watching the ‘planes go by

I’m sitting in terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow just by gates A13/14. It’s a grey day outside, but the promised rain is holding off and the wind is from the west. Runway 27 left is the active take off runway this afternoon so the aircraft are coming towards me as they get airborne.

The smaller Airbus family, the A319/20/21 variety are going up like lifts; they are well up and appear over the top of the B concourse, clearly happy to be off the ground and flying and their light weight requiring only a short run before they are into their element.

Boeing’s 767s are also confidently lifting off as they come into view, hauling their gear up as they come past the other building even if they have needed a longer run with their higher weight. Their bigger sister the 777 comes into view nose up and with her wings just starting to get a grip on the air and fly her off, but she too looks keen to be off and up aloft.

With four engines to speed her along the A340 just seems unhappy to be flying. Yes she has just left the runway as she comes into view, but she really does not seem to want to leave it too far behind and she wobbles alarmingly as possibly there is a side draft between the terminal 5 buildings. It appears as though she is nowhere near as happy as her smaller sisters to be in the air.

One step down from the A340 the A330 also seems less confident about as leaving Terra Firma and also has a bit of a lurch as she goes past T5. Another A330 next up does the same and I have an irrational urge to rush to the other side of the building to  see if she has managed to clear the M25.

At one time the undisputed Queen of the Skies was Concorde, but the drama of her departures is but a memory these days. Her title has perhaps been assumed by one of her predecessors, but another child of the late 1960s the Boeing 747, for she is the fastest of the subsonic generation and, in her -400 series and later guises, is an elegant looking aeroplane. One such model is next past my vista and she too is already just off the ground, nose up and searching for her domain. From behind her climb out can look quite flat, but the shape of her nose somehow makes her seem to be sniffing out the clouds to enthusiastically rise above them.

There is an old saying about something that looks right probably being right and the 747 has that in spades even more than forty years on. In sharp contrast the A380 looks wrong with all of her proportions out of kilter. Like the other larger Airbus models she does not seem to want to leave the ground at all although her turn of speed down the runway belies her size.

Missing from my spell of viewing today is one aeroplane that truly does seem to want to fly and that is Boeing’s 757. Once a very common sight at Heathrow when BA used them on all of the internal flights they are a little rarer at LHR these days, but they have an almost aquiline quality in the way that they launch themselves off the runway, and with that slightly longer undercarriage watching one land nose up reminds me of an eagle coming down to snatch its prey.

Of the aeroplanes that I have seen taking off today I have flown on all except the A340 and A380. Whilst I would like to the former to my log I have little desire to try her bigger sister for apart from not wanting to fly on anything that ugly there is also the thought of having to be amongst that many others for so long.

Today I am awaiting the call to board a 747-400 for the ride east to Beijing. It is a few years since I last rode one and a long time since I last sat down in the back section of one, but client travel policies are what they are and it has been my choice not to upgrade my ticket.

I’m not all of the way down the back this time, but I recall on westbound trip in the back row of a 747 when in the mid Atlantic turbulence you could look down the fuselage and see it twist. It was also possible to feel an up and down whip for a while.

The time has come to leave my perch here and head for Concourse B and settle in for the overnight flight East for if there is one thing I like more than watching aeroplanes it is flying in them.


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