Halfway over the Pacific, I’m sitting in seat 6A, which is not the normal seat for me. Usually I’m on the upper deck, front row, right seat, monitoring the systems and instruments of this Boeing 747-400, but today is no ordinary day.
We started this trip in Taipei, noon on an ordinary Tuesday for most people, but for a few of us, a very special one. Today’s trip will be the last for B-16411, a Boeing 747-400 built in 1998 and configured for 372 passengers. So much space but a mere four seats are occupied.
Captain Steven Chern, Captain Horacio Rubio, First Officer Philip Everaert and myself, are the lucky ones to say the last goodbye to this beautiful airplane. An international crew brought together by the wonders of aviation. Taiwan, Mexico, Belgium, and Costa Rica are all represented in the flight deck of this special ferry flight.
We met at our dispatch office two hours before the departure time to review the flight plan, weather and all the pertinent information. We used a coin to decide which crew will takeoff and which one will land. I got the landing part, along with Captain Rubio.
We made our way to the airport and then to our gate, C2. The airplane was being towed as we got there. There she was, magnificent, elegant, proud of her 19 years in the air carrying millions of passengers.
We made our way to the upper deck and started working.
While the takeoff crew programmed the FMS, the other crew went for the walk-around, or exterior inspection of the aircraft. Of course I took my camera outside for a few last pictures. Outside of the airplane you could tell the love people have for this aircraft. Mechanics, ground staff, airport staff — all of them taking the last view and their last pictures of the 747.
Fueling complete with 112.7 tons of fuel for the 11 hour and 35 minute trip to San Bernardino, Calif. With no cargo or passengers the load was pretty light, only 297 tons for takeoff. Pushback started and after the final goodbye from the ground crew we taxied to runway 05R.
There was no water salute, no party, no last souvenirs — those things were reserved for the last flight with passengers, which happened a few days before from Hong Kong to Taipei.
We took off under the vigilant eyes of airplane spotters around the airport, probably the only ones who anxiously awaited our departure and waited to get their final picture of our passenger 747.
As we head towards the west coast of Japan and then the Pacific Ocean, the crews split.
Of course part of this time is used to walk around the empty airplane, contemplating the seats that have carried millions of passengers, that have seen so many stories and have flown thousands of miles. I took a few pictures, sat down in a few seats and then had my lunch in business class.
We all took the time to enjoy our last time with the airplane and took a lot of pictures to remember this last flight.
Eleven hours and a half went by and we finally descended towards San Bernardino. We got vectors over the airport for a right base onto runway 06. With a weight of less than 200 tons, the approach speed was very low (around 135 knots), not really common for us, which also adds to the interesting aspect of the flight.
The last landing ever. Touchdown and full reverse, the roar of those CF6 engines tells everyone around that we are here. We taxied towards the ramp and shut down. One by one, the engines started to spool down. The cockpit went quiet and we continued our shutdown checklists. The ground crew came up and greeted us. Time to leave, to say goodbye.
The engines are the most valuable part of the airplane. They will be overhauled and resold, but the rest will stay on the ground and be used as spare parts for other 747s flying around. Curiously, after we parked, a Korean Air 747-400 also parked next to us. Another Queen reaches her retirement age.
In the meantime, I keep enjoying every flight I do on my favorite airplane as a pilot, airplane spotter and aviation fan. One more flight, one last flight.
Long live the Queen.
This story was updated on Sep. 20, 2017 at 9:44 p.m. to correct a misspelling of a name.
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