Text: Serge Van Heertum -  Pictures: Serge Van Heertum - Archives: As mentioned - Translation: Marc Arys    © sbap 2018
  
The short history of the Boeing 747
 
 

The Boeing 747 was conceived to cope with the growth of aerial transport in the 60's, following the success of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 which were the forerunners of long distance high speed travelling.
Boeing had already developed a project for a wide-body aircraft to fulfill the call for tender of the American army, but Boeing lost the contract in September 1965 in favor of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy.
The chairman of Pan Am, the most faithful client of Boeing, put on the pressure on the American manufacturer to build an aircraft with twice the capacity of the existing 707. In 1965 Joe Sutter left the development team of the Boeing 737 to go on supervising the 747 project. This latter planned for a double deck aircraft with the seats on rows of 3-2-3 on the lower deck and 2-3-2 on the upper one. Nevertheless, due to technological issues at that time as well as evacuation problems, the project was oriented towards a single deck aircraft. The main technological breakthrough into the building of such an aircraft was the arrival of the bypass (dual-flow) turbojet engine, allowing a significant reduction in fuel consumption and noise ratio, compared to the older single flow engines.
At that time Pratt& Whitney (P&W) was studying a bypass turbojet engine and at the end of 1966, Boeing, Pan Am and P&W agreed that the engine manufacturer developed the JT9D. Fuel was cheap and the technological progress seamed without limits. Specialists did also believe that long distance flights would sooner or later be flown by supersonic aircraft, so Boeing designed his 747 to be used as a freighter aircraft as well. The cockpit was positioned on a shortened upper deck, allowing eventually the nose to swivel upwards. In the end, supersonic aircraft like the Concorde or Boeing 2707 (which never left the drawing table) were never used in big numbers, mainly because of their noise and high fuel consumption and the first oil crisis in 1973, which sent the prices of the barrel sky high. So the Boeing 747, alias "Jumbo Jet" had a beautiful future on hand.
To alleviate some concerns regarding the safety and the reliability in transporting such a big number of passengers, the Boeing 747 was designed with redundant systems: four hydraulic circuits for the flight controls as well as several measures against fire hazards. Equipped with four main landing gears, the weight of the aircraft was distributed to the ground through 16 wheels. A triple Fowler flap system allowed also to reduce the landing speed and to use standard airport runways.
In April 1966, Pan Am ordered 25 aircraft 747-100 for a total amount of 525 million dollars. The official signing ceremony was held at Seattle during the 50th anniversary of the Boeing Company. With this first order, Pan Am played a major role by participating in the conception of this aircraft, which was still on the drawing board.
The first 747 (N7470 - c/n 20235) left the assembly line on September 30th, 1968, in presence of 26 representatives of the ordering airlines. First flight took place on February 9th, 1969, after several months of preparations and modifications, due to some safety issues. The aircraft was flown by Jack Wadell and Brien Wygle, test-pilots and flight-engineer Jess Wallick, and was uneventful, apart from some minor problems with the flaps. Other flights revealed various problems: under certain flight conditions, the wings suffered from parasitic oscillations and this problem was resolved by reducing the rigidity of certain parts of the wings and by adding counterweights on the outside engine mounting struts.
Sadly, the test-program was also hampered by engine problems with the JT9D, which entailed delivery delays of several months and more than 20 aircraft were stored at Everett awaiting their engines.
The third test-aircraft was badly damaged trying to land on the runway of the Boeing factory at Renton, Washington. The pilot underestimated the necessary landing distance, and harsh braking caused damage to the landing gear.
Despite these difficulties, one of the prototypes was presented during the 28th "Salon International de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace", at Paris-Le Bourget in the summer of 1969. The Boeing 747 have received its FAA certification in December 1969.
Due to the huge development costs of the 747 and the construction of the Everett factory, Boeing, had put its existence on the slope. Indeed during the 70's, the company was close to bankruptcy, but with the revival of aerial traffic in the 80's, Boeing was on the winning side and was the sole segment in wide-body aircraft until the arrival of the A380, 35 years later.

 
 Everett Airfield was built in prevision of the B747 construction
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
The first one RA001 in the assembly hall
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Final assembly of the RA001 / N7470
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
Joe Sutter is considered as the father of the 747
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Roll out on September 30th, 1968
(
Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
"City of Everett" in good company...
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Preparing for test flight
(
Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
The maiden flight in company of a F-86 as chase plane
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
The first "Jumbo" (N7470) did is maiden flight on February 9th, 1969
(Boeing via Coll Serge Van Heertum)
The N731PA was present at le Paris Le Bourget in 1969
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Large subsonic versus supersonic at le Bourget 1969
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 
Sierra Golf Alpha
  

