Tag Archives: flying

If only the designers of Heathrow T2 had taken a look at Tampa

Last week I was one of around 3000 people who spent a day helping  to test the systems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 2. It was an interesting day and as someone who generally likes airports I had a good time even if I did not get to go anywhere. It is all nice and new, but Continue reading


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This piece is being written at 37000 feet over Russia which seems a little risky for a child of the cold war era with vivid memories of what befell Gary Powers when he tried it. I half expect a couple of MiGs to slide into position alongside us and fire warning shots. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Musings on MH370

News that the flight almost certainly crashed into the ocean is not really a surprise, for had it landed, or crashed, on terra firma anywhere there would have been some news of it long since. Continue reading

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How to avoid dying in a plane crash

I have cracked the secret of not dying in a ‘plane crash, and all for less than $20. I just bought myself a Ralph Lauren shirt cheap in T J Maxx to wear when I fly. Continue reading

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Boeing’s 747 is still the queen of the skies for me

It is very nice to be back on a Boeing 747, still very much the Queen of the Skies. It seems incredible that it is just over 40 years since I first saw one; I was at Crystal Palace watching the motor racing and, used as we were to the endless procession of Boeing 707s and Douglas DC8s, with the occasional VC10 or something else turning in for the run into Heathrow when I looked up to see my first 747 (I’ve never liked the term Jumbo) as one of Pan-Am’s finest swung in. It looked huge compared to all of the others, even if it was barely visible on the photo that I took.

At that time I had yet to fly and, if you ignore a 30 or so feet zoom over an hedge and into a cabbage field when I was knocked off my motor bike, it would be 16 years before a BA 757 whisked me to Aberdeen one evening with one of her sisters bringing me back from Edinburgh a few days later. Whilst a long haul trip and the chance to fly on a 747 was conspicuous by its absence the following years saw me become a Shuttle Warrior as I nipped back and forth to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast so often that I got onto first name terms with some of the cabin crew.

That friendship and my love of the 747 were to be savagely disrupted in the space of less than three weeks starting late 1988 when firstly we saw that memorable image of the nose section of Pan-Am’s Clipper Maid of the Seas in a border’s field. The night she went down I had seen a Pan-Am 747 pass me when it took off from Heathrow as I loaded my bag into my car in the long stay car park. Whether it was flight 103 or one of her sisters I don’t know, but the majesty of the one I saw roar past me bore sharp contrast to the one that lay broken a few hundred miles north.

Around that time I had flown home from Edinburgh on G-OBME, one of British Midland’s new 737-400’s. Amongst the crew Ali and Barbara and their colleagues looked after us well on the short hop down to London and, once again, I made my way out to the long stay car park and headed down the M4 for home. Then came the news of an aircraft having come down on the M1 motorway trying to get into East Midlands airport after engine problems. That aircraft was G-OBME, and Ali and Barbara were amongst the crew. It was a black month.

My first flight on a 747 came in 1994, Gatwick to Newark with Continental and then came something of a flurry, mostly with Virgin Atlantic to California and Florida and the initial impression of them as the Queen of the Skies has been affirmed by experience. Over the years I flown down the back (in the last row you can actually see the fuselage warp during turbulence), right at the very front where you are further forward than the pilots and on the upstairs deck. They are a great aircraft, and about the fastest thing that you can fly on these days after the demise of Concorde, the erstwhile Goddess of the Skies.

So here I am again on one of Seattle’s finest, this one being one of Sir Richard’s fleet of 400 series models for another Atlantic crossing and, as someone of my generation who marvelled at Thunderbirds, there is a pleasure at riding once more aboard an aeroplane named Lady Penelope, the third or fourth time she has swept me over the pond.

You can keep your A380s, so ugly and bloated; the 747 has a much more graceful line and will always be one I carry torch for.

