If you know, you know…
The mystery and allure of the Boeing 747 is something that can be put down to an unspoken feeling. For those that know, it cannot be properly expressed in words, but the feeling resonates deeply inside. It is a bond that connects everyone within the aviation industry.
It extends well beyond the industry as well. The travelling public too have a sense of appreciation for this iconic aircraft, the Queen of the skies, and the feeling she invokes. After all, there is an enormous amount of nostalgia and affection for the 747.
It is a masterpiece of engineering that bucked the trends of the time. In a world that seemed hellbent on pursuing the ultra-fast over the ultra-large, the 747 was the first of the wide-body jumbo jets ever built and it changed the course of aviation history by making air travel more accessible and affordable.
The Queen of the skies first took flight 50 years ago towards the end of the ‘golden era’ of flying, and since then, Boeing has built over 1,500 747s. It is an aircraft that instantly commands respect, where one glance tells you this aircraft is going to take you somewhere special.
Sadly, after 49 years of service within Australia, Qantas is retiring the last of its 747 fleet to make way for the factory-fresh Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Our skies will never quite be the same…
I like to think of the comparisons between the Boeing 747 and its modern-day counterparts as a battle between the head and the heart. It’s the battle between what you know in your head from a business viability sense and what you feel in your heart, something that does not always make sense but is all consuming and far more powerful that simple economics ever will be.
So, what is it exactly that makes the 747 so special?
For me, I liken the Queen of the skies to Helen of Troy – the face that launched a thousand ships. She has a beauty and mystic that is revered around the globe, that knows no bounds and transcends generations.
For aviation enthusiast and plane spotter Beau Chenery, it is the unmistakeable sound that caught his attention.
“The sound of a 747 is something that makes it incredible. Brisbane used to have a daily 747 service to Los Angeles. As it would take off and come around the Brisbane CBD, the sound of the aircraft was so distinct, it caught the attention of the public and they instantly had their eyes to the sky.
“The sheer size of the 747 and its unmissable front lump on the forward part of the fuselage makes its very iconic. The 747 is a great aircraft as it can operate for both passengers and cargo needs of customers globally. Days of four engine aircraft are slowly disappearing from our skies and its size is something everyone can recognise easily.”
It’s not surprising that the Boeing 747 is the most recognisable aircraft in the world, with the four engines adorning its epic wingspan, the iconic spiral staircase to the upper deck, and its signature upper hump that is in no way unsightly. If anything, the whale-like curve gives it an air of authority that couples with the proud rounded nose that tips its fuselage.
Lance Broad is a fellow aviation enthusiast and plane spotter who credits his love of aviation to the 747 and watching her take flight from BNE.
“It is very photographic at all angles and moves majestically as it takes to the air. The shear grace got me hooked on aviation as this huge plane got airborne.”
Recently, Brisbane was one of only three capital cities to feature in a ‘farewell jumbo joy flights’ program.
Airside Operations Officer Maria Norman was on shift on 15 July 2020 - a fitting coincidence for a woman who has loved the 747 for a very long time.
"Seeing the 747 for the first time as a kid was mind blowing, however my most fondest memory was watching the Boeing 747-200B touch down on Runway 29 in 2011 at Darwin Airport carrying Barack Obama in the very famous Air Force 1."
"The Boeing 747 truly modernised air travel. The sheer size and distinct ‘hub’ shape of the aircraft makes it stand out from the crowd but ultimately I think it’s so iconic as it was the first ‘jumbo’ or wide body aircraft that has defined long haul travel. To have an aircraft type that has been flying for over 50 years now definitely deserves the title of ‘queen of the skies’ and that it is!"
For Maria, it is the size and sound of the 747 that she loves the most. She points out that while there are bigger aircraft around these days, nothing comes close to the feeling she always gets watching the Queen of the skies land and take off.
"Watching the last Qantas 747 take off on Wednesday was a very bittersweet feeling. I felt extremely proud and thankful to have worked around this type of aircraft for years but after 17 year of service for VH-OEJ I think it’s time for her to put her feet up and enjoy retirement!"
Amanda Martin in an undergraduate intern at BAC and was on the last 747 flight from BNE.
Amanda said that she was supposed to have flown on a 747 to South America this year but it didn't happen for obvious reasons, so she feels particularly lucky to have had the chance to experience the beauty of a 747 - even if only for an hour.
"Tickets sold out in around 10 minutes, so to get a seat on this flight was special. The atmosphere was buzzing from start to finish and Qantas looked after us really well.
"For many people, the 747 opened up the world and made travel much more accessible. They have an almost impeccable safety record and were definitely the most comfortable aircraft when they were introduced. The ER 'extended range' models were built specifically for Qantas to allow the plane to cross the Pacific with a heavier passenger load, so I think the 747 reminds a lot of people of anything from their first overseas holiday to life-changing events (relocations, happy reunions, etc) which brings back very special memories."
"I was just so excited and grateful to be on the flight, I was surprised I got any sleep the night before. We were given a bag of memorabilia and there were plenty of opportunities to take photos. Overall, it was such a great experience and a fantastic way to say goodbye to the Queen of the skies."
A fantastic way to say goodbye indeed. While Qantas may have been limited in what it could do to mark the retirement of the 747s due to COVID and its impact on the aviation industry, those lucky enough to have been on board one of the joy flights and those who witnessed the flights from the sidelines will be forever grateful for the last hurrah.
The 747s may now physically remain in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, but there is no question that they will always have a special place in the hearts of many Australians...