Today marks the end of an era with the departure of Australia’s national carrier’s last Boeing 747 jumbo jet. The final 747-400 in the fleet has departed Sydney and arrived in Southern California for its retirement. Respectively, the flight numbered 7474, brings five decades of historic moments for the carrier and aviation in Australia to an end.
Qantas took delivery of its first 747 (a -200 series) in August 1971, the same year that William McMahon became Prime Minister, the first McDonalds opened in Australia, and Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool topped the music charts. Its arrival – and its economics – made international travel possible for millions of people for the first time.
The fleet of 747 aircraft not only carried generations of Australians on their first overseas adventures, they also offered a safe voyage for hundreds of thousands of migrant families who flew to their new life in Australia on board a ‘roo tailed jumbo jet.
Qantas 747s were at the forefront of a number of important milestones for the airline, including the first Business Class cabin of any airline in the world. Their size, range and incredible reliability meant they were used for numerous rescue missions: flying a record 674 passengers out of Darwin in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy; evacuating Australians out of Cairo during political unrest in 2011 and flying medical supplies in and tourists home from the Maldives and Sri Lanka following the Boxing Day Tsunami in December 2004.
The last rescue missions the 747 flew for Qantas were to bring hundreds of stranded Australians home from the COVID-19 epicenter of Wuhan in February this year. Qantas brought forward the scheduled retirement of the fleet by six months after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated international travel globally.
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the 747 changed the face of Australian aviation and ushered in a new era of lower fares and non-stop flights.
“It’s hard to overstate the impact that the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia. It replaced the 707, which was a huge leap forward in itself but didn’t have the sheer size and scale to lower airfares the way the 747 did. That put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity,” Mr. Joyce said.
“This aircraft was well ahead of its time and extremely capable. Engineers and cabin crew loved working on them and pilots loved flying them. So did passengers. They have carved out a very special place in aviation history and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.
“Time has overtaken the 747 and we now have a much more fuel-efficient aircraft with even better range in our fleet, such as the 787 Dreamliner that we use on Perth-London and hopefully before too long, the Airbus A350 for our Project Sunrise flights non-stop to New York and London,” added Mr. Joyce.
Qantas has flown six different types of the 747, with Boeing increasing the aircraft’s size, range and capability over the years with the advent of new technology and engine types.
Qantas’s first female Captain, Sharelle Quinn, was in command of the final flight and said the aircraft has a very special place in the hearts of not just Qantas staff, but aviation enthusiasts and travelers alike.
“I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege”, Captain Quinn said.
“From the Pope to pop stars, our 747’s have carried over 250 million people safely to their destinations. Over the decades, it’s also swooped in on a number of occasions to save Aussies stranded far from home.”
Captain Quinn added, “It has been a wonderful part of our history, a truly ground breaking aircraft and while we are sad to see our last one go, it’s time to hand over to the next generation of aircraft that are a lot more efficient.”
Captain Quinn and crew flew the 747 to Los Angeles with a full cargo hold of freight before its final sector to the Mojave. As the aircraft departed Sydney, it headed out over the Pacific Ocean, as the sun sets on a 50-year love affair with Australians and their beloved Queen of The Skies.
Qantas Boeing 747 Fast Facts
Flight number: QF7474
Aircraft registration: VH-OEJ
Aircraft name: Wunala
Year delivered: July 30, 2003
- The first Qantas 747-238 was VH-EBA, named City of Canberra, and the first-ever Qantas 747 flight was on September 17, 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 2.2 billion miles, 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 travelers 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 thirty-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 & -400 models had a fifth engine pod capability that could carry an additional engine on commercial flights, a capability that was used extensively in the 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.