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A Day at The Airport: Getting an Eyeful of N322SG "The Houston Express"

Recently I added to my collection a 1:400 scale model of N263SG. This aircraft along with sistership N322SG were two 747-400s dedicated to the Houston Express route, a link between IAH and LAD for the oil industry operated by Atlas Air for Angola's SonAir. Their unique golden livery, exclusive mission, and elusiveness made them interesting subjects in the aviation enthusiast community. Today, more than four years after the termination of the route, I remember the Houston Express fondly. Besides getting a scale model of N263SG, I also started going through my photo files and rediscovered a nice set of pictures I took of N322SG at IAH on April 1, 2012. One picture from the set made it to at the time, but the rest had never been published until the writing of this article.

As I remember it, April 1, 2012, was a slow and hot Sunday morning, but things started to get interesting as “Giant 101 heavy” checked in with Houston tower on the approach to runway 27 inbound from LAD. Atlas’s golden 747s had appeared in the background of many of my pictures before, but I had never seen one up close and in good light. It was already noon when the Houston Express showed up, and even though it was early spring, in Texas the light was already very harsh, but manageable.

I was taking pictures from the now demolished terminal D (international arrivals building) garage. Most of the shots looking southeast towards runway 27 were backlit and affected by heat haze, so I had to wait until the aircraft entered the D ramp and then proceeded to press the shooter, repeatedly.

Atlas Air and United Airlines aircraft at Houston Intercontinental airport IAH Texas. 747, 767, ERJ-145. N322SG
Regulars of IAH: United 764 N79059 and ExpressJet EMB-145 N14977 - former Continental and Continental Express birds respectively - rest at the D remote stands as the Houston Express taxies by.

Atlas Air 747 Houston Express, IAH Houston Texas
N332SG enters the terminal D ramp at IAH after arriving from LAD on April 1, 2012.

N322SG making the turn to park at gate D4 after a Houston Express run. Atlas Air 747, IAH
N322SG making the turn to park at gate D4 after a Houston Express run.

There wasn't much else going on at terminal D at the time, though that was about to change as the European arrivals were about to start, so I decided to document all of the attention that this big jumbo got after crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Atlas Air 747 N322SG at gate D4, chocks, IAH, Houston Express
N322SG getting the chocks in.

Personnel and equipment getting ready to unload the rear baggage compartment and cargo hold. Winglet logo detail of Atlas Air Boeing 747 N322SG Houston Express at IAH
Personnel and equipment getting ready to unload the rear baggage compartment and cargo hold. Nice winglet logo detail.

Maintenance servicing engine #3 oil. Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 N322SG Houston Express at IAH
Maintenance servicing engine #3 oil.

KLM 747-400 PH-BFU, Lufthansa 747-400 D-ABVW IAH Houston Intercontinental
And the Europeans start to arrive. Lufthansa's D-ABVW taxies back to the D ramp while KLM's PH-BFU slows down on 26L.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 D-ABVW at Houston Intercontinental IAH

KLM Boeing 747-400 PH-BFU at Houston Intercontinental IAH
Up close and personal with KLM's PH-BFU.

IAH Houston Intercontinental. Atlas Air 747 N322SG, KLM 747, Singapore 777-300
KLM docks in. In the background, a Singapore Airlines 77W crosses the 26L threshold inbound from Manchester.

Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 N322SG Houston Express. Cleaning crew hides from sun under jet bridge. KLM 747. Colgan Air Saab 340 ready to land on runway 26L at Houston Intercontinental Airport IAH operating for United Express.
KLM has docked in, and the cleaning staff for the Houston Express hides from the Texas sun under the D4 jet-bridge. Note the Colgan Air Saab 340 about to touch down on runway 26L operating for United Express.

An Air France 77W taxies to its gate, and a Delta Connection CRJ700 lands on 26L at Houston Intercontinental Airport IAH. Atlas Air and KLM 747
Air France 77W F-GSQJ taxies to its gate while a Delta Connection CRJ700 lands on 26L.

Cathay Pacific 747-8F taxies for takeoff to Anchorage behind an Atlas Air 747-400 and a KLM 747-400 at Houston Intercontinental Airport IAH
A Cathay Pacific 747-8F taxies to the 15s from the east cargo complex bound for Anchorage.

Earlier that day...

The highlight of an otherwise pretty mundane morning was the arrival of Cathay's 747-8F

B-LJF on their usual MIA-IAH-ANC run.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-8F B-LJF taxies to the east cargo complex of Houston Intercontinental Airport IAH after arriving from Miami.
Cathay Pacific B-LJF taxies to the east cargo complex after arriving from Miami.

Where was BA...

Finally, in case you are wondering where was British Airways... they brought a 777 but landed on runway 27, on the south side of the airport, and parked on the east edge of the terminal so I could not get a clear shot. But for the record, here you go:

At this point, I was feeling pretty satisfied with the set of shots I had gotten of N322SG, as this was the first time - and also the last - for me to catch one of the Houston Express 747s at close range, and in decent light. Besides, even though I had only spent a little over two hours at the rooftop level of the parking garage, I'm guessing I was probably starting to feel pretty drained thanks to the Texas sun. So I decided to follow Cathay's lead, and when they packed up and took off I did the same.

Jorge A. Zajia



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