Braniff’s first 747 was nicknamed ‘The Great Pumpkin’ or ‘Big Orange’ due to its bright orange scheme and was decked out internally with the finest leather seats and furnishings. The cabin was split into five rooms with its own colours and lounge space and was branded the 747 Braniff Palace ‘The Most Exclusive Address in the Sky’. Revenue service began on 14th January 1971 between Dallas and Honolulu. For the next seven years the airline’s sole 747 (a second was cancelled) operated the daily Hawaii service recording record utilisation rates for the type.
Rarely has a single aircraft been so famous and at the same time so notorious as the Pan Am 747-121 N736PA 'Clipper Victor'. No other airline has done so much to change long-haul aviation as Pan Am however in the swansong of his career Juan Trippe bit off more than his airline could chew with the Jumbo. In April 1966 Pan Am placed an order for twenty five 747s at a cost of the staggering sum of $525 million. The huge debt this created for Pan Am was something that exposed the airline when the expected growth in passenger numbers failed to arise and the Oil Crisis struck. And so began the long decline of the world's greatest international airline.
In the early 1980s American ordered the first of what was to be 280 MD-80s (nicknamed Super 80s in service but informally known as Mad Dogs) to begin replacing its 727 fleet, with the first (N203AA) arriving in May 1983. Deliveries ran until August 1992 and no other type defined American so much throughout the 80s and 90s.
Pan Am had been on a long downward slide since the early 70s and by 1985 it was in a right mess. It had managed to lose $762 million between 1980 and 1985, including a whopping $206.8 million in 1984 alone. Huge debt from overspending on 747s, inefficient operations, an aging fleet , the disastrous National takeover and industrial action had all contributed.
United Airlines on the other hand was on the up having recorded sizeable profits in both 1983 and 1984. It had long desired an expanded international network and was in a good position to take advantage of Pan Am's weakness.
Pan Am's dalliance with widebody three-holers isn't an entirely happy one (in keeping with the airline's general malaise of its last 15 years or so). First up in 1978 PA caused some consternation by ordering 12 of Lockheed's rather desperate shortened Tristar the series 500.
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: