As Qantas takes delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, we look back to the debut of another all-new and game-changing member of the fleet: the airline’s first Boeing 747, in September 1971. With thanks to Qantas, here’s the story of that delivery flight – the day the Flying Kangaroo met the majestic jumbo jet.
September 1971: The big bird dropped through the cold air over Sydney’s inner suburbs and began its final landing approach. Lower and lower until the upturned faces of people hurrying to work could be seen quite plainly.
Sixteen tyres touched the still damp north-south runway of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport and the aircraft ran on. Gently, the two nose wheels came down too and the huge jumbo shuddered as the revered thrust of the engines brought it to a halt.
The first Qantas 747B in its brand new livery with signature ochre band had finally reached home and the 8,500 mile delivery flight of VH-EBA, the City of Canberra was over.
It had all begun some 52 hours earlier in Seattle Washington - the birthplace of Boeing Jumbo jets and many other commercial aircraft.
It would be the first 747B for Qantas and Australia and it marked the beginning of a complete refurbishment of the Qantas ‘look’.
For Qantas Friday the 13th of August 1971 was a day of good omen as the City of Canberra was prepared for its first International flight from Seattle-Tacoma Airport and about 170 official guests, pressmen and staff were checked in.
It was the first real test for Qantas in handling the wide body, high capacity jet.
At 10.19am the Qantas 747B was pushed out and a short while later took off for San Francisco - the first leg of its journey to Australia.
Cruising at 33,000 feet at 575 miles an hour the City of Canberra sailed over the high peaks of America’s north-west. This was the first time the aircraft had ever been fully exposed to public scrutiny and for many of the guests it was the first time they had ever been on a 747.
Customers wandered about the aircraft at their leisure; peering into every nook and cranny inside the enormous cabin, others trying every one of the seven channels of the inflight music and entertainment system and a few just sitting back in their armchairs in awe at the size and comfort of the aircraft.
There were some who took it a little more in their stride. For among the official guests were E.H (Tex) Bouillioun, Group Vice President, Commercial Airplane Group of the Boeing Company and Brice Torell, President of Pratt and Whitney Aircraft. It was the unique Captain Cook Lounge (the first of the large 747B lounges) that attracted the greatest attention and admiration:
On this 4 hour 37 minute sector it was the cabin crew’s turn to test their years of planning for this occasion. One hundred and eighty seven customers were waiting for lunch and in an operation notable for its smoothness, piping hot turkey and lamb dinners emerged from the two galleys - one of them tucked away in the hold under the economy cabin.
Post lunch entertainment brought another first with the showing of the first inflight movie on an Australian jetliner and the sardonic humour of Walter Matheau in “A New Leaf” kept the passengers amused for the remainder of the flight.
At 4pm Honolulu time, the aircraft touched down in Hawaii where everyone was greeted by hula girls, a band and sweet smelling floral leis. It was time for rest and it would be 33 hours before the flight was resumed.
In the early hours of Monday morning the City of Canberra was off again for the most exciting part of the entire delivery flight.
A non-stop flight from Honolulu to Sydney meant an enormous quantity of fuel was loaded aboard – 151 tonnes to carry the aircraft over 5,176 statute miles. The weight of fuel alone was more than the weight of a fully laden Boeing 707 V-Jet.
Everyone aboard was informed that as the aircraft took off it would become the heaviest civil aircraft ever to take off from Honolulu weighing in at346 tonnes.
For 9 hours and 43 minutes the City of Canberra flew onwards, battling 135 miles per hour headwinds while passengers watched another movie and slept. It was burning off its fuel at the rate of 1.4 tonnes an hour and as the load decreased, the aircraft climbed from 28,000 to 35,000 feet.
At 7:10am it crossed the eastern coast of Australia and was joined by two escort aircraft flying in close formation and circled Sydney to display the latest addition to the fleet of Australia’s own international airline and its brand new livery.
At 7:40am the City of Canberra landed and on-board the passengers spontaneously applauded a superb touchdown. The flight was over and Qantas had brought the 747B to Australia marking a significant change to long haul flying and the beginning of a new brand identity for Qantas.
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