When Qantas marked the end of an era with the departure of its last Boeing 747 jumbo jet on Wednesday it was a chance for employees past and present to gather at various locations to wish it farewell.
After taking off from Mascot just after 3pm the final Qantas 747-400 VH-OEJ flew over Sydney where many Qantas employees gathered to watch from locations such as the Opera House and beaches in the northern and eastern suburbs.
It then proceeded down the Wollongong coastline at 3000 feet before dropping down to 1500 feet over Port Kembla and Lake Illawarra to salute the first ever Qantas 747-400 VH-OJA by dipping its wing over the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society aviation museum.
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Qantas pilots, engineers and cabin crew joined HARS volunteers to form a human 747 on the ground to surprise the crew making the final flight bound for Los Angeles.
VH-OEJ then turned left over Shellharbour but before leaving Australian shores Qantas and its first female captain, Scarborough's Sharelle Quinn, had a parting surprise of their own with the aircraft making a flying kangaroo formation with its flight path off the coast of Newcastle.
Flight number QF7474 may have brought an end to decades of history-making moments with the national carrier and aviation in Australia but the 747-400 will never be forgotten.
If the feedback at Shellharbour Airport on Wednesday is anything to go by it will always remain many people's favourite.
Among those at HARS was Roger Blakey who started working for Qantas in 1971 as a tradesperson when the first 747 Classic was introduced. He went on to become one of the engineers who accepted the first 747-400 from Boeing.
"I actually dispatched it from Boeing Field in 1989 and was on the delivery flight to Las Vegas. From there it went to London and then flew from London to Sydney. Two of the guys I was on the plane with then, Neil Tazwell and John Hewitt, are also volunteers here at HARS now.
Qantas took delivery of its first 747 (a -200 series) in August 1971, the same year that William McMahon became prime minister, McDonald's opened in Australia and Daddy Cool's Eagle Rock topped the charts.
Greg Matthews and Ossie Miller were at the helm when VH-OAJ landed at Shellharbour Airport in March 2015 and wanted to be at HARS again on Wednesday for the final chapter in the 747 story.
Captain Matthews said they are two important moments he will remember forever.
"It is a sad day to see the last of the 747-400s leave. It has been a great aircraft for Qantas over many years with fond memories for passengers who flew on it and Qantas staff who worked in it"
Captain Matthews now flies an A380 for Qantas and said the 747 was always a great pleasure to fly.
"It is great that Qantas allowed the last 747-400 'OEJ' to come down here and salute the first 'OAJ' before it left Australia," he said.
For Mr Miller the flight to HARS in 2015 was his last as a pilot and has nothing but fond memories of the 747-400. On Wednesday he too wanted to see OEJ off, catch up with people again and share memories.
"I don't think there will ever be another era like this," he said.
Geoff Sheppard is presently the project leader for 'City of Canberra' and said it was great to have the aircraft at HARS for future generations to enjoy. He said it was the first 747-400 he ever flew.
"The 747 has been with Qantas longer than any other aircraft type. We thought it was going to last forever. The 707 was in service just over 20 years and a lot of other aircraft lasted only four of five years," Mr Sheppard said.
"The 747 changed aviation and changed the way people travelled. It made a huge difference to the travel industry. It left such an impression on those who worked with it and on it they love dressing up in their retro uniforms for events like this. Everyone just feels privileged to have been part of the 747 era. It is a magnificent airplane. It is arguably one of the best designs ever.
"It is a very emotional day for a lot of people and there will be a lot of tears today. It is disappointing the 747 is being forced to leave because of COVID. But for economic reasons it was on the way out. OEJ leaving Australia today is really a time stamp in history".
Mr Sheppard recalled how the sky used to be full of 747s doing international flights to place likes London. But now suddenly there was none. He said Qantas crew were like family and it was great to have so many come together at HARS on Wednesday to say goodbye.
Toby Gursanscky flew a 747 for Qantas for most of his four decade career and said it was so popular because "it is just such a great aircraft and very easy to fly". He loves it so much he now leads tours at HARS along with Mr Miller.
All present on Wednesday said the economy of scale the 747 provided in 1971 made international travel possible for millions of people and continued to do that for almost five decades. It would have made it to the 50th year in 2021 if it had not been for COVID-19.
Former flight director Nello Valvo flew with Qantas for 43 years and described the 747-400 as a magnificent aircraft that was like a home to him. He said it expanded aviation and suddenly made the world a smaller place.
Barry Grant said everyone who worked on the 747 had a great connection with it. Which is why so many former Qantas employees volunteer at HARS to preserve such an important piece of aviation history.
Janine East, Jodie Stoyles and Leif Ringe-Corben still work as international cabin crew for Qantas and did not want to miss the farewell.
Boeing's 747 not only carried generations of Australians on their first overseas adventures, they offered a safe voyage for hundreds of thousands of migrant families who flew to their new life in Australia. That included many who arrived in Wollongong to work at Port Kembla steelworks. So it was fitting the last 747 flew over BlueScope on Wednesday.
The 747 allowed Qantas to introduce the first Business Class cabin of any airline. And participate in many rescue missions such as flying a record 674 passengers out of Darwin after 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 epicentre of Wuhan in February.
Julie Crabbe, of Helensburgh, was among many current Qantas employees at HARS for the farewell. She started as an apprentice in 1993 and now works as maintenance engineer.
"I saw the event advertised on the Facebook page for Qantas apprentices and engineers and thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to farewell the iconic 747 properly and catch up with some mates."
HARS president Bob De La Hunty told those gathered at Albion Park Rail on Wednesday that the aviation museum would have loved to acquire it to sit alongside the first.
That wasn't possible but as it left he said attention was now turning to getting the John Travolta 707 here safely to complete HARS collection of passenger aircraft used by Qantas.
Qantas Group chief executive 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," Mr Joyce said.
"That put international travel within reach of the average Australia. 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."
Mr Joyce said it took a long time for more fuel efficient aircraft with greater range, such as the 787 Dreamliner now being used on the Perth to London route to displace the 747 from its mantel.
And the Airbus A350 which is likely to be used on non-stop New York and London flights.
Qantas has flown six different types of the 747 as Boeing increased the aircraft's size, range and capability over the years.
Captain Quinn said the 747 has carried more than 250 million passengers including everyone from pop stars to the Pope to pop stars safely to their destinations.
The last Qantas 747 will now retire to Mojave.
Final flight facts:
- Flight number: QF7474
- Aircraft registration: VH-OEJ
- Aircraft name: Wunala
- Year delivered: 2003 (30th July)
Other 747 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 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 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.
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