Qantas Once Flew A Boeing 747 Non Stop From London To Sydney

The world is currently focused on Project Sunrise, which sees Qantas attempting to start non-stop commercial flights between London and Sydney. However, the carrier once operated a one-off non-stop flight on the exact same route using a Boeing 747. Here’s the story.

Qantas, Boeing 747, London to Sydney
This Boeing 747 flew non-stop from London to Sydney. Photo: Qantas

The Boeing 747 is known as the Queen of the Skies. The aircraft came about this name as a mixture of its impressive looks, and impressive abilities. Qantas once flew the 747 non-stop between London and Sydney with a flight time of 20-hours and 9-minutes. Despite a couple of obstacles along the way, the aircraft eventually touched down in Sydney claiming the title “longest non-stop un-refueled delivery flight”.

The aircraft

The aircraft used for Qantas’ record-breaking flight was a brand new Boeing 747 registered as VH-OJA. The aircraft undertook the mammoth flight while being delivered from Seattle to Sydney. This is similar to the planned Qantas Boeing 787 flight from London to Sydney later this year.

VH-OJA was named the City of Canberra after the capital city of Australia. You won’t see the aircraft in the skies today, however. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it was retired from the skies in January 2015. The aircraft now resides at the HARS Museum, soon to be accompanied by John Travolta’s Boeing 707.

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Qantas, Boeing 747, London to Sydney
The flight was part of a Boeing 747 delivery flight for the airline. Photo: Qantas

The flight

The mammoth flight from London to Sydney non-stop took place on the 16th of August 1989 according to Traveller. Every possible fuel-saving technique was used onboard the aircraft. Shell provided a specially formulated high-density fuel, the galley and cargo pallets were removed, and the aircraft was towed to the runway.

According to the Flight Global archives, only 18 people were on board the aircraft. However, Qantas themselves and many other publications put this at 23 people, including five pilots, four from Qantas and one from Boeing. The aircraft took off from London Heathrow’s 28R runway at just after 08:30 in the morning.

Qantas, Boeing 747, London to Sydney
In 2015 the airline gifted the historic aircraft to an Australian aviation museum. Photo: Qantas

The flight lasted 20-hours and 9-minutes. However, Qantas had calculated flight time as being between 19-hours and 23-minutes and 19-hours and 54-minutes. As such, the flight was 15 minutes longer than had been expected. GCMaps has calculated that the flight covered a total distance of 11,144 miles, up over 500 miles from the great circle distance of 10,573 miles.

The future

While almost 30 years have elapsed since Qantas flew non-stop from London to Sydney, the carrier hopes to repeat this feat by the end of the year, as Qantas plans to fly a Boeing 787 on the same route. The flight will be part of a delivery flight, in much the same way as the historic Boeing 747 flight was. Following this, as part of Project Sunrise, the carrier plans to one day fly passengers non-stop between the two cities.

Would you be happy flying in an aircraft for so long? Let us know in the comments below!

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Christopher Bryant

The possible only way i would make a 20hr flight would be if I was in First Class with lots of room, better food etc

David Cartwright

I fly the SYD- LHR regularly , the next in two weeks time . There is no way I would fly non stop on a flight of such length . I’ve not met a fellow traveller yet who welcomes the idea . 20hrs sat in the same seat . No way .

Jeffrey

I prefer flying military. Sleeping bags and tons of space. C-17s and C-5s have tons and tons of room to stretch out! Plus it’s free!

Chris Loh

Free? Wouldn’t you be getting paid while you’re flying on those transports? 😛

Lise Kvist

Aviation articles are just great. Ive been a keen aviator since age 19, when I got my pilots licence, and my driver’s licence at 23, means I was up, before I was down. Still flying at 77.