Boeing certainly has a propensity for building aircraft that become surplus to requirement within a couple of years. We’ve had the Boeing 720, the Boeing 717, and this, the 747-300. The -300 was meant to be the next step in the evolution of the Boeing 747 range, but very quickly fell into obscurity when its design, though endearing, became somewhat redundant.
The 747-300 made its début in 1982 after three years of development. The general concept of the -300 was to be a replacement for the nearly 10 year old -200 of 1971, intending to increase capacity and range. The most prominent design changes between the -300 and its predecessor was the extension of the upper deck by 23ft and 4in, including two emergency exit doors. The 747 had only ever previously offered the extended upper deck as a retrofit by customer demand, examples being the domestic 747-100SR aircraft. The 747-300 introduced a new straight stairway to the upper deck, instead of a spiral staircase on earlier variants, which creates room above and below for more seats. Minor aerodynamic changes allowed the -300’s cruise speed to reach 602mph compared with 598mph of the previous 747 models, while, crucially, maintaining the same takeoff weight. The -300 also featured the ability to take multiple engines from both the previous models, including Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce powerplants from the -200, as well as updated General Electric CF6-80C2B1 engines.
The 747-300 made its first flight on October 5th, 1982, and was delivered to launch customer Swissair on March 23rd, 1983. The 747-300 was offered in three variants, the conventional passenger -300; the -300SR, a short range, high-capacity domestic model produced for Japanese markets with a maximum seating for 584; and the -300M, a combi model featuring cargo capacity on the rear portion of the main deck, similar to the -200M, but with the stretched upper deck it can carry more passengers.
Though the 747-300 was indeed a well performing aircraft and a notable step-up from the previous -200, a variety of factors turned out to be its downfall, most notably the 747-400. The -400 was introduced only five years after the -300, and featured an incredible number of upgrades over the previous model, including a glass cockpit and, by extension, the removal of the Flight Engineer, increased range, higher capacity and higher efficiency. With the -400 announced in 1985, most major carriers wondered what the point was in buying an $83m aircraft that largely featured outdated technology in spite of its advancements in range and capacity, when in a couple of years time the plane to end all planes would be coming out.
As such, only 81 747-300’s were ever made, 56 -300’s, 21 -300M’s and 4 -300SR’s. The last 747-300 was delivered in September 1990 to Sabena, whilst the -200 it was intended to replace was killed off a year later, meaning the replacement was outlived by what it was meant to replace. However, though only a small number of these aircraft were built, they did hit it off well with many major flag carriers, including Swissair, Sabena, Iberia, Air France, Qantas, Air India, Pakistan International Airlines and Japan Air Lines. Today a majority of these carriers have retired the type, the last major operator of the -300 being Pakistan International Airlines, which sold off the last one in 2015. As of 2016, only 4 -300’s remain in revenue earning service, three with Max Air of Nigeria, and one with The Cargo Airlines. In addition, several are in store across the world, whilst one, 1985 built HS-VAN, an ex-Saudi Arabian Airlines aircraft, has been preserved at an Amusement Park in Surabaya, Indonesia.
During its time in major commercial service, the 747-300 was involved in only one fatal accident, that being Korean Air Flight 801. On approach to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in the United States territory of Guam on August 6th, 1997, the 747 crashed into Nimitz Hill at around 01:45am, killing 228 of the 254 on board. The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s failure to adequately brief and execute the non-precision approach and the first officer’s and flight engineer’s failure to effectively monitor and cross-check the captain’s execution of the approach. Contributing to these failures were the captain’s fatigue and Korean Air’s inadequate flight crew training. Contributing to the accident was the Federal Aviation Administration’s intentional inhibition of the minimum safe altitude warning system at Guam and the agency’s failure to adequately manage the system.
Today the 747-300 is among the most obscure variants of the 747 you can find. Once a familiar sight in Europe and former European colonies such as the Caribbean, or in Asia and Oceania, they’ve now been largely consigned to the history books, only rarely venturing into familiar skies. As mentioned, you may find a few in Nigeria, but apart from that, this very obscure and rarely remembered aircraft you’ll probably find, more often than not, in an aircraft graveyard.