A significant chapter in Australia’s aviation history has drawn to a close as the national carrier’s last 747 jumbo set off for desert storage in America.
Qantas took delivery of its first 747 in August 1971, and on Wednesday farewelled the last remaining one in its fleet when flight number QF7474 departed Sydney for the Mojave Desert via Los Angeles.
The arrival of the Boeing 747, in the same year that William McMahon became prime minister and Australia and welcomed its first McDonald’s, made international travel financially possible for millions of people.
Their size, range and reliability also meant the 747s were used for rescue missions after disasters such as Cyclone Tracy in 1974 and the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the fleet ushered in a new era of lower fares and non-stop flights.
“It’s hard to overstate the impact the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia,” Mr Joyce said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This aircraft was well ahead of its time and extremely capable.
“(It) put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity.”
The airline’s first female captain, Sharelle Quinn, was one of six pilots in command of the final flight – which had no else on board – and said it had been an “absolute privilege” to fly the 747s for 36 years.
“It has been a wonderful part of our history, a truly ground-breaking aircraft, and while we are sad to see our last one go, it’s time to hand over to the next generation of aircraft that are a lot more efficient,” Ms Quinn said.
Another pilot on the historic flight, Greg Fitzgerald, earlier said he would farewell that particular aircraft, which was bought by Qantas 17 years ago, with a “heavy heart”.
“Everybody in Australia, everybody in the world knows the shape of the 747,” he told ABC Radio on Wednesday ahead of take-off.
“It’s like Aeroplane Jelly and Vegemite – it’s always been there. We don’t know life without the 747 in the skies.”
The aircraft completed a flyby of Sydney Harbour and a low-level overfly of the HARS Aviation Museum in Wollongong, where Qantas’ first 747 is stored, before heading over the Pacific Ocean towards America.