Retired Qantas 747-400 passenger aircraft begins life as a Rolls-Royce flying testbed.
The aircraft will be used to test current and future jet engine technology that will transform flight, reduce emissions and set new benchmarks for efficiency.
The Boeing 747-400 – registration VH-OJU – has been in service with Australian national carrier, Qantas for 20 years.
Over the course of its life, OJU powered by four Rolls-Royce RB211 engines, has flown more than 70 million kilometres, which is the equivalent of almost 100 return trips to the moon.
As a flying testbed, it will be fitted with the latest testing capabilities and for the first time, will test engines which power both commercial and business aircraft. New systems will obtain better data faster than ever before, and technologies will be tested at higher altitudes and faster speeds.
Flying testbeds are used to conduct altitude testing and monitor technologies in flight conditions.
Rolls-Royce employees will choose a name for the aircraft, which served its life with Qantas named Lord Howe Island. It will be flown by a crew of specialist test pilots, who combine engineering expertise with decades of experience flying commercial, military and test aircraft.
The new aircraft will support the Rolls-Royce IntelligentEngine vision, where engines are connected, contextually aware and even comprehending, starting from their time on the testbed.
The 747 completed its final commercial flight for Qantas on 13 October 2019 from Sydney to Los Angeles. It then flew to AeroTEC’s flight test centre in Moses Lake, Washington State, US, where it will undergo an extensive two-year transformation.
AeroTEC engineers and technicians will convert the Boeing 747-400 from a commercial aircraft with 364 passenger seats to a state-of-the-art flying testbed equipped with extensive instrumentation and systems to take sophisticated measurements of engine performance in flight.
When complete, the aircraft will work alongside Rolls-Royce’s existing flying testbed, a Boeing 747-200, which has completed 285 test flights to date.
Rolls-Royce is investing $70m (£56m) in the acquisition and refurbishment of the aircraft. This is in addition to a £90m investment in Testbed 80, the largest and most intelligent testbed in the world, currently under construction in Derby, UK, and set to be commissioned in 2020.