Boeing 747SP

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Not to be confused with Boeing 747SR.
Boeing 747SP
Pan Am Boeing 747SP Clipper Fleetwing Fitzgerald.jpg
Boeing 747SP of launch customer Pan Am at London Heathrow Airport in 1978
Role Wide-body jet aircraft
Manufacturer Boeing Airplane Company
First flight July 4, 1975
Introduction 1976 with Pan Am
Status In limited service
Primary users Pan Am (historical)
United Airlines (historical)
South African Airways (historical)
Iran Air
Produced 1976–1989
Number built 45[1]
Developed from Boeing 747
Variants SOFIA

The Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747 jet airliner which was designed for ultra-long-range flights. The SP stands for "Special Performance". Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body, four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger tailplane, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.[2]

Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the 747SP was designed to meet a 1973 joint request from Pan American World Airways and Iran Air, who were looking for a high-capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover Pan Am's New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air's planned Tehran–New York route. The aircraft also was intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with existing trijet airliners.

The 747SP first entered service with Pan Am in 1976. The aircraft was later acquired by VIP and government customers. While in service, the 747SP set several aeronautical performance records, but sales did not meet the expected 200 units, and production ultimately totaled 45 aircraft.[3]


The idea for the 747SP came from a request by Pan Am for a 747 variant capable of carrying a full payload non-stop on its longest route between New York and Tokyo.[4] Joined with Pan Am's request was Iran Air; their joint interest was for a high capacity airliner capable of covering Pan Am's New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air's planned New York-Tehran route.[5] (New York to Tehran may have been the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world for a short time, until Pan Am started Tokyo to New York in mid-1976.) The aircraft was launched with Pan Am's first order in 1973 and the first example delivered in 1976.[6]

A shorter derivative of the 747-100, the SP was developed to target two market requirements.[6] The first was a need to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011 while maintaining commonality with the 747,[6] which in its standard form was too large for many routes. Boeing lacked a mid-sized wide-body to compete in this segment. The second market requirement was an aircraft suitable for the ultra-long-range routes emerging in the mid-1970s following the joint request. These routes needed not only longer range, but also higher cruising speeds. Boeing could not afford to develop an all-new design, instead opting to shorten the 747 and optimize it for speed and range, at the expense of capacity.[2]

Bahrain Royal Flight 747SP takes off at London Heathrow Airport

Originally designated 747SB for "short body", it later was nicknamed "Sutter's balloon" by employees after 747 chief engineer Joe Sutter.[7] Boeing later changed the production designation to 747SP for "special performance", reflecting the aircraft's greater range and higher cruising speed.[8] Production of the 747SP ran from 1976 to 1983. However a VIP order[6] for the Royal Flight of Abu Dhabi led Boeing to produce one last SP in 1987. Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747SP, taking the first delivery, Clipper Freedom, on March 5, 1976.[8]

The 747SP was the longest-range airliner available until the 747-400 entered service in 1989. Despite its technical achievements, the SP never sold as well as Boeing hoped.[6] Increased fuel prices in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, the SP's heavy wings, expensive cost,[6] reduced capacity, and the increased ranges of forthcoming airliners[6] were some of the many factors that contributed to its low sales. Only 45 were built and of those remaining, most are used by operators in the Middle East. However, some of the engineering work on the 747SP was reused with the development of the 747-300 and 747-400. In the 747SP, the upper deck begins over the section of fuselage that contains the wingbox, not ahead of the wingbox as is the case with the 747-100 and 747-200. This same design was used in the 747-300 and 747-400 resulting in a stretched upper deck.

A special 747SP is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) astronomical observatory,[6] which had its airframe modified to carry a 2.5-meter-diameter reflecting telescope to high altitude, above 99.9% of the light-absorbing water vapor in the atmosphere. The telescope and its detectors cover a wide wavelength range from the near infrared to the sub-milimeter region; no window material is transparent over this whole range, so the observations are made through a 13 ft (3.96 m) square hole in the port upper quarter of the rear fuselage, aft of a new pressure bulkhead. A sliding door covers the aperture when the telescope is not in use.[9] Astronomers take data and control the instrument from within the normally pressurised cabin. Originally delivered to Pan Am and titled "Clipper Lindbergh", NASA has the name displayed in Pan Am script on the plane.


Apart from having a significantly shorter fuselage and one fewer cabin door per side, the 747SP differs from other 747 variants in having simplified flaps and a taller vertical tail[6] to counteract the decrease in yaw moment-arm from the shortened fuselage. The 747SP uses single-piece flaps on the trailing edges, rather than the smaller triple-slotted flaps of standard 747s. The SP was also the first— and until the introduction of the Boeing 777-200LR (and eventually the 787-8) the only—Boeing wide-body with a wingspan greater than the length of the fuselage. The SP could accommodate 230 passengers in a 3-class cabin or 331 in a (303 economy, 28 business) 2-class cabin, and a maximum of 440 passengers in one class.


