Delta’s first 747-100, N9896 ’œShip 101’ as it looked on her delivery in 1970 – Image: JP Santiago
On 9 September 2015, the very first Boeing 747-400 built, N661US, touched down at Atlanta from Honolulu as Delta Flight 836 for the last time in revenue passenger service. Ship 6301 was the Boeing 747-400 prototype, which was delivered to launch customer Northwest Airlines on 8 December 1989 and came over to Delta with the 2008 merger. There are twelve remaining 747-400s flying with Delta, all of which came over from Northwest. Current fleet planning will have these 747s retired in 2017.
Delta did however, for a brief time, operate the first variant of the 747 family, the 747-100, from September 1970 to April 1977. Only five aircraft were taken on strength with Delta and while the 747-100 was but a short historical footnote in Delta’s history, its legacy looms large to this day with the airline.
In order to understand what the 747 was for Delta at the time, one has to consider that as the 1960s were drawing to a close, Delta was in the midst of transition on several fronts. The first change came with the Southern Transcontinental Route Case of 1961. Prior to deregulation, airlines usually had to make a case for the opening of new services and routes to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). Often these cases consisted of years of deliberation, and politics played a central role in airlines winning favorable rulings from the CAB. In the 1950s, the CAB favored interchange services as a means for airlines to open up new markets without saturating a given route with an excess of seats, harming profitability.
A Delta Boeing 747-100 (reg: N9897) taken in Miami in 1974 – Photo: Bob Garrard
Having a predominantly southeastern U.S.-anchored network, Delta linked up with several other airlines to offer interchange services which allowed it to fly as far west as California. As traffic grew on the interchange services to the west coast, Delta petitioned the CAB to operate the west coast services on its own, and in one of the more historic decisions made by the CAB, both Delta and National Airlines were given route authorities to California from the southeast in what was called the Southern Transcontinental Route Case.
The City of Everett looks great in her new coat of paint
For those of you who have previously visited the Museum of Flight, you know it is a world-class facility and well worth the visit. However, it was always sad looking at the first Boeing 747 sitting outside in bad shape.
As the years passed, the condition of the beauty only got worse. Luckily, things have been changing and now there is one gorgeous Boeing 747 sitting out in the museum’s Airpark.
The red on the stripe and tail once again pop
The museum started renovating the interior back in 2013 and then the exterior this July.
The aircraft was not only the first 747 that flew, on February 9, 1969, but it also became a test-bed for 747 improvements and engine developments for the 777’s GE90.
What is better than a classic Boeing 747-100? One that carries a frek’n space shuttle. This is an epic video, but at the same time it is sad. This documents N905NA’s final flight as a Shuttle Carrier from LAX to Dryden Flight Research Facility completed on September 24, 2012. The second Shuttle Carrier (N911NA) was retired on February 8, 2012.
NASA will continue to use N905NA to research reducing turbulence produced by larger aircraft.
From NASA’s website about the video: For the first time ever, NASA’s two highly modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft briefly flew in formation over the Edwards Air Force Base test range Aug. 2. Both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air on the same day, NASA 911 (foreground) on a flight crew proficiency flight, NASA 905 (rear) on a functional check flight following maintenance operations. Since both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air at the same time, SCA pilot Jeff Moultrie of Johnson Space Center’s Aircraft Operations Directorate took the opportunity to have both SCA’s fly in formation for about 20 minutes while NASA photographer Carla Thomas captured still and video imagery from a NASA Dryden F/A-18.
There are only two specially modified Boeing 747-100s that were used to transport the Space Shuttle from their landing location back to the Kennedy Space Center. The first 747-100 (N905NA) was originally built for American Airlines and acquired in 1974. The aircraft wore American’s livery (minus titles) until it was repainted in 1983 with a NASA livery. In 1988, NASA purchased a second 747-100, this time an SR model, from Japan Airlines (JAL – N911NA). The second started operations with NASA in 1991.
So what will happen to the 747s now? Most likely they are going to be retired or end up as a show piece in a museum. Zach Rosenberg, with Flight Global, pointed out via email that, “Boeing recently borrowed one to fly their Phantom Ray from St. Louis to Edwards AFB.” However, Rosenberg does not feel that NASA has enough projects to keep either of the aircraft.
If you know anyone looking for a Boeing 747-100 with low hours and a unique look, I am guessing NASA might have a deal for you.