United Airliners retired their 747 fleet from service on November 7, 2017.  Hayman Tam was at SFO to witness the last revenue departure and guest reports for GAR.

With a thundering roar, the last revenue flight of a United Airlines Boeing 747 lifted off runway 28R at San Francisco International Airport and flew West, both figuratively and navigationally.  The aptly named one-way flight “UA747” was bound for Honolulu, recreating United’s inaugural flight with their first 747-100 back on July 23, 1970.  The original United 747 aircraft that first made this journey was named the “Friend Ship,” and the aircraft on this farewell flight had the same name emblazoned on each side.

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

The unmistakable shape of the 747-400 – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Push back for the last revenue flight – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Gear up – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

A fanfest of sorts was held at SFO, with United CEO Oscar Munoz and executives from Boeing and Pratt & Whitney on hand to greet the passengers and partake in the pre-flight celebrations at the departure gate.  Passengers included United employees, media, aviation enthusiasts and several high mileage travellers including one that would exceed 19M miles on this flight.

Ramp personnel gathered nearby as the big plane was pushed back and bid farewell to the Queen of the Skies.  An SFO-sponsored planespotting event drew a sizable group (including the author), watching from the top of a nearby parking structure.  We met two teenagers from Portland who played hooky and travelled down just for one last look at a United 747.

The 47 years of service with United undoubtedly holds memories for many, after December there will be no passenger 747s with any U.S. carrier.  With its upper-deck contours, this iconic design has been one of the most recognizable aircraft in the skies for many generations.

United’s fleet of 747 aircraft numbered 88 in total.

Variant: Years of service Qty
Boeing 747-100 1970 -1999  23
Boeing 747-200 1987 -2000  10
Boeing 747-400 1989 -2017  44
Boeing 747SP  1985 – 1995    11

On September 30, 1968, the first 747 was unveiled at the Boeing’s Everett, WA facility before the world and representatives of the 26 launch customers (including United).  As soon as it entered service, the 747 set aircraft size and passenger capacity records that would be held for 37 years, only to relinquish both to the Airbus A380.  

As of September 2017, 1,536 of these aircraft have been built, with production geared towards the 747-8 freighters remaining on order.  With 694 deliveries, the 747-400 would be the most common model in use around the world.

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

SFO, for so long the home of a large fleet of United 747s – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Ground crew say farewell – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Joining the line taxiing for departure one last time – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

The 747 remains in service with a number of U.S. cargo carriers including Atlas Air, Kalitta Air, and UPS.  Internationally, British Airways, Lufthansa and Korean Air Lines are among those still flying the passenger versions.  Twin-engine wide-bodied aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 and 777 and the Airbus A350 are the preferred aircraft selected by airlines looking for long-haul aircraft to replace the 747. Not only are they more economical to operate, they can carry almost as many passengers and fly even further.

United Mileage Plus members can bid on 747 hardware souvenirs such as cockpit instruments, tail number cutouts, a row of seats, or an actual window.

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Coverage of the departure was all across the airport – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

The last revenue climb out – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource

© Hayman Tam - Global Aviation Resource

Off to Honolulu, just like the first flight – © Hayman Tam – Global Aviation Resource


United Airlines Boeing 747 Timeline:

April 1966: Pan Am orders 25 Boeing 747-100s.
September 30, 1968: Rollout of the first 747 at Everett assembly building
June 26, 1970: United Airlines receives its first Boeing 747-100
July 23, 1970: United makes its first 747 commercial flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.
1985 Work begins on the design of the Boeing 747-400.
April 22, 1985: United announces its plan to acquire Pan Am’s Pacific routes, including 11 Boeing 747SP aircraft.
January 29-30, 1988: Friendship One, a Boeing 747SP owned by United Airlines, sets the around-the-world air speed record of 36 hours, 54 minutes, and 15 seconds.
June, 1989: United Airlines receives their first Boeing 747-400 which provides increased range
September 1996: An ex-United 747SP is transformed into NASA’s SOFIA, or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which carries a 17-ton, 8-foot-wide infrared telescope.
January 11, 2017: United announces that it will retire the Boeing 747-400 fleet in the last quarter of 2017.
October 29, 2017: United flies its last international 747 flight from Seoul to San Francisco.
November 7, 2017: United celebrates the retirement of the Boeing 747 with a nostalgic flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.