In-Depth: F-GCBA


I first encountered this aging 747 a few years ago while I was exploring Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, NY, and was immediately drawn to her. This iteration of the Queen of the Skies had a somewhat broken crown, and yet was still majestic in a way. I yearned to know more about her, where she came from, and why she was sitting there.

F-GCBA is a Boeing 747-200B which spent most of its life flying for Air France. She was the 428th 747 built, first flying on January 30, 1980. Delivery to Air France occurred exactly one month later on February 29th, just a few days shy of the tenth anniversary of the delivery of the first 747 to PanAm. From there, much of what we know comes from photo records. Her bread and butter routes were from Paris to the Caribbean, visiting such destinations as St. Maartin, the Dominican Republic, and Reunion. Other evidence points to at least a few intra-Europe flights, though those were likely rare.
On February 12,2004, after a nearly 24 years of plying the skies for Air France, F-GCBA was flown to her new home at Stewart International Airport. That flight to Stewart was likely her last time in the air. The airframe was transferred to Southern Air and painted white, removing all of the Air France markings. Though a new United States registration was obtained, it was never placed on the aircraft. Her flying days appeared to be over.

Generally, if you are planning to store an aircraft for an extended period of time, you fly it somewhere dry. Humidity causes corrosion to occur in the metal that makes up the airframe over time, which is why there are large aircraft storage facilities in the Southwestern United States, Middle East, and desert parts of Australia.  The Hudson Valley of New York is not a low humidity environment, and as such would not be conducive to long-term storage of an aircraft with the intention of it ever flying again.  Instead, there was another plan for F-GCBA.  At some point, ownership was transferred to CF6-50 LLC, a sister company of Southern Air. In the intervening years, all 4 of here engines have been removed along with various other pieces that are visibly missing from the fuselage. The aircraft has also purportedly been used as an engine testbed, an idea which is backed up by various pictures showing the wings with varying combinations of engines, empty nacelles, and bare pylons taken over the years.

So what is the future for F-GCBA? Unfortunately, it doesn't look good.  Both Southern Air and CF6-50 LLC are currently restructuring in US Bankruptcy Court.  Southern Air has implemented plans to retire all of the classic 747-200 and -300 aircraft in its fleet, and at this point, there is just one remaining aircraft that hasn't been put into storage.  Without a fleet of engines to support, F-GCBA's days as a testbed may be numbered. Furthermore, her current registration expires in the coming months, and without a defined purpose her scrapping may be imminent if it hasn't already begun.  One thing is for sure, Stewart will be a little bit more empty without this resident of the past 9 years.