View Full Version : Lydd-Le Touquet

11th Jan 2003, 19:27
We were reminiscing today about taking the car to France by Silver City, then BUAF, from Lydd to Le Touquet on a Bristol Freighter. There were usually three cars, a few bikes, a bit of freight, and about 15 passengers. They were real aeroplanes too, with smoky old radials, fixed gear, and an emergency exit in the cabin that consisted of a large L-shaped zip. I recall that they flew outbound at 1000 feet, and back at 1500, giving an excellent view during the 15 to 20 minute flight.

Can anyone think of a more intensive international operation? The turn rounds were as quick as you would expect with such a small load, and the aircraft flew morning to night. How many sectors did each crew fly in a day?

It was certainly the nicest way to cross the channel, and the final bonus was the fact that Customs clearance took about five minutes.

Any ex pilots out there?

chipped prop
11th Jan 2003, 21:21
first time i ever flew as a passenger was on this type. think it was around 1960 and my dad had the morris minor on board.we then had a family holiday driving to spain,spent two weeks camping. believe or not if you saw another english car in spain you used to wave and honk, there again these days you may do the same thing for different reasons.

t'aint natural
11th Jan 2003, 21:23
I have a copy of Taffy Powell's book 'Ferryman' in which he says they started with 178 cars in 1948 and went to 2,700 cars and 10,000 pax in 1949; 5,000 cars and 24,000 pax in 1950; 13,000 cars and 30,000 pax in 1951. At one point Silver City had 24 captains with an average of 6,000 hours, and one, Jerry Rosser, had crossed the Channel 5,500 times by 1954.
It was usual for each pilot to make 12 crossings a day (six round trips) and fly 100 hours a month in high summer. In June 1951 they managed 42 round trips a day, which they thought a maximum for a fleet of six aircraft. They had no night flying facilities although the first flight in from France took off in the dark, usually carrying a cargo of cheese.
They came in at 2,000 feet and went out at 1,000. Because of the nature of the operation, engine life was 900 hours. They moved from Lympne to Lydd in 1953. At Lydd, they operated down to 1000yds vis and 300 feet. After years of creeping about the area, says Powell, the pilots could pretty much find Lydd with their eyes shut and the Decca 424 ground radar was used to maintain separation when talking the inbound down through the outbound level. 'Stacking was unknown to us,' he writes.
In 1954 Silver City had routes Lydd - Le Tooks, Gatwick - Le Tooks, Lympne - Calais, Lympne - Ostend, and Southampton - Cherbourg and carried 39,041 cars and 96,625 pax. In one day in July, Silver City aircraft crossed the Channel 222 times.
They had 15 Bristol Freighters by 1955 and even tried a helicopter operation with an S51 but were soon cured of that. By 1958 they'd carried 215,000 cars and 719,000 pax on 125,000 flights, but the ro-ro ferries killed them off; they closed down on October 31st 1970.

11th Jan 2003, 23:00
yes my first flight as pax too... would have been about 1959, I was 10 years old and went across France to Strasbourg on the back of my elder sister's Lambretta:eek: endorse previous, what a way to travel the BF was :D

Pom Pax
11th Jan 2003, 23:39
Have to agree about nicest way.

Used these services several times, but the first was with the rival operation Southend - Calais. This operation never seemed to quite get the attention it deserved from its north of the river position. I think they called their aircraft Carvairs being converted Convairs.

12th Jan 2003, 01:32
The Carvair was a modified DC-4 with a new nose, and if memory serves, a DC-7 fin...
Modified by Freddie Laker's Aviation Traders. Sadly most have been scrapped now, but there are at least two still flying I think, one in Africa somewhere and the other in Georgia.

Returning to the Bristol Freighter, I've read on another forum that a Freighter is coming home to Blighty to replace the one that sadly crashed at Enstone in '96... anyone know more?

t'aint natural
12th Jan 2003, 21:54
The Southend operation was Freddie Laker's; he ploughed all the money he made from the Berlin Airlift into it. It eventually merged with Silver City to become British United Air Ferries.

