12 August 1985: The worst accident involving a single aircraft occurred when a Boeing 747 operated by Japan Air Lines crashed into a mountain in the Gunma Prefecture, killing 520 persons. There were just 4 survivors.
JAL Flight 123 was a Boeing 747-146SR, registration JA8119. It departed Tokyo International Airport enroute Osaka International Airport. There were 15 crewmembers, led by Captain Masami Takahama, with First Officer Yutaka Sasaki and Second Officer Hiroshi Fukuda. There were 509 passengers aboard.
Flight 123 lifted off at 6:12 p.m., 12 minutes behind schedule. 12 minutes after takeoff, as the 747 was at its cruising altitude, the fuselage rear pressure bulkhead suddenly failed, causing explosive decompression of the cabin. Cabin air then rushed into the unpressurized tail section. The resulting overpressure caused a failure of the APU bulkhead and the support structure for the vertical fin. The airliner’s vertical fin separated from the fuselage. All four of the 747’s hydraulic systems were ruptured. The hydraulic system was quickly depleted, leaving the crew unable to move any flight control surfaces.
Control of the airplane began to quickly deteriorate and the only control left was to vary the thrust on the four turbofan engines. The flight crew began an emergency descent and declared an emergency.
For the next 32 minutes, JA8119 flew in large uncontrolled arcs. The 747 rolled into banks as steep as 60°, and at one point, the nose pitched down into a dive reaching 18,000 feet per minute (91 meters per second). The crew was able to bring the 747 back to a nose-high attitude at about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), but again lost control. At 6:56 p.m., JAL 123 disappeared from air traffic control radar.
The airliner struck a ridge on 1,978.6 meter (6,491.5 feet) Mount Takamagahara at 340 knots (391 miles per hour, or 630 kilometers per hour), then impacted a second time at an elevation of 5,135 feet (1,565 meters). The aircraft was totally destroyed.
Investigation of the accident determined that the 747 had previously been damaged when its tail struck the runway during a landing, 2 June 1978. The rear pressure bulkhead had cracked as a result of the tail strike, but was repaired by a team of Boeing technicians. After the crash, it was discovered that the repair had not been correctly performed. Boeing engineers calculated that it could be expected to fail after 10,000 cycles. It was on the 12,219th cycle when the bulkhead failed.
Boeing 747-146SR JA8119 had accumulated a total of 25,030 flight hours by the time of the accident, on 18,835 flights.
9 February 1969: At 11:34 a.m., Boeing Chief Test Pilot Jack Wadell, with Engineering Test Pilots Brien Singleton Wygle, co-pilot, and Jesse Arthur Wallick, flight engineer, took off from Paine Field, Everett, Washington, aboard RA001, the prototype Boeing 747-121, and made a 1 hour, 15 minute test flight. The ship was named City of Everett after the home of the factory where it was built. It was originally registered N7470.
The 747 was the first “wide body” airliner and was called a “jumbo jet.” It is one of the most widely used airliners and air freighters in service world-wide, and is still in production after 52 years. The latest version is the 747-8, the “Dash Eight.” As of December 2020, Boeing had built 1,562 747s.
The Boeing 747 is a very large swept wing, four engine commercial transport. The 747-100 series was the first version to be built. It was operated by a flight crew of three—pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer—and was designed to carry 366 to 452 passengers. The airplane is 231 feet, 10.2 inches (70.668 meters) long with a wingspan of 195 feet, 8 inches (59.639 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 5 inches (19.329 meters). The wings are swept aft to 37° and have a total area of 5,500 square feet (511 square meters). The angle of incidence is 2°, and there are 7° of dihedral.
The interior cabin width is 20 feet (6.096 meters), giving it the name “wide body.” Its empty weight is 370,816 pounds (168,199 kilograms) and the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) is 735,000 pounds (333,390 kilograms).
The 747-100 is powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A high-bypass ratio turbofan engines. The JT9D is a two-spool, axial-flow turbofan engine with a single-stage fan section, 14-stage compressor (11 high- and 3 low-pressure stages) and 6-stage turbine (2 high- and 4 low-pressure stages). The engine is rated at 46,950 pounds of thrust (208.844 kilonewtons), or 48,570 pounds (216.050 kilonewtons) with water injection (2½-minute limit). This engine has a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 11.6 inches (2.428 meters), is 12 feet, 10.2 inches (3.917 meters) long and weighs 8,850 pounds (4,014 kilograms).
