The Traveling Steve's

Touring the Boeing 747 at HARS Aviation Museum!

On our last full day in Sydney, Steve (DOS) and I had an awesome experience touring the HARS Aviation Museum. The all volunteer-run museum is about an hour and a half south of Sydney, and is a must-see if you are an aviation buff like us, and visiting the area. I first heard about HARS via a You Tube Video, and told Steve DOS we had to go see this, a couple months before we left for Australia.

HARS is an acronym for “Historic Aircraft Restoration Society” and is run by all volunteer airline enthusiasts who are passionate about aircraft and the industry itself, many having worked for Qantas. Prior to leaving the U.S. for our trip to Australia, I called the HARS museum in Australia, and booked the 747 VIP Tour Experience directly with the museum director Dave, for DOS and myself. The 747 VIP tour offers an in-depth and up-close (literally) tour of an actual Qantas 747-400 series jet, that was donated by Qantas after flying some 25 years and was being taken out of service. This Qantas 747-400 jumbo known as the City of Canberra (which FYI is the Capital of Australia), with registration number VH-OJA. The 747 VIP tour is limited to only 4 passengers due to the in-depth and personal experiences it covers. (Our tour only had 3 passengers, including DOS and myself.)

When I originally booked the 747 tour, I was planning on DOS and I taking the train from Sydney (which parallels the freeway) to the HARS museum, and I had seen this as an option to take on their website, in lieu of driving. I didn’t want to rent a car and drive down there for multiple reasons, the biggest one being driving on the left vs the right hand side of the road, not to mention the logistics of obtaining the rental car and returning it. DOS, however, did not want to take the train as he thought it would be busy, confusing, and would be difficult taking the wheelchair aboard. (I hate saying it, but DOS was correct, and fortunately we arranged roundtrip transportation from the hotel to the museum.)

Fortunately, the driver who picked us up at the airport a few days earlier on our arrival to Sydney arranged for us roundtrip transportation from our hotel (the Hyatt Regency Sydney) to the HARS museum, and gave us a bit of tour along the way. This could not have worked out better for us, and as fate would have it, there had been flooding in the days proceeding our trip, (as well as heavy rain on our return trip from HARS) which impacted the rail service to Albion Park , which is where HARS is located. Fortunately the weather forecast was for rain the entire day, which would have put a damper on our indoor/outdoor tour of the 747, but the rain held off until our afternoon drive home, which our driver took us on the slower but scenic coastal road back to Sydney.

So, our day trip to HARS started with a 8am pickup by our driver John, in a Tesla model Y. (John had picked us up from the airport in a Tesla X model, but had told us he would use a Y model for this trip as I mentioned we were looking to buy a Y (SUV-type) model later in the year. We had a comfortable journey to HARS mostly via freeway thru the hills and valleys, the esplanade he called it, which overlooked the various seaside towns down below. We made a brief stop at a nice rest area, which had a welcome center and information on the area, as well as spectacular views overlooking the sea and cities below in the distance.

We arrived at HARS Museum in Albion Park, NSW around 10:15am, and immediately noticed the giant Qantas 747 in the airfield outside the museum entrance. We went in the museum and right away met up with our crew for the next 3hours or so: Captain Kevin, Engineer Ron, Customer Service Manager Geoff, and Flight Attendant Karen. Of all the things I loved about HARS, the fact that it’s run by airline volunteers, (all of our crew were former Qantas employees), who had worked their careers in the aviation industry, and in this case our crew had worked specifically on the Boeing 747 and could relate their experiences to us. FYI trivia: Qantas is an acronym for “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services”.

The HARS Museum 747 VIP tour was like a childhood dream for me! Even as a kid, I collected airline timetables, and was always amazed at the jumbo jets that even featured movies aboard the flights! (Compare that to today’s jumbo jets that offer individual TV screens for passengers with video on demand vs formerly one movie that the whole plane watched together!) I never knew at my young age that one day I would be traveling extensively for work and pleasure, and would be riding in these jumbo jets as a passenger, not to mention meeting my parter Steve (DOS) who was a 777 Captain for years before retiring.

The 747 VIP tour was divided up into 3 sections, with each former Qantas employee providing an individual and personalized overview of their responsibilities when they worked on the 747, as well as pointing out key instruments and/or parts of the cabin off limits to the general public (i.e. crew sleeping quarters, cockpit, jet engines, underneath the plane’s belly, etc). The VIP tour is limited to four guests, and our tour only had three people on it (DOS, myself, and a man visiting from China).

We were handed a purple “safety vests” to wear indicating we were on the VIP tour, as well as giving us a feeling of working as an employee airside by the plane. We then headed up the outside stairs to the 747 entrance door, high above the ground level.

We were greeted at the door by our Flight Attendant (FA) Karen, who handed us a Qantas boarding pass inside a ticket envelope showing our seats (1A and 2A First Class) and our destination, HARS Museum at Shellharbour Airport. The boarding pass was a classy touch and a fun welcome aboard the jumbo jet. As I got seated, I instinctively put my seat belt on (from so many years of flying!) like we were getting ready to take-off! In a sense we were, just by using a bit of imagination, and thinking back to what it must have been to fly on this plane.

Once we were comfortably seated in FirstClass, we were shown a video that gave us some background information on the HARS museum, and specifically the Boeing 747-400 series jet that we were aboard, which is permanently on display there. The 747 (donated by Qantas back in 2015) was the first of their many 747-400 series 747s in service over the years, and had a call sign of VH-OJA. More trivia: All of their 747-400’s were nicknamed “Longreach”, the result of an employee naming contest, with the winning entry submitted by a pilot.

This 747 has the distinction of making two world records: one being the longest commercial flight, (from London to Sydney) and the other being the shortest flight by a 747 when it was flown from Sydney to the HARS museum at Shellharbour Airport which is actually a small but active airport, also know as Albion Park for the rail service there. The longest flight was a special flight from London to Sydney (with only 23 VIP passengers) and covering a distance of over 18,012 Kilometers (11,192 miles) in slightly over 20 hours.

The shortest flight was on its delivery from Sydney to the HARS airport, which would be its final flight of its career. It must have been a bittersweet day as the City of Canberra sets down to the cheer crowds for the final time, as seen in this You Tube Video and photo below.

After the video, we walked thru the plane a bit, and then exited the 747 via the stairs, and were given a ground maintenance tour of the 747 by Engineer Ron. Ron, like the other volunteers guiding our tour, had worked on the 747 for much of his career. He had trained at the Boeing factory in Seattle, as well as in-house for recurring training, and had been based in several different parts of the world at some point.

Ron said in the U.S. he would be called a technician, but his engineer job title has the same responsibilities; basically ensuring the maintenance is up to date, the plane is refueled properly, lavatories drained, any parts need replacing, any alarms and other malfunctions are dealt with, etc, and bottom-line ensuring the plane is safe to fly. I’m simplifying his duties as they were so overwhelming in scope but it takes a team of people to do all these jobs. I was really in awe just standing beneath the humongous 747! It’s unbelievable how something this big can actually fly!

We asked Ron lots of questions, made comments etc, but it really amazes me how the airlines can turn around a 747 (or any plane for that matter) so quickly with so many (literally over 6 million parts) moving parts.

I now have such an added appreciation for maintenance delays, and feel assured that the engineers such as Ron that have to sign off on the work for a flight, have done all that was required for the plane to fly; i.e. they can’t be rushed by the time or delays it causes, which while frustrating for passengers and crew sometimes, is a huge safety thing for which we should all be grateful.

Ron gave us an amazing overview of some of the key parts of the plane and where they were located, such as various sensors for the altimeter, the TCAS sensor etc, as well as the more obvious parts such as the landing gear and jet engines. There was a ladder placed against the plane that lead up into the under-belly of the jumbo for some key control equipment, and we could even walk up there if we desired, but as it was a tight space and my stair maneuvering is not good right now, so DOS and I declined.

There is also a floor hatch in the passenger Business Class cabin (covered up with carpeting normally) that leads to this area as well if necessary for inflight access. We would see this hatch later on in the cabin tour when we toured the plane cabin in more detail, but here is a photo of the “hatch” as seen from aboard the jumbo jet.

Ron also showed us how a plane is refueled and lavatories drained via hoses connected underneath the plane. The fuel tanks are located in the wings, and the fuel required is computed due to the route distance and other factors; i.e. weather, wind etc.

Next we looked at the gigantic landing gear sections, including where it retracts into the plane. I thought the landing gear and the engines were the most interesting to look at, mainly due to the sheer size, and at least these parts were the most known and recognizable to me. The landing gear has several sections of gear (front, under each wing, and center) with several sets of huge tires attached to each landing gear apparatus. It takes a lot of tires and gear to support this plane on the ground, not to mention for taking off and landing!

Ron showed us where the landing gear retracts into the underside of the plane, and let us feel the ruggedness of the huge tires, and see for ourselves just how big the sections of the landing gear are, and the huge “wheel well” they retract into. I couldn’t help but think about those poor people who have tried to stow away in the huge wheel well over the years, and how they would either get crushed by the retracted wheels or freeze to death due to the sub-zero conditions once airborne. Definitely not somewhere you want to be on a plane ride!

Finally we looked at a couple of the giant 747 jet engines (there are 4, two on each side of the plane). These Qantas Boeing 747 engines were made by Rolls Royce. We took a couple of photos by the jet engines, and as everything about this 747 jet, I was in awe of the sheer work that goes into getting this bird into the air, not to mention how it was built in the first place.

One of the engines was in the reverse thrust position (opened up on the side) that showed how the engine slows the plane down upon landing. There was also an engine on display sitting next to the mounted engines, showing the inside of one of these mammoth engines. The 747 is also equipped with a fifth pylon that can be used to transport a fifth engine if necessary for maintenance or transportation to another location, although this is not normally used.

After our amazing tarmac maintenance and operational tour of of the 747 by Engineer Ron, we then ‘boarded’ the jumbo jet. As the 747 was obviously not attached to an airport jetway, we again walked up the huge flight of stairs to reach the main level of the 747.

Once aboard the jumbo jet, we would then have to walk up another level to reach the cockpit and Business Class upper level.

On the upper deck we walked past one of the pilot’s crew rest areas (flat bed and also a business class seat), past the rear upper Business Class lavatory, the upper Business Class section, and finally to the front of the plane’s top deck where the cockpit is located.

The 747 is unique in that the cockpit is located above and slightly back a bit over the First Class rows 1 to 3 below it (each row has 3 windows depending on the configuration); perhaps which gives it such a classy and symmetrical look.

Once there, Captain Kevin had me sit in the “Left Seat”; i.e. the Captain’s position, while DOS sat in the “Right Seat”, or the First Officer’s position. Captain Kevin sat behind us in a jump seat, and guided us (mainly me) thru some of the major controls. As Captain Steve (DOS) had been a 777 pilot before retiring, and had flown a 747 cargo plane early in his career, this was probably a bit repetitive for him, but I was fascinated by everything I saw (and he was too.)

Captain Kevin explained everything in simple terms while pointing out some of the major parts of the cockpit control panel. (The other passenger from China would get a tour by the FA’s while we toured the cockpit, and then we would switch positions when we were done, as only two people could comfortably fit in the cockpit at a time.)

Captain Kevin showed me how they program the flight’s route into the system and even let me punch some of the numbers into the computerized display panel. Likewise I was able to push the four thrust levers up, and also operate the flaps lever. I guess one of my favorite parts was the “seat belt control”, which actually “dinged” when I pushed the button! Oh how many flights I’ve been on when I wanted to turn that seat belt sign off to run to the lavatory! LOL!

I was really surprised by how cramped the 747 cockpit was, at least for the Captain and First Officer’s seats. There was more room behind them for the jump seats, and there was a small restroom for the cockpit crew as well as rest area space in the cockpit as well, but the actual flight seats were quite confining. I asked why the control panels went so high up; it seemed like the windshield view was much more reduced by these controls, but Captain Kevin said it was to use every bit of real estate on the control panel; and basically most of the controls were times four; i.e. one for each engine.

We took several photos in the cockpit (no photography restrictions), and Captain Kevin even showed us a couple of the original 747 flight manuals still in the cockpit.

After our amazing cockpit tour, Steve (DOS) and I walked downstairs to the main level, where FA Karen gave us a tour of the passenger cabins and crew areas of the plane. Karen pointed out a couple of the galleys; one was for drinks, and one was for meals in the front-mid section of the plane. There were other galleys further back for coach passengers as well.

Of special interest, there is small seating area for the Cabin Service Manager (i.e CSM, the Purser) who can control the lighting, video controls, cabin temperature zones, phone the captain or other FA stations among other things from this position etc, all to help ensure a comfortable flight.

We saw some of the lavatories (not operational) including this one that had an M & M theme with characters in it. Karen said that it had been used for a commercial, and film crews sometimes rent the plane for movies with an aviation theme. A quick YouTube search yielded this commercial; not sure if it’s the one used on this plane, but it has the same theme at least.

As we walked towards the back of the plane, we again had a real appreciation for the huge size of this aircraft. When DOS and I fly, we are normally in Business or First Class, so we don’t venture to the back of the plane like this, but I can see how it would get more bumpy in the back of the plane during turbulence, vs the mid or front section of the plane (similar to on a cruise ship). Also it’s such as long walk for the Flight Attendants going back and forth down the aisles, they must really get their exercise each flight and get used to the airborne turbulence.

At the very back of the plane, we were shown where the crew rest spaces are for the Flight Attendants. (The pilot’s rest space is in the front of the plane on the upper level). The FA crew rest space is behind a locked door, with a tiny and narrow staircase (really more like a ladder) that leads upstairs to some crew bunks. I believe there were a total of 8 bunks there and they were like bunk beds with one above the other. It was quite a confining space and dark space, and I didn’t climb up more than a couple stairs, but DOS did although it was still hard to take photos there.

Of special interest were the planes two “Black Boxes”, that are actually bright orange in color for easy identification in the event of a crash. The “Black Boxes” are located right on the other side of the crew bunks and the rear of the plane. I had never seen these black boxes close up, and it’s a bit creepy thinking about it. The black box panel was open for viewing, but normally would be covered up as it’s right next to the lowest crew bunk bed.

After touring the plane cabin, we went down to the main level of the 747, and were joined by Cabin Service Manager Geoff. Geoff had flown the 747 almost his whole 40 year career, and said he literally spent 6 months a year in the jet flying worldwide. Oh the stories he must have, and I only wish we had time to hear a few stories over some drinks! We sat in First Class for a while and listened as Geoff and Karen explained some of their duties, and answered our questions.

We finished up the tour by exiting via the rear stairway of the 747 and headed back into the terminal. We thanked everyone for volunteering their time to give us such as outstanding tour, and keeping the 747 memories alive and ongoing at the HARS museum. We also had a photo taken with and Geoff and Karen before heading to the gift shop and cafe.

While touring the 747, I noted how the interior looked a bit dated, such as the seats, overhead bins, and small TV monitors throughout the plane. This shows how quickly things have changed, however, as aircraft are continuously updated within the cabin, especially in the premium First and Business Class cabins which now offer as standard “lie flat seats” with individual (and much larger) TV monitors and more privacy. This 747 was the first 747-400 delivered to Qantas (and 12th Boeing 747-400 ever produced) and entered service in 1989.

Per the HARS website link above “The City of Canberra was in service for 25.3 years, flew 13,833 flights, carried 4,094,568 passengers and has flown nearly 85 million kilometres, which is equivalent to 110.2 return trips to the moon.”

