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.

Melbourne Essendon Airport (MEB) postcard - 1960's
Essendon Airport postcard

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 visit.

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.

And an oddball

In 1962 a Sud Aviation Caravelle VII flew into Essendon Airport on a sales tour of the Asia Pacific region.

With a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 51,000 kg, length of 32 m, and wingspan of 34.3 m.

Further reading

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6 Responses to “What is the biggest aircraft to land at Essendon Airport?”

  1. Paul O'Connor says:

    Marcus, I don’t think your story takes into consideration that a DC10 landed there by mistake in the 80’s

    • Marcus Wong says:

      When researching my upcoming “Pilots confusing Essendon Airport for Melbourne Airport” post I found a reference to a DC-10 trying to land at Essendon in the 1970s, but being warned away at the last minute.

  2. Andrew says:

    I have in mind that there has been at least one large passenger aircraft land at Essendon having mistook it for Tullamarine. But I could be misremembering it.

    There have certainly been a number of planes that tried to land at Essendon – the largest being a Garuda 747 in 1985. These are all listed here:


    The Garuda 747 was the subject of an accident investigation which can found online.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for that link – I’ve actually got a pending post on pilots mistaking Essendon Airport for Melbourne Airport, and that list has a few incidents I hadn’t found.

  3. […] largest aircraft ever to land at Essendon Airport were a handful of Boeing 707s back in the 1960s – I’d hate to see what would happen to a Boeing 747 that tried to do the […]

  4. James Govett says:

    I flew out of Essendon airport in the 1960’s until the last flight in 1970 on both Boeing 727’s of Ansett and TAA to visit family in Perth WA when a young bloke and remember that the Boeings did not have a direct flight to Perth and had to land at Adelaide and we changed aircraft to complete the trip and I remember being told at the time that due to Essendon short runways the Boeings could not take off with a full load of passengers freight and fuel for the non stop trip to Western Australia and that had to wait until the new Tullamarine Airport opened, we also took off from Essendon DC-9’s and changed at Adelaide to Boeings also

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