Qantas says goodbye to the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet

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On Wednesday 22 July 2020, Qantas marked the end of an era as the Australian airline said goodbye to the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.

The final Boeing 747-400 Jumbo Jet in the airline’s fleet – registration VH-OEJ and delivered to the airline in 2003 – departed Sydney’s (Kingford Smith) International Airport at 15:28 local time as flight number QF7474, bringing to an end five decades of history-making moments for Qantas and aviation in Australia.

After takeoff, the Qantas Boeing 747 received its lap of honour as the aircraft flew multiple times over Sydney and surroundings, providing an ideal background scenery to say goodbye to the iconic Australian Jumbo Jet.

But that was not it. Before heading to the United States, the aircraft drew Australia’s iconic flying kangaroo in the sky.

The Final Flight

Qantas’s first female Captain, Sharelle Quinn, was in command of the final flight and said the aircraft has a very special place in the hearts of not just Qantas staff, but aviation enthusiasts and travellers alike.

“I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege”, Captain Quinn said.

“From the Pope to pop stars, our 747’s have carried over 250 million people safely to their destinations. Over the decades, it’s also swooped in on a number of occasions to save Aussies stranded far from home.”

Captain Quinn added, “It has been a wonderful part of our history, a truly ground breaking aircraft and while we are sad to see our last one go, it’s time to hand over to the next generation of aircraft that are a lot more efficient.”

Captain Quinn and crew fly the 747 to Los Angeles with a full cargo hold of freight before its final sector to the Mojave.

VH-OEJ was scheduled to depart Sydney at 2.00pm but it left almost 1,5 hour later than planned. After takeoff, it did a flyby of Sydney Harbour, CBD and northern and eastern suburbs beaches as well as a low level overfly of HARS Museum (Albion Park) where it dipped the wings in a final farewell to Qantas’ first 747-400, VH-OJA, which is preserved there.

The aircraft then headed out over the Pacific Ocean, as the sun sets on a 50-year love affair with Australians and their beloved Queen of The Skies.

Qantas and the Boeing 747

Qantas took delivery of its very first Boeing 747 (a -200 series) almost 49 years ago, in August 1971. Its arrival – and its economics – made international travel possible for millions of people for the first time.

The Qantas fleet of 747 aircraft not only carried generations of Australians on their first overseas adventures, they also offered a safe voyage for hundreds of thousands of migrant families who flew to their new life in Australia on board a ‘roo tailed jumbo jet.

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The first Qantas 747, VH-EBA on an early test flight from Seattle in 1971. Photo © Qantas.

Milestones

Qantas 747s were at the forefront of a number of important milestones for the airline, including the first Business Class cabin of any airline in the world. Their size, range and incredible reliability meant they were used for numerous rescue missions: flying a record 674 passengers out of Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy; evacuating Australians out of Cairo during political unrest in 2011 and flying medical supplies in and tourists home from the Maldives and Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day Tsunami in December 2004.

The last rescue missions the 747 flew for Qantas were to bring hundreds of stranded Australians home from the COVID-19 epicentre of Wuhan in February this year.

Early Retirement

As with some other airlines that were still operating the Boeing 747 in early 2020 (e.g. KLM and British Airways) Qantas also brought forward the scheduled retirement of the fleet after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated international travel globally.

The Australian airline however operated three one-hour “farewell jumbo joy flights” departing from Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane, in response to requests from employees and customers for one final chance to fly on the aircraft.

Qantas Group CEO Comments

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the 747 changed the face of Australian aviation and ushered in a new era of lower fares and non-stop flights.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact that the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia. It replaced the 707, which was a huge leap forward in itself but didn’t have the sheer size and scale to lower airfares the way the 747 did. That put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity,” Mr Joyce said.

“This aircraft was well ahead of its time and extremely capable. Engineers and cabin crew loved working on them and pilots loved flying them. So did passengers. They have carved out a very special place in aviation history and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.

“Time has overtaken the 747 and we now have a much more fuel efficient aircraft with even better range in our fleet, such as the 787 Dreamliner that we use on Perth-London and hopefully before too long, the Airbus A350 for our Project Sunrise flights non-stop to New York and London,” added Mr Joyce.

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In the 1990s Qantas commissioned two striking Indigenous liveries for 747s as part of its Flying Art Series. The Nalanji Dreaming livery (front) featured on VH-EBU, with Wunala Dreaming (behind) adorning two 747s (VH-OJB and VH-OEJ). Photo © Qantas.

Qantas Boeing 747 Facts

  • The first Qantas 747-238 was VH-EBA, named City of Canberra and the first ever Qantas 747 flight was on 17 September 1971 from Sydney to Singapore (via Melbourne), carrying 55 first class and 239 economy passengers.
  • In almost 50 years of service, the Qantas Boeing 747 fleet of aircraft has flown over 3.6 billion kilometres, the equivalent of 4,700 return trips to the moon or 90,000 times around the world.
  • Qantas operated a total number of 65 747 aircraft including the 747-100, 747-200, 747-SP, 747-300, 747-400 and the 747-400ER and each had specific capabilities such as increased thrust engines and increased take-off weight to allow longer range operations.
  • The 747-SP was the first 747 model that allowed non-stop operations across the Pacific in 1984 which meant travellers no longer had to “hop” their way across the Pacific and could fly from Australia to the west coast of the US non-stop. The 747-400 which Qantas operated from 1989 opened up the US west coast cities non-stop, and one-stop to European capitals.
  • In 1979, Qantas became the first airline to operate an all Boeing 747 fleet.
  • The 747 also broke records, including in 1989 when Qantas crew flew a world first non-stop commercial flight from London to Sydney in 20 hours and nine minutes. That thirty-year record was only broken in 2019 when Qantas operated a 787 Dreamliner London-Sydney direct in 19 hours and 19 minutes.
  • The Qantas 747-200, -300 & -400 models had a fifth engine pod capability that could carry an additional engine on commercial flights, a capability that was used extensively in early days of the 747-200 when engine reliability required engines to be shipped to all parts of the world. Improved engine reliability of the 747-400 and 747-400ER made this capability redundant.

22 July 2020

Photos: copyright © Qantas / Flightradar24.com

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