Iran Air 747SP on finals at London Heathrow Airport
Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747SP arrives at Baden Airpark

Forty-five 747SP aircraft were built between 1974 and 1989. As of February 2013, 18 are still flying, 18 have been scrapped, and 9 are in storage, awaiting salvage or on display in museums.[10]


Type Total 1989 1988 1987 1986 1985 1984 1983 1982 1981 1980 1979 1978 1977 1976
747-SP 45 1 4 6 9 5 2 4 14

Current operators[edit]

As of November 2014 the following have 747SP in service:[10][11][12]

Fry's Electronics Boeing 747SP

Former operators[edit]

747SP prior to conversion into the SOFIA astronomical observatory in 1997. Note former United Airlines livery.

This list also includes organizations that used the aircraft temporarily, besides main operators.

  • Aerolineas Argentinas operated a single aircraft.[20]
  • Air Atlanta Icelandic operated airframe MSN 21962 from 03/Aug/1997-23/May/1999. It was used on charter and adhoc flights.[21]
  • Air China used the type for Pacific routes,[22] including to open its first route to USA: Beijing – Seattle. Later, the type was also used for service to Vancouver and New York from Beijing, the aircraft continued flying with Air China throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
  • Air Malawi flew one for a month on lease from South African Airways.[21]
  • Air Mauritius using former South African Airways aircraft for nonstop long-haul routes such as Mauritius to Hong Kong and Mauritius to Paris, with onward sector to London Heathrow.[23]
  • Air Namibia operated two former South African Airways aircraft during the 1990s, one each in their former Namib Air and current liveries.[24]
  • Alliance Air a joint venture airline set up by South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda operated a single South African Airways aircraft during the 1990s.[25]
  • American Airlines purchased two used airframes from TWA (N601AA and N602AA) in the late 1980s to begin their Dallas-Fort Worth to Tokyo service.[26] The aircraft had a premium configuration with 29 first class, 79 business class and 79 economy class seats, with two stand-up bars in the business class cabin.[27] These aircraft were later moved to serve New York to London and New York to Brussels routes while AA awaited the deliveries of additional MD-11s. One of the aircraft was sold to Kazakhstan Airlines and later scrapped, while the other was sold to the government of United Arab Emirates and then to evangelist Ernest Angley.[26]
  • Australia Asia Airlines a Qantas subsidiary created to serve Taiwan, operated both Qantas aircraft during the mid-1990s.[21]
  • Avia Airlines the short lived South African carrier operated a single leased SAA aircraft on the Johannesburg-London Gatwick route during the mid 1990s.[28]
  • Braniff took delivery of 3 747SPs for their ultra-long haul routes in the Pacific and South America. They were fitted with 300 seats in a luxurious cabin and an all-orange exterior.[29] Of the three planes, as of August 2006, one has been scrapped and one is in VIP service with Yemen government. The third was formerly in VIP service with the Oman government, but was sold to the owners of Fry's Electronics, sometimes used to carry tours of Ballet San Jose.[30]
  • Brunei Government Sultan's Flight operated three aircraft during the 1990s.[21]
  • Cameroon Airlines operated one aircraft on lease from South African Airways in 1996.[31]
  • Civil Aviation Administration of China, CAAC operating as China's airline disbanded in 1987 to form Air China who gained all the 747SP fleet.[31]
  • China Airlines used the type on its non-stop routes from Taipei to Tokyo, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles,[32] Johannesburg and to Australia via Melbourne and Sydney. In 1983, CI started its first European route: Taipei-Dubai-Amsterdam with B747SP.
  • Comores Airlines operated one for a few months in 1997.[31]
  • Corsair International using former South African Airways aircraft. The 747SP F-GTOM retired from Corsair on September 16, 2002, with a total 78,148h34 flight time; 80,1367h41 block/block in 14,983 cycles.[22]
  • Global Peace Ambassadors of Christian Minister K.A Paul's Organisation Gospel to the Unreached Millions operated a 747SP also nicknamed "Global Peace One", it is now stored in Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Gulf Falcon was a Sharjah based charter airline which acquired a six of the aircraft amongst other 747 versions in 1999, the company shut down in early 2000s, one ex-Mandarin Airlines aircraft was sold off to now defunct Kinshasa Airways, and painted with the airlines logo and titles, it remains stored in Sharjah.[33]
  • Iran Air[34]
  • Iraqi Airways operated a single aircraft for the Government from 1982 until 1990.[35]
  • Kazakhstan Airlines operated a single aircraft commercially and for the Government.[36]
  • Kinshasa Airways a defunct cargo airline, acquired a single aircraft from Sharjah based charter outfit Gulf Falcon in early 2000s, the aircraft remains stored in Sharjah and has never flown despite being painted in the airlines livery and undergone occasional engine runs.[37]
  • Korean Air operated the type[5] on routes from Seoul to various destinations in USA and Europe.
  • LAM Mozambique Airlines operated a single South African Airways Boeing 747SP-44 (ZS-SPF) for a while.[38]
Luxair 747SP at Zurich in 1981
A Qantas 747SP, the first 747SP to land at Wellington International Airport, New Zealand in 1981.
  • Qantas operated two 747SP-38 aircraft from 1980 to 2004. These aircraft were originally ordered by Iran Air but export was banned following the Iranian Revolution and purchased by Qantas while still on the production line. They were used for flights between Australia and Wellington, due to Wellington's short runway but still able to meet passenger number requirements,[42] as well as service from Sydney to Johannesburg and Harare, Nagoya, stopping in Cairns, and transpacific service between Sydney and Los Angeles, during the mid 1990s they flew for subsidiary Australia Asia Airlines on flights to Taipei.[21] They were equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, unlike most other 747SPs. Both aircraft have been scrapped.[43]
  • Qatar Airways operated one aircraft during 1996.[44]
  • Royal Air Maroc had one ex-SAA 747-SP in use, namely the CN-RMS.
  • Saudia received the first of two 747SP in 1981. One year later the airline received its second 747SP. On July 1, 1981, the first nonstop service was inaugurated from Jeddah to New York with its 747SP aircraft.[45] This service, along with the Riyadh-New York service introduced later. The aircraft now fly with Saudia Royal Flight division for the govt.
  • South African Airways operated six 747SP-44 aircraft on flights from Johannesburg to London[5] and other European destinations during the apartheid years, when that airline's aircraft were not allowed to fly over African countries and were required to fly around the Bulge of Africa. The extra range allowed the aircraft to cover the additional distance nonstop. On April 1, 1977, South African Airways inaugurated the first direct 747SP flight between London[5] and Cape Town (flight SA 867), the return northbound flight SA 866 only stopping over at Ilha do Sal. This route became a weekly service on Fridays and Saturdays. The sole remaining South African Airways 747SP – the "Maluti" – was decommissioned on September 30, 2006 with a final flight to Rand Airport where it remains on show to this day as a static display/museum aircraft. (This final transport flight was the aircraft's first flight in three years.)[46]
  • Syrian Air had two aircraft, they were phased out of service in 2007 but were brought back and overhauled in 2010, they are now stored in Riyadh due to the Syrian Civil War.[47]
  • Tajik Air operated a single aircraft for a short while.[48]
  • Trans World Airlines operated three 747SP-31 aircraft[49] from 1979 to 1986. These aircraft were intended for long distance routes to the Middle East[49] which never materialized. Instead, they flew on regular red-eye flights between Los Angeles and Boston, as well as international flights to Paris. Two of these were purchased by American Airlines (see below); the third was purchased by the government of United Arab Emirates and later by Las Vegas Sands.[50]
  • Trek Airways leased from South African Airways.[51]
  • United Airlines acquired the 747SP from Pan Am in 1986, and remained in operation until 1994, where they were used on United flights to London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.[52]
  • United Arab Emirates Government the state operated a total of six 747SP VIP/Government aircraft, mainly belonging to Dubai Air Wing and Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight.[21]