Rapidly the Belgian National airline company Sabena showed her interest in this wide-body, which would help to develop furthermore her long haul network and to double the number of intercontinental carried passengers. In 1968, the administration board decided to order two Boeing 747-100.
The first one, registered OO-SGA, by the Sabeniens, affectionately nicknamed "Tante Agathe" (Aunty Agatha) arrived at Brussels on November 26th, 1970. The second aircraft, OO-SGB, landed on Belgian soil on December 18th, 1970. Initially the two aircraft operated between Brussels and New-York, then to Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and finally Kinshasa.
The career of "Golf Alpha" started with her construction at the Boeing factory at Everett during 1970. She was rolled out on September 15th, 1970 and registered as OO-SGA on October 7th, 1970. First flight was on November 3rd, 1970 and officially delivered to Sabena on November 15th, 1970.
On November 25th, 1970, the aircraft took off from Everett, flown by Capt Georges Jaspis, former pilot of the "Aéronautique Militaire" who fled the German occupation through the renowned "Réseau Comète" to join the RAF in Great-Britain. After the war, Georges Jaspis went to Sabena. His greatest feat of arms, before bringing back OO-SGA to Belgium, was the evacuation of nationals out of Belgian Congo with his Boeing 707, carrying 10 crewmembers and 293 passengers. An absolute record!
Having crossed the Atlantic, "Golf Alpha" landed at Brussels National Airport on November 26th, 1970, being the first "Jumbo" of Sabena. She entered service on January 8th, 1971.
In February 1974, the aircraft went back to Boeing for some modifications and "Golf Alpha" came back with a little altered exterior aspect. The most visible change was on the upper deck where the number of windows went up to 10 instead of 3 and the addition of a lateral cargo door on the left after part of the fuselage. "Golf Alpha" became B747-129SCD (Side Cargo Door) and flew from then on as a "Combi" version - passengers and freight. The paint was also slightly modified where the big "S" was replaced by a stylized "S" within a white ball and the front of the sheetline now followed the curves of the plane's nose.
In the mid 80's the Sabena fleet, including the Boeing B747, all received the new sky blue livery with the name in a same blue tone big lettering.
Years went by and on January 14th, 1986 Sabena sold the aircraft to the Tokyo Leasing Company (TLC), to immediately lease it back from this company. Economic reasons moved the management to proceed as such and this way to proceed became a standard within the commercial airline companies. Nevertheless, Sabena bought back "Golf Alpha" from TLC on January 16th, 1991.
"Tante Agathe" made her last flight for Sabena on February 28th, 1993 between New-York and Brussels and was transferred the same day to Paris-Orly for maintenances purposes. She came back to Brussels on March 26th, 1993 and was written off the Sabena fleet that same day. The aircraft stayed on the tarmac on the technical of the airport side before being delivered to the Canadian charter company Nationair. But on March 3rd, 1993 this company was declared bankrupt and of course did not taken possession of the aircraft. The registration OO-SGA was definitively stricken off the registers on October 17th, 1994.
"Tante Agathe" cumulated 94.794 flight hours during some 17.682 cycles and to thank her for her 24 years of service, she was sold to the Van Leeuwen Metaal Groep as scrap metal. Sad end for a floweret of Belgian aviation which with little effort and goodwill could have been preserved like some "Jumbo's" in The Netherlands (Lelystad) or Germany (Speyer), France (Le Bourget) and of course in the United States (Seattle) which preserved the first prototype N7470, "City of Everett".
"Tante Agathe" was scrapped in November 1994 and many Sabeniens followed this sad phase all along with a serious pang in their heart.
What is left over of "Golf Alpha"? Some pieces with a collector, all kind of models, old postcards, pictures, magazines, posters, video and exhibitions remembering the sad fate of this aircraft, future vision of the fate of our national airline.
But for me, she will always bring back excellent souvenirs as a technician when I was in charge of preparing "Tante Agathe" for her next flight. At least, no one will be able to destroy these souvenirs…

 
 The Sierra Golf Alpha at Boeing Facilities Everett
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
The Sabena was clearly interested in this new aircraft
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
  The OO-SGA landed at Brussels for the first time on November 26th, 1970
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 The OO-SGA in front of the typical Brussels National Airport building
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 In December 1970 a special leaflet was edited to underline the "Jumbo" arrival...  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
...and as center page a splendid (and old fashion) profile (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
Take off from Seattle
(Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum)
At the airport maintenance area
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
The cockpit of the "Sierra Golf Alpha" taken in 1979
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Back in service after the Boeing modifications in February 1974
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
The main difference was the windows amount of the upper deck
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Parked at the gate
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
"Tante Agathe" on taxi
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 Note the new company logo with the old black tittles
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
Ready for taxi to the holding point
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Simply a beautiful aircraft...
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
More than 320 tons at take off
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr) (Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 The new blue sheet line and the large Sabena title  (Serge Van Heertum ©)
Ready for departure 
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
On taxi
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
F-16's interception for a last flight of the Captain
(Belgian Air Force via coll Serge Van Heertum)
Sabena and the Belgian Air Force have always worked in good cooperation
(Belgian Air Force via coll Serge Van Heertum)
"Tante Agathe" and the Falcon's
(Belgian Air Force via coll Serge Van Heertum)
...and "Herky"
(Belgian Air Force via coll Serge Van Heertum)
Above Belgian landscape
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
In the early 1990's during the winter season
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Awaiting the delivery to Nationair Canada
(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
The wonderful Sabena colours are completely scrapped
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
  
