Q: What’s the best replacement for a 747?
A: A 747, of course. (According to General Electric’s Victorville Flight Test Operations)
Still in its JAL colors, the former JA8910 will be converted into GE's next FTB. Note the current FTB in the background. (GE/Jason Chapman)
General Electric will modify a former JAL Boeing 747-400 into a new flying testbed as part of plans to upgrade its test facilities in preparation for Leap-X and other next generation engines. The ex-Japan Airlines aircraft, acquired in December 2010, will be converted into its new role under a $60 million plan announced by GE on Feb 24.
First flown in 1994, the CF6-80C2-powered 747-400 is a veritable spring chicken compared to the current 747-100 flying testbed which GE bought in 1992. The former Pan Am 747-100 celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009 and is the oldest version of the 747 still flying in the U.S. and the fifth oldest in the world.
Old favorite - dramatic study of N747GE rotating at Victorville with CFM56-7BE engine in No.2 test position. (GE/CFM)
Conversion work will include modifications to the wing and strut to accommodate experimental engines of varying size and weight in the No.2 inboard engine position on the left wing. The work is expected to take around two years, meaning the older 747 will soldier on until 2013 when the new aircraft will take over to lead the Leap-X test program.
GE test crews will exchange the 'Classic' 747-100's electromechanical flightdeck for the 747-400's Arinc 429-based avionics in 2013. (Guy Norris)
And what fate awaits the venerable testbed post 2013? GE says it is looking at “all the options” which includes parting out, selling to ‘Hollywood’ for possible use in the film and television world, or passing it on to a museum or learning center. Given its vintage and the fact that the number of overhaul shops offering routine JT9D servicing has dwindled to just two, it seems the dreaded ‘parting out’ option becomes less attractive with each passing year.
The ghost of airlines past - traces of N747GE's Pan Am history linger on in the decor of the untouched first class section seating (Guy Norris).