VH-EAA. Boeing 747SP-38. c/n 22495-505.
This was the first of two such aircraft ordered new by Qantas with the contract signed on January 16, 1980. This aircraft was ordered with Rolls Royce RB211-524B2 engines instead on the standard Pratt & Whitney JT9D powerplants. Construction was completed and it was rolled off the Boeing production line at Everett in January 1981. It was flown for the first time as VH-EAA on January 11, 1981 but was officially entered onto Australian Aircraft Register as VH-EAA on January 19, 1981 and registered to Qantas Airways Ltd, Sydney.
It was named 'City of Gold Coast Tweed' at Everett prior to departing on its delivery flight as QF501D on January 21, 1981. It arrived at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport at the conclusion of this flight on January 23 under the command of Captains L. W. Clark and A. E. Bones. The delivery route was Seattle - Honolulu - Sydney.
VH-EAA did not sit on the ground for long at Sydney Airport. Departing on January 24 as QF1401 under the command of Captain Alan Terrell, Director of Flight Operations, she embarked on a three day Queensland promotional visit to the ports of Townsville, Coolangatta and Brisbane. At each port the general public were able to inspect it whilst airport familiarisation exercises were carried out for the ground crews.
Two courtesy flights were flown from Townsville enabling some 500 people to experience sightseeing flights over the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns, Haymen Island and Bowen. These courtesy flights enabled Qantas Chief Pilot Training and Standards Captain Ray Seaver to conduct pilot training with the flight crews who would eventually operate the aircraft once it entered regular service.
On January 25 the aircraft flew to Coolangatta, arriving over the Gold Coast around 9 a.m. It flew at low level along the length of the beach, south over Murwillumbah then north across the main Surfers Paradise - Southport area whilst television crews on high buildings tracked its progress. On landing at Coolangatta Airport the flight crew were welcomed by two Gold Coast Metermaids. A display including koalas loaned from the sanctuary at Sea World was set up under the aircraft while around 8,000 people took the opportunity to inspect it.
Later that afternoon VH-EAA was flown to Brisbane Airport, where once again it was opened for inspection the following day. Altogether around 25,000 people walked through the aircraft during the public display periods.
With the northern promotion visit out of the way, VH-EAA then flew south to Avalon Airport in Victoria for an intense period of pilot training. This was necessary to enable Qantas line pilots to practise the precise landing techniques required for operating the 747SPs into Wellington Airport, whose runway length was only 1,935 metres. The runway markings at Avalon had been modified so as to resemble those of Wellington Airport. Large 'distance' marker boards had also been erected at the side of the runway.
On January 31 VH-EAA flew Sydney - Wellington on a route proving flight. Under the command of Captain Alan Terrell it landed at the 'windy city' at 2 p.m. local time. Hundreds of residents had gathered around the airport perimeter and on the surrounding hills to witness the event. TV New Zealand interrupted scheduled programs to broadcast live this historic arrival.
Displaying superb airmanship Captain Terrell used approximately half of the available runway on landing thus silencing those doubters and non-believers who had express concern that such a large aircraft could not operate safely into this airport. Admittedly the aircraft was well below its maximum landing weight on arrival as it was not carrying a normal passenger load, baggage or freight.
Captain Terrell was met by members of the Maori welcoming party, the Ngati Poneke, Wellington's leading Maori dance and haka group. He was escorted off the aircraft to where the traditional Maori 'welcoming challenge' took place inside the airport terminal building. A member of the Ngati Poneke Maori group placed the 'challenge peace' symbol in front of him. This traditional challenge takes place whenever strangers arrive. Captain Terrell picked up the symbol thus signifying that he and his fellow crew members came in peace. The welcoming ceremony was then followed by the official reception with entertainment provided by the Ngati Poneke Maoris.
The following day VH-EAA departed Wellington to undertake further local crew training flights specifically designed to hone their landing skills. These flights were eagerly watched by many local residents and great cheers echoed around the airport when a 'missed' approach had to be flown.
On February 06, 1981 Qantas returned to the Australia - Wellington route in its own right after a ten year absence. The inaugural Qantas SP service from Brisbane to Wellington as QF55 was flown by Captain D. McKinley. However things did not go according to plan. Weather conditions at Wellington Airport were below the required minima for a safe landing so the flight was diverted to Auckland which was a huge disappointment to all on board. The inaugural service was completed the following day when the aircraft flew from Auckland to Wellington before returning to Sydney.
To mark the Commonwealth Games that were to be staged in Brisbane the aircraft carried 'Official Carrier Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games' titles from November 01, 1981.
In 1982 it was decided to upgrade the engines on this aircraft. To cover part of the expense in ferrying the aircraft to the United States it operated a supplementary flight from Sydney - Honolulu as QF35 on August 12, 1982. It was then ferried Honolulu to Seattle as QF500D for the Rolls Royce RB211-524DE engine refit later that day. When this work had been completed it was ferried Everett - Honolulu - Sydney as QF501D on August 25 - 27, 1982.
To counter the non-stop 747SP flights operated by Pan Am between the United States and Australia this aircraft was used to operated first Qantas 747SP non-stop service from Sydney to Los Angeles as QF11 on April 7, 1984.
The aircraft was repainted into 'Spirit of Australia' livery during January 1990 before being listed 'for sale' by Qantas on March 01, 1990. Despite this 'for sale' listing it continued to be operated on regular services. It was not sold. It was leased to Australian Airlines on July 05 - 06, 1992 to operate flights TN7025 / TN7425 Sydney - Brisbane - Sydney and then TN7016 / TN7011 Sydney - Perth - Sydney.
In the early 1990s Australia was actively seeking to host the 2000 Olympic Games. A 'Sydney 2000' Olympic sticker was applied to the cabin behind the cockpit to promote Sydney's bid in December 1993.
It operated its last Qantas revenue service Singapore - Brisbane - Sydney as QF52 on March 20, 1994 before being leased to Australia Asia Airlines the following day. Australia Asia Airlines was a wholly owned Qantas subsidiary that was set up in October 1991 to meet the political sensibilities of the Chinese Government concerning aircraft of Australia's national airline serving Taiwan, a province which rejected the authority of the Government in Beijing. Australia Asia operated the leased aircraft in their own livery while Qantas continued to operate to Beijing as normal. VH-EAA operated the inaugural Australia Asia 747SP service from Sydney to Taipei as QF135 on March 26, 1994. It was leased to Australia Asia until June 27, 1996.
The aircraft was again listed 'for sale' by Qantas on January 01, 1997 but continued normal operations. The new subtitle 'The Australian Airline' was applied on March 01, 1998.
VH-EAA flew its final Qantas revenue service when it operated Singapore - Jakarta - Sydney as QF42/22 on February 23, 2002. It was officially withdrawn from use in Sydney the following day. It was then prepared to be flown to the United States for storage and hopeful sale. As part of its ferry flight it was used to operate a supplementary freighter service from Sydney to Honolulu as QF7571 on March 04, 2002. It was then ferried Honolulu - Marana as QF6019 for storage the following day.
VH-EAA was officially cancelled from Australian Aircraft Register on March 27, 2002. Shortly thereafter its engines were removed and returned to Qantas in Sydney. Scrapping the aircraft commenced at Marana in July 2002. It had flown 75,238 hours with 14,011 cycles.
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