DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the world’s first Boeing 747-400, registration N401PW, took to the skies for the first time in 1988.
The jet, serial number 23719, departed Paine Field (PAE) under the command of test pilot James Loesch and co-pilot Kenneth Higgins. It landed 2 hours and 29 minutes later, after a routine sortie, at Boeing Field (BFI).
N401PW was used by Pratt & Whitney as a testbed for the new-400 series engines. Rival engine makers, Rolls-Royce and General Electric, utilized the other prototypes to test their RB211 and CF-6 power plants. Boeing used a fourth model as a spare.
In Service With Northwest
After eight months of intensive testing, the aircraft was re-registered as N661US and delivered to the -400s launch customer, Northwest Airlines (NW), on December 8, 1989.
This aircraft was involved in a serious incident while in service with NW. On October 9, 2002, N661US was approximately seven hours into Flight 85 from Detroit (DTW) to Tokyo (NRT) when the 747’s rudder made an uncommanded hard over to the left.
After battling with the controls, the flight crew managed to land the stricken jet safely at Anchorage (ANC). Investigators later ruled that the cause was: “fatigue fracture of the lower rudder power control module manifold, which resulted in a lower rudder hard over.”
When NW merged with Delta (DL) in 2008, the jet was transferred over to its new owners and remained in service until September 9, 2015. Its final flight was DL836 from Honolulu (HNL) to Atlanta (ATL). The aircraft had clocked an incredible 61 million miles in its 27-year history.
Today, Ship 6301 is on display at the Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta. It opened as an exhibition to the public on March 28, 2017.
Featured image: N401PW pictured during its maiden flight in 1988. Photo: Delta Air Lines