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After 50 years of service, Qantas Airways Ltd's last Boeing 747 jet drew a kangaroo tail in the sky off the Australian coast on its final flight to retirement on Wednesday.
The flight took off from Sydney Airport for the US, where the jumbo jet will be retired – parked and stripped for parts in the aircraft graveyard in the Mojave Desert.
Greg Fitzgerald, who was the co-pilot for the flight, said that the day marked the end of a significant chapter in Australia’s aviation history. “Everybody in Australia, everybody in the world knows the shape of the 747,” he said.
According to Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, the 747 is being replaced by more fuel-efficient aircraft with better range, like the 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350. The fleet was originally planned to be retired later this year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic decimated travel globally, which moved up the retirement by six months.
Qantas, the country’s flagship airline, received its first 747 jumbo jet in August 1971, making international travel possible for millions of Australians due to their size, range, and reliability. Eight years later, Qantas became the first airline to operate an all Boeing 747 fleet. The airline purchased a total of 60 Boeing 747s with the last delivered to the company in 2003.
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In 1981, the airline introduced two short body Boeing 747SPs to the fleet for flights to Wellington, New Zealand and they were subsequently used on non-stop flights between Sydney and Los Angeles – the same trip the last Boeing did on Wednesday.
Qantas ceased being an all Boeing 747 operator four years later, as they introduced the first of seven Boeing 767 to the fleet.
Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747-400 in 1989 and flew a record-breaking non-stop flight from London to Sydney in 20 hours. The record stood until October 2019 when Qantas themselves bettered it with a 787.
The aircraft, despite being a passenger plane has taken part in numerous rescue missions in the past. In 1974, the 747s were used to rescue 674 people stranded by Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, Australia. They flew medical supplies in and tourists’ home from the Maldives and Sri Lanka during the devastating tsunami of December 2004. They helped evacuate Australians stuck in Cairo, Egypt due to political unrest in 2011.
The fleet's last mission took place earlier this year when it brought home hundreds of stranded Australians from the COVID-19 epicentre in Wuhan, China.
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The final flight was commanded by Capt. Sharelle Quinn, the airline's first female captain. "I have flown this aircraft for 36 years and it has been an absolute privilege," 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 several occasions to save Aussies stranded far from home."
The QF7474 performed one final ‘wing wave’ to Qantas’s first 747-400, which is on display at the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Museum before jetting out over the Pacific
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