The Wright Brothers. The Concorde. Virtual reality touch screens. Engineering breakthroughs don’t happen as often as world-savvy travellers might like. However, after spending 19 years (and 90,000 hours) soaring passengers around the globe, an iconic Qantas 747 is about to get a facelift that could contribute to the next big one.
This comes as Qantas announces this historic 747, which flew its last commercial journey on Sunday, would enjoy a different kind of retirement: instead of being scrapped for parts, the Boeing 747-400 (one of the airline’s six remaining original jumbos to be phased out over the next 12 months) will become a test vehicle for Rolls Royce’s aerospace division in the US.
This will be done, News.com.au reports, by replacing all 364 passenger seats with cutting edge testing devices to monitor “engines that will form the next generation of both commercial and business aircraft in a ‘world first’ makeover.”
“This will be the most advanced engine flying testbed research and development laboratory in the world,” AeroTEC chief executive Lee Human told News.com.au.
“This is a special missions aeroplane with a dedicated purpose.”
“Rolls-Royce selected the plane because of the altitudes and the speeds it has to travel at… Not many aircraft can do what the 747 can do as for altitude and speed so for that reason it’s the only one out there (for this job),” Human added.
So what exactly is the testing going to involve? While Rolls-Royce, the second-largest maker of aircraft engines (a highly competitive industry), was understandably cagey, Rolles-Royce director of development and experimental engineering Gareth Hedicker told News.com.au, “It will allow us to test our very latest technologies while increasing our efficiency, reducing emissions and noise.”
“An aircraft like this let’s us do this. Our plan will be to use it for the next 15 years contributing to the future of travel… [Which] will allow us to keep pushing our technologies further … taking our engines to the next level.”
This Boeing 747-400, registered as VH-OJU and named ‘Lord Howe Island’, flew its final Qantas flight yesterday from Los Angeles to Moses Lake in Washington where it was handed over to Rolls-Royce. As 9 News reports, “[This] followed its last commercial flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, on Sunday.”
“This really is the end of one era and the start of another,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce of the change. “The jumbo has been the backbone of Qantas International for more than 40 years and we’ve flown almost every type that Boeing built.”
“Over the years, each new version of the 747 allowed Qantas to fly further and improve what we offered passengers. The Dreamliners are now doing the same thing. The 787 has better economics and a longer range, and it has already opened up new routes like Perth to London.”
Here’s hoping the testing on the old Queen of the Skies will lead to even more breakthroughs.