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In pictures: Qantas 787 supermoon flight

written by Adam Thorn | May 27, 2021
Qantas took these dramatic images of VH-ZNE before its flight to watch the joint supermoon and eclipse (Qantas)

Qantas’ special 787 flight to view the supermoon and lunar eclipse took place night, following the success of the airline’s previous ‘concept’ flights.

The 787-9, VH-ZNE msn 63391, departed Sydney at 7:47am as flight QF1250 and flew over the Tasman before returning home two hours and 45 minutes later.

Qantas said the 180 passengers included a 14-year-old high school student, a crown prosecutor, an amateur photographer and a 90-year-old former flight attendant.

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The total lunar eclipse began at 9:11pm AEST, and pilots dimmed the cabin lights as the moon crossed into the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow.

Qantas chief technical pilot, Captain Alex Passerini, said the biggest challenge with flying the supermoon scenic flight was the variables of weather and air traffic, as well as co-ordinating the optimum flight route in consultation with Air Services Australia.

“We had designated airspace set aside for us around 465 kilometres off the coast of Sydney and we mapped out the flight path based around the trajectory of the moon rising and the timing of the total eclipse,” said Passerini.

“We executed a series of turns to ensure passengers on both sides of the aircraft got great views of the moon at various times.”

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The flag carrier charged $499 for economy, $899 for premium economy and $1,499 for business for the flight, which soared over clouds at 43,000 feet.

Qantas chose the 787 Dreamliner because it has the largest windows in its fleet, and the schedule was designed in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) astronomer Dr Vanessa Moss who worked to ensure passengers would have the optimum flight path.

A supermoon occurs when a full moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, making it appear larger and brighter.

The moon has a slight “eccentricity” in its orbit meaning it can sometimes be nearer or further away – varying between 360,000 and 400,000 kilometres from Earth.

Sometimes, this phenomenon can coincide with a lunar eclipse, known as a “super blood moon”. That last took place in January 2019.

During a lunar eclipse, the sun, Earth and moon are in perfect alignment, but with a little light reaching the moon from around the edges of the Earth.

Chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said upon its announcement, “We think this flight has great appeal for anyone with a passion for astronomy, science, space photography, aviation or just keen to do something a little ‘out of this world’.

“We have been absolutely overwhelmed with the popularity of our special flights. The recent mystery flights sold out within 15 minutes with hundreds of people on waiting lists and they keep telling us they want more.”

Qantas’ initial ‘flight to nowhere’ toured Australia on 12 October 2020, with Passerini dipping as low as 4,000 feet as he flew past landmarks such as the Great Barrier Reef, over the Whitsundays and Uluru.

The ‘Great Southern Land’ scenic flight initially flew up the NSW coast before crossing the Queensland border for a fly-by of the Gold Coast and then up the Queensland coast to the Great Barrier Reef.

The 787-9 then tracked across Australia to conduct low-level fly-bys of Uluru and Kata Tjuta before turning back to Sydney for a flyover of Sydney Harbour and Bondi Beach.

Qantas followed this with scenic flights touring Australia, including a trip to Uluru that involved an overnight stay at a five-star hotel. This was followed by flights to mystery locations.

Australian Aviation can reveal the mystery flights were: An 737-838, VH-VZU msn 34187, which departed Brisbane at 8:56am on 27 March as flight QF1255 and landed in Orange at 11:38am; a 737-838, VH-VZX msn 34188, which departed Sydney at 8:43am as flight QF1254 on 18 April and landed in Hamilton Island at 11:09am; and a Boeing 737-838, VH-VZU msn 34187, departed  Melbourne at 8:52am as flight QF1251 on 1 May and landed in Launceston at 9:44am.

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