The year was 2009 and Hollywood actor John Travolta was in Sydney with his prized Boeing 707 aircraft.
Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) president Bob De La Hunty was also there – and took Travolta flying in “Connie”, the Lockheed Super Constellation.
During that fight – up and down the coast from Mascot – a conversation was struck about whether the actor’s plane might one day call the Illawarra home.
“We sowed the seed then that if he finally decides it’s no longer going to be something that he could maintain or wanted to continue with that we’d like to talk to him about it,” Mr De La Hunty told the Mercury.
“So when we heard that he was going to possibly retire it, we got in touch and the rest now is the developing history.”
Travolta announced on Saturday he would donate his 707 – which bears the unique registration 707JT – to HARS at the Illawarra Regional Airport.
When the aircraft arrives, on a date that is yet to be determined, the 707 will slot into the HARS fleet with ease.
In fact, its new home has already been determined.
“We built the first hangar here actually to fit it [the 707],” Mr De La Hunty said, citing plans from 2001 about HARS’ vision to have the plane in the Illawarra.
“Our original hangar design clearly shows the 707 sitting in the hangar.
“You’ve got to be careful what you wish for sometimes. Being all volunteers, sometimes it’s seen by many others that it’s almost an impossible dream but … if you’ve got vision and passion you can make it happen.”
Saturday’s announcement was months in the making, Mr De La Hunty said.
HARS had to form an American arm to complete the formal ownership transfer of the plane, which has taken place.
“We’ll keep his very unique registration on the aircraft … and we’ve been working with Qantas for a licence agreement to keep it in Qantas’ colours,” he said.
“All of that’s been pretty heavy behind the scenes, culminating in the great announcement [on Saturday].”
Read John Travolta’s full statement below:
It gives me great pleasure to make this exciting historical announcement that my beloved Boeing 707 aircraft has been donated to the Historical Aircraft Restoration society (HARS) based in the town of Albion Park, approximately 90 miles (140 km) south of the city of Sydney in Australia.
As many of you will know, flying is a passion of mine and I am just so grateful to be fortunate enough to count many hours flying such a beautiful aircraft.
The aircraft was originally delivered to Qantas Airways in 1964 and was converted for private use after it finished its life with “The Flying Kangaroo”.
I was honoured to have the 707 repainted in the original Qantas colours when I became the ambassador for the airline, and it’s so fitting that many of the volunteers at HARS are retired Qantas employees.
The aircraft currently requires a lot of work to be restored to a safe flying state and having seen first hand the dedication and passion of people at HARS, I have no doubt this beautiful and historical aircraft will be flying again.
HARS have an impressive track record of restoring historical aircraft and I have personally flown in a Super Constellation that they restored to flying condition from almost nothing.
I am hoping to be part of the crew to fly the aircraft to Australia, supported by well qualified and experienced pilots and engineers.
In making this announcement, I would like to mention the significant support given by the Bendigo Bank Oak Flats and Shellharbour Community Bank Branches who as a local organization, have been very supportive of HARS’ efforts in aircraft restoration.
Thanks must also go to QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited Services for their significant support as well.
I am truly excited by this project and am just so pleased that this beautiful aircraft, for which I obviously have very fond memories, will continue to fly well into the future.
Thank you, John Travolta