A Rare Five-Engine Flight For Qantas


When an airline needs to transport a spare engine to a 747 far away, it turns out the most efficient way to get the job done is to install a fifth engine on a healthy 747 and carry it there under the wing. It doesn’t happen often, but Qantas recently completed the feat, flying from Sydney to Johannesburg with an extra Rolls Royce engine weighing 6.6 tons. Pilots need special training to learn to fly straight and level with the extra weight and drag from the engine, the airline said. The airplane also burns more fuel, requiring an added stop in Perth to top off. Qantas said it first pioneered moving engines this way “at the dawn of the jet age,” with its 707 fleet, but it’s rarely done. The last time was in 2011.

The flight took off on Jan. 6. The wing of the aircraft has factory-installed anchor points, Qantas said, allowing a support strut to be attached under the wing. The strut has a winching mechanism, which is used to hoist the engine into place and secure it for flight. Once the airplane landed in Johannesburg, the engine was removed and installed on the waiting 747. “Our engineers are very skilled at doing the job, given that the 747 has been an integral part of the Qantas fleet since the 1970s,” Qantas said. The extra engine that was removed in Johannesburg will be shipped home by boat, a slower but cheaper journey.