QANTAS'S longest-serving employee and the last survivor of the early team that turned the airline into an international carrier has taken his final flight.
Former engineer George Roberts spent almost seven decades at Qantas and watched aircraft develop from wire and wood oddities into complex trans-oceanic jets.
Born in Ipswich, Queensland, in 1909, he developed an enthusiasm for aviation after seeing his first plane at eight and taking his first flight, over Moreton Bay in a Curtiss Seagull, at 10.
He met aviation pioneer Ross Smith, was there when Bert Hinkler arrived after his solo flight from England to Australia in 1928, and welcomed Charles Kingsford Smith later that year.
He even helped pull British aviatrix Amy Johnson from her upturned Gipsy Moth near Brisbane.
In 1936, as Qantas spread its wings overseas, Mr Roberts was recruited by the airline's founder, Arthur Baird, as employee No 50.
The airline had about a dozen planes at the time, including five DH86s, which allowed it to fly over water for the first time.
He first worked on single-engine aircraft made of wood but transferred to Sydney in 1938 with the opening of the Qantas flying boat base at Rose Bay, where he serviced the instruments and electronics of Empire-class flying boats. He continued with Qantas after retiring from the property department in 1970 and for the next 38 years worked two days a week on a voluntary basis with former employees compiling and cataloguing the airline's historic artefacts and memorabilia.
His long association with Qantas was recognised in 2000 with the publication of a book about his life, By George.
His services to aviation were further rewarded in 2003 with an Order of Australia. The veteran continued working for Qantas in an honorary capacity until 2005. "George never lost his passion for flight," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said yesterday.
"He volunteered for Qantas at our Heritage Centre in Sydney well into his 90s, and remained a greatly loved figure.
"George once told an ABC journalist that when an aircraft flew overhead, he still went out to take a look."
Mr Roberts died in St Vincents Hospital, Sydney, on Monday aged 99
Steve Creedy - the Australian