Japan Airlines has retired its fleet of the Boeing 747 Classic Jumbo Jets with the last scheduled international flight of the type: JO 073 flying from Honolulu, Hawaii to Tokyo Narita airport in Japan, landing on July 31st. (The last domestic flight by a Boeing 747-300 was scheduled to land just 5 minutes earlier, departing from Sapporo Chitose.)
The last JAL operated Classic Jumbo Jet was a Boeing 747-300, that still had to be operated by a 3-man flight crew (modern airliners fly with only 2 pilots). The plane was originally manufactured for JAL and received by the airline in 1983 – 26 years ago.
In the mid-1960s, unprecedented development in technology and the availability of large-thrust engines led to the creation of the giant 747, beginning with the 747-100, the first in the 747 Classics series which also includes the -200 and -300 models. JAL first took delivery of a 747-100 in 1970, and was the launch customer of the 747-100SR (Short Range) in 1973. One of the SR variants formerly operated by JAL is currently being used by NASA as the Shuttle Carrier. For its ever-expanding international network at the time, JAL owned the largest fleet of 747 Classics in 1984, and from 1987 through to 1989, it held the record number of 65 such aircraft – a figure that still stands as the most number of Classics owned by any one airline at a time.
Starting in 1983, Japan Airlines have also been using the Boeing 747-300 type, that had a longer upper deck that could seat more premium passengers. Decommissioning the Group’s remaining 6 747 Classics – of which the earliest was delivered in November 1983, attests to the Group’s steady progress towards downsizing its fleet and operating more fuel-efficient aircraft such as Boeing 777. The Boeing 747-300 was the only airplane in Japan Airlines’ fleet that carried all three liveries over the years. The last two -300s in the fleet have the registration numbers: JA812J and JA8166.
Special ceremonies were held today to bring the curtains down on a long-standing service by the Classic Jumbo Jets in grand fashion. The flight was draped in a giant Hawaiian lei before departure at Honolulu Airport, where an elaborate ceremony was conducted with a proclamation declaring July 30, 2009, as “JAPAN AIRLINES CLASSIC JUMBO JET DAY,” with local dignitaries in attendance. Upon arrival in Tokyo (Narita), the aircraft was received at the gate by its designer – the “Father of the 747”, Mr. Joseph F. “Joe” Sutter, JAL staff as well as members of the media. Mr. Sutter who led the development of what would become the world’s first wide-body airliner and who is now a senior advisor to the Boeing Company also graced this special occasion with a talk about the birth of the 747.
To memorialize the role of the popular Classic’s in the history of JAL, a sell-out commemorative flight organized by JAL Tours flew fans of the Classic Jumbo Jet from Tokyo (Haneda) to Shimojishima on a round-trip day tour on July 5, 2009. A total of 449 enthusiasts, members of the media and staff had the rare opportunity to go down memory lane, when cabin attendants who wore the 8 different uniforms in the history of JAL welcomed them onboard and served them during the flight.
Over the 39 years of service by the Classic 747 fleet, among thousands of flights and probably lots of memories for millions of passengers as well as crew members, one of the scariest crosswind landings by the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet captured on video was also conducted by JAL in Hong Kong, as seen here on Youtube. Besides the Cargo version (also in old livery), a number of special liveries were also used over the years: Super Resort Express 1, Super Resort Express 2, Reso’cha 1, Reso’Cha 2, Glay Rock Band, and the special Cargo liveries and variants: Untitled Cargo Livery, Shiny Cargo Livery, Super Logistics, Reversed Super Logistics and JA Super Logistics. As a bonus, here is a Zebra painting – which was painted on the livery by the reflection, creating a very nice effect.
And looking forward: Most of the 747-300s have been replaced by Boeing 777-300ER’s.