DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ was placed into commercial service with launch customer Pan Am (PA) in 1970.
Flight PA2, operated by’ Clipper Victor’ (N736PA), departed New York (JFK) bound for London Heathrow Airport (LHR). However, the inaugural service had been full of turbulence and wasn’t the launch that PA or Boeing wanted.
Flight PA2 was due to depart on January 21. The 747, ‘Clipper Young America’ (N735PA), had operated the type’s proving flight from JFK to LHR on January 12. Commanded by Captain Weeks, 345 passengers were on board, and the aircraft pushed back at 19:30 EST. However, problems immediately arose with the No. 4 Pratt & Whitney JT9D engine.
The jumbo returned to the gate, and engineers called. But the engine issue, which would plague early Boeing 747s, could not be fixed.
Pan Am needed a substitute airframe, which came in the form of N736PA – ‘Clipper Victor.’ Passengers were transferred to the new jet, and finally, at 01:52 EST, the first Jumbo Jet carrying fare-paying passengers took to the skies.
Unfortunately, the return journey wasn’t a smooth ride either due to further technical difficulties. Thirty-six of the 153 passengers booked on to the flight had to be transferred to other services.
A faulty compressed air bottle used to inflate the emergency escape slides used in an emergency meant that the plane could not carry all of those booked. This meant a further delay of four and a half hours.
Tragically, Clipper Victor would be involved in the world’s worst air disaster on March 27, 1977. The jet collided with a KLM 747 in thick fog at Tenerife (TFN). Five hundred eighty-three lives would be lost that day.
Featured image: ‘Clipper Young America’ parked at its gate at JFK waiting to board its passengers. Sadly the airframe would not hold the honor of operating the inaugural service. Photo: Boeing.
You can read more about the history of one of the world’s most iconic airlines Pan Am in our November/December 2021 issue.