Farewell Queen of the Skies

Posted by in Transport, Travel

The Brushwing of Cathay Pacific flying high above Hukou (Taiwan) by KH, BOAC by BA media centre and lift off for the Air NZ’s ghost koru, (You Tube).

*CAUTION: Contains weepy video links and Playlist!


In 2014 I wrote on my old blog about the retirement of the final long-haul flights of both Cathay Pacific (CX) and Air New Zealand’s beautiful 747’s, nicknamed the Jumbo Jet or the Queen of the Skies. Now in July 2020 they are to be joined by the British Airways (BA) fleet – another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This aircraft is special to me for its design (something so huge that can look so endearingly friendly) and in that it is more or less my age. In addition the architect Norman Foster looked on the 747 as a building (a little like Brian Eno viewing the recording studio as an instrument in its own right).

Quick note on the video links, it’s amazing how little coverage the airlines official channels give to the Queen’s that served them so well. Cathay Pacific’s video above runs to only 31 seconds and no sign of the brush wing livery.

Air NZ do a little better at 1:40 while America’s UNITED give it a better airing at 6:05. Nothing official from British Airways or Virgin Atlantic at the time of writing (beyond a standard press release). 

EVA AIR (Taipei) and Korean Air (HK) by KH, JAL (LHR) by Jason Lane, Iraqi (LHR) by Fergal Goodman and Varig (LHR) unknown photog.

The Boeing 747 is the commuter train of the global village – Hendrik Tennekes


The 747 brought the world and its cultures together with more comfort and speed than ever. That the plane was a commercial success not just for American carriers TWA and PAN AM but for Air India, PIA (Pakistan International), Korean Air, JAL (Japan Airlines), Korean Air, JAL, EVA AIR, Singapore, THAI, Malaysia, QANTAS, South African Airways, Saudia, Air France and Lufthansa, even Iraq Air, says it all – everyone wanted in on the plane with the bump on its head.

My own history begins not with BA but America’s TWA from Heathrow, itself almost as much a temple of culture as the Barbican, to LA, I don’t remember much about that one but it’s also given due reference on the Remember That Flight blog, link below. My second excursion was in 1977 with BA from Auckland to the legendary Kai Tak in Hong Kong and on to London (LHR) via Delhi, Tehran and Rome.

The SP arrives in Welly, 1981, photos by Phillip Capper (Flickr).

In 1981 I was present as the QANTAS 747SP touched down in Wellington, New Zealand – a big deal for Welly as its runway is notoriously short. I would have seen Captain Phillip Capper (who took the images above) without knowing it. From his notes we can see this plane lasted only three years on the Trans-Tasman route and was broken up in America in 2004. QANTAS have also retired the remainder of their jumbo’s in 2020.

BA (Richard Silagi) and Malaysian (unknown photog) at AKL and a farewell from AirNZ media.


One of the first photos I ever took was of a BA 747 at Auckland in March 1983 and sad to say that picture has been lost on the hard drive of doom so I’ve had to use Richard Silagi’s shot above. Another two years and I was on board QANTAS QF2 to Sydney (also out of Heathrow, almost a spiritual home for me). In 2002 I was again fortunate to fly the sky-queen from Auckland this time on Malaysian back to LHR via its base in Kuala Lumpur.

I never flew with Air NZ’s version though I did fly with CX on its LHR-HKG route back in 2010. Almost certainly my last trip on the jumbo (there is still the possibility of the 747-8 more on later) and she was always a pleasure to fly though like any other plane not as safe or invincible as she felt to me (you can read about all of these journey’s on my Remember That Flight blog).

Cathay Pacific and China Airlines at HK by KH, Cathay lift off from KHH by KH

I continued to photograph jumbo’s even if I were not flying on them – such was their majesty. See China Airlines at HK and Cathay Pacific at Kaohsiung in Taiwan; the latter flying back to base in HK, a distance of about 500 miles – like flying a jumbo between Glasgow and London – truly astounding!

Lufthansa arriving in HK by Dennis HKG, BA landing by Nick Morrish BA media centre, BOAC by Stuart Bailey and sunset shot BA media.

Back in 2014 it was hoped more carriers would purchase the new 747-8 craft. Airlines such as Lufthansa whom it suited well on the times I spotted it at Hong Kong but sadly it was slow to sell in the commercial sphere and now the virus has well and truly killed off the jumbo.

Ironically Air China is one of the few commercial customers flying the 747-8. As for BA’s 747-400’s Heathrow will seem strange without them. Farewell ‘speedbird’ rest well.

Hello Adventure


*As of July 20 2020 Lufthansa has 8 of its 747-800s in operation (the other 11 parked). Their 400s may never fly again. Thanks to Anja at Lufthansa media for the info.

And thanks to you for reading, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out my MEDIA and UNIVERSITY pages.

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The Nest That Sailed the Sky – Peter Gabriel
Always Returning 2 – Brian Eno
Waiting to Land – July Skies
Returning II – Robert Fripp

Boeing 747: A History – Martin W Bowman
Boeing 747: Queen of the Skies  – Owen Zupp
Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot – Mark Vanhoenacker (a beautiful but sometimes meandering prose from a 747 captain)

Photo Credits:
Cathay Pacific (over Taiwan) by KH
BOAC and red arrows, British Airways media
Air NZ (Ghost Koru) screenshot from You Tube video by ??
EVA AIR (TPE) and Korean Air (HK) by KH
JAL at LHR by Jason Lane
Iraqi at LHR by Fergal Goodman (airhistory.net)
Varig at LHR, 1992, unknown photographer
QANTAS SP at Welly by Phillip Capper (flickr)
British Airways at AKL by Richard Silagi (wiki)
Malaysia at AKL, unknown photographer
Air NZ farewell from Air New Zealand media
China Airlines and Cathay Pacific (HK and KHH) by KH
Lufthansa landing in HK by Dennis HKG (flickr)
BA landing by Nick Morrish, British Airways media
BOAC livery by Stuart Bailey
Sunset on the 747, British Airways media