View Full Version : Tripoli Idris 1955

5th Sep 2012, 13:43
I flew into Idris on film location on one of those BOAC Hermes that had hurriedly replaced the grounded Comets. A week later the ill-fated Canadair Argonaut crashed. Those who survived were brought to our Grand Hotel and made members of Tripoli Beach Club.

A colleague working out there with me remembers an oil lit runway - I recall how dark it was, lit by oil lamps with a few electric bulbs whoseoriginal dimness was further obscured by layers of dust and cobwebs. Though bearing the name of King Idris it was clear that any royal patronage had nottouched the place. This was 1955 and Libya was one of the poorest nations onearth, eighty percent of its population were nomads and its largest industrywas from recycling of war-scrap from the allies and axis equipment left in thedesert during the Second World War. Idris Airport was poorly equipped andserved mainly as a staging post down to Nigeria for Europe, with an RAFdetachment to service the strategic air corridor to East Africa and the FarEast. In the night-time gloom it had all the appearance of an old countryrailway station in a black and white pre-war movie.

BUT -and here's the question. Is this recollection correct, was it all oil lamps, and what would the likely 'safety-rating' have been, pilot-wise?
I'd be grateful for actual memories or educated guesses.

7th Sep 2012, 21:19
In the 1950's, and possbly later, "Goosneck Flares" provided runway lighting where permanent airfield lighting systems were not installed.

I served on three RAF airfields in the 1950's where gooseneck flares were the only form of runway lighting.

Google Gooseneck flares for more info.

8th Sep 2012, 05:56
Here is a picture of the control tower and apron in 1963 or thereabouts.



I went in there with the Valiant. Apart from the Hastings there were no other aircraft there. There was an RAF station of sorts because they had an officer's mess and bar. I cannot remember why we went there and I never went back.

8th Sep 2012, 11:13
Spent a few days at Idris in March 1963 when I was on an Argosy course which had been detached to Malta due to ice covered runways at Benson. Very useful for low level practice in desert/mountainous conditions. The transit officers living quarters was housed in the Italian Air Force officers' brothel when it was called Castel Benito. Unfortunately the inmates had long gone :sad:

9th Sep 2012, 12:04
I remember Idris - or Castel Benito as some people still called it - as having the classic semi-recessed lighting of the period. White on the runway, with the peri-track lit by amber on the outside, blue on the inner. This was in June and August 1956, to and from Accra in an Argonaut.

The terminal building was another classic of the period, think 'Casablanca.' Cane chairs, slow swirling fans in the ceiling, and waiters with fez hats. On production of your plastic B.O.A.C. transit boarding card, you could get a soft drink and stand on the terrace outside, watching the aircraft being overwing refuelled, and the new crew walking out to it.

I do have a recollection of landing and taking-off on a gooseneck lit runway - at East Fortune in June 1961 - during the temporary move from Turnhouse for runway resurfacing.


9th Sep 2012, 12:40
White on the runway, with the peri-track lit by amber on the outside, blue on the inner.

Standard Royal Air Force station runway and taxiway lighting at the time

9th Sep 2012, 15:28
I also visited Idris a few times when I was on Argosys. With my total ignorance of the Italian language, I had always associated Castel Benito with Benito Mussolini and was quite surprised to discover that the NDB still coded "CB".

My worst injury in an aircraft happened one night when we left Idris to go to Luqa. It was very hot and very sweaty and I was wearing just my light-weight flying suit and a pair of shreddies.

There was a lot of Cb activity around that night and when the loadmaster came up the ladder with the tray of coffee and tea, we had a particularly good outbreak of St Elmo's fire across the windscreens. The young loadmaster had never seen St Elmo's before and he decanted the entire contents of the tray into my lap.

I was not best pleased and the future of my family resembled red tangerines for a couple of days thereafter!

Funny how you remember places!

Going back to the original query, I don't remember that much about Idris except wishing that we were just up the road with the USAF at Wheelus instead.

9th Sep 2012, 15:45
Shortly before I joined 99 in 1957, a Hastings collided with a camel one dark night as it was crossing the runway on a traditional path which was in existence before the airfield was built. Result - An awful lot of Camel mince and a double prop change!

9th Sep 2012, 17:09
Interestingly enough, when you and I were in Aden, I was a keen glider pilot at Sheik Othman. We towed our gliders aloft by auto tow.

Every morning, a herd of milking camels migrated across our strip. There were usually about 20-30 of them. They headed back south about four o'clock in the afternoon.

