I read this week that Qantas has retired its last Boeing 747, the plane known as “the queen of the skies.” The queen retired with flair, drawing a kangaroo in the sky.
Since I grew up in Melanesia, the first 747 I remember seeing belonged to Qantas. It was a rainy night, probably in the Sydney airport. I was an almost five-year-old. I remember staring out the huge windows at an airplane of mythical proportions, a large red and white kangaroo logo emblazoned on the tail, shining in the rain and the flashing lights of the airport’s activity. In the mysterious ways that memory works, I actually remember it being a triple-decker plane, not a double-decker as it must have been. I spent years wondering why I no longer saw any planes with three levels, like I had seen in Australia. Eventually I realized that I must have seen it as larger than it actually was, time inflating the size of things in the style of the film, Big Fish.
I believe it was also a 747 that we took back to the US on that trip. My father had just passed away and we had packed up and left our host country without knowing what the future held. The pilot somehow heard about our situation and let my brothers and me come up and see the cockpit during the flight, an awfully kind and pre-9/11 gesture for him to make. At that age everything about flying was magical, the in-flight meals, the little toothbrush kits, and the ability to sleep curled up comfortably on the floor. I still love flying, though now I often feel less of the magic and more like an awkward T-rex crammed into a small metal tube (Plus we now have three little rex-lings to keep occupied, or at least kept from dumping their food trays and throwing up, which certainly changes the experience a bit).
I remember stepping onto the jet bridge in my flip-flops as we disembarked from that flight, crunching the snow let in at the jet bridge seam. I had never seen snow before. I took one last look back through the window at the front of the huge plane. Alas, it may be too late for me to ever get to fly on that mysterious upper level of the 747. But I am grateful for how that plane was used to ferry so many missionary families like mine back and forth from the field. Who knows how many thousands arrived safely to their fields of service through the common grace of the 747.
Farewell, graceful queen and sturdy vessel of my childhood travels. Like the steamships that took a previous generation of my forebears to their overseas labors, you also will be missed.