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Farewelling Fantastic Tail-Feathers                                                                       

August 11, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Time Flies!  And on rare Occasions, it appears to be capable of flying backwards. The term ’Departing Flights’ has taken on entirely new meanings in the current 2020, Covid19 airspace.

QANTAS bean-counters made it clear some time ago, that the writing was on the runway for the Boeing 747 fleet to be bivouacked in California’s Mojave Desert. Aviation Analysts in the know could see it coming a long way off. Higher fuel costs, four whopping big engines competing against slimmer, quieter long-haul carbon-fibre fuselages toting only twin engines. And more…

Make no mistake about it, the Mojave Desert ‘boneyard’ is more like a Grave Site without headstones. The vast majority of the Boeing 747s landed there will not, be taking to the air any year soon.  For most, it’s the end of the tarmac. The majority of aircraft that touch-down in the Mojave, stay down, or are resurrected as hotels, restaurants or even homes. Many are simply broken up for parts.

The story is not as grim for the Qantas A 380s to be ‘mothballed’ in the ‘Grand Canyon State” of Arizona. The future of the A 380s, nested in the desert, about 20 miles outside of Tucson, have a reasonable shot at plying friendly skies again.

Aircraft that arrive here, sometimes are reconditioned, recommissioned and placed back into full service. With over 1,000 commercial aircraft on the ground, this site is more like ‘long term parking’ for many of the tail-feathers from all over the world that ‘park here’ in the dry, salt-free environment. More like hibernation, than a full burial. The unexpected invasion of the Covid19 Corona virus has escalated the jumbo’s exile, for ‘who-knows-how-long’ but airline industry insiders seem confident we’ll see them again at some stage wearing the red Roo on their tails.

While we’re talking about the 747 & the A 380s did you know?  A view in aviation’s rear-view mirror

Capt. ‘Roly’ Probert, flew the first Qantas-owned Boeing 747 to Australia from Seattle in 1971. It was August 16th, and the media fanfare was monumental. Melded-in among the crowd gathered to witness the historic aviation milestone was a young kid, aged eleven. The young man was Capt. ‘Roly’ Probert’s son Peter. Ask Capt. Peter Probert today and he’ll proudly tell you “he can recall-it-all, as if it were only yesterday.” Watching the biggest airliner in the world at the time touch down with my dad at the stick, set the stage for me. I was going to be a pilot with Qantas…!”

Fast forward some 37 years later…. Roly’s son,  ‘Capt. Peter Probert would land the very First QANTAS A 380 on the very same runway as his old man. On this historic aviation occasion, Peter’s two daughters and wife ‘Tracy’ were waiting in the hanger when he came down the gangway. The year was 2008.

“I was on was on the runway in reflective-flak jacket, when CEO Geoff Dixon’s PR Guru chalked-out the EXACT place where the rear wheels were going to touch down for the First QF A 380 landing. Veteran cameramen from every major TV network staked claims to their places on the grass medium, wondering how it was even possible to be sure of the best places for their tripods. Like magic, the massive double-decker touched down in fabulous form, taking the top off the chalk marks on the tarmac. We didn’t learn until later, the A 380 had already landed the day before, and had been programmed on the flight simulator for a ‘Perfect Landing’!”   – Journal Entry 2008 

It’s a Wrap!

We’ve come a long way in a very short time: Just 117 years of aviation history under our wingtips.

Last year I was honoured to take a school group, 22 students and 3 teachers across America from coast to coast. When asked what the highlights of the 21 day trip were, many said it had to be a toss-up…between the Grand Canyon and The National Air & Space Museum of Washington DC. One venue touting the power of Mother Nature, while the other created by the imagination and ingenuity of mankind. Suspended from the ceiling in the museum is the original Wright Brothers craft that flew from Kitty Hawk over 100 years ago and counting. Wing-tip to wing-tip with lunar capsules, and other airborne greats. Visit sometime when the Corona virus clears: the museum was free of charge on the day we visited…. You simply need to look up. “Are those wings made of paper?!”

– by Mark William Sheehan

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