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hats off to Sir Frank Whittle: celebrating the 70th anniversary of Britain’s first jet powered flight

Seventy years ago today history was made when a British jet powered aeroplane first flew as the W1 turbo fan powered Gloster E28/39 took off from Cranwell and made a successful first flight.

Thanks to George Carter who designed the aeroplane, to Gloster chief test pilot Flight Lieutenant Gerry Sayer who made that first 17 minute flight, and to the perseverance and genius of Sir Frank Whittle, Britain entered the jet age.

Notwithstanding that the Germans had already flown their first jet aircraft, the He 178 in 1939 and would actually be the first to get a jet powered aeroplane into operational service in the shark like Me 262, this having first flown jet with power around 14 months after the Gloster. But Frank Whittle got the idea first, and today marks a landmark in our aviation history. It punctuates a remarkable 66 year period between the Wright brothers staggering into the air for the first powered and controlled flight and Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon.

So let’s celebrate the achievement on this, its 70th anniversary.

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Empire of the Clouds – Book Review

I’ve really enjoyed this book. I’m about 10 years younger than the author, but remember most of the aircraft he describes very well and many of the test pilots were my heros too.

One or two review have criticised the author’s style, but I found that his conversation way of writing contributed a lot to the pleasure I’ve had over the last couple of days as I’ve avidly read it. Altogether a wonderful tale of an era when aircraft were going through radical change. Yes, there were mistakes and incompetence and our industry did suffer from political weathercocking, but it was a time that produced some spectacular and beautiful aircraft, some of which were truly world beaters.

Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World

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What really goes on in the cockpit(?)

The cockpit of a modern airliner is a pretty cramped place. 32000 feet above Ireland Captain Jason Wirth and First Officer Barbara Lopez sat surrounded by controls and instrument panels as they occupied, respectively, the left and right hand seats. In their crisp white shirts and aviator shades they appeared model professionals monitoring progress while the flight computers took their Boeing 777 from Heathrow to Chicago. Behind them, separated by the obligatory post 9/11 secure door, nearly 300 passengers and crew had settled in over the hour or so that had passed since take off.
Looking through his side window Wirth remarked “Irish coast coming up. It’s about time”. Lopez peered at the weather radar on one of the glass screens before her, its scanner searching the skies for up to 100 miles ahead. She pointed to a brightly coloured patch on the screen. “That looks rough”. Pressing the transmit button she spoke again, her voice calm and clear; “Oceanic control, Amair 492”.
“Amair 492, Oceanic control. Pass message” came the crisp response.
“Amair 492, with you abeam Shannon westbound at flight level 32, anyone reporting chop at this level?” Lopez asked.
“Stand by” then, after a short break “Amair 492, Delta 194 is about 20 minutes ahead of you reporting light to medium chop at level 36. I have no-one at your level”
“Is that what we have on the radar?” asked Wirth. “Sure is” responded Lopez. “OK, ask for change of course and height” nodded Wirth.
Pressing her transmit button again, Lopez spoke “Oceanic, Amair 492. Thanks for the update. Requesting flight level 36 and course change 277”.
“Amair 492, Oceanic. Cleared to climb, flight level 36 and 277”
“Amair 492, three six and two seven seven. Good day.” replied Lopez. She reached across and entered the new data into the flight computer. As the messages passed through the giant aircraft’s systems the GE turbines and ailerons responded, the Boeing’s nose rising and moving slightly right at their command.
“How long? asked Wirth. “17 minutes” replied Lopez.
This time it was Wirth who pressed the transmit button. Back in the cabin Purser Elaine Dickenson picked the phone off the wall as the tone sounded. She spoke a single word “Purser”. “Captain speaking” Wirth told her, “expect light chop in 17 minutes; you’re cleared to serve the meals”

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Why can’t we get airport design right in the UK?

As someone who has been in customer service for over 45 years I get puzzled by the failure to do some simple things that could make a huge difference. I’ve just travelled through Heathrow’s Terminal 3, but these remarks aren’t confined to that building, more to what I see as a series of blindingly obvious failures. Continue reading

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