Remembering the 747SP

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  • TominScotland

    I have only flown on a 747SP on a small number of occasions, a few times with Iran Air from London to Tehran and once with SAA from Windhoek to J’burg. I thought I had flown on one with Qantas in about 1989 (from LAX to SFO as an add-on to a trans-Pacific) but as QF is not listed as one of the operators of this aircraft type, I must be mistaken. I see from Wikipedia that only 45 were produced so I guess I am the lucky one to have experienced the SP at all!! They were/ are lovely aircraft and the stubbiness of the shorter body was part of the appeal for me.

    According to Wikipedia, the last 747SP in commercial service was retired by Iran Air in July 2016. However, Airline Routes now shows Iran air scheduling 74L aircraft (which I thought was the 747SP) from January 2017 on routes to KL and beijing.

    Can anyone offer clarification and do you have any memories of this aircraft, fond or otherwise.


    I think – I am pretty sure – that I flew on that Iran Air 747SP on an internal flight from Tehran to Marshad in 2015. It was all right, but looked to be close to retirement. A dignified old plane.


    QF did indeed fly the SP, you’re memory is correct.
    I remember being on Bondi Beach many years ago and seeing one fly over.


    TominScotland, QANTAS did indeed have a number of 747SP aircraft, I think it was QANTAS and SAA that were the drivers for the aircraft in the first place; both having long routes to fly. I did fly a QF 747SP between JNB and PER in 1984. One of the best paint jobs for a 747SP was on one ex SAA aircraft used by long defunct Alliance Air, a joint operation between South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.


    I flew on it at least twice in the 1970s on Syrian Arab Airlines, nice plane.


    Your Windhoek-JNB flight may have been on Air Namibia rather than SAA. I flew LHR-FRA-Windhoek on it back in 1995 (give or take a year). It then did a JNB rotation before flying back to Europe. Our outward trip did not go well. There was a leaking water tank somewhere which meant a delay in FRA so there was limited water for the rest of the flight and we missed our connection to Livingstone. The return flight was much better and almost empty so we could stretch out in Y.


    Tough old bird, google China Airlines 006 (do not, if you are a nervous pax).


    rjhcambs – thanks, but definitely was SAA as there was a technical delay and the pilot gave us a running commentary about the work being done!!


    TominScotland – Yes Qantas used to fly the 747SP across the Pacific to California non-stop. I recall seeing one in Melbourne in the 1980s.

    The SP was used by SAA and Taiwan’s CAL because it meant they could undertake long sectors avoiding areas of the world which would not grant them overflying rights for political reasons.

    In the apartheid era SAA was banned from overflying most African countries so the SP was the only aircraft able to fly between S Africa and Europe non-stop. SAA’s flights routed over water via the bulge of Africa. (SAA’s other Europe-bound flights operated by regular 747s would stop in Ilha so Sal Cape Vere or the Azores).

    In those days the European carriers heading for S Africa would usually stop en route in Nairobi.

    If I recall correctly CAL used the SP to fly non-stop to the US. And non-stop to Europe when avoiding mainland China.

    As noted above, one odd operator of the SP was Syrian Arab Airlines which used them on routes for which they were never originally intended.


    I flew a couple of times with Qantas trans-Pacific on the 747SP. In those days it was the only aircraft capable of doing the route non-stop.

    IIRC the 747SP was built by Boeing as a commercial spoiler to stop PanAm buying the DC-10 and in the short term it worked but then PanAm took over I can’t remember who and got a fleet of DC-10s anyway. Am I right on this?

    The 747SP can never have been a commercial success and I doubt it was ever very profitable to operate.


    I remember the SP on QF transpacific. JohnHarper – I believe that PanAm got their DC-10s from the takeover of National….


    Flew back from DXB to LHR (yes Pan Am in the eighties used fly out of DXB) once via FRA, and the connection flight from FRA to LHR was indeed a B747SP (DXB-FRA had been an B747-100). Was contracted in OMAN at that time, and ruler, HH Sultan Qaboos had an B747SPA (a VC-10 too), as did HH Sheikh Zayed in UAE. I remember the grandfather (recently passed away) of the present ruler of Qatar, also had an SP and that was parked in Abu Dhabi for many months when he was forced into exile in the 90’s and then it was oft seen around Europe especially parked in STN. It was the one in fading Magenta colours.
    At that time, I used to visit Jo’burg and it was always good to see their ‘SP’s operating out of there.
    Yes a good aircraft in its time


    AMcWhirter wrote “one odd operator of the SP was Syrian Arab Airlines which used them on routes for which they were never originally intended”, I flew LHR-Damascus twice on it in the mid- or later 1970s, I’m sure we stopped in Germany somewhere on the way but don’t recall where.


    I thought the 747SP was created specifically upon the request of Pan Am, who wanted aircraft that could fly NY-Tokyo non-stop. Certainly Pan Am had a few of the aircraft, as they used them on the petroleum express New York to Dhahran, and then on SFO-HKG and LAX-SYD. Iran Air got their 747SP aircraft to operate Tehran to New York.

    I have flown on quite a few 747SPs, including Pan Am across the Pacific, and (once they went bust) United, who operated them from LHR-EWR for a while in the mid-1990s. I have also flown on the Air Namibia model (which was leased in from SAA) a few times on the LON-FRA-WDH run (first ex-LGW, then ex-LHR), and also between WDH-JNB.

    AA had an example that flew the DFW-NRT long-range route before it was replaced by the MD-11, at which point it was sent to JFK to fly both LON and BRU ops. It was a premium heavy aircraft, with 29 First Class sleeper seats, 78 business class seats and 78 economy seats. The AA SPs were ex-TWA, I believe. For some reason, I have it in my mind that AA briefly operated the 747SP on a trial route from Stansted to Chicago.

    There have been two 747SPs parked at Las Vegas, owned by one of the casino moguls flying guests between Vegas and Macau. Not sure if they are still there, but they were last year.


    In their latter years the QF SPs flew the japanese tourist route SYD CNS Japan ( I think Kansai) so we could fly the domestic leg to Cairns in place of tired 767s. I loved seat 1A and the power on take off then quick turn north was like a sports car. At sports car fuel costs no doubt.

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