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LHR nostalgia

Old 2nd Feb 2011, 17:17
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LHR nostalgia

Forgive me if a thread like this is already extant and I've missed it. It was triggered by two excellent threads about the Conc and the Tripod on the 'Tech Log' forum.

My family moved to Isleworth in the mid-1950s. Our house was near the OM for 28L so airliners were continually droning over our heads. A goodly proportion of them were BEA Viscounts so the whine of Darts was part of the soundtrack of my youth.

In those days the LHR Central Area consisted of three buildings: The Queen's Building (admin), the tower and THE terminal (later named 'Europa', later still the more prosaic 'Terminal 2'). The two narrow bore tunnels alongside the road access tunnels connecting the A4 to the Central Area were intended for cyclists (and pedestrians!), which is how we plane-spotters got there. The car park was just a cleared area of hard standing adjacent to the QB. A Dragon Rapide flew joyrides for 10 shillings a throw.

A common myth today tells of the unreliability of large piston aero-engines in the 'old days'. We spotters watched hundreds of propliners fly over us on final approach. A feathered prop was in fact an event rare enough to be worthy of comment.

The following is an edited version of an article I sent to 'Touchdown' (the magazine for retired BA staff), which they published on their Letters page:

<<My junior school was located even closer to the OM, which meant that airliners passing overhead were flying approximately 1300 feet above ground level. Most of the children paid no attention to the machines droning over the school – they made little noise apart from the very occasional jet, such as the RAF’s Comet 2s, Air France’s prototype Caravelles and Aeroflot’s Tu104s.

We plane-spotters watched them all, noting down registrations of course. Even indoors we could identify aircraft types by the timbre of their engines. The crackle of Wright Turbo-Compounds was the signature of Super Connies, while Merlins meant Argonaut or York.

One spring morning in 1958, during break, we spotters in the playground identified a distant approaching aircraft as either DC4 or Argonaut (the airframes were virtually identical). Unusually it was flying much lower than normal. As it got closer the narrow frontal area of its engine nacelles told us ‘Argonaut’ and soon the growl of Merlins confirmed the identity. By now, other children were taking interest. The noise of kids at play gradually subsided as one by one they stopped their games and stood rooted to the spot watching the BOAC aircraft roar past, the eyes of a couple of hundred temporarily silent and motionless children following its progress. I estimated that its height was about 500 feet. The aircraft did not appear to be in trouble. All four props were turning and it was not descending. I noted the registration, of course, but sadly this snippet of data has since escaped my memory. We all watched as the aircraft sedately flew on towards Heathrow and gradually the other children lost interest and resumed their playground activities.

There was no subsequent reference to the incident in any of the media and I wonder if perhaps the crew of the Argo were just having a bit of fun. In those days Captains had more latitude about how they flew their aircraft. A repeat performance today would probably result in a no-biscuit interview of the crew by their managers.>>
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Old 2nd Feb 2011, 17:34
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I was brought up in Eastcote, and went to school in Harrow. Consequently saw a lot of the Northolt circuit and aircraft approaching Heathrow. Dad worked for a firm on Poyle Trading Estate in Colnbrook, so a treat on the Saturday mornings that he went in for sales meetings was to go and sit outside the factory (Sprung Slumber) and watch the whole range of piston engined airliners approaching HR. I guess over Colnbrook they were between 300 and 500ft. I can still sense the vibration in my stomach from those wonderful piston engines.
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Old 2nd Feb 2011, 20:48
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Wish I'd been around in those days, but 1971-6 was my planespotting era.

A "No biscuit interview." I like that!
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Old 3rd Feb 2011, 16:27
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Got married in March 1966, (best time for tax, remember that!!) & lived for a time in Vickerage Farm Road, just by the A4 Bath Road.

Having worked a night shift at Heathrow, I got home & took new wife to work in Hounslow. It was a Friday because Waitrose where she worked stayed open until 2100. Was supposed to collect her, but, was rudely awakened about 2130 by said wife storming in & waking me up!!

Just about the 12 hours sleep, with the aircraft about 500 feet above the house all day.

Aircraft noise? What aircraft noise!!

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Old 3rd Feb 2011, 18:44
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In Mid '70's my most direct route from home to work involved the perimiter road, though BEA and BOAC Engineering and along the north side and out by the pub at Colnbrook (name).

One day, probably '72?? just after the Munich games massacre racing a prop job as it took off on 28R, in my Hillman Imp. was brought to a screaming halt by the army road blocks, tanks and guns and spent the next 3 hours trying to explain I was not a terorrist!!, Brother who worked at Heathrow had to come and verify who I was

Heathrow was not the same since.

