The final Qantas 747 flight went viral on Wednesday night with more than 600,000 users sharing its kangaroo flight path on Twitter and Instagram.
In fact, during its first hour in the air, Flightradar24 reported that 150,000 users were tracking its journey in real-time as people tried to decipher what Captain Sharelle Quinn was attempting.
— Qantas (@Qantas) July 22, 2020
Yesterday, QF7474 departed Sydney at 3:28pm on its way to Los Angeles, but on the way took a detour to draw an enormous Qantas Kangaroo in the skies.
Australian Aviation can reveal the now-iconic design measured 275 kilometres east-west and 250 kilometres north-south and took just under 90 minutes to complete.
More than 365,000 users on Twitter and 255,000 on Instagram shared Qantas’ official post, but many tens of thousands are likely to have also shared similar pictures and animations of the journey.
When it finished, VH-OEJ climbed to cruising altitude and headed for Los Angeles, where it touched down at 1:23pm after 15 hours in the air.
Twitter user Owen Zupp captured the moment the plane came in to rest at LAX.
— Owen Zupp. Author. (@owenzupp) July 23, 2020
The 17-year-old Boeing 747-438 is set to take off at 9:30am on 24 July for its very final flight before arriving in the Mojave Desert at 10am. Qantas had sold the 747, along with five others, to General Electric Co.
Australian Aviation, along with 150 lucky employees, was privileged enough to be at Hangar 96 on Wednesday as Qantas said goodbye to the Queen of the Skies during an emotional ceremony.
Attendees were invited to sign the underside of the aircraft before chief executive Alan Joyce took to the stage to deliver a tribute to the aircraft the airline still considers its own.
“The 747 changed world aviation, changed Qantas and changed Australia,” said Joyce. “It’s an aircraft with an amazing history, an aircraft that has really made a difference to a lot of people.”
He explained how, in 1971, Qantas took the biggest gamble in its history by spending $135 million – or around $1.5 billion in today’s money – on purchasing four Boeing 747s. “At the time, people thought supersonic travel was the way of the future,” he quipped.
Qantas’ first female captain, Sharelle Quinn, who led the flight team, told reporters, “I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege.”
The very final journey followed three special flights for customer departing the week before in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.
Proceeds from those ticket sales were donated to the HARS Aviation Museum in NSW and the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach, Queensland. Both currently have 747s on public display.
In the past few months alone, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM have all announced plans to fast-forward the retirement of their 747s, with BA, the holder of the largest fleet, thought not to be planning any farewell at all.
QUEEN OF THE SKIES 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 30-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 and -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.