1/04/1964: First Papal Visit to Use an Aircraft

1/04/1964: First Papal Visit to Use an Aircraft

DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Pope Paul VI touched down in Amman, Jordan, in a specially chartered Douglas DC-8 operated by the now-defunct Italian flag carrier Alitalia (AZ) in 1964. It was the first time a Pope had used a commercial airliner for an official visit.

The plane had been marked with the Vatican colors, white and yellow, and the Pope’s coat of arms. 

Since then, the various heads of the Roman Catholic Church have used different airlines. These have included TAP Air Portugal (TP), American Airlines (AA), LOT Polish Airlines (LO), and Etihad (EY). Pope John Paul II was one of the biggest airline users. During his 27 years, he visited 129 countries and flew 725,000 miles.

Pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997. Photo: The Catholic news agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Katolička tiskovna agencija Biskupske konferencije Bosne i Hercegovine), Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.

‘Shepherd One’


However, Alitalia (AZ) would primarily carry the Pope. These flights would get a unique flight number, AZ4000 and often a special call sign – Shepherd One.

When Shepherd One would arrive at its destination, the flight crew would open the flight deck windows and display the Vatican standard and the flag of the country being visited.

Long-haul trips would be onboard a Boeing 777 or Airbus A330. An Airbus A320 or A321 would operate shorter flights. The Pope would also use an Italian Air Force helicopter for short distances.

Since AZ’s demise and the birth of ITA Airways, Pope Francis has used the new airline on several occasions. The first time was on December 2, 2021 flying from Rome to Cyprus on one of the carrier’s Airbus A320s. 

Pope Francis arrives in Malta. Photo: Vatican News.

Featured Image: The day before the momentous trip, the newly delivered DC-8 was taken on a one-hour test flight with General Felice Santini, Italian Director General of Civil Aviation. Photo: Jon Proctor.

European Deputy Editor
Writer, aviation fanatic, and Airways European Deputy Editor, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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