Happy Days
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Old 4th Feb 2011, 14:29
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The 'Army turning-up' at Heathrow happened several times during the 70s ... the first few times would appear to have been immediately after some kind of incident elsewhere in the world, but several other times it happened as a 'reminder' that the security forces were out there, and available at short/no-notice.

My OM used to work at Heathrow and had many tales of run-ins with the Army. It seems he'd show his ID badge to the first Army bloke he encountered, and continue on his way. When he was next challenged he'd just ignore them and carry-on as if they weren't there! They'd get very jumpy, so he'd simply drive-off in his van (he was 'airside' and could go pretty much anywhere he wanted!), leaving them fuming.

In fairness, he was 'ex-Services' himself, so he knew what he could and could not do, and just how far he could push them.
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Old 4th Feb 2011, 14:54
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In the days before security you could roam around just about anywhere, if you knew where you were going or at least if you looked as though you did.

1973-1979 I was working for BOAC/BA in Speedbird House and just behind the back entrance was a door in the blast fence which let on to the apron by the Wing Hangar (Tech Block B). Around the bottom of the hangar was our preferred canteen so you would often be ducking under the wings of the 707s and VC10s parked there, if it was raining you would take a shortcut through the hangar, taking care to avoid any puddles of Skydrol. No badges or IDs whatsoever.

Another time, myself and a colleague decided to lunch in the new-ish Tech Block C and walk back via the aprons. There were parked that day the very first of the 747-200s, just off delivery, and a Concorde. We strolled up the steps to the 747 and asked one of the folks starting work on the (empty) interior if we could have a look around. Having done that we thought – why not? – and went up iunto the Concorde. It was deserted, and for ten minutes we had the run of the aircraft, cabin and flight deck, to ourselves.
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Old 4th Feb 2011, 16:48
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I worked opposite LHR for a company on the Bath Road in the late 70's.
A lady I worked with was friends with a British Airways 'groundie' (J.T.)

In return for a free flight from Biggin to Shoreham and back in my club 150, John, (with a cursory wave of his pass), gave me a tour of the hangars, including a VC10 (used just for training I think- it had just 6 seats in the cabin) and Concorde!
I sat transfixed in the L/H seat, as the engineers went about their business around us- Pure magic!

John always wanted to be a pilot, and I was thrilled some years later to hear that he had not only done just that, but was a F/O on Concorde!
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Old 14th Feb 2011, 09:54
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Memories of a spotter in the 1970's whilst still at school was travelling up to LHR on a Saturday morning on a Green Line Golden Rover ticket on the 727 bus. After dodging about on MSCP roofs and over to Queens Bld it was off to The Aviation Hobby Shop in West Drayton on an ONK bus.

ONK was the first 3 letters of all the reg's they were bright yellow. Then with new postcards in hand it was back to LHR for the 727 home again. Not exactly a misspent youth..
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Old 14th Feb 2011, 11:43
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In the mid 70s the bus was 5p per sector for spotty little oiks. So I used to get the earliest pssible 109 from Purley to Brixton, a bus from there to Hounslow, and another to the central terminal area. It took several hours though, and with a little more pocket money, train and tube became de rigeur, and eventually bicycle via Banstead Downs, Tolworth, Hampton Court and Feltham. That took about an hour and a half.

Used to visit AHS as well - I eventually gave all my postcards (mostly freebies from the airlines) to some kid at Gatwick who had just started collecting. Some years later I visited a collectors' fair at Crawley and was amazed to see how much some of them, and the airline timetables I'd thrown out, were worth!
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Old 14th Feb 2011, 12:10
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30th June 1953.

I was thinking about my first experience of LHR only the other day, and it has to do with the recent tragic death of Trevor Bailey. On the 30th of June, 1953, Heathrow North Side, I was excitedly waiting with my parents to board a BOAC Argonaut, bound for Accra, Gold Coast (as it was then) for my first ever flight. Outside, the apron had Stratocruisers, DC-6s (PanAm), and I remember being a little bit disappointed when my father pointed out 'our' aeroplane that it wasn't the interesting one with 'the three tails' (Constellation).

When the boarding call came: "Passengers should extinguish their cigarettes and follow the blue/green/...red?* light to embarkation," my father had to be torn away from the knot of people at the bar. Not for reasons of any last-minute 'Dutch Courage' you understand, but they were crowded round the radio set, listening to Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson doing their heroic stand against the Aussie attack in the Lord's Test Match.

The other interesting thing is that, while the engines were being run up, a Comet 1 taxied past and took off, taking the Queen Mother, and I think Princess Margaret on a tour of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

* There was a series of painted light bulbs in the ceiling, which you followed to reach the correct exit onto the apron, where a BOAC ground girl was waiting with a clipboard to tick your names off on the passenger list. There were three colours. Blue and green I'm sure of, not so sure about red.

