LOS ANGELES – Qantas has this week bid a proper farewell to its Boeing 747 as the last flights operated into Los Angeles and headed inbound for the Mojave Desert.
On Wednesday, July 22, after lots of media attention, the most iconic bird in Australia pushed back from Terminal One, taxied alongside runway 16R on Charlie past Shep’s Mound, was given a water cannon salute, across 16R at Lima, and up Alpha to the top of 16R where VH-OEJ departed Sydney for the last time.
She made a right-hand loop to overfly the airport and began a series of low passes around downtown Sydney at 1,200 feet.
After 40 minutes of low flyovers including a short visit south to fly over Wollongong, and once off the coast of Australia, the crew drew a large Kangaroo in the flight path before embarking across the Pacific to Los Angeles.
It was a gloomy afternoon in Los Angeles on July 22, fitting the mood for aviation enthusiasts that day. QF7474 began descent via the GOATZ1 arrival and landed on 25L at 1323L for the last time.
She rolled to the full length on 25L and taxied to the QF maintenance facility where she’d spend the last 2 days of her life with Qantas.
The morning of the final Qantas 747 departure on July 24 was a gloomy one as well. The LA marine layer loved to stick around far into the morning.
Qantas had a small celebration and farewell before VH-OEJ closed her doors for the last time around 1030L.
The clouds had started to break, giving the many planespotters watching opportunity for some well-lit photos. 20 minutes later, with all the employees lined up along the taxiway, QF7474 started her engines and taxied under a water cannon salute and onto Bravo to 25R.
Prior to departure, the air traffic controller gave a nod to the final flight, allowing several aircraft hold short of 25R letting them know it was the last time they’d ever seen an active Qantas 747.
Said controller had a few special words for QF7474 as well as he cleared her for takeoff one last time, saying “Qantas 7474 Heavy Runway 25R, for the very last time, cleared for takeoff!”
QF7474 read it back saying, “Qantas 7474 Heavy for the very last time after 49 years, 25R cleared for takeoff, thank you guys, we really appreciate your professionalism and keeping us safe here for so long.”
The controller stated: “Always appreciate you guys around here I’m going to miss that airplane.”
“So will we”
And one last time a handoff to SoCal Departure, “Qantas 7474 Heavy contact departure, congrats again.”
“Qantas 7474 Heavy to departure, goodbye guys, thanks!”
Departure time was 1120 and she promptly touched down in Mojave 30 minutes later at 1150 after a low pass over MHV before joining her fellow 747s, ending an era in Australian aviation that started in 1971.
A Qantas Airways (QF) 747 was a common site at LAX since the QF purchased them in 1971.
Until August 2018, the 747 would fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and since 1999 she would continue on to New York City.
On August 31, 2018, VH-OJT was the last 747 to fly from JFK to LAX, before being replaced by the 787, and the Melbourne route had long since been flown by a Dreamliner.
After that day in 2018, as Qantas began to phase out the 747, LAX’s only QF 747 visits were retirement flights for each 747, flying one last time with passengers under the flight number QF99, and then they would continue onto their respective resting places.
VH-OEF was the last 747 to operate QF99, touching down at LAX on February 9. OEF would continue on to San Bernardino only 20 minutes away to retire.
The current pandemic obviously and unfortunately accelerated the retirement of what were the then 4 remaining 747s, OEH, OEI, OEE, and OEJ.
The aircraft were originally planned to be stored and reactivated but as the pandemic raged on Qantas made the decision to retire them for good.
Each 747 was flown to LAX in the above order, as flight QF6001 from Sydney to LAX and then finally to the Mojave Desert.
VH-OEE flew from LAX to MHV on June 17, 2020 at 1014L. After that, there was one left.
VH-OEJ JOYRIDE FLIGHTS
Despite the pandemic, which we should note was very under control in Australia, Qantas announced their schedule for “joyrides,” flights that would overfly their respective cities for those who wanted to fly the 747 one last time.
After a long hiatus from flying, VH-OEJ took to the skies of Sydney on July 13 at 1030L, giving fans an aerial tour of Sydney and the surrounding areas.
She then flew to Brisbane (BNE) to do a joyride, and then to Canberra (CBR) via Sydney to do the same. On July 17, exactly one month after OEE had flown to Mojave, OEJ flew from CBR to SYD to prepare for her final send-off.
HISTORY OF VH-OEJ
Named “Wunala” and originally in the “Wunala Dreaming” aboriginal livery, VH-OEJ was the last 747-400 to be delivered to Qantas and only one of 6 -ER variants.
Wunala was delivered in November 2003 making her just 17 years young.
Over the course of her 17-year life, she wore 4 different liveries, Wunala Dreaming, Socceroos World Cup, Olympic Games 2016, and the normal Qantas livery.
Overall, this is yet again another end of an era as we begin to see more airlines retire its Boeing 747 fleet.
Going into the future, there has got to be some hope for an aircraft of this calibre to fly again.