A brand new Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner has just touched down in Sydney after completing the second Project Sunrise research flight from London. It has been a long time between drinks for Qantas. The last time they flew directly between London and Sydney was in 1989 when the airline brought its first 747-400 to Australia.
Thirty years later, it's another time. But ultra-long haul flights such as London to Sydney are still a difficult proposition. Today's research flight hopes to help overcome that.
From seven months to less than a day
QF7879, powered by VH-ZNJ is only the second time this direct flight has been attempted. It is a 17,000 mile marathon that has taken over nineteen hours to complete. Sounds like a long walk? In 1788, it took the British seven months to sail between London and Sydney's Botany Bay (ironically, where Sydney Airport sits).
Qantas notes that it is also almost 100 years to the day since the first flight between the UK and Australia. On November 12, 1919, an aircraft took off from Hounslow Heath (near today's Heathrow airport) and moved into Darwin 28 days later. In another of life's little ironies, VH-ZNJ went over the top of Darwin this morning.
It was not until 1947 that Qantas first operated scheduled services between Australia and the United Kingdom. These flights took five days and involved six stops, a significant improvement of 28 days and a huge leap forward from seven months in a leaking boat.
Now Qantas is looking to do the distance in under a day without stopping. When you look at how the tyranny of distance has been reduced so much in such a short time frame, it is remarkable in a way.
Today's Research Flight
Today's flight departed from London yesterday morning, Thursday, November 14, 2019. It tracked across Germany, Poland, Kazakhstan, down through China, skirted just west of the Philippines before flying over Northern Territory this morning. It has cruised to 957 kilometers per hour at 12 510 meters. On board the aircraft are 50 passengers, human guinea pigs in this research aircraft from Project Sunrise.
The point of these research flights, as reported extensively in Simple To Fly, is to try to establish ways to mitigate the worst effects of ultra-long flight for passengers and crew . This involves experimenting with rest times and cycles, what is eaten on board, training and rebuilding the cabin.
The first Project Sunrise flight was criticized as a faux scientific publicity stunt. Flying fifty passengers in a business class halfway around the world did not reflect the reality of ultra long-haul flights in a full economy class cabin. It will be interesting to see where the passengers on today's aircraft were seated and whether the inflight experience simulated conditions most passengers will have to endure.
Simple Flying will keep you updated on passenger feedback and reactions on QF7879 as they come through the airport. Right now all we can say is that the plane is safely on the ground on a hot and hazy spring day in Sydney.