Home Classic Airliners What Happened to Delta’s 747s?

What Happened to Delta’s 747s?

by Matt Falcus

Delta Air Lines is one of the world’s largest airlines by both fleet size and passengers carried.

Having been founded as a crop-dusting operation in 1924, it has grown through hard work, dedicated employees, and some key mergers with other carriers, to operate a fleet of over 900 aircraft.

Today its wide-ranging long-haul network, as well as key trunk routes within the United States, are served by widebody types like the Airbus A330 and A330neo, A350 and Boeing 767-300ER.

However, at two points in its life Delta flew the giant of them all – the Boeing 747. But what was the story of these aircraft and what happened to them?


Delta’s First Boeing 747s

Photo (c) Aero Icarus

Delta had been a pioneer of many new aircraft types in the early days of the jet age, including the Douglas DC-8, DC-9, Lockheed TriStar and Convair 880.

However, in keeping with the other major US carriers, it ordered a small fleet of Boeing 747-100s for delivery starting in September 1970s.

Unlike Pan American and TWA, who were flying their 747s internationally, Delta intended to use the jumbo jet on domestic trunk routes, such as Atlanta – Dallas – Los Angeles. Rivals Braniff and Eastern were also using 747s on domestic runs.

This large aircraft did, however, occasionally operate on Delta’s interchange services to Europe with Pan Am and could be seen in places like London Heathrow and Frankfurt.

Delta 747 at London Heathrow. Photo (c) ClipperATC. Taken from the Delta Air Lines book.

The fleet of early 747s was:

N9896 (19896/72), 747-132, 1970-1974

N9897 (19897/82), 747-132, 1970-1977

N9898 (19898/94), 747-132, 1970-1975

N9899 (20246/155), 747-132SF, 1971-1977

N9900 (20247/159), 747-132SF, 1971-1977


It was not long, however, that the fleet of five aircraft was deemed to be too large for Delta’s needs, with most of its domestic services unsuitable for a type with such great capacity.

A decision was made to remove the type from Delta’s fleet, and the last of the 747s was sold on in 1977.


Later Boeing 747-400sN661US Delta 747

Having not flown the Boeing 747 since 1977, and never ordering later variants, Delta found itself with a fleet of more modern Boeing 747-400s joining its fleet in the late 2000s.

The airline completed a merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008 which saw many of this carrier’s aircraft joining Delta’s fleet, including Airbus A319s, A320s, Boeing 757s and even a return of the Douglas DC-9.

Photo: Paul Spijkers

Among these additions were 16 Boeing 747-400s. They were:

N661US (23719/696), 747-451, 2009-2015

N662US (23720/708), 747-451, 2010-2017

N663US (23818/715), 747-451, 2009-2017

N664US (23819/721), 747-451, 2009-2016

N665US (23820/726), 747-451, 2008-2018

N666US (23821/742), 747-451, 2009-2017

N667US (24222/799), 747-451, 2009-2017

N668US (24223/800), 747-451, 2009-2017

N669US (24224/803), 747-451, 2010-2017

N670US (24225/804), 747-451, 2009-2017

N671US (26477/1206), 747-451, 2010-2015

N672US (30267/1223), 747-451, 2009-2014

N673US (30268/1226), 747-451, 2009-2016

N674US (30269/1232), 747-451, 2009-2018

N675NW (33001/1297), 747-451, 2009-2015

N676NW (33002/1303), 747-451, 2009-2014


Delta flew these large aircraft, in its own colours, for ten years across its European and Pacific route networks out of its various hubs.

This time around the giant aircraft seemed to suit Delta, who chose high demand services to ensure its cabins were filled.

However, with more modern and efficient types on the horizon, Delta chose to again retire the Boeing 747 from its fleet in 2018. Most of these aircraft were sent to the scrapyard.


Delta Boeing 747 Survivors

N661US at the Delta Flight Museum

The interior of 747 N661US

The cockpit of 747 N661US at the Delta Flight Museum

The most famous former Delta Boeing 747 survivor is N661US, which was in fact the -400 variant prototype. It first flew in 1988 and soon joined Northwest Airlines in service.

It flew its final service in 2015, and has now been donated to the Delta Flight Museum at Atlanta Airport for preservation. Visitors can go inside and see the cavernous interior or walk out over the wing.


Delta 747s awaiting the scrapman. Photo (c) Aero Icarus

Other 747-400s from Delta’s fleet were sent to storage at Marana in Arizona for storage, with some still present but likely to be scrapped soon.


One example, N668US, had a cross-section of its fuselage saved and put on display in the National Aviation Museum of Korea, at Seoul Gimpo airport.


Photo (c) Eric Salard

Of the original 747-100 fleet, one example is still in existence. N9896, the first to join Delta in 1970, went on to fly for China Airlines, Pan American and Evergreen International. Today it is preserved perched on the roof of the Evergreen Museum in McMinnville, OR.


Delta Air Lines The Book

Out now is our new history of Delta Air Lines packed full of details and incredible photographs showing the airline from its founding in the 1920s to the present day. Along the way there are histories of the airlines which merged into Delta, like Chicago & Southern, Western, Northeast Airlines and Northwest Airlines, plus details on Delta’s fleet over the years.


Order Your Copy Today




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