View Full Version : Gatwick-Heathrow Airlink

Hairy Fool
4th Mar 2008, 00:59
Just further info on a couple of threads on the above...

I worked for BAH when the service was set up and joined the service as a ground engineer soon after in 1978. The aircraft was owned by BAA as was then, crewed and maintained by BAH with passenger handling and support by BCal. It operated 10 round trips a day, mostly full in the mornings but frequently had birthday trips for children (and their dads) in the afternoon.

The Senior Officer was indeed a mormon priest, I always remember him declining offers of coffee and tea supplies from BCal just because he didn't drink it never mind the rest of us.

One peculiarity of its livery was it was up-side down to the rest of the BCal fleet as the S61-N had a tendancy to turn turtle if it ditched in rough seas and a black belly would not be seen, not that there was much of that between LGW and LHR.

Initially it used to use the full flight path at LHR joining about 2 miles out. This soon stopped when it caused some concerns as its top speed was less than the fully laden 747's stalling speed following behind. The ATCO's finally conceded and allowed it to approach from the south. This did however have its issues as it meant crossing 28L in between landing aircraft but the turbulance could quite possibly have flipped it if the pilot was too quick.

As it had a maintenance crew 24/7 it was one of the best looked after aircraft going and was washed ever day, mind you it neaded it as it spent so much time at idle on the ground the sides were covered in Jet-A1 residue.

Phileas Fogg
4th Mar 2008, 01:27
The bl00dy thing(s) used to wake us up in the morning as they were starting at the beehive whilst we were trying to doze, at the end of a nightshift, in the Laker offices :)

Geezers of Nazareth
4th Mar 2008, 11:17
I flew in it just once, on a Saturday evening from Heathrow to Gatwick. It operated from a series of porta-cabins (or so it seemed!) near where the current stand 301 is located.

I can remember a briefing just before we trooped out to the flight, and the guy giving the briefing advising a gent that he would have to remove his hat! The gent was a little upset at this, because it was keeping his wig in place!
There was also a lady with a child in a push-chair, and I remember seeing the groundie walking across the ramp with the push chair under one arm and the child under the other, and the mother chasing behind. This was all because it was loaded/unloaded 'rotors-running'.

I was quite surprised to see just how many big houses with their wn swimming-pools there were in Surrey.

4th Mar 2008, 14:25
How useful would that service be nowdays?

With the M25 so busy, all it takes is one small accident for the whole motorway to become a huge car park!

Imagine travelling between Heathrow and Gatwick in 15 minutes, that has to be anyones idea of heaven!!

4th Mar 2008, 16:40
I had the pleasure of flying on it sometime about 1982 from LHR to LGW. Staff standby fare was £4.00 oneway I believe (ripoff!!) :) I had to get to a meeting in a pub somewhere and all my mates were impressed by me arriving by chopper!! Never got to join the 1500 ft Club though! :(

4th Mar 2008, 16:49
Here's an Image of G-LINK the S61 used on the route

5th Mar 2008, 07:10
I think it's ATC callsign was "Link 1" to LHR and "Link 2" returning to LGW where it parked on stand 1, adjacent South Pier. Normally used the Alpha hold area for take-off/landing.

I remember occasionally a Bristows? S61 replaced it when presumably in for maintenance.

5th Mar 2008, 07:20
The people who planned the route between the two control zones designed it purely in environmental terms and did not take account of ANY other activity in this airspace 'because it was open FIR'. On the original route via Oxshott, this was OK, but when they re-routed it further west near Brooklands and Fairoaks, all sorts of conflictions arose, and on one occasion when the pilot wanted to descend and was told if he did, he would find himself in confliction with a BAC 111 in the PAR pattern for Farnborough, he got most irate; he simply couldn't understand there might be IFR traffic operating on 'his' route!
Having said that, I think it would be beneficial to re-examine the concept in the light of the fact it was terminated when the M25 opened (on the grounds it was no longer necessary), but nowadays as has been said, this stretch of M25 is so congested, an aerial link would take a small amount of pressure off it.