The City of Canberra 747 was taken out of service in 2015, after 25 years in service. It’s also been 9 years since it went on display in the museum, and I don’t know how many years since its cabin was last updated prior to that, but it has the older First and Business class seats, as well as older overhead bins as it was at the end of its service life.

First Class cain on main (lower) deck.

Business Class Cabin on upper deck of 747. Cockpit door is open in the front of the aircraft past the Business Class seats on the upper level.

Business Class seats on upper level of 747. While there are also Business Class seats on the lower level, these upper level Business Class seats feel more private in this smaller cabin section, and also feature a storage area next to the window seats.

Still, the plane still has the full cabin seating areas remaining as well as the rest of the plane intact as it was when it was delivered; truly a frozen moment in time. The 747 commercial jet has largely been removed from service over the last few years (including Qantas, British Airways, United etc), and Lufthansa is the only carrier I know that still regularly flies its fleet of 747’s to this day, although they are also using the newer 747-800 jets, which is distinguishable by its extra two windows on the rear of the top deck of the hump, past where the staircase is located. Here is a Lufthansa 747-800 we spotted at San Francisco recently on our trip back from Singapore.

Lufthansa 747-800 series jumbo as seen in San Francisco airport, January 2024. Note the 2 extra windows at the back of the top hump, which distinquishes it from the 747-400 series.

Unfortunately for the 747, the overall operating costs, including higher fuel costs, maintenance of operating four engines, increased demand for longer and more frequent long haul flights in smaller aircraft in the post-pandemic world,, more fuel efficient and lighter newer aircraft available such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350, environmental concerns, etc. have sealed the fate for the “Queen of the Sky”, which originally debuted in 1970, over 50 years ago.

Premium Economy on the Qantas 747, arranged in a 2 x 4 x 2 seating arrangement.

One of the Economy sections of the Qantas 747. Economy is configured in a
3 x 4 x 3 seating arrangement.
The huge main section of Economy towards the back of the plane;
also configured in a 3 x 4 x 3 arrangement. Notice even in the Economy section there were seatback (although small) individual monitors for viewing inflight entertainment.

Today’s new generation of twin engine jumbo jets such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350 are certified for much longer overwater distances, (ETOPS) and are built to be much more fuel efficient using composites and other materials which make them lighter weight, as well as provide passengers with more inflight comforts ranging from lower cabin pressure (6000 feet vs 8000 feet), larger overhead bins, premium seating options and privacy, mood lighting in the cabin, larger windows etc, that unfortunately have made the 747 more or less obsolete as its too big and expensive to operate in today’s ever-changing commercial aviation market. (There are still many 747s flying as cargo jets, as well as Lufthansa.)

Anyway, there is so much more to see in the HARS museum, a Connie plane, military aircraft, and lots of memorabilia and other vintage aircraft as well, however our time was limited as our driver was picking us back up at 2pm for our ride back to our Sydney hotel, and we spent the whole time we were there (over 3 hours) on the 747 VIP tour.

Before leaving, we bought a few things in the well stocked gift shop, including a souvenir book, a couple caps, and of course a couple magnets for DOS.

Front desk area in lobby by gift shop and cafe.

We also had a quick lunch in the cafe there next to the gift shop, which too is staffed by volunteers. The staff there and throughout the HARS museum were so wonderful and friendly, and this tour ranks as one of the best and definitely most unique and informative technology/aviation tours I’ve ever taken.

Final thoughts: I can not thank the HARS Aviation Museum and all its volunteers enough for all they do for the aviation enthusiasts and community. Our expectations were not only met with out tour, but they were exceeded exponentially! Thank you Captain Kevin, Engineer Ron, CSM Geoff, and FA Karen, as well as the sweet lady in the cafe (sorry I didn’t catch her name), and the director Dave and his wife (who I met in the gift shop) for making this such as wonderful day and visit for us! We look forward to returning and seeing the rest of the museum on our next trip to Sydney. Until then, safe and happy travels! And huge thanks to Qantas for donating the City of Canberra 747 jumbo jet; truly the Queen of the Skies!

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