World’s longest flights 76 years apart: sunrise onboard Qantas Airways


Before Qantas Airways, the flag carrier of Australia, launched the trial of ultra-long-haul passenger flights called Project Sunrise in 2019, the airline already had run the Double Sunrise, a similar service launched 76 years ago during World War II. In terms of the flight duration, both of these two Qantas projects could be named as the longest passenger flights ever made in aviation history. 

Since the beginning of commercial passenger flights in the XX century, Qantas Airways was the very first airline in the world to operate the longest commercial flight at the time. In 1943, the airline started a legendary passenger service that was called “the Double Sunrise” as the crew and passengers could observe two sunrises on each flight while the average duration of such flight took from 27 to 32 hours 9 minutes.

The Australian air carrier started the Double Sunrise operations during World War II after Japan invaded the major British military base in Singapore and this way disrupted the cooperation between Allied units, consisting of American, British, Dutch, and Australian forces. The only way to reestablish the Australia – England air link was to operate direct operations from Nedlands, Western Australia, to the Royal Air Force base at Ceylon, the former British colony which now belongs to Sri Lanka. 

The route was operated by Qantas Airways seaplane Consolidated PBY Catalina. The aircraft was capable of carrying only three passengers and 69 kg (152 lb) of essential mail onboard at once as it was usually loaded at almost the maximum of the possible range. To save as much weight as possible, all mail was photographed onto microfiches, thin photographic sheets that were used to store information in the miniaturized form.

After landing at the Royal Air Force base, each of the passengers was given a special certificate. The Special Order of the Double Sunrise was an illustrated document that showed that the traveler had spent more than 24 hours onboard the amphibious aircraft on a 3,580 nautical-miles-long (6,630 km) journey across the Indian Ocean. To be capable of carrying such long air operations, the PBY Catalina needed up to 9,040 l (1,988 imperial gallons) of fuel.

After successful initial operations, Qantas Airways decided to run the Double Sunrise as a regular weekly service and continued the Double Sunrise service until 1945. In total, Qantas made 271 flights,  carried 860 passengers, and delivered over 4,500 kg (10,00 lb) of mail.

Almost 76 years apart, Qantas Airways still holds the leading position in terms of flight duration. The Australian air carrier broke the world’s record for the longest non-stop passenger flight with its New York – Sydney route in 2019. The airline left a significant footprint in the history of the aviation industry after completing a 9,684 nautical-miles-long (17,750 km) test flight which took 19 hours and 16 minutes. 

The ultra-long haul direct flight was operated by Boeing 787 aircraft which carried 52 passengers onboard, including the crew members. The record-breaking test flight was completed as a part of Qantas preparation for its planned future passenger service Project Sunrise. While the name is a nod to the historical predecessor the Double Sunrise, this time Qantas passengers did not have an opportunity to admire two sunrises in a row.

During the longest passenger flight in the world, Qantas ran a series of passenger testing to assess the health and well-being of travelers while onboard. The experiments included the pilot brain waves monitoring as well as melatonin levels and alertness measurements. Unlike 77 years ago, when none of passenger comfort-related issues were on a priority list, during the longest commercial flight in the XXI century, passengers were offered a specially adjusted in-flight meal in order to match the day time at the final destination at Sydney to help travelers to reduce jet lag.

In terms of the flight duration, the Double Sunrise service as well as the ultra-long-haul New York – Sydney passenger flight made in 2019 remain the longest commercial operations in aviation history so far.


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