What is the biggest aircraft to land at Essendon Airport?

Today Essendon Airport? is mainly used by business jets and light aircraft, but it was once Melbourne’s main international gateway. But what was the biggest aircraft to land there?

DC3 among parked planes at Essendon Airport

Some history

Until the 1960s Essendon Airport was Melbourne’s main airport, seeing a wide range of piston-powered airliners.

But today mid-sized jets such as the Fokker F70 can also safely operate into the airport.

Light plane passes over parked Alliance Airlines Fokker F70 VH-QQR

From a 1,921 metre long east-west and 1,504 metre long north-south runway.

Google Earth

And the candidates

Boeing 727 jets were the largest aircraft to operate normal passenger services into Essendon Airport during it’s heyday.


With a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 76,700 kg, length of 40.59 m, and wingspan of 32.92m.

The first 727 flew into Essendon Airport in 1964.

Australia’s domestic airlines entered the jet age on October 16, 1964 when a pair of Boeing 727-100s landed at Melbourne’s Essendon Airport.

As both airlines were required to bring their aircraft into the country at the same time, a coin was tossed to determine which airline should have the right to land first at Melbourne’s Essendon Airport, the headquarters of both airlines. Ansett-ANA won. VH-RME under the command of Capt A. Lovell landed first, with T.A.A.’s VH-TJA under the command of Capt D.A. Winch arriving a few minutes later.

A few years later Lyndon B. Johnson flew into Essendon onboard Air Force One – a Boeing C-137 Stratoliner – first on his 1966 tour of Australia, and again in 1967 for the funeral of Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt.

Fairfax Media photo

It had MTOW of 148,325 kg, length of of 46.61 m, and wingspan of 44.42 m.

The press corp following the tour was transported onboard Boeing 707s operated by TWA and Pan Am.

With a MTOW of around 142,000 kg, length of 46.61 m and wingspan of 43.41 m.

And a US Air Force Lockheed C141 Starlifter also assisted with the tour logistics.

With a MTOW of 147,000 kg, length of 51.3 m and wingspan of 48.8 m.

And finally another odd move – in November 1984 Ansett flew Boeing 767-277 VH-RMH into Essendon Airport for an open day, but had to tow it to and from the runway!

With a MTOW of 142,900 kg, length of 48.51 m and wingspan of 47.57 m.

So who is the winner?

With a MTOW of 148,325 kg Air Force One was the heaviest aircraft to land at Essendon, but the Lockheed C141 Starlifter was the longest and widest to visitor.

Footnote: Qantas 707s

Despite the “Boeing 707s were not permitted to operate from Essendon Airport” factoid that does the rounds, Qantas did fly into Melbourne’s old airport on a handful of occasions.

The first being a training flight with 707-138 VH-EBB from Sydney to Essendon Airport on 6 July 1959, the other being VH-EBA on 18 July 1964 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first Australian Air Mail flight.

Further reading

Then, now and in between at Footscray station

Here’s a special “then an now” comparison for you – four different scenes at Footscray, featuring the olden days, 1990s malaise, the short lived “Colander Bridge“, and today.

Step inside

We start at the main entrance to the station, where a steep ramp once directed passengers down to the intersection of Irving and Leeds Street.

In the years that followed shops were built either side of the station entrance, but the decrepit bridge still remained – the only changes being asphalt over the deck, and cyclone fences replacing timber.

Ramp from the footbridge down to the Irving / Leeds Street intersection

But big changes were coming – work on a new $28 million footbridge and forecourt stated in 2009. Early works saw the shops to the eastern side of the station demolished.

Main access from the station to the north

Making way for the “Colander Bridge” – unlike the old bridge, it had lift access and a roof, but poor design meant that it let in rain every time it rained!

The Colander Bridge leaking, as it does every time it rains

But the flawed bridge had another problem – it was in the way of the new Regional Rail Link tracks that were about to be built through Footscray, so the northern end had to be demolished – a temporary staircase being provided when work started in 2013.

