Qantas hands over the keys to VH-OJA

VH-OJA landing at Illawarra Airport. (Victor Pody)
VH-OJA landing at Illawarra Airport. (Victor Pody)

While Qantas has handed the “keys” to VH-OJA over to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), the record-breaking Boeing 747-400 will be surrounded by a lot of familiar faces as it settles into a new home at Illawarra Airport.

That’s because, as Qantas Captain Greg Matthews explains, there are about 400 HARS volunteers that have actually worked on the 25-year-old aircraft, the first 747-400 in the Qantas fleet.

“It forms a significant part of Qantas’s history and there are a lot of people that have an attachment to this aircraft,” Matthews told Australian Aviation after the aircraft touched down on Sunday morning.

“It is like bringing an aircraft home to them.”

The arrival of VH-OJA drew a large crowd to the airport, with some camping overnight to secure the best vantage points for the event. Roads around Albion Park were filled with cars more than an hour before the scheduled landing and mobile coffee carts were doing a roaring trade on a cool, mostly still morning with only light cloud cover.

“There was a sigh of relief this morning when we looked at the weather,” Matthews said.

“Because we had to do a visual approach in here, I was very pleased and relieved to see that the cloud base was great, the winds were light and it was shaping up to be a really nice day down here.”

Matthews, who was the pilot in command of the delivery flight, spent about 25 hours in a flight simulator to prepare for the flight alongside Sunday’s colleagues on the flightdeck Captain Ossie Miller, First Officer Peter Hagley and Second Officer Michael East.

Moreover, Matthews also got a first-hand perspective of the flying conditions at Illawarra Airport in a Piper Cherokee in the weeks prior to Sunday’s retirement flight.

The 747-400, which rolled off the Boeing’s Everett production line in 1989 and entered the record books with its non-stop London to Sydney delivery flight later that same year, pushed back from Gate seven at the Qantas domestic terminal at Sydney Airport a little after 0730 with flight number QF7474.

After a short taxi, VH-OJA lifted off into the skies for the last time off Runway 16R, as its four Rolls-Royce engines quickly took the aircraft to a cruising altitude of just above 4,000 feet and top speed of about 385 knots, according to flight tracking website Flightaware.

The crowd cheered when VH-OJA first came into view and straightened up for its five nautical mile final approach onto Illawarra Airport’s 1800m long Runway 16 and burst into applause when it landed a couple of minutes after its scheduled 0747 arrival time.

Even without using reverse thrust, the aircraft stopped with several hundred metres to spare. It then made its way to the end of the runway, where its engines were shut down and a tug attached to the front landing gear.

The aircraft was then pushed into position outside the HARS hangar, where the stairs were attached and the four-person flight crew emerged.

And just like that, VH-OJA’s flying career carrying some four million passengers about 85 million kilometres over a quarter century, was over.

It was the world’s shortest 747-400 flight at 12 minutes and 95 kilometres.

“In terms of operating into the airport here, everything worked as we expected it would,” Matthews said.

“At the end of the day it is always a sentimental time to shut down the engines on an aeroplane for the last time such as this.

“It is a great, magnificent old aeroplane but it is time for it to retire and have a rest now.

“We know it is going to be looked after by the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society.”

Among those gathered to witness a slice of aviation history outside the HARS hangar was David Massy-Greene, who was the pilot-in-command on board the record-breaking delivery flight in 1989 when VH-OJA flew for 20 hours, nine minutes and five seconds from London to Sydney.

A smiling Massy-Greene said having the 747-400 at Illawarra Airport was a fitting tribute for the aircraft given its place in Australian aviation history.

The now-retired pilot said he was relieved the initial retirement plan for the aircraft – it was understood Qantas was originally going to send VH-OJA to the desert to place it in storage or have it parted out – did not eventuate.

“The last I heard before they finally announced that it was coming here was it was going to the Mojave, which is the boneyard where they break them up,” Massy-Green said.

“My great thanks to Qantas for their generosity and my congratulations and thanks to HARS for accepting it as a permanent record of Australian aviation.

“I think it is absolutely wonderful.”

VH-OJA’s shining red tail featuring the Flying Kangaroo can be expected to gleam under the NSW South Coast’s sun for years, if not decades, to come, as Qantas has put a layer of Permaguard protector over the aircraft prior to handing it over.

