When Qantas flight QF596 from Brisbane to San Francisco took to the skies on 24 July 1969, it was running two hours late. On purpose.
As the Boeing 707 cruised high above the Pacific Ocean, Captain Frank Brown was scanning the starry sky around him.
For weeks, Captain Brown had checked and double checked the flight path of the service so he and his passengers could be part of history.
He and everyone else onboard the aircraft would be the first to witness the return of Apollo 11 after the first ever moon landing.
The 707 would fly about 450 kilometres parallel to the Apollo’s re-entry path, giving everyone onboard a front row seat to watch the spacecraft enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
In First Class, passengers dined on a menu featuring Sea of Tranquillity Oysters en Capsule, followed by Chilled Lunar Lobster with Collins Sauce, Loin of Lamb Aldrin with Splashdown Sauce or perhaps Duckling a l’Armstrong.
It was certainly a step up from the freeze-dried meals consumed by the Apollo 11 crew.
Each passenger was given a commemorative certificate and among those onboard was 12-year-old Trevor Hiscock, who said at the time:
“My eyes felt as big as the portal windows I looked out of. All of a sudden a green and another red ball (similar to the look of a flare) zoomed by whilst descending gradually…they were vectoring away, not sharply, from a parallel course with us,” he said.
The series of bright lights was visible for about three minutes before disappearing over the horizon.
Meanwhile, for a worldwide radio audience Captain Brown described seeing two separate lights as the service module broke up and the command module continued to fall steadily to earth – the first visual confirmation that the astronauts had made it back.
In 2011, more than 42 years later, Neil Armstrong sat in the left-hand seat of the Qantas A380 simulator in Sydney to experience the fly-by-wire technology that he pioneered as a test pilot and astronaut.
Even at the age of 81, Armstrong handled the controls with instinctive ease as he completed a virtual flight, possibly for the last time before he passed away the following year.
Whether it’s a flight to the moon or a business trip to Melbourne, flight still captures the imagination.
Read more Roo Tales here.