13th Jan 2003, 06:27
Wonderful to find that there are still some Silver City "first flight" memories out there. I lived between Lympne and Lydd and the sights and sounds of the Bristols and 'Daks' inspired my future career. The genuine friendliness of the staff towards a young enthusiast also helped greatly, in those days when security had a lighter touch.

Does anyone else remember summer days on the beach at Littlestone watching the Frieghters coming in off the Channel to line up on finals for 22, over the Dormy House Hotel which had its name boldly displayed on the roof as a friendly aid to pilots? During the peak season, so it was said, there was a landing or takeoff every 90 seconds at Lydd. Each over of beach cricket would take forever, as all the participants paused to crane their heads upwards to watch the next arrival. At least 6 of us made a career in aviation (did the rest get called-up for the MCC :) ?).

I too had my first commercial flight from Ferryfield to Le Touquet in July 1960. With Mum, Sis and cousin, we flew the Hillman Minx to LTQ and then made a leisurely 6-day journey to join my Dad who had recently started a job in the wilds of eastern Portugal. 10 years earlier Mum and Dad had set off from Lympne with their Humber Hawk, to start their honeymoon in Europe!

In addition to t'aint natural's observations, the minimum check-in time at Lydd was 45 mins. You were directed to a parking space, left the keys with the marshal and went to the terminal to complete formalities. There was even time to have a drink while you watched your treasured family car being driven carefully up the ramp and into the jaws of the Bristol. 25 mins after takeoff you were disembarking in France and, shortly afterwards, away on the road. If only that were still possible. It was indeed more swift and pleasant than the sea or, later, chunnel crossings -- and very competitvely priced.

As Powell himself observes in his excellent book, the demise of the air ferry was more complex than just the advent of the ro-ro. Firstly, I think, his own retirement on medical grounds didn't help, although he was far too modest to say so himself. Secondly, the failure to acquire a larger type for the future and the loss of further key staff, when SC merged into BUAF, removed part of the primary drive of the operation - a familiar theme. Also, its acquisition by P&O was like transferring custody of the estate from the gamekeeper to the poacher. All I can add is that, for us locals, it was very sad to see it all go, after over two decades of sterling service.

Unwell_Raptor, thanks for starting this thread - it made me dig out some old books 'n things! There are still a few ex-Silver City pilots and staff around and perhaps someone may pick-up on your post. Sadly, the ones who were family friends have now made their final departure.

13th Jan 2003, 16:22
there are at least two still flying I think, one in Africa somewhere and the other in Georgia Count is up to 3 now, the Hawkair one which had been stored at Terrace (Canada) was sold to an Alaskan operator on 27 Dec last :)

Hawkair also have the last airworthy(*) Bristol 170 if anyone would care to make them an offer.
* minus one engine and the props are either time-expired or about to be.

13th Jan 2003, 16:39
Another Carvair? Nice one Paper Tiger!

Now what are the chances of one of the three coming home to retire in a UK museum?:)

t'aint natural
14th Jan 2003, 20:19
A sad git writes:
I just picked up my February copy of Aeroplane and in it (page 18) are photographs of Silver City's G-AIFV in May 1950, when it was leased to an outfit in Malta to fly cattle to Cairo. The writer of a letter on the subject, Norman Lees of Burnham on Crouch, says he was an ardent cine-photographer and filmed in colour many Biffo movements at Lydd and Le Touquet.

Pom Pax
15th Jan 2003, 00:50
Remember seeing several (3?) Silver City Dc3s in Idris in '58. I have always assumed they were on contract for oil exploration. At that time Libya was an oil importer still!

19th Jan 2003, 08:36
Just thought I'd chip in. Had a delightful days flying in '96. Picked my dad up from The home of the Vale of the White Horse Gliding Club and flew him to Lydd for their annual fly-in. (Managed to arrive 15 seconds early for my 9am slot -chuffed!) The reason? To see the Bristol freighter, now sadly lying in bits at Enstone.

