By Doug Weller
It’s August 1989 and QANTAS is about to fly the longest non-stop commercial flight in history.
The aircraft doing the honours is a QANTAS Boeing 747-400, registration VH-OJA, ‘City of Canberra’.
When I received a call from ABC management asking me what my August plans were I said “I’ll be on holidays”.
When they told me what was planned, I nearly jumped down the phone. I decided to throw my board shorts and very large straw hat back into the cupboard – Surfers Paradise would have to wait.
I was one of only 23 people aboard that record breaking non-stop flight from London to Sydney. It took 20 hours and 9 minutes which felt like forever at the time.
I was privileged to be the only broadcast journalist who was on-board.
From memory the passengers consisted of about five journalists, the crew and a few others.
QANTAS needed to use special fuel to make the distance and we had strict baggage weight limitations.
I had a broadcast point set up just outside the flight deck. It consisted of a microphone, and a box of some sort.
It worked on the tarmac at Heathrow but that was about it.
Once we were in the air I had major trouble broadcasting back to Australia so the crew allowed me into the flight deck to use their communications equipment.
Sitting just behind the crew I put on the headphones, adjusted the mic and felt like captain kangaroo.
Apart from the landing, that’s where I stayed for most of the trip to Sydney, sending reports to the ABC when the crew could spare their radio and we had adequate reception.
Image Source: QANTAS
It was big news at the time and the crew went out of their way to help me do my job. They even agreed to a quick interview for the ABC ‘AM’ program as we approached Sydney.
I was about to do a report when I asked, “Hey, do one of you guys want to be on ‘AM’?” To my delight they did and going live to air took on a whole new meaning.
The opportunity to be a part of that historic QANTAS flight was a highlight of my career.
Now that same aircraft has flown it’s last commercial flight and is retiring to a new life as a museum exhibit at Illawarra Regional Airport.
Qantas has gifted the aircraft to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) where it will be on public display as a tourist attraction.
Some interesting Qantas Boeing 747-400 “VH-OJA” facts:
· 25.3 years in service
· 13,833 flights
· 4,094,568 passengers carried
· This aircraft has flown nearly 85 million kilometres, which is equivalent to 110.2 return trips to the moon
· “VH-OJA” was Qantas’ first Boeing 747-400 aircraft and was named the City of Canberra
· It was delivered to Qantas on 11 August 1989 and made its debut flight on 16 August 1989 from London to Sydney
· On Thursday 17 August 1989, it set the record for having flown the longest non-stop flight (London-Sydney) of any commercial airline (flight number QF7441)
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