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 Jetphotos.com 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.
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.
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.
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