Dad had pictures of his black Ford Consul being loaded on to the Freighter at Lydd a couple of times back in the '50's. It was such an adventure that he has even kept the tickets (48/- return!!) When he produced these items to the crew he was a mini celebrity for a while.

They had posed the freighter with a Bristol car (401 possibly) on the ramp. Great to have a look around this old beast. The in cockpit noise must have been fatiguing, the crew's seats are exactly in line with the props!

I'll chat to him tonite and see if I can glean any more.


19th Jan 2003, 08:56
Interesting thread! I wonder if you'll get as many responses as my MMMmmiles thread has? I hope so.

I lived on Sheppey from birth in 53 to the early 70's.

I well remember the Atlas Carvairs flying low over Sheppey to and from Southend, often with an engine feathered.

They presented an unmistakeable sight and sound in the air.

Bristol Freighter - Dubbed the 'Frightener' apparently due to the scares that some low-time pilots had with them.

I am told that standing on the car deck in flight was a nauseating experience. You could see the clouds coming in through the front door gaps also??

I was at Enstone shortly after the crash. A miracle that nobody was killed.

swung right on take off on 26 and went straight for the crowded Oxfordshire SportFlying Clubhouse halfway down the runway.

At the last minute, the pilot rolled the thing left, the stbd wing narrowly missing the roof of the clubhouse.

Alas, at that point, the port wing struck the runway and the thing nose in, skidded off to the left and was written off in the crash.

THe wing collapsed onto the bottom of the fuselage.

Mercifully - nobody was sitting there at the time.

A huge effort to import and restore this ex-Canadion machine. It lasted only a few weeks...

I am not sure of the pilots qualifications to fly the thing but it was a pilot error accident I understand.

The wing survives to this day at Enstone.

I hope one day to see another in UK skies.

If any of you current aviators fly in to Cherbourg - there are some wonderful old pictures of Bristol Freighters on display.


20th Jan 2003, 09:35
The (new) pilot was practicing X-wind landings, apparently......

Spoke to the Old Man last night. He remembers the Freighter being late on a Southend-Ostende run. He watched it touch down at Southend, taxi towards the terminal with the doors being cranked open and the engines running down. Fifteen (yes, fifteen!!) minutes later it was airborne with his car and two others on board. Usually two largish cars and one small one. The pax sat at the back and he said it was EXTREMELY noisy!!


20th Jan 2003, 19:20
My first ever flight was on a Silver City DC3 from Lydd to Le Touquet in about 1960. My dad told me he had asked the pilot if he would taxi the aircraft for me, and he had agreed. I was a bit concerned that the pilot then had the temerity to take off!

However, my most vivid memory is standing on the flight deck looking at the coast of France approaching, and the HUGE cobweb in one corner of the roof....

31st Jan 2003, 19:50
Worked for British Independent Airways operating HS748's on this run 1990-91. No cars, not my first flight, but the momories are just as good for other reasons. We had the 2 story office block attached to the terminal next door to the hangar. Walking through to Airside with the loadsheets had history each side. Masses of B&W photos of the heyday, signed (if I remember right) by the likes of Carry (spelling?) Grant. Do the Duty Crew still watch the telly bought by Paul McCartney. Both Lydd and Le Touquet super airfields.

Southend, been there as well. We would play 5-aside footy in the old customs shed for clearing cars on nights. Fond memories.

I do however remember the BAF Carvairs overflying my house, growing up in Essex in the 70's and 80's? Big silver birds with blue bands around the waist. Were the carting cars then?


1st Feb 2003, 03:03
In 1966 I went to work in Libya so I decided to buy a car in UK ( a Ford Cortina!) and drive to Tripoli - as you do !

The first stage of the trip was:O :O

Lydd - Le Touquet in a Frightener:p

The perfect start for an epic trip !:O