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The World’s Most Interesting Boeing 747 Uses



The iconic Boeing 747 has been inspiring generations of long-haul travelers for more than half a century. Taking large quantities of passengers and/or cargo to far-flung destinations is how it made its name, but did you know that there also are certain examples that have been used for other purposes? Let’s take a look at some of these modified jumbos.

NASA Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Getty
The Space Shuttle is among the most interesting cargo transported by the 747. Photo: Getty Images

Carrying the Space Shuttle

The Boeing 747 is no stranger to carrying unusual or outsize cargo. Indeed, Boeing even produced a special ‘Dreamlifter‘ version to transport 787 components between Japan and the US. However, a pair of NASA-owned examples took this a step further. Between 1977 and 2012, NASA utilized two jumbos to transport Space Shuttles.

The journey that this most often involved was between Edwards AFB, California to the Kennedy Space Center’s ‘Shuttle Landing Facility’ in Florida. What made these aircraft stand out was the fact that they carried the shuttle atop their fuselage! NASA sadly no longer operates such flights, but, for the 45 years that they did, they made for a spectacular sight.

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An airborne missile defense system

The US Air Force has also operated modified 747s for a variety of purposes. One of these was an airborne missile defense aircraft known as the YAL-1. Originally a 747-400F, the USAF fitted this plane with a megawatt-class chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL).

Boeing 747 YAL-1 Missile Defense
The Boeing YAL-1 in flight. Photo: US Missile Defense Agency via Wikimedia Commons

The purpose of this airborne laser testbed aircraft was to use the aforementioned COIL to destroy inbound ballistic missiles. The YAL-1 first flew in 2002, but did not test-fire its low-power laser at an airborne target until five years later, in 2007.

January 2010 saw the first deployment of the YAL-1’s high-energy laser when it intercepted a test target. Shortly after, it succeeded in destroying a further two test missiles. However, funding was cut the same year, with the program canceled in 2011. After making its last flight in February 2012, the YAL-1 was eventually scrapped in September 2014.

SOFIA – an airborne observatory

Our next example takes us back to NASA, which has used the 747 for more than just shuttle carrying duties. Indeed, it also operates a modified short-fuselage 747SP, known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

SOFIA in flight with its telescope door open. Photo: NASA/Jim Ross via Wikimedia Commons

NASA jointly operates SOFIA with the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center). It recently flew a series of missions from Cologne, Germany, after a maintenance period at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg.  As seen in the photo above, SOFIA’s fuselage features a large telescope door towards the rear of the aircraft.

This allows a 2.5-meter wide telescope to make observations from a high altitude, of around 45,000 feet. Compared to ground-based telescopes, the benefit of this is that it avoids most of the atmosphere’s water vapor, which otherwise absorbs light. The result is clearer observations of the wonders of outer space during its 10-hour overnight missions.

Which of these unorthodox Boeing 747 uses is your favorite? Have you ever seen or even been onboard any of these special jumbos? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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Qatar Airways Innaugurates New Abidjan Route



Qatar Airways has inaugurated its new service to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, this week. Flight QR1423 landed in Abidjan on Wednesday (16th June) for the first time. The route will operate three times a week using a Boeing 787-8 as a one-stop service from Accra, Ghana.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787
The Dreamliner received a warm welcome on Wednesday, making it Qatar’s 18th country in Africa and 25th destination. Photo: Qatar Airways

Touch down

Qatar Airways officially touched down in Abidjan on Wednesday morning, adding its 25th destination in Africa. The airline’s Boeing 787-8 landed at 09:23 AM local time, flying the short one-hour and five-minute hop from neighboring Accra.

This route was first announced in early May, as Qatar looks to expand its presence in the continent for both passenger and cargo traffic. The new route will operate on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, offering travelers flexibility with their travel dates and the ability to fly to 130 destinations in Qatar’s network.

Qatar Airways Abidjan inaugural flight
Qatar now operates 100 weekly flights from its hub in Doha to Africa, with four new routes since the pandemic began. Photo: Qatar Airways

In a statement, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said,

“Launching flights to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire – our fourth new destination in Africa since the start of the pandemic, after having recently launched Abuja in Nigeria; Accra in Ghana; and Luanda in Angola is a significant step in our African growth…We thank the government of Côte d’Ivoire for their support to launch these flights, and we look forward to working closely with our partners here to grow this route and support the recovery of tourism and trade in this region.”

Cargo focus

In addition to greater passenger connectivity, Qatar Airways has highlighted the cargo opportunity of the Abidjan route. As demand from Côte d’Ivoire rises due to the pandemic, Qatar plans to carry cargo from the country to high-demand destinations such as Paris, Beirut, and many cities in the Indian subcontinent.

For this purpose, the 15 tonne cargo capacity in each 787 will prove to be a huge boon for exporters. In addition to cargo space, the 787-8 can also carry 254 passengers in total, including 22 in business class and 232 in economy.

