62 Years Ago Qantas Launched Its Around The World Service

Sixty-two years ago today, Qantas began its around the world services. On 14 January 1958, a pair of Super Constellations took off from Melbourne’s Essendon Airport. One headed in a westerly direction, the other in an easterly direction, allowing passengers to choose which direction they preferred to travel in. Airlines just don’t look after their passengers like that anymore!

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Qantas sent Super Constellations off in different directions, operating two around the world services. Photo: RuthAS via Wikimedia Commons.

This little historical footnote nearly passed us by but for an article in Airways Museum. It’s not a long article but it’s packed full of interesting information. According to the article, Qantas (then known as Qantas Empire Airways, or QEA) was ‘determined’ to have around the world flights going in alternative directions.

At the time, the logistics and distances involved meant the around the world flights were at the cutting edge of what could be done. They even ran a test flight beforehand to prove the Super Constellation could make it.

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So now I know where Qantas got its Project Sunrise and its “research” flights template from, proving everything old is new again at some point.

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Flights went east and west

The route going west followed the well-trodden Kangaroo route (hops between stops – geddit) while the route east across the Pacific was tagged the Southern Cross route. Moving in an easterly direction from Melbourne, the stops were Nadi, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, London, Rome, Athens, Bahrain, Karachi, New Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta, Perth and then back to Melbourne.

The westbound Kangaroo route reversed the order of stops. Midway through the flights, the two aircraft would pass each other. The Airways Museum article tells us Super Constellation VH-EAO operated the first eastbound flight 62 years ago today while Super Constellation VH-EAP headed west via the Kangaroo route.

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Pan Am got rights to fly in Australia

These around the world flights only got up after protracted negotiations with the United States. QEA was the first non-US carrier to be given rights to fly across the United States. In return, Pan Am, got rights too, through and within Australia.

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In return for allowing QEA to fly across the USA, Pan Am got extensive rights to operate in Australia. Photo: Greg & Cindy via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m old enough to remember watching the morning Pan Am 747 flight coming into Sydney while on holiday at my Grandma’s house. As far as I know, Pan Am never took up its right to operate within Australia. If that’s not right, I’d be happy to be corrected and read the details.

Expensive, but very comfortable

Disregarding the fact that the four engined Super Constellations were noisy and the around the world trip took about a week, it sounds like a hell of a jaunt. But flying back then was very expensive and the preserve of the wealthy. Still, if you were prepared to break the bank, those QEA Super Constellation flights were regarded as an epoch in passenger flying.

There was no economy class. There was only one class and it was front of the plane orientated. Aisles were wide and seats reclined. On night flights, if you weren’t overnighting at a city’s best hotel, beds could be made up for passengers. There was lobster and freshly carved beef inflight. Buffet tables would be set up and lunch would roll on for three or four hours. There was champagne and decent brandy and no-one had a fit if you lit up a cigar over the Indian Ocean.

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Flying on board a Super Constellation may have been expensive, but it was civilized. Photo: Getty Images.

And passengers dressed nicely. Forget about the bogan scuffs and the Bali singlets and all the exposed man-nips you see on flights today. Male passengers wore a suit and tie when helping themselves to the lobster. Women wore pearls and heels when climbing on board – you don’t see enough pearls on planes these days. People socialized over cocktails. Nobody put their feet up against the bulkhead.

I reckon it’s possible to fly around the world in about 48 hours now. That time frame is set to shorten in the next couple of years. We’ve got Q Suites, and inflight WiFi and some nice lounges to wait for flights in these days. But I’d swap a ride in any first-class cabin today for a week-long multi-stop cigar and champagne-fuelled jaunt around the world in a Super Constellation.

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bemi

The Lockheed L-1049 did not have turboprop engines but 4 R-3350 turbocharged radial engines. The turboprop version was called L-1249 and was used only by the US Air force and Navy. The PAA aircraft in the picture is a L-749 Connie, not a Superconnie.
PAA started (almost) round the world flights in 1947, using DC-4 and Constellations (did not complete the US eastcoast-westcoast leg until 1975). By 1962 PAA was using B-707, making the L-1049 obsolete.
Flying first class in a Superconnie or DC-7 was awesome, in a double deck B-377 Stratocruiser was even better ( and dangerous).

Joanna Bailey

Thanks, the turboprop reference has been corrected. The PIA image is just an illustration.

Jim

Join the discussion…

bemi

I want to clarify one point. By 1962 no only PAA but all international airlines were flying B-707’s and DC-8’s jets, making all long-range piston engined and turboprops obsolete: L-1049, L-1649, DC-7C, Bristol Britannia

Paul

I am with you on week long trip eating lobster and drinking champagne, what an era !! I remember flying South African Airways in the late seventies between J’burg and Sydney with all the trappings, my mother still had one of the in flight menus with tassels and water colour animal print on the front. The flight (747) stopped at Mauritius and Perth in those days.

Dave Johnson

The Constellations had piston engines, not turboprops.

Joanna Bailey

Thanks, this has been corrected

fred

I think the author was confused by the name: The W-3350’s on 1049-1649s were classified as turbo-compound engines. In this case they were mechanically supercharged, turbocharged and turbocharger exhaust was sent to Power Recovery Turbines (3 each- which were exhaust driven and provided mechanical force directly to the engine master rod (crankshaft). The PRT’s provided about 1500 additional horsepower over traditionally turbocharged 3350s

Peter Marosszeky

Pan American World Airways received traffic rights to Melbourne and Brisbane.

Jim

The R3350 engines on the Super Constellation had conventional Supercharged engines and three exhaust driven Power Recovery Turbines each putting around 150 HP back into the crankshaft via fluid couplings.
The HARS museum in Wollongong has one Super Constellation still flying.
Cheers

John

I remember back in probably 1970 or 1971 going to my gradmother’s unit in Coogee which was directly under the flight path for the east-west runway at Sydney airport and watching the first Pan Am jumbo come into Sydney and in those days before the trees in the park grew tall you could watch it all the way to the runway.