The iconic Boeing 747 was the first wide-body aircraft in the history of aviation, and the first aircraft to be called a ‘Jumbo Jet’ due to its enormous size.
Built and developed in the United States, the four-engine giant pioneered the development of long-haul travel. Nicknamed ‘The Queen of the Skies’, the 747 embarked on its first flight in February 1969, received certification in December of the same year, and officially commenced commercial operations in January 1970.
Sydney-based Australian pilot and AeroTime contributor Hunter McLeod spoke to veteran pilot, Captain Cameron Livingstone, who shared his longstanding history with the 747.
Livingstone took his first flying lesson in 1978 at Archerfield Australia and went on to complete his commercial pilot’s license (CPL), instructor rating and multi-engine instrument rating (multi-IFR). His initial flight hours were in charter flights before getting his big break in 1983 when he joined regional airline and Qantas subsidiary, Sunstate Airlines, as a first officer on the Embraer.
Cameron Livingston on the day he passed his CPL. Photo courtesy of Captain Cameron Livingston
Over the course of four decades, Livingstone went on to amass more than 26,000 flight hours across a range of aircraft including the Airbus A330 and A380. He also became a Captain on the Boeing 767.
Today, Captain Livingstone is the National Coordinator of the Pilot Assistance Network program (PAN), a volunteer organization jointly funded and supported by Qantas and AIPA (the Australian and International Pilots Association). The organization supports and provides peer support to Qantas pilots, crew members and their families.
However, in all his time flying, Livingstone says: “I will always love the 747. I really will. There is no other way to put it. I have spent most of my life on it.”
A love affair with the 747
Livingstone began flying the 747 with Qantas and flew on the 100/200/300/400 series and 747SP series aircraft. He went on to become a check trainer on the 747 Classic and 400 series.
He says that, even while there is a noticeable difference in the “handling” of the aircraft, the Rolls Royce-powered 200 series was his favorite model to fly.
“It just felt like putting on an old shoe every time we flew, it was so comfortable.”
Cameron Livingston prior to the last Qantas Boeing 747 service from Los Angeles to Australia. Photo courtesy of Captain Cameron Livingston
Livingstone describes all the 747 models as “great airplanes”, adding that the biggest difference he encountered was on the 747-400, which flew with a flight engineer (FE) in the jump seat.
Older versions, such as the 747 classics, had analog dials in their cockpits, which demanded a higher workload. As a result, 747 cockpits were constructed for three crew members: the captain, co-pilot, and flight engineer.
Flight engineers were responsible for operating the analog configured systems of older aircraft.
Modern airplanes, on the other hand, have only two crew members – the commander and the co-pilot. Advancements in technology, computerization and automation have rapidly digitalized computers on board the aircraft and so what would have been done by the flight engineer in the past is now done by computers and automated systems.
What is the seniority number?
When a pilot is hired by an airline, they are given a seniority number. Airlines operate on a seniority-based system which ranks pilots on a seniority list based on the length of their stay with the airline. Therefore, veteran pilots have a higher seniority position than new pilots.
The number remains with a pilot for the duration of their stay with the airline and can significantly impact their career. This includes influence over where a pilot is based, what aircraft and routes they fly, their monthly schedule, when they can go on vacation, and how soon they can upgrade their pilot ranking.
Captain Livingstone describes the seniority number in one word: “everything”.
“So, the day you start, you’re given a number. I think my original number was about 400 and something. So I started round about the high 400s. What that means is, as you progress, you have longevity in the airline, [and] your number will decrease [and] become smaller as people ahead of you retire.”
Captain Livingstone emphasizes that a smaller seniority number grants a pilot higher bargaining power.
“It’s like bidding at an auction, the smaller your number, the more you’ve got in your pocket. So, you’d bid for holidays, you’d bid for type changes, you’d bid for days off, you’d bid for trips, you’d bid for promotion.”
Today, Captain Livingstone’s seniority number is “effectively number four on the long-haul side”.
Australia’s last 747 bids farewell with a ‘flying kangaroo’
The last Boeing 747-400 passenger jumbo jet, belonging to Qantas and registered VH-OEJ, took off from Sydney in July 2020 for its final flight.
Having taken delivery of its first 747-200 series in August 1971, flight QF7474 in July 2020 marked a close to the five-decade long chapter of the 747’s presence within Qantas’s fleet and within Australia’s aviation sector.
As part of the aircraft’s flight plan, Qantas Boeing 747 drew a kangaroo as a final salute.
Livingstone says: “When the last 747 left Australia they did the kangaroo trail. And I couldn’t bring myself to watch that for a couple of days. I really couldn’t. And when I did, I had tears in my eyes.”
Looking back, Livingstone recollects the days he spent flying and the opportunities that came along the way. As he looks forward to his final working years before retirement, he is keen to work with and support the next generation of pilots.
“I might go back to some ground instructing or something like that, because I really enjoyed being around the young people coming through. And they seem to think that maybe I know something. I don’t think I know much more than they do, but they like to hear the stories anyway.”