MIAMI — I have always been a total airplane geek. One of my most favorite airplanes that has always been very special to my heart is Pan Am’s N747PA, the 747 famously known as the Clipper Juan T. Trippe, after the legendary founder of the airline.
The second 747 built, this airplane was used in the Boeing 747 flight test program and first flew on April 11, 1969. Being a flight test airplane, she was delivered on October 3, 1970, several months after Pan Am’s first 747 was delivered. First named Clipper America, she was renamed Clipper Sea Lark and finally Clipper Juan T. Trippe. She was a Pan Am owned airplane from 1970 until December 4, 1991, at Pan Am’s shut down, having operated for Pan Am for over 21 years, except for a brief lease to Air Zaire as N747QC.
The tail number that this airplane wore, N747PA, was one of the most recognized tail numbers among Pan Am employees and the second 747 ever built ended up being the last 747 to leave JFK Airport in May of 1992 with the Pan Am globe and titles still on the tail. She was signed by many Pan Am employees prior to departure from JFK.
After the collapse of Pan Am, N747PA would keep that registration and fly for Aeroposta from 1992 to 1993 and then Kabo Air until 1995. She was then flown to San Bernardino, California (SBD) and scrapped. Her story does not end there. Most of her fuselage and parts of her wings were shipped to Seoul, South Korea. The airplane was reassembled in Namyangju, a suburb of Seoul. It was painted in colors to resemble Air Force One, with a cerulean blue top and baby blue belly. N747PA was reopened as a restaurant. The restaurant closed in 2005 and, in December 2010, the LA Times ran a news story that the iconic Clipper Juan T. Trippe was finally going to be scrapped. I contacted the author of the article in 2010 to no avail to try and see if it might be possible to put me in touch with the owners of the airplane to possibly get a fuselage part. The article stated that the airplane was completely scrapped.
Fast forward to October 2017. I was traveling to Seoul to ride on and cover United’s last intercontinental 747-400 flight for Airways. I thought of a N747PA proceeded to do some research. Perhaps the whole airplane had not been scrapped. I had a few days in Seoul and wanted to see if I could at least find where the airplane had been located in Namyangju. Not only did I find where it was, a search on Airliners.net revealed that an unidentifiable 747 was now being converted into a church in Namyangju—the same suburb where N747PA was reportedly located and destroyed. The photographer did not know what serial number the 747 was. I was able to trace its address and went on an adventure to see if perhaps part of N747PA was still around.
After a 20 minute ride to Namyangju, the unmistakable hump of a 747-100 came into view.
Painted in Korean Air colors without titles, up close, it became very clear to me that this could be no other 747 than N747PA. The fuselage marks where the airplane had been cut to be put into containers when it was shipped to Korea identically match those in known photos of N747PA as the restaurant. It is very easy to spot metal patches over where there had been pillars holding up the airplane when it was a restaurant. There is an elevator attached to just outside the 2L door.
I took the elevator up and went inside the airplane. Inside, and beneath the floor boards, scrapped bits of baby blue fuselage from when it was painted as Air Force One can easily be seen, leaving zero doubt about the identity of this airplane. The airplane is being converted into a joint church and aviation museum.
I spoke to one owner of it after leaving, and he confirmed it was the same airplane. The airplane had been partially scrapped in 2010, but not completely, as the article had suggested. Three major fuselage sections were saved and spliced together, making it slightly shorter than a 747SP. Awkward looking, but nonetheless, the famous N747PA is still around at least in one form.
I was very excited to be able to go aboard. I’ve heard so many stories about this very airplane growing up in aviation, and my hope is that people will be able to visit this airplane should they choose to. I know many Pan Am people that would love to see this famous airplane just one more time. If you would like to check it out, GPS instructions in Seoul to its location are as follows: 1052-15 Wolmulli, Namyangju-si, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, South Korea.