THE MAIDEN VOYAGER
Anticipating the A380’s arrival, Helen Hutcheon recalls the inaugural Australian flight of the Boeing 747
ACOUNTDOWN clock that Singapore Airlines has set up on the approach to Sydney international airport is ticking away the days before the arrival of the world’s first commercial Airbus A380 superjumbo flight on Thursday, October 25.
The same excitement was in the air 37 years ago when Pan American World Airways brought the Boeing 747 to Sydney for the first time. A gala reception was held at the Sydney Town Hall to celebrate that chapter in aviation history, and a splendid lunch was held the next day at Kingsford Smith International Airport before the VIPs boarded the jumbo for the inaugural flight to Los Angeles.
As a feature writer onWoman’s Day , I was fortunate to be on this historic journey with such luminaries as former Wallaby captain and then deputy lord mayor of Sydney, Nicholas Shehadie (the husband of NSW Governor Marie Bashir), John (Golden Tonsils) Laws, the flamboyant Dita Cobb and my future boss (although I didn’t know it then), decorated World War II pilot and publisher Peter Isaacson.
At the time I had a student pilot’s licence and was learning to fly a two-seat Cessna 150. I vividly remember tightening my seatbelt on my first flight in the largest passenger aircraft in the world at the time, wondering if it would get off the ground as we rumbled along the runway for what seemed to be forever.
Sitting next to me was Gary O’Callaghan, a pioneer of the breakfast radio format who ruled the roost, so to speak, on Sydney radio station 2UE with a feathered sidekick called Sammy Sparrow.
O’Callaghan had moved from 2SM in 1956 and topped the ratings for decades with his cheerful mix of information and entertain- ment. Listeners loved his conversations with a make-believe bird but I hadn’t realised his fame had spread so far until I noticed the smiles he was getting from the stewardesses serving us bottomless glasses of champagne. And was that a wink from a particularly glamorous Swede, or was she just testing the glue on her false eyelashes?
Then the strangest thing happened. The stewardesses who had been so attentive to O’Callaghan during the pre-dinner drinks service completely ignored him while they served everyone else the most delicious meal.
O’Callaghan declined to press the call button because, he said, the cabin crew was busy. He insisted I start eating. By the time I was ready for port and cheese he still had not been served.
Fed up, if you will pardon the pun, I summoned assistance. ‘‘ Oh, please don’t worry,’’ the Swedish stewardess said, still fluttering her fabulous eyelashes. ‘‘ We haven’t forgotten Mr O’Callaghan . . . we have a special treat just for him.’’
With that, another stewardess pulled up alongside us with a silver food cover on her trolley. I could almost hear a roll of drums as she lifted the heavy lid with exaggerated ceremony. There, in front of the ravenous radio man was a bowl of bird seed and a glass of water for his alter ego, Sammy Sparrow.
The Singapore Airlines A380 inaugural flight seat auction started this week on eBay, featuring seats on the SingaporeSydney leg on October 25 and return on October 26. Proceeds will be split between Singapore’s Community Chest, the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, the Sydney Children’s Hospital at Randwick and Medecins Sans Frontieres. More: www.singaporeair.com/a380.
Up, up and at play: The countdown has started for the A380’s arrival