John Wheatley Collection Wiki image of Ansett-ANA's 727-77C

On this day in 1964 two Boeing 727-100 tri-jets cruised high over Sydney in close formation, headed to the end of their delivery flight at Melbourne’s Essendon Airport.

One was for the state owned TAA or Trans-Australia Airlines, the people’s airline as post war Labor PM Ben Chifley had called it, after the High Court preventing his government giving it a total monopoly of domestic aviation.

The other was for Ansett-ANA, the amalgamation of Ansett Airlines and  Australian National Airways, which would have vanished had it not been acquired by Reginald Myles Ansett to create a truly national mainline carrier.

By a toss of the coin the Ansett-ANA 727 was first to land at Essendon, just down the road from the site for a real Melbourne jet airport at Tullamarine that most Melburnians of the era thought would never get built, in parallel with Sydneysider scepticism that its farcical Eastern Suburbs Railway would ever be completed.

Australia was still in the grip of the Two Airline Policy, in which Ansett-ANA and TAA flew the same schedules, to the minute, offering the same sustenance, to the same rock hard bread rolls with tiny butter patties, and charged precisely the same high fares, which were constantly adjusted upwards on a cost plus basis on application to the Federal price fixing authority.

The result was that very few Australians flew domestic inter city routes, while thousands died each year making the dangerous drives between south eastern cities and coastal caravan park and camping holidays as far north as Surfers Paradise.

(This was a remarkably different Australia to today.)

The 727, in its original -100 version, and the -200 stretch that Australia was very slow to move up to, was a graceful and stunningly quick airliner. It did the routes between the eastern capitals and Perth in as much as an hour less time than today’s airliners, in part through a faster airframe, but also less congested traffic conditions both taxying and in the sky.

Boeing 727s flew the Sydney-Melbourne route some 20 minutes faster than today, to a 70 minute schedule versus 80 minutes for the then dominant Lockheed Electra turbo-props, and the deliberately padded 90 to 95 minute sector times published half a century later by Qantas and Virgin Australia and their low cost brands.

They were also spaciously configured with ample legroom, and remarakbly quiet inside provided you weren’t seated right at the back near the rear mounted engine intakes.

But there were drawbacks too. The 727s like their contemporaries required extensive maintenance, and externally, they were deafeningly noisy.  Joined in the rip-your-eardrums out category by Fokker F-28s later in the belated Australian jet age.  They also needed a flight engineer as well as two pilots.

The Ansett-ANA 727-77C shown at top of page carried only 98 passengers by day, and was converted to a freighter by night.  The photo was taken in 1970, about four years before the Big Two agreed to replacing -100s with -200s. It would carry about 180 passengers by today’s standards of misery, if of course it was in flyable condition and nobody gave a stuff about airport community noise levels. (Hush kits later applied to 727s didn’t cut it either, rendering the jets even less fuel efficient, and to casual observers, just about as noisy as before.)

Not allowed in Australia! The early, and dangerous Sud Aviation Caravelle

The arrival of domestic jets in Australia was something of an anti-climax in that Qantas had been flying its 707s since 1959, and the major airports saw a wide range of services by foreign 707s, DC-8s, Vickers VC-10s and earlier in this hyphenated airline name period, Comet IVs.

TAA had wanted to enter the jet age sooner than Ansett, with Sud Aviation Caravelles, but ‘Reg’ knew a lot more about successful lobbying than the government owned domestic carrier, and was emphatic that Australia, well, Ansett-ANA, wasn’t ready for them.

Which was probably just as well, in that the Caravelle proved to be one of the world’s most dangerous to control airliners going on its dismal safety record. Reg Ansett also stymied TAA’s later ambitions to import a small fleet of very large Lockheed Tristar wide bodied tri-jets, but eventually lost his powers over its equipment choices when TAA went with the Airbus A300 before Ansett countered with Boeing 767-200s.

It’s a long time since the day of the 727s. While flying has become much more useful and affordable, and airport noise is nowhere near as bad per jet as it was back then, only those old enough to have flown on these graceful, fast and powerful tri-jets will know what has been lost in comfort, speed and personal service.

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