Close sidebar

Pictured! We find every Qantas 747 still in a boneyard

written by Adam Thorn | July 27, 2021
Photos courtesy of Google Earth and Microsoft Zoom Earth

In May this year, Australian Aviation published a story that became the biggest in our 40-year history, attracting a mind-boggling 80,000 views. It involved a TikTok user, Ashley Hall, who obtained footage from inside a Qantas 747 stored at a boneyard in the Californian desert. What she likely didn’t realise – that we were able to deduce from some nifty FlightAware research – was that the 747-400 in question had been sweltering in the desert, innards intact, for more than eight years.

Perhaps the reason the story did so well, I think now, was because aviation enthusiasts have a propensity to see what others consider as simply hulks of metal as something a bit more alive. Much like the Toys in Toy Story – who knows what they get up to when we’re not watching?

The unassuming VH-OJQ was the third of four 747-438 ordered by Qantas in 1991. Named City of Mandurah, it entered service the following year before enjoying 20 years of distinguished flying for Australia’s flag carrier. And now, here it was – she was! – 30 years on, forgotten by the world until a TikTok star with an iPhone turned up. Which got me thinking. We’d assumed Qantas’ 747s had all be given dignified burials but perhaps they hadn’t. Where are they? And can we track them down?

Advertisement
Advertisement

It transpires we can. While most boneyards heavily restrict access and most satellite images are too fuzzy, Google Earth and its Microsoft rival, Zoom Earth, regularly send aircraft with long lenses to snap most of the world, including off-limit plane storage facilities. As luck would have it, both seem to have updated recently with new photos. It means we can check in on the retired Queens of the Sky to see how they are doing. Luckily, Qantas’ 747s are easily identified by their unique red tail livery that swooshes across the fuselage (though, you have to be careful not to confuse them with Air Malta’s).

So here, we present the locations of – what we believe – is every Qantas 747 still alive (or sorts). And if you have any more information, please get in touch at [email protected] or comment below. We’ll be regularly updating this article as more information comes in from readers around the world.

Mojave

Mojave Air and Space Port is located in the California desert, about 150 kilometres north of LA. First opened in 1935 as a rural airfield serving local gold miners, it’s grown into one of the world’s most notable boneyards. In total over the last decade, Qantas has sent nine 747-400s there, including five sold to General Electric in 2020: VH-OEE, VH-OEG, VH-OEH, VH-OEI and VH-OEJ (click the links to see the final flights). Prior to that, the flag carrier banished VH-OJI, VH-OJM and VH-OJO there in 2015,2017 and 2019 respectively.

PROMOTED CONTENT

Google Earth’s last selection of images were capture on 30 April 2017, and we’ve found three resting here – likely to be all three of VH-OJI, VH-OJM and VH-OJO.

What though of the more recent arrivals? Well, there’s no shortage of videos and information on the final 747 to land there – and Qantas’ final 747 – VH-OEJ. VH-OEJ’s journey to the boneyard began on 22 July 2020 when it departed Sydney as flight QF7474 on the first leg of its journey to LAX. After an emotional take-off to the tune of I Still Call Australia Home, first-leg 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. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Instagram users shared Qantas’ official post of the stunt. 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.

The following Saturday, it completed its final journey to the boneyard, captured here by Twitter user Sam Chui.

Unfortunately, neither Google or Zoom Earth is up to date enough to show us where they are. However, Pinterest user JC captured this image of six Qantas 747s in Mojave, likely to include all of VH-OEE, VH-OEG, VH-OEH, VH-OEI and VH-OEJ (the sixth, I suspect, travelled there from Tupelo, see below).

Victorville

Victorville – technically known as the Southern California Logistics Airport – is located 90 miles northeast of LA, on the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert. The site was the old home of George Air Force Base from 1941 to 1992 before being converted into arguably the world’s most famous boneyard. In the last decade, Qantas has sent eight of its 747s to Victorville, all in 2012 and 2013: VH-OJQ, VH-OJP, VH-OJO, VH-OJF, VH-OJE, VH-OJD, VH-OJC and VH-OJB.

Google Earth’s images are from Victorville were taken long after all three arrived, on 10 March last year. We’ve found two – both of which are likely to have been sat in the desert for at least seven years.

And of course, we know one of the two is the aircraft toured by the TikTok user, VH-OJQ. Qantas took delivery of the aircraft on 20 July 1992, and while the footage has been subsequently removed, we still have photos of it that we captured, which shows the inside largely intact, if not hugely damaged.

Tupelo

Tupelo Regional Airport is a public-use airport located six kilometres west of Tupelo, a city in Lee County, Mississippi. Qantas sent one 747 here in 2019, VH-OEB. Named Phillip Island, The GE-powered VH-OEB was the last 747 that had Qantas’s old first-class seats in the nose, with the remaining 747-400s and -400ERs having been reconfigured with a three-class layout comprising business, premium economy and economy. It was built for Asiana in 1993 and acquired by Qantas in 1998.

We can’t find any trace of its fuselage on either Google or Zoom Earth, but thankfully, we do know VH-OEB made the trip in one piece, with Tupelo posting this picture on the day it landed. YouTube user HD Melbourne Aviation has captured this video of it, during happier times, landing in Melbourne YMML. The YouTube user speculates it could have continued onward to Victorville, making it the ‘sixth’ 747 pictured above.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino International Airport is situated three kilometres east of downtown San Bernardino and 60 100km from LAX. Qantas sent one 747 here in 2019, VH-OEF, and we can find no trace of it. Yet despite its death coming with little fanfare, this was arguably Qantas most significant 747. Qantas was the only airline to order a true passenger version of the -400ER variant, which some speculate was built at the request of Qantas. The 747-400ER was the same size as the usual 747-400 but had the option of one or two extra 12,300-litre fuel tanks as well as larger tyres. The upshot of which was to allow Qantas to be able to fly new routes such as Melbourne – Los Angeles, and Dallas – Brisbane, as well as making existing ones more profitable.

