Australia’s first passenger jet has made its last flight home to Longreach, Qld, where it will go on display as a part of our aviation history.
Story By Frances Mocnik
If you’ve ever shed a secret tear to the rousing sounds of I Still Call Australia Home the June long weekend in Longreach would have been a real tearjerker. Crowded onto a blistering tarmac the town’s population plus a good slab of visitors scoured the endless canopy of sky for the long-anticipated arrival of an old friend.
Squinting into the sun, the crowd expected the arrival from the west. Then from within the hypnotising glare a faint pair of headlights flickered. It could have been a mirage – it was certainly hot enough. But the glowing orbs grew stronger and then the faint thin line of a plane came into being. The crowd held its collective breath then everyone let out a roar, which was greeted by the boom of twin jet engines under full throttle. Finally Australia’s first passenger jet – a Boeing 707 that first took off in 1959 – was home.
Disappearing over the horizon she turned, circled and turned again. Like a bird mischievously playing on thermals, she flaunted her majesty, silver belly reflecting the earth, and the crowd was silenced in the knowledge that these impressive passes would probably be her last.
Salvaged from a scrap heap in Southend, London, the 707 was rebuilt by a team of more than 60 volunteers who laboured for eight months to coax the plane, now Australia’s oldest registered jet, from its slumber back to airworthy condition. Warwick Tainton, Chairman of the Qantas Founders’ Museum says the restoration, bolstered by about $1 million from the Australian Government, was “one of the most technically advanced projects of its kind ever undertaken by volunteers in the world”.
Customised for Qantas by Boeing, this 707-138, known as The City of Canberra, was the first jet airliner ever to be bought to Australian and the first commercial jet exported out of the US. Qantas head Geoff Dixon, in Longreach for the 707’s arrival, says the aircraft represents a time in the airline’s history that put Qantas on the world map. “With the 707,Qantas ushered in the jet age, when airline travel became fast and glamorous. To see the aircraft takes its final approach to its new permanent home, where the Qantas story really began, has been a very special experience.”
Fitted with long-range fuel tanks it reduced the tyranny of distance for Australians trying to connect to the rest of the world. The 707 reduced travel time to London from 48 hours to 27 hours, which is comparable to the 23 hours it takes today.
This story excerpt is from Issue #54
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2007