Qantas retires iconic Boeing 747 with farewell flight

Qantas just retired the iconic Boeing 747 with a commemorative last flight flown by the airline’s first female captain who drew a kangaroo in the sky.

Qantas retired its final Boeing 747 aircraft on Wednesday, July 23rd, after the coronavirus pandemic rendered the aircraft and its long-range capabilities useless and accelerated its departure from Qantas by months.

Boeing 747s have been part of the Qantas fleet for nearly five decades with the Australian flag carrier and an early adopter and ardent supporter of the type.

The final aircraft departed from Sydney en route to Los Angeles in preparation for storage in the Mojave Desert but left behind a special message in the sky before leaving Australian airspace.

The Australian Queen of the Skies has been dethroned.

Qantas’s final Boeing 747 departed from Australia for the last time on Wednesday en route to retirement, marking the end of a nearly 50-year chapter with the aircraft that started in 1971. An early adopter of the 747, the long-range jet was instrumental to Qantas connecting the remote continent with the world, helping link its main economic and tourist hub, Sydney, with cities as far as New York and London in a single stop faster than any aircraft before. 

Plans to retire the 747 from Qantas’ fleet at the end of 2020 were abruptly accelerated in March when Australia shut itself off from the world amid the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Qantas had grounded the aircraft and shifted most of what remained of its long-haul operation to the smaller, economical jets in its fleet like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

In the months prior to the pandemic, the Australian flag carrier’s Boeing 747s had been gradually rescinded from service on key routes such as New York-Brisbane and Sydney-San Francisco, replaced by its younger successors. Qantas retired the jet from flying scheduled routes to America in late 2019 after nearly five decades of transpacific connections between the US and Australia with the iconic aircraft.

A Qantas employee signing the fuselage of the last 747 flying for the airline.
A Qantas employee signing the fuselage of the last 747 flying for the airline.

James D. Morgan/Getty

Qantas has been an ardent supporter of the Boeing 747 and has purchased nearly every variant of the jet from the 747-100 to the 747-400. The Jumbo Jet was the aircraft of choice for its longest routes over the years and helped usher in a wave of nonstop connections between Australia and cities across the US including Los Angeles, Dallas, and San Francisco. 

While most Qantas Boeing 747s will enjoy retirement in peace, one jet is already preparing for a new lease on life as a flying testbed for Rolls-Royce. The aircraft engine manufacturer purchased a 747 from Qantas that was delivered by the airline in 2019 to be used as a platform to test new engines that will power aircraft for decades to come. 

An Australian send-off

Qantas' final Boeing 747 received the traditional water cannon salute upon its departure from Sydney's Kingsfor Smith Airport.
Qantas’ final Boeing 747 received the traditional water cannon salute upon its departure from Sydney’s Kingsfor Smith Airport.

Bai Xuefei/Xinhua/Getty

Qantas sent its final 747 to be retired in the Mojave Desert at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville to rest alongside its compatriots that Qantas has been sending over the years. The last passengers were containers of freight as travel restrictions are largely hindering international travel.

Qantas loaded up the 747 with what it could for the final trip on the iconic Sydney-Los Angeles route and sent the 747 back to America, where the particular jet – a Boeing 747 named Wunala – had been built 17 years ago to the month. The near-15 hour hop, according to Flightradar24 data, marked the last transpacific flight of a Qantas Boeing 747 from Australia to the US, a sector it had become a staple on since the 1970s.

Piloting the final flight was Captain Sharelle Quinn, the first female captain at Qantas who had been flying the 747 for 36 years, nearly as long as the jet had been in the airline’s fleet. Before leaving Australian airspace, however, Qantas and Quinn gave the 747 a special send-off through an invisible message in the sky. 

The route map had been slightly adjusting so that the 747’s route drew out Qantas’ Kangaroo symbol found on the tail of its aircraft. Drawing the symbol along the Australian east coast took just under an hour and a half, according to Flightradar24.

It was just one of the many goodbyes Australian’s gave to their Queen of the Skies with the weeks leading up to the final flight seeing Aussies lining up to take domestic farewell flights and the jet receiving the ceremonial water cannon salute.



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