Happy 50th Birthday, Queen of the Skies! Celebrating with My Favorite 747 Photos

Happy 50th Birthday, Queen of the Skies! Celebrating with My Favorite 747 Photos

Boeing 747 rolled out for the first time on September 30, 1968. Since then, its unmistakeable shape has turned it into one of the most recognized aircraft types and the favorite aircraft type of many aviation enthusiasts.

With the above in mind, yesterday, September 30, 2018, (in the US, still today) marked a very special day in commercial aviation since the Queen of the Skies celebrated its fiftieth birthday.

Yesterday, to celebrate the 747’s half-century of existence, I shared fifty 747 photos that I’ve taken in the past (make sure to follow my Facebook page below to see more photos like that). Today, I’d like to continue to the celebration by sharing five of my favorite 747 photos with details of each photo, as well as five of my favorite 747-related articles that I published here on KN Aviation.


My 10 Favorite Photos of the Queen of the Skies

Over the more than 10 years that I’ve been photographing aircraft, I took hundreds of photos of the Boeing 747.

As such, it was very difficult to choose just ten of the photos – but I did my best. Rather than choosing by technical quality, I picked them based on my personal stories behind them. And, they are in no particular order.

I hope you enjoy the photos as well as the stories – and I would love to hear your 747 stories in the comments!


1. Two Queens and the Imperial Couple

Japan Air Self Defense Force Boeing 747-400I took this photo of the Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko boarding 20-1101, one of the two Japanese Air Self Defense Force 747-400s, at Tokyo Haneda airport on May 16, 2012, when they were embarking on an official visit to London.

Considering the fact that Emperor Akihito is set to abdicate on April 30, 2019 and the two 747-400s are set to be replaced by two 777-300ERs around the same time, there will not be many more opportunities (if any) to see the scene above.


2. A Japan Airlines 747 in Slovakia

Japan Airlines 747-400 at Bratislava AirportBeing half-Slovak and half-Japanese, and having spent many years in both countries, there are two moments in my plane spotting “career” that stand out above any others: seeing a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-400 in Bratislava, Slovakia, and seeing a Slovak Government Tupolev Tu-154 in Tokyo, Japan.

Above is the first of the two moments, showing JAL’s Queen of the Skies – JA8079 – resting on Bratislava airport’s apron on August 25, 2006. Later that day, it departed to Tokyo as flight JL8826 with a group of Japanese tourists onboard.


3. 747SP – My Favorite Variant of the Queen of the Skies

Iran Air Boeing 747SP at Tehran MehrabadOf the different variants of the 747 such as the 747-100, 747-400, and 747-8i, the short 747SP is my favorite. The “SP” stands for “special performance,” and the aircraft was developed to meet Pan Am’s and Iran Air’s wishes to be able to fly some of the longest routes of the time non-stop.

While I missed the opportunity to fly on Iran Air’s 747SP back when they were operating a fifth freedom route between Tokyo and Beijing, I had a chance to fly it for the first time on November 23, 2014 on a sightseeing flight around Tehran.

It was the 24 hours spent in Iran to catch this flight that later inspired me to visit the beautiful country numerous times and to organize the Iranian Skies & Cities tours in 2016.


4. World’s Largest Airborne Observatory

NASA SOFIA Boeing 747SP at Christchurch AirportFor a long time, I thought the Iran Air flight above was my first and last flight on the 747SP. Luckily, though, that wasn’t the case. Back in June of this year, I had a chance to fly on a very special “special performance” – NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory.

Having first flown in April 1977, SOFIA is a little less than a month older than the Iran Air 747SP above, and so it is the oldest Boeing 747 that I had the chance to fly on. It is also the only ex-Pan Am aircraft and the only “non-airline airliner” that I’ve ever flown on.


5. Retro-Hansa Departing Tokyo

Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i Retro JetWhile SOFIA and the Iran Air 747SP are the two oldest 747s (and some of the oldest aircraft overall) that I’ve flown on, the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i in retro livery is the only 747-8i that I’ve flown on so far – and thus, it’s also the newest Queen of the Skies in my log.

