Korean Air 747-8s To Become Next USAF “Doomsday” Planes!

By Spyros Georgilidakis | May 11, 2024

Sierra Nevada Corporation will use five Korean Air 747-8s to make replacements for the E-4B “Doomsday” aircraft of the U.S. Air Force.

We recently saw that Sierra Nevada Corp. won a USAF contract worth $13 billion, to supply replacement aircraft to the E-4B fleet. Boeing built these aircraft using the 747-200 airframe as its basis.

Photo: Berend Verheijen

The oldest of these jets first entered service around 50 years ago, initially as an E-4A. The first E-4B flew in 1978, with the previous aircraft getting upgraded to the same specification later. All four E-4Bs are older than the presidential VC-25As, which also use the 747-200 airframe.

When Sierra Nevada won the E-4B replacement contract, we didn’t know where they would get replacement jets from. This question was answered this week, with the news that Korean Air will sell five 747-8s to the American company.

Korean Air 747-8s To Become Next USAF “Doomsday” Planes!
Photo: Kuroc622

Korean Air itself did not identify the five aircraft as 747-8s. However, Reuters reported that a separate source confirmed this to be the case. Sierra Nevada has been expanding its operations in Dayton, Ohio, with a new hangar big enough for a 747.

Korean Air 747-8s and SAOC Jets: Are Five Enough?

The program for the E-4B replacement is called the Survivable Airborne Operations Center – or SAOC for short. And interestingly, the U.S. Air Force has previously indicated that it wants 8 to 10 SAOC aircraft, to replace its fleet of four E-4Bs.

Korean Air 747-8s To Become Next USAF “Doomsday” Planes!
Photo: Sierra Nevada Corp

The reasons for this are unclear, but the Air Force likely plans to use the new jets more than its existing fleet. In any case, Korean Air has more 747-8s: nine in total, plus one more that it has leased to the country’s Air Force, in a VIP configuration.

Korean Air stated that replacing these jets is in line with its plans to switch operations to more efficient aircraft. The airline is already taking delivery of 787s, with 13 787-9s already in service. In total, Korean Air will have 20 787-9s and 20 787-10s when deliveries are completed. The airline also has orders for 33 Airbus A350s.

An E-4B about to get fuel from a KC-10 tanker. Photo: Sgt. Nicole Leidholm of the United States Air Force

We don’t know if Korean Air and Sierra Nevada have a separate agreement for more 747-8s. The sale of the five aircraft is worth $674 million, according to the airline. The handover of the last of these jets will take place in September 2025 at the latest.

With resurging demand for international travel, perhaps Korean Air doesn’t want to hand over more of these jets before it picks up enough newer widebodies.


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