Temporary staircase linking the station footbridge to Irving Street

Eventually leading to the stairs, escalators, ramps and lifts found at the current iteration of the station, completed in 2014.

Steps down to Irving Street from the Footscray station footbridge

Heading down to the platform

Now we’re atop the footbridge, looking down on what was then called platform 3, as passengers from a St Albans train head up the ramp.

By 2009 the decrepit looking footbridge was still there but the timber handrails had been replaced by cyclone fencing, and now led to platform 2 – in 1974 platforms 1, 2, 3, and 4 were renumbered as 4, 3, 2, and 1.

Ramp down to platform 2, closed to public access, soon to be removed

The Colander Bridge replaced the ramp with a set of covered stairs.

Passengers climb the new stairs from platform 4

But they didn’t even last three years – the Regional Rail Link project turned them into rubble, replacing them with a brand new set of stairs at the same location, just a smidge wider and with a new hat.

Steps down to Footscray platform 4 and 5

Down on the platform

We’re back at ground level on the central island platform, which was then numbered 2 and 3.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P1, item H 2253

Completion of the Colander Bridge in 2010 changed the scene, the tubular footbridge much larger than the rickety timber structure that came before.

Steps up to the footbridge from Footscray platform 2 and 3

And Regional Rail Link changed it further, adding ramps and escalators between bridge and platform.

Ramps and stairs link platform 4 and 5 to the overhead concourse

And finally – under the bridge

The footbridge looked even more rickety when viewed from down below on what is today’s platform 4.

PROV image VPRS 12800/P0007, item C 0424

So the completion of the Colander Bridge in 2010 was welcomed, despite the leaks.

Siemens 724M stops for passengers at Footscray station on a down Sydenham service

But the biggest changes came with Regional Rail Link in 2014, which rebuilt the existing track pair.

Applying the finishing touches to the new RRL platforms 3 and 4

And constructed a second pair of tracks between Footscray and Sunshine, separating suburban and V/Line trains.

VLocity VL07 and classmate on the down at Footscray

Footnote – those stupidly placed escalators

You might be looking at the escalators that serve Footscray platform 4 and 5, and think “why the hell is the path to them so convoluted?”

Escalators linking platform 4 and 5 to the overhead bridge

Pissy poor planning is to blame – the designers of the original Colander Bridge didn’t plan for escalators to be included, so when the Regional Rail Link project went to retrofit them, there wasn’t enough room between station building and bridge to fit them.

As a result they had to the moved to the opposite side of the footbridge, with users having to make a 180 degree turn upon reaching the top, and then walk back to the bridge proper. As a result, the stairs are more popular than the escalators, as they are the most direct route.

Destroyed heritage at Clunes station

You’d think that in this day and age restoring a heritage station building wouldn’t be that difficult – but in 2010 contractors managed to screw up a job at Clunes station, sending it straight to the tip.

The contract for Clunes station was dated 25 September 1874 and the polychrome brickwork station building was completed by J. Short, with a cast iron verandah supplied by Robinson Brothers.

Photo from the Clunes Museum collection

By the 1980s the water tower, crane and van goods shed had been demolished, with the lamp room and men’s toilet at the north end of the station demolished in 1980. The last passenger train to pass through the station ran in 1993, when The Vinelander to Mildura was withdrawn. The station was then boarded up, the only passing trains carrying freight.

Arriving into Clunes...

In December 2008 the State Government announced passenger rail services to Maryborough would resume, but Clunes was left out of the project, V/Line trains rolling past the abandoned station from July 2010.

Rolling through the abandoned station at Clunes, the new works siding yet to be commissioned

But in June 2010 it was announced that Clunes would also be re-opened, so restoration works started – including the complete rebuilding of the platform. However the finished station was missing one major feature – the veranda.

The Courier has the full story.

Clunes Train Station historic verandah removal sparks anger
30 November 2011
Brendan Gullifer

The State Government will proudly unveil the newly refurbished Clunes train station this weekend — but with one glaring omission.

