Pictures & Notes From The Virgin Atlantic 747 Farewell

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A couple of weeks ago Virgin Atlantic hosted a very low-key farewell for the last of its Boeing 747 aircraft which, on December 21st, took off from Heathrow in Virgin Atlantic livery for the final time. I was one of just 42 incredibly fortunate people who were able to snap up tickets for the final goodbye and what follows are some of the pictures that I took on the day.

Upon arrival (and after having our temperature taken) guests were ushered inside Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow hangar where we got our first look at ‘Pretty Woman’, the last Virgin Atlantic 747.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow commentary of how the event was run as the point of this post is to share pictures of an incredible aircraft and not to dwell on how a lucky few got to say goodbye, but I’ll add a few words here and there to give you a flavor of how the session panned out and what we got to see.

The introduction to our time with the aircraft was done on the upper deck of the 747 where, towards the front, Virgin Atlantic housed 20 Premium Economy seats.

Directly ahead was the door to the flight deck which was left tantalizingly ajar.

The inflight entertainment screens played clips from the history of the Virgin Atlantic 747s (dating back to the very first aircraft Richard Branson brought into the fleet) and it was hard not to get a little nostalgic at the thought that this really was the end of an incredibly important era for the airline.

All the guests at the event were divided into very small groups (I was in a group of just 4) and each group was assigned a Virgin Atlantic chaperone to guide us to various points in and around the aircraft where we’d see areas that most people never get to see and talk to people who have flown, maintained and served customers onboard the 747.

I’m not an AvGeek but I can still appreciate a beautiful aircraft and the opportunity to see and experience things that I’m unlikely to see or experience again any time soon, so the opportunity to get up close to the 747’s Bridgestone tires…

…and to see markings on the hangar floor specifying where an aircraft should be positioned when it’s brought in for maintenance, gave me a real kick.

Also, it was more than a little odd to be viewing an aircraft that I’ve flown on more times than I care to remember from angles that I had never viewed it from before.

One of my group’s first stops was to view the inside of one of the 747’s cargo holds…

…and although we couldn’t actually step inside, we got a glimpse of the space in the nose of the 747 where most of the aircraft’s electrics are housed.

One of the next stops was to take a look at one of the aircraft’s four GE engines which, to a layperson like me, looked like one of the most complicated pieces of machinery imaginable.

Of particular interest to me was the opportunity to see an engine from the 747 and an engine from a considerably more modern Dreamliner sitting side by side.

Ordinarily, when you look at a 747’s engine (in isolation) one of your first thoughts isn’t “that’s actually not that big”, but when you see it sitting next to a Rolls Royce Trent engine from a 787-9 (the engine on the right in the image above), the 747’s engine looks almost comically small.

The tour around the outside of the 747 included the opportunity to sit or stand inside one of the 747’s engines and while I’m not about to share a picture of me doing just that, I can tell you that there’s a moment while you’re standing there with the aircraft blades just a few feet from your back where the whole experience feels incredibly surreal.

To me, the 747 will always be the first aircraft that took my breath away and the first aircraft that flew me across the Atlantic, so to find myself so incredibly close to one of the very things that propelled the aircraft through the skies was a pretty special moment.

The tour continued inside the aircraft where the darkened Economy Class cabins…

…and the empty galleys…

…were a stark reminder that this really was a farewell to the Queen of the Skies.

One of the high points of the tour (there were quite a few of these) was the opportunity to see the cabin crew’s sleeping quarters in the rear of the aircraft (above the rear toilets). The staircase leading up was tight and there wasn’t any room to stand up once you were in the sleeping area…

…but the beds themselves were more comfortable than I expected them to be….although the space around them wasn’t exactly generous.

The penultimate stop on the tour for my group was the Upper Class (Business Class) cabin situated in the nose of the aircraft on the lower deck where a three-course lunch was served with drinks.

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For me, the very best was left until last – the flight deck.

With lunch over we made our way back up the stairs to the upper deck, through the door that I’d seen when I first arrived, and into the seats that are usually occupied by the Captain and the First Officer.

It was incredible.

As a kid, I’d been on the flight deck on a variety of single-aisle aircraft (in the days where kids were invited to take a look during a flight) and as an adult, I’ve been on the flight deck of an American Airlines 777-300ER, but this was my first visit to the flight deck of the most iconic passenger aircraft ever put into service. The hairs on the back of my neck bristled and I was lost for words for the first couple of minutes as I took in my surroundings.

A Virgin Atlantic Captain was on hand to answer questions and it was touching to see just how much of an attachment there can be between a member of the flight crew and the aircraft they’re flying – the 747 is clearly loved by more than just those of us who know it from a passenger perspective alone.

The tour and the whole experience was managed fantastically well by all involved but even the generous three and a half hours that we had with the 747 seemed too short a time to say goodbye – I’m pretty sure that I could have walked around the Queen for the whole day without getting bored.

The farewell ended with an exit through the frontmost door of the 747…

…a decent down the gantry that had been built around the aircraft and one last glance upwards at the name of the last Virgin Atlantic 747 in the world.

I knew this experience would be amazing, but I had no idea just how emotional it would be to say goodbye to an aircraft that I now realize I took for granted for far too long.

Forget any other passenger aircraft that you’ve ever seen or heard about (including Concorde), the 747 will always be the Queen of the Skies and it will always be the most important and most iconic passenger aircraft ever to take to the skies – she will be missed.


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