawyer.

I continued collecting and over a period of 50 years, managed to keep much of the material, supplemented by purchases from similar collectors on eBay.

Recently, while teaching in the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, I often mentioned Pan Am, but to my surprise most of my students were not familiar with the aviation pioneer.  At the same time, I was in the process of preserving my Pan Am collection by scanning the brochures, timetables and tags and putting them into a digital “scrapbook”.  It dawned on me that it would be a nice idea to use the digital scrapbook to create a book about Pan Am’s history through images of the material I had scanned and use it to tell the Pan Am story to students and those who were not around during Pan Am’s glory years.  Thus was born my book, Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline.

pan am bookcover

From the Preface:

Probably no airline in the history of aviation has attracted more attention and has been more written about than Pan American World Airways, for decades the symbol of airline superiority world-wide. This is the airline that pioneered air navigation and communications.  It introduced international and over-ocean flights. It set the standard for in-flight service and brought air travel to the masses through the introduction of “Tourist” class.  It brought the industry into the jet age and eventually the era of the wide-body jet. To thousands of Americans living and working overseas, Pan American meant home. Pan American served the United States and never failed to answer the call of the country. For many, Pan American was the symbol of the United States around the world.

Pan American’s pioneering “firsts” have been thoroughly documented in many books and articles. And indeed a wealth of books, ranging from detailed histories to coffee-table picture books, is available to anyone interested in Pan American.

 In this book, Pan American’s firsts, along with significant events, are presented in chronological order and are divided into six sections representing key eras of the life of Pan American: (1) Beginnings (1927-1939); (2) The War Years (1940-1945); (3) The Piston Era (1946-1957); (4) The Jet Age (1958-1969); (5) Top of the World – Boeing 747 (1970-1979); and (6) End of an American Icon (1980-1991). The firsts and significant events are listed at the beginning of each section followed by illustrations from that era, including covers of annual reports, covers of time tables (along with a page of flight schedules and route map), baggage strap tags, safety information cards and pictures of aircraft. Some images are of items never before illustrated, many of which are rare or no longer exist.

Below is a link to a condensed version of the book featuring selected pages. The manuscript is “pre-camera ready” and many of the images may appear un-cropped.

http://issuu.com/jamiebaldwin/docs/manuscript_-_issuu

Comments about this book:

From Captain Bill Nash, who flew for Pan Am August 1942 – June 1977

“As a Pan Am pilot for 35 years (34 yrs as Captain) I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and the way you did it with items familiar to me, such as varied baggage strap tags, articles, routes, schedules, annual reports, progressive aircraft photos (external and internal), lists of Pan Am “firsts”, and operation advances.”

From Captain Bob Gandt, who flew for Pan Am 1965-1991 and author, Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am

“Jamie Baldwin has given us a treasure trove of Pan Am lore. Here is something for everyone — a concise history of the pioneering airline, a rich potpourri of Pan Am memorabilia, and, best of all, a nostalgic journey back to an age when the mighty Pan American ruled the skies.”

From Susanne (Strickland) Malm, Flight Attendant, 1968-1978

“…a carefully constructed timeline of Pan Am’s incredible record of firsts and aviation achievements… chock full of rare and nostalgic collector’s memorabilia… a veritable time capsule into which any reader may be gently transported…back to a time when flying was gracious, glamorous and eagerly anticipated by passengers and crew alike!”

From Pete Runnette, President, Pan Am Historical Foundation

“…a fine chronology of Pan Am’s pioneering history, with wonderful pictures to match – valuable to student or aviation aficionado alike, and browsing will bring back fond memories for employees or passengers, of air travel Pan Am style…”

From Carol and Fred Tomlinson, Pan Am Staff

“We would like to thank you for doing a marvelous job on the book, and for portraying Pan Am as the great airline that it was!  We are all extremely proud of its history and professionalism, and your book brought back many happy memories!”

From Barry Humphreys, Chairman, British Air Transport Association and former Director, Virgin Atlantic Airways

“No history of international aviation can be complete without including the amazing story of Pan American Airways. Pan Am was without doubt the industry’s leader for several decades; more than just another airline. Jamie Baldwin’s fascinating collection of photographs and chronology captures the story of Pan Am brilliantly, from the early days, thru the glory years to the sad end. It is a story well worth telling.”

This book is published and is available for purchase from the publisher, BlueWater Press.  Please follow this link for ordering information:  http://www.bluewaterpress.com/Catalog/book_pan_am.html

It is also available from Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Pan-American-World-Airways-Airline/dp/1604520469/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381237003&sr=8-1&keywords=pan+american+world+airways+-+images+of+a+great+airline

From the Preface:

I hope readers will enjoy seeing these items that were representative of Pan American’s glory years and that this book will find its place alongside the many books already written about Pan American World Airways.