The kill of the giant...November 1994
 
 Parked at Hangar 8 side for destruction
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
All this for a handful of money valued at the metal weight
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
 An effort to preserve "Tante Agathe" would have been welcome
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
Like a beast at the slaughterhouse
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Slouched like an animal in agony
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
The steel jaws began their work
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
 The giant disemboweled
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
Sierra Golf Alpha experiences its last moment in the evening sun
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
 The slow agony
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
Simply distressing
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
Broken wings
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 Cutting is coming to an end
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
"Tante Agathe" definitely lost the game
(
Serge Van Heertum ©)
  
What remains of these 24 years of loyal service?
 
 Some drawings
  Die cast models Old postcards
Personally, a career with great colleagues ... ...having allowed me to work on the Sierra Golf Alpha
Some exhibitions in souvenir of the deceased National Company... Decals to could realize the Golf Alpha in plastic model kit
 A video made by the Belgian TV Broadcast in 1973 
(Click on the picture to watch the video)
Another video, the last flight of the Sierra Golf Alpha in 1993
(Click on the picture to watch the video)
Or an old poster reminiscent of the glorious era of Sabena's first Jumbo...Sadly, no more the real aircraft!
  
 
The other Sabena Boeing B747
 
Boeing B747-129 (SCD)    OO-SGB   c/n 20402
In: 04/12/1970 -  Out: 14/12/1990
 (Coll Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
Bought by Nationair (C-GNXH) and leased to Garuda Indonesia
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Stored at Mojave in January 1994, the "Golf Bravo" was broken up in March 1998
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 
Boeing B747-329/SCD   OO-SGC    c/n 23439
In: 10/06/1986 -  Out: 10/11/1999
 (Boeing via coll Serge Van Heertum) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
OO-SGC became N3439F and was stationned at Pinal Airpark (Arizona)
(Bram Botterman©)
The Golf Charly today in a sad state
(Bram Botterman©)
 
The pilot office
(Bram Botterman©)
Some view of the cabin
(Bram Botterman©)
Sabena seats still on board
(Bram Botterman©)
The first class
(Bram Botterman©)
An unfortunate Belgian story  (Bram Botterman©)
 
Boeing B747-329/SCD   OO-SGD   c/n 24837
In: 25/09/1990 -  Out: 15/10/1999
  (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
 (Coll Denis Eusicom / dr) OO-SGD replaced by N24837
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 
Converted in full cargo and became N24837 in 2000
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
In Atlas Air colours as N24837 in 2001
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Became the TF-ARY in May 2004
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Became the VP-BIC in October 2005
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Registered 4L-ACE between September 2012 and August 2014
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
TransAVIAexport as from 2016 and still in service in 2018 as EW-465TQ
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
Leased "Jumbo's"
 Boeing B747-128   F-BPVP   c/n 20954
In: 00/10/1978 - Out: 15/11/1978  (Only Sabena name on the fuselage)

(Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 Boeing B747-228B/SCD   F-BPVU   c/n 21537
In: 19/03/1992- Out: 23/03/1992  (No Sabena titles)
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
  Boeing B747-128    F-BBVJ    c/n 20541
In: 27/06/1992 - Out: 18/08/1992
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Boeing B747-228B/SCD    F-GCBB   c/n 22272
In: 28/02/1993 - Out: 31/03/1996
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
Paintshop for the addition of great Sabena tuxedo
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
  (Serge Van Heertum ©) (Serge Van Heertum ©)
  Boeing B747-228B/SCD   F-BPVX   c/n 21731
In: 09/02/1994 - Out: 12/02/1994 (No Sabena titles)

(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 Boeing B747-228B/SCD   F-BPVS  c/n 21326
In: 06/11/1994 - Out: 29/11/1994  (No Sabena titles)

(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 Boeing B747-228B/SCD   F-GCBI  c/n 23676
In: 11/10/1995 - Out: 01/11/1995 
(No Sabena titles)
(Coll Denis Eusicom / dr)
 Boeing B747-312   F-GSUN  c/n 23030
In:  12/09/1996 - Out: 07/11/1996  (Only Sabena name and tail logo)
Second lease:  In: 09/09/1998 - Out: 18/09/1998  (No Sabena titles)

(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 
  The last commercial flight of a Sabena Boeing B747 was held on October 30th, 1999 on the line Cincinnati - Brussels.
Two years later, the Belgian national company Sabena disappeared forever
... 
(Serge Van Heertum ©)
 

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