Racing a Boeing with the company car - Blackbourn 443

By: Rob Blackbourn

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qantas plane qantas plane

Can you remember running late on your way to the airport and just making it on time? Rob does

With regular Friday lunches at our favourite Vietnamese suspended again, some conversations with the mates have migrated to email. A recent topic was the Boeing 747’s swansong. Van Driesum kicked off the nostalgia-fest by describing his experiences with them including his first 747 flight in 1973. In my case, while I’ve enjoyed the odd 747 flight over the years, my strongest Jumbo memory is my first sighting in 1971.

Leaving a meeting at Ford’s Product Engineering Centre in Geelong at dusk, I pointed the XY GT up the Princes Highway to head home to Melbourne. It was a nice night, the Falcon was rumbling along pleasingly, a blues number on the eight-track cartridge was setting the mood, and the open sunroof revealed a cloudless sky dotted with stars.

Just out of Norlane I spotted the big girl…

High to my right, she was coming in over the bay with all the cabin lights on, looking amazing, like a flying block of flats.

Then the penny dropped: the 747 was going to land at Avalon airport just a few miles up the road – Qantas was known to be using the Avalon airport as a 747 training base for its crews.


Knowing it would be a sweet moment at the end of a long day to see the monster landing, I hastily nutted out a plan. With the 747 way too high at this point to be able to land at Avalon I guessed that it would continue its descent to somewhere way past the airport, perhaps the Bacchus Marsh area, before pulling a giant U-turn to commence its final approach into Avalon. That course would bring it straight across the highway, quite low, just before touching down. Perfect! So I thought I’ll scoot along a bit and pull up beside the road, in good time to jump out, ready to see it come in over me. Who knows, I might even manage a sniff of Jet A exhaust fumes from its wake.

Then the degree of difficulty ramped up when it occurred to me that the Jumbo was actually travelling way faster than it appeared to be from the ground. While I had no idea what its current speed was I knew that they land not far shy of 300km/h! With panic setting in as I realised I might be struggling to actually make it in time, I floored the throttle (after quickly checking the mirrors), like a man on a mission.

Various examples of 5.8-litre manual GT Falcons like the one I was driving typically maxed out at anywhere between 120mph (195km/h) and 140mph (225km/h) according to their speedos. Whatever this one was capable of, that’s what it was doing, for what seemed like an eternity. Then suddenly I was there, just in time for a glimpse through the flying Falcon’s open sunroof of the Jumbo momentarily blotting out the sky. Its incredible bulk, the beams of its landing lights and the ridiculous number of dangling wheels are the details that stay with me. An unforgettable moment...

The recent media spotlight on the Boeing 747 aroused my curiosity about what lies beneath its skin, prompting me to dig into some of its tech-data. Calculating XY GT equivalents for this column of a couple of the 747 items provides an interesting comparison in terms of scale with the big Boeing: A GT travelling 200km in an hour would use about 60kg of fuel, while a 747 travelling 900km in an hour would burn around 10 tonnes of fuel. On the other hand each of a fully loaded GT’s four tyres would carry about 500kg, while each of a taxying 747’s 18 tyres would carry 21 tonnes. 


From Unique Cars #443, Aug 2020

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