By Cody Diamond / Published May 2, 2014 / Photos by Author
Just before noon, on April 17th, 2014, a Boeing 747-400 began its final descent. The airplane, as it cruised into the Memphis area from 41,000 feet, was not just any 747: it was the world’s last airworthy and active Boeing 747-400D. The -D’s are a rare, domestic high density 747, designed specifically for the Japanese domestic market. Not only was she the last of her kind, but this particular 747, JA8961 of All-Nippon Airways (ANA), was the last passenger 747 to fly a revenue flight within Japan. The last landing at Tokyo Handa ended 747 passenger service in Japan, which had been continuous since 1970.
ANA had been flying the 747 since 1978, and JA8961 had been delivered in 1993. As JA8961 was descending for Tupelo, MS (TUP), the festivities for her arrival were just beginning. The 747D has become a symbol of Japanese aviation, and ANA had several “Farewell 747” tours throughout the country as the rest of the fleet was progressively retired. For the first time, however, the tour was to include watching the final landing of the last airplane. ANA’s “Farewell Boeing 747 America Tour” included a visit for approximately forty Japanese tourists to Universal Asset Management (UAM) at TUP, where they would be part of the arrival of the last airplane and visit several retired airliners on the ramp.
At approximately 11:40 am local time, All-Nippon Airways Flight 9932 began the first of two flyovers of TUP airport, and just a few moments later, at the hands of Captain Tod Schmideler, made her final landing ever on Runway 18, after a five hour and forty-eight minute journey from Anchorage (the 747-400D does not have the nonstop range to make it from Asia to the Eastern United States). She taxied into the UAM ramp, where the adventure would begin for those on the tour.
The tourists were divided into groups after the tour of the ramp area where several retired airliners were. They were given the opportunity to sign the airplane with their final good-byes. Interestingly, the airplane’s forward and aft lower fuselage areas were already covered with signatures from those who flew her and maintained her in Japan. The love for the airplane was clear!
Onboard, the guests of ANA also began working with UAM employees and ANA mechanics in disassembling minor cabin fixtures, and were able to tour the cockpit and cabin areas.
While JA8961 made her final flight on a bright shiny morning in Mississippi, many of her parts will be used on other 747-400’s for years to come. “Everything that we can reuse, right down to carpets, are salvaged from the airplanes that come here,” said one UAM official.
After the signing and dis-assembly, a small ceremony including ANA dignitaries, Mayor Jason Shelton of Tupelo, and UAM’s CEO Keri Wright (also a pilot and CFI herself) commemorated the final arrival of a Japanese 747. The bittersweet event marked a quiet but official end of a forty-four year Japanese tradition — the Queen of the Skies.
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EXTRA: ANA Timetables and Route Map
Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
The author would like to thank ANA and Universal Asset Management (UAM) for their help and support and invitation to attend this special event. In particular, the author wishes to thank UAM CEO Keri Wright, Matt Scott, Yohaan Demel, Tracy Andrews, and Goutham Ramdas.