Information

First 747 Flight - History


(2/9/69) On February 9, the first test flight of a Boeing 747 was flown. The plane was 231 feet long and weighed 710,000 pounds. The initial version of the plane was designed to carry 374 passengers over 5,700 miles. The plane launched the age of the Jumbo Jet.

Jumbo History: When Did The Boeing 747 First Fly?

Many people, both among avgeeks and the general public, consider the Boeing 747 to be among the most iconic airliners of all time. A key factor in this is its longevity. Indeed, the jumbo has been flying for over five decades across all variants, inspiring generation after generation. But when exactly did the ‘Queen of the Skies’ first fly?

It has been more than half a century since Pan Am commercially launched the 747. Photo: Getty Images


First 747 Flight - History

A great deal has been written and seen lately about the magnificent Boeing 747 jumbo jet. No wonder. It's hard to forget the sense of power one perceives the first time you leave the ground on a 747! For decades since its introduction to the world's traveling public by Pan American World Airways - Boeing's launch customer - millions of people have been carried aloft on 747's on aerial odysseys. The evergreen concept of the 747, which has likely reached an ultimate iteration in the 747-8, has proven itself to be in a very elite class, perhaps only shared by the iconic Douglas DC-3 in terms of viable useful life - and the last DC-3 rolled out of the factory after only little more than a decade after the very first. Boeing has yet to finish building its last 747, almost half a century on.

But looking at the beginnings of the Boeing 747, it was nothing if not a huge gamble for both the manufacturer and the initial airline customer. When Juan Trippe, in one of his last big decisions as Pan Am's leader, ordered 25 of the as-yet-unbuilt first models of the aircraft, it was the largest commercial order in history at the time.

When the aircraft arrived for it's debut with Pan Am in December 1969 (only four years after a letter of intent was signed by Pan Am to buy 25 from Boeing) it made for something leas than an overly auspicious start to a glorious future. Now someone who was there and witnessed the 747's birth pangs has decided to share his side of the story.

Ron Marasco, who now sits on the Board of Directors of the Pan Am Historical Foundation, has had a long and notable career in aviation. He began his Pan Am career in 1956 as Flight Engineer and Check Airman, and capped off his time with the airline as Vice-President for Maintenance and Engineering three decades later, before moving on to other jobs in aviation. In 1969, when Pan Am received Boeing's brand-new jumbo jet, Ron had been tapped to be the General Manager of 747 maintenance.

The 747 was one big plane, and keeping the new fleet in the air was going to be one big job. In his new book, The 747: A Tumultuous Beginning, Ron takes the reader through the background of the development, manufacture, and deployment of the aircraft, and he adroitly manages the job of making complex technical issues understandable to a general readership. For example, the narrative stresses the salient fact that unlike so many other commercial transport successes, the 747 brought together a constellation of untried technologies - including new hydraulic system designs, passenger configurations and particularly engines, to name just a few - that had to be adapted without prior real-world experience to guide their application.

No one denied that the end result of 747 design and manufacturing process was magnificent to behold. Two-and-one-half times larger than Boeing's forerunner 707, the plane dwarfed anything else flying when it arrived. But it came with some real problems that had to be addressed immediately. One of the major themes of The 747: A Tumultuous Beginning is the fact that it was only through the real world experience and dedication of the airline personnel who were tasked with making the plane a success for the airlines who bought them that the concept of the jumbo jet succeeded. The book draws on the experience of Ron's former colleagues at Pan Am, Boeing's 747 Chief Engineer Joe Sutter and others, as well as his own very compelling personal experience to flesh out the story. He reveals some intriguing insights too! For example, just why did the prototype 747 go through its flight tests with almost half a ton of automobile batteries on board? Ron's own recounting of his first on-board experience with Pan Am's first 747 as he taxied the plane prior it's full-dress rehearsal flight is in a class by itself.

The book is well illustrated, and shows the results of careful crafting and serious research. It's not a big book, but it will definitely fill a real gap in the growing literature available about this wonderful airplane.


Boeing 747-121

The growing worldwide demand for air travel during the 1960s led Boeing to launch the 747, the first wide-body jet. Developing what was then the world's largest passenger aircraft was a formidable undertaking, requiring the company to risk much of its net worth. But the gamble paid off – over 1,500 units have been produced. With its massive size and signature upper deck "hump," the iconic 747 is one the most recognizable aircraft in the world. It triggered a revolution in air travel and represents a significant milestone in the evolution of aviation design.

