Boeing 747

If there is one iconic jet airliner, it is the Boeing 747 with its partial upper deck. The "hump" comes in different lengths, but not along the whole fuselage, and this is what makes it different from the similar sized Airbus A380. While that is normally enough to recognise a Boeing 747, also typical for the type is its main landing gear: four legs with each four wheels, with the outer two bogeys significantly tilted backward when the aircraft is in the air. Other typical features are the double landing lights in the wing roots and the APU exhaust in the middle of the rounded tail cone. 

The characteristic nose of the Boeing 747. Shown is the short upper deck version of the -100 and -200, and all dedicated freighter versions.

Tail section of the Boeing 747, with the APU exhaust in the middle of the tail cone.

Four legged main landing of the Boeing 747. Note the outer two bogeys that are tilted backward significantly, and the double landing lights in the wing root.

Different versions

This is what to look for to recognise the different versions of the Boeing 747:

  • the length of the fuselage
  • the length of the upper deck
  • the presence of a cargo door in the nose
  • the height of the vertical stabiliser
  • the presence of a cargo door in the left rear fuselage
  • the presence of winglets
  • the shape of the engine nacelles
  • the shape of the wing tips
  • the presence of cabin windows on the main deck
  • the number of cabin doors
  • the diameter of the fuselage

Boeing 747-100, 747-100B, 747-200B & 747SR

As with many Boeing models, the first variant was the Series 100, which were soon followed by the 100B, 200B and SR (short range) models. The Boeing 747SR has structural provisions to make more but shorter flights. The 747-100B is similar, but has higher operating weights. Finally, the 747-200B has an overall strengthened structure to allow more fuel and payload being carried. They are all characterised by a short upperdeck, no cargo door, many cabin windows and long, pointed antennas extending from the rear of the wing tips.

There are however some differences. Boeing 747-200Bs can be powered by Pratt & Whitney, General Electric or Rolls-Royce engines, which each have a different nacelle shape. Boeing 747-100s are uniquely powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, and 747-100Bs and 747SRs cannot have General Electric engines. Finally, early 747-100s had only two or three cabin windows on each side of the upper deck. Later produced aircraft have many more. So there are some way to exclude some exact models, but no overall distinctive features.

The most famous version of the 747-200B is the one used by the president of the United States. Its is designated VC-25A. Apart from many antennas and an opening for airborne refuelling the VC-25A has General Electric CF6-80C2 engine like the 747-400, so the nacelles are different from standard 747-200Bs.

The first Boeing 747s that rolled off the line, all 747-100s, had only two or three cabin windows on the upper deck.

All 747 models up to the 747-300 have an antenna extending from the rear of the wing tips. Here you can also see the shape of the General Electric CF6 engines.

Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, with their short nacelles and short core exhaust without plug, were the least popular engine on the classic 747s.

This Pratt & Whitney JT9D powered Boeing 747-200B has about ten cabin windows on the upper deck.

The Pratt & Whitney JT9D engine was available on all Boeing 747 models until the Boeing 747-400. Note the big conical plug in the core exhaust.

VC-25A is the designation of the US presidential transport version of the Boeing 747-200B. Note the many antennas on top of the fuselage. (photo: Jeff Gilbert/WikiMedia)

Boeing 747-200C & 747-200B Combi

KLM was the main customer for the combi version of the 747-200B. This has no official different designation, but has a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage. Of course all the cabin windows and cabin doors remain.

The 747-200C is the dedicated convertible version of the 747-200B. Apart from the characteristics of the combi version described above, the 200C has an upward opening cargo door in the nose.

This Boeing 747-200C has two large cargo doors, one in the nose and one in the left rear fuselage. It retains the cabin windows and doors.

Zooming in on the nose of the Boeing 747-200C you can clearly see the seems of the large nose cargo door.

Boeing 747-100F, 747-100BF & 747-200BF (converted passenger aircraft)

When Series 100, 100B and 200B are converted to cargo aircraft they receive a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage only. Additionally, the cabin windows are replaced by metal plugs. They keep the five cabin doors on both sides though.

This Boeing 747-100F has a large cargo door in the rear fuselage, but not in the nose. Also all cabin windows except in the cabin doors have been replaced by metal plugs.

The large cargo door in the left rear fuselage of a Boeing 747-200BF converted passenger aircraft.

Boeing 747-200F (newly built)

Boeing also developed a dedicated cargo versions of the 747-200B. This 747-200F has no cabin windows and only cabin doors near the nose and tail. It also has a large cargo door in the nose, opening upward, and optionally a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage. This makes it different from converted passenger aircraft.

The newly built Boeing 747-200F is characterised by the lack of cabin windows (and no metal plugs either) and just two cabin doors on both sides, at the front and rear.

Boeing 747-100B SUD, 747-200B SUD & 747-300

To increase the capacity of the 747 Boeing offered a conversion with a stretched upper deck (SUD) for existing 747-100Bs and -200Bs. It just about doubled the length of the upper deck. In the end, not many aircraft were converted, but Boeing also made a factory new version with a stretched upper deck, called the 747-300. Apart from the upper deck, the converted aircraft and 747-300s are not different from the other 'classic' 747s. There are also combi aircraft, with a longer deck and large cargo door in the rear fuselage.

As you can see, the Boeing 747-300 is not different from the previous models, except for the stretched upper deck (SUD).

Some Boeing 747-200B with a stretched upper deck and 747-300s have a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage. These are combi aircraft. (photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/WikiMedia)

Boeing 747-200BF SUD & 747-300F

Of course, the aircraft with a stretched upper deck can be converted to freighter. Then they get a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage, and the cabin windows are replaced by metal plugs. They retain the longer upper deck, which is thus the recognition point compared to converted 747-100, -100B and 200B aircraft.

