Qantas Boeing 747 farewell: Tears as last jumbo jet departs Australia for final time

Australia's last passenger jumbo jet has left our shores for the final time, with the Qantas Boeing 747 departing on Wednesday afternoon, bound for an aircraft "boneyard" in the Californian desert.

Flight QF7474 left Sydney for Los Angeles at 3.28pm. From there it will fly to Mojave desert for storage.

The plane was given a water cannon salute as it approached the runway, and it taxied past Shep's Mound where hundreds of planespotters had gathered to wave goodbye.

The jumbo took off and headed north to perform a final lap of Sydney Harbour and the eastern suburbs. It then detoured south to do a flyover of the HARS Aviation Museum near Wollongong where it dipped its wings to salute Qantas' first 747-400, VH-OJA, which is preserved there.

The flight path shows the jumbo then headed east over the Pacific ocean before turning northwest and tracing the airline's Flying Kangaroo logo in the sky. The detour meant the plane performed a U-turn above Taree on the NSW Mid North Coast to mark the kangaroo's tail.

Qantas held a lavish ceremony prior to take-off full of nostalgia with video tributes, poem recitals and impassioned tributes to give the 747, which served the airline in various forms for nearly 50 years, a fitting farewell.

Video: Qantas farwells the jumbo jet

Hundreds of people gathered in Qantas hangar 96 at Sydney Airport to say their final goodbyes, including pilots, cabin crew members, engineers and maintenance staff there to pay their respects to the aircraft dubbed "the Queen of the Skies".

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Aboriginal elders performed a Welcome to Country ceremony and dozens of people signed the aircraft's belly with permanent marker, leaving farewell messages and tributes.

Other guests included celebrity chef Neil Perry and Boeing Australia president and former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce paid tribute to the 747's service to Australian aviation, pointing out it had carried Olympic gold medallists and triumphant Ashes teams, Bali bombing survivors and Australian residents trapped in Wuhan when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

First class flight attendant Jen Perrie attended the farewell after beginning her career on the 747 at Qantas 35 years ago. She said it remained her favourite aircraft right to the end.

"It was always the Queen of the Skies - it was the most perfect aircraft you could find. It's a really sad day," she said.

Ms Perrie's message scribbled on the aircraft's belly was simple but heartfelt: "Thanks for the ride."

She was not the only one fighting back tears after the aircraft reversed out of the hangar for the final time.

"It's such an emotional day," she said. "She was our family away from family."

Another attendee was Noel Taylor who, at 94 years old, is the oldest living former Qantas employee after starting with the company in 1942.

"I've always been a great aeroplane lover and the jumbo was an impressive aeroplane.

"It's a classic aeroplane -- absolutely," he said.

Asked how he was feeling after an emotional day, Mr Taylor said: "I'm all aches and pains while I'm standing, but you've got to feel a bit sad."

Qantas was among the first airlines to buy the 747, with the first Qantas jumbo flight taking off in 1971. Mr Joyce said the four aircraft purchased for $135 million all those years ago represented a massive gamble and the biggest investment that company had ever made.

The 747 remained the largest commercial aircraft model in the world until 2007, when Airbus launched the A380, which was quickly nicknamed the "superjumbo".

The airline had already planned to phase out its jumbo jets by the end of this year, replacing the double-decker, four-engine planes with more efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliners. But the pandemic brought forward those plans and the plane is off to the aircraft "boneyard" in the Mojave desert in Southern California.

Last week the plane did a brief farewell tour, with three joy flights for diehard fans operating out of Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. The second wave of coronavirus cost Melburnians a final glimpse of the jumbo.

The plane represents more than the sum of its parts for so many travellers. The 747's entry into the aviation scene in the early 1970s heralded the start of a new era of air travel.

Veteran Qantas pilot Mark Kelly said the jet democratised flying and shrunk the world because it brought down costs while opening up new routes.

The final fate of this last aircraft remains a mystery, with Qantas confirming it has been sold but declining to reveal any further details.

See also: After 36 years of flying, Qantas captain says goodbye to jumbo jets

See also: World's largest passenger plane stripped of seats to make way for cargo

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