5th Mar 2008, 08:10
Anybody remember the predecessor to this?
I cannot remember the details but an innovative operator used to run an Islander between the two Airfields , IIRC operating off a small piece of redundant taxiway at Heathrow.
I expect it it was such a good idea that he got pushed out by the big boys.:hmm:

5th Mar 2008, 09:43
does Westward Airways (http://www.cue-dih.co.uk/tiam/pix/caz/acft/ac1970cc04.html) ring a bell?

5th Mar 2008, 09:50
That's the one. A fine effort.
Like replacing D.H. Rapides with S-61's on the Penzance- Scilly Run, one sometimes wonders at the economics.

5th Mar 2008, 09:53
on the page link above there is a further embedded PDF link (http://www.cue-dih.co.uk/aerospace/aeropdfs/air_links_lgw_lhr.pdf) with the whole history of the airlink - very interesting reading

even mentions PPRuNe :E

5th Mar 2008, 10:11
If I remember correctly didn't Bymon express an interest in operating a LGW-LHR-STN service with DHC-7's at some point in the mid 1980's.

5th Mar 2008, 11:24
<<The ATCO's finally conceded and allowed it to approach from the south. >>

Ho! Ho! You must be joking, of course. The ATCOs had to follow procedures laid down by the airport authority. We wanted it out of the way ASAP and, when weather permitted, frequently "bent" the rules by letting it air taxi to it's stand and later take-off from its stand, or the adjacent taxiway. We would also let it land on 27L when possible instead of the appointed spot on the 05 threshold to save it taxying time. There was no problem getting it across the runway as landing "heavy" jets were firmly on the ground by the time the Link crossed, by which time Vortex was not an issue.

Once we got things sorted out it was no real problem to ATC. The relationship between us and the Link blokes was pretty good: An ATC colleague of mine went on a "fam flight" on the Link. When it landed back at Heathrow with no pax, on the way out the flight attendant, who was somewhat pale, pointed accusingly at him saying: "It was you flying it, wasn't it??!!" Of course, I cannot comment either way....

5th Mar 2008, 12:07
Yesterday I received an email from a Lady in Thailand thanking me for the Article mentioned above and asking some specific SLF type questions.
Today I drop into PPRUNE and discover Hairy Fool started a new Airlink Thread.
Both of these unconnected, but coincidental events have made me think that it is time to update the PDF So:

Does anyone have an image(s) of the Airlink Timetable
Any Information I have missed off that should be included
Any Comments on how the Article could be improved (I am going to regret asking that )


5th Mar 2008, 16:14
Just loved GLINK, I was LGW based but had to CMCL out of LHR to out station base, so commuted on GLINK. M25 sucks so it should be brough back, that's if it can properly operate with verti out/in at both locations.

I was shown some of the complaints lodged re 'noise pollution', it turned out that some of these had come from a certain 'Capt Camberly Golf Course' who's hobby was polling a VC10 for Imperial!

5th Mar 2008, 17:08
Oh Merlinxx, why did you bring up the noise complaints, just when I was having a good day.
I was shown some of the complaints lodged re 'noise pollution', it turned out that some of these had come from a certain 'Capt Camberly Golf Course' who's hobby was polling a VC10 for Imperial!
The Information was (unfortunately) no surprise, but for the last 20 minutes I have been muttering 'bl**dy Surrey NIMBY b*st*rds' under my breath. Fortunately the 'Dried Frog Pills' have kicked in and instead of Hating them, I'm just mildly irritated.

On a serious note, when I was researching the Article, I got the distinct impression that re-establishing the Airlink was politically a NO, NO and would operationally be a lot more difficult to handle at the LHR end today, so even if the NIMBYs could be defeated, the logistics would be against it.
But it would solve so many problems for Business Passengers Interlining between the Airports (plus the odd inter-airport Commuter).

Finally - G-LINK Configuration - I have seen 28 Seats quoted in several places, however my fragile memory says 23 Seats, anyone know for certain?