There were three significant commercial around-the-world record-setting flights flown by 747SP, two operated by Pan Am and the other operated by United Airlines with the aircraft being "loaned" to Friendship Foundation, in order to raise money for the foundation. Those flights are:

Incidents and accidents[edit]


Model 747SP
Cockpit crew 3 (2 pilots, flight engineer)
Seating capacity 233 (3-class)
315 (2-class)
375; optional 440 (1-class, maximum)
Overall length 184 ft 9 in (56.31 m)
Wingspan 195 ft 8 in (59.64 m)
Wing area 5,500 ft² (511 m²)
Overall height 65 ft 10 in (20.06 m)
Operating empty weight 336,870 lb (152,780 kg)
Maximum take-off weight 670,000 lb (304,000 kg)
Engine models (x 4) Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4W or Rolls-Royce RB211-524C2 turbofan engines
Engine thrust (x 4) 46,500 lbf (206.8 kN)
Maximum speed Mach 0.92 (591 knots, 1,095 km/h)
Cruising speed Mach 0.88 (535 knots, 990 km/h)
Service ceiling 45,100 ft (13.75 km)
Maximum range 6,650 nmi (12,320 km; 7,650 mi)
with 276 passengers + baggage
Fuel capacity 50,360 US gal (190,600 l)

Sources: Boeing Commercial Airplanes[53] and[54]

See also[edit]

