I am back from Longreach! What a wonderful day it was yesterday, too! I flew up on the charter from Sydney, on Qantas Boeing 737-800 VH-VXB (Yananyi Dreaming), the flight leaving just after 8am AEDT. View Large View Medium
Photo © Grahame Hutchison
It was a very festive feeling flight, with a champagne breakfast and a very bubbly atmosphere from everyone (among the passengers consisted were a large number of retired and current Qantas Pilots, Flight Engineers and Staff. I was sitting next to a retired 747-400 check pilot). After a flight of a little over two hours, and an interesting approach (we seemed to be puddling around at low level for ever!) we landed at about 9:30am AEST. Meanwhile, VH-EBQ had departed Sydney, and was on the way - its departure captured by Craig Murray:
While waiting for EBQ to arrive, there was time to look around the Qantas Founders Outback Museum, which is a great display. Eventually, buses took us to a prime vantage point on the side of the runway, and no sooner had we set up than someone noticed EBQ circling in the distance. She was asked to do two flypasts, which she dutifully did, one crosswind overhead the runway, and a second upwind directly overhead of our area. She then circuited the airport, before turning onto final at about 5 miles. This was it, the moment everyone had been waiting for. With a cloud of dust, she made contact with the runway, which at 6000 feet in length and only 30 feet in width, was somewhat undersized for such an aircraft. With the assistance of autobraking, she was brought to a halt at the end of the runway, where she was then shut down. What followed next could be described as comical, and reminiscent of a scene from the first Austin Powers movie, as ground crew, with a tug trucked in from Brisbane, attempted to turn the 747 around, so it could taxi back down the runway to the terminal and museum. Easier said that done. Half an hour later, after a 19 point turn, EBQ was finally ready to roll to her final resting place. The engines were fired up again (more dust!) and she slowly made her way to the apron, to the applause of all.
Positioned next to Yananyi Dreaming, the engines were shut down, and a cherry picker, the only thing around able to do it, was positioned at the door, where three uniformed crew came out. And a fourth. And a fifth! EBQ Had carried a full house in the front office of 4 Captains and a Flight Engineer - one of the captains having gained his place through a bidding system that we are told raised a substantial amount for the museum. A replica DH-60, one of Q.A.N.T.A.S.'s first aircraft was positioned in between engines #1 and #2. After more photographs, 'I Still Call Australia Home' was sung, and the official presentation of the aircraft took place, Qantas represented by Chairperson Margaret Jackson. Some facts she gave about the aircraft: in its operational life, it has flown the equivalent of 100,000 round the world trips, or the equivalent of 100 round trips to the Moon, and averaged more than 12 hours flying every day of its life - a total flying time of more than 10 years!
As the crowds moved away, so the 747 was towed from in front of the hangar to its final position, next to the terminal. This was not without some difficulties. First a tree went in the back of #1 engine as the aircraft was being reversed. It took some work to remove the offending branches, and tie the trees back while the engine passed them. A fence that had been erected behind the trees was the next object to get in the way, people hastily shifting it so EBQ could be reversed. Then the ADF aerial on the port wing caught another tree - the solution to this was simply to remove a few branches. The aircraft could then be backed into its final position, facing the runway at right angles, with its tail towards the railway line. Success!
In the evening, a special dinner was held, the background noise created for us by the clanging of windmilling RB211s. There were more speeches about the museum and the aircraft, from Frith Fysh (President of the museum), Margaret Jackson and Alan Bones, the Captain who had taken delivery of EBQ in November 1979. The original name plaque of the aircraft was given to the museum. Awards were made to many people who had been involved in the project, including the crew of EBQ, Mrs Jackson, and Museum volunteers (they were all given framed photographs of the moment of touch-down). It was a wonderful night, which culminated on 6 more photographs of the landing being auctioned off, raising $10,000 for the museum (the photographs were autographed by the crew, one by Mrs Jackson, one by Mr Fysh, and one by Mr Bones and the Captain who flew yesterday (my apologies, his name has skipped my mind) - the first person and the last person to fly EBQ - that photograph raising $2,300.
The plan is to preserve EBQ in much the same condition as it flew its final flight in. The engines are all close to time expired, and some time today fittings will be inserted to stop the fan blades from windmilling. Hopefully in 6 months time, the aircraft will be open to public display - at the moment there are some bureaucratic hassles, such as the need for wheelchair access from ground level to the entrance door (which is crazy when you consider the width of the aisles!). I can't wait to go through the aircraft when it does finally open. All the documentation, such as logs and manuals, are being transported to Longreach to be stored with the aircraft. The intention is that in 50 or 100 years time, someone may want to return it to airworthy state, where it would be an amazing vintage airliner, but who knows what will happen.
When EBQ landed, many people felt a touch of sadness - it was much like witnessing a death - this would be the last time that that aircraft would be airborne, quite possibly forever. Everyone's sadness though was soon put into perspective, as people remembered that most aircraft were not so lucky, ending their lives not as a proud display, but on the scrapheap.
I have many photos of the events, most of which I doubt are up to airliners.net's high standards. I will attempt to upload a few, maybe the screeners will take note of the special circumstances. The rest I will make available on a personal website, at an address I will advise of later.
Vale Qantas Boeing 747-238B VH-EBQ City of Bunbury line number 410, serial number 22145, delivered November 1979, final commercial flight operate November 9 2002, retired November 16 2002. Thank you for many years of safe and reliable service.