Emirates also flies a one-stop Dubai-Accra-Abidjan service. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Qatar Airways is going after Emirates will this latest route launch. The Dubai-based giant offers a similar one-stop service to Abidjan, albeit arriving at 13:50 in the afternoon. However, Emirates operates the route on a daily basis and using the larger Boeing 777-300ER.

Keeping busy

For Qatar Airways, new routes are a key part of its post-pandemic recovery. In total, the carrier has launched eight new routes since last year, four in Africa (Abuja, Accra, Luanda, and now, Abidjan), two in the US (San Francisco and Seattle), Brisbane, Australia, and Cebu, Philippines.

The carrier will operate flights to a massive 140 destinations this summer, a huge recovery from the lows of last spring. While load factors could be low, Qatar Airways is sure it can find success along with its bustling cargo business.

What do you think about Qatar Airways’ Africa expansion? Let us know in the comments!

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Air New Zealand offers employees NZ$1,000 worth of shares



An Air New Zealand A321-271 NX, ZK-NNC, as shot by Victor Pody
An Air New Zealand A321-271 NX, ZK-NNC, as shot by Victor Pody

Air New Zealand has announced it will give NZ$1,000 worth of company shares to all of its permanent employees, in recognition of their efforts during the past year.

It comes as the airline anticipates reporting a loss for the 2020-21 financial year of up to NZ$450 million, in light of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the global travel market.

Despite the impending loss, Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said that the reward of shares to its permanent employees is the “right thing to do” following a year of uncertainty, struggle, wage cuts and stand-downs.

It also follows news that Foran himself had been awarded nearly NZ$2 million in shares, in a move the E tū union equated to “rubbing salt into an already painful wound”, following thousands of job losses and millions of dollars in wage cuts due to the pandemic.

The share award will be offered to about 8,000 employees across New Zealand and Australia, while employees at overseas bases will be offered a cash equivalent.

The shares will be awarded in Q4 of the 2021 calendar year, the airline said.

“By awarding shares to our employees, we want them to have the chance to benefit from the future success we will really need their help to deliver,” Foran said.


“I’m immensely proud of the way our people have responded to the COVID-19 crisis. They have risen to the occasion, working hard to keep New Zealand connected and Kiwis safe.”

Foran noted that some Air New Zealand pilots and cabin crew spent over 100 days in total in isolation in order to fulfil their roles and repatriate New Zealanders back home during the pandemic, while the airline’s cargo team has assisted in sending over 100,000 tonnes of NZ products across the globe.

“Day in-and-out our people have done, and continue to do, everything they can in challenging and changing conditions to keep our customers safe,” Foran said.

On top of this reward, the airline has committed to return all of its employees on reduced salaries back up to full-time pay from 1 July 2021.

“These steps are possible because we’re on a more stable financial footing given our strong domestic business and growing Tasman and Cook Islands revenues,” Foran said.

“While a full recovery is still some time away, the changes announced today recognise that we cannot get there without an exceptional and ongoing contribution by our dedicated Air New Zealand team.

“We thank our people for the sacrifices made over the past 15 months and for their ongoing commitment to our customers in the coming year.”

Air New Zealand said its domestic capacity now sits at 90 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels, while it’s trans-Tasman capacity sits at around 70 per cent, thanks to the travel bubble announced between Australia and New Zealand in April.

A meaningful recovery in long-haul international travel is still some time off however, in light of New Zealand’s strict border restrictions, with current capacity at just 5 per cent of pre-COVID levels.

“The airline has its eyes firmly set on the future as we move out of the ‘survive’ phase and into revival mode,” Foran said, noting that the airline will focus now on strengthening its domestic business, and the customer experience.

The airline has recently re-negotiated its delivery date with Boeing for the first of its eight new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, initially ordered in 2019, to now take delivery in 2024.

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Five Passenger Jets Damaged In Unexpected Ahmedabad Thunderstorm



Five Airbus A320neos were damaged at Ahemdabad Airport following an unexpected rainstorm. Three aircraft belonged to IndiGo and two to Go First, both of which are low-cost airlines. While the damage was minor, the planes will be pulled out of service for repairs and checks before flying again.

IndiGo GoAir A320s
Ahmedabad is India’s seventh-busiest airport and has become a major domestic hub for airlines. Photo: Getty Images


According to the Mint, an unexpected thunderstorm and strong winds caused havoc at Ahemdabad Airport. At least six passenger planes suffered some degree of damage or were impacted by the sudden change in weather conditions.

Three IndiGo and two Go First (formerly GoAir) Airbus A320neos were among those damaged during the storm. The aircraft impacted were registered: VT- IVO, VT-ITD, and VT-IVQ for IndiGo, and VT-WGV and VT-WJG for Go First, according to Times Now.

