MIAMI – 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 an 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.
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, the Vatican has remained tight-lipped as to whether it plans to utilize the new national carrier for its papal visits.
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: Ken Fielding/https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)