Isolating ourselves from the scourge of COVID-19, borders closed between states and other countries, even a simple drive of a few kilometres can become a noteworthy journey. What drew me out of the house was another casualty of the pandemic.
The Boeing 747 has played a huge role in the history of Qantas, spanning a period of forty-eight years. This year marks the airline’s centenary, but sadly there is little to celebrate now. By the end of tomorrow they will have no more international flights until restrictions are lifted, most of their workforce stood down.
Today likely marked the final scheduled passenger flight of the 747 for Qantas, QF28 in bound from Santiago, Chile. They had already announced that the Queen of the Skies was to be retired this year
, but no doubt had planned a greater celebration of its most famous aircraft.
Instead, any celebrations must have been muted, with passengers whisked away to hotels for a mandatory two weeks of isolation. But I couldn’t let this moment in history pass me by entirely.
I grab my cameras and drive down towards Botany Bay, hoping to find a quiet car park by the beach from where I could watch and photograph QF28 as it came in for its final descent, isolated from other potentially infected COVID-19 carriers.
The car parks are full all the way along the Grand Parade, social isolation obviously not a priority for many. I keep going until Kyeemagh, where I turn left and up a one way street, finding a quiet park by the mouth of the Cooks River. As I look up I can see a Qantas widebody aircraft passing over the airport. Is it an A380 being sent for storage? I quickly whip out my phone and fire up the FlightRadar24 app.
No, it’s the QF28 747 heading south after doing a farewell loop over the city! I’d better hurry.
So much for staying in the car. I follow the bike track along the river and under the bridge. Apart from the odd cyclist passing by the only other people are fishermen down by the river. I find a vantage point. Out further along the rocks and at the opposite side of the river in front of the old control tower are crowds of fellow photographers waiting to view the same thing as I.
I’ll accept a lesser location in return for staying isolated.
A helicopter hovers high overhead. Probably from a news channel.
There to the south a speck appears, the distinctively egg shaped forward profile of a 747. Down it comes, stretching longer now, a forward hump, the sharply swept wings enlarged by flaps, talons of wheels reaching down until, at last, they grasp the runway, thrust-reversers roaring loudly.
The aircraft, white, red and silver quickly runs along the stone banked runway, passes the radar and the control tower, then disappears all too soon behind the bushes.
I trudge back towards the car, beneath the bridge, along the river.
I can still hear the road of the 747’s four engines. They are getting louder!
I notice a red tail with a white kangaroo coming closer across the river, the body hidden by the motorway barriers.
It is QF28 heading towards Gate 59 at the section of the International Terminal closest to me. I watch it slowly dock, hear the tone of the engines change until finally they fall silent.
The scent of jet fuel wafts across the river and suddenly I am there in the terminal, gazing out through the big glass windows at the classic liner profile of the Qantas 747 with excitement and anticipation, heading out on an adventure far away.
My eyes tear up as I realise that might only be a memory now.
As I trudge back to the car I see the 747’s erstwhile replacement, a Qantas A380, parked behind the motorway bridge, similarly grounded, though probably to fly again. There is no chance that it, or its descendants, will still be flying forty-eight years later.
When this pandemic is over I hope that Qantas can give the 747 the send-off it truly deserves, but at least I was here today.
All hail the Queen of the Skies!