To deliver its latest devices, Samsung enlisted a fleet of 747s. Credit: Samsung.

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747th Heaven – Seven Ways The 747 Has Been Utilized


The Jumbo Jet, aka The Queen Of The Skies, has assumed many forms. As reported recently on Avgeekery.com, the 747 is being phased out by most of the commercial aviation providers. But since its inception in 1970, the 747 has been put to use in a variety of ways.  While its beauty is unmatched, its real claim to fame is its versatility.

We’d like to list 747 different ways that the jet has been used…but even The Queen isn’t that versatile. Here are seven different uses in which the 747 has excelled.

To deliver its latest devices, Samsung enlisted a fleet of 747s. Credit: Samsung.
SOFIA Observatory in flight. Credit: NASA

Flying Observatory

This month NASA is using a 747 as an airborne platform for SOFIA – Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. A heavily modified Boeing 747 Special Performance aircraft is able to fly near the edges of the atmosphere, thus providing better visibility than observatories on earth. Cloudy nights prevent and/or limit star gazing.

This 747 carries a 17-ton, 8-foot telescope that is mounted behind a sliding door in the side of the fuselage. The door measures 16-by-23 feet. The fuselage was shortened by 55 feet, which increases its performance capacities.

Its range and ceiling make it perfect for studying the stars and planets. It can stay airborne for over 12 hours and has a range of over 7,000 miles plus a ceiling of 45,000 feet. That allows it to fly above the troposphere. Water vapor obscures infrared light and only .2 percent of the Earth’s water vapor is above the troposphere.

Thus ends today’s science lesson but we still have more unique 747s below!

 

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain
U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Daniel J. McLain

Air Force One

Since 1970, a version of the 747 has served as Air Force One, one of the modern icons of America. Currently the Air Force employs two Boeing VC-25A, which are specifically configured and highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft.

The ability to stay airborne and be refueled, along with its size, makes it a perfect mobile headquarters for the Commander in Chief. Plus the 747’s four engines provide a safety margin not found on current the larger two-engine commercial jets.

The two planes currently in use are about to reach the end of their 30-year life spans. In January, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing an initial contract worth $25.8 million to produce the next generation. Boeing will customize its 747-8, its latest model, to become the next Air Force Ones. The new aircraft should be in service by the end of this decade.

 

The Space Shuttle Atlantis is carried on the back of a 747. Credit: NASA
The Space Shuttle Atlantis is carried on the back of a 747. Credit: NASA

Space Shuttle Ferry

The end of the space shuttle program in 2011 ended one of the great spectacles in aviation. Space shuttles were launched in Florida but often landed at Edwards Air Force base in California.

To transport the 83-ton spacecraft back to its starting point, two specially equipped 747s were used. Equipped with two additional vertical stabilizers, the 747s flew at 285 mph at 13,000 to 15,000 feet when transporting the shuttle.

Late last month, NASA unveiled an exhibit at Space Center Houston. NASA 905, one two modified 747s that transported the space shuttle, is being displayed at Independence Plaza. On top of the 747 is a replica space shuttle called Independence. Visitors can go inside each craft.

 

The 747 Supertanker during the 2010 Carmel forest fires in Israel. Credit: ShacharLA
The 747 Supertanker during the 2010 Carmel forest fires in Israel. Credit: ShacharLA

Fire Fighting

Evergreen International Aviation, a company based in Oregon, converted four 747 cargo planes into aircraft that could deliver nearly 20,000 gallons of water and/or fire retardant chemicals. The company hoped to use its big plans to drop big loads to help fight fires.

Alas, the business model never worked out as government agencies preferred to continue using smaller planes. Evergreen filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Last year, Global SuperTanker Services, LLC stepped in and took over Evergreen’s planes and plans. The use and effectiveness of 747 super tankers has yet to be determined.

 

A 747 Dreamlifter takes off. Credit: Yamaguchi Yoshiaki
A 747 Dreamlifter takes off. Credit: Yamaguchi Yoshiaki

 

Dreamlifter

If you want to see a tricked-out 747, consider the Dreamlifter, aka Large Cargo Freighter.

The 747 is one of the most recognizable aircraft because of its “bulge” in the fuselage that extends from the cockpit aft. The Dreamlifter accentuated and expanded that bulge for nearly the entire length of the fuselage.

At 65,000 cubic feet (1,840 cubic meters) the cargo hold is the world’s largest. The tail swings open to load cargo. Boeing uses the Dreamlifter to transport aircraft parts for the 787 to its assembly plants around the world. The modified 747 went into service in 2007.

In 2013, Atlas Air Boeing 747 Dreamlifter en route from John F. Kennedy International Airport to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., mistakenly landed eight nautical miles away at Colonel James Jabara Airport.

 

Airborne Laser Testbed known as the YAL-1A. Credit: US Air Force
Airborne Laser Testbed known as the YAL-1A. Credit: US Air Force

Weapons Platform

About 20 years after Star Wars, the U.S. Air Force tried out its own “light saber.” In 1996, funding was approved and tests began to equip a 747 with a nose-mounted laser. The Airborne Laser Testbed was part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Missile Defense Agency

The 747 was equipped with a chemical oxygen iodine laser that could track and destroy a missile during its boost phase. Six years ago during a test flight the system successfully tracked and destroyed a missile.

However, prohibitive expense of the project and the plane’s limited range led to the project being de-funded and shelved.

 

Samsung747Jumbo Jet Gimmicks

The 747 is such an iconic plane that companies and businesses like to come up with ways to garner attention.

A year ago, when Samsung was launching its GalaxyS6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, it wanted to make sure supply would equal demand. The company enlisted a fleet of 747s to get the devices delivered.

Boeing, which manufactures the 747, is based in Seattle and has a long history with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. The team’s recent success led to Boeing doing special paint jobs on 747s each of the last two years. Last season, Boeing’s Seahawks-themed paint job went on a newly designed 747-8 freighter with an up-graded paint job.

 

Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.