Here is how photographer Seth Jaworski captured the day:

VH-OJA touching down at Illawarra Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
VH-OJA touching down at Illawarra Airport. (Seth Jaworski)
VH-OJA in position in front of the HARS hangar. (Seth Jaworski)
VH-OJA in position in front of the HARS hangar. (Seth Jaworski)
The four pilots on VH-OJA's final flight recreate the pose from the end of the aircraft's record-breaking delivery flight in 1989. (Seth Jaworski)
The four pilots on VH-OJA’s final flight recreate the pose from the end of the aircraft’s record-breaking delivery flight in 1989. (Seth Jaworski)
VH-OJA-arrival4
The flight crew posing for photographs with former Qantas pilots and crew, including David Massy-Greene the pilot on the delivery flight in 1989. (Seth Jaworski)
Captain Greg Matthews hands over the "keys" to VH-OJA to HARS president Bob De La Hunty. (Seth Jaworski)
Captain Greg Matthews hands over the “keys” to VH-OJA to HARS president Bob De La Hunty. (Seth Jaworski)

Comments

  1. Sam says

    So qantas can afford to send a 747 to a regional airport at the cost of tonnes of fuel and needless hours in the simulator, but is going broke and has to sack 5000 workers and freeze the wages of it’s remaining workforce (which in real terms is a pay reduction). As a qf group employee I think I have the right to be a little confused…

  2. Billy says

    Word on the street is that Qantas are taking the engines off of it, and leaving HARS with just one of the RB.211’s. Unsure if they will be returned to the aircraft when the rest of the RR 747s are retired.

  3. John Harrison says

    Great to see this record breaker have a resting place. I was on duty in 1989 @ Sydney airport, and watch it land after its non-stop flight from LHR to SYD. I flown on it once (AKL-SYD) and a good friend has flown from Perth to Sydney to watch todays arrival. Well Done Qantas and all those people involved. Now how about a B767-300 being put somewhere ?

  4. Liam Straughan says

    I know what I want to go see next time I’m in Wollongong!!! 🙂

    My absolute favourite aircraft ever built, and my favourite airline. I still have such fond memories of my trip to the United States in 2009, travelling aboard QF25 (NZAA-KLAX), and QF93 (YMML-KLAX) on two Qantas Boeing 747-438/ER aircraft. Fell in love with that plane. 😀

  5. Chris says

    Sam, I realise that sometimes there’s a bit of emotion when you work for a company at a time of change, but let’s look at the reality.
    1/ VH-OJA goes to a Mojave boneyard – 14 hours of fuel burn and crew time then storage fees as it’s unlikely to be sold as there are hundreds of them sitting out there.
    2/ Donate to HARS – 15 mins of fuel burn & crew time. Crew drives home, no storage fees and the Illawarra gets an amazing tourist attraction.
    Also she has 3 good engines which can now be used at minimal cost.
    Sounds like a good economic and PR decision to me. Win Win!
    Great job Qantas.

  6. marc says

    @ Sam

    Have a beer and enjoy the occasion.

    Next time an article is run on Joyce, maybe you can write your comments there.

    By the way, I’d rather have a 747 in a town on display than a graveyard 5 or 15 hours flight away.

  7. Riplander says

    @ William:

    You mean multi-million dollar profit. If it was billion dollar profit it would’ve ended up on Forbes xD

  8. Sam says

    @ chris

    Hey chris… Good point actually!! I guess the publicity it is generating is also a benefit.

  9. Edward Maas says

    I know were to go next time i,m in Australia would love to see this 747 . And i do think it,s great Qantas is give this plane away it,s a shame KLM did not do the same whit one off the MD 11 they had .

  10. Greg says

    Great PR for all concerned.

    Great for QF to show some community spirit as well as crew skills.

    Great for HARS as it will draw visitors to the museum as well as the Gong.

    Great for kids who dream of getting into aviation and now can see a B747 close up.

  11. David says

    Great day, and wonderful seeing all the support there for this historic event.

    I’m no expert on large jets, but did I see the engines reverse thrust engaged after landing, or can the engine cowling move back without that happening?

  12. Paul says

    Great effort to all involved. Brings back
    the great memorys of many flights in the wonderful aircraft.

  13. says

    I was privileged to have worked on that aircraft and obtained my avionics license on S.O.E on thst aircraft. Congratulations and well done Hars and Qantas.

  14. Jason says

    Absolutely wonderful to see the record holding majestic queen of the skies having a permanent home on our soil for all to enjoy. I too was there to watch her come in and admit it was quite a bittersweet time, happy and sad. I wish they could fly forever but alas times change. I echo the sentiments that a 767 would be awesome to have there as well. Perhaps the aircraft graveyard at Alice Springs will also have some worthy attractions in time to come 🙂

  15. Simon Wallace says

    There’s always someone who is going to have a whinge. If Qantas sent it to the US desert, they’d complain. If Qantas gave it away for free to an Aviation enthusiast’s society, they’d complain.

    Well done, Qantas, nice job.

    And Sam – as a Qantas employee, no doubt you would have benefited over the years from the many generous perks that Qantas employees have enjoyed. Such as good working conditions, cheaper flights and conditions way better than your peers in the industry. Get over it!

  16. Stu Bee says

    Congratulations OJA on a wonderful career. Enjoy your retirement – you deserve it and you will be lovingly cared for by the good people at HARS.

  17. rossco says

    Amazing stuff. As for the engines they will need to leave somthing heavy enough under the wings.. or the plane will tip back onto its tail as its tail heavy.

  18. Craigy says

    Great news for Qantas heritage.