They were amazing. Every single camel got to the edge of the runway and looked both ways before crossing! They had obviously signed the Flying Order Book!

9th Sep 2012, 18:54
Message from my father (italian):

Castel Benito Airport- Tripoli-Libya-
C.B. means CHURCH OF SAN BENEDETTO(nickname BENITO).the church is located about 10 km. from the control tower.
I was working as Radio Operator from 1949-1951 at the Tower.

10th Sep 2012, 12:09

I am most grateful for your explanation. I have often wondered about the "CB" bit.

27th Sep 2012, 11:34
Thank you folks. What a absolute gold-mine of memories. And Pics too. Many thanks for answering my question.

28th Sep 2012, 13:20
Visited there on a Nav training flight in 1953. Only recollection was the size of the cockroaches. never seen bigger ones anywhere

Tea Planter
27th Oct 2012, 01:12
I flew into Idris in 1958 on an end-of-course navigation trip. Only three of our four Varsities made it: the fourth diverted to Cagliari after an engine seized and it nearly went into the Med.
I don't remember the runway lighting. Perhaps our eyes were still adjusting to the dazzle after passing Wheelus.
My main recollection is of the transit officers' quarters which, we were told, had been the Italian officers' brothel. The delapidated state of the beds attested to this.
Attached, a shot of the 'brothel' garden and some happy snaps with the hangar/terminal in the background.http://i603.photobucket.com/albums/tt111/tonywills/195810Idristransitquarters.jpg


Ron Cake
27th Oct 2012, 15:36
Tea Planter:

...great to see your photos at Idris. I guess we all looked a bit like that when were A/PO aircrew trainees.

I'm researching Vickers Varsity markings and colour schemes. It's rare to see a colour photo from that era and so your middle picture showing part of a Varsity was interesting. I'm fairly sure it is WL 625 from I ANS Topcliffe. Do you have any other shots of it or, indeed, any other Varsity that you could send me by e mail?


Tea Planter
29th Oct 2012, 21:37
Hi, Ron Cake.
If you check out the Vickers Varsity thread in Aviation History and Nostalgia, page 7, there is a photo I posted earlier of the three Varsitys on the apron at Idris.
The closest is the one I flew in and it is WL625 (C) as indeed is the aircraft in the shot of the two green navigators. (How did you work that out?)
Our pilot was Master Pilot Brookfield, a Pole who had adopted an English name, and who took great delight in mispronouncing French placenames much to the annoyance of the French air traffickers.
Those pictures are all I have of Varsitys from that time but I can email you the originals if you wish.
Tea Planter

30th Oct 2012, 12:13
The transit officers living quarters was housed in the Italian Air Force officers' brothel when it was called Castel Benito. Unfortunately the inmates had long gone ...... probably not a bad thing - as 20 odd years had elapsed!

30th Oct 2012, 12:43
...... probably not a bad thing - as 20 odd years had elapsed!

Beggars can't be choosers :E

Ron Cake
30th Oct 2012, 17:16
Tea planter:


I've looked at your three a/c line up photo - brilliant!

How did I know it was WL 625? Well, It was obviously either No 1 or 2 ANS. In 1958 2 ANS was not using code 'C'. But 1 ANS used 'C' on several a/c over the years and in 1958 it was allocated to WL 625. Easy?
I'm sure that by now the word 'anorak' will have crossed your mind. But I am the 'Air Britain' Varsity specialist and so need to know code allocations and the like.

I would really like to see the 'original' of the three a/c photo especially since you identified the nearest a/c as WL 625. I'll pm my e mail address



30th Oct 2012, 22:12
Our pilot on a Nav training flight was a Czech with a strong accent. Slightly worrying to hear him arguing with French ATC speaking English with a Clouseau type accent about a danger zone.

Pom Pax
3rd Nov 2012, 18:00
Was there just the one block or were there two adjacent angled identical blocks?
I agree the beds had seen better days but a few "John Collins" ensured a good sleep.
My enduring memory is of taking a short cut from the pool to the bar across the cricket square and sinking ankle deep in sand in the cover point area.

3rd Nov 2012, 18:55
Does anyone remember the monkey ?
On the pan where most of us were parked was a monkey on a very long chain attached to its collar.It was quite tame and would jump up and cling to you.
It didn't like you making quick movements and if you tried to get rid of it too quickly it would bite.
Good job we didn't worry too much about tetanus etc in those days (c 1963-68)

Pom Pax
3rd Nov 2012, 19:19
No monkey but a camel grazing the fence (hedge), first thing I saw whilst taxing in.