Qantas is about to take delivery of the first of its new Dreamliners, allowing the airline to keep phasing out an old favourite - the jumbo jet.

The oldest of the airline's Boeing 747s has recently been sent to the aircraft "boneyard" but others will remain in service into next decade.

The airline has 10 of the Queen of the Skies still flying and one helped out during last month's fuel crisis in Auckland.

The "fuel mule" transferred fuel to other Qantas planes on the tarmac at Auckland Airport.

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Qantas jumbo jets supplemented other services to fly thousands of Lions fans to New Zealand from Australia during the tour earlier this year.

Qantas will next week take delivery of the first of eight 787-9 aircraft from Boeing in Seattle, with new fleet additions allowing it to continue with retiring its jumbos.

Cancellation's and deferrals of its Dreamliner orders meant the airline had kept its jumbos longer but they have had interiors modernised and a fall in fuel prices during the past two years meant the aircraft, which could guzzle 10 tonnes of gas an hour, were not the economic drain as they may have been .

The first joined the Australian airline's fleet in September 1971, and they became the pinnacle of luxury travel.

Decades before bars in Airbus A380 superjumbos were introduced, Qantas' had the Captain Cook lounge.

The airline's shagadelic upstairs space had seating for 15 passengers, a stand-up bar and decor the airline admits now "should have come with a volume control."

There were images of James Cook, a sextant, a ship's wheel, replica lanterns and rope was used to give the impression passengers were seated inside a replica sailing ship rather than a brand-new widebody jet. It also had ashtrays.

The lounge was replaced with seats when the price of fuel went up during the decade.

In 1974 Qantas established a then world record for carrying the most passengers when it evacuated 673 people on a 747 flight from Darwin after the city was devastated by Cyclone Tracy.

The airline has operated 65 jumbos and the oldest of its fleet was retired to the Mojave desert in California early in August. The aircraft, VH-OJM, was delivered new to Qantas in 1991 and carried more than four million people around the world. It flew to cities such as London, Santiago, Johannesburg and Tokyo, and the airline estimates it travelled the equivalent of flying to the moon and back 120 times.

Air New Zealand retired the last of its Jumbos in 2014 and this year US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will retire their 747s.

There have been more than 1500 jumbos built for airlines around the world and they've been an enormous commercial success but the 747 was one of Boeing's biggest gambles.

Spurred by losing a contract for the US military's next giant transport aircraft, Boeing turned to its civil division to revive its fortunes.

A Qantas Boeing 747 Special Performance plane which could fly long-range routes.
A Qantas Boeing 747 Special Performance plane which could fly long-range routes.

Encouraged by a growing appetite for long-haul travel and sealed with a commitment by Pan Am to buy 25 planes, Boeing executives bet their future on what was to become the most recognised plane in the world.

They committed more than the value of the company to developing the 747 and a factory big enough to build it in. Work on clearing wooded hill country at Everett, north of Seattle, began in 1966 and just two years later the first prototype was wheeled out of what was the biggest building in the world.

Tens of thousands of construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history were known as The Incredibles.

Pan Am made the first commercial flight between New York and London in January 1970 and began a revolution in air travel. The plane could fly more people further and at a lower seat cost which translated to lower fares and a boom in long-haul travel.

Life of a legend

1966

: Pan Am announces US$525 million order for 25 Boeing 747s, effectively starting the programme

1968: First 747-100 leaves the factory

1970: 747-100 enters commercial service

1971: Qantas takes delivery of its first jumbo

1975: 747 worldwide fleet carries 100 millionth passenger

1981: First Air NZ 747-200, named Aotea, arrives from Boeing

1985: 520 people die after a Japan Air Lines 747 hits a mountain. It is the worst single aircraft accident death toll

1987: Attempted hijacking of an Air NZ 747 at Nadi thwarted when a cabin crew member strikes the hijacker on the head with a whisky bottle

1993: Boeing delivers 1000th 747 to Singapore Airlines

2006: Lufthansa becomes first airline to order 747-8 Intercontinental

2007: Orders for Boeing 747 exceed 1500

Last month:Qantas uses 747 as a "fuel mule" during Refining NZ crisis