The Retirement of Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747 ‘Barbarella’
I was rather hoping this may just be a small gathering of families, plane spotters and a few photographers but no, the fact that we were immediately directed to the overflow carpark told me it was already very busy. Another thing that surprised me was that alongside the previously mentioned people were pilots, cabin crew and other people who had previously worked onboard or with this aircraft all there to bid farewell to their queen of the sky.
I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a few former crew members and it was clear they had an emotional attachment to this aircraft and for them it sounded as though, for them, this was the equivalent of a colleague retiring and someone they would dearly miss.
For me however, the attachment was that I had flown on one of Virgins 747s to Florida last year and we had a great time doing so. I can’t remember the name of the aircraft though, so it could well have been Barbarella.
Trying to get a good vantage point to view the plane was going to be difficult as there was many people there before me, but I saw that others where standing on their seats or even climbing to the top of the children’s playground structures trying to get an uninterrupted view. But that would likely end in catastrophe for me so I made do with the view from my bench, which wasn’t a bad one.
Departure was scheduled for 12 noon and sure enough around she came from the airport terminal and headed directly towards the crowds at the runway visitor park. What was funny is that as the plane was approaching us from the terminal, it was partially obscured by one of the airport side buildings and to me, the top section looked like a whale who’s body and dorsal fin was just sticking through the top of the water. See what you think?
So as the pilots steadily approached, they kindly stopped directly Infront of us to allow the crowd to take pictures of the soon to be retired 747. Word on the ground was that the aircraft was heading to Heathrow to have all four engines changed before being returned to the leasing company, which was apparently part of their lease agreement, I don’t know if this is true but it’s sounds interesting at the least, so I’ll gladly go along with it.
The crew then slowly headed back around towards us stopping on a couple of further occasions to let the large crowd take further pictures.
I’m not in anyway a plane enthusiast but I do like to look at, admire and travel on these huge iron birds, well when I say travel, anybody who knows me will tell you that I hang on for dear life, almost drowning in my own sweat I get so nervous. If you have saw the scene from the comedy film “Airplane” when the pilot is coming in for landing and violently sweating, this will give you some idea of what I am like. Although, I must say, the older I’m getting, the less nervous I’ve become.
On Many Occasions I think to myself how is it possible for these huge aircraft to even leave the ground. I do find the physics of it all fascinating and have a vague idea of how aerodynamics work but even so, it seems like it shouldn’t be possible. Obviously the four massive engines help to propel this beast forward and keep it airborne providing many thousands of pounds of thrust. There is something quite reassuring about the aircraft your flying in having so many engines.
So as the crew wave to us all from the flight deck, the engines spool up and the Boeing aircraft creeps off heading for her departure runway which would be 23R.
While all this was going on, a few other aircraft had landed and taken off but not many people seemed to notice this, much to the the displeasure of a Qatar airways plane who, after landing, toured past Barbarella’s crowd, pilots waving trying to steal the lime light.
There was also a fast approaching, dark grey cloud which was heading straight for us and wouldn’t it be typical for it to rain just as the main event was happening. I’m glad to report however, that the cloud past by on the far side of of the airport and didn’t spoil the fun.
Sure enough, after a few minutes, you could hear the distinctive roar of four jet engines throttling up and she was off down the runway. To my surprise it left the ground a lot earlier up the runway than I expected, but I suppose this was because there were no passengers or luggage on board and possibly not full with fuel as they were only going down the road to London Heathrow.
And as quick as that, she was airborne. Retracting her undercarriage and legging it down the road. This was not the end of the show however, the pilots would say one final goodbye in the form of a ‘wing wave’ where they gently rock the plane from side to side dipping their wings on their ascent out of Manchester.
I did capture one final picture which tells a great story all by itself.
One retired airplane that is Concorde, who been there, done that and got the free bus pass and the other…..Barbarella who is just starting her journey to retirement.
A few facts about Barbarella.
Entered service in 2001
Costs in the region of 265 million US dollars
Seating capacity – 455
Carries more than 57,000 gallons of fuel
8357 miles maximum range
Wingspan – 211ft
Length – 231ft
Height – 68ft
Crusing Speed – 565mph