On Wednesday, January 28, 1970, the wide-body era at Frankfurt started rather unexpectedly with the arrival of a diverted Pan American 747. Read the story behind the unplanned visit below!
Pan American World Airways Boeing 747-121 N737PA "Clipper Red Jacket," had been underway from New York's Kennedy Airport to London Heathrow.
Scheduled Boeing 747 service on the JFK-Heathrow route had only commenced a few days prior, on Thursday, January 22. It was the first route on which Pan Am had deployed the 747 and it was the world's first scheduled 747 service.
That day, the 362-seat aircraft carried 177 passengers and a crew of 21, among which five cockpit crew. On the controls of Flight Two was veteran pilot, Captain Jess Tranter, part of Pan Am's elite team of 747-qualified pilots - who also piloted the 747 on the test flight to Heathrow on January 11.
That morning London was completely fogged in and visibility was down to only 50 metres (164 feet). Thus, Captain Tranter decided to divert to Frankfurt's Rhein Main Airport, were Pan Am had a major base and which was the airline's main alternate for London.
News about the upcoming arrival of the "Jumbo-Jet" spread around Frankfurt Airport like wildfire and anyone who could interrupted their work to witness the arrival of what the airport press release referred to as "The Flying Cinema," presumably because the 747 featured movie screens, a novelty at the time.
The plane touched down at Frankfurt's Rhein-Main Airport at 8:36 am that morning. After landing, the 747 was guided by two "follow-me" vehicles to gate B46, at Frankfurt's brand-new "Terminal Mitte," which was still largely under construction.
Terminal Mitte was designed for the 747 and B46 was one of several gates at Frankfurt that could connect three passenger boarding bridges to the 747, two on the portside and one on the starboard side.
According to the press release, two boarding bridges were sufficient to allow the 177 passengers and 21 crew to disembark.
A RUSHED WELCOME
Lord Mayor of Frankfurt Professor Dr. Willy Brundert was rushed to the airport for an improvised welcome and gave Captain Tranter and his crew an illustrated book about Frankfurt Airport.
Many hundreds of airport and airline employees, as well as construction workers working on Terminal Mitte came by on foot or by airport vehicle to admire the gigantic jet.
The airport press release specifically mentioned that ramp supervisors were not amused by all the vehicles cluttering the ramp!
The aircraft was parked at the terminal for about five hours, providing ground crews a golden opportunity to practice their new procedures for the 747.
At noon, the passengers, who had been waiting in the "Transit Restaurant," were asked to board the aircraft. However, Captain Tranter was advised that the airspace over London was heavily congested and that he would likely be put in a holding pattern for an hour.
Thus, he decided to delay departure to Heathrow instead. Over an hour later, two tow trucks pushed back the 747 out on to the platform, after which it taxied to the threshold of runway 25R.
As it was the middle of the afternoon rush hour, the aircraft had to hold behind five other aircraft.
Finally, after a take-off run of barely 2000 metres (6,560 feet) the Boeing 747 was airborne at 1:54 pm, five and a half hours after it had touched down at Frankfurt.
SCHEDULED 747 SERVICE FROM FRANKFURT
Pan Am started scheduled 747 daily service from JFK to Frankfurt (via Heathrow) on April 5, 1970.
Lufthansa was the first European airline to provide its passenger the opportunity to fly a jumbo jet, being the second international airline following Pan Am, commencing daily service between Frankfurt and New York JFK on April 26.
There's a story on the web claiming that the diverted Pan Am landed 30 minutes before the first scheduled 747 arrival, which was TWA's inaugural 747 service between JFK and Frankfurt.
However, TWA didn't start scheduled service between New York and Frankfurt until January 6, 1971.
Read more about Frankfurt's Jet-Age "Terminal Mitte" here. Read more about the airport's history here.
Did you fly on the 747 in the early days? Was the trip glitch free? Share your experience in the comments below!
Thanks again to my friends at the Fraport Archive, Markus Grossback and Annette Schmidt, for their kind help in preparing this article!
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Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.