A chapter of aviation history drew to a close at a small regional airport to the south of Sydney.
The Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA had started its life as a record-breaking aircraft, flying non-stop from London to Sydney in 1989. Over the next 25 years its wings spanned the globe, but today its final flight was over a mere 60 miles and lasted around 12 minutes.
The Boeing's new home is at the Illawarra Regional Airport where it will come under the care of the 'Historical Aircraft Restoration Society' (HARS). However, before its arrival the scene at the airfield resembled a sporting fixture.
The smell of fresh coffee and bacon-and-egg rolls pervaded the air as the crowd gathered behind rows of volunteers in high-visibility vests. Past pilots, old and new, exchanged tales as the officials kept one eye on their watches and the other on the sky. Then, the giant 747 appeared through the early morning haze. A lone figure to the north, its landing gear lowered and ready of its very final approach.
The crowds lined the roadways, perimeter fences and aprons, raising their cameras and iPhones in a 21st century salute. Soon the graceful jet grew larger above the line of hangars, as the final hundreds of feet of flight gradually disappeared. Touchdown!
On the spot, the Boeing’s nose was slowly lowered onto the centreline. There was no roar of reverse thrust, nor was there any need. The engines reverse ‘sleeves’ were just cracked open to ‘idle’ to avoid ingesting grass, dirt and debris in the outboard engines that overhung the runway’s edge. And then she smoothly came to a halt.
With the engines shutdown, a tug was connected to the nosewheel and ‘OJA’ was slowly pushed back to its final resting place. With crew waving from the top escape hatch, she was finally parked on her reinforced patch of tarmac and her journey had drawn to a close.
Soon the crew emerged and the media flocked towards the QANTAS aircraft and its newest uniformed celebrities. The crowd remained, seemingly in awe of the Goliath in the midst. And as they drove away and looked back, the flat vacant land of the airport had been changed forever. This Flying Kangaroo had found a new home.