Ex-Qantas 747-400 Will Become Testbed for Rolls-Royce Engines

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It’s a sad time in history right now. The queen of the skies will slowly disappear from the skies. At least as a passenger aircraft. Many airlines are retiring their 747s right now, ahead of schedule, because of the lower demand in air travel. It’s just not feasible anymore for most airlines to operate the Queen of the Skies. I was lucky enough to fly a British Airways 747 in First Class between Europe and the United States at the beginning of the year, just before the Corona-Crisis struck. British Airways is also retiring all of its 747s.

Last week was another sad day when the last Boeing 747 of the Australian carrier Qantas made it’s way to the Mojave Desert for final storage. 

Another Qantas Boeing 747 had its last flight, late in 2019. The plane with the registration number VH-OJU was flying for the Australian flag-carrier for 20 years. In this time, the plane flew 70 million kilometers and carried 2.5 million passengers with the help of four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.

The last commercial operated flight for VH-OJU was from Sydney to Los Angeles. Instead of sending this Queen of the Skies to its final resting place at the Mojave Air and Space Port, where so many of her sisters landed for the final time, this Queen has a different future ahead of her.

It took one last time to the skies as a Qantas flight and headed about just a few hours north of Los Angeles, to Moses Lake, WA. There, she was greeted with a water cannon salute and during the festivities, Qantas officials handed over the keys to Rolls-Royce, the new owner.

Rolls-Royce will use the plane as a flying testbed for future engines. It will test commercial engines as well as private jet engines during its new life cycle. Test engines will get mounted to the fuselage or strapped under the wing. This helps Rolls-Royce to perform real-flight tests and altitude tests.

It’s not uncommon that planes have extra engines strapped to them. Qantas used one of their Boeing 747s in 2016, to deliver a spare engine to Johannesburg to be put on another 747.

But VH-OJU will first spend the next two years at AeroTec, an aerospace engineering firm with facilities at the Moses Lake Flight Test Center, to be retrofitted from a commercial airliner to a flying testbed. This means removing all the passenger seats and fitting it with the latest technology to analyze the new engines and give engineers a place to work in the sky.

The Future of Boeing 747 Aircraft

Some airlines still operate their Boeing 747 aircraft on scheduled passenger flights. But I am sure that the number will decrease sharply over the next few months. Some of these planes will keep on flying, but unfortunately not as a commercial airliner anymore. The Boeing 747 is such a versatile piece of hardware, it was even used to fly the Space Shuttle from coast to coast. 

But there are other use-cases for Boeing 747 aircraft. However, Boeing announced on July 29, 2020, that the company will no longer build any 747 planes from 2022 onward.

  • Dreamlifter: The Dreamlifter is a modified version of the Boeing 747 and is used for freight operations. 

    Boeing 747-4H6(LCF) Dreamlifter

  • Virgin Orbit Cosmic Girl: Cosmic Girl is the nickname of the Boeing 747 which is used as a flying launchpad for the LauncherOne Rocket. Cosmic Girl will operate out of the Mojave Air and Space Port but can launch payloads from other locations around the globe.

    Virgin Orbit Galactic Girl at Mojave Air and Space Port

  • Rolls-Royce: An ex-Qantas 747-400 is used as a flying testbed for new engines.

    Rolls-Royce Flying Testbed (Courtesy of Rolls-Royce)

 

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