British Airways’ final two Heathrow-based Boeing 747 aircraft have set off for their last flights.
The planes took off at the same time on Thursday morning – one destined for an airfield in Kemble, near Cirencester, while the other headed for an airfield near Cardiff.
The much-loved jumbo jets will eventually be broken down for spares, having seen their retirement brought forward by several years because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline.
Speaking ahead of the flights, captain Al Bridger, who’s flown the iconic 747 for three decades, said: “It’s going to be a very emotional day.
“You deliver an aircraft to its destination, you shut it down, it’s almost like switching off its life support for the last time.
“In the past I have actually apologised to aircraft when I’ve done it. It’s going to be a day of mixed emotions.”
The Boeing-made jets are often described as the “Queen of the Skies” and are renowned for their classic looks and stylish engineering.
“It’s going to be missed,” said BA engineer John Moore, who has worked on them for 35 years and witnessed the first ever 747 flight in the US in the early 1970s with his designer father.
“I will be very sad because I’ve four grandchildren and when a jumbo flies over the house they always look up and say ‘that’s one of granddad’s planes’. It’s like losing a member of the family.”
The 747 model has been a mainstay for the airline since the early 1970s but will be replaced by newer aircraft that offer 25% better fuel efficiency.
“You could be anywhere in the world, from Cape Town to Hong Kong to Australia, and when you’d turn up at the airport and see this plane you’d know you were heading home on this gorgeous aircraft,” said Jim Davies from the British Airways Museum.
“It retains this strange, wonderful charisma that people just love to see. She really is the ‘Queen of the Skies’.”
British Airways made the decision in July to retire its fleet of 747s as the impact of the virus virtually brought the global aviation industry to its knees.