Qantas B747-400 VH-OJA Retires

Flight Path Boeing 747-400, The Plan: B747 arrival Sunday 8. ETD Sydney 0730  Landing AP 0747. Coming down the coast, low level, turning in over the lighthouse around 0735 to pick up a 5 nm final approach from the north. Weather permitting..... max 10 kts crosswind, nil tailwind, runway dry, good visibility.  Source: J. Thurstan, HARS Volunteer

Flight Path Boeing 747-400, The Plan: B747 arrival Sunday 8. ETD Sydney 0730 Landing AP 0747. Coming down the coast, low level, turning in over the lighthouse around 0735 to pick up a 5 nm final approach from the north. Weather permitting….. max 10 kts crosswind, nil tailwind, runway dry, good visibility. SOURCE: J. Thurstan, HARS Volunteer

Being more of a night owl than an early bird, there needs to be a compelling reason for me to tumble out of bed before sunrise. Sunday 8th March was one of those days. The City of Canberra, the first Boeing 747-400 to be acquired by our national carrier Qantas, was due to land at the Illawarra Regional Airport at Albion Park, which is located south of Wollongong on the east coast of New South Wales.

The small airport, more accustomed to light aircraft and joy flights, is also home to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) who scored a major coup in being selected as the final destination for this much loved and highly celebrated ‘Flying Kangaroo’, retiring after twenty-five years of service.

All vantage areas around the airport were packed as thousands jostled to watch its arrival – scheduled for 0747 hours. (Actual touch down was 7:50am EDST). None of our photos do the event any justice, they are out of focus and the morning was a little foggy – almost from too high humidity – however I thought these two were humorous. If you look in the foreground, you will see the neon road sign warnings: “changed traffic conditions” and, “expect delays” – you reckon?

There are so many interesting facts associated with this aircraft:

It was just the twelfth Boeing 747-400 to be built out of a total of 694.

Covering a distance of 18,001 kilometres (11,185 mi) the City of Canberra holds the world record for the longest ever commercial flight – its delivery flight non-stop from London to Sydney in 20 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds in August 1989. Only sixteen passengers plus crew travelled on this flight, additional weight was stripped back and a special high density fuel was used. You can read much more about that here.

On its 13,833 flights, the aircraft has carried 4,094,568 passengers, covering almost 85 million kilometres, the equivalent to 110.2 return trips to the moon.

Its final flight, from Sydney to Albion Park, was completed in under fifteen minutes at an altitude of 4000-5000 feet. It is capable of flying up to 45,000 feet and usually cruises in the mid to high 30,000s.

It was the first 747-400 to land at the regional airport, and the four pilots, Captain Greg Matthews (Qantas’ manager of training), first officer Peter Hagley (747 technical pilot), second officer Michael East and Captain Ossie Miller (the 747 fleet captain) spent more than twenty-five hours in the Qantas simulator preparing to land on a runway only 1,819 metres (1.13 miles) long, compared to an average of 3,000 metres (1.86 miles) at Sydney Airport. After consultation with manufacturer Boeing, the tyre pressure on the 16-wheel main landing gear was reduced from a standard 208psi to 120psi to avoid damaging the runway. Take off weight was almost halved from a maximum 397,200kg to just 201,000kg. Only 20,000 kilograms of fuel were loaded, just enough for a second landing attempt or a return to Sydney if needed.

Excitement on the ground mounted as she was spotted approaching the airport at a speed of 132 knots, far lower than the usual 180 knots. The aircraft came in low and slow, right over the top of us, and touched down perfectly, a puff of smoke rising from the runway as she pulled up with metres to spare, and rolled on to reach the tug waiting at the end. With a wingspan of 64 metres, and this runway just 30 metres wide, the two outside engines hung over the runway’s edge, creating quite a spectacle.

There are many videos of the landing on youtube. The attached link gives a good idea to the build up, includes radio communication and has captured a great runway angle.

Bringing this aircraft to Wollongong is a crowning achievement for the hard working volunteers at HARS, and the Boeing 747 joins its growing collection of over forty aircraft types, including a Southern Cross replica, a PBY Catalina, a Douglas DC3, a DC4, a Lockheed P2 Neptune, a Super Constellation – the beloved “Connie”, a Vampire, a Sabre, a Mirage, and an F111.

For all those followers of this blog who are also aviation enthusiasts, if you are coming to Wollongong, make sure you leave time to visit this facility. Details here.


9 thoughts on “Qantas B747-400 VH-OJA Retires

  1. Pingback: Farewell to the last QANTAS 747 | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Pingback: Wollongong Ambassadors Welcome Radiance of the Seas | The Reluctant Retiree

    • Duxford was a great day out, and even though we were there about six hours we didn’t see everything. It is a huge facility. HARS is modest by comparison but it is completely volunteer run and funded, more along the lines of your Spitfire museum at Manston, Kent, except HARS has more planes and several of them do fly and participate in air shows. As we are right on the east coast, some do fly near our balcony as they are heading north up the coast. We also have Pelicans flying in a V formation past our living room window, as we are on the 5th floor of an apartment block. We call them the Airbus 🙂 They sure are a sight in flight!


  3. Are all those cars in the photo watching the plane land? I can see why this was worth getting up early for. I spent some of my early years working in the DeHavilland aircraft factory (now Bombardier) and share your fascination for planes.


    • Oh yes, and cars parked all over the place. There was a HUGE turnout, and an exclusion zone around the immediate perimeter, with half the highway temporarily blocked. If you look at clips on YouTube you can get a better idea of the crowds. Some lucky people managed to get a position at the fence at the Southern end of the runway. There were many inside the airport as well, invitation only. It was a couple of hours before traffic returned to normal, but no one complained. It was a great atmosphere.


  4. All the way through this I kept thinking why is this enormous plane going to Wollongong – no disrespect to Wollongong, but then I see you have an aircraft museum there! – as part of the HARS. Obvious really, should have guessed all that especially as I remember you visiting Duxford. Congrats to all those involved in achieving this coup.


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