Korean Air Boeing 747-8

Korean Air sells five Boeing 747-8s that could become the new “Doomsday planes”

Airline reached agreement with Sierra Nevada Corporation, which was awarded a $13 billion contract by the U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) new “doomsday” planes could be jets that flew with Korean Air. The South Korean airline revealed on Wednesday that it will sell five Boeing 747-8s from its fleet to Sierra Nevada Corporation, according to Reuters.

Sierra Nevada has just been chosen by the USAF to develop the successor to the E-4B Nightwatch, former Boeing 747-200s used as command and control aircraft in emergency situations such as nuclear attacks.

The deal was worth around US$675 million and is expected to close in September 2025.

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Korean Air Boeing 747-8 (tjdarmstadt)

Korean Air has 16 Boeing 747-8s, nine of which are passenger aircraft and seven are freighters. However, the carrier is modernizing its fleet with more efficient twin-engine aircraft such as the Airbus A350.

The contract with the US government amounts to US$13 billion with a fixed price, meaning Sierra Nevada will have to bear losses if it is unable to deliver what was agreed.

Conversion more complex

The acquisition of used passenger widebodies was already expected as there is no new aircraft with enough space to receive equipment, sensors and survival systems in the event of a nuclear conflict.

The four-engine 747-8 was the most suitable jet to take on the role of the new “doomsday plane”, due to its size only surpassed by the Airbus A380.

Boeing E-4B Nightwatch (USAF)

Boeing no longer produces the aircraft, which has prevented new planes from being used. The same situation occurred with the two Air Force Ones that are being converted from 747-8s that should have been delivered to a Russian airline.

The conversion of the Korean Air 747-8, however, will be more complex as the jets will have to be equipped with receptacles for aerial refueling, unlike the new US presidential plane.

The SAOC (Survival Airborne Operations Center) program is expected to extend until 2036, with the first planes delivered in the early 2030s.


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