Oldest flying 747 finally grounded, 47 years after first flight

Built in 1969, it ended its days as a testbed for engines

GE's 747 testbed March 10, 1999, testing an engine for the Canadair CRJ-700/-900. Credit: GE Aviation
GE's 747 testbed March 10, 1999, testing an engine for the Canadair CRJ-700/-900. Credit: GE Aviation

Video The oldest Boeing 747 capable of flight has been shelved.

The 747-100 was the 25th to roll off the production line and entered service in 1970 with long-defunct Pan American Airlines, which flew it more than 18,000 times before selling it to GE Aviation in 1991.

GE used it as a flying testbed for new engines, a role the 747 was well-equipped to handle because the plane was happy doing almost anything with just three engines. Testing smaller engines that produced different quantities of thrust to the other three was also no problem, as the 747's massive rudder and tail plane could handle the resulting yaw. The plane even flew with five engines, as depicted above (or here for m.reg readers).

The plane was extensively modified for its job, including strengthening of its left wing. But GE left its First and Business classes largely intact.

The plane flew 775 cycles for GE Aviation and tested 11 different engines over its lifetime.

The company has mothballed the plane and says it “most likely” flew for the last time in January 2017.

The retirement doesn't mark the end of GE's flying testbed program, or its use of 747s for the job: in 2011 the company announced it had purchased a 747-400 to continue the program. ®

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