Image: Wikimedia Commons:YSSYguy/ABC News Australia | VH-OJA landing on it’s delivery flight to HARS

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the record breaking London-Sydney flight of QF7441, a record that still stands. The flight was undertaken by the first Qantas 747, registration VH-OJA. Planning for the flight was secretive, had started 2 years previous and involved the cooperation of Boeing and Rolls Royce.

The 747 had a range of 14,800km, but the trip was 17,000km. In order to complete the flight Shell developed a fuel that would give 4 per cent greater burning power allowing the aircraft to carry an extra 10 tonnes of fuel. Ray Heiniger told ABC News Australia, “we had to keep it secret because we had a lot of other people who probably would’ve tried the same adventure if they thought of it. Shell produced this stuff where they had to get batches of fuel in Germany, put it in railway carriages, and shunt it up and down for several days to mix it properly. Then it was put in tankers and taken across the (English) Channel to the UK where we fuelled the aircraft for our departure.”

The fuel had condensed in the tanks overnight allowing more fuel to be added before departure. ARFF was on standby for the morning fuelling as the tanks started to dribble excess fuel from the vents at the wingtips, as had been expected. ATC at Heathrow also allowed the flight to take off from the arrivals runway instead of departures to help prevent a queue of impatient aircraft while the pre-flight checks were carried out.

The flight only had 23 people on board, and took 20 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds.

VH-OJA was retired in 2015 when Qantas donated it to Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), near Wollongong in New South Wales.

VH-OJA fact file:

  • was the 12th 747-400 built (38 was the Qantas customer code, hence the designation 438)
  • accepted by Qantas 11 August 1989
  • named Canberra
  • broke the world record for the longest non-stop delivery flight 17 August 1989
  • Was in service 25.3 years
  • flew 13,833 flights
  • carried 4,094,568 passengers
  • flown the equivalent of 110.2 return trips to the moon
  • Donated to HARS 8 March 2015
  • holds the record for the shortest delivery flight of a 747 – 12 minutes


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