Boeing 747 in Casino Royale


Volkswagen Touareg preparing to tow a Boeing 747
Volkswagen Touareg preparing to tow a Boeing 747

You are correct that the registration number N9747P is a fake registry that has been reserved by the Federal Aviation Administration for use in motion pictures. The Boeing 747 shown here is only the latest example of the number's appearance. This aircraft has also apparently sported another fictitious registry, N88892.

Side view of the 747 with registration number N9747P
Side view of the 747 with registration number N9747P

This plane is now a non-flyable movie prop but was once a 747-200B model, with the Boeing customer code 747-236B, operated by British Airways. The aircraft was built in 1980, carried the registration number G-BDXJ, and was named the "City of Birmingham." The plane's service record was generally uneventful and it remained part of the British Airways fleet for over 20 years. A couple of minor incident reports were filed with the British government's Air Accidents Investigation Branch. One report from 1996 describes a vibration experienced after takeoff due to damage to the wing trailing edge, but the aircraft dumped fuel and made a safe return to the airport. Another incident in 2000 resulted in minor structural damage following a hard landing with the automatic landing system engaged.

British Airways phased this 747 out of its fleet around 2001 or 2002 when it was transferred to European Aircharter. The aircraft was operated under the livery of this company for a number of years and was also leased to Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines. The aircraft finally concluded its flying history with Air Atlanta Europe in 2005. The 747 is now retired and is due to be scrapped but has been given a temporary reprieve thanks to its use in film and advertising productions.

Boeing 747 with engines removed being modified for Casino Royale
Boeing 747 with engines removed being modified for Casino Royale

In mid-2005, G-BDXJ made its final flight to Dunsfold Park airfield near London. Here, the 747 had its engines removed and the plane was modified for an appearance in the James Bond movie Casino Royale. Dunsfold Aerodrome itself was also adapted to look like Miami International Airport at night for a portion of the film.

The 747 was referred to as the Skyfleet S570 in the film. Although the Skyfleet was portrayed as a prototype of some advanced airliner, the 747 itself looks like it was modified to resemble a bomber. The outboard engines were replaced by external fuel tanks while a mockup pair of engines was fitted to each of the inboard engine pylons. This design is reminiscent of the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress.

This speculation is confirmed by the film's production designer Peter Lamont. During an interview about the sets and locations used during Casino Royale, Lamont pointed out that a retired 747 was found at the Dunsfold Aerodrome where Miami airport chase scenes were to be produced. Lamont went on to state, "The plane had no engines, but it was in fairly good condition, and we could use the body of the 747 to save us the huge expense of building something of that bulk. I looked at many references of airplane construction and decided our Skyfleet should look like the B-52s, with pairs of tandem engines, and an altered cockpit profile. I don't know if my design would fly, but the B-52s managed!" It was during the modification process that the plane received its new fictitious registration numbers.

Forward view of the 747 with its mockup engines and external fuel tanks
Forward view of the 747 with its mockup engines and external fuel tanks

The public got its first look at the modified 747 in August 2006 when it was displayed during the Wings & Wheels vintage car and air show held at Dunsfold. The filmmakers reportedly dubbed the model the "747-XXX" and attendees to the show felt that it had a "very convincing" appearance.

The modified 747 was subsequently used in a Volkswagen publicity stunt advertising the towing capability of the Touareg V10 TDI. According to a Volkswagen press release of November 2006, "the Touareg is innately the ideal towing vehicle" and "significantly more economical" than the tow vehicles used at airports. While the advertising executives were obviously having fun with the story, the goal was to show off the towing power of this Volkswagen sports utility vehicle. The basic car was adapted for the attempt by adding steel balls and plates to increase weight on the wheels and improve traction. A shorter transmission from the V8 model of the Touareg was also substituted, tire pressure was increased, and an adaptor was added between the car's trailer hitch and the 747's tow rig. Otherwise, the automobile is said to be a standard production model.

Volkswagen technician Uwe Krieghoff was the driver during the stunt, and the Touareg proved it had both the torque and traction to pull the 155-ton 747 over a distance of 490 ft (150 m). The top speed achieved during the tow was just 5 miles per hour (8 km/h) and a post-inspection found no damage to the automobile.

Closeup of the Touareg during the tow attempt
Closeup of the Touareg during the tow attempt

It is unknown what other enterprises this 747 has participated in or how much longer it will remain in use before being scrapped. As far as we have been able to tell, it still remains at Dunsfold Park. And not to rain on Volkswagen's parade too much, but many four-wheel drive vehicles could probably duplicate the Touareg's feat if they carried enough extra weight to provide the needed traction. Even an Australian strongman named David Huxley set a record in October 1997 by pulling a Boeing 747 weighing 184 tons over a distance of 298.5 ft (91 m) in just 87.7 seconds.
- answer by Molly Swanson, 11 March 2007

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