    However, the story needs to be updated, clearly one photo shows reverse thrust being used.

  19. A keen & happyHARS Volunteer says

    True, three engines will be removed but Qantas is sourcing three time expired engines.to replace them.

    The agreement between HARS and Qantas is that VH-OJA will be preserved and maintained practically 100%
    complete. The only items to be removed and the few that may have safety issues

  20. BH says

    I’m pretty sure the three engines in question are being swapped over for time-expired units. The same thing happened when donated the classic 747 to the founder’s museum in Longreach.

  21. Stewart says

    @David

    The engines were set to idle reverse upon touchdown, meaning that the engines were at idle power, however in the reverse thrust position – ready to be used if needed.

  22. Tony Ryan says

    Further to Stuart’s advice to David. I understand that Reverse thrust was used on the inboard engines only after landing. As Stuart said, the Reverse translating cowl on each engine moves rearward when Idle Reverse is selected, blocker doors close the by-pass airflow path which causes the air to flow forward through the exposed reverse thrust vanes. On the A380 I understand that only the inboard engines are fitted with Reverse Thrust capability..

  23. Kurt says

    I had the pleasure of flying VH-OJA “City of Canberra” as flight QF64 from OR Tambo to Sydney (FHOR – YSSY) on 31 May 2013 to represent South Africa in the Global Pizza Challange. Never knew she was part of such a ground breaking record of the longest non stop flight from London to Sydney. Hope to visit her again @ Illawarra one day.

  24. Greg Stevenson says

    Firstly, yes the four engines on OJA were in thrust reverse mode after the aircraft touched down, but all four engines were in the idle position.
    The reason for this was for safety. If the aircraft did have trouble stopping, the engines were already in thrust reverse and all they had to do was increase engine power to stop the aircraft.

    Now as for the A380. Yes only the two inboard engines have thrust reverse; No’s 2 and 3.
    The reason engines No’s 1 and 4 don’t have thrust reverse is to reduce weight.
    They found during stress testing of the wings on the A380, that having all four engines with thrust reverse
    created high stress factors which would actually put the A380’s wings under too much stress.

  25. John A gates says

    To Sam, the negativity was thankfully overcome by the many that appreciate nice events. Wherever there is a group with the ” wot about the worker” cry, one can only expect the spoiling cry. John

  26. Tim Matthews says

    I love what Qantas have done with VH-OJA and won’t to take my kids to see her.
    But I have one little question, what’s happening with VH-EBU are they going to give her away or is she just going to stay at avilon till she corrodes away?
    I drive past daily and it just seems to be a wast of a plane that also played a big part in the history of aviation.

  27. Blind Monkey says

    Understand the sentiment behind your comments Sam, however as others have pointed out, there were less attractive options QF could have exercised. Further, this is a piece of low cost PR for QF that will endure for years to come.

    As has also been mentioned out, QF staff are, in relative terms, well remunerated with good conditions and benefits. One of the difficulties Allan Joyce has, as did his post deregulation predecessors, is dealing with the culture at QF, which has remained much the same is it was during its government ownership and ‘two airline policy’ days.

    Yes, things have changed, and they had to, however it’s been slow. Both staff and unions have been recalcitrant and failed for a very long time to accept the reality that the market had changed. Things would most likely be different if those pesky LCCs had not been invented. Alas, such is not the case.

  28. Eduard Glastra - Marcello says

    Having flown on the aircraft many times as a passenger with my partner, I am delighted to read that its put the rest in such a gracious way. Befitting to an aircraft of her standing that has done such wonderful service to her nation and not in some awful desert place where they all look like dumped junk. Thank you Qantas, you deserve to be patted on your back.
    Eddie

  29. TREVOR PITT says

    Great to see this plane on the south coast , could we get back the first 747- 200 from 1971 VH EBA – this was also City of Canberra . If we start to talk it now before it is lost to the world for good, it would not cost a lot in the big picture . The TV + MARKETING would be great for Qantas + Australia also the HS -125 the training plane at that time. Also a 767 – may be the last one in the fleet , PS – the First 747 has a first class lounge when it was 1st in service this would look great if it was put back it the same layout , I have been on this plane when my dad worked for Qantas it was a great plane for its day .

  30. michael says

    JUST SCROLLING THROUGH THE PHOTOS OF THE DAY WHEN THE 747 WAS DELIVERED TO ALBION PARK AND HAPPENED TO NOTICE RAY HEINIGER IN THE PRESS PHOTOS, RAY I THINK LIVES UP THIS WAY NOW IE: COFFS HARBOUR HINTERLAND AREA, NICE MAN HAVE HAD THE ODD BEER WITH HIM AT OUR LOCAL HOTEL, AND THE LOCAL PUBLICAN KNOWS HIM VERY WELL, THEY ARE BOTH INTO RACE HORSES IN A BIG WAY, THEY ARE ALL WAYS SWAPPING NOTES ON WHATS HAPPENING IN THE RACING WORLD ON A REGULAR BASIS.