Hairy Fool
9th Mar 2008, 00:31
The basic aircraft was capable of holding 28 seats but because of the baggage hold config it lost a few. The standard hold was under the floor inside the large 2 part door behind the cockpit but this was not big enough for all the junk passangers wanted to carry (try getting skis' under the floor). So an extra wall was built around the floor hatch up to the ceiling closing the door off from the passenger cabin. This allowed the BCal baggage handlers to stack more in.

The only thing is this made it lose 4 seats making it 24. I think you may be right at 23 however because as it was carrying ordinary passengers instead of trained oilies they left the seat out beside the emergency exit near the tail. Otherwise the only unobstructed exit was the drop down steps because of the extended baggage bay wall closing of the big door.

Hairy Fool
9th Mar 2008, 01:30
Phileas Fogg
You must have had some lay-in, we used to start up at 06:15 for the position to the airfield and the 1st flight at 06:45
Hats weren’t the only things that went flying around, I remember one of the baggage handlers dropping a case and us in the ground crew chasing ladies smalls around the pan.
I also had to carry a child to the aircraft, I think he was so scared of me (big ugly bloke with a hairy face and sunglasses) that he forgot about being scared of the noise from the rotors, poor sod.
Heathrow Director
My apologies, I realise that the ATCO's at the pointed end didn't want it on the normal approach either, more that the hierarchy were somewhat conservative at 1st.
It wasn't the landing aircraft so much more the jet wash from those going full chat on their way out.
Don't remember the actual timetable but it did one flight at around 06:45, getting back about 45mins later. Stopped so the aircrew could have their wheetybangs then 4 flights till lunch at 1 hour turnarounds. After lunch it was 3 flights and stop for tea (all very civilised) and finally 2 more trips before it went home to bed. This makes 10 round trips a day.
We received someone’s vest in the post complaining about the oil stain on it stating it was synthetic mineral aircraft oil and as the link was over head it must be our fault. They were right about what it was except the S61 did not use any form of synthetic oil.
Couple of other memories...
One night it was snowing heavily on its last return the aircrew could not see the taxiway lights. I had to walk out to the corner of the pan with a pair of illuminated marshalling wands to let it find me with its night sun and then walk it back to its position on the gate. Later I was told that ground control were doing their nut about some idiot walking around in the dark airside! Who me....
After the brekky stop we engineers used to dash over to the BAH base to get post and equipment for the lunchtime shutdown. On our return the aircraft already on the pan and the tanker driver standing there with one of its wheels under his arm. It turned out that as the aircraft was approach the pan on the ground it was overtaken by one of its wheels because a bearing had collapsed and the wheel fell off. The pilot kept it light on its (remaining) wheels to unload the passengers and then flew it back to the engineering base. There we talked him to land directly on to a jack to prevent undue side load on the undercarriage, fitted a new leg and back into service.

9th Mar 2008, 11:15
Hairy Fool.
Many thanks for the update on config, timings and the 'incidents' (any more?). Before BAH stepped back from the Operation and BCH became the Aircrew/Engineering providers, I had stopped being a real person and become a suit (although I did escape to the real world occasionally).

So my personal memories are of a true JV running a tight operation to a demanding schedule requiring extremely high despatch reliability and it worked a darn sight better than anyone could have expected, because of the people in the core 'Airlink Team' were determined to make it so!


old,not bold
9th Mar 2008, 14:23
I used the service several times, and was always mildly amused at the way the heli was forced to pretend to be a fixed wing aircraft and taxi interminably and wastefully to a runway to lift off, and vv.

So I enquired about the reason from my employer at the time, BAA, and was firmly told that it was an "ATC Requirement". I didn't believe a word of it then, and I'm glad to see from this thread that my instincts were right.

