MIAMI – Today in Aviation, Pan Am’s Boeing 747SP–21 ‘Clipper Liberty Bell’ completed a record-setting flight around the world in 1976.

N533PA took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) on the world-record-breaking round-the-world flight on May 1. The flight crew included co-pilots Albert A. Frink and Lyman G. Watt, as well as flight engineers Frank Cassaniti and Edwards Shields, and was led by Captain Walter H. Mullikan, the airline’s chief pilot. The aircraft had a total of 98 passengers on board.

The flight lasted 46 h and 1 sec in total. The actual flight took 39 h, 25 min, and 53 sec to complete. The total flight distance was 23,137 miles (37,235.4 kilometers). The flight’s overall average speed was 809.24 kilometers per hour (502.838 miles per hour).

The flight set three-speed records for commercial airline flights, including a new speed record for an eastbound flight around the world.

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 747SP-21 N533PA, s/n 21025, renamed Clipper New Horizons in 1977, with the “Flight 50” insignia. Photo:

The Record-setting Flight

The Clipper Liberty Bell jumbo flew 8,081 miles (13,005.1 kilometers) east from New York JFK to Indira Ghandi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi, India, at an average speed of 869.63 kilometers per hour (540.363 miles per hour). It went on its journey after servicing the 747. Tokyo International Airport (HND) in Tokyo, Japan was the next stop.

This stage was 7,539 miles long (12,132.8 kilometers). The airliner flew at a speed of 421.20 kilometers per hour on average (261.722 miles per hour). The airliner’s preparation for the next leg of the journey was postponed due to a strike by Pan Am staff in Tokyo.

After refueling, the Clipper Liberty Bell flight was ready to fly back to JFK. The final leg was 7,517 miles (12,097.4 kilometers), completing the round-the-world flight on May 3, 1976. The average speed was 912.50 kilometers per hour (567.001 miles per hour).

Boeing 747SP–21 N40135, c/n 21025, 1 January 1975. Photo:

Pan Am’s Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747SP (“Special Performance”) is a long-range version of the Boeing 747–100 series of aircraft. The plane is 48 feet 5 inches (14.757 mt) shorter than the –100, with a 5 foot (1.5 mt) higher vertical fin and a longer horizontal stabilizer span. The variant first flew on July 4, 1975, was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on February 4, 1976, and entered service that year with Pan Am.

The Boeing 747SP has a length of 184 feet and 9 inches (56.312 mt) and a wingspan of 195 feet and 8 inches (59.639 mt). It stands 65 feet, 1 inch tall at full gross weight and 65 feet, 10 inches tall when empty (19.837–20.066 mt). The type has an operating empty weight of 337,100 pounds (152,906 kg), and a maximum takeoff weight of 700,000 pounds (317,515 kg).

The type can carry more fuel for longer flights due to the weight savings, and it is also quicker. The Boeing 747SP could carry a maximum of 400 passengers, with 45 on the upper deck. A total of 45 747SPs were built by Boeing. As of October 2020, there were six Boeing 747SPs still in active service with 18 more stored and one preserved.

Featured image: Pan Am Boeing 747SP–21, N533PA, c/n 21025, renamed Clipper Young America, circa 1985. It still carries the “Flight 50” insignia. Photo: Article source: