A flight with Center — flying for Rural Aid

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Owen Zupp {offers a|provides a|supplies a} behind-the-scenes look at the Qantas Rural Aid charity flight {to the|towards the|for the} recently held Avalon Airshow.

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon Airport {for the|for that|for your} Qantas Rural Aid charity flight. (Cameron Hines)

Ahead, {the ground|the floor|the earth} crew waves his batons, easing the Boeing 747-400 to a slow and gentle halt. One by one, fuel flow is cut to the engines {and the|as well as the|plus the} giant turbofan engines spool down. Outside a crowd has gathered to see the “ Queen of the Skies”, while the view from the flight deck reveals multiple marquees and military hardware that includes F-22 Raptors and the RAAF’ s new F-35 Lightning. The Qantas Rural Aid charity flight has arrived at the Australian International Air Show at Avalon.

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid charity flight. (Cameron Hines)

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon Airport {for the|for that|for your} Qantas Rural Aid charity flight. (Cameron Hines)

Lead {Up|Upward|Upwards}

With the twilight of the Qantas Boeing 747 quickly becoming a sunset, tickets on board the “ Jumbo” flight to Avalon were always destined to be {popular with|favored by|well-liked by} aviation enthusiasts.

Consequently, when the limited {number of|quantity of|amount of} 150 seats went on sale for the appropriate cost of $747, they were sold in a matter of hours. {However ,|Nevertheless ,|Yet ,} weeks before the tickets had even been released, preparations for the flight had been {taking place|happening|occurring}.

At the helm of the event, Qantas’ s head of flight operations (HOFO), Captain Mike Galvin had been busily drawing together the many threads needed to {make the|associated with|make} day happen. Airline operations are scheduled well in advance, {so to|to|in like manner} find a “ spare” airframe within the program to undertake the flight was no simple challenge. Even so, the aircraft was only one piece of the puzzle.

A detailed “ run sheet” was prepared well in advance, meticulously outlining the timings involved and commencing the night before the flight. Every possible consideration, from security to catering, was given {a time|a period|a moment}, place and responsible person to ensure that the event ran smoothly.

With Diesel providing the preflight entertainment, the Qantas domestic business lounge had to be transformed with furniture being moved and sound systems put in place. {A small|A little} raised platform and Rural Aid banners rounded {off the|from the} scene where TV personality, Michael Usher would direct proceedings as the master of ceremonies.

{As the|Since the|Because the} day grew closer, communications continued between the various departments, while the technical crew {focused on|centered on} the operational details and flight safety. The aim was to showcase the 747 with an arrival overhead the runway in front of the crowd before flying a visual circuit and landing. While {a straightforward|an easy} manoeuvre in itself, Avalon Airport had special airshow procedures in place and the timings were critical, requiring that the Boeing be on the ground before the airshow operations officially commenced.

Having volunteered to crew the flight, Captain Mark Kelly and First Officer Craig Allan {set about|began} honing the arrival procedure in the 747 simulator {at the|in the|on the} Qantas Jet Base, examining a series of options with due respect paid to safety, airspace restrictions and other operational constraints.

{Through a|Via a|By way of a} combination of discussions, briefings and flight simulations, a scenario was devised to {each of the|each one of the} arrival options – landing to the south on Runway 18, or the more likely profile of landing on Runway 36, given the forecast of Avalon’ s hot, northerly breeze.

{Even with|Despite|Despite having} each and every detail seemingly covered, the dynamic nature of airline operations led to an aircraft change at the eleventh hour from VH-OEB to VH-OJU. Additionally , the incredibly hot weather that was bearing {down on|upon} Avalon had prompted the organisers to move the program forward into the cooler morning hours {with an|having an|by having an} earlier finish.

This called for an even more heightened awareness of the departure schedule for all concerned, given the steadfast arrival deadline at Avalon. Once again, it was a hive of activity behind-the-scenes, but when the day dawned everything was in place and the Rural Aid flight was {ready for|looking forward to} take-off.

Qantas Captain Mike Galvin in the airline's Sydney domestic lounge ahead of the Rural Aid charity flight to Avalon. (Owen Zupp)

Qantas Captain Mike Galvin in the airline’ s Sydney domestic lounge {ahead of the|in front of the} Rural Aid charity flight to Avalon. (Owen Zupp)


The sun was yet to peek its head above the horizon as the crew boarded the bus at Qantas’ s Mascot headquarters.

Captain Kelly, with more than 35 years’ experience on the 747, had his wife and daughters accompanying him {as the|since the|because the} opportunity to fly his family on the Queen of the Skies for such a worthy cause was too good {to pass|to} up. The glow of iPads filled the bus in the pre-dawn light {as the|since the|because the} pilots reviewed the latest flight planning information and discussed the day ahead.

By the time they entered the lounge area in the domestic terminal, there was already a buzz of excitement {among the|one of the} passengers, who mingled {with the|using the|with all the} crew as cameras intermittently flashed, capturing images {of the|from the} transformed lounge.

Captain Galvin addressed the gathering, highlighting the importance of {the cause|the main cause|the reason} the flight was {to aid|to help}, thanking the entire crew for volunteering their time {and the|as well as the} passengers for their support of Rural Aid. After Captain Galvin had finished, Michael Usher regained the floor and began to outline the day’ s activities, including an auction that was to take place.

A return trip to Bali flying business class with Qantas, a two-hour private flight simulator session and items from the interior {of the|from the} recently retired 747, VH-OJM were among the items {up for grabs|available}. And as Diesel readied {to take|to consider} the stage, Captains Kelly and Galvin and their crew slipped away to finalise the operational {aspects of|facets of} the flight.

{In the|Within the} briefing room, Captain Kelly and First Officer Allan agreed upon a fuel load, before Captain Galvin phoned it through to Load Control. Captain Kelly then addressed the Cabin Crew, who had all donated their time to operate the flight. He emphasised the importance of safety on a flight that was undoubtedly full of excitement and a little different to the long sectors that the 747 normally undertook. He also highlighted {that while|that even though} the arrival may seem different, it was nothing out of the ordinary – it was simply a visual circuit.

With the final details submitted and the crew briefed, the minutes were counting down. While the passengers were busy bidding and enjoying the entertainment, the crew made its way through the terminal to the farthest domestic gate and the lone bay that could accommodate the expanse of the 747. There they found VH-OJU, refueling hose attached, but otherwise at the ready for the flight South.

Avalon {Bound|Certain|Sure}

On the flight deck, the priorities and procedures remained the same. Checklists, briefings and panel scans flowed, only interrupted {by the|from the|with the} occasional question, or visit by a camera crew. {Each time|Every time}, the crew carefully retraced their steps and recommenced their procedures to ensure the interruption did not result in an oversight.

By now {the upper|the top|top of the} deck passengers were boarding and hum of discussion filtered subtly onto the flight deck. The time for departure was closing in and the fuel still {had to be|needed to be} loaded entirely. The critical nature of the timing {was not|had not been} assisted by Sydney’ s winds either, requiring {a long|a lengthy|an extended} taxi to depart off Runway 34 Left and requiring a series of turns {before the|prior to the} 747 was even pointing towards Avalon. The aim was to touchdown twenty minutes before the 0900 deadline {and with|along with|with} every minute that passed, it was looking more difficult. {And then|After which|And after that} the refueling was completed.

The final paperwork was signed off {and the|as well as the} final ground staff disembarked. Doors closed, pushed {back and|as well as} engines started, the 747 was cleared to taxi. Photographers were perched on Shep’ s Mound as QF1360 passed by {and it was|also it was|and it also was} apparent from the first transmission that air traffic control (ATC) was {aware of|conscious of} the nature of the flight {and the|as well as the} importance of its arrival time into Avalon.

With the cabin secure {and the|as well as the} checklists complete, VH-OJU {lined up|arranged} on the runway and {shortly after|soon after} Captain Kelly raised its nosewheel into the air, allowing the graceful airframe {to take|to consider} flight.

The morning sun provided {the backdrop|the setting} to a spectacular view of Sydney Harbour as the 747 made a left {turn to|consider|use} the west and ATC let them know they would clear {them to|these to} the south as soon as possible, {which they|that they} did within minutes. {With the|Using the|With all the} course set, Captain Kelly increased the speed for the climb and cruise, deciding to fly at a lower level than planned to further {reduce the|slow up the} flight time.

Low cloud filled the valleys in the Southern Highlands before Canberra poked its head through a layer of stratus. The crew busily programmed the Flight Management Computer (FMC) with the expected arrival and briefed the descent, approach and landing, just as they had done in the simulator in the days preceding the flight. As expected, {the weather was|the elements was} hot and windy and favouring Runway 36 at Avalon.

To offer the crowd a view of the four-engined legend {and still|but still} meet the stringent timeline, {the plan was|the program was|the master plan was} to arrive at Avalon from the north as if flying an approach to Runway 18, albeit higher than the profile {needed to|required to|necessary to} land. On reaching the runway, Captain Kelly would turn right to position the aircraft parallel to the runway complex on a left down wind leg, before completing the circuit to land on Runway 36. {It was|It had been} a manoeuvre they had rehearsed, and that ATC was anticipating when they cleared QF1360 to commence descent.

As the destination grew ever closer and the aircraft lower, the surrounding scenery was a poignant reminder of the cause behind the flight. In every direction the landscape was brown, creek beds were {little more|a bit more} than clay and the heat seemed to rise up from the parched earth. As the 747’ s shadow clipped across the ground it seemed to offer the only relief from the harsh {rays of the sun|sun}. The drought was hitting hard and those on the land deserved all the assistance {that could be|that may be|that might be} offered.

A shadow of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU enroute to Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

A shadow of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU enroute to Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

The Qantas Rural Aid Charity Flight on approach to Avalon Airport. (Owen Zupp)

The Qantas Rural Aid Charity Flight on approach to Avalon Airport. (Owen Zupp)

As the runway loomed ahead, Captain Kelly called for First Officer Allan to lower a stage of flap {as he|when he} eased the jet’ s nose down. Reaching 1, 500 feet, he levelled the 747, moved slightly right of the runway centerline before continuing into a right turn as planned. Below the crowd pointed and cameras clicked and the queue to the airshow was already winding on for what seemed kilometres.

