During the 1960s and 70s Flying Tigers was the largest all cargo airline in the world and they were responsible for a number of firsts. On August 29, 1973 Tigers were the launch customer for the 747 freighter.
The airlines had been over-optimistic about growth opportunities for the 1970s and had binged on 747s, which they struggled to fill even before the Oil Crisis arrived. These factors led to several airlines trying to slim down their 747 fleets and motivated Boeing to look at alternative uses for the type. Several ex-TWA examples found their way to the Iranian Air Force and Boeing also began looking at freighter conversions.
American Airlines had taken delivery of sixteen 747-123s - far too many for its passenger needs. Six were converted to freighters though only three remained with AA. Three others (N9661, N9671, N9676) were instead returned to Boeing and converted for Flying Tigers who was the first to put the new 747-123SF into service. The conversion was relatively simple in that the 123SF only gained a rear side cargo door and didn't have the swinging nose cargo door.
N9661 was the first conversion completed. She was originally delivered to American on June 18, 1970 and so had only been built three years before completion of her conversion to a freighter. She became N800FT and was delivered with a huge shark mouth logo - for which Flying Tigers had been famous during the Second World War. The shark mouth didn't last long though - perhaps because of the risk of offending the Japanese.
Tigers continued to build up its 747 fleet with 7 series 100s in the 1970s and taking its first new build series 200 (with swing nose) in late 1979. N800FT was leased to Pan Am in 1978 as N903PA ‘Clipper Express’ and stayed with them for one and a half years until July 1979. With Pan Am she wore a distinctive and unique bare-metal scheme.
In 1981 the eldest 747s were returned and all three of the original 747-123SFs rejoined American Airlines. She took her old registry of N9661 back up and eventually joined UPS as N674UP. She was finally withdrawn from use in December 2002.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: