SPENDING 25 hours in a $30 million flight simulator prepared four Qantas pilots for the trickiest landing the VH-OJA ever made.
But what it didn't prepare them for was the overwhelmingly enthusiastic welcome they received as they piloted the 747-400 to its new home at the Illawarra Regional Airport.
"The things you can't simulate are the crowds we could see on every vantage point," said Ossie Miller, the captain of the Qantas 747 fleet.
"The hills and roads were just covered in people and cars, and that was fantastic ... it was really quite a surprise."
Thousands of spectators were on hand for the arrival of the aircraft known as the City of Canberra at its new home at the Illawarra Regional Airport on Sunday.
The record breaking aircraft has been donated to the Historic Aircraft Restoration Society and is being touted as having a future as one of the region's great tourist attractions.
Captain Greg Matthews - the pilot in command of the 15 minute flight from Mascot to the Albion Park Rail airport - said the flight and landing at the small airport went according to plan.
‘‘All the plans we put in place to make this landing as routine as possible all worked very well for us,’’ Captain Matthews said.
Officially the aircraft touched down at the Illawarra Regional Airport ‘‘just after’’ 7.47am.
‘‘Conditions in Sydney were fine, it was a beautiful night in Sydney last night and I was glad to hear there were blue skies and calm winds in the Illawarra,’’ Captain Matthews said.
‘‘There were a few delays leaving Sydney, but we did our best to make good that arrival time.’’
Captain Matthews said the flight was ‘‘a bit sentimental’’.
‘‘But we know the aircraft will be well maintained by HARS and we know it will be looked after as a great tourist attraction.’’
One of four pilots charged with delivering the Qantas 747-400 to the Illawarra Regional Airport on Sunday morning was Michael East.
The last time the former University of Wollongong student touched down at the Illawarra Regional Airport it was behind the controls of a single-engine four-seater.
On Sunday morning he was on a 400 seat aircraft - albeit 400 empty passenger seats.
‘‘The flight this morning went off perfectly, it was beautiful day and I am elated and thrilled to be part of it,’’ the second officer said.‘‘It was perfect conditions, few clouds and a light breeze.
‘‘Coming out of Sydney we had the fire trucks give us a water cannon salute and that was spectacular and coming down the coast it was beautiful.‘‘We were blown away so many people came out to see it.
‘‘On approach there were thousands of people lining the runway with cameras flashing away ... it was a very special moment.
‘‘HARS is fitting place for the aircraft to spend the rest of its life, it is a historic aircraft.
‘‘It will be on display generations to come and will be a great tourist attraction.’’
The 34-year-old said after months of planning it was back to regular duties this week.
‘‘Tokyo this week is my next adventure,’’ he said.
‘‘This has been going on for a few months, Qantas has hundreds of people working on this in all different departments so a huge thank you goes out to them.
‘‘A lot of work has gone into making this happen today.’’
IT was the first time - and perhaps the only time - a 747-400 will land at the Illawarra Regional Airport.
Shellharbour City Council put a number of precautionary measures in place to reduce the potential for damage when the 192-tonne plane touched down on a runway that allows for aircraft of 25 tonnes.
Qantas reduced the tyre pressure on the VH-OJA from the typical 208-212 pounds per square inch to 120 psi, following consultation with manufacturer Boeing.
The council's group manager of city services, Rosemary Crowhurst, described it as a very successful landing.
‘‘We’ve got tyre marks from the wheels and that is all we have got,’’ Ms Crowhurst said.
‘‘We have a little bit of loose rock where it touched ground and a little bit of tyre embedded in the runaway but nothing to cause the runway to close.’’
The aircraft pulled up well short of the end of the 1819m runway before being taxied back to the front of the HARS hangar for photo opportunities.
‘‘You can tell by the marks on the runway he used its brakes really well,’’ Ms Crowhurst said.
The airport’s taxiway was fitted with heavy duty TuffTrak matting to ensure it could handle the weight.
‘‘The aircraft is moving over it really well and the matting should help us spread the load while it is sitting still,’’ Ms Crowhurst said.
‘‘It will sit back about another 100m from [the front of the hangar] for three weeks of maintenance before it is moved back into its final spot.’’
An excited HARS president Bob De La Hunty, who was presented with the keys to aircraft by Captain Greg Matthews, said the landing went incredibly well ‘‘as you would expect from Qantas’’.
Source: Illawarra Mercury