Rolls-Royce To Take An Ex-Qantas Boeing 747 For Engine Testbed

This week was the end of an era for Qantas as the last Boeing 747 left its fleet. The aircraft had been with the carrier for nearly five decades, and it helped revolutionize the Australian aviation industry. However, there is a new lease of life for the Queen of the Skies as Rolls-Royce will use a unit to test current and future jet engine technology that will transform flight, and reduce emissions. This process will set new benchmarks for efficiency.

Boeing 747
Rolls-Royce states that the $70m investment will create a flying digital hub. Photo: Rolls-Royce

The afterlife

This 747-400 held registration number VH-OJU and was flying with the flag carrier of Australia for 20 years. Altogether, it has flown more than 70 million kilometers and carried 2.5 million passengers with the help of four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.

According to a press release seen by Simple Flying, under its new role, the jumbo will be fitted with the latest testing capabilities. Also, for the first time, it will test engines that power both commercial and business jets. Ultimately, flying testbeds are used to perform altitude testing and analyze technologies in flight conditions.

The plane went by the moniker of Lord Howe Island as part of Qantas’ fleet. However, its new operator will be giving it a new name, which is still being decided. Nonetheless, it will be flown by a team of specialist test pilots, who combine engineering expertise with years of experience flying commercial, military, and test planes.

Since October, the 747 has been at AeroTEC’s flight test center in Moses Lake, Washington. Here, it will undergo an extensive two-year transformation. Engineers and technicians will convert it from a commercial aircraft with 364 passenger seats to a flying testbed fitted with comprehensive instrumentation and systems.

The former Qantas 747 will head for the air once again. Photo: Getty Images

Important work

Altogether, the project is part of Rolls-Royce’s IntelligentEngine vision, where engines are connected, contextually aware, and even comprehending, right from their time on the testbed. Gareth Hedicker, Rolls-Royce’s director of development and experimental engineering, spoke of the importance of the project. He highlighted that after serving travelers around the world for several years, the 747 would continue its life into a new chapter.

“The Queen of the skies will become the jewel in the crown of our global test programmes. This is a significant investment that will expand our world-leading test capabilities even further and will allow us to obtain more flight test data than ever before,” Hedicker said, as per the press release.

“After transporting millions of passengers on this beloved aircraft for 20 years, we’re excited to power it into the future.”

Meanwhile, Chris Snook, Qantas’ executive manager of engineering, said that the Boeing 747 had been an integral and much-loved member of his airline’s fleet for many years. He emphasized how this particular unit has proudly worn the flying kangaroo for more than 20 years. So, he is delighted that it has an extended life ahead to test and support the development of the next generation of aircraft engines.

Retirements of the 747 are happening at a rapid rate. Photo: Getty Images

The service continues

On completion of the transformation, the 747 will work alongside Rolls-Royce’s existing flying testbed, which is a 747-200. This unit has already performed 285 tests. One of the criticisms of the 747 is that it is unable to compete with modern aircraft when it comes to efficiency. Yet, it is now proving to be a useful tool to improve effectiveness going forward.

It is sad to see such a legendary aircraft disappear from passenger airports across the globe. However, it is heartwarming to know that several units are still flying in some way. Furthermore, they are helping to support the next generation of aircraft. Undoubtedly, this 747 is in good hands while at Rolls-Royce’s facilities.

What are your thoughts about the Qantas 747 becomes Rolls-Royce flying testbed? Do you think this is a good move for the engine specialist? Let us know what you think of the project in the comment section.