Contractors working on the $7 million project ripped down the station’s ornate iron verandah and sent parts of it to a scrap merchant.

Local residents are appalled and are still waiting for answers to how the mishap will be fixed.

Hepburn councillor Don Henderson called it a travesty.

“It’s just a piece of our heritage that is gone and will never be returned,” he said yesterday.

“It’s irreplaceable and in a town like Clunes, where heritage is so important, it’s a very big loss.”

Transport at Clunes president John Sayers, one of a small band who have helped negotiate the return of rail services, said he was horrified when he learnt about the mistake.

“It’s an appalling situation to have arisen,” he said.

Mr Sayers said the verandah superstructure, which held up the corrugated iron roofing, was chopped up and sent to a metal dealer while the solid iron posts were saved.

These had been removed to Creswick station for safe keeping, he said.

“We’re hoping some sort of verandah will eventually be built which will hopefully include the old posts.”

Cr Henderson said the verandah was an exact copy of one carefully preserved at the restored Creswick rail station.

“People will still be able to see what existed on this particular railway link,” he said.

But while many local rail enthusiasts were in mourning, those involved officially with the station’s renewal were reluctant to talk.

Building contractors Abigroup referred The Courier to the Department of Transport. A departmental media spokesperson said she would look into it, as did a spokesperson for Transport Minister Terry Mulder.

Neither responded to questions by press time.

Acting Hepburn chief executive officer Peter Reeve said there was an ongoing investigation into the missing verandah.

He said the planning permit included verandah removal to allow platform works and its restoration.

By July 2012 a replacement verandah had been erected at the station.

Commercial Systems Australia photo

But none of the original cast iron posts were used in the new structure – just modern steel beams and poles.

As for the boarded up station building.

Google Street View 2010

In 2015 it was restored for community use.

Google Street View 2017

As part of VicTrack’s Community Use of Vacant Rail Buildings Program.

All aboard Creative Clunes’ new cultural hub
20 November 2015

The historic Clunes Railway Station has been reinvented as a cultural hub, becoming the new home for Creative Clunes and the Clunes Booktown Festival.

State Member for Buninyong, Geoff Howard said Creative Clunes has taken on the head lease of the revamped station building, following the completion of works funded from the Victorian Government’s Community Use of Vacant Rail Buildings Program.

“This much loved, 140 year old station building has been given a new lease of life as the new home to Creative Clunes,” Mr Howard said.

“This project has successfully adapted this historic station building into a vibrant cultural hub, offering the local community an impressive new arts venue with its form and function.

“People will be able to come to explore their artistic side, utilising the hub’s creative and meeting spaces.

“It also provides permanent offices and volunteer facilities for the popular annual Clunes Booktown Festival – which attracts visitors from across Australia and the world to celebrate both historic and modern literary works.”

VicTrack and V/Line carried out restoration work to the exterior of the station building, with Ballarat Civic Construction completing extensive internal renovations.

These works included installing new foundations and floorboards, connecting services, restoring the plasterwork, and reinstating the doors to the platform.

The building now also has a kitchenette, accessible toilets, shower and a new access ramp.

Further reading

Talbot and Clunes Conservation Study, Richard Aitkens (page 339)

Photos from ten years ago: September 2011

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is September 2011.

The changing railway scene

This month I headed out east to the site of the new Lynbrook station.

Main station building on the up platform

Located on the Cranbourne line between Dandenong and Merinda Park, it opened to passengers in April 2012.

I also visited the future site of Williams Landing station.

Comeng passing the former runway at RAAF Williams Laverton Base

Back then part of the runway for the former RAAF base was still in place, but housing development was slowly encroaching on it.

Looking down the remains of runway 17

Williams Landing station opened in April 2013, while the only sign of the former airfield is the heritage listed aircraft hangars next door.

