Flying facts – the Boeing 747
We started operations in June 1984 with just one leased second hand 747-200, G-VIRG, Maiden Voyager. The aircraft stayed with us until 2001 (but then went on to fly a few more years with Kabo Air in Nigeria)
We planned to retire the 747 from our fleet in late 2021 but announced in May this year their immediate retirement from commercial service in response to the Covid-19 pandemic
Our last 747 passenger flight was the VS608, a Covid-19 rescue flight, from Los Angeles to London Heathrow on 30 March 2020 operated by G-VROS.
Thirty 747s in total have graced our fleet over our 36 years of operations: fourteen 747-200 ‘Classics’, thirteen 747-400s and just one 747-100. The way you can tell the difference between the different models is by counting the windows on the upper deck. The 747-100 has 3 windows, the -200 has ten, and the -400 has 18.
The only 747-100 to join our fleet was G-VMIA, initially named Miami Maiden and later renamed Spirit of Sir Freddie in honour of Sir Freddie Laker. G-VMIA was the oldest airframe we ever had, manufactured in 1970
The superstar of the fleet has to be G-VFAB, Lady Penelope. This was the first 747-400 to join our fleet. She joined us in April 1994 and remained in service with us until September 2015. In 2005, for our 21st birthday, G-VFAB received a special livery. For that year only, the flying icon on the nose was replaced with a birthday badge. In 2007 she was renamed Spice One by the spice girls ahead of their European tour (they also opened our new check-in facility at Heathrow). Then in 2009, for our 25th Birthday, G-VFAB took part in a flypast with the Red Arrows display team at the Biggin Hill airshow.
Our early 747s had a space at the back of the ‘bubble’ on the upper deck that is similar to todays A350 loft.
Cosmic Girl (747-400 G-VWOW) retired from our fleet in 2015 but she still flies the Virgin flag, She’s now with Virgin Orbital (registration N744VG). Still carrying the name Cosmic Girl she’ll be used as the mothership for the air-launch stage of the smallsat orbital launch vehicle, the LauncherOne
One of our 747-400s, G-VHOT Tubular Belle flew our historic relief flight into Iraq in May 2003, delivering 60 tonnes of much needed medical aid into the country. That flight was captained by Mike Abu Nayla, who we believe at the point of his retirement last year held the world record for the most 747 hours flown by any pilot – nobody has come forward and challenged this yet!