MIAMI – Qantas Airways (QF) flew the first of three special jumbo farewell flights today, as the airline prepares to retire the last Boeing 747 aircraft from the fleet.

Named the “Jumbo Joy Flights”, the flight’s sole purpose is to give a well-deserved goodbye to the 747, after 50 years of service with the airline.

The first special flight departed from Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport, where the remaining Boeing 747 aircraft have been stored during the COVID-19 period. VH-OEJ, a Boeing 747-438ER delivered to the airline in July of 2003 is the final 747 in the Qantas fleet.

A Farewell to The Queen of The Skies

The flight taxied through a water salute provided by Sydney Airport’s emergency services, before departing runway 16R for a 54-minute scenic flight around Sydney. The aircraft departed at 10:36 am and landed back at Sydney Airport at 11:30 am.

QF747, “the flight to farewell the Queen of the Skies” fully sold out in 8 minutes, carrying aviation enthusiasts, former pilots, engineers, and cabin crew in which the 747 played an important role in their lives. Once the aircraft arrived back into Sydney, a larger group of aviation enthusiasts awaited the aircraft as it towed into the Qantas hangar.

Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Wollongong

The final two flights will depart from Canberra on the 15th of July and Brisbane on the 17th of July. The final flight will be on the 22nd of July, in which VH-OEJ will depart Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, perform a low pass over Wollongong Airport, 90km from Sydney where VH-OJA, the first Boeing 747-400 is parked.

The flight will then direct to Los Angeles, and the aircraft will be flown one final time to Mojave Airport, where the airframe will most likely be scrapped.

Qantas announced that all proceeds from these farewell flights will be donated to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Wollongong, the current owners of VH-OJA, the first Boeing 747-400 in the Qantas fleet.

Qantas Boeing 747 History

Qantas took delivery of the Boeing 747 on 16th August, 1971 with the registration VH-EBA, a Boeing 747-238B named the “City of Canberra.” Qantas went on to operate almost every variant of the Boeing 747, including:

  • Boeing 747-200
  • Boeing 747-200 Combi (Half passenger and half freighter.)
  • Boeing 747SP (A shortened version of the Boeing 747)
  • Boeing 747-300 (One which carried the famous Nalanji Dreaming livery)
  • Boeing 747-400 (VH-OJA, a Qantas Boeing 747-400 performed the longest flight at the time from Sydney to London direct in 1989. The flight duration was 20 hours and 9 minutes and covered a distance of 9,720 nautical miles.
  • Boeing 747-400ER.

The Boeing 787-9

Over the past 49 years, the airline has operated 65 Boeing 747 aircraft, and has carried millions of passengers to and from Australia.

Qantas originally planned to retire the Boeing 747 by the end of 2020, in time for their 100 year anniversary. However, due to the COVID-19 impact on international travel, retirement was brought forward earlier this year.

The Boeing 787-9, ordered by Qantas in 2015 is the predecessor to the Boeing 747 within the Qantas fleet, rapidly overtaking pre-existing 747 flights pre COVID. The airline currently has 11 Boeing 787-9 aircraft in the fleet, with another 3 more on order.

Qantas Airbus A380 VH-OQK rolling down Sydney Airport’s runway 16R. Qantas plans to store the A380 for at least 3 years. Photo: Mitch Coad @meeshboiaviation

COVID-19 and the effect on Qantas

As Qantas does not plan to resume international flights until July 2021, the Airbus A380 fleet is also being stored in Victorville, with the first A380 VH-OQE arriving into Victorville Logistics Airport for storage on July 6th. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce stated that the A380’s will remain stored at Victorville for at least 3 years.

The Qantas Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 were stored at Sydney after the initial international flight grounding back in March. A good portion of the Qantas A330 fleet has also been parked, along with a considerable quantity of the airlines Boeing 737 fleet. The Boeing 787 fleet for the most part is also grounded, all across various airports in Australia.

Qantas Boeing 747-438 VH-OJU parked at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, being extremely photogenic! Photo: Mitch Coad @meeshboiaviation

A Memory for a Lifetime

VH-OEJ was the second aircraft to wear the Wunala Dreaming livery from 2003 to 2012, where it was repainted back into the mainstream Qantas livery. OEJ still wears a small Kangaroo logo near the flight-deck window, to signify it’s past.

The Qantas 747 was up until earlier this year was used on flights to Tokyo, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Johannesburg, and Santiago from Sydney. Qantas switched their 747 services to a Boeing 787-9 aircraft for the LAX and SFO routes at the end of last year.

The passengers from today’s flight were given a certificate to commemorate their attendance onboard QF747, along with a memory that will last a lifetime. Qantas 747, Queen of the Skies, the flying Kangaroo Jumbo, whatever you call it, thank you for your service!