A recently retired Qantas passenger plane has found new life as a testbed for cutting-edge Rolls-Royce engines.
The Boeing 747-400 flew its last commercial flight from Sydney to Los Angeles on October 13.
The plane was then taken to a flight test centre in Washington State, where it will undergo a two-year makeover at total cost of more than $100 million.
Engineers and technicians will rip out the 364 passenger seats and transform the plane into a “state-of-the-art flying testbed” equipped with extensive instrumentation and systems to take sophisticated measurements of engine performance in flight, Rolls-Royce said.
It will then be used to test current and future jet engine technology that will “transform flight, reduce emissions and set new benchmarks for efficiency”, the firm said.
A long career
The Boeing 747-400 had been transporting passengers around the globe as part of the Qantas fleet for the past 20 years.
Named Lord Howe Island by Qantas, the aircraft will be given a new name by Rolls-Royce employees.
The aircraft flew more than 70 million kilometres over the course of its career – the equivalent of almost 100 return trips to the moon.
It has operated to dozens of countries and carried 2.5 million passengers, with each journey powered by four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.
“After transporting millions of passengers on this beloved aircraft for 20 years, we’re excited to power it into the future,” Rolls-Royce director of development and experimental engineering Gareth Hedicker said.
Flying testbeds are used to conduct altitude testing and monitor technologies in flight conditions.
The plane will be fitted with the latest testing capabilities and for the first time, will test engines that power commercial and business aircraft, Rolls-Royce said.
New systems will obtain better data faster than ever before, and technologies will be tested at higher altitudes and faster speeds, the firm said.
The plane will be flown by a crew of specialist test pilots, who combine engineering expertise with decades of experience flying commercial, military and test aircraft.