Sunday, 12 February 2017

Clipper Maid of the Seas

[On this date in 1970 Pan Am’s Clipper Maid of the Seas entered into service. The immediately following paragraph is from an article in 2000 on The Guardian website, the second two are from the Wikipedia article Pan Am Flight 103:]

The Maid of the Seas had been put into service on 12 February 1970 and had since made 16,497 flights and logged in 72,646 flight hours. But, in spite of the age of the machine, the pilots had no reason to worry as they made their final checks.


The aircraft operating Pan Am Flight 103 was a Boeing 747–121, registered N739PA and named Clipper Maid of the Seas, formerly named Clipper Morning Light prior to 1979. It was the 15th 747 built and was delivered in February 1970, one month after the first 747 entered service with Pan Am.
At the time of its destruction, Clipper Maid of the Seas was 18 years of age and had accumulated over 75,000 flying hours. In 1987, it underwent a complete overhaul as it belonged to the civil reserve fleet of aircraft and this aircraft was retrofitted so that, in a national emergency, it could be turned into a freight aircraft within two days' work, according to the Los Angeles Times.


  1. 'The pilots had 'no reason to worry'. Really? Why then am I under the impression that Pan Am changed the name of the plane from 'Morning Sun' to 'Maid of the Seas' because of its history of metal fatigue and spontaneous fires? Quite apart from warnings of revenge from Iran and shenanigans at the US embassy in Moscow.

  2. Apologies: 'Morning Light' not 'Sun '.

  3. Do you think the plane might have survived that explosion if it had been of sound construction?

  4. No chance what with the bomb being positioned as it was. Someone very deliberately selected that location to guarantee it would be right next to the skin of the aircraft for maximum vulnerability. In other words, someone at Heathrow. Even planes with good reputations invariably have skins as thin as safely possible under normal conditions in order to cut down on weight to enhance performance and allow the weight to be taken up by fare paying passengers and their luggage. Look at what happened to the Comet when designers went too far in cutting down on skin weight during the battle with Boeing's 707, disaster. Not just for the comet but for the entire UK aviation industry.

  5. I'm not so sure. Remember it wasn't just the hole in the skin of the plane that brought it down. It was the propagation of the force wave in the conduits under the skin causing it to peel off very quickly in places remote from the actual hole. (Indeed the presence of the hole may have made these forces less than they might otherwise have been.)

    Also, the nose section did detach extremely quickly. The bomb was very badly placed from that point of view, very close to the joint between the nose and main fuselage sections. The terrorists couldn't have predicted that part. That's the bit I wonder about, possibly a weakness in the structure, and what if that hadn't given way.

    If it had just been the hole in the skin and the plane had otherwise held together, the oxygen masks would have deployed and the pilot could have gone into a steep dive, and maybe, just maybe, made it to Prestwick. Planes have survived similar. But this one fell apart too quickly for that.

    I think the terrorists were going for closeness to the skin in the hope of punching that hole, but the rest of the catastrophic sequence of events was just icing from their point of view.