Wing it in the outback
Buckle up for a flight into Australia’s airline history
BLACK box flight recorders can be red or orange in colour and the air circulates through the cabin of a jet airliner every two-and-a-half minutes. These are just a couple of the more obscure facts you learn on the jet tour at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.
As the airline draws near to its 100 years of service, in 2019, it is fascinating to get up close with some of the planes that have made it such a well-known international brand.
At first sceptical about how much interest there would be in such a tour, I quickly became enthralled by the 90-minute journey that took me behind the scenes on the museum’s two jet aircraft, the Boeing 747 and 707. It also took in the Catalina Flying Boat and how it conquered the Indian Ocean.
The tour was separate from the museum tour and started at the 747 with a walk – around and over, inside and outside the plane.
The Boeing 747 was a gift to the museum in 1979 and, at three storeys high, is the highest structure in Longreach.
With a 900kmh cruising speed and radar range of 500km, it revolutionised international aircraft travel with its increased seating capacity that in turn led to cheaper economy fares. Each Qantas 747 completes about 19,000 flights. It has 18 wheels that make about 190 landings before they are replaced.
Volunteer guide Grant Bunter said air-conditioning circulated fresh air throughout the cabin every 2.5 minutes. This flies in the face of the commonly held myth of simply recycling the same cabin air for the entire flight. Exhaust gases from the engines reach 600 degrees and the 206,000 litres of aviation kerosene needed to fill the tanks costs about $450,000.There are 900 controls in the flight deck.
Qantas Founders Museum conducts seven or eight tours a day in peak season, with about 35 in a group.
Outside, we discovered the secrets of the engines, undercarriage and wings. Inside, we learnt how to arm the doors, sat in the first-class cabin, checked out the top deck and had a peek at the flight deck and crew rest area. And Longreach is one of the few places in the world you can stand inside the intake of an engine.
Also, the tour group learnt black boxes were an Australian invention. It was given the name while the designer was explaining the system and was reported as a little black magic box of tricks.
The slide safety raft is also an Australian invention, as is the air approach guidance or Traffic Collision Avoidance System.
The Boeing 707-138B is an aircraft like no other. And Qantas had the first Boeing airliner sold outside of the United States.
After its days with Qantas, the VH-EBA on show in Longreach was converted to a luxury charter jet to the rich and famous and also as the personal jet of a Saudi prince. Still sporting the luxury interior, we saw how the other half lived. The aircraft is one of only four 138Bs in existence.
The most famous clients to lease the plane were The Jackson 5 who took it on their victory tour, one of five tours by the music group.
British Airspace bought it and left it to be scrapped at the estuary of the Thames River.
A team of retired Qantas engineers led by Peter Elliott decided that the aircraft would fly home again to Australia to be put on display at Longreach.
This was the most complex restoration of a classic airliner ever undertaken involving 15,000 man-hours. Over a six-month period engineers and spare parts were shuttled back and forth between England and Australia.
The museum shows how Qantas started in outback Queensland and how it became a success.
The wing walk on the Boeing 747 at Qantas Founders Museum at Longreach and, right, an aerial view of the on the Qantas Founders Museum at Longreach.