I also took a look at Middle Footscray before the Regional Rail Link project bulldozed it’s way through the suburb.

EDI Comeng arrives into Middle Footscray: the houses behind have all been acquired for the RRL project

The entire north side of Buckley Street was once full of houses.

Buckley Street triangle viewed from the railway footbridge, the entire block between the road and railway will be bulldozed.

But it was acquired to make room for the extra tracks.

Looking down Buckley Street, the entire left hand side will be bulldozed

Once the railway was was complete, the remaining land was sold off, including a section of land that was once a park. Townhouses are currently being built on the site.

Changes were also afoot at Southern Cross Station.

Can you find the V/Line ticket office at Southern Cross?

The food court on the mezzanine floor had been boarded up.

Southern Cross food court on the mezzanine floor: only two stores left after former operator Delaware North bailed

And the hoardings advised of ‘Exciting New Retailers’.

How many V/Line commuters can you squeeze between 'Exciting New Retailers'?

As the previously open spaces were replaced by more shops.

My visit to Melbourne Central station wasn’t prompted by pending works, but the scene a decade ago was a little different.

X'Trapolis train at Melbourne Central platform 4

The CRT next train displays were still in place – coloured by line.

Swanston Street entrance to Melbourne Central station

As was the ramp between La Trobe Street and the upper level of the underground station concourse.

Ramp from ground level on La Trobe Street, leading to the upper level of the underground concourse at Melbourne Central station

The CRT screens were eventually replaced by LCD screens in November 2011, while the ramp to La Trobe Street was demolished in 2016 to make way for the Aurora Melbourne Central development.

Ding ding on the trams

September 2011 saw the abolition of ‘secret’ tram route numbers – replaced by the ‘A’ and ‘D’ suffixes for altered routes and depot bound trams.

Z3.212 heads north at William and Little Collins Street on a route 55D service to Essendon Depot

I also found a broken down D2 class tram at Ascot Vale

Mechanics in a scissor lift trunk tie down the pantograph of D2.5002

The pantograph was damaged, disabling the tram, so mechanics had to cut it off.

The pantograph was still too high to clear the bridges, so time to cut it off

Shunt the tram with their heavy recover truck.

Still pushing the tram along from behind

Couple up the tram to a working classmate.

Drawbar connected between trams D2.5002 and D2.5017

Then tow it back to the depot, the combined tram stretching 60 metres.

D2.5017 ready to tow her failed classmate home

Something different at Docklands

On 25 September 2011 Searoad Ferries an open day at Waterfront City in Melbourne’s Docklands to show off the newly refurbished Queenscliff-Sorrento car ferry ‘MV Queenscliff’.

Morning morning, and MV Queenscliff still berthed at Waterfront City, after the open day on Sunday

They also brought Thomas the Tank Engine along for the ride, on loan from the Bellarine Railway.

'Klondyke' dressed up as Thomas the Tank Engine at the Searoad Ferries open day

While I was in the area, I wandered around heritage listed Shed 20-21 at Victoria Dock.

Abandoned cargo she

Constructed in 1926 as a single 396.2 metre long (1300 foot) and 24.5 metre wide (80 foot) cargo shed, it was once a busy wharf, but now lies in the shadows of the Bolte Bridge.

Empty wharves at Victoria Dock

But was now abandoned and neglected, covered in graffiti.

Abandonment and Anarchist Authority

In December 2012 part of the shed roof collapsed, leading to it’s demolition. Ron Barassi Senior Park now occupies the site.

A hole in the Melbourne CBD

A big hole was being created in the middle of Melbourne.

Hole in the ground at Myer Melbourne

Next door to the Myer store on Bourke Street.

Gutted buildings at Myer Melbourne

Excavators demolishing the former Lonsdale Street store to make room for the ‘Emporium’ shopping centre.

Gutted buildings at Myer Melbourne

The complex opened in 2014.

Rubbish in the streets

A decade ago the changeover to digital TV in Australia was well underway, so during hard rubbish season old-fashioned CRT screen TVs lined the streets.

