Back in July I received a message, via Twitter, from a man called "Airplane Ben". He mentioned to me that he owns a Boeing 747-SP and that he wanted me to fly on it. Most of you would be thinking that this was a joke, but I did some research and it turned out that there was indeed a Boeing 747-SP parked in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. From then on I followed Ben's tweets with interest.
After seeing the tweet above, I knew then that my B747-SP dream in 2019 was getting closer. The plane was ready to leave storage in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada after spending almost a year on the ground.
From Africa to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
While I was in Mauritius on a filming project with Air Mauritius, I got my invite to fly on the B747-SP. There was not a lot of details or clarity and there was definitely no certainty, but I decided to take the chance.
The timing was tight, super tight. I still couldn't believe that I managed to make it all the way from Africa within 24 hours.
I flew from Mauritius to Paris and bought my ticket to Toronto after I landed in Paris. I arrived in Toronto on the same day, in the evening, on October 3rd; Hamilton is just a short 45 minute drive from Toronto. I met up with the maintenance crew in the hotel and was told that everything was ready, except that they were still waiting on one document from the FAA.
It is always uncertain with aviation until the last minute.
The bigger the risk you take, the bigger the reward when it works. But there is always the downside if it doesn't happen.
I was preparing myself for the eventuality that the flight wouldn't take place the following day, this would mean I would have to re-schedule my busy work diary.
The Next Day
While we were still waiting for the "Fly-wire" document from FAA, the pilots and flight engineer all arrived at the airport. We were taken out to the plane to start preparations for our flight, all the time hoping to receive the fly-wire document we needed to takeoff.
This B747-SP-21 was built in 1979 and delivered to Pan Am. In 1986, it was transferred to United Airlines. In 1995 it was acquired by Qatar Amiri Flight until 2018. It is currently owned by CSDS aircraft sales and leasing. The registration was changed recently to N7477S (ex N539PA, N148UA, VR-BAT and VP-BAT)
While The crew were busy with documents I was given a full tour of the aircraft, starting in the cockpit. These were some tense moments, without knowing whether we would be cleared for takeoff or not.
I was also shown the "Main Equipment Centre" located underneath the main floor and accessed by a staircase. Radios, avionics and IRS instruments are all stored here.
Around mid day, the good news finally arrived! We had received the Fly-wire and the aircraft was cleared to fly to Marana, Pinal Air Park in Arizona, USA. Everyone was relieved and started the final preparations for departure.
At 13:15, the ground engineer team bid a farewell to the plane and the door was closed.
I was the only passenger on this ferry flight to Marana, AZ.
I was sitting behind the pilots on the jumpseat, it was amazing to watch the pilots and flight engineer manually starting one engine after another. The 4 PW JT9D-7A engines came to life with an amazing sound!
At 13:42 the B747-SP was airborne, after nearly a year in storage! The spooling sound of 4 JT9D-7A engines was music to my ears!
Watch the Youtube video of the airborne scene.
Flight time from Hamilton to Marana was scheduled to be exactly 4 hours. Once the plane reached its cruising level of 38,000 ft, I went downstairs to walk around and took a lot of photos/videos. Let's have a tour of the interior!
Tour of the VIP B747-SP Private Jet
The upper deck has 12 "LA-Z-BOY" deep recliner seats and a small galley behind. Note that there are no overhead bins in the ceiling; instead, there are "side bins" next to the windows on each side.
Walking downstairs on the B747 classic spiral staircase, let's have a look at the lower deck.
Master Bedroom and Bathroom
The master bedroom and bathroom are located at the nose area of the B747-SP. There is also a private working desk and sofa in the master bedroom. The bed can go up and down with a remote control.
Given that this aircraft is from a former Qatar Amiri Flight, there is the "Majlis" near the entrance of door 2. You can probably guess who normally sits in the blue colour "throne" seat. But on this flight it was my seat! 😉
The throne seat can recline to 180 degrees flat, with a push of an electronic button.
Continuing the tour by walking down the long aisle, the next room is the dining/conference room.
The B747-SP fuselage is so wide; it feels like I am inside a "Flying Palace".
The Dining Hall
There is another small private office with a private toilet and shower, right behind the dining room.
The remaining sections on the B747-SP were filled with more seats, for the entourage and servants I presume. Given that the plane is 40 years old, the interiors have been well maintained and all the controls I tried worked flawlessly.
In terms of catering, there were drinks in the fridge and boxed club sandwiches available as snacks.
It was a really strange flight. I was the only person on the entire lower deck. No other passengers or crew were present. I used the 4 hour flight time to try out literally every single seat in all the areas.
The clouds gradually faded away to a clear sky, while we continued to head in a Southwest direction. During the descent into Marana we encountered some wild wind, which is quite common in the open desert area. The TCAS system was active and warned us "traffic, traffic" nearby, during our approach.
We landed at Marana, Pinal Air Park, AZ around 14:45 local time with a flight time of 4 hours and 1 minute. Sunny weather, with a temperature of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, welcomed us. The B747-SP was scheduled for a C-Check in Marana and was waiting for a new buyer.
My Best Flight of 2019 so Far
I love the B747, I love luxury travel and I love classic aviation, what could be better than flying on a B747-SP Private Jet with a full VIP configuration? even better, I had the whole plane to myself!
I have been following the re-activation of this Boeing 747-SP for sometime. There were always going to be some risks that the flight may not have happened, due to one problem or another, but I am so glad that my gamble had been completely paid off! I think this flight has raised my aviation adventures to a new level. It is simply my best flight in 2019.