A Qantas Airbus A380 operated a flight over 18 hours in length on the 20th of December; breaking records for the longest A380 flight, all while mostly staying under the radar.

The aircraft, registered VH-OQH, had just been released from Airbus’ maintenance facility in Dresden, Germany after spending time receiving its refreshed cabin. However rather than flying to Heathrow to operate the normal London – Singapore – Sydney service, Qantas opted to fly the aircraft direct from Dresden to Sydney and not many, including us, realised it happened until recently.

Having departed Dresden on the 19th at 01:34 CET as QF6016, the aircraft initially climbed to 35,000 feet before climbing again to 41,000 feet. After flying 16,105km non-stop, the aircraft arrived at Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport at approximately 06:00. Flightradar24 reports a flight time of 18 hours and 27 minutes. No passengers or cargo were on board the aircraft.

Qantas Airbus A380 Performs Record 18 Hour Flight

The flight clocked in at 1,852km longer than the current longest commercial A380 flight; being Emirates EK488 between Dubai and Auckland, which generally takes around 16 hours.

Within a few hours of arriving home the aircraft set off again, this time flying to Los Angeles as QF17. Unfortunately the return flight from Los Angeles to Sydney on Friday didn’t go smoothly, with a mechanical problem delaying the flight until the early hours of Saturday the 21st.

Worsening the situation, the aircraft had to return to Los Angeles after roughly one hour in the air and a fuel dump. Passengers on-board reported unusual odours in the cabin, prompting a precautionary return. After spending time on the ground, the aircraft set off once again and arrived in Sydney on Monday morning; after a delay of nearly 24 hours.

Although Qantas hasn’t mentioned anything of the flight, it comes after the conclusion of three highly-publicised research flights for Project Sunrise; which aims to see commercial flights operating out of Sydney and Melbourne to parts of Europe and New York.

Earlier this month Qantas selected the Airbus A350-1000, over the Boeing 777X, to operate Project Sunrise flights from the early 2020s. Airbus has given Qantas until March to finalise their plans and place an order.

At this time, Qantas’ only snag in giving the flights the go-ahead is settling with pilots over revised work and pay agreements.; the Project Sunrise flights could see work hours extended to 23 hours. Regulator approval has been mostly cleared, as a result of the research flights providing critical scientific data and demonstrating pilot and crew ability.

For details on what Qantas is doing to improve passenger and crew well being on these ultra-long-haul flights, check out Sam Chui’s video capturing a research flight in action:

What are your thoughts on this mysterious ultra-long Airbus A380 flight?