The second generation of the Boeing 747, the 747-200 would go on to be among the more popular derivatives of the classic design, outdoing the original -100, but even outdoing the later -300 in terms of production life length and numbers built, and even today remains popular with the few airlines that continue to use it.
The origins of the 747-200 came from a demand for increased range and increased payload capacity, the result being the development of the -200, being fitted with much more powerful engines, having an increased range and an increased take-off weight. The most notable features regarding the -200 were the increased number of windows on the upper deck, now fitted with ten windows over the previous 3, and the fitting of Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 engines. The -200 would later be made available in a variety of options, including the -200B standard passenger configuration, the -200F freighter, -200C convertible, and the -200M combi.
The -200F had the option of being fitted with the option of a side loading cargo door, though all models came with a pivoting nose cone. These aircraft were also capable of handling 95.3 tonnes and had a take-off weight of up to 833,000lb.
The more obscure -200C has the option of being either passenger, freight or mixed configuration, and featured removable passenger seats and a forward cargo door. Like the -200F, the -200C could also be fitted with an optional side cargo door on the main deck.
Another variant, the -200M, could carry freight in the rear section of the main deck via a side cargo door. A removable partition on the main deck separated the cargo area at the rear from the passengers at the front. The -200M could carry up to 238 passengers in a three-class configuration with cargo carried on the main deck. The model was also known as the 747-200 Combi. As on the -100, a stretched upper deck (SUD) modification was later offered. The -200M was popular among airlines with colonial routes such as KLM and Union des Transports Aériens (UTA), primarily for the delivery of passengers and essential cargo without the need for multiple flights.
Finally, the Boeing 747-200 was chosen to become a major part of the U.S. Military scene in the form of the Boeing E-4, a strategic command and control military aircraft operated by the United States Air Force of which four were built in 1974, and the VC-25, a military version of the Boeing 747 airliner, modified for presidential transport and operated by the United States Air Force as Air Force One, the call sign of any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. Two of these prestigious and highly modified aircraft exist, being built in 1986 and 1990 to replace the ageing Boeing 707 derived Air Force One craft. The two aircraft often operate in conjunction with Marine One helicopters, which ferry the President to airports whenever a vehicle motorcade would be inappropriate.
After launching the -200 with Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 engines, on August 1st, 1972, Boeing announced that it had reached an agreement with General Electric to certify the 747 with CF6-50 series engines to increase the aircraft’s market potential. Rolls-Royce followed 747 engine production with a launch order from British Airways for four aircraft. The option of RB211-524B engines was announced on June 17th, 1975. The -200 was the first 747 to provide a choice of powerplant from the three major engine manufacturers.
Production of the 747-200 lasted until 1991, 20 years after the first examples entered service. By that time its descendent, the 747-400, was now in full production and space needed to be made at the Everett Factory for its construction. Additionally, the -200, by this point, was only being ordered for use with cargo airlines. Eventually, 393 of the 747-200 versions had been built when production ended in 1991; 225 being -200B’s, 73 being -200F’s, 13 being -200C’s, 78 being -200M’s, together with the 6 military examples.
During its mainstream working life, the 747-200 was involved in 12 fatal crashes and 13 hull losses, resulting in the deaths of 1,222 people both aboard the aircraft and on the ground.
The first major loss of a -200 was on September 1st, 1983, when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet fighters over the northern Pacific Ocean near Moneron Island after accidentally straying into Soviet airspace. Afraid to defy the orders of his superiors, Major Gennadi Osipovich reluctantly shot down the aircraft even though he had informed his superiors that it was a civilian Boeing 747. He later noted that he could see the faces of the passengers looking back at him in his Sukhoi Su-15 as he flew alongside. A total of 269 people were killed, including Larry McDonald, a Representative from Georgia in the United States House of Representatives.
The next major incident involving the 747-200 was Avianca Flight 011, which, on the 27th November, 1983, accidentally flew into a mountain while attempting to land at Madrid, resulting in 181 deaths.
Another deadly incident took place on June 23rd, 1985, when Air India Flight 182, flying over the Celtic Sea south of southern Ireland from Montreal to New Delhi, was blown up by members of the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa. The bomb had been placed in a suitcase by an insistent man who bullied the check-in attendant into putting the case aboard even though he himself would not by flying aboard the aircraft. This, coupled with poor security measures for hold baggage, resulted in the bomb exploding at around 07:15am, killing all 329 aboard.
The most unsettling, the cause of which to this day remains a mystery, was South African Airways Flight 295 operating between Taipei and Johannesburg on the 28th November, 1987. The aircraft, a 747-200M Combi aircraft, apparently suffered an in-flight fire in the rear cargo hold which eventually destroyed the aircraft’s controls and resulted in it crashing into the Indian Ocean near Mauritius, killing all 159 aboard. However, the cause has never been officially determined as an in-flight fire, which has resulted in a wide variety of conspiracy theories, most of which regarding the nature of the aircraft’s cargo, ranging from components for the development of nuclear bombs by the South African Defence Force.
Another notable crash, one which was a fault with the aircraft design, was El Al Flight 1862, a cargo flight out of Amsterdam that crashed into an apartment block shortly after takeoff due to both its starboard side engines detaching on October 4th, 1992, resulting in 43 deaths, 4 on the plane, 39 on the ground. Engines 3 and 4 detached after takeoff as a result of metal fatigue prior to overload failure arising out of inadequate design; as a result the flight crew lost control and the crippled 747 crashed into the Klein-Kruitberg apartments in Bijlmermeer at high speed.
The last major crash of the -200 was again due to metal fatigue, this being China Airlines Flight 611, which broke up over the Taiwan Strait mid-flight on May 25th, 2002, while en route to Hong Kong, killing all 225 aboard. The result was found to be due to Metal fatigue at the site of a previous repair was cited as a cause. This crash garnered high publicity and had heavy, but short-term, detrimental effects on the profitable route between Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Today, the 747-200 remains in operation for many airlines, but no longer as the flagship of the larger, more mainline carriers. Though the 747-200 was still a major part of carriers such as United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa well into the late 1990’s, the fallout of September 11th forced these carriers to replace their ageing inefficient birds and thus most were seen off by 2005. These days you’d be most likely to find the 747-200’s operating with parcels and cargo operators, mostly based in Africa and Asia though if you look in certain parts of Europe and America there’ll still be a few of these legendary aircraft buzzing around over 45 years after the first ones hit the skies!