When one door closes, another one opens: Qantas 747 gets second life

written by australianaviation.com.au | October 16, 2019
Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU Lord Howe Island at Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake. (Jordan Chong)
Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU Lord Howe Island at Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake. (Jordan Chong)

After a near 20-year career with Qantas, Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU will have a second life flying as a Rolls-Royce test aircraft.

It was announced on Tuesday (US time) Qantas had sold the recently retired VH-OJU Lord Howe Island to Rolls-Royce, which will convert the aircraft to a flying test bed.

The 747-400 operated its last commercial flight for Qantas on Sunday as the QF99 from Sydney to Los Angeles after flying more than 70 million kilometres – the equivalent of almost 100 return trips to the moon – with the flying kangaroo on the tail.

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After two days on the ground at Qantas’s Los Angeles Airport maintenance facility, VH-OJU was ferried to Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake in Washington State.

Over the next two years, technicians from engineering firm AeroTec will remove the 364 business, premium economy and economy seats to make room for the instruments and testing equipment for Rolls-Royce’s engine testing program.

Qantas Captain Robert Nelson hands over the "keys" to the flight deck of 747-400 VH-OJU to Rolls-Royce's Gareth Hedicker at Moses Lake. (Jordan Chong)
Qantas Captain Robert Nelson hands over the “keys” to the flight deck of 747-400 VH-OJU to Rolls-Royce’s Gareth Hedicker at Moses Lake. (Jordan Chong)

Rolls-Royce said it a statement the aircraft would be able to conduct testing on engines for both commercial and business aircraft.

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“New systems will obtain better data faster than ever before, and technologies will be tested at higher altitudes and faster speeds,” the engine maker said.

“Flying testbeds are used to conduct altitude testing and monitor technologies in flight conditions.”

The retired Qantas aircraft, powered by four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, will join the engine maker’s existing 747-200 flying testbed that is based in the United States.

An artist's impression of a Rolls-Royce Boeing 747 flying testbed. (Rolls-Royce/Flickr)
An artist’s impression of a Rolls-Royce Boeing 747 flying testbed. (Rolls-Royce/Flickr)

Rolls-Royce said the acquisition and reconfiguring of the 747-400 VH-OJU to create a “flying digital hub”, represented a $70 million investment.

“The Queen of the skies will become the jewel in the crown of our global test programmes,” Rolls-Royce director of development and experimental engineering Gareth Hedicker said.

“This is a significant investment that will expand our world-leading test capabilities even further and will allow us to obtain more flight test data than ever before.

“After transporting millions of passengers on this beloved aircraft for 20 years, we’re excited to power it into the future.”

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at the airline's Los Angeles maintenance facility. (Jordan Chong)
Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at the airline’s Los Angeles maintenance facility. (Jordan Chong)

AeroTEC president and founder Lee Human said the company was proud to partner with Rolls-Royce to “modify, build and commission this new flying testbed”.

“Our engineering, modification, and test teams in Seattle and Moses Lake are already hard at work preparing to bring Rolls-Royce’s vision to reality,” Human said.

Qantas executive manager of engineering Chris Snook added: “We’re delighted that she has a long life ahead of her to help test and support the development of the next generation of aircraft engines.”


VIDEO: A look at Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU Lord Howe Island at the airlines maintenance facility at Los Angeles Airport.

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6 Comments

  • Greg Stevenson

    says:

    Long live the ‘Queen of the Skys”.

  • Mac Carter

    says:

    Much better then ending up as scrap metal.
    Hopefully many more years of flying.

  • George White

    says:

    I still cannot understand why our government do not purchase one or more for VIP and Troop movements rather than leave them sit in a dessert or scrap yard!!!

    • kfh

      says:

      We already have far more efficient aircraft to perform those duties.

  • Gary

    says:

    George – perhaps the ADF is satisfied with 6 KC30 (plus 1 for VIP), 8 x C17 and 12 x C130J30 and 10 x C27. Who will crew the aircraft; how will they stay current, where will it be based, what infrastructure / logistics are involved? The list goes on.

  • Richard Bradfield

    says:

    Why not convert them to Water bombers!, it will cost a bit bit, but by the way this country is going up in flames we need them,
    as somebody said the other day California has a fleet of 36 aircraft it it still can’t cope NSW has one 737. we need more wwater bombers and a Jumbo could hold a lot of water!

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