100 Years Of Qantas In The UK: The First Flights

How Qantas, Imperial Airways and BOAC pioneered the first scheduled passenger flights between the UK and Australia.

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Qantas Empire Airways Lockheed Constellation Aircraft VH-EAC, Sydney, 1947
Qantas Empire Airways Lockheed Constellation Aircraft VH-EAC, Sydney, 1947 (Image Credit: Qantas Airways)

On 16 November 2020, Qantas will mark 100 years since its incorporation as Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd. It would soon become known as Q.A.N.T.A.S. and then Qantas.

It was many decades in to its existence before Qantas started flying to the UK in its own right. Together with BA’s predecessor airlines Imperial Airways and BOAC, it pioneered the first flights between the UK and Australia from the 1930s.

On 8 December 1934, the first UK to Australia mail service began operated by Imperial Airways (from Croydon to Karachi), Indian Trans-Continental (Karachi to Singapore) and Qantas Empire Airways, formed by Qantas and Imperial Airways, (Singapore to Brisbane).

The event was marked by a special ceremony at Croydon presided over by Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air. Included in the two tons of letters were three addressed by the King, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales to the Duke of Gloucester at Auckland.

Imperial Airways Air Mail Services, December 1934
Imperial Airways Air Mail Services, December 1934

The next year, on 13 April 1935, the first passenger service operated from London to Brisbane by Imperial Airways and Qantas Empire Airways. It initially operated weekly and the trip took 12 and a half days. It would become officially known as the Kangaroo Route.

Services initially operated weekly, and were progressively increased to twice weekly and thrice weekly throughout the 1930s. The journey time was improved so that flights to Australia took “only” 10 days.

Imperial Airways Services To Australia, May 1936
Imperial Airways Services To Australia, May 1936
Imperial Airways Flying Boats, March 1937
Imperial Airways Flying Boats, March 1937
Imperial Airways Flying Boats, May 1939
Imperial Airways Flying Boats, May 1939

By 1939, services to Australia were operated with flying boats. Passengers would depart from the Imperial Airways Terminal in Victoria to catch a train to Southampton.

Imperial Airways / Qantas Empire Airways Poster
Imperial Airways / Qantas Empire Airways Poster (Image Credit: Qantas)

Qantas Comes To London

When commercial aviation resumed after the Second World War, it was the delivery of the Lockheed Constellation aircraft that allowed Qantas to fly direct to London.

The first service operated from Sydney to London in December 1947. The flight required 7 stops en route via Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, Castel Bento and Rome with a flight time of 58 hours over more than four days. The aircraft carried 29 passengers, 3 pilots, 1 navigator, 2 flight engineers and 3 cabin crew.

Qantas Empire Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation Advertisement, 1949
Qantas Empire Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation Advertisement, 1949
Qantas Advertisement, July 1952
Qantas Advertisement, July 1952

“Australia’s Round-the-World Airline”

In 1954, Qantas took delivery of the Super G Constellation aircraft operating the Southern Cross route across the Pacific Ocean from Sydney to Fiji, Honolulu, San Francisco and Vancouver.

On 17 January 1958, Qantas operated its first scheduled round-the-world flight from London to London after a goodwill flight for journalists.

Qantas, Australis's Round-the-world Airline, 9 January 1958
Qantas, Australis’s Round-the-world Airline, 9 January 1958
Qantas First Round The World Flight From London, 17 January 1958
Qantas First Round The World Flight From London, 17 January 1958

The aircraft operated from London to New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney, Dawrin, Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Bahrain, Athens and Rome.

The advent of the jet age in the 1960s would allow Qantas to add more round-the-world routes to Australia, cementing its position as a global round-the-world airline.

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