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Boeing 747 profile
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 Service debut

In the run-up to US FAA approval, Boeing had begun delivering 747s to Pan Am and early in January 1970 the airline prepared to re-invent air travel with the type's service debut, set for 21 January. Ahead of this launch, Pan Am flew a proving flight between New York and London on 12 January as part of a planned European tour, but glitches were suffered that would be a taster of what was to come. As we reported at the time, "engine troubles and bad weather resulted in the cancellation of the rest of the five-capital European tour".

Stewardesses from all the 747's customers celebrate its roll-out in September 1968
© Boeing

One last hurdle to overcome before service entry was the US Federal Aviation Administration's mandatory evacuation demonstration. Held on 15 January at Pan Am's Roswell, New Mexico 747 training base, the first two attempts were only partially successful - an emergency lighting fault hampered the first and two slides failed to deploy on the second - forcing Boeing to quickly come up with a fix. This was achieved on 21 January, clearing the way for the world's first widebody airliner service later the same day.

By that evening, Pan Am 747 N735PA, which had been christened Clipper Young America at Washington Dulles the week before by the wife of President Richard Nixon, was ready to operate Flight PA2 to London under the command of the airline's Atlantic division chief Capt Weeks, assisted by Capt John Nolan.

With a full load of 345 passengers and 22 crew strapped in, Young America pushed back at 19:30, around 30min behind schedule, but during taxi a problem with the No 4 JT9D forced a return to the gate.

Concerns over internal engine damage forced an aircraft change, with N736PA stepping in. This 747, Clipper Victor, would seven years later be involved in the world's worst air accident when two Jumbos collided on the ground in Tenerife. It finally left Kennedy at 01:52 on 22 January, arriving at Heathrow at 14:02.

History often repeats itself, and as with the Airbus A380, there were concerns about the effects of the 747's wake vortex, which prompted the FAA to temporarily introduce extended separation distances ahead of flight-trials to determine definitive operational procedures for the jumbo.

Similarly, as with the A380's debut, there was unease about turnaround times and accommodating the increased passenger loads that the new airliner created (the jump from the 140-seat 707s/DC-8s then in service was far greater than the increase from the 747-400 to the A380).

In an interview with Flight International six months after the 747's introduction, Pan Am's vice-president service Harold Graham said that the two points that worried his 747 passengers most were: how easily check-in could be accomplished; and whether bags would arrive at the destination terminal carousel within a reasonable amount of time. However, in practice there were few problems.

The same could not be said for the 747's reliability, due largely to ongoing problems with the JT9Ds, where ovalisation of the turbine casing was causing components to rub. P&W discovered the problem lay with the way the big engine was attached to the pylon.


Archive - Boeing 747 first flight

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