A long upper deck, no cabin windows, a large cargo door, but still the 'classic' Pratt & Whitney JT9D engine nacelles, so this must be a Boeing 747-300F.

Boeing 747-400 & 747-400ER

The second generation Boeing 747 is designated 747-400. It has a stretched upper deck like the series 300. The engines are different though, although you can still choose between Pratt & Whitney, General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Each have a different style of nacelle. Also new are the winglets.

The 747-400ER has additional fuel tanks to extend the range (hence ER), but on the outside it is not different from the standard 747-400.

The Boeing 747-400 has a long upper deck, different engines and foremost winglets. The latter are the easiest recognition point.

The Rolls-Royce powered Boeing 747-400s are easiest to recognise, because the nacelles have a combined core and fan exhaust.

This detail photo shows the winglets of the 747-400 and the shape of the General Electric CF6-80C2 engines with the small core plug.

Finally, the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 series engines have a curved rear of the nacelle, the non-painted part and no core plug.

Boeing 747-400 Combi (747-400M)

Like the earlier version the 747-400 has a combi vesion are well. This is externally visible due to the large cargo door in the left rear fuselage, and still many cabin windows.

The photo angle and the weathered look of the large cargo door make it easy to distinguish this as a Boeing 747400 combi.

Boeing 747-400D

Specifically for the Japanese domestic market Boeing made a version of the series 400 that is more suited for many short flights. The 747-400D (of domestic) is the same as the standard 747-400 except it has no winglets! So you will have to look at the engine nacelles and lack of rearward pointing antennas at the wing tips to recognise it.

A Boeing 747-400 with CF6-80C2 engines of All Nippon Airways, so it might be a 747-400D. And indeed it has no winglets!

Boeing 747-400F & 747-400ERF

The dedicated cargo version of the 747-400, newly built by Boeing, is designated 747-400F. It has the engine nacelles and winglets of the passenger version, but a short upper deck, no cabin windows and just two cabin doors in each side. There are large cargo doors in the nose and the left rear fuselage. The 747-400ERF is the extended range version, with additional storage for fuel.

The Boeing 747-400F has winglets, but a short upper deck. Of course there are no cabin windows on the lower deck and only front and rear cabin doors.

Boeing 747-400BCF & 747-400BDSF

Converted passenger Boeing 747-400s have a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage, but not in the nose. Depending on the conversion programme they receive designation 747-400BCF (Boeing Converted Freighter) or 747-400BDSF (Bedek Special Freigter). The cabin windows are replaced by metal plugs and the aircraft retains five cabin door on both sides. Also the long upper deck remains. All these features makes it easy to distinguish from the 747-400 and 747-400F.

A Boeing 747-400BCF is a passenger 747-400 converted to cargo aircraft. It keeps the long upper deck, but has no cabin windows.

Boeing 747-400LCF (Large Cargo Freighter) Dreamlifter

Like Airbus has its Belugas and Beluga XLs, Boeing uses special 747-400s to transport large aircraft parts. These aircraft are officially designated 747-400LCF (Large Cargo Freighter), and have the nickname Dreamlifter. They have a much larger diameter fuselage over a large part of the fuselage. It can swing its tail for loading and unloading. Similar to the 747-400D the 747-400LCF has no winglets.

A very special version of the 747-400 is the 747-400LCF Large Cargo Freighter. It has a much larger diameter fuselage along the majority of the length. (photo: Scot Wright/WikiMedia)

The whole tail of the 747 Dreamlifter can swing to the left to allow loading and unloading of cargo. (photo: Eric Salard/WikiMedia)

Boeing 747-8

The final version, and the third generation, is the 747-8. It was originally known as 747-800, before Boeing decided to drop the customer codes. The passenger version, sometimes referred to as 747-8I (from Intercontinental), is longer than the 747-400, and has also a longer upper deck. It lack winglets, but has instead raked wing tips. Finally, the 747-8 has new engines with serrated fan exhausts.

When you compare the Boeing 747-8 to the 747-400 you'll see that it is much longer, before and after the wings.

Serrated fan exhausts are one of the recognition points of the Boeing 747-8s.

Boeing 747-8F

And of course the 747-8 has a freighter version, called Boeing 747-8F. It is as long as the 747-8, but with a short upper deck. There is a cargo door in the nose and rear fuselage, and only one cabin door in the left forward fuselage. The other features are like the 747-8, in particular the nacelles and wingtips.

The Boeing 747-8F is longer than the 747-400F, and has the other features of the 747-8, like the nacelles and wingtips.

Boeing 747-8s and 8Fs have raked wingtips like on the 767-400ER.

Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747SP (for Special Performance) is a shortened version of the classic Boeing 747. Apart from the clearly shorter fuselage, and still normal upper deck, the 747SP has a taller vertical stabiliser. It can be fitted with the Pratt & Whitney JT9D and Rolls-Royce RB211 engines only.

The Boeing 747SP is the shortest 747 version with the tallest vertical stabiliser.

E-4A & E-4B

In case of a large-scale (nuclear) war the highest US officials can use an airborne command post, that is based on the Boeing 747-200B. The first E-4A version looked much like a standard 747-200B, but the E-4B has a big hump behind the upper deck. The latter has General Electric CF6-50 engines.

Originally, the E-4A airborne command post version of the 747-200B had JT9D engines and no big hump behind the upper deck.

The Boeing E-4B has a big radome op top of the fuselage, behind the upper deck. Also note the CF6 type nacelles.

Confusion possible with

Airbus A380 


There is just one other jet airliner with a double deck and that is the Airbus A380. The latter has two decks along the whole length of the fuselage, the Boeing 747 only partially. Additionally, the A380 has the cockpit on the main deck and six wheel main landing gears.