United bids farewell to the Boeing 747

After a long innings spanning 47 years, United Airlines is set to retire the iconic Boeing 747 from its fleet. The final regular passenger flight operated by the Boeing 747-400 will be on October 29th 2017, from Seoul to San Francisco. It will be the end of an era for United, in which its much loved “Queen of the skies” ruled the skies across the world.

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United Airlines had taken delivery of its first ever Boeing 747 on June 26th 1970, with its first commercial flight from San Francisco to Honolulu a few weeks later on July 23rd 1970. The Jumbo jet served as the workhorse of the airline’s long haul fleet for over four decades, and was adored by passengers and crew equally.

United operated multiple versions of the Boeing 747, starting with the original 747-100, 747-200, 747-SP (taken over from PanAm) and finally the 747-400. It allowed the airline to carry over 300 passengers comfortably to popular destinations in Europe, Asia and Australia.

To commemorate the retirement of this iconic aircraft, United will be operating a one-off farewell flight on the 747-400 from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 7th 2017. This flight will recreate the first 747 flight operated by United in 1970. From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style. Tickets for this farewell flight were sold out within two hours of going on sale.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the de-facto hub for United’s Boeing 747s, and it is only fair for the airport to operate the farewell flight.

I had the opportunity to spot the United 747-400s in action at SFO a few years ago. Here’s my tribute to the Queen of the Skies…

 

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United 747 in the classic “Tulip” livery about to touch down on Runway 28L at SFO

 

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Saudi King Salman visits Malaysia

February 26 2017 – The ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman kicked off his month long Asian tour with a four day visit to Malaysia today. King Salman is visiting with a huge delegation of around 600 staff, ministers and officials. The King and his delegation arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) in three special aircraft earlier today.

The KUL plane-spotting community was out in force to catch the arrival of these special aircraft.

The King himself along with his close associates arrived first in the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747-400 registered HZ-HM1. The callsign was “Saudi One”

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 747-400

The second aircraft to arrive was the highlight of the day. Carrying the Saudi delegation was the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 747SP, registered HZ-HM1B. The callsign was “Saudi One Bravo”

We were lucky to spot this rare 39 year old classic as it touched down on Runway 32L.

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 747SP

The final aircraft in the delegation was the Saudi Royal Flight Boeing 757-200, registered HZ-HMED, and callsign “Saudi 11”.

This is an interesting aircraft as it is practically a flying hospital. This aircraft is equipped with facilities and personnel to cater to any medical emergencies that might occur.

Saudi Arabian Royal Flight Boeing 757-200

 

As you can see, this was a great opportunity to spot some rare special aircraft. Enjoy the photos! 🙂

 

The Malaysian Queen flies again!

Malaysia Airlines recently decided to bring a Boeing 747-400 back into active service. The 747-400s were retired a couple of years ago when the A380s joined the fleet. The 747 will provide interim heavy lift to the airline while the A380s go through maintenance. The Jumbo is supposed to operate its long haul service to London on two days of the week.

The aircraft that was re-commissioned is registered as 9M-MPP (formerly named as “Putrajaya”) Malaysia Airlines has painted this aircraft in the retro 1970s livery. Many aviation enthusiasts including me were pretty excited when this piece of news broke, and we have been waiting patiently for the Queen to take to the skies.

The big day finally arrived!  The 747-400 was supposed to roll out and get airborne for a test flight at 10AM local time on April 26th 2016. All the local plane spotters and aviation enthusiasts flocked to the Subang airport (where the aircraft was parked) and waited for the aircraft to show up. 10AM came and went, and there was no sign of the Queen. Then we got to know that there was a technical issue with the aircraft, and it was taken back to the hangar. The test flight would have to wait for another day!

The new date for the test flight was two days later – on April 28th at 2PM local time. Again, the enthusiast community came out in full force to view the Queen. This time we hoped that she would show up! At around 2PM, the aircraft showed up on Flightradar24, which meant that the transponders were active.

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The aircraft had been given a callsign – MH5109 for the test flight.

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We were getting impatient, as the aircraft showed no movement. We were hoping that the technical issues had been sorted, and the Queen would finally take to the skies.

Just before 3PM, the 747 finally started taxiing out. We got ready with our cameras to capture this event. Dark rain clouds had gathered over the Subang area, and the light had faded quite a bit. As she made her way to the active runway, we could see streaks of lightning with accompanying thunder all around. It was as if the weather gods were announcing the arrival of the Queen! 🙂

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As she lined up on Runway 15, the heavens opened up! What started off as a slight drizzle, turned into a torrential downpour. We were caught in between – sheltering our cameras from the rain, and craning our necks to catch sight of the Queen. We soon heard the four Pratt & Whitney PW4056 powerplants spool up to take-off power, and a loud cheer went up amongst the waiting plane-spotters. And in the next few seconds, the four engines spooled down, bringing a look of worry on all our faces. The engines spooled up and spooled down once again, before spooling up once more and the aircraft finally started to roll. As soon as the Queen came into view, our cameras went into overdrive, capturing her spraying water all around.

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What a sight it was!

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After a shortish take-off roll, the Queen took to the skies with a grace typical of the 747.

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That’s it – the Malaysian Queen was finally back in the air!

After taking off from Subang, the aircraft turned north and headed out to the Malacca Strait for its tests. The aircraft made multiple circuits at varying altitudes around Penang and the Malacca Strait for nearly three hours before heading back south to Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft was supposed to land at KLIA (KUL) at around 6PM local time.

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We reached there well in time for the arrival, and hoped that the rain gods would keep away this time. At exactly 6PM, the familiar shape of a 747 on approach became visible on the horizon. The Queen touched down with a puff of smoke on Runway 32L and deployed her reversers briefly.

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As she rolled out, we got another view of the beautiful curves of the Queen of the skies…

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Test flight complete, the aircraft was parked at the cargo apron, next to her cargo cousins. We hoped all had gone as per plan, and the 747 was fit to fly once again.

Some not so good news emerged one day later, as the website Airlineroute.net reported that Malaysia Airlines had shelved plans to operate the 747-400 on the Kuala Lumpur – London route for the month of June. As of now, the reasons for this change are not known.

We only hope that all issues are sorted out, and the Queen takes to the skies soon!

Cathay Pacific’s new livery

Cathay Pacific Airlines has recently revised its livery that had been in existence since the early/mid 1990s. The existing livery featuring the distinctive “brushwing” design on the tail and aft of the flight deck windows has been an icon.

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The new livery is a refreshed, simplified version of the existing livery that has served the airline well. The darker green patch situated aft of the flight deck windows has given way to a uniform light green band that stretches across the fuselage. The tail is now painted entirely in a dark green colour with a larger “brushwing” design painted in white.

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B-LIB is the second Cathay Pacific Cargo aircraft to be painted in the new livery.