Posts Tagged ‘Aircraft’

The Dakota

September 4, 2015

As a child I lived most of my life in the village of Ifield. It got subsumed into Crawley new Town as that was built, but was still on the edge of town.

Then another big building project began to the north of Ifield. This was the building of the new Gatwick Airport which opened in 1958.

The end of the runway was little more than a mile from my house. I became, for a while, an aircraft spotter. But do you know what? It was tedious. You could hang around for hours and see no aircraft take off or land. Those you did see were the little De Havilland Doves and Herons, the ‘big’ turboprop Vickers Viscounts but mostly they were American built Douglas Dakotas or the similar looking British built Vickers Viking.

Just occasionally a Bristol Britannia might appear or a Lockheed Constellation.

Eleven years later the Dakota was still in evidence, but becoming more of a rarity. In 1969, on a visit to the British United Airways depot, we saw this one.


For once in those days of the late 60s I have captioned this well.


This was quite an old girl even back in 1969 for she came off the production line in mid-1944, making her just about 25 when I took that photo. She still had a dozen years of front line service in front of her, though, and still survives. She is now in the care of a charity called ‘Classic Air Force’ and you can read a full history of this plane on their web site at .

And now a memory from the late 50s. Dakotas were used to deliver newspapers to the Channel Islands. I guess early editions were rushed from the presses down to Gatwick and trundled on to a waiting Dakota. If the wind was in the east the planes taxied up to the runway end nearest my home where they carried out a high rev engine test before taking off. Sometimes the noise of that test woke me and I can still recall the sound of those engines now. Although it was at something like 3 in the morning, I quite liked this noise which broke the silence of the night.


Every which way!

February 8, 2015

It isn’t the first time I have looked out from my bathroom window to see this kind of chaos in the skies.


This photo was taken yesterday morning – 7th February 1915. Aeroplane vapour trails do seem to be heading every which way.

I tend to assume that much of this is military activity for we live on the edge of Salisbury Plain which is a forces training area. But maybe the sky over Salisbury plain is a vast aeroplane route crossing place.

Certainly before this photo was taken we had been watching planes, heading more or less south west, race the clouds that were being blown by the chill north east winds. We had declared that race more or less a dead heat which gives an indication of the speed of winds up there – and also gave us thoughts about the sheer numbers of jet liners (I’m sure these were civil aircraft) that were heading away from the UK.

These planes are all too high up to be a noise nuisance and that’s probably just as well.

The VC10

October 26, 2014

Jet airliners are of my age or a bit younger. I remember the early Comets and the disasters they had due to sudden decompression when window frames fractured.  The Comet went on to be quite successful but it was American companies which came to dominate the jet airliner market for many a year.

Then the British fought back with planes with rear mounted jet engines and in terms of size the daddy of them all was the Vickers VC10. Perhaps we could say the VC10 was typically British – essentially high class engineering but something of a flop commercially. The first one flew in 1962 and in the end many had long lives, but mostly as refuelling planes in the RAF.

From my time living in Ifield, little more than a mile from the country end of the runway at Gatwick, I knew them well and always thought they were handsome aircraft. In about 1969 I visited the British United Airways hangar at the airport and was able to get close up to a VC10.


The public actually liked these planes, perhaps spurred on by the adverts we used to see on huge posters. One had the slogan, ‘slip across the Atlantic on the quiet’. For those of us on the ground that seemed like a total untruth. The VC10 was not quiet but apparently those rear mounted engines made it quieter in the cabin. The other ad simply said ‘try a little VC Tenderness’.  It seems the ads gave the planes appeal.


A view along the fuselage.

And the warning to one and all is to get your old slides copied. These have mould growth on them and so may have been saved just in time.

Gatwick Airport

November 19, 2012

I was raised in a village called Ifield which became a part of Crawley New Town. During my childhood, the new Gatwick Airport was built. Our house ended up about a mile and a quarter from one end of the runway.

The new airport opened in 1958. During construction, our quiet, child friendly village street had become a thoroughfare for an endless stream of lorries carrying spoil from the new site. What a shame not to have recorded that stream of 1950s lorries.

Then came the excitement of aircraft spotting. The severed end of Bonnetts Lane was close enough to the runway to be able to collect aircraft registrations. Sadly, I gave my books away so I have no record written down of the planes I saw in a brief career as a plane spotter.

Actually, it really wasn’t too exciting because aircraft movements were few and far between. What there were would have been classed as tiny by today’s standards. Dakotas formed the backbone of any operations but we also saw De Havilland Doves and Herons. My favourite was the Vickers Viscount and I still have my ‘Dinky; from that era.

I was disappointed at the time that the Viscount was not made in BEA livery, for that was what I saw. This was Air France livery and I never saw anything that exotic.

The Viscount has the proper legends on its wings.

I recall one occasion when a Viscount came in to land and we could see one engine wasn’t working. Suddenly, the landing was aborted and the plane climbed, unsteadily and veered away from the runway towards we spotters at the end of Bonnetts Lane. This was scary for we didn’t have a clue what was happening. About 5 minutes later the same plane made another runway approach and did precisely the same thing. We learned, somehow, that this was crew training. There were so few flights in and out of Gatwick that the facilities could be used for such purposes.

Standing at the end of the lane and seeing no aircraft movements began to wane as a field of fun. I gave up the hobby of spotting, but still kept myself aware of the aircraft scene. In 1969 I had a chance to visit the British United Airways facilities at Gatwick and was delighted to find a Dakota – by then a local rarity – taxiing around.

But despite interest, to this day my only flying experience has been in a glider.