The leviathan 747 required an all-new factory, which was built almost simultaneously with the first 747 at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. First flight occurred on February 9, 1969, followed by an extensive test program. The first 747 engine, the Pratt & Whitney JT9D, was an equally challenging engineering effort it experienced numerous problems in initial service.

The 747 quickly became a mainstay of the world’s international airlines. Continued development in the ensuing years has increased payload, range, and capability with multiple 747 variants. A freighter model, with a large nose cargo door, allows outsized payloads to be carried. A "Combi" was soon offered to allow simultaneous carriage of passengers and cargo on the main deck. A shortened version (747SP) debuted in 1976, capable of very long range flights. The 747-300 followed in 1982, with an extended upper deck. In 1989, a major upgrade was introduced in the form of the 747-400, with a modernized two-crew flight deck and improved performance. The 747-8, with all-new wings and engines, entered service in 2011.

The airplane proved to be highly flexible, performing many missions that were not part of its original design specifications. Two 747-100s were modified to become Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for the NASA Space Shuttle Program. Several aircraft were produced to serve as U.S. Air Force "command post" platforms, designated E-3 and E-4. In 1990, two 747-200Bs were modified as VC-25As to serve as Air Force One, the U.S. Presidential aircraft. Other unique modifications include the enlarged "Dreamlifter" for 787 components, the YAL-1A Airborne Laser Testbed, and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

The Museum's aircraft was the first 747 ever built, known as RA001. After 747 certification testing, the aircraft served for many years as a company testbed for technology development and new engine programs for other Boeing commercial jets, including the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 for the Boeing 777. Planning for eventual donation to the Museum began in the mid-1980s. The aircraft's final flight occurred on April 6, 1995, when Boeing officially donated RA001 to the Museum after 5,300 flight hours. Still configured in its flight test configuration, it was extensively restored in 2013 and 2014.


David Parker Brown

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: [email protected]

It was several years before the Iranian Revolution in 1979 – so relations between the two countries were still good at that time.

The west-friendly Shah was still in power and always threw lots of money around. There are still F-14s and F15s in service w/ the Iranian AF (although spare parts aren’t easy to find).

They do not have F-15’s. Maybe you
meant F-5’s, Jeff?

TWA had long started airlines like Saudia, Ethiopian, and many in Europe. 10,000 TWA employees had lived in Saudi Arabia over the years for instance from DC3’s to L1011 and 747’s. I was off the approach end at my school recess the day that first TWA 747 came to MCI near Kansas City at the overhaul base. All of us just about had dads working at the airline and watched it in awe. 6 months later I was on it in the front row going to Saudi Arabia for 5 year assignment my dad took. TWA often sold planes to other airlines. the 707’s that had sraps on their skin from stress went to EL AL for instance. No one ever bought the convair 880’s and they were shreded after I had grown up to be a navy pilot and saw them when home on leave. My dad had 45 years total with TWA and Saudi Arabian Airlines.

Iran had a “few” in disrepair of the 80 or so f14’s flying when I was a young LT in the straight of hormuz and the airbus got shot down by Vincennes. The photo recon was mostly their mission (doubt they had TARPS) They had F4’s and F14’s, my ops officer had his hand in the safe burning documents as a flight instructor there when the shah fell. They did not have 15’s as I recall, the Saudis do as our ally and they had lightnings before that with british mercenary pilots.

Probably none of the shah era f14’s had any weapons capability since the Phoenix missile was not provided and a Rockwell variant was, and sidewinders and guns won’t work against a ship it is anti air only. This spare parts issue for supplying them did led to ITAR and the US Munitions list violations with many persona non grata’s being created over the years on the STATE DEPT banned forever list for export violations. F14’s could not drop bombs anyway until almost their retirement from the US Navy F14A+’s etc we called it the bomb-kitty vs tomcat or tom-kitty. The reports the day of the airliner incident mixed up signals from the ground and what actually took off if you read the messages that day. A mixed airfield for military and commercial was always dangerous in a Straight due to international flight and shipping rules. Also aegis in auto auto mode was dangerous since the montgomery more analog told them not to take the track.