I flew on it back in 2015 from Tokyo to Frankfurt, and as luck would have it, my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Vienna was operated by another retro jet – Austrian Airlines’ retro A320.

The photo shows D-ABYT departing Tokyo Haneda bound for Frankfurt with Tokyo Sky Tree in the background after one of its visits in 2017.


6. The 747 That Everyone Knows

Air Force One at Yokota Air BaseRecognized by the public as “Air Force One,” the United States’ presidential aircraft is perhaps the most recognized aircraft in the world. There are two of the highly modified 747s in service, and technically the are only “Air Force One” when the President is onboard.

I was lucky enough to have seen the aircraft with the President onboard twice – once in Prague in 2007 with President Bush onboard, and once in Tokyo at Yokota Air Base with President Trump onboard. And, while I have a couple of photos of that one including some with better light, this one picturing 92-9000 with Mt. Fuji is my favorite.



ANA Boeing 747-400 Retirement

For years, ANA was one of the largest 747 operators in the world. With the changing technological and economic landscape, though, ANA started retiring its Jumbos. One of its 747-400Ds (“D” standing for “Domestic”) – JA8961- had the honor of operating the last scheduled flight of the type for ANA.

The flight took place on March 31, 2014, transporting nearly 500 passengers – including hundreds of aviation enthusiasts – from Naha in Okinawa to Tokyo Haneda airport. The picture shows JA8961 in front of Haneda’s observation deck where it was towed for a “THANKS JUMBO!” ceremony after its last passengers were disembarked at a remote parking spot.


8. Delta’s (Almost) Last 747 Flight Out of Japan

Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-400 at Tokyo Narita

For almost three decades, Northwest Airlines and then Delta Air Lines 747s were a regular sight at Tokyo Narita airport. That came to an end when N669US departed Narita on October 30, 2017, as flight DL276 to Detroit. While the flight didn’t turn out to be the last Delta 747 departure from Japan as the banner says as there was a US military charter flight after that, it still was the last scheduled Delta Air Lines 747 departure from Japan.

Not only was I lucky enough to be able to witness the event from the apron, but I was also able to fly on the Delta Queen of the Skies to and from Detroit earlier that year. You can read about my experience onboard one of the flights here.


9. The Dutch Queen of the Skies at Kaagbaan

KLM Boeing 747-400 at Kaagbaan

There are “normal” plane spotting locations, and then there are the “special” ones. Undoubtedly, the Kaagbaan spotting location in Amsterdam belonged to the “special” group. While the spot is no longer accessible, it will always remain one of my favorite ones.

The photo is from a three-day spotting trip to Amsterdam that I did with Philippe (check his site The Full Gull) back in 2007. It shows what was a typical scene at Amsterdam back then – a KLM 747 taking off with KLM Cityhopper Fokkers and KLM Cargo 747s in the background.


10. My First Banking Queen of the Skies

Air China Boeing 747-8 at New York JFK

For many years, taking “banking shots” at New York’s JFK airport was one of the items on my plane spotting bucket list. I was able to check that item off (although I want to return again!) earlier this year when I had a chance to spend a couple of hours at the famous “HoBe” spot.

The above photo is my favorite as it’s the first 747 banking shot I took that day. It depicts the departure of one of Air China’s two daily flights to Beijing – flight CA982. The other flight, CA990 departs New York in the middle of the night and is operated by the 777-300ER.



So that’s it – my favorite 747 photos. While some of them are not “perfect frames” per se, they are all precious memories that I have of seeing the Queen of the Skies. While now the aircraft type is 50 years old, I hope to be able to see it and fly on it many more times.

If you have any great memories photographing or flying on the 747, share them with us in the comments section below.

Also, if you enjoyed the above and are in mood for some more 747 content, make sure to check the articles below:

…or join me onboard some of the 747 flights I took in the past by reading the following flight reviews:

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