This issue from OPT-NC (illustrated by the watercolorist and former submariner Roberto Lunardo) represents the 3rd and last part of the series on the theme of legendary aircraft that have flown to New Caledonia from yesterday to today. The company UTA (Union des Transports Aériennes) and its mythical aircraft the 747-400 hold a special place in the History of New Caledonian air links.
The epic of the Big Boss
This issue takes us back to the distant time when air travel took even longer than today due to the many stopovers that were necessary. UTA served New Caledonia from the early 60s, until its merger with Air France in the early 90s. These routes were operated by McDonnell Douglas aircraft (DC-8 then DC-10), until the arrival in 1981 of the Boeing 747-400. The latter reached Noumea from Paris via Bahrain, Singapore, Denpasar and Sydney. A "route via the Indies" that was to remain in service until the end of the 2000s when the route via Japan and later Korea was to replace it.
A legendary aircraft
The Boeing 747-400 is a legendary aircraft that was nicknamed here the "Big Boss". For some this nickname refers to the Boss, because it was the largest transport aircraft in the world with a capacity of 400 passengers. For others, it is necessary to understand that in French "big boss" also means a big bump and so described the plane’s characteristic bump on the upper fuselage and in which the business passengers took their place. Its recognizable silhouette even amongst a thousand other planes was for many years, on Tuesdays and Fridays, a familiar feature on the tarmac of Tontouta International airport.
With a height of nearly 20 meters, the Big Boss had a wingspan of nearly 65 meters, and a length of 71 meters. It could travel a distance of nearly 13,000 kilometers non-stop at a speed of 920 km/h. If it has now disappeared from the New Caledonian aeronautical landscape, but the 747-400 will have had a career of exceptional longevity as in 2020 still more than 450 of these aircraft are in service around the world and it was only in that year that Boeing finally announced the end of production of the 747, 52 years after its entry into service.