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Boeing 747SP
Bahrain Royal Flight Boeing 747SP
Role Airliner
Manufacturer Boeing Commercial Airplanes
Designed by Joe Sutter
Introduced 1976
Status Discontinued, limited service
Primary users Pan Am
United Airlines
South African Airways
Iran Air
Produced 1976-1989
Number built 45 completed
Developed from Boeing 747
Variants SOFIA

The Boeing 747SP is a widebody commercial airliner. It is a highly modified version of its predecessor, the Boeing 747-100 with SP standing for "special performance". Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the weight saved by the shortened fuselage permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.[1]


Design and development

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.[2] 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 Tehran-New York Route which, when launched at the time, was the longest nonstop commercial flight in the world.[citation needed] The aircraft was launched with Pan Am's first order in 1973, and the first example delivered in 1976.[3] A shorter derivative of the 747-100, the SP was developed to target two market requirements.[3] The first was a need to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011 while maintaining commonality with the 747,[3] which in its standard form was too large for many routes. Boeing lacked a mid-sized widebody 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.[1]

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[3] 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, the only—Boeing widebody 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. Originally designated 747SB for "short body", it later was nicknamed "Sutter's balloon" by employees after 747 chief engineer Joe Sutter.[4] Boeing later changed the production designation to 747SP for "special performance", reflecting the aircraft's longer range and faster cruise speed. Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747SP, taking the first delivery, Clipper Freedom, on March 5, 1976,[5] followed by Iran Air.

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

The 747SP was the longest-range airliner available until the 747-400 entered service in 1987. Despite its technical achievements, the SP never sold as well as Boeing hoped.[3] Increased fuel prices in the mid 1970s to early 1980s, the SP's heavy wings, expensive cost,[3] reduced capacity, and the increased ranges of forthcoming airliners[3] 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.

Production of the 747SP ran from 1976 to 1983. However a VIP order[3] for the Royal Flight of Bahrain led Boeing to produce one last SP in 1987.

A special 747SP is the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) astronomical observatory,[3] where the airframe was modified to carry a 2.5-meter-diameter infrared reflecting telescope to high altitude, above most of the infrared-absorbing water vapor in the atmosphere. Originally delivered to Pan Am and titled "Clipper Lindbergh", NASA has the name displayed in Pan Am script on the plane.


Forty-five 747SP aircraft were built between 1974 and 1987. As of December 2008, 17 are still flying, 16 have been scrapped, and 12 are in storage, awaiting salvage or on display in museums.[6]


Active service

The following organizations operate the remaining airworthy 747SP airframes.[6]

A 747SP-27 during maintenance.

Former customers

  • Launch customer Pan Am took delivery of ten 747SP-21 aircraft between 1976 and 1979, operating them on trans-Pacific routes to Asia and Oceania as well as to the Middle East. The aircraft and routes were sold to United Airlines in 1986, and remained in operation until 1994.
  • Iran Air took delivery of four 747SP-86 aircraft between 1976 and 1978. Prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution, the aircraft were used on the daily Tehran-New York flight, at the time the longest non-stop airline route in the world. Three of those four are still in service in 2007, and there are rumors that the fourth may be returned to service as well.
  • South African Airways operated six 747SP-44 aircraft on flights from Johannesburg to London and other European destinations during the apartheid years, when that airline's aircraft were not allowed to fly over African countries and had to fly around the Bulge of Africa. The extra range allowed the aircraft to cover the additional distance nonstop. The sole remaining South African Airways 747SP - the "Maluti" - was decommissioned on 30 September 2006 with a final flight to Rand Airport where it will remain on show as a static display/museum aircraft. (This final transport flight was the aircraft's first flight in three years.)
  • TWA operated three 747SP-31 aircraft from 1979 to 1986. These aircraft were for long distance routes to the Middle East which never materialized. Two of these were purchased by American Airlines and used on New York to London and Dallas to Tokyo routes until 1992.
The first ever 747 (a Qantas 747SP) to land at Wellington International Airport, New Zealand touches down in 1981
  • Qantas operated two 747SP-38 aircraft from 1980 to 2004. These aircraft were used for flights between Australia and Wellington, due to Wellington's short runway but still able to meet passenger number requirements,[11] as well as service from Sydney to Nagoya, stopping in Cairns, and transpacific service between Sydney and Los Angeles. They were equipped with Rolls-Royce engines, unlike most other 747SPs.
  • Braniff took delivery of 3 747SPs for their ultra-long haul routes in the Pacific. They were fitted with 300 seats in a luxurious cabin and an all-orange exterior.[12] 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 recently sold to the owners of Fry's Electronics, sometimes used to carry tours of Ballet San Jose.
  • The type was popular with airlines in East Asia, as it was the only type which has the range to fly between East Asia and North America non-stop both ways until the 747-400 was introduced. Asian users included:
  • Corsair
  • Luxair on the Luxembourg-Nairobi-Johannesburg route
  • Trek Airways (Luxavia)
  • Air Mauritius
  • American Airlines purchased two used airframes (N601AA and N602AA) in the late 1980s to begin their Dallas to Tokyo service. 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.


There were 3 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

Specifications (747SP)

Data from Boeing Commercial Airplanes[14] and[15]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3 (2 pilots, flight engineer)
  • Capacity: 331 (28 first, 303 economy)
  • Length: 184 ft 9 in (56.31 m)
  • Wingspan: 195 ft 8 in (59.64 m)
  • Height: 65 ft 10 in (20.06 m)
  • Wing area: 5,500 ft² (511 m²)
  • Empty weight: 336,870 lb (152,780 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 670,000 lb (304,000 kg)
  • Powerplant:Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4W turbofan engines, 46,500 lbf (206.8 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: 0.92 Mach (591 knots, 1,095 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: .88 Mach (535 knots, 990 km/h)
  • Range: 6,650 nm (7,650 mi, 12,325 km) with 276 passengers

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ 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." 
  2. ^ Eden, Paul. (Ed). Civil Aircraft Today. 2008: Amber Books, pp. 92-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Eden 2008, pp. 96-7.
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Norris, Guy (1997). Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969. Motorbooks International. p. 74. ISBN 0-7603-0280-4. 
  6. ^ a b "Boeing 747SP Website - Productionlist". Retrieved 2006-10-10. 
  7. ^ N747NA, Federal Aviation Administration
  8. ^ N747UT, Federal Aviation Administration
  9. ^ N708BA, Federal Aviation Administration
  10. ^ N747A, Federal Aviation Administration
  11. ^ "About Qantas - Newsroom Red, White And Q Farewell For Qantas Aircraft". Qantas. 2002-03-04. Retrieved 2008-06-04. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Aviation Safety Network report - 19 February 1985 accident
  14. ^ "747 Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning". Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  15. ^ "Boeing 747SP". Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Boeing 747-100/200/300/SP (AirlinerTech Series, Vol. 6). Specialty Press, 2000. ISBN 1580070264.

External links


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