The crew’ s focus alternated between configuring the aircraft, monitoring the instruments and flying the visual approach with “ eyes outside”. Rolling onto “ final”, with landing gear and flaps extended and checklists complete, the 747 was cleared to land. {As the|Since the|Because the} radio altimeter counted {down the|over the|throughout the} feet, Captain Kelly eased back on the control column and thrust levers {to lower|to reduce} the Boeing smoothly onto the runway. Lowering the nosewheel, reverse thrust was deployed to idle. {The time was|Time was} 0939.

Needing to turn around at the far end of the runway, the 747 rolled out, smoothly decelerating before backtracking {in front of|before} an enthusiastic crowd line. {As the|Since the|Because the} aircraft exited the runway and moved towards her parking space, the crowd moved with her {and the|as well as the} admiration for the “ Queen of the Skies” was plain to see.

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU operating the Qantas Rural Aid charity flight to Avalon Airport. (Cameron Hines)

Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU operating the Qantas Rural Aid charity flight to Avalon Airport. (Cameron Hines)

Qantas Captain Mark Kelly in the flight deck of Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU. (Owen Zupp)

Qantas Captain Mark Kelly in the flight deck of Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU. (Owen Zupp)

A Special {Day|Day time|Time}

From {before the|prior to the} first passenger had arrived that morning, Qantas’ s public relations manager Amanda Bolger had been a driving force of enthusiasm. Enroute to Avalon she had seen to the passengers, the media and the range of activities {taking place|happening|occurring} in the cabin on the relatively short flight. Once the aircraft had parked, she was steering the passengers toward the flight deck where one by one they were given rare access to the flight deck of the Boeing 747.

Some wore T-shirts they had made specifically for {the day|your day|the afternoon}, while others related their past experiences on the 747. {Young and old|Old and young}, they excitedly took photos and tried on the Captain’ s hat for size, as the crew answered questions and listened intently. {At the end of|In late} the queue, flight attendants took their turn “ up front” with some peeking out of the overhead escape hatch at the sea of aircraft and people that surrounded them.

Qantas Captain Mark Kelly speaks with reporters in the flight deck of Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon. (Owen Zupp)

Qantas Captain Mark Kelly speaks with reporters {in the|within the} flight deck of Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon. (Owen Zupp)

A passenger visits the flight deck of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon Airport. (Owen Zupp)

A passenger visits the flight deck of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU at Avalon Airport. (Owen Zupp)

When it was time to leave the aircraft, the airshow lay ahead, but only after more photos were taken beside VH-OJU and many more stories were related.

From roaring military hardware to tumbling aerobatics, the skies were filled with aircraft great and small. The heat was unrelenting, and the wind threw the dust about, but that was the sideshow {and it was|also it was|and it also was} tolerable to witness what was taking place overhead.

For the privileged passengers of the Qantas Rural Aid Charity Flight, they still had one more appointment {as the|since the|because the} air show drew {to a|to some} close in the afternoon {and the|as well as the} crowds filed out the gate. Renumbered as QF1361, the sector home to Sydney still remained.

A little more subdued after an extraordinary day, the passengers filed onto VH-OJU {for the|for that|for your} return flight with the crew having boarded some time earlier to ready the aircraft. {Once again|Once more}, the planning, the briefing, the checklists and procedures were conducted methodically to ready the 747.

Outside, numerous light aircraft {and the|as well as the} occasional military machine departed Avalon as the 747’ s four engines came to life {and the|as well as the} aircraft prepared to taxi. {This time|This time around|Now} the long taxi {was a|was obviously a} backtrack down Runway 36 past the remaining crowd members who had stayed {to say|to express|to state} farewell. Lined up on Runway 36, the thrust levers were advanced again {and as|so that as} the aircraft lifted {in to the|into the|in the} skies, the white marquees and grey military tail fins became a blur before they finally fell way from the climbing 747.

A look at the wing of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU when it was at Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

A look at the wing of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU when it was at Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

A look at Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU when it was at Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

A look at Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJU {when it was|in order to was} at Avalon Airport for the Qantas Rural Aid Charity flight. (Owen Zupp)

A Flight with a Heart

From its conception to its conclusion, the Qantas Rural Aid Charity Flight was so much more than just another sector. Born of the {concept of|idea of} helping our people {on the|around the|within the} land, it was facilitated {by the|from the|with the} generosity of Qantas and executed by a team of volunteers, on the ground an {in the air|up}. It offered those with a passion for aviation {an unique|a distinctive} opportunity to bond with a special aircraft before it slips from our skies .

In dollar terms, the flight raised an incredible $138, 000 for Rural Aid {but it also|it also} raised awareness of our farmers’ plight. It saw the crew donating time and skill to do what they love and for a small band of enthusiasts to share their love of a classic aircraft {in the|within the} pursuit of a worthy cause.

Long before Captain Kelly raised the nosewheel, this was more than just another flight for all concerned. This was a flight with heart.

For more information about Rural Aid, go to the organisation’ s website .