Hey George, thanks so much for the additional details and personel connection.

Just read all this interesting info!Thanks.I’ve wondered about those ex-TWA’s flying with the Iranian Air Force. Judging by the info and photo’s on the net,those classic 747s are in very good hands. I don’t mean to sound like a know-it-all, but wasn’t that big number 5 painted on the fuselage of N93101 because it was #5 off the line,and one of the 5 test planes at Boeing??(rather than being painted on as a celebration for TWA’s first 747).

There is a tail-scrape test video on You-Tube of Pan Am’s N747PA, which has a big #2 painted on the side of it.(Line number 2,which sadly was scrapped as a run-down, abandoned restaurant in Korea last year).N7470,the very first one built,also has a #1 on it.

There were 5 test 747’s that comprised the FAA Test inventory. The TWA airplane was the 5th on the line up at the Everett assembly plant. The other four planes were painted in PAA colors. R0003 was damaged when it landed a the Renton airport. I’ll skip the gory details but the starboard wing gear caught on the north seawall and the gear rammed back into the wing flaps and flap track supports. My connection with all five planes amounted to being one of the laison engineers responsible for the refurb effort. Before that I had several test flights on r0005(twa) where we determined the coffin corners of those PW engines. We climbed to 55 thousand and shut of an engine. Set the engine up for restart fuel and ignition on and did a rapid decent. At about 50 thousand the engine started and it sounded like the whole plane exploded! Both flights tests were conducted at night.The big backfire also caused a very bright flash inside the cabin which cause my whole life to flash as well. When an airplane was totally refurbed it would fly to Boeing field for airline acceptance. Our crew would climb up to the roof of the Renton assembly plant and witness the take off. In a lot of ways this was very memorable since we all worked so hard to make this project a success.

Having worked for Alcoa and many years as a consultant to Boeing and the USAF, back in the 1950s through the early 1970s, I met lots of folks who worked on development of Boeing aircraft and missile programs. The original 747s were extremely over design weight targets, and had to be reduced over 100K Lbs. As I remember, TWA and PANAM had weight limitation built into contracts and Boeing did a big ‘sweat’ program to make it right. In the meantime, the Shah had all the gas in the world and took the heavies off TWA’s plate as he ramped up Iranian Airlines.

The fog of time and age creep into my recollection, but even Howard Hughes may have entered into the TWA side of the deal.

Worked in Iran for Boeing at that time. Some of the 747’s were converted to refueling tankers,IIAF KC-747. I lost friends in the tragic crash of one in Spain. Look it up, too many details for here.
I must give kudos to the Iranian engineers and techs that have keep them in the air for so long. With embargoes on, don’t even want to know how they got parts.
RR

I will have to agree.I personally have worked on all 747 models built to this day.I agree that they deserve the the credit for keeping those whales in the air.As a mechanic in today’s world were everything is accessible to me.And manuals at the click of a button.still tuff don’t know how they did during hard political times.

I wonder what the Ayatollah thinks each time he sees those planes sitting on the runway. He hates our country, so surely it has to be a kick in the gonads to his pride seeing them there the most American of Planes.

Did the aircraft fly with the number 5 on both side so of the fuselage? What about the black and white checker on the side was thus both sides ?

I was there when TWA sold a number of aircraft to Iran. I’m not sure if the logic was for capacity reasons or cash flow reasons. Or who knows what? From what I recall they soon bought most of them back. The maintenance record keeping was poor to non existent. And the returned aircraft became a huge task to bring the records up to FAA standards to place these back into service. I even checked to see if 93119 TWA F800 was one in this group. It might have provided an explanation of what might have gone wrong.

Due to TWA financial troubles, on February 1st 1975 TWA announced the sale to the Iranian Government of six of its 19 Boeing 747 jumbo jets for a price of $99‐million. U.S.
The transaction was believed to be the largest used‐plane sale on record up to that time. The Iranians were also negotiating at that same date for a further six TWA Jumbos. (747)

Iran Air had bought ex PanAm 707 in the past too so it was not uncommon. Iran Air were one of the original customers for the 747SP which solved their Tehran New York route. I flew on these 747SP from London to Tehran regularly. Iran Air didn’t operate any 747 100’s so I think its safe to assume all of the 747 100’s sold to Iran ended up in the Imperial Iranian Airforce IIAF.
The Imperial Iranian Airforce IIAF obtained most of these older 747 to convert into KC747 refueling airforce aircraft and troop transport. which they are used for today in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force IRIAF. The Shah had inquired and offered to put the money up to Lockheed to restart the C-5 Galaxy line, but this for some reason was stopped. The uplift capability he was seeking for his airforce was obviously helped with the acquisition of these Jumbos.