External images
Boeing 747SP cutaway
Boeing 747SP cutaway from
Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ "747 Model Summary". Boeing. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "The Boeing 747 Classics". Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Boeing. Retrieved 2009-01-23. Boeing also built the 747-100SP (special performance), which had a shortened fuselage and was designed to fly higher, faster and farther non-stop than any 747 model of its time. \ 
  3. ^ Norris & Wagner 1999, p. 20
  4. ^ Eden, Paul. (Ed). Civil Aircraft Today. 2008: Amber Books, pp. 92–3.
  5. ^ a b c d Jenkins 2000, p. 76.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Eden 2008, pp. 96–7.
  7. ^ Sutter, Joe (2006). 747: Creating the world's first jumbo jet and other adventures from a life in aviation. HarperCollins. p. 218. ISBN 0-06-088241-7. 
  8. ^ a b Norris, Guy (1997). Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969. Motorbooks International. p. 74. ISBN 0-7603-0280-4. 
  9. ^ "NAS's new airborne observatory". Sky and Telescope 120 (4): 22–28. October 2010. 
  10. ^ a b "Boeing 747SP Website – Productionlist". Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  11. ^ a b c "World Airliner Census". Flight International. August 2011. p. 15. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ Jenkins 2000, p. 77.
  13. ^ "Ernest Angley Ministries Jet Mishap". September 20, 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  14. ^ N747A, Federal Aviation Administration
  15. ^ "Boeing 747SP with 787 Dreamliners Looking On". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. August 2011. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  16. ^ N747NA, Federal Aviation Administration
  17. ^ N747UT, Federal Aviation Administration
  18. ^ N708BA, Federal Aviation Administration
  19. ^ MRJ Geared Turbofan Starts Flight Tests On 747SP.
  20. ^ Argentinas 747SP. (January 5, 2012).
  21. ^ a b c d e f 747SP operators
  22. ^ a b Jenkins 2000, p. 79.
  23. ^ Encyclopedia of African airlines – Ben R. Guttery.
  24. ^ Air Namibia 747SP.
  25. ^ Alliance 747SP.
  26. ^ a b [1][2]
  27. ^
  28. ^ Avia 747SP. (January 3, 2006).
  29. ^[dead link]
  30. ^ Mercury Star News: Ballet's Head-turning Move, Fry's Owner Loans Decorated 747 For S.J. Dancers' Tour. (November 21, 2007).
  31. ^ a b c List of 747SP operators
  32. ^ a b Aviation Safety Network report – 19 February 1985 accident.
  33. ^ Air Gulf Falcon 747SP. (November 3, 2000).
  34. ^ "B747SP Productionlist". November 26, 2014. Retrieved November 26, 2014. 
  35. ^ Iraqi 747SP. (September 7, 2011).
  36. ^ Kazakhstan Airlines 747SP. (September 4, 1994).
  37. ^ Kinshasa Airways 747SP. (November 3, 2003).
  38. ^ a b "Boeing 747SP". Retrieved December 30, 2010. 
  39. ^ Trek Airways and Luxair.
  40. ^ Mandarin Airlines will make maiden flight to Australia. None.
  41. ^ 1977/78: PanAm Routes. Airline Route (December 19, 2008).
  42. ^ "Red, White And Q Farewell For Qantas Aircraft". Qantas. March 4, 2002. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  43. ^ "QFOM – Qantas 747 VH-EBQ". Qantas Founders Museum. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  44. ^ Qatar Airways historic fleet
  45. ^ Saudi Arabian Airlines – History of the 80's.
  46. ^ "Boeing 747SP Maluti ZS-SPC". SAA Museum. 2012. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  47. ^ Syrian Air 747s status at January 2012.
  48. ^ Tajik Air 747SP.
  49. ^ a b Davies 2000, p. 85.
  50. ^ Las Vegas Sands VP-BLK (Boeing 747 – MSN 21961).
  51. ^ The Boeing 747SP of Trek Airways. (September 4, 1993).
  52. ^ 1992/93: UNITED International Network. Airline Route.
  53. ^ "747 Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning". Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  54. ^ "Boeing 747SP". Retrieved 2006-10-09. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Davies, R.E.G. (2000). TWA : an airline and its aircraft. McLean, Virginia: Paladwr Press. ISBN 1-888962-16-X. 
  • Jenkins, Dennis (2000). Boeing 747-100/200/300/SP (AirlinerTech Series, Vol. 6). North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press. ISBN 1-58007-026-4. 
  • Norris, Guy; Wagner, Mark (1999). Modern Boeing Jetliners. Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Imprint. ISBN 0-7603-0717-2. 
  • Baum, Brian (1997). Boeing 747SP. Miami, Florida: World Transport Press. ISBN 0-9626730-7-2. 

External links[edit]