Spotted: CRT televisions number 4 and 5

Analog TV in Melbourne held on a little longer, the last transmitter being switched off in December 2013.

Something else that should’ve gone out in hard rubbish was the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.

B65 in Auscision Models livery crosses Moonee Ponds Creek at South Dynon

Opened in December 2008, two years behind schedule, it closed again 40 days later due to cracks in the wheel. It was decided to tear down the wheel and start over.

Looking over the Melbourne Steel Terminal, the ferris wheel is being rebuilt

The rebuilt wheel reopened in December 2013, providing the finest views of Melbourne’s rail freight terminals, until it’s closure was announced in September 2021, effective immediately.

And everyday things the pandemic took away

Who remembers going to work in an office, and sitting out in the sun for lunch?

Officer workers get some lunchtime sun outside 140 William Street

Going to live music gigs?

Architecture in Helsinki: Forum Theatre, Melbourne, 10 September 2011

And big theatre crowds?

Architecture in Helsinki: Forum Theatre, Melbourne, 10 September 2011

Thanks to the pandemic we haven’t seen any of that for 18 months, but hopefully things will start getting back to normal soon – so go get vaccinated!


Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Cancelling public transport to inner Melbourne

On Saturday 18 September public transport in much of Melbourne was shutdown on the request of Victoria Police between 8am and 2pm, in an attempt to prevent anti-lockdown protesters attending a planned rally in the Melbourne CBD.

The backstory

The shutdown was announced at a Victoria Police press conference on Wednesday 15 September.

Public transport in Melbourne will be suspended for six hours on Saturday as part of a large-scale police operation to stop a planned protest against the ongoing Covid lockdown in the city.

The Victoria Police commissioner, Shane Patton, said on Wednesday that public transport – including buses, trams and trains – would be suspended going into the Melbourne CBD between 8am and 2pm on Saturday in an effort to prevent “freedom” protesters gathering in the city after thousands gathered in late August.

“We have no problem with facilitating protest when there’s a place in time for that to occur. This weekend is not the place and time for that to occur,” Patton said.

“It’s really interesting that this whole cohort of people who are about freedom don’t seem to respect the freedoms of others and anyone coming in here places those freedoms at risk.”

Two thousand police officers will be on hand as part of the operation to stop the protest and bollards will be erected with traffic management points and roving patrols. Only essential workers with valid permits will be allowed into the city centre.

Public Transport Victoria began publicising the disruption that evening.

“Trains terminate at suburban stations” was the initial message from Metro Trains.

And “no trams in the city” the message from Yarra Trams.

But by Friday 17 the extent of the shutdown of public transport was made clear, when Public Transport Victoria published maps of the services that would be running.

At the request of Victoria Police, public transport will not run through the CBD on Saturday 18 September 2021.

This will impact all metropolitan and regional train services, trams and buses from 8am to 2pm with services expected to take some time to resume to regular timetable.

Major road closures on thoroughfares into the CBD will also be in place. Significant delays are expected on roads leading to the CBD. CBD access will only be granted at roadblocks to those travelling for essential work, healthcare or to attend a vaccination appointment.

Metropolitan train services will terminate at suburban stations, where can effectively turn around and continue to provide services away from the city.

Tram routes and bus routes that normally travel into or through the CBD will now terminate at stops, some distance outside the CBD boundary and turn around. Some tram and and bus routes will not run at all, while others will run to a reduced timetable.

No trains within 10 kilometres or so of the Melbourne CBD.

Trams terminating at the fringe of the inner city.

As were Transdev buses.

And alternative transport for the vast swathes of Melbourne beyond the CBD, left without public transport – nothing.

The Public Transport Users Association said the Victorian government needed to do more to minimise any disruption to workers relying on public transport.

Spokesperson Daniel Bowen said the impact on commuters would be severe.

“It’s unprecedented to shut down the entire inner part of the public transport network, not just in the CBD, but also the inner suburbs,” Mr Bowen said.