Hairy Fool
9th Mar 2008, 23:13
Bristows providing a relief aircraft, only over our dead bodies. To say there was "healthy rivalry" between BAH and Bristows would be an understatement. Generally the Airlink would go into extended maintenance as one of the BAH oilrig support aircraft came out. That being nice and clean would stay at Gatwick to provide cover until the Airlink came back on line and then go off to Aberdeen, Sumburgh or Beccles

Without sounding too "company" it was a very good team. Partly because it was a very unusual operation for the UK with few similarities to the Penzance service but also because it was very publicly visible so we got some good facilities right down to bright white overalls with "British Airways" across the back as that was the only place BA had to show their involvement. It also meant it had a high level of engineering cover so there were very few "incidents"

Old's comment about working for BAA did remind me of their childrens christmas party. As the BAA owned the aircraft they asked us to deliver Father Christmas one year, picking him up from the airport and dropping him at the Beehive. From our viewpoint we saw the aircraft go below the treeline out of sight but we could still hear it clearly. We heard the engines and the rotor spin up for lift off but no aircraft came to view, then it did come up like a cork out of a bottle. It turned out that while FC was walking off the pilot wound the rotors up to full throttle but with no collective. Once the door was shut but before the cabin crew girls could get to their seats the pilot put on full collective leaving the girls in an inelegant heap on the floor. After it shut down on the pan we could see them beating up the pilots all the way back to the office. Needless to say Bishop Bill did not see the funny side!

16th Mar 2008, 16:12
Ah ... the name 'Bishop Bill!' How I recall that.

Captain Bill Ashpole, (surname I think) was indeed a full time Mormon Bishop. Bill freelanced for my AOC heli business at Redhill and as many will know .... what a thoroughly nice guy. Where are you now Bill?

I suppose on just a couple of occasions we might be sitting quietly when he would raise the subject of my 'conversion' but he never once pushed the mattter in spite of my habit of an evening drink in the Redhill Bristow bar. We are talking about year 1990 or so.

I recall so well, following Nicholas Ridley's scrapping of the LHR-LGW S-61N link service, I studied a possible 'charter replacement' using a A109 or similar. (Redhill nicely based mid way LGW/LHR.) The idea was to make a VFR service available to the airlines on a pre-booked basis which would overcome the Ridley 'scheduled service' difficulty. Helipad north of LGW R/W and south of LHR so no runway crossings. The difficulty was always slotting in 'the occcasional IFR required movement.'

I even got as far as a sensible conversation with the LGW MD who was 100% supportive of the idea. The plan was that the LGW/LHR operating airlines and BAA paid a proportional share of the AOC standing costs, then simply rang the bell when they had a specific client/clients wanting the shuttle and for a small extra fee. I estimated a dozen trips a day minimum.

I'd have to say at the time LGW ATC were co-operative, but LHR seemed less interested. I flew the trip with Bill on a couple of occasions as a look-sea exercise.

I didn't get the service going for plenty of reasons, but now retired, I often wonder if a profitable inter-airfield shuttle opening might still be there.

Best wishes to all,

Dennis Kenyon.

surely not
17th Mar 2008, 13:28
I worked for BCal, but not on this part of their LGW operation, and flew several times on G-LINK always enjoying the experience. The Cabin Crew were all secondees from BCal and I knew a couple of them quite well. Apparently the girls kilts had some additional weighting in the hem to stop them flying up over their heads.................... though it didn't always work!!

Hmmm some names I remember from the cabin crew, Paul Lacy, Cathy Jones, Chrissy Middleton, Sara Groves (I think) and a couple of faces I can remember but not recall the names of.

Bill Ashpole was indeed a fine man, as one would expect from a Mormon Bishop I suppose :) and his secretary 'Betty' was also very friendly and used to protect him very well. Bill also looked after BCal Commuter Ops and the guys there spoke very highly of the support he gave them.

It was a sad day when the service was stopped.

17th Mar 2008, 15:08
Always seems unfortunate the railway never got organised to link Gatwick and Heathrow. There's a train from Gatwick to Kensington Olympia and on to Watford that is invariably empty north of Kensington, while the Heathrow Connect train from Heathrow serves the local places as far as Ealing but then just duplicates the Heathrow Express on into Paddington. Where these two routes cross by the now abandoned Eurostar train depot there is plenty of railway-owned space for a link. Overall journey time stopping at just the main intermediate places would be less than an hour, and more reliable than the M25.

