On Saturday 10 June 2017, Qantas Founders Museum will host a special dinner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the Boeing 707 VH -XBA (formerly VH-EBA) to Longreach after months of work by a group of dedicated volunteers. Before we celebrate this momentous event, we thought we would remember why our museum’s Boeing 707 is so significant to the history of Qantas and Australian Aviation…
The Boeing 707 was the world’s first practical jet airliner and Qantas was the fifth airline, after Pan American, Air France, Sabena and Lufthansa to order the type when it placed an order for seven of the 138 model in September 1956. In 1959, Qantas was the first airline outside the US to put the 707 into service. Four more would be delivered in 1961 with another two in 1964 before Qantas moved to the 13%-longer 338 model from 1965.
Pan Am started using the 707 on its Atlantic service on October 26th 1958 and Qantas operated the first Pacific 707 service nine months later, on July 29th 1959. Five weeks after that, on September 5th, Qantas became only the third airline behind Pan Am with its 707 and BOAC with its Comet, to operate a jet service across the Atlantic.
When VH-EBA was handed over to Qantas in a ceremony on July 2nd 1959, it was the first Boeing 707 delivered to a non-US customer. That made it the first civilian jet to wear an Australian registration (on June 7th 1959) but it wouldn’t leave Seattle until the 17th because Boeing used it to develop the fifth pod spare engine carrying system.
Qantas, a government-owned airline, used the name ‘City of Canberra’ for aircraft doing first events because that aircraft would have the most publicity. As the first ‘handed over’, VH-EBA wore ‘City of Canberra’ under the flight deck during the ceremony. The name then transferred to VH-EBB which was the first to fly to Australia, departing Seattle on its delivery flight on June 30th and arriving in Sydney on July 2nd. VH-EBA became ‘City of Melbourne’, a name it wore throughout its career with Qantas. Incidentally, VH-EBC did the first scheduled Qantas 707 service on July 29th so became the long-term bearer of the ‘City of Canberra’ name. VH-EBB spent its Qantas life as ‘City of Sydney’.
VH-EBA was the first Qantas 707 to be completed and the first of only thirteen produced to a Qantas specification with a fuselage which was three metres shorter than the normal 100-series 707 to make it viable on the Pacific Ocean route. It had less weight but carried the same fuel.
What made the museum’s 707 special was not just the dramatic impacts it had on air travel but on Australian society as a whole.
It was twice as fast as its predecessor, the Lockheed Super Constellation, carried twice as many passengers and was the first Qantas airliner to have more Tourist/Economy class seats than First class. That combination brought airfares within reach of ordinary Australians for the first time. Where it had taken more than a year for someone on average weekly earnings to save for a ticket from Sydney to London on the Constellation, the 707 brought saving time down to 32 weeks in 1960 and 22 in 1965.
Travel times were substantially reduced so it was possible for a person on the average four weeks’ holiday each year to think seriously about going overseas and getting back in that time. Australians were able to go out and discover the world in ways that had never been possible before.
On top of that, a major task for VH-EBA in its eight years with Qantas was to bring assisted migrants – mostly ‘ten pound Poms’ – into the country. En route from England, it stopped at other European countries and picked up many of the people we then labelled ‘new Australians’. No form of transport before or since played such a significant role in helping Australians discover the world and in creating today’s multi-cultural society.
Many visitors to the museum remember their arrival in Australia on this Qantas Boeing 707 and some even produce photos to prove it.
The aircraft was delivered to the museum in 2007 as VH-XBA because an Airbus 330 is now VH-EBA.
For more information about the Arrival of the Boeing 707 Anniversary Dinner, please follow this link: https://qfom.com.au/event/arrival-of-the-707-anniversary-dinner/