Qantas’s last “Queen of the Skies” gave one final flourish as it departed Australia’s shores on Wednesday, with its flight path over the New South Wales coastline.
Pilots of Qantas’s last Boeing 747 gave a last salute to the plane by tracing the outline of Qantas’s famous marsupial logo.
After taking off from Sydney Airport, the plane also took a swoop over Sydney Harbour and made a brief diversion south to pay tribute to Qantas’s original 747 400 City of Canberra, now housed at an aviation museum in Wollongong.
The jet then headed out to trace its kangaroo-shaped flight path over the Tasman Sea before its final hop across the Pacific Ocean.
Owen Zupp was one of the six pilots who were on board the flight, which was brought forward from the end of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Zupp said he would look back with fondness on the journey after delivering the plane to its final destination.
“Once that is done I think it will be a memory that we can look back on with great pride,” said Zupp. “It is significant not just for Qantas’ history but aviation.”
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Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce, who signed the plane’s fuselage ahead of its last trip, said the 747 had helped make international travel affordable for many Australians.
“It overcame the tyranny of distance that was and continued to be an issue for Australia,” Joyce told the group of some 150 people who had gathered for the socially-distanced send-off.
The plane is one of six sold to multinational conglomerate General Electric. It will deliver a cargo of freight to Los Angeles before flying on to its retirement in California’s Mojave Desert.
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Qantas 747s carried more than 250 million people across almost five decades of service. They have included Queen Elizabeth II and every Australian Olympic team since 1984. The airline was once the only carrier in the world with an all-747 fleet.
Even before the current coronavirus pandemic, the four-engine model had been nearing the end of its likely lifespan, with more economically efficient and smaller capacity models preferred by many airlines. Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM have all now brought forward retirement plans because of COVID-19 and the lack of demand for international air travel, especially at jumbo jet volumes.
Qantas has canceled most of its international flights until at least July 2021 because of Australian government travel restrictions.
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rc/msh (AFP, Reuters)