A truly rare bird landed at YVR last month and had aircraft aficionado abuzz with its brief but auspicious appearance.
The Boeing 747SP (the SP stands for special performance) is essentially the same as the standard Boeing 747-100 aircraft but with a shorter fuselage, larger tailplane and simplified trailing edge flaps. These variations cut the weight dramatically and at the time of its production made it capable of travelling much longer distances at greater speeds in comparison to its counterparts.
The plane was developed at the request of then aviation juggernaut Pan Am because it needed a wide body that could still travel its longest route from New York to Tokyo. Iran Air echoed its need for such an aircraft and so in 1976 the plane entered service with Pan Am.
Despite setting several aeronautical records at the time and being sought by VIP and government customers, the sales didn’t come close to expectations and ultimately only 45 were made. Of those 45, 17 are still in use, 16 have been scrapped and 12 are either in storage or on display in museums.
Operators: Iran Air, Yemenia Airways, Ernest Angley Ministries, Las Vegas Sands Corporation, NASA Astronomical Observatory, Fry's Electronics (pictured), Pratt & Whitney Flight Test and the Saudia government VIP use.
Country: United States
First Flight: March 5, 1976
Cockpit Crew: Three (two pilots, one flight engineer)
Cruise Speed: 990 km/h (535 knots)
Height: 20.06 m (65 ft 10 in)
Length: 56.31 m (184 ft 9 in)
Wingspan: 59.64 m (195 ft 8 in)
Passenger Capacity: 331
Maximum Take-Off Weight: 304,000 kg (670,000 lb.)
Maximum Range (loaded): 12,320 km (6,650 nm)
Engine: Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4W or Rolls-Royce RB211-524C2 turbofan engines
Did You Know? The Boeing 747SP made three record-setting flights around the globe. The first was the Liberty Bell Express in 1976, which took off from JFK, stopped in India and Japan and took 46 hours to circumnavigate the globe. The second was Pan Am Flight 50 in honour of the 50th Anniversary of Pan American Airlines. It left from San Francisco, stopped in London, Cape Town and Auckland, flew over both the North and South Pole and took 54 hours to go around the world. The last record-setting trip was in 1988 and was called Friendship One. It left from Seattle in 1988, and stopped in Athens and Taipei.
YVR Connection: Aside from its brief landing here last month, the Boeing 747SP used to operate regularly from Beijing to Vancouver with Air China, then called CAAC. The aircraft continued in service with the rebranded Air China through the 90s.