I am amazed at the amazement from everyone, about how well the Iranian engineer’s have done to keep them flying! The Iranians are a very educated intelligent race of people. They have had to keep these aircraft flying and have done, as expected a very good job. Lets be honest we all know even with an embargo on spear parts, anyone can obtain any spare parts for a price.
What is amazing is how they have reengineered their F-5E “Kowsar” and the converted F-5 into a twin tail version the HESA “Saeqeh”. However what is truly amazing is how they have continued to operate and fly their F-14 swing wing fighters. This is even after all F-14’s have been disbanded from the USAF inventory, and any F-14 in a museum, static display, bone yard, or other, have been totally stripped and the mechanical components that operate the swing wing technology destroyed for ever!
This is truly amazing and a testament to the Iranian tenacity and ingenuity.


HistoryLink.org

On September 30, 1968, Boeing rolls out the first 747 "Jumbo Jet" in Everett, Washington. The aircraft, originally designed to haul both cargo and passengers for Pan Am Airways, was more than twice the size of the Boeing 707. In order to assemble the flying behemoth, Boeing built the world's largest structure by volume, enclosing 291 million cubic feet, at Paine Field in Everett.

Early Planning

Plans for the Boeing 747 were developed in the early 1960s, after Juan Trippe (1899-1981), president of Pan American World Airways, expressed interest in a plane that was larger than either the Boeing 707 or the Douglas DC-8, the two aircraft that had ushered in the Jet Age.

Jack Steiner (1917-2003), Boeing's vice-president of product development oversaw the 747 in its planning stages, and Boeing CEO Bill Allen (1900-1985) chose Mal Stamper (1925-2005) as general manger when the project went into full design. Joe Sutter (1921-2016) was named chief engineer.

In 1966, Pan Am signed a $550 million contract for 25 planes, deliverable by the end of 1969. By Boeing standards, this was a very short time frame to complete the project, especially since design was not yet complete, and the production plant had yet to be built. In effect, Boeing bet the company that the project would succeed.

A Big Jet Needs a Big Building

Boeing initially considered building the 747 outside of Washington state, but eventually settled on 780 acres of land near Everett. Located next to Paine Field, the property was hilly and heavily wooded. More than four million cubic yards of dirt had to be removed to make way for the world's largest building under a single roof.

Construction moved quickly, but barely fast enough to keep up with the schedule. Work began on the 747 mockup before the walls of the mockup building were complete. Workers on the assembly line had to wear heavy clothing during the winter, because the building was not yet been heated.

Original plans for the 747 included a double-deck design, but this concept was nixed due to concerns about emergency evacuations. Instead, the plane was given a wide-body design, the first in the world. The plane's distinctive hump behind the cockpit came about due to aerodynamic streamlining, but was used to house a passenger lounge at the suggestion of Juan Trippe.

More Orders Come In

While work continued on the 747, Boeing gathered up orders from other airlines. Most airline executive visited the production plant while making their decision, and came away in awe. When Pat Patterson (1899-1980), president of United Airlines, entered the mockup building, the first words out of his mouth were, "Jesus Christ!" (Serling, Legend and Legacy).

By the time the 747 was ready for its unveiling, orders had been placed from 26 airlines for the new jet. Representatives from each of these airlines gathered with other invited guests -- as well as the press -- on September 30, 1968, for the plane's first public appearance.

The 747 Debuts

That morning, a replica of the B& W -- Boeing's first airplane -- flew over Paine Field, followed by a 707, a 727, and a 737. The crowd of attendees gathered in front of the massive hangar doors of the production plant. The doors opened slowly, and a tractor towed the 747 out into the bright sunlight.

Unlike previous Boeing airliners, which were painted canary yellow and brown, the 747 was painted white and red, with blue lettering. As the plane came into view, the audience gasped at its size and broke into thunderous applause. At 231 feet in length, with a 196-foot wingspan, the 747 was far larger than any plane most of them had seen before.

