The Boeing 747, introduced by Pan American World Airways in 1970, is one of the most iconic jets in aviation history. The "Queen of the Skies" has been playing a pivotal role in inspiring long-haul travellers for more than five decades.
Over the years, the Boeing 747 has been modified for multi-purposes, apart from just carrying passengers and cargo. Let's take a closer look at these modified versions of the jumbo jet.
1. Carrying Heads of State or VIP
The Boeing 747 is one of the best-known means of transportations for heads of state worldwide. These highly modified 747s are used in the transportation of Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers.
''Air Force One'' is used to transport the President of the United States and is the most well known 747 used by a head of state. The VC-25A is fully-equipped with safety equipment designed for a worst-case scenario, it even has the potential to sustain the US government in the event of nuclear war.
VIP-configured 747s provide the most luxurious travel experience for all those on board. The 747 is also used as a VIP transport aircraft by Bahrain, Brunei, China, South Korea, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
2. Transporting Parts for Aircraft
The Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter (LCF) is the world's longest cargo aircraft, it is used by Boeing for transporting components for their 787 Dreamliners between Italy, Japan and their assembly plants in the US.
Currently, four 747-400LCFs are in operation and are seen often at Boeing assembly plants. Atlas Air has been operating these freighters since 2010. These aircraft were converted from four passenger configuration 747-400s; one each from Air China and Malaysia Airlines, while the remaining two came from China Airlines.
Boeing deployed these B747 LCF aircraft for the transportation of medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Airborne Observatory - SOFIA
A modified Boeing 747 is being jointly operated by NASA and Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center) for overnight missions from a high altitude of around 45,000 feet, avoiding most of the atmosphere’s water vapour, which provides more precise observations.
The 747SP, widely known as SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), flew several missions from Cologne, Germany, earlier this year. The former Pan Am and United Airlines 747 is equipped with a 100-inch telescope.
4. A Firefighting Aircraft
Although the last 747 Supertanker was retired in April earlier this year, three modified 747s have been used as Supertankers over the years. The third Supertanker (N744ST, tail number 944) was retired after Global SuperTanker Services got into financial difficulties.
Global SuperTanker Services sold the Supertanker to National Airlines to be converted into a cargo aircraft. According to Planespotters.net, this 30-year-old jumbo was initially delivered to Japan Airlines in November 1991 as a passenger aircraft.
5. Launching Rockets
A modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft, widely known as Cosmic Girl, is operated by Virgin Galactic as a first stage launch platform for the launch of LauncherOne rocket. Virgin Galactic purchased the former Virgin Atlantic passenger aircraft in 2015. Cosmic Girl is based at the Long Beach Airport and is registered as N744VG in the United States.
Cosmic Girl made its first flight on 25th May 2020 to launch an unsuccessful LauncherOne over the Pacific Ocean. The second launch, which took place on 17th January 2021, was successful.
6. Carrying the Space Shuttle
NASA used two modified jumbos to transport their space shuttles for 45 years between 1977 and 2012. These jumbos carried the shuttle on top of their fuselage, making a spectacular sight for spotters and eyewitnesses.
NASA most often utilized the 747s between Edwards Air Force Base, California and Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.
7. Engine TestBeds
The 747 is also used as an engine testbed by major aircraft engine manufacturers. Currently, Pratt & Whitney, GE Aviation and Rolls-Royce all use 747s as an engine testbed.
Pratt & Whitney operates two Boeing 747SPs, with registrations C-FPAW and C-GTFF. GE Aviation also uses a Boeing 747-400, with registration N747GF, as an engine testbed. Similarly, Rolls-Royce owns two 747s with registration N787RR and N747RR. However, the latter one is currently sitting in storage. It was a former Qantas Boeing 747-400, transferred to Rolls-Royce in December 2019.
8. An Airborne Military Command Center
The United States Air Force has been operating multiple modified versions of the Boeing 747. One of these versions is the E-4B, a fully-equipped military command and control centre.
This military version was designed to provide the head of state and the Secretary of Defence with all the necessary tools in times of war. Four E-4Bs, based on the 747-200, were manufactured in the 1970s.
Have you flown or spotted any of these modified versions? Let us know in the comments below!