While the numbers of passengers per hour just between the two airports do not justify a frequent train, combining it in this way makes all sorts of other links between south and west London and the two airports possible, Croydon to Heathrow or Ealing to Gatwick, and more efficient than what is in place currently. It could even be called "Airlink" !

17th Mar 2008, 16:06
It was very NOISY, lots of vibration and, on the few occasions
that I had to use it to position to LHR,(usually for a positioning
overnight flog down to some obscure dump in Africa,) I was
impressed that the Health and Safety people made the hosties
wear ear-defenders. Sorry,What was that?:hmm:

18th Mar 2008, 10:06
The Westward Airways Islander link was a wonderful way to do the trip. By April 1970 it was operating from the main terminal at Gatwick and access was via the pier. I think the southern was then used for domestics, mainly BUAs 1-11s. At Heathrow it similarly opererated as a domestic through what was then the domestics terminal at the western end of what is now T2. The approach to Heathrow from the east was superb with the Islander going flat out to slot in with the normal traffic flow. The economics though were probably dreadful despite this being in pre M25 days.

18th Mar 2008, 13:51
Ah Storminnorm.
It was very NOISY, lots of vibration and, on the few occasions
that I had to use it to position to LHR
Whilst I agree, I am almost certainly the only person who slept the trip from LHR to LGW on it..Well I had been awake for 36 Hours when I boarded, had to be shaken awake on arrival.

18th Mar 2008, 14:05
This thread is generating lots of information I was previously unaware of:
So Thanks to DennisK for the Post-Airlink Plan.
Surely Not for the Weighted Hems (although they were not unique in doing that) plus a few other 'titbits'
Speechless Two for the Airlink Timetable (and yes please when your next in the loft :O)
Skylion for the Additional Westward Information, I had long ago despaired of finding out anything further and suddenly there is some!
and of course: Hairy Fool


18th Mar 2008, 19:40
For Opssys,

The only reason the pre booking link did not proceed was simply because the AOC business was sold. The new owner didn't have the experience to take over the project possibility.

I still think there is business there to be done ... properly marketed of course.


No longer ATC
18th Mar 2008, 21:29
More lovely BCAL memories!!!I found my old uniforms in the loft the other day. Anyone remember Aunty Frances from BCAL airlink team??

surely not
19th Mar 2008, 05:40
Yup I remember Frances of the Airlink, and from the Clansman Lounge as well I think? Plus you helped me find some mis routed baggage at Gatwick about 5 years ago. BA MAN had managed to completely mess up a transfer tag for a chap going on a 747 charter ex LGW, but your cluesoesque skills found it.

The lovely BCal girl on the timetable cover is Jackie Abercrombie, and she was (is?) probably even better looking in real life.................... lucky guy that Mr Stagg.

19th Mar 2008, 12:01
Was anyone else amused by the [ possibly ex Green Line ? ] bus provided by BA at LHR to ferry the Airlink pax from the terminal to the "Portacabin" waiting room - the only bus I have ever been on which seemed to require a "crew" of no less than 3. Good old BA overmanning ?!

19th Mar 2008, 22:30
Hi guys - "Bishop Bill" here! Thanks for the very generous comments. Betty Wells drew my attention to the site and I was moved at the memories the Link still evokes. Betty remains the focal point for Airlink and has personally organised anniversary parties.. Apart from getting my Wings in the RAF, Airlink was the highlight of my 36 years spent in aviation. As others have said, it was a remarkable operation which included the staff of 3 companies working together as one. What a privilege to work with such an incredible bunch of professionals be they BAH, BCal, BA or BCHL! The untimely end of the service was a sad reflection on the government of the day! Safe flying and good health to all. Bill Ashpole

surely not
20th Mar 2008, 10:33
huh.......................and there I was thinking BCal Commuter Ops was the pinnacle :} :} :)

20th Mar 2008, 10:56
Tsk Surely Not.
Building a highly movitated multi-discipline team, from one company is an achievment (BCAL Commuter).
Doing with three is a career highlight (Airlink).

Note to Bill.
I was good to see your post and amused to note Betty is still keeping you briefed and indeed organised.