Indeed, checking Pan Am's records, 747s went to Saigon as Pan Am flight PA841, via Hawaii, Guam, Manila and then Saigon. After 1975 when Saigon fell, PA841 terminated in Manila, although on some days they flew an alternate route with the final two destinations (after Guam) being Okinawa and Taiwan. I'm not sure exactly when they started this service though. Last commercial flights out of Saigon in 1975 were 747s, two being used to ferry orphans after the C-5 crash and the last one being used for the ferrying of Pan Am's Vietnamese employees and their immediate families. This information I got from panam.org.
First time I saw a 747 in person was in 1977 (a young lad of 6 years old) on a Braniff 727 flight that landed in DFW
. One of Braniff's Pumpkin 747s was sitting out away from the terminal building near the runway, acting like a giant billboard. Considering this was my first ride (in memory anyway) on a 727, It was a fun experience but the big 747 just dwarfed our little plane. I was amazed how large it was.
Later in early 1978, my dad was assigned 18 month TDY duty in Okinawa, Japan. So our family moved there. The pacific leg was PA841 and it originated in San Francisco with a 2100 PDT departure time onboard a Pan Am 747 (probably a 100 model, although I can't be sure). So at night, I see this large behemoth sitting next to the terminal building, looking much like pictures of what Clipper Young America did at JFK
on that inaugural flight to LHR
. Getting on the plane, I was amazed at the number of seats on it. We sat pretty close to the back of the airplane and it seemed like walking through several large classrooms. The takeoff and climbout were smooth as we winged our way to Hawaii. Being over water, I couldn't see anything out of my windowseat, but the tail cones on the P&W JT9D engines gave off a faint red glow in the pitch black night. It was quite a sight.
The night was long, naturally because we were chasing the sun on the otherside of the world. It was so long that they served a meal on the plane before breakfast (but it wasn't dinner either). Dawn didn't appear until shortly after we landed in Guam and at that point I got to see how big the plane was when we got out to stretch our legs. Guam didn't use a jetway, so we got off with airstairs, just like it used to be done so long ago. The Clipper was a beautiful sight, silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful in the daytime, with breakfast being served before touchdown at Naha airport in Okinawa. I also got one of those cool kids packs with games and a set of Pan Am toy wings. They don't do things like that anymore. At one point I also walked as far forward as I could go, only being stopped by the big black curtain that separated first class from the rest of the plane. Maybe I should have pressed ahead so I could see the first class lounge.
The trip back brought the only anxiety I ever felt on a 747. It was a Northwest Orient flight as Pan Am dropped that route from their schedule in 1979. We were delayed in our departure by a day as the plane developed engine trouble in Taiwan. So my passport from back then has a VOID stamp over its first exit entry and a new stamp from the next day. The plane was still late and you wouldn't believe the cheer go up from grown servicemen as the plane touched down in Naha. We eventually did takeoff. When we landed in Osaka, we stayed on the plane for about two hours and it was a bit odd as mechanics were servicing all FOUR engines on the plane. I read later how troublesome those early JT9D powerplants were and I can believe it after remembering that little exercise. The rest of the flight was uneventful though and we made it back safe. But I remember both flights so vividly as to this day, they have been my only flights on 747s.
So, despite engine trouble on the early planes, I have fond memories of the 747.