This is a guest post written by Owen Zupp, who has previously written a few great stories on AirlineReporter. Zupp’s background ranges from charter work and flight instruction to ferry flights, flight testing, and he has served as both a Chief Pilot and Chief Flying Instructor. With over 25 years in airline operations, Owen has flown both domestically and across the globe from his Australian base. He holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Management and his writings on aviation have been published around the world and received various accolades and awards. He is also just a cool guy! -Editor
When it comes to the QANTAS Boeing 747, as the Beatles famously sang, “I heard the news, today. Oh boy!” …. although not officially. There may be life in the old girl yet.
The news broadcasts were showing footage of the “Queen of the Skies” making a flypast of Sydney Harbour, proclaiming that it was the final commercial service for the 747 in QANTAS colors. Meanwhile, my website and phone were bombarded with a common theme, “Is it true?” To be honest, I believe that it is highly likely, although I am yet to see an official announcement.
Since the commencement of the Stand Down, I have doubted whether the QANTAS 747 would return into commercial operations when the pandemic has passed. It has been a fine servant to the airways and all that it has safely conveyed, however, its planned retirement was well underway, before Covid-19 ever took its vile grip on the world. Still, there is no official statement to say that the 747 has retired from commercial service with QANTAS. Even so, it seems an opportune time to reflect on ‘the Queen”, as she is set to be on the ground for the time being.
Personally, I had never intended to fly internationally – let alone on the 747. I had only ever wanted to be a domestic airline pilot and fly short-haul routes in something like a 737. In fact, not long before I started training on the 747, I parked at Darwin after a 5-hour flight in the Baby Boeing and wondered how the long haul pilots did it – sitting up all night, dragging their butts across the Pacific. And then Ansett collapsed, and I found myself in that very role. That being said, the “Queen of the Skies”, literally took me to places that I could only ever have dreamed of in my two stints on her flight deck.
I’ve flown the corridor through Afghanistan as the war raged beneath, liaising with US military’s “Early Warning” aircraft and their operator with the long Texan drawl. I’ve descended over the English Channel in the pre-dawn darkness having crossed Western Europe. As we slid past the Thames, I couldn’t help but think of the young bomber crews limping home through the same airspace in the dark days of World War Two. East of Honolulu, I’ve witnessed a rocket launch from Vandenburg and south of 60 degrees, marveled at the “magnificent desolation” of Antarctica.
On the ground, I have regularly cycled the Golden Gate Bridge and swum in the waters of Waikiki. Alcatraz, the Statue of Liberty, the Tower of London, the Japanese Imperial Palace and every type of museum you can imagine. I have lunched by the Rhine River in Germany and dined at Sunset as the collection of rare, antique aircraft swept past to orchestral accompaniment at Old Warden in the UK. I have flown over Pearl Harbor in a warbird and hovered over San Francisco in a helicopter. And I have travelled with Kirrily to many of these destinations. We have watched fireworks burst over San Francisco Bay on New Year’s Eve and stayed in a 13th Century German castle. We have landed on lakes and traversed a small glacier near Vancouver and taken in the view from Diamond Head.
For both of us, life has never been about the “stuff” – the material things. It has been about the experiences and even better, the shared experiences.
In a way that I never could have imagined, flying the Boeing 747 has made my life’s journey so rich. The memories that have been created through the sights, the places and the people are so many that I strain to squeeze in even a small portion into these words.
So, if the Boeing 747 has indeed flown its last flight as the “Queen of the Skies” for QANTAS, then a chapter of our lives has certainly closed and Kirrily and I will find ourselves once again looking to the future and a new aircraft. However, wherever we finally land, our memories of the 747 and what it brought to our lives will be with us forever.
Farewell, old girl? Let’s wait and see.