After over 25 years in service, carrying almost 4.1 million passengers on 13,833 flights over a distance of 85 million kilometres – equivalent to 110 return trips to the moon – Qantas' first-ever Boeing 747-400 today made one last flight to its new home at Australia's Historical Aviation Restoration Society museum near in the NSW south coast city of Wollongong.
It was a textbook landing for this Queen of the Skies, which joined the Qantas fleet in 1989 with the registration number VH-OJA and was just the twelfth Boeing 747-400 to be built out of a total of 694.
Thousands of local residents and aviation enthusiasts turned out to greet the jumbo jet and applaud her elegant touchdown at the Illawarra Regional Airport.
Video: Watch Qantas Boeing 747-400 'VH-OJA' make the last landing of her 25+ year career at Wollongong's Illawarra Regional Airport.
"Shutting down those engines for the last time, on its final journey, was a very sentimental thing to do," admitted Qantas Captain Greg Matthews, who was behind the stick on the short 15 minute flight south from Sydney.
"But I'm equally buoyed by the fact that it's going to be well looked after down here at HARS" Matthew told Australian Business Traveller.
"And I'll certainly come down here some weekends to visit and bring the kids down for a look at it."
Video: GoPro footage from VH-OJA's flightdeck gives you a captain's-eye view of the take-off and landing.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce described VH-OJA as "very deserving of a graceful retirement as the star attraction at one of Australia's most prestigious aviation museums."
The jumbo will be officially handed over on Sunday March 15 as part of HARS' monthly 'open day' weekend.
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While airlines typically fly the jumbo jet for around 16 hours, this Boeing 747-400 will make a quick 15 minute dash from Sydney Airport to Wollongong's Illawarra Regional Airport.
The reason for such a short hop? It's the final flight of VH-OJA, Qantas' first-ever Boeing 747-400, to her new home at the Historical Aviation Restoration Society (HARS) where she'll become a permanent attraction.
There's no small irony in the fact that this same aircraft – the first Boeing 747-400 in the Qantas fleet – also set a record for the world's longest commercial flight, making a non-stop run in 1989 from London to Sydney in just over 20 hours (albeit with very few passengers and cargo) to highlight the jumbo's long-range capabilities.
Video: Sydney's Channel 9 news reports on that non-stop flight in August 1989
But 26 years on, it's time for this much-travelled jumbo to take her leave from the skies, with Qantas gifting the storied jet to HARS where she'll join Australia's largest collection of heritage aircraft, including a legendary Lockheed Super Constellation.
Landing a mighty Boeing 747-400 at a regional airport more accustomed to light aircraft is not without challenges, however.
Flying with only a crew of four and no passengers or cargo means the jumbo's take-off weight has been almost halved from a maximum 397,200kg to just 201,000kg, while the tyre pressure on the 16-wheel main landing gear has been reduced from a standard 208psi to 120psi to avoid damaging the runway.
And with that runway only 1,819 metres (1.13 miles) long, compared to an average of 3,000 metres (1.86 miles) at Sydney Airport, there's been plenty of prep work to ensure a perfect landing.
The four-man flight deck crew may boast more than 50,000 flying hours between them but they've clocked up over 25 hours of time in a Qantas Boeing 747 flight simulator practising the approach and landing, while Qantas Captain Greg Matthews, who will take the stick on VH-OJA's final flight, has also flown the approach in a Piper Cherokee.
Flight planning has been assisted by technology which the Boeing 747's designers never dreamt of, such as Google Earth satellite images and iPads loaded with a 'mobile flight deck' app.
On the ground at Illawarra, a 'mini air traffic control' station will use walkie-talkies to communicate with the crew as they make an all-visual approach to the airport while roads around the airport will be closed to avoid rear-end accidents caused by distracted motorists gawking at the low-flying and slow-flying Boeing 747.
Qantas expects the Boeing 747's final flight – suitably tagged as QF7474 – to depart Sydney Airport by 7.30am this Sunday March 8, with the aim of landing at Illawarra at 7.47am.
The flight path will skirt the NSW south coast with jumbo flying at a low 4,000 feet.
Qantas says a GoPro video camera will be fitted to the cockpit to record to the jumbo's take-off from Sydney Airport as well as its landing at Illawarra Regional Airport, to provide footage which will later be shared on the airline's YouTube channel.
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