Qantas will today mark the end of an era with the departure of the airline’s last Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
The Flying Kangaroo took delivery of its first 747 (a -200 series) in August 1971, the same year William McMahon became Prime Minister, the first McDonald’s opened in Australia and “Eagle Rock” by Daddy Cool topped the music charts.
“Its arrival – and its economics – made international travel possible for millions of people for the first time,” Qantas said in a statement.
“The 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.”
Qantas’s first woman captain, Sharelle Quinn, will be in command of the final flight. She said the 747 has a 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,” Quinn said.
“From the Pope to pop stars, our 747s 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.”
Quinn said the aircraft had been a wonderful part of Qantas’ history as a “truly groundbreaking aircraft”, but said it was time to hand over the reigns to the next generation of more efficient aircraft.
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,” he said.
“That put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity.
“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.”
Captain Quinn and crew will fly the 747 to Los Angeles with a full cargo hold of freight before its final sector to the Mojave Desert.
VH-OEJ is scheduled to depart Sydney at 2pm (EST). Weather permitting, the flight will do a flyby of Sydney Harbour, the CBD and northern and eastern suburbs beaches, as well as a low-level overfly of HARS Museum in Albion Park.
Here, it will dip its wings in a final farewell to Qantas’ first 747-400, VH-OJA, which is preserved there.
The aircraft will then head out over the Pacific Ocean, ending the beloved model’s journey with the national carrier six months ahead of schedule, due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the airline.
Featured image: The Queen greets guests after arriving on a Qantas 747 to commence the 1992 Royal Tour of Australia (source: supplied)