Pinal Airpark

The Pinal County Airpark is located in Marana, Arizona, north-west of Tucson. Qantas sent one aircraft here, VH-OJG, back in 2012. Unsurprisingly therefore, we can’t find any signs of it, and the hopes it had a dignified demise are ominous. Pinal Airpark bans photography of many of its planes because, according to airplaneboneyards.com, many “are missing engines or other recognisable parts, and some of the owners or operators of those aircraft have asked that people not take pictures because the planes are not in a good condition”.

Moses Lake

The five-runway Moses Lake Grant County International Airport boasts one of the largest airfields in the US, and is utilised for both military and commercial test flights. Qantas sent one of its 747s here, VH-OJU, in 2019. And we’ve found it!

 

Australian Aviation reported at the time how the then-19-year-old aircraft, which came out of the Boeing production line in January 2000, had its final commercial flight in Qantas colours on Sunday, 13 October 2019, when it operated the QF99 from Sydney to Los Angeles.

The flight was a celebration with Qantas making all 364 business, premium economy and economy seats available for frequent flyer points redemptions when it announced the date of the flight in August as part of the airline’s “points plane” concept.

Perhaps in recognition of the number of people on board who had made a point of being on VH-OJU’s swansong performance, the announcements over the tannoy from pilots and cabin crew providing plenty of information on the history of the aircraft, the proposed route to Los Angeles and details about the takeoff weight out of Sydney.

Also, the pilots alerted passengers to the moment VH-OJU Lord Howe Island flew over its island namesake, about 684 kilometres east of Sydney.

Some 13 hours after departure, and following some dinner, rest and breakfast over the course of the flight, VH-OJU touched down at Los Angeles International Airport at a little after 12:00pm local time and taxied its way to a remote stand on the western side of the airfield.

It then continued onto Moses Lake two days’ later.

Steer your own in-flight experience – available on print and digital Whether our classic glossy magazine in your letterbox, daily news updates in your inbox, peeling back a few layers in the podcast or our monthly current affair reports, you can count on us to keep you up to date. Sign up today for just $99.95 for more exclusive offers here. Subscribe now at australianaviation.com.au.

15 Comments

  • Anonymous

    says:

    Bring them home, don’t want the whale buses. We want the 747’s please.

  • Anonymous

    says:

    also an amendment, VH-OEB was sighted being parted out at tulepo, it’s on the Aussieairliners page for the aircraft

  • There were a couple of SP’s sent to Victorville and torn to pieces EAA and EAB? It’s a sad end to these beautiful aircraft. Great article look forward to the future feedbacks on this.

  • Jerome

    says:

    Not sure that Longreach would appreciate being called a bone yard, but of course VH-EBQ (City of Bunbury) stands there as proud testament to Qantas’ connection to the town! An estimated 5.4 million passengers passed through its doors over a service life, flying for 82.5 million kms. Now a proud exhibit of the Qantas Founders Museum.

  • jono

    says:

    is oju in the above overhead picture rocking British Airways rb211 engines they look blue

  • alan k griffiths

    says:

    SO SAD TO SEE THE MIGHTY Queen in that place of rest many great memories of flying on them they will never be forgotten

  • Peter B

    says:

    OEB is still at Tupelo minus engines and bits and pieces. You can see it if you go Street View on Air Park Road. Image is from Oct 2019.

  • Peter

    says:

    I didn’t see any mention of two notable 747-400’s, namely VH-OJH or VH-OJK. The first was the aircraft that over ran the runway on landing at Bangkok, and the second was the aircraft that experienced an oxygen bottle failure after leaving Hong Kong. I assume that they may have been sold to another operator, rather than retired from the Qantas fleet.

    • Gary

      says:

      As per Aussieairlines
      VH-OJK was scrapped at Marana sometime late 2019.
      VH-OJH was scrapped at Marana sometime 2013

  • Rocket

    says:

    “Over the Tannoy”.

    Please, “over the PA” – we’re not British, we’re Australian.

    I guess the writer won’t respond as he’s busy “hoovering” his carpets at the moment.

  • Gary

    says:

    N953JM is the X VH-OJL departed Victorville for Kanas city on the 30/07/2020 as flight Number N953JM
    For a time of 2Hrs 59mins.
    Unsure what has happen to this aircraft after it arrived
    There but would like to know what happen to it.

    • Anonymous

      says:

      According to Aussieairliners the new owners are Alta Airline Holding LLC t/a Eastern Airlines. I really don’t know whats happening as the holding group has a number of interesting aircraft in its stored fleet list

    • Anonymous

      says:

      i have done some digging, reportedly it is earmarked to join eastern airlines cargo division. alongside 2 other 747-400’s

    • Em

      says:

      It’s visible on google maps, right where the radar trace for N953JM stopped. It doesn’t look good for it though, sadly it’s parked among spares donors owned by the two nearby MRO/spares companies.

      • HM7

        says:

        That’s actually N955JM at Kansas City (former VH-OJE)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Each day, our subscribers are more informed with the right information.

SIGN UP to the Australian Aviation magazine for high-quality news and features for just $99.95 per year