IndiGo A320neo getty
The planes were parked on aircraft bays in the open when the storm first hit. Photo: Getty Images

Luckily, an IndiGo spokesperson has confirmed that the damage to its three aircraft was minimal, saying,

“Ahmedabad airport was hit by an unexpected thunderstorm with extremely high winds last evening. This impacted all airlines’ aircraft parked at Ahmedabad airport…Three IndiGo aircraft sustained minor/non-structural damages which will require replacement of certain parts. The aircraft shall be in operations after necessary repairs.”

GoAir has declined to comment citing the ongoing investigation. It’s currently unclear how its two aircraft were impacted, although no major damage has been reported. One SpiceJet Boeing 737 was blown away from its bay due to the storm, but did not suffer any structural damage. It has since been towed back to its stand and undergone checks.

Operations impacted

As the planes were blown around by the sudden and severe storm, Ahemdabad Airport was forced to cancel and delay dozens of flights on Wednesday and Thursday. Data from shows that at least four flights have been canceled on Friday as well, although it’s unclear how much this has to do with the storm and will low loads instead (all are GoAir flights).

While Ahemdabad continues to see rain, thunder, and winds, airport operations seem to be back on track. However, images show the extent of the thunderstorm, with one aircraft step falling over and its covering torn apart. According to the Times of India, one plane was its wingtip damaged, while the other saw its slats impacted.

GoAir A320
GoAir has canceled dozens of flights due to low loads as it looks to cut costs, including at Ahemdabad today. Photo: Airbus

The DGCA has launched an investigation into the aircraft damage at Ahemdabad Airport and will report back with the circumstances. However, aircraft damage due to bad weather is not a rare phenomenon by any means.


Storms in recent years have seen incidents as severe as a Qatar Airways 787 crashing into an A350. However, less severe storms (including hail) can cause issues such as runway slippages, nose damage, and much more.

There is little that can be done beyond advanced forecasting and preparing an airport to minimize possible damage from a storm. For now, all five aircraft will be headed for maintenance and repairs before they receive the all-clear to fly again.

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RAAF to perform ‘high-complexity’ combat training in the NT



F-35A Lightning II aircraft A35-033 touches down at RAAF Base Williamtown after transiting from the United States. Photo Sergeant David Gibbs 2

Around 30 RAAF aircraft, including F-35 Lightning II and F/A-18A/B Hornet fighter jets, are set to be deployed for Exercise Rogue Ambush in the Northern Territory over the next three weeks.

The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed over 300 personnel and approximately 30 aircraft to RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal for Exercise Rogue Ambush 21-1, where they are set to conduct a range of tactical flying activities across the Northern Territory.

As part of the exercise, which will run from 15 June to 2 July, the RAAF will leverage Tindal restricted airspace and Delamere Air Weapons Range.

Aircraft involved in the exercise include the F-35A Lightning II, F/A-18A/B Hornet, E-7A Wedgetail, Hawk 127 lead-in fighter and KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport.

The F-35A Lightning II, E-7A Wedgetail and KC-30 Multi-Role Tanker Transport will operate from RAAF Base Darwin, while the F/A-18A/B Hornet and Hawk 127 lead-in fighter will operate from RAAF Base Tindal.

The exercise is set to mark the final phase of the first F-35A operational conversion course conducted in Australia since its introduction.


“F-35A fighter pilots from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit and E-7A Wedgetail co-pilots and aircrew from No. 2 Squadron who have deployed from RAAF Base Williamtown will face challenging training during the final phase of their six-month operational conversion courses,” Exercise Commander, Group Captain Matthew McCormack observed.

“The biannual Rogue Ambush exercises are designed to produce personnel ready to deliver air power for the joint force in peace and war.”

GPCAPT McCormack said participants would engage in “high-complexity” air combat training and interoperability activities with other Force Element Groups, enabling the RAAF to put its deployment capabilities to the test.

“The exercise provides our new pilots and aircrew an offensive counter-air training environment to fly complex aircraft and achieve an extremely high performance of precision strike missions, airborne command and control and air to air refuelling,” he added.

Aircraft are expected to operate during routine flying hours on weekdays only.

Exercise Rogue Ambush follows Exercise Arnhem Thunder, which saw two F-35As deployed with a full arsenal for the first time.

In addition to their internal payload, the F-35s departed with laser-guided GBU-12 bombs attached to their under-wing pylons.

More than 500 personnel and 50 aircraft participated in the training exercise, the largest post-COVID, which concluded on Tuesday (15 June).

Aircraft conducted air-to-air combat scenarios and dropped live ordnance on the Delamere Air Weapons Range, with a contingency response squadron activating forward operating base at the Mount Bundey Training Area.

Exercise director, Wing Commander Steven Bradley, lauded the success of Arnhem Thunder.

“It is a prime example of Air Force’s ability to mobilise and integrate its air and ground-based capabilities in response to a range of security threats,” WGCDR Bradley said.

“The exercise allowed Air Force’s key elements – Air Combat Group, Surveillance and Response Group, Air Mobility Group, and Combat Support Group to conduct important training.”

Written by Charbel Kadib.

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