United States Secretary of Commerce C. R. Smith (1899-1990) was the principal speaker, and noted that the 747 "will provide a standard of comfort and convenience never equaled before." (The Seattle Times, September 30, 1968) He noted that over $1.5 billion worth of contracts had already been signed for the new plane, and that more were on the way.

Bill Allen noted that the 747 program was one of the largest nongovernmental projects in United States history. Boeing President T. A. Wilson (1921-1999) spoke next and introduced Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925), and Senators Warren Magnuson (1905-1989) and Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983). Finally, Mal Stamper thanked all of the Boeing employees who worked on the project, but noted that the plane still had to go through flight test and government certification.

The 747 was christened by 26 flight attendants, then called stewardesses, one each from the 26 airlines that had already placed orders. As they smashed their 26 bottles of champagne against the jumbo jet, a cheer rang out from the crowd.

Comparison of the Boeing 747 and 707 models, 1969

Courtesy the Boeing Company

Sources:

"747 Makes Colorful Entrance," The Seattle Times, September 30, 1968, p. 1 Joe Sutter, Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation (New York HarperCollins Publishers, 2006) Robert Redding and Bill Yenne, Boeing Planemaker to the World (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1983), 190-205 Robert J. Serling, Legend and Legacy, the Story of Boeing and its People (New York: St. Marten's Press, 1992), 283-384 Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 44-45, 261.
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject. It was updated on September 6, 2016.


Turn of the Century Boeing 747 models

In November of 2002, The 747 400 ER joined the QANTAS airline as a service liner. This version sported winglets that were not present in the 300 variant. The Dreamlifter is another modification of the 400 that featured a massive cargo area that loaded and unloaded from a rear fuselage. They were used by numerous airlines for both freight and passenger with a range of 7,670 nautical miles which was approximately 400 miles more than the standard 400. It featured an auxiliary fuel tank and was designed with a customizable option for a second fuel tank. This diversified its use by allowing owners to remove the tank when additional cargo was needed for shorter runs. The Dreamlifters were designated for carrying essential crew members and cargo only, and not passengers.

The Boeing 747 8 family was first announced in 2005. Modifications made the craft more economical, quieter and friendlier to the environment. The fuselage was extended from 232 feet to 251. Variants of the 8 family of 747s were made, as many of the other variants to accommodate the needs of the airlines ordering them.


The idea for a giant airliner came in 1965 after Boeing lost a competition to build a large military transport for the US Air Force (the winning bid from Lockheed would become the C5A Galaxy). With encouragement from Pan Am, which wanted larger aircraft for its many overseas routes, Boeing adopted its military plans to carry people instead of troops and equipment. Design work began (see the gallery above for the different design concepts ) and in 1966, Pan Am ordered 25 aircraft. The 747 was born.

More on the 747

Even with the blessing of the then-powerful Pan Am , Boeing faced a daunting task in making the 747 a reality. At the time, it was also designing a supersonic transport called the 2707 to compete with the Anglo/French Concorde . Building one completely new airliner was risky enough, but designing two at the same time -- one that would be the biggest ever and another that would be the fastest ever -- was a bet on the company's survival. At the time when commercial supersonic hopes were high, some even thought that the 2707 would eventually relegate the 747 to hauling freight.

Joe Sutter, a Boeing veteran who'd worked on all of the company's previous commercial jets, became lead engineer (later called "the father of the 747," Sutter died in 2016) . His team faced a number of challenges, from finding a suitable engine (one didn't exist at the time) to keeping the aircraft's weight down. Even before it could start building the 747 there was a critical hurdle: Boeing had no factory large enough to do the job. Construction on the Everett site began later in 1966 and proceeded rapidly despite being an immense job on its own. Time was so short that the company finished the factory even as it was building the airplane's first mockup on the floor.

The upper deck was the Boeing 747's defining feature.


Today’s Air Force One

Each of the current Air Force One aircraft is equipped with classified security and defense systems, including measures to protect onboard electronics against the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion. A telecommunications centre is located in the upper level, and in the lower level is a cargo hold with a self-contained baggage-handling system. The middle level contains accommodations for as many as 70 passengers in addition to the crew of 26. These accommodations include seating and work areas for media representatives, security staff, and other personnel a combination conference-dining room an in-flight pharmacy and emergency medical equipment and two galleys in which as many as 100 servings per meal can be prepared. The presidential suite, located in the quiet forward area of the plane, contains an office, a bedroom, and a lavatory.

