You really are a lucky country Japan, you got yourself your own variant of the Boeing 747!
A rare version of the classic Jumbo Jet, the Boeing 747SR (Short Range) was a specialist edition of the Boeing 747-100 specifically built for the Japanese market. With the increase in air travel demand, Japan found that conventional domestic aircraft such as Boeing
727’s and 737’s weren’t up to the task of carrying such high volumes of passengers between the country’s major cities without having to have incredibly high frequencies. As such, Japan turned to Boeing and asked them to develop a new version of their Boeing 747 that could carry up to 500 passengers but with a lower range based on their lower capacity fuel tanks.
The result came in 1973 with the Boeing 747-100SR, at an initial order of four aircraft by Japan Air Lines. Eventually Japan Air Lines would receive seven of these original 747-100SR’s by the end of 1975, and would be the sole operator of the type. The 747SR had an economic design life objective of 52,000 flights during 20 years of operation, compared to 24,600 flights in 20 years for the standard 747. The initial 747SR model, the -100SR, had a strengthened body structure and landing gear to accommodate the added stress accumulated from a greater number of takeoffs and landings. Extra structural support
was built into the wings, fuselage, and the landing gear along with a 20 percent reduction in fuel capacity. The -100SR had 520,000lb MTOW and was powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A engines derated to 43,000lbf of thrust.
The initial -100SR was followed by the -100BSR, which increased takeoff weight capability and incorporated structural modifications for a high cycle-to-flying hour ratio. The aircraft made its first flight in 1978 and was delivered to All Nippon Airways (ANA) in December of that year. In all, 20 -100BSR’s were produced and split between Japan Air Lines and ANA. The -100BSR had a 600,000lb MTOW and was powered by the same JT9D-7A or General Electric CF6-45 engines used on the -100SR.
A final variant of the 747SR series were two -100BSR SUD models built in 1986 which featured the Stretched Upper Deck (SUD) of the Boeing 747-300. The type’s maiden flight occurred on February 26th, 1986, with FAA certification and first delivery on March 24th, 1986.
The 747SR however gained notoriety in August 1985, when Japan Air Lines Flight 123, operated by a Boeing 747SR-146, crashed into the slopes of Mount Osutaka following a structural failure of the vertical stabiliser, resulting in 520 deaths with only 4 survivors, a disaster that stands today as the worst aviation incident involving a single aircraft. The cause was later determined to be a failure to rectify structural damage to the aircraft following a tail strike in 1978.
The Boeing 747SR’s remained in operation with Japan Air Lines and ANA until the mid-2000’s, the final aircraft, the 747-100BSR SUD models, being retired at the end of 2006. Only 29 of these aircraft were ever built, and most were barely known about outside of Japan. In aviation circles they are very obscure, with most not considering them notable and simply just a toned down version of the -100. Some SR’s did go on to lead a further life in aviation service, Orient Thai Airlines operated three ex-Japan Air Lines examples
on internal services within Thailand, including both -100BSR SUD’s, though one was scrapped in 2011, and the other was partially scrapped in 2014 though its nose-section apparently still exists in the back streets of a Bangkok suburb (if you want to try and find it, it’s here: 594 Ramkhamhaeng Rd, 13.764984°, 100.652300°). Orient Thai’s other Boeing 747SR, a 747-100SR, is apparently stored at Bangkok awaiting its fate. Another 747-100SR, ex-ANA, was operated by Qatar in the late 1990’s and was used on flights to London-Gatwick, this aircraft being eventually scrapped sometime in the early 2000’s. A 1980 Japan Air Lines example was bought in 2004 and smashed to pieces to simulate a
spectacular plane crash on the set of the film War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise, its remains still present on the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles, while another example, a 1975 Japan Air Lines aircraft, was bought by Evergreen International and converted to cargo use in 1990, this aircraft now being slowly dismantled at Marana-Pinal Air Park near Tuscon, Arizona.
Perhaps the most notable 747SR is N911NA, a 1973 built ex-Japan Airlines unit which was purchased by NASA after it was deemed surplus to requirement by the carrier. The aircraft, which began operations with NASA in 1990, was used to transport the Space Shuttle orbiter vehicles between the various maintenance facilities and launch sites. The aircraft complimented ship N905NA, a former American Airlines 747-100 which had also been purchased due to it being surplus to requirement. The two aircraft operated ferry flights for the orbiter vehicles until the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2012. N911NA was retired to the quiet life of a museum piece at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark near Palmdale, California.
Nevertheless, the Boeing 747SR could be described as the first example of a long-range, high capacity jet airliner being used specifically for domestic flights. A literal commuter train in the sky, the SR has since been followed by other derivatives of this particular formula, including a domestic version of the 747-400. It didn’t have much of an impact on the aviation industry in general, but it’s still an interesting but sadly not well known variant of a legendary series of aircraft.