Qantas’ last remaining 747, VH-OEJ, is preparing for its very last flight.
The 17-year-old Boeing 747-438 will depart LAX at 2:30am (AEST) on Saturday morning to head to its final resting place at the notorious Mojave Desert boneyard.
The aircraft is due to land half an hour later at 10am local time on 24 July where it will join a reported 4,500 other aircraft being stored due to the coronavirus pandemic.
You can track the final trip here on Flightradar24.
— Qantas (@Qantas) July 22, 2020
Qantas sold its last 747, along with five others, to General Electric. The airport, IATA: MHV, is located within the Mojave Spaceport and has been storing aircraft since the 1970s.
The location is preferred by airlines for storage – either temporary or permanent – because the 120-degree temperatures prevent rust and precipitation can be as low as just 130mm a year.
Little has been reported as to exactly what General Electric Co plans to do with the Qantas 747s.
VH-OEJ’s journey began on Wednesday when QF7474 departed Sydney at 3:28pm on the first leg of its journey to LAX.
“It’s been our pleasure to guide you through the skies safely and taking the #Queenoftheskies✈️through our airspace over the last decades.”🔊Listen to our air traffic controllers bidding farewell to the final @Qantas B747 flight departing Australia #747Farewell pic.twitter.com/LGTEwpnVV5
— AirservicesAustralia (@AirservicesNews) July 23, 2020
After an emotional take-off to the tune of I Still Call Australia Home, captain Sharelle Quinn flew the aircraft over Sydney’s CBD, Harbour and beaches before heading to the HARS Museum, where she dipped its wings in a final salute to the first 747-400 housed at the attraction, VH-OJA.
Then, unexpectedly, Quinn drew a 275-kilometre x 250-kilometre Qantas Kangaroo in the sky.
More than 365,000 users on Twitter and 255,000 on Instagram shared Qantas’ official post of the stunt, 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
Alan Joyce said the 747 “changed world aviation, changed Qantas and changed Australia”.
“It’s an aircraft with an amazing history, an aircraft that has really made a difference to a lot of people,” he added.
The two final trips 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.