The 747-100 has a cruise speed of 0.84 Mach (555 miles per hour, 893 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The maximum certificated operating speed is 0.92 Mach. The airliner’s maximum range is 6,100 miles (9,817 kilometers).
City of Everett last flew in 1995. It is on static display at The Museum of Flight, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington.
16–17 August 1989: On its delivery flight, Qantas’ first Boeing 747-438 Longreach airliner, VH-OJA, City of Canberra, was flown by Captain David Massey-Green from London Heathrow Airport, England (IATA: LHR, ICAO: EGLL) to Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, Australia (IATA: SYD, ICAO: YSSY), non-stop. Three other senior Qantas captains, Ray Heiniger, George Lindeman and Rob Greenop completed the flight deck crew. Boeing Training Captain Chet Chester was also aboard.
The distance flown by the new 747 was 17,039.00 kilometers (10,587.54 miles) at an average speed of 845.58 kilometers per hour (525.42 miles per hour). The flight’s duration was 20 hours, 9 minutes, 5 seconds. This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance ¹ and World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course.²
VH-OJA was the first of four Boeing 747-400 airliners ordered by Qantas more than two years earlier. The company named these “Longreach” both to emphasize their very long range capabilities, but also as a commemoration of the first scheduled passenger flight of the Queensland and Northern Territories Aerial Services Ltd. at Longreach, Queensland, 2 November 1922. Qantas named the new airliner City of Canberra. The new 747, the twelfth -400 built, with U.S. registration N6064P, it made its first flight at Seattle with Boeing’s test pilots on 3 July 1989. It was turned over to Qantas on 9 August.
Planning for the record setting flight began almost as soon as the airplane had been ordered. Although the airplane was complete and ready to enter passenger service on arrival at Sydney, certain special arrangements were made. Shell Germany refined 60,000 gallons (227,000 liters) of a special high-density jet fuel and delivered it to Heathrow. Rolls-Royce, manufacturer of the RB211-524G high-bypass turbofan engines, had agreed to specially select four engines to be installed on VH-OJA at the Boeing plant at Everett, Washington.
On the morning of the flight, City of Canberra was towed to the Hold Short position for Runway 28 Right (28R) so as not to use any of the precious fuel while taxiing from the terminal. Once there, its fuel tanks were filled to overflow. The airport fire department stood by as the excess fuel ran out of the tank vents. In the passenger cabin were two Flight Service Directors, FSD David Cohen and FSD Mal Callender, and eighteen passengers including senior executives from Qantas, Boeing, Shell as well as representatives of the Australian news media. The flight crew planned the engine start to allow for the mandatory three-minute warm-up and at approximately 0840 local, called the Tower, using the call sign Qantas 7441, and said that they were ready for takeoff.
After climbing to altitude they began the cruise portion of the flight at Flight Level 330 (33,000 feet or 10,058 meters). As fuel was burned off the airliner gradually climbed higher for more efficiency, eventually reaching a maximum altitude of 45,100 feet (13,746.5 meters) by the time they had reached the west coast of Australia.
QF7441 touched down at Sydney Airport at 2:19 p.m, local time (0419 UTC).
For a more detailed description of this flight and its planning, see John McHarg’s article, “The Delivery Flight of Qantas Boeing 747-438 VH-OJA” at:
City of Canberra, VH-OJA, remained in Qantas service until 8 March 2015. The airliner was withdrawn from service and donated to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Museum at Illawara Regional Airport (YWOL), New South Wales. Its distance record stood until 10 November 1995 when another Boeing airliner, a 777-200LR with Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman in command, set a new distance record.
The Boeing 747-400 airliner can carry between 416 and 660 passengers, depending on configuration. It is 231 feet, 10 inches (70.6 meters) long with a wingspan of 211 feet, 5 inches (64.4 meters) and overall height of 63 feet, 8 inches (19.4 meters). Empty weight is 394,100 pounds (178,800 kilograms). Maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is 875,000 pounds (396,890 kilograms). While the prototype was powered by four Pratt and Whitney PW4056 turbofan engines, production airplanes could be ordered with PW4062, General Electric CF6 or Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, providing thrust ranging from 59,500 to 63,300 pounds. The –400 has a cruise speed of 0.85 Mach (567 miles per hour, 912 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 0.92 Mach (614 miles per hour, 988 kilometers hour). Maximum range at maximum payload weight is 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers).
¹ FAI Record File Number 2201: Distance, 17 039.00 km
² FAI Record File Number 2202: Speed over a recognised course, 845.58 km/h