The above lovely image is taken from norebbo.com here.
The 747-300 had been a minor modernisation of the 747-200B, stretching the upper deck but failing to improve the airframe, which in fact resulted in a range decrease for the new type. Unsurprisingly the airlines approached the series 300 with some reluctance and sales were slow. Boeing announced the launch of the series 400 in October 1985 when Northwest ordered ten examples. The 747-400 was a significant reimagining of the Jumbo even though outwardly, aside from the huge winglets, it looked very similar to the series 300. It utilised new lighter composite materials and lighter aluminium alloys to decrease weight whilst adding a new fuel tank in the horizontal stabiliser. Flight systems were fully modernised removing the need for the flight engineer position, new much more powerful engines were developed by all three of the major manufacturers and there was a host of other design improvements.
In the 1970s only Pan Am, Northwest and TWA had sufficient international routes that could support 747s, however by the mid-late 1980s Pan Am and TWA were in such trouble that not only could they not afford new 747s but they were downsizing their transatlantic fleets to 767s and A310s more suitable to the frequency is king modern attitude to transatlantic services. It was across the Pacific that the 747 best suited US airlines where the distances were so great that there was a need for the 747s impressive range capabilities. Pan Am had been forced to sell its Pacific dvision to United in the mid-80s which left only itself and Northwest as viable customers for new Jumbos. Northwest Orient had been strengthening its Pacific network steadily and operated an impressive network across the Pacific especially to Tokyo where it ran a mini-hub operation. For Northwest a new 747 was most welcome and it would become the launch customer for the new 747-400 series.
The first 747-400 rolled out of the factory on January 26, 1988 and flew for the first time on April 29. The first four aircraft were used in the flight test programme which included two aircraft equipped with Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. Both of these aircraft were destined for Northwest and in fact N401PW, which was the first flight frame, would join Northwest as N661US. Even though she was registered as the first Northwest 747-451 she actually was the sixth delivered. Northwest instead used an alternative aircraft (N663US) to undertake the first 747-400 in service operation, between Minneapolis and Phoenix, on February 9, 1989 (the 20th anniversary of the 747-100's first flight).
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: