The 747 was still the mainstay of many long haul operations when I started shooting digital and SFO was a place that was served by a bunch of airlines using the type. I used to go to SFO quite a bit when I lived in Chicago because work brought me to the Bay Area frequently. That meant I got some opportunities to shoot the movements there. Of course, in due course we moved to the Bay Area so I got more chances but, by then, the 747s were swiftly disappearing and the 777 was becoming dominant.
I’m not sure why but recently the 747 fin in Future of Flight at Everett made it to be a popular photo on Airliners Net. The fin sits inside the museum section and it was painted as a 747-8 fin, even though it actually came from a British Airways 747-100. The picture had it with the -8 paint finish. I have a similar shot but the fin has recently been repainted in a blue finish. Not sure what the purpose was but, since Boeing have taken over Future of Flight, they must have had a reason. If anyone knows why, let me know in the comments.
For the people that don’t care for my aviation posts, this one won’t be of interest. For the aviation fans that don’t care about the techie stuff, this will also be of limited interest. That probably leaves a very small group of readers by now (Gary, I am trusting you are still here). This is about a piece of flight test instrumentation that often causes questions when people see it. It is the trailing static cone.
The aircraft has sensors that measure air data, two of the most important of which are the pitot probe and the static port. The pitot probe measures the dynamic pressure of the air which increases as the speed increases. The static port measures the air around the aircraft. The difference between the two is used to determine the speed of the aircraft and the static is used to determine the altitude. These are both vital information for a pilot. However, the aircraft affects the flow of the air around it so, while you can calculate what the pressures should be, you need to validate what the actual readings are. The first flights are carried out prior to calibrating the system so you need to have a bit of margin in the speeds you use until you have confidence in the readings.
Measuring static pressure is hard to do. The plane will have a static port on the skin of the plane as well as possibly incorporated with the pitot head. However, the air has accelerated to go around the fuselage so it is assumed to have a lower pressure than ambient. Because the plane is disturbing the flow, you need a way to measure the pressure some distance away from the plane. The answer is a trailing static cone.
This cone incorporates pressure measurement sensors and it attached to a long cable. This is held on a reel inside the aircraft and fed out of the aircraft at the rear. For airliners, this is usually through a modification to the top of the fin. A comparison between the test aircraft and a production jet will show the different structure. The cable dangles out of the fin and, as the speed increases, the cone pulls the cable taught and streams backwards.
When the testing is required, the cable is winched out and the cone is a long way behind the aircraft in what is relatively undisturbed airflow. If you go to the Museum of Flight, the prototype 747 is on display and it includes the trailing cone equipment in the fuselage. The reel is shown in its mounting location and the trailing cone is hung inside to allow you to take a look at it.
The disappearance of the 747 from the world’s airline fleets continues apace. The most recent company to bid the Queen of the Skies farewell is Delta. Delta did operate 747s in the early days but its current fleet was acquired as a result of the takeover of Northwest. Northwest has operated plenty of 747s over the years and was the launch operator of the 747-400. They continued to operate older generation freighters for a number of years too.
Delta carried out a farewell tour for the type and it included a visit to Seattle. Prior to going to SeaTac, the plane stopped off at Everett, the place where it, and every 747 before or since, was built. It was a dismal day with low cloud and rain. The plane emerged from the clag on final approach and zipped low over the threshold to touch down before reversing thrust in a cloud of spray. It parked up at the Boeing facility next to the Future of Flight Museum where it stayed for a few hours before heading to SeaTac.
Evergreen Aerospace Museum has a couple of 747s as part of the campus. They are retired freighters from the now-defunct company that provided a lot of the backing for the museum when it was established. One of the 747s is sitting out in front of the main museum building. The other one is slightly more dramatic. It is parked on top of a water park that is next to the museum. The waterslides come from within the fuselage. Getting the plane up there must have been quite something to watch. Now it is an eye-catching way to let everyone know where the water park is.
Everett is a busy production facility. 787s are being built at a fair rate while 777 production continues, albeit at a reducing pace. There are some 747s and 767s coming out as well. The flightline for their testing is consequently rather full. I figured a panorama was a good idea but they are hard to put on the blog without making them too small. Time for zoomify again. You can pan around and zoom in to see what was on the line this day.
The 747-400 has been around for so long now and has sold so well that it is by far the dominant version of the jet in service. However, before the late 80s, there were previous versions of the 747. The 100 series through to the 300 series and the SP. The 400 series is the one you see now but, before the 400 took over, the earlier models were the ones that were everywhere. Since I wasn’t taking a lot of photos in those days, I have a lot less photos of the earlier models but I do have some.
Pan Am operated the 100 Series jets and I saw them at Heathrow in the 80s. 200 Series freighters were built in some numbers and many are still around or were until relatively recently. I think the only 300 Series jet I ever photographed was a Saudia example at Heathrow. These shots are some of the ones I have come across in my time. With the 400 Series jets now starting to disappear, it is no surprise that these earlier jets are mainly a thing of the past.
Sometimes you find yourself right in the middle of a storm of epic proportions. I was at O’Hare getting a few shots of the aircraft operating on the southerly runways. I later found out this spot is one that the local businesses do not like you using so I won’t be heading back here again. At the time, I had no idea that was the case and no one come out while I was there although the storm might have been a factor!
A 747 freighter was lining up to depart and I was ready to get some shots just as the rain arrived. It absolutely hammered down. I got very wet very quickly and, since I was now already wet, I figured I would try and get a shot anyway. This is the result. Somewhere in that murk was a 747 – I think!
I was in the vicinity of SeaTac when I saw on Flightaware that a freighter operated by Centurion Cargo was inbound. This was not an operator I had seen much of and, since I had a few minutes before I was heading to my next appointment, i thought I would try to catch it. Getting arrivals at SeaTac in the afternoon when they are coming from the north restricts the options for shooting. however, there was a place I had been before for departures that I thought I would try.
I got there with a few minutes to spare so was able to get an idea of what was possible with some other arrivals. The location was not ideal with a lot of trees in the vicinity which, even though it was winter, tended to obscure things a bit. There was a view through the trees up the approach and then along a road as they passed by. Neither was very good. I got a British Airways 777 which gave me a clue as to where the Centurion jet would appear and how much free space there would be. Not much as it turned out. However, I did get a brief view which will have to do for now.
A while back I wrote a post about the retirement by JAL of their Boeing 747 fleet. At one time they had been the largest operator of the type. Well, it has happened again. Another large operator of the 747 is retiring its final passenger example. Singapore Airlines is saying goodbye to the Queen of the Skies.
Unlike JAL that is in financial difficulties and is rationalizing its fleet, Singapore is doing very well. It is just moving on. It has a growing fleet of A380s and a substantial fleet of 777s so the 747 is no longer suitable for its needs. Sad to say but it is actually just a bit old these days. The freighter version is going to live on with Singapore so it won’t be impossible to see the type in Singapore colors but it will only be the Mega Ark aircraft from now on.
All of this makes me feel a bit old. I was studying aeronautics when the 747-400 was going through its certification program. My college days are a long time ago so the fact the 747-400 is now considered pretty old is hardly surprising. That doesn’t make me feel any better about it. The unique shape of the 747 is very appealing to me even now. With the never ending stream of 767s, 777s and A330s, a 747 showing up is always a welcome surprise. I guess it is going to become a rarer one in the coming years! Enjoy them while you can. At least the 747-8 will be around for a while but they don’t appear to be selling in quite the same number so we shall have to see how easy they will be to see.