The other thing I remember is the Alcock and Brown statue outside the Forte restaurant, and all the chairs being wicker.
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Old 14th Feb 2011, 13:05
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Since we are in a nostalgic mood when as a 16 year old trainee electrician with BOAC in 1947 we transfered from Bovingdon to "The London Airport" and I was seconded to the "North Side "and did a spell on Arrivals and Departures" and as there was about 20 arrivals and departures a shift in those days we used to go on the Pan Am , American Arlines ,and other ailines getting yesterdays papers and the unused chewing gum from the "Hosties " who to me [all pimples and a D.A. haircut ]looked like film stars,[remember sweets were rationed in those days] pure bliss.seeing the Hollywood stars arrive and depart the odd Royal and Government official ,
market gardens all around the airport sparking plugs available at 2/6d [15p]a set of 4 from Champions at Hatton Cross no TBAor BEA hangers
one could go on but enough boring you
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Old 14th Feb 2011, 17:10
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Bus from Wendover, Bucks to Amersham. Bus from Amersham to Uxbridge, then to Heathrow and walk through the tunnel, and what delights awaited a 15 year old. Complete with my Ian Allen Airliner Registration books, many a happy day was spent. Stratocruisers, Constellation,s DC3s, Yorks [Hunting Clan] DC4s,6s,7s, and then a Jet!!!! A Comet appeared out of the gloom!! Everyone ran for a closer view. How times have changed! Bring a DC6 in, and everyone would flock to see it again.
Happy,happy days, which led to a lifetime of Aviation hobbying, covering the globe, Gliding, Skydiving, PPl. Thankyou Heathrow. I remembered all these days as I walked down the jetway to become a passenger on Concorde, a long way from the wide-eyed 15 year old!!
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Old 16th Feb 2011, 09:44
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Watching an old TV series probably filmed in 1975, there was a scene at Heathrow.

Among the BA Tridents there was one in BEA colours. Would this have been one they still hadn't got round to repainting or must it have been the instructional airframe that was never repainted?
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 00:55
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All Tridents were in BEA colour scheme ie Red wings and a red square with BEA in white from makers factory in the 60s until about a year after the merger, they were repainted as soon as possible , and as there were nearly or over a 100 aircraft of all types in our fleet it took a little time to do it.We never had an instructional airframe as such to my knowledge they were all flyers.

Last edited by avionic type; 17th Feb 2011 at 01:00. Reason: some additions
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 05:52
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Have memories of Pan Am taking delivery of the very first 747 from Boeing in '69. They brought it across to LHR for show and tell. Got shown and told. Looked positively huge with all the 707's and other littlies around it.
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 06:38
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Late 1940s my grandfather was the contracting quantity surveyor for the construction of LHR. On Saturdays when I wasn’t at boarding school we would drive from Putney to the South side buildings where his office was in a portable, but comfortable with a big desk and a leather sofa. I would sit for half an hour or so while he made phone calls and then we’d go over to the other side for lunch in the restaurant, which was in a Nissen hut. They had an hors d’oeuvre trolley, all rotating chrome and white dishes which you could choose from, then breaded plaice, chips and peas because I was too nervous to choose anything more interesting.

Had my sixth or seventh birthday party in that restaurant with a tour of the Comet and a huge bonfire afterwards down near the end of the airport. (Couldn’t do a lot of things these days!)

He used to organise Cricket matches on the airport, builders vs news people (there was a news agency on the airport) or administrators.
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 08:03
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On a slight thread drift, I vividly remember at the end of school term, boarding a BEA Viking to meet my parents in Malta, but from Northolt. Why from there and not Heathrow?
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 08:23
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Red wings?

avionic type: All Tridents were in BEA colour scheme ie Red wings and a red square with BEA in white from makers factory in the 60s until about a year after the merger
You're forgetting this unfortunate livery

We never had an instructional airframe as such to my knowledge they were all flyers
There used to be an ‘instructional’ BOAC Argonaut at Hatton Cross in the late 1960s, and I’ve actually driven it! At Easter 1966 I went on a week’s ‘careers course’ for sixth formers at BOAC and at one point we were taken up into the Argonaut, two of the engines were started and we were each allowed to sit in the left hand seat and work the throttles up to a certain rev limit.

My uncertain memory tells me that at that stage there were still Comets and DC-7Fs around in BOAC livery, not sure about Britannias. When I joined the company a year and a half later, all were gone.

Last edited by The SSK; 17th Feb 2011 at 08:48.
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Old 17th Feb 2011, 09:17
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GF: Northolt was BEA's London terminal until LHR Central was phased in. Ambassadors and Viscounts were first there, Vikings split between the two, 4/50-last Northolt service, 30/10/54.
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