The End of PanAm’s Fleet: Retires Its 747SP

Another legendary Boeing 747SP bites the dust after its sent to the boneyard.

The Boeing 747SP owned by was known for its storied history and crazy flybys.  The jet flew its last flight this month as it landed in the Mohave desert, ready to be parted out.  The aircraft with registration N747A was originally owned by PanAm and titled “Clipper America”.  For avgeeks, it marks the end of an era as it was the last flying 747 that was flown by PanAm and not modified for a special mission. (There are still 10 747SPs listed in service including some configured for testing or governmental use for Qatar and Saudi Arabia) Parts of this aircraft will live on though in a sister aircraft.  If the engines check out, NASA will purchase the aircraft and use the engines as spares for SOFIA–its 747SP airborne observatory. That aircraft is a highly modified Boeing 747SP that was also once a Pan Am Clipper Jet.


The unique history of the stubby jumbo jet

The 747 is one of the most easily recognized and well known commercial aircraft out there. Boeing began production of this popular aircraft all the way back in the 70’s to open up a better and less expensive way to make longer domestic and international flights more readily available and affordable for passengers. With competitor aircraft on the market and in development, Boeing needed to develop an aircraft that could go long distances, but didn’t need to be quite as full, making it more cost effective. Thus the 747SP (special performance) was born.

This new 747 held a 280 seat configuration, was much shorter than the original version of the 747, lost about 45,000 pounds, and was able to travel as fast as Mach 0.92. The wing design was also altered and the entire aircraft was made to be much more aerodynamic and fuel efficient than the original 747. Despite all of the positive features of the 747SP and the need for long range affordable aircraft, less than 50 ended up being produced the project didn’t pan out as Boeing had hoped. However, the 747SP remained one of the longest range aircraft on the market until Boeing put out the 747-300 in the late 80’s.

As of this year, there are no more 747SPs currently in any commercial fleet with Iran Air officially retiring the aircraft in July. Several of the aircraft are still being flown to this day in specialized roles, however, proving that Boeing made aircraft really do withstand the test of time.

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