The two jets have a range of almost 8,000 miles (more than 12,000 km) unrefueled, but with in-flight refueling they are capable of circling the globe. They are based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, near Washington, D.C., and are assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command. They have served presidents, vice presidents (at which time they are known as Air Force Two), and other dignitaries under the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. The pair of jets is slated for replacement by three new aircraft between 2017 and 2021.


First 747 Flight - History

Here is my personal account from 50 years ago on the first Pan Am 747-100 flight to London Heathrow. My Dad worked for the Department of Defense as a Computer Engineer. He had to be in London for meetings and I was allowed to go with him.


There are 3 things that are burned into my memory. First, it was very cold. Second the media circus, everyone trying to get that perfect picture. Last, the massive size of the airplane. I had flown on the 707 before and that was a Tonka toy compared to The Queen of The Sky. Oh and Linda. I’ll get to her later.


The Worldport was amazing for it’s time. And they made it special for everyone, not just the adults. The kids had been given special toys, snacks. It was great. I just wanted to board and takeoff. When we finally boarded and I stepped inside I couldn’t believe the size of everything. The galleys, the seats, 2 aisles. And that spiral staircase with that famous 1970 color and fabric selection. And that new airplane smell mixed with jet fuel. I was in aviation heaven. We sat below the flight deck about 5 rows in from the nose. The Stewardesses, yes they were still called that, in the famous blue uniform with what at the time I called “The Bobby Hat” I liked the hat with the wing pointed up. It seemed like they were everywhere. White Glove service, nonstop smiles, offering drinks and handing out magazines to the adults and coloring books for the kids. I felt like I was sitting in a seat for the Jolly Green Giant. There was so much space.


Once everyone boarded the wait began. I got up a few times to try and go up the staircase but I was denied politely every attempt. I didn’t care, the Stewardess for our section, Linda could have passed for Sharon Tate. She was the highlight of the flight for me. So nice and sweet, gave me everything. You could probably say she was the first girl crush for me. The captain made a few announcements about a technical problem that was being fixed and we should be ready soon. That didn’t happen. It seemed like an overnight waiting. I covered every inch of the main deck from nose to tail.


Then came the announcement we had to be off-loaded and wait for a replacement plane. It was well after midnight when we finally boarded the new plane and we took off about 45 minutes later. The takeoff roll was intense. Like a race car taking off down the highway. And as if gravity disappeared we lifted off the ground. The climb out was a feeling I will never forget and the roar of the engines. They served a meal immediately after we reached our cruising altitude. Then the lights were dimmed and we fell asleep.

I t was mid morning when I woke to breakfast. Now I can see out my window. Nothing but ocean below. The sky was clear at first but as we approached land the clouds started to build and eventually I lost sight of the ground. When we started our descent, going through the clouds was amazing. Like someone painted all the windows white.


Once we broke out of the clouds and we were over land, the first thing I remember was saying to my Dad, the cars are on the wrong side of the road. Some of the adults had been drinking the whole flight on the upper deck and they were pretty funny to a kid’s point of view.

I was glued to my window watching the ground getting closer and finally realizing the speed we were traveling at. The touchdown was pretty smooth and we rolled pretty far down the runway before we turned off and on to a taxiway. I know it was afternoon when we arrived, just not the exact time.

The first thing I noticed was the control tower, I remember thinking how small it was and it was red brick. Fire trucks, police cars, were all around where we taxied to. And the media was everywhere. It was a circus inside the terminal.

I remember my Dad telling my to hold on to his coat so he wouldn’t lose me. London was amazing. Those double decker red buses and black taxi cabs I had seen so many times on tv are in front of me.

Then 16 years later I boarded another Pan Am 747-100 at JFK bound for London. This time I was going as a USAF Airman, stationed at RAF Mildenhall as a Firefighter.

I flew Pan Am all the way to the day before their final flight. That was such a sad day. I couldn’t believe nobody with the money and vision of rebuilding the airline stepped up and bought them out of bankruptcy. It still makes me sad today.


That’s how it went for me on January 22, 1970, one of the best days of my life. Thank you Pan Am. You may be gone but you are not forgotten.


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