The world’s first flight from London to Australia touches down in Darwin. It took 28 days. Hudson Fysh, one of the men who would go on to found Qantas was first to meet it – he’d just built the airfield, and with Paul McGinness had plotted an air route across Queensland and the Northern Territory to get there. In this moment, they recognised the potential to link up outback towns in short hops, and distant continents in long-haul leaps. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services was born one year later.
With a new name to reflect its overseas ambitions, Qantas Empire Airways made its first international flight. In February, a Qantas four-engine de Havilland DH86 flew airmail to Singapore, with Britain’s Imperial Airways taking it onto London. By April, passengers were on board, too. These were among the earliest codeshare arrangements. One leg over Mussolini’s Italy had to be completed by train. Still, it was faster than the six-week voyage by boat.
Flying boats joined the Qantas fleet. The Dreamliners of their day, they represented a new era of space, style and comfort, with in-flight meals and reclining seats. They made their inaugural flight from Sydney in July, taking off from the international ‘airport’ in Sydney Harbour’s Rose Bay and again linking arms with Imperial Airways in Singapore. It was the pinnacle of an incredible decade of progress – but world war loomed.
During the Second World War, mail couldn’t be delivered across the Mediterranean. It was instead sent from London to South Africa by sea, and then flown to Sydney on an unlikely flight path that followed the coastline of the Indian Ocean around in a giant semi-circle, making more than 40 stops along the way. It was called the Horseshoe Route. Qantas operated the 11-stop leg between Singapore and Sydney, and then onto Auckland.
Singapore was the critical hub for all Australia-UK operations. When it fell in 1942, Qantas was forced to improvise – attempting a new route to bridge the communications gap to Britain. It was, and remains, the longest passenger flight by elapsed time in aviation history. From 1943, 30-hour flights spanned the Indian Ocean between Perth and Colombo in today’s Sri Lanka. Pilots had to operate in total radio silence, using celestial navigation to find their way. Passengers spent so long in the air that they saw the sun rise twice and were presented with a certificate upon landing inducting them into the Rare and Secret Order of the Double Sunrise. Hundreds of these flights took place over two years. Every one of them landed without incident.
Qantas was operating larger Liberator aircraft on its Indian Ocean route by the war’s end, and for the first time, the flying kangaroo emblem joined passengers and crew on their journey. The Kangaroo Service was born – but flights still had to meet their British partners half-way along the journey at Karachi to hand over passengers for the final legs to London. To fly higher and further, the airline sorely needed an even larger aircraft with a pressurised cabin.
The Qantas ‘Connie’, which operated the first service from Sydney all the way to London. It reduced the journey time from 10 days to 58 hours
The American-built Lockheed Constellation was a spectacular and revolutionary long-range aircraft. When Qantas took delivery of the ‘Connie’ in 1947, the Kangaroo Route to London could finally be made whole. The newly-nationalised airline operated the first service from Sydney all the way to London in December. A journey that had taken almost ten days on a flying boat in 1938 was now reduced to 58 flying hours.
The sleeker Super Constellation, which joined the fleet in 1954, began operating Qantas’s first round-the-world service. In 1958, two ‘Super Connies’ departed Sydney at the same time. One headed westbound along the Kangaroo Route and one headed the other direction over the Pacific. They both passed through London on their opposite paths back home.
Everything changed when the Boeing 707 passenger jet joined the Qantas fleet. Qantas was the first non-US airline to take delivery of this revolutionary aircraft, which halved travel times to distant continents and ushered in the modern era of aviation.
Everything changed when the Boeing 707 passenger jet joined the Qantas fleet
When the Qantas 707 began flying the Kangaroo Route on October 27, it marked the first commercial jet service between England and Australia.
Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747 jumbo jets and started flying them to London in November. The instantly recognisable aircraft transformed the economics of flying and put overseas travel within reach of all Australians for the first time. By the end of the decade, Qantas was the only airline in the world with a fleet that consisted entirely of Boeing 747s.
A brand new Qantas Boeing 747-400, VH-OJA flew non-stop from London to Sydney, breaking the record for the world’s flight by a commercial aircraft. The new jumbo fleet was named Longreach – a nod to past origins and vast distances – and OJA ran on a special, high-density fuel. Passengers and crew spent 20 hours and nine minutes in the air.
Qantas began the first-ever non-stop scheduled passenger service between Australia and the United Kingdom, departing Perth for Heathrow in the state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The service finally connected the last two populated continents on earth not linked by a single regular flight, and it instantly became the most popular route on Qantas’s entire network.
Replicating the record-breaking journey aboard the jumbo jet 30 years earlier, a Qantas Dreamliner will fly non-stop from London to Sydney – only in less time and with almost half the fuel.