“The shuttle buses they’re putting on won’t stop at intermediate points along the route to the city, so there’s going to be lots of areas in inner suburban Melbourne and around the CBD that will just have no transport options.”

The only public transport operating to the CBD was a half-hourly shuttle bus service, running express from the suburbs to a CBD drop-off point.

Those people undertaking authorised travel with permits are urged to allow plenty of extra time for their journeys. They must carry identification and proof of their reason for travel, such as an authorised worker permit, or vaccination booking confirmation.

As a last resort for authorised travellers, two shuttle buses per hour will run from the nine suburban railway station termination points (see list below) to key drop-off points in and around the CBD. Passengers will be required to complete their journey by walking to their location from the CBD drop off points.

Victoria Police officers and PSOs will be checking proof of reasons for travel prior to allowing people to board shuttle buses.

On the day

On the morning of Saturday 18 September I went for a walk down to Sunshine station, to see how things were going. On the station concourse there was no signage informing passengers of the service disruption – just two blank lines on the next train display, where citybound services would normally be listed.

No signage at Sunshine station informing passengers of the service disruption towards the city

A Watergardens-bound train departed the ‘wrong’ way out of platform 1, proceeding through a crossover to get back onto the left hand track.

Alstom Comeng 565M departs Sunshine platform 1 on the up

A pair of Protective Services Officers were twiddling their thumbs down on the station platform for the next train to terminate.

Protective Services Officers waiting at Sunshine station for the next terminating train to arrive

Down in the station car park was a Victoria Police car.

Victoria Police car parked among the replacement buses at Sunshine station

And at the rail replacement bus stop were another six Protective Services Officers, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the shuttle bus to the CBD.

Protective Services Officers at Sunshine station, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' bus to the CBD.

Eventually a bus turned up.

Protective Services Officers at Sunshine station, checking the credentials of passengers intending to board the 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' bus to the CBD.

With ‘Authorised Worker Shuttle’ and ‘Express between Flagstaff and Sunshine’ signs on the front windscreen.

 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' signage in the windscreen of a rail replacement bus

A few minutes later it departed for the city, with about a dozen passengers onboard.

Donric Group bus BS03IZ on an 'Authorised Worker Shuttle' on Hampshire Road, Sunshine

The shuttle buses continuing to run until 2pm, when normal services started running to the CBD again.

So did it work?

It appears the shutdown of public transport didn’t make any difference to the protest – they moved their rally to outside of the CBD!

Anti-lockdown demonstrators met in Richmond at around 12:00pm on Saturday, ignoring authorities’ pleas for them to stay home.

Police surrounded the protesters on Bridge Road, where multiple people were arrested.

The several-hundred-strong crowd then moved down Burnley Street, with police appearing to use capsicum spray on some members.

Authorities said 235 people were arrested in the protests, 193 for breaching CHO directions and several others for a range of offences including assault police, riotous behaviour, weapon and drug offences.

Footnote: how were the termination points chosen?

Trams and trains aren’t like a car – you can’t just pull up anywhere, do a u-turn, and head back the way you came – you need to change tracks.

In the case of trams, there are crossovers all over Melbourne, giving trams the flexibility to terminate and return at places that aren’t the usual end of the line.

Driver of Z3.150 on route 5 throws the points at the Swanston and A'Beckett Street crossover

But for trains it is trickier – as well as crossovers, trains also require a signalling configuration that permits a train to proceed along the ‘wrong’ track towards the crossover, and a safe location for the train driver to change ends from the front to read cab.

Life extension EDI Comeng 543M traverses the crossover, departing Sunshine platform 1 with a down Sunbury service

This is why the Glen Waverley line had to terminate at Darling instead of Burnley, Craigieburn trains could not terminate at Kensington, Sunbury trains could not terminate at West Footscray, and Werribee trains could not terminate at Footscray.


Public Transport Victoria disruption notification: