Category Archives: Aircew

I’ve always been a hangar rat at heart

I’ve hung around small airfields, since I was just a lad,

A hangar rat, an air cadet, just aviation mad,

Sent solo in a sailplane, when I was just sixteen,

Soaring over English fields, a  quilt of gold and green.

The miracle of flight. Too young for a motorbike, but able to fly the Kirby Cadet Mk III

Sweeping out the hangars, polishing the props,

Cleaning all  their windshields, hanging round in ops,

Topping up the tanks and tyres, mowing taxiway and strip,

Befriending all the pilots, to see if I could blag a trip.

Gissa Flight Mate…

I worked hard at my day job, slaving nine till’ five,

Then pumping gas, and cleaning, to keep the dream alive,

When I wasn’t working, I was studying my craft,

Funny how quickly, the months and years flash past

Practicing the art and skill of landing a taildragger.

As I got older, I got bigger,  and the airfields did the same,

And I was thrilled to hang around, much bigger aeroplanes,

Still in operations, briefing crews and planning flights

Working out performance, a blur of days and nights.

Bit bigger that I was used to!

Then one day, the time arrived, when I had to say goodbye,

To the mighty ships that plied their trade, so high up in the sky,

I left the airport on that final day, without once looking back,

Already thinking of my former self, and could I get him back?

So I wandered up the airstrip as the sun climbed the clear blue sky,

Pulled my little airplane out, I prepared myself to fly,

Turning round, I saw him, overalls, broom and cap,

Young, fresh-faced, teenager, My replacement Hangar Rat

So I took him flying….

That light bulb moment – a guest appearance from an old friend

The first time I met Pookie was in Summer 1991.

Blimey – that’s 29 years ago!

I was enjoying a cuppa in the baggage loaders rest room, catching my breath after working a busy departure in the gate room upstairs. I was working as a Passenger Security Agent for American AIrlines – my first airline job.

Security would’nt have been my first choice of job – I was already a qualified pilot, and had passed all of my Flight Operations and Despatch exams, but nobody gets hired into a blue chip airline in Flight Ops. The only way in is either as a Check In Agent, a Baggage Loader, or a Security Agent.

I chose Security Agent.

The decision was a simple one. After PanAm 103 was brought down at Lockerbie just two and a half years previously, security was uppermost in everyone’s mind. American Airlines were using the profiling system at the time, similar to that used by El-Al.

I learnt behavioural psychology, how to question, how to conduct a proper body search (NOT how Hollywood imagines that it is done) and how to use a security X-Ray machine.

I just thought at the time, that this would be more interesting than seeing a procession of faces, all demanding an upgrade, or doing my back in hefting overloaded bags.

Working in Ops is considered a plum job, as it is remote from the passengers, is conducted in the dry, and is intellectually demanding.

I found an empty space at one of the grubby tables, and sat down to enjoy my brew.

I saw a dark blue silhouette lurch to a stop outside the building, blanking the sunlight streaming through the window, plunging the restroom into a gloom that matched it’s decor.

The door slammed open, and a bearded bloke in his forties appeared. Walking over, he dropped an overstuffed clipboard onto the table, saying “Mind if I join you”

“Help Yourself” I replied, watching as he swiftly made a coffee at the small sink.

Returning to the table, he proffered his hand, saying “I’m Bev, I’m doing the Royal Mail”

I must have looked a bit blank, because he laughed, and said “Mail Sacks – You know, letters for air mail”

I shook his hand, telling him I was in security.

We spent about half an hour exchaning our histories, and it came up in the conversation that we both flew. He had a share in a De Havilland Chipmunk down at Shoreham, and I flew Piper Warriors and Cessnas at Popham.

We went our spearate ways, and it wasn’t until another three years had passed that I ran into Pookie again.

I was the new boy in Flight Operations. Having returned from eighteen months working as Special Services Manager at Stansted, I had finally obtained a position in Ops.

There, sitting at the main control desk was Bev, quietly and efficiently running the entire ground operation at London Heathrow for the 14 daily flights.

I worked with Bev closely for the next three years, and came to love his gentle humour and his ability to produce fantastic caricatures of his colleagues.

Thanks Bev… This is the only one that you wont get sued for!

Once we had got to know each other, we flew together on many occassions, and in any number of different aircraft. I have shared the sky with him in the delightful Chipmunk, pulling gentle loops, rolls and stall turns over the timeless, grassy south downs.

The DHC-1 Chipmunk at Goodwood… A six-gallon per hour Spitfire.

We pottered up and down the south coast of England enjoying summer in a PZL Wilga (A delightful Polish cross between a combine harvester and an aircraft).

PZL- Wilga. A very interesting aeroplane…

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in a Piper Warrior, and did a low pass at the small grass strip in Sussex appropriately named Kittyhawk.

Kittyhawk – an Appropriate place to do a low pass on the 100th Anniversary of flight, December 17th 2003

We have fooled about in the Citabria, and been school kids in the Stolp Starduster Too. And what can be better than flying in a Bücker Jungmann with a friend, whilst another friend formates on you in a Stampe?

Ahh yes, The wonderful old Bücker Jungmann, A lovely old Fräulein of the skies…

Anyhow, getting back on track…

Pookie’s sense of fun has often been unleashed on his poor, unsuspecting colleagues.

Below is his account of an episode that amused us all back in Ops whilst he was on holiday one year..

Thanks for all the laughs over the years Bev…

And as for the flying?

Well – that’s been a blast!

Good Friends, Beer, on an Airfield at Sunset… What could be better?

Over to you.

The following was written by Bev Pook, Pilot, Humourist, Motorcyclist, Bon Vivant and Good Friend.

Pookie – probably considering another practical joke, or wondering if he should bash out another quick caricature…

A Lightbulb On Vacation.

Back in the mid-nineties, I was working for American Airlines as a Flight Operations Agent, planning flights, briefing crews, and coordinating everything to ensure flights arrived and departed on time.

The flight operations room had few windows and was lit with harsh fluorescent lights, which are difficult to work with due to their flicker,  The flicker isn’t normally discernible unless you concentrate on your peripheral vision and it can then be sensed.

These lights are very good for office work as they cast little or no shadow, but if using a computer screen (which also flickers) they can cause sight problems as your iris struggles to cope with the flickering.

Enough of the technical details then.

Being heartily fed up with the eye-ache, I ferreted around for a solution, and during one very uneventful night shift, I found a battered old Angle Poise lamp which had been discarded into a dark and cluttered corner of an unused office.

What a find! My Eyeballs were finally happy!

Further investigating led me to a new bulb in a cupboard, and once wiped off with a cloth, the old lamp worked perfectly.

I placed it on the main Ops desk in and I would use it whenever I was positioned in that area. I found it particularly useful on night shifts when I worked alone and could turn off the fluorescents and enjoy a softer light emitted by an incandescent light bulb.

However, I found nobody else seemed to appreciate my light as when I returned on shift after a few days off, the lamp had been pushed back out of the way.

Just before I went on vacation the bulb blew, so I threw it away and departed for a fortnights tranquillity. No sooner had I returned from holiday, I was accosted by my work companions who accused me of taking the bulb on holiday.

Because of this, I decided that my next vacation would see me having some fun at their expense. This time I took the bulb out of the fitting and locked it away in my cabinet, leaving the office with the Angle Poise containing no light source.

After a long and boring flight, I eventually arrived in Muskogee Oklahoma and was met by my good friends, with whom I would be spending my vacation.

Over breakfast the next morning, I asked Terry if I could borrow one of their light bulbs, which was greeted by a strange look but I did get the light bulb.

I then started taking photos of the bulb and me on holiday. Each picture got more and more elaborate and set up to highlight (excuse the pun) that I had indeed this time taken the bulb with me.

Here are a few of those pictures.

I hope you enjoy my rather schoolboy humour.

light bulb 1
Me, the bulb and Elvis at the Muskogee Airshow. I caught him just as he was leaving…
light bulb 2
light bulb 3
The bulb playing a light-fingered bandit
light bulb 4
The bulb and I, about to go flying in a microlight
light bulb 6
Making light of wing walking

Sorry Bev, I would have published this as an “Illuminated” manuscript, but couldn’t find the correct keys.

Go Well…

radio failure, hot texas desert and bubblegum

The Texas skies were cerulean blue, and the sun was already blazing in the sky, despite it being only 0830. I was sitting in Dobbs Restaurant in the airport terminal at Fort Worth (Meacham) Airport.

Fort Worth Meacham – Also a Nuclear Bunker!

Breakfast was two cheesy hot dogs, with a side of fries and limitless coffees – all served by Jolene. Yes, I really have known a Jolene, but this lady did not have flaming locks of auburn hair, but a well kept blonde bob cut. Always cheerful, she mothered her “boys” as she referred to us student pilots – whether we were 30 or 70!

I nodded a good morning to Ralph, the helicopter instructor, and was rewarded with a grin.

Ralph was not overly talkative. His tanned face, silver crew cut and the numerous scars on his arms and throat bore mute testament to his previous career in the US military.

He brought his coffee and waffles to the next table, and sat down.

“Morning Ralph” I said, “How’s things?”

“I’m here” was his reply.

Situation normal then.

I had lost ten dollars to Ralph the previous Friday during his regular “Helo Challenge”

Each Friday at about three in the afternoon, Ralph would place four standard road cones on a 30-metre square area of the ramp. He would then invite anyone present to take the challenge. His challenge was that you had to hold the helicopter within the four cones for 60 seconds. He even made it “easy” by controlling the power and height. All the challenger had to do was use one control.

If you won the challenge, he would give a one hour lesson in the helicopter for free.

If you lost, then he kept the ten dollars, and you enjoyed yourself.

Easy right?

So last Friday, I was finished with lessons by noon, and so I had a leisurely lunch at Dobbs, and then sought out Ralph so that I could do the challenge.

A small crowd of students and instructors had gathered to watch, leaning on the chain-link fence. We slowly walked out to the Bell 47 helicopter – Ralph in his old olive drab flight suit, and me in tee shirt and shorts.

The truly iconic Bell 47 helicopter. Flying it is like being a one-armed soot juggler.

Climbing aboard, he explained the controls to me. I was to look after the cyclic. This is the main control column, and is used to steer the helicopter in its lateral sense. Basically, push forward to go forwards, push left to turn left, and pull back to go in reverse.

The collective control and throttle were located between the seats. Pulling the lever up, and twisting the throttle causes the power to increase, and the helicopter to climb.

Ralph would control the rudder pedals – so all I had to do as the helicopter climbed was keep it in between the four cones.

Having been briefed, I knew that I could nail this.

The power came on, and the cabin shook slightly as the surly bonds with earth were cut, and the helicopter rose majestically to about twenty feet.

Looking across at me, he grinned.

“Okay Son”, he said, “You Have it”

“I have it” I responded.

I gripped the cyclic and felt his hold relax. We started drifting left, so I eased the control right.

The infernal machine then leapt to the right like a cricket, and I almost went outside the boundary. I immediately moved the control to the left, and we lurched sickeningly to port, at a rapid rate.

I felt, rather than saw Ralph pull up on the collective, adding power as he did so. The helicopter darted upwards to a safe height.

“Easy son”, he murmured, “Treat her like a woman – Y’all gotta be gentle…”

I continued to wrestle with the machine, but in due course, we skittered out of the defined area, and I had lost the challenge.

“Ah have control,” he said, and he swiftly recentred us in the area. Just for good measure, he made that damn aircraft pirouette, dip and bow.

After we landed, we walked back to Dobbs, and I slapped a ten-dollar bill into his hand.

Folding it swiftly, he tucked it into a breast pocket of his flying suit.

He gave me a penetrating look, jammed a cigar in his mouth and lit up. “Thanks, Son. Now Y’all go and have a nice day”

I had then proceeded to have a very enjoyable weekend with my room-mate, Tomas.

Tomas was Portuguese, and had rented a condo locally, and had bought a car. He was in the middle of a full airline transport pilot course, and he would be living in the US for another few months.

He had advertised for an English roommate as he wanted to practice English as the English speak it, and we hit it off immediately falling into a happy and relaxed friendship.

Having been here for a while, Tomas knew the best places for good beers and good food, and we hit the local bars in downtown Fort Worth, around the Stockyards.

Our late evening visit to Billy Bob’s and my slightly inebriated (well – fully inebriated) state resulted in me being thrown off the indoor bucking bronco and consuming a great number of beers.

Filthy McNasty’s was also a bar we frequented when we visited the Stockyards and is it was at these venues where I probably developed my love of country music.

However, the weekend was now history, and I was looking forward to getting some air under my arse again, so here I was…

I finished eating and concentrated on the task at hand. On the table in front of me was a sectional chart of the Dallas Fort Worth area, upon which was my planned route. This was the biggie. I had completed my qualifying cross country a few days before, and this was a consolidation flight.

Fort Worth-Meacham Airfield – Just west of Dallas, and right next to Carswell Air Force Base, Home of B-52 Bombers.

There on the chart was the simple black pencil line describing my route to Midland Odessa Airport in West Texas, routing via Mineral Wells, Stephens County, Abilene and Big Spring. About 250 nautical miles, and about two and a half hours flying time.

A fairly simple straight line flight? Maybe…

Maybe not.

A considerable portion of the flight would be flying over the Texas badlands – desert with no real navigational features. The landscape littered by “nodding donkey” oil rigs, and tumbleweed.

A bit of a hostile environment for a student pilot with a total of only 30.8 hours in his logbook.

My first flying logbook. I am now working on filling up my seventh…

It was June 19th 1991, and I had been here for 26 days, fulfilling my life ambition of learning to fly.

After almost a month of living in the USA, I was now virtually a native and could shop in the local mall without adult supervision, and order beers without help in the local saloons.

Shiner Bock – the local brew of choice.

Now, not many people would consider taking a six-week break in Texas, as there are not a lot of attractions to pull in the average tourist. Lots of research had revealed that this was a very cost-effective place to learn to fly.

The Dollar – Pound Exchange rate was two to one, and aircraft rental was insanely cheap. Combined with the consistently good weather in Texas during the spring and early summer, I could probably come home with a pilot licence.

I was making good solid progress and my instructor had built steadily on my previous gliding experience, and as a result, I had soloed in just 8 hours.

My first solo was a bit of an event in itself. Fort Worth Alliance Field has two parallel runways, each 3353 metres long, and 46 metres wide. I had flown there under supervision that morning and did a reasonable join, flew a standard circuit, and landed without either bending the aeroplane or compressing my spine.

Bill appeared happy with my performance, as he asked me to park the aircraft but not shut it down.

I did as he said, and as soon as we had come to a stop, he was out of the cockpit like a jackrabbit, yelling to me that I should do three circuits, land, take off and then come and pick him up.

I didn’t have time to be nervous; With a dry mouth and only slightly trembling hands and sweaty palms, I taxied back to the holding point.

Air Traffic laconically cleared me to “Take the Active” and I swung out, over the numbers and the piano keys, and gently came to a stop on the centreline.

The runway disappeared into the heat shimmer, and my heart was pounding in my chest.

“Cessna 714 Hotel November, Clear Take Off, Runway 34 Right, wind is 320 at 5 knots”

“714 Hotel November rolling” I croaked, pushing the throttle fully forward.

The little Cessna 150 leapt forwards – alarmingly quickly without Bill’s six foot two frame in it.

I eased back on the yoke, and the ground fell rapidly away, and I settled the aircraft into a gentle climb. Why was my mouth so goddam dry?

I turned gently into the pattern, The view was simply marvellous without Bills not unsubstantial bulk in the way.

The crazy thing was that as I was levelling off and turning into the circuit, I could still see the runway stretching away in front of me. Looking down, I could see an American Airlines 767 taxing out to the other runway – a weird omen, as I was to start working for the mighty American from Heathrow once I returned from Texas to the UK.

I duly completed my three circuits, and Bill appeared to be happy with my airmanship. My cheeks were aching, and it took me a second to realise that I had been smiling solidly for a whole half hour!

Not many student pilots get to share the pattern with heavy commercial jets, and the local area was packed with B-52 bombers operating out of Carswell Air Force base, so a good learning environment.

On my return to Meacham Field, I underwent the obligatory ceremony following my announcement that I had soloed. Instructors, fellow students, and the salesgirl form the Longhorn Pilot Shop all helped to cut the back out of my tee-shirt, and write the date and my name on it whereupon it was pinned to the ceiling with countless others.

So here I was about to launch off on another epic voyage of discovery.

My aircraft was booked for 1100, so I kicked back for a while with some of the other students and watched the shool aircraft plod dutifully around the circuit.

Eventually, the time came, and I wandered to the operations desk to book out my aeroplane.

By a strange quirk of fate, the aeroplane allocated to me was N714HH, the identical sister to the aeroplane in which I soloed. Good Omen!

Or so I thought…

Cessna N714HH – An Honest Airplane that Looked After me on my FIrst Solo.

I signed for the aircraft and walked out to do my preflight. Bill had already checked and authorised my flight plan and was happy that my calculations and headings and my fuel planning were all correct, so it was just a simple matter of flying the route.

Swiftly completing the external inspection, I jumped aboard and rapidly conducted the pre-start checklist. The engine started at the first turn of the key, and I called Meacham ground for taxi permission.

It wasn’t long until I was sitting on the end of Meacham’s Runway 34, its 2287 metres of concrete baking in the sunshine.

Cleared for take-off, I opened the throttle and a few seconds later I was climbing out with a gentle left turn to pick up the westerly heading that would take me to Mineral Wells, and then onwards to Abilene.

The aircraft bucked about in the low air turbulence, but once I climbed above 3000 feet things settled down a bit, and I began to enjoy the flight.

Just over twenty minutes later, Mineral Wells appeared out of the scrub, and I checked off the waypoint on my flight log.

An hour and six minutes later, I landed safely at Abilene and taxied up to the parking. I needed a pee and to check the fuel levels.

After servicing the aircraft and attending to my bladder overfull warning light, I called Air Traffic and requested permission to taxi. The response from the tower was very scratchy and almost inaudible. I had to repeat my request and readback several times before I was happy that I was authorised to move.

I should have recognised the early indications that all was not well. Nowadays, with the benefit of hundreds of hours of flying experience behind me, I would have checked and resolved the problem before getting airborne.

Not back then with so few hours.

So, I happily launched into the bright blue yonder, climbing up to a comfortable altitude. The sky was bright blue, and hurt my eyes, despite wearing my green aviator sunglasses. The desert scrub below was a myriad of browns and ochres, with washed-out looking vegetation.

The radio was quiet, but not unexpectedly so, as this was a bit of a remote area. Basically, there was no one out here to talk to.

Eventually, I could see Midland Air Park just ahead, so I selected their VHF radio frequency and gave them a call.

“Midland this is Cessna November Seven One Four Hotel Hotel inbound to you with information Golf, request altimeter and airfield traffic”

Static filled my headphones, but I gave them two minutes, then tried again, repeating the call.

Again, no answer. I began to have misgivings. I would have to land without a radio.

My God! I had read about this, but never done it.

I dialled 7600 into my transponder so that ground radar would know I had no radio and then flew cautiously into the pattern. I made blind calls but received no response.

I scanned the sky for other aircraft, but the circuit pattern was empty. Peering down at the ground, I could see no aircraft moving around, I decided that it was safe, so I continued with my approach, and landed safely.

I taxied up to the deserted Terminal, and shut the engine down,

Climbing out, I could see the place was deserted. Being a Wednesday afternoon, I could understand the lack of aircraft.

I wandered around and eventually spotted a guy in overalls working on a car outside a semi-derelict hangar.

I explained that I had a problem with my radio, but he was unable to help; there were no engineers around, and he was only there to work on his car.

I considered my predicament. I had tried repeatedly to get the radio to work. I had re-set the circuit breakers, and checked the security of the antenna. Nothing seemed to solve the problem.

The trouble was that without obtaining a radio clearance, I would be unable to enter the controlled airspace surrounding Abilene. This meant that my pre-planned and direct routing back to Meacham would not be available.

Under FAA regulations, as a student pilot, my instructor has to authorise each solo flight.

I called Bill at Meacham from the payphone in the pilot lounge. I explained what had happened, and he told me to plan a new flight and submit it to him over the fax.

I had already replanned, and I would follow the Santa Fe Railroad Northeast as far as Sweetwater, and then dog leg further North to avoid Abilene’s airspace. I would then continue east via Mineral Wells, and recover back to Meacham Field.

It was late afternoon as I departed Midland Air Park, and from 3,000 feet I soon spotted the railroad track, and dutifully followed it, watching the lengthening shadows as they crawled across the landscape below.

I slowly passed a freight train, which seemed to be a mile long. It took me a good few minutes to overtake it.

I was getting mentally tired by now, and the gloom was now chasing me. I had not undergone any training for flying at night, and whilst it was crystal clear, I had read that perception during landing can be distorted considerably.

I was now starting to wish fervently that I was on the ground, as it was now dusk.

I could see Mineral Wells coming up, and I made the decision that I was not prepared to fly onwards to Meacham, a further 35 miles away. The decision made, I felt much better, and re-focused on the task at hand, to land without breaking the aeroplane.

I made my landing safely, still making the required blind radio calls.

I shut down and using the payphone, I called Bill to let him know where I was. He agreed with my decision to divert, and arranged for another instructor to fly out to pick me up.

About 40 minutes later, I saw the lights of an approaching aircraft, which landed and swiftly taxied over to where I was parked.

Teri, one of the instructors got out, and came over to me, as the other aircraft backtracked and took off heading east.

“What’s the problem dude?” She asked me.

I explained the scratchy radio at Abilene and the actions that I had taken to resolve the issue.

She thoughtfully chewed her gum, then blew an expert bubble, which expanded to an obscene size and then popped.

Leaning into the cockpit, she turned the master switch on and switched the radio master on. Sure enough, there was nothing but static.

Reaching under the instrument panel, she pulled both of jack plugs connecting my headset and microphone out, and then pushed them back into the sockets.

The Cessna 150 instrument panel.

Trying the radio again resulted in clear sounds.

I felt hugely foolish.

“I’m sorry to have dragged you out here – I could have done that”

“Uh-huh” she replied. “At least you can log another 30 minutes dual night flying – look on the bright side”

I flew us back in near silence, still feeling that I had been a bit of an idiot.

Teri obviously sensed this, as she slapped my right thigh, saying “Dude, Y’alls instructor should have suggested this, as it’s happened before!”

The lights of Meacham were now sliding under the nose towards us. Happily, I didn’t make too bad a landing for my first one at night. Maybe a little harder than I would have liked, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Fort Worth Meacham at night.

So, What did I learn?

I learnt that when a problem occurs, you should check every part of the system, and not assume that pulling circuit breakers, or recycling equipment on and off will be sufficient to resolve the problem.

I also learnt that more experienced people may not always offer the correct advice, as they too may make assumptions that checks that are obvious to them may not be so obvious to anyone else, and therefore won’t have necessarily have been conducted.

Lastly, I learnt that pink bubblegum bubbles that burst can stick long blonde hair very effectively to Dave Clark headsets.

Go Well…

The invisible cleaner

Stuffing my ear plugs in securely, I peered out of the open jetbridge as the Boeing 767 slowly turned onto the ramp, following the centreline precisely as it slowly advanced onto the stand.

I waved to the captain as he majestically coasted past me, and he nodded in return, still focusing on steering the jet to the correct position so that the jetbridge could be aligned around the aircraft door.

The howl of the engines died, and I caught a lungful of burnt kerosene as the engines spooled down; a smell as familiar to me after fifteen years of aviation as my own aftershave.

The beacon stopped flashing, the jetbridge was attached and it was now safe for me to open the aircraft door.

Following the published procedure, I rapped hard on the door three times, and then checked through the porthole, waiting to see a thumbs up from the cabin attendant – the signal that the emergency evacualtion slide had been disarmed, and that there were no personnel standing near the door activation lever.

I saw Sherry-Ann one of the regulars smiling back through the porthole, giving me the signal, so I grasped the cold door release handle, pulling it upwards and away from the fuselage. The door moved gently inwards, and I then pushed the small switch inside the panel, and the door was electrically lifted up into a recess over the door aperture.

A colleague opens the B767-200 Passenger Door…

Pulling the PA Handset from its cradle by the cabin attendants jump seat, I smoothly announced

“Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to London’s Stansted Airport, where the local time is 1040. Please follow the yellow overhead signs to the arrivals hall. Will Mr. Dan Billings please make himself known to Special Services at the aircraft door.”

Stansted – my wonderful work environment.

When I took on the role of Special Services Manager in Spring 1992, AA had just opened up the route and my job at the time was to look after Commercially Important Passengers, and VIPs. This included not only stars of screen and stage, but singers, politicans, religious leaders, sports personalities and senior executives in commerce or industry.

Dan Billings was one of the first passengers out. His hat arrived first, a simply huge white Stetson, curled at the brim. The rest of him followed a little later, looking all the world like a walking advert for Levi Strauss clothing. Peering out from a sea of blue denim was a leathery tanned face, a bootlace tie dangling from his throat.

So, this was the world famous Dan Billings.

Proffering my hand, to welcome him, he silently shoved his small valise at me, and started to move off up the jetbridge. Surprised, it took me a second or so to react.

Catching him up, I asked “So, welcome to London Mr. Billings, did you have a good flight?”

“Yup”

“Do you have checked baggage?” I persisted

“Nope”

Ah. So Mr. Billings conserved his affability to use it on stage, in front of his fans, rather than waste it on an airport flunkey.

I didn’t mind; after doing this job for a few years, I had swiftly realised that it was nothing personal. I am sure it must be exhausting to be your screen or stage persona constantly.

“Do you have a car waiting Mr. Billings?” I enquired, reaching for my mobile radio.

“Nope”

“Oh” I said, “Do you need a cab?”

“Nope”

We stopped at the baggage carousel, and I looked him in the eye, determined this time to get more than a monsyllabic response.

“How are you getting to London Mr. Billings?”

“Train”

Heaving his bag off the carousel, He turned to me and shoved a gnarled hand at me.

“Thanks. Y’all have a nice day now”

With that, he abruptly turned, and walked swiftly out through customs, heading efficiently towards the coach and bus stops.

I sighed. I had enjoyed being the Special Services Manager for American Airlines at Stansted Airport in the UK. I had met a great number of influential people, and seen through a great deal of the Hollywood tinsel and glitter.

An internationally famous female singer spotted two children travelling unaccompanied on her flight, so she invited them up to first class, and looked after them all the way from Chicago. What a lovely lady.

A celebrated British songstress who wanted no fuss or recognition – and who gave up her seat in first class, unbidden, to an elderly lady who looked worn out. That never got reported in the media.

Members of a heavy rock band with a hell raising image, who were polite, helpful and courteous – nothing like how they are reported.

A famous comic who spoke to me as an equal, and was still, despite his age a true man of the people, yet so sadly misunderstood.

The all-male dancing group that cheered up the entire gate lounge by performing an impromptu routine, and then going round signing autographs for no reason other than they were trying to spread some happiness and maybe make a difference.

I had to deal with the mean and the downright nasty as well. I well remember the very senior British business man whom I upgraded to First Class who, once in his seat, was then incredibly rude and agressive to the young cabin crew member who was trying to offer him champagne.

Having witnessed this, I took my career in my hands, and confronted this arrogant bully. Leaning down close to him, I explained very bluntly that I could, and would have no hesitation in very quickly and efficiently putting him back in coach class, right next to the toilets where he belonged.

Having made the statement, I decided that if I were to go out, I would go out with a bang, so I added that I expected him to make a full apology to the young stewardess if he wanted to remain on board at all.

I stalked off the aircraft, telling the cabin attendant what I had done,

Just before pushback, I boarded again, and she told me that the passenger had offered her a sincere apology.

I closed the aircraft door, and the flight duly departed.

A few days later, I received a letter from the business man offering me a full apology for his boorish behaviour. Maybe a lesson learnt?

Despite the daily flight performing reasonably well, after just over a year of operating, the company had decided to cancel the Chicago – Stansted service.

I walked slowly back to my office and small special services lounge for the last time. I filed my reports, and then signed off the system, wishing my opposite numbers in Dallas and Chicago all the best.

I picked up my briefcase, and walked out slowly through arrivals, stopping on numerous occassions to say final goodbyes to my friends and colleagues; The girls who manned the small cafe just down from my office; The lads and lasses from the security checkpoints that littered my journey into and out of work.

They all wished me well, and told me they would miss us.

Once landside, I dropped by the general office, and said goodbye to the check in and gates staff, many of whom were in tears as their short careers had come to an end.

I walked out of Stansted, not looking back, wondering how things would be on Monday morning.

A Typical Cleaning Crew – Without their Cleaning Kits Which Normally Arrive on the High Lift on the other side of the aircraft.

It was 0550. I sat across the desk from Jim Shortling. He smiled wanly at me, saying “I know its not much, but at least you keep your management pay and grade”

I knew that I had been offered a lifeline – but it didnt reduce the feeling of abandonment. Not one other single department had offered help. The other managers with whom I worked at Stansted had all been found alternative management roles in passenger services – either at Heathrow or at the corporate head office in Hounslow.

So here I was, sitting in the dismal office of the aircraft cleaning department. Oh, the irony.

On Friday last week, I was rubbing shoulders with the wealthy and influential, and on Monday, I was rubbing shoulders with the lowly paid, souls with no influence over their future.

I had two choices. I could either accept it, and get on with it, or leave.

So, in the words of one of my more camp US based colleagues, I would have to “Suck it up Cupcake!”

Having managed people before, I was told that I would run a cleaning team, which consisted of a a crew of ten. Additionally, I would be trained to drive a ten tonne truck, fitted with a high lift body.

A typical High Lift truck.

I soon became adept at weaving my truck in and out of the congested stands and service roads around Terminal 3.

I came to know two things within a few days of completing my training.

I swiftly realised that my team were a truly ecclectic group. Sukhi was an educated young sikh, with a degree in mathematics. Well-read and urbane, I really used to enjoy my daily conversations with him.

Hard work – with less than an hour to fully clean, re-stock and cater a Boeing 767

Bizarre in its own way – working my way down the aisle with Sukhi, between the seats, cleaning up rubbish, and servicing seat pockets whilst discussing anti-matter drives and the paradox of time travel.

It was only my team that made life bearable – being confronted with the debris that passengers dump when they leave their aircraft sometimes made the bile rise in my throat – used syringes left in seatback pockets. Used condoms dumped in the same place. Rubbish of all kinds just thoughtlessly left for the invisible ones to pick up.

Just Another Day at Work…

Suk became my right hand man. Once he discovered my love of Indian food, he invited me to his local gymkhana where I was the only non-indian present. I was made hugely welcome and met many members of his family, and sampled the wonderfully spicy home cooked foods provided. Thank you Suk!

Pete, an ex Warrant Officer in the UK Special Forces, came out of the military with PTSD, and fell by chance into working for an airline. Previously a passenger services agent, he frequently (and bluntly) defended the weaker members of staff against bullying from their supervisors. This made him unpopular with the junior management in the terminal, so he was redeployed to aircraft cleaning. A few months prior to this, he was totally responsible for the welfare of up to 120 soldiers.

I doubt that any of his managers knew this, or even bothered to find out.

Harri, a middle aged Indian lady, with a degree in sociology, had been unable to get into an airline in any other capacity, so despite the costs of childcare, and the hardship of her daily commute by bus and underground, she still pitched up every day, and worked hard for the duration of the shift.

Jill, who had been widowed a year previously, and wanted a job that involved no thinking. I was convinced that she was finishing off un-used spirits from discarded minature bottles, as by about 1200 she normally had a glassy look, and emanated a faint odour of polo mints. She toughed it out though. Sometimes she would shyly joke with me as we cleaned the galleys, or serviced the toilets.

Then there were Phil and Bugsy. Both late teenagers, they were only doing the job as it was easy money, and gave them time to work on their music careers.

What do all of these people have in common?

Well, despite their qualifications, experience, knowledge and skills, they had all, like me, unwittingly assumed a cloak of invisibility.

It was an interesting exercise for me, as I was only on temprary attachment in the department, awaiting a suitable vacancy elsewhere in the company.

Having served two years in the terminals before being promoted, I had worked with most of the ground staff at one time or another.

I learned about people. Many of those that professed they were my friends, and who would have sat with me in the canteen, and chatted during work, now looked through me when they saw me disembarking from an aircraft, carrying bags of rubbish, covered in sweat and dust.

To them , I had become invisible, sinking into the uderclass and detritus of forgotten people who perform more fundamental and mundane tasks,

Others still greeted me warmly, and shook my hand, regardless of my appearance. Some would find the time to sit with me, and share a cigarette. These were the people for whom I have great respect. Some of them I am still in touch with. You know who you are.

In due course, I was redeployed, and spent the rest of my aviation career working in various parts of Flight Operations.

Over the years, I have been promoted, and moved into several different organisations, and was shocked to see that despite their claimed intellectual or cultural work ethics their cleaners were still all invisible.

Some years ago, I was walking down a corridor at work with a senior manager. We passed several cleaners, all of whom I greeted by name, and all of whom greeted me in the same way.

My senior colleague asked me “Why do you keep talking to the cleaners?”

I was, in common parlance, gobsmacked. This was a senior and ostensibly well-educated man, who was questioning whether I should acknowledge a fellow human being.

I responded by saying that if he had to ask the question, then he wouldnt have understood the answer. I heard that he has happily retired now, and is probably being an ignorant git on his own time.

Subsequently I have always remembered the feelings of being invisible.

I still know the names of all of the cleaners with whom I work, and still greet them by name.

It doesn’t take much to stop people becoming invisible.

The invisible cleaner. You only notice them when they are not there…

Go Well…

Stars in their skies

Earlier today, I posted an article featuring James Stewart, the movie actor.

During my research, I came across the account of Harrison Ford who crash-landed his vintage aeroplane whilst taking off from Santa Monica airport on the 5 March 2015.

Harrison Ford’s Vinatge Ryan trainer after crashing after takeoff from Santa Monica Airport, California

Now, I have always had a lot of admiration for Harrison Ford, and as a fellow pilot, I feel a lot of sympathy, as I know how easy it is for a situation to develop, and rapidly get out of control.

Mister Ford is a keen pilot, and holds both single engine and twin engine licences, together with a helicopter licence.  He owns a number of aircraft, and is in love with flying to the extent that – in his words “I will fly up the coast for a cheeseburger” – and I don’t know any fellow pilots who have not done this…

As an aviation enthusiast (anorak) I love any films related to flight, flying, or aeroplanes.  My film collection is littered with films such as Top Gun (which must be the seminal aviation movie for the 80s) Air America, The Great Waldo Pepper, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and the Flight of the Phoenix.

I decided that it would be interesting to see how many other Hollywood stars who appeared in such movies actually had piloting experience.

There are one or two well-known high-profile pilots, such as John Travolta, who owns a number of aircraft, and has a home on an air park in Florida.  Up until recently he owned and operated a Boeing 707 bearing Qantas livery, which he used to fly as a goodwill ambassador for Qantas. He has recently donated this aircraft to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, which is part of the Australian Aviation Museum in Illawarra, Australia, just outside of Sydney.

John Travolta, a lifelong active pilot

His nearby neighbour in California, one Clint Eastwood has been a qualified helicopter pilot for over thirty years, as well as being a keen environmentalist.

Fellow actor and songwriter, Kris Kristofferson was also a helicopter pilot, having been taught by the U.S. military, and serving in Germany.  Leaving the army in 1965, he became a commercial helicopter pilot, serving oil platforms in Southern Louisiana for three years before making it big in the music industry, and then more latterly, the movies

A VERY young Kris Kristoffrsen

The diminutive Tom Cruise, who played the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun is a pilot in real life as well.  Having qualified in Canada, he owns a P51 Mustang, and a Pitts   Special. Not content with just flying aircraft, he also likes to jump out of them, and is a keen parachutist. This, in my opinion, makes him a certifiable lunatic – but, hey, each to his own.

Morgan Freeman also flies, and holds a Private licence.  He too has experienced the thrill and freedom that flying offers.  As a younger man he was an aircraft engineer in the USAF, and had aspirations of being a fighter pilot. I think he made the right choice, because as a successful movie star he can afford to fly whatever he likes….

The late, great James Stewart was a full Colonel in the USAF, and flew many combat missions during the Second World War, and was a highly decorated pilot.  He also appeared in the famous film The Flight of the Phoenix, and appeared in the starring role in the biopic of Charles Lindbergh. However, his wartime experiences affected him profoundly, and he was averse to appearing in war films.

Now, let’s move on to Star Trek.  Stark Trek epitomises the pinnacle of what aviation could become;  flying in what is effectively four dimensions.  The cast of this show is positively filled with an abundance of pilots.

James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer “Scottie” flew during the Second World War as a liaison pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster single engine aircraft, liaising with Canadian Artillery units. He was a natural and exuberant pilot, and was apparently reprimanded for slaloming his aircraft between telegraph poles in around Salisbury Plain, whilst operating from RAF Andover.

Creator and director of the Star Trek franchise, Gene Rodenberry was a bomber pilot during the Second World War, flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific theatre.  He flew 89 combat missions, and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Air Medal. He retired from the USAF holding the rank of Captain.

Subsequently, he went on to work for Pan American, flying Lockheed Constellations.  Strangely, he left his aviation connections behind and before creating the series, he enrolled as a police officer in the LAPD.

Gene Rodenberry stands in front of a Lockheed COnstellation.

Michael Dorn, (Lieutenant Worf) is an accomplished and experienced pilot too. – and has owned a number of classic American ex-military jets, including a T33 trainer, and F86 Sabre, and a Sabreliner.  He is also very privileged to have flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.

Kurt Russell, joins the ranks of celebrity aviators.  The star of films such as Backdraught, and Vanilla Sky, and long-time partner to Goldie Hawn holds a private licence for both single and multi-engine aeroplanes.  He is also heavily involved in the aviation charity Wings of Hope.

Action man Steve McQueen was also a very keen aviator. Having had a very dismal and fractured childhood, Steve developed a love for motor racing, fast cars and motorcycles.  He owned a collection of both, and performed a lot of his own stunts.  He is particularly renowned for the motorcycle chase sequence in The Great Escape, and for the high speed car chase in the film Bullit. 

It must be a hand-eye coordination thing, because he also fell in love with aviation. 

Or it could possibly be because his natural father was a stunt pilot with a Barnstormer Flying Circus!

Steve owned and flew a 1945 Boeing Stearman biplane, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a very rare Pitcairn PA-8 which was used by the U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker when he flew for the U.S. postal service.

George Peppard of “The A Team” fame was a talented pilot, and flew most of the aerial sequences in the film “The Blue Max” in which he starred as a German Air Force pilot.   He also piloted his own Lear jet, which he used for commuting.

Jack Pallance, was selected by the USAF for pilot training, but a serious aircraft crash, which severely burned his face prevented him from flying thereafter. 

It’s also important not to forget the ladies in aviation.

Angelina Jolie is a qualified private pilot and flies a Cirrus SR-22. The model Giesele Bundchen has gained her wings, as has the British TV personality Carol Vorderman. 

Angelina Jolie climbs aboard…

Hilary Swank who, coincidentally, played the part of Amelia Earhart has also got a licence.

Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart

It’s not just the movie and TV personalities that have been gripped by the thrill of flying.

Country Singer Alan Jackson has a private licence for both single engine and twins, and ex Van Halen rocker Dave Lee Roth has a helicopter licence.

Gary Numan, the Techno-Pop icon of the 1970s and front man of Tubeway Army is passionate about flying.  He qualified as a pilot and operated a North American Harvard for 15 years on the UK Airshow circuit.

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy rock group Iron Maiden is also a flier.  However, his enthusiasm took him one stage further than most of his contemporaries, who are, in the main, private pilots. 

He decided that he would gain his commercial licence, and in fact flew for the now defunct UK based airline Astraeus, flying Boeing 757/767 types. He now owns an aviation company based at St Athan in Wales.

Probably the most famous musician with a licence is John Denver.  During a musical career that spanned a couple of decades, he too fell in love with flying.  Taught to fly by his Father, a record breaking USAF officer (who flew a B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber) he also owned and operated many different aeroplanes, including a Learjet, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane, and a pair of Cessna 210 utility planes. 

Many of Johns songs were about aviation or space travel.

John died too early in an air accident, when flying  his recently acquired Rutan Long EZ which crashed on a Californian beach, killing him instantly.

So, next time you watch a film, and think that the actor or actress is a “Lovey” and a soft shrinking violet, you may be doing them a great dis-service. Not only may they be doing a good percentage of their own stunts, but they may be better qualified than you are!

Cabin Crew Hero!

The water dripped sullenly off my jacket, creating audible “plops” as the droplets hit the polished wooden floor, where they co-operatively coalesced into a minor puddle.

I smiled at the barista, as she cheerfully passed my coffee across to me, proudly announcing “Caffe Latte Medio”, as if she were conferring a knighthood upon me.

I walked to an empty corner table, and sat down, shoving my rucksack into the corner.

Pulling my battered laptop computer out of its cover, I set up; the battery was full, my mug was full, and so I settled down.

I have had a life-long interest – a passion for aviation that has spanned fifty years. My early schoolboy heroes were the wartime pilots from both the Great War, and World War Two. In my teens, the trailblazing pilots of the 1920s and 1930s caught my imagination, and I read almost everything about the early fliers that I could lay my hands on.

By the age of thirteen or fourteen, I was familiar with the great pioneers – Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Jean Batten, Sir Alan Cobham, Neville Norway, Elrey Jeppesen and Wiley Post.

Over the years, I became familiar with the names of hero pilots, Al Haynes, and his flight deck colleagues who heroically flew their stricken DC-10 jet to its infamous crash landing at Sioux City.

Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal whose aircraft ran out of fuel over the wastes of the Canadian prairies, and who successfully glided to a safe landing at Gimli, a former Royal Canadian Air Force base.

More recently Captain Chesley Sullenberger was hailed a hero after ditching his fully laden Airbus A320 into the River Hudson after a bird strike critically damaged both of its engines shortly after take-off.

All these accounts tend to stick in the minds of the public, due to the courage and swift decision making of the flight crew.

Little is said about their cabin crew colleagues, despite many of them having been instrumental in saving lives – and sometimes dying in the course of their duties, and the spotlight tends to focus on the pilots.

This imbalance is probably not deliberate, but needs to be corrected, so after a little digging around, I found some accounts of very brave and courageous cabin crew.

Take the case of Barbara Harrison. She joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in May 1966, at the age of twenty one as a Flight Attendant (or Air Stewardess as they were known at the time).

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.53.54

On the 8th April 1968 she was rostered to operate BOAC’s Flight 712WE to Sydney. This long-haul flight was flown by a Boeing 707 –  long and tiring, routing via Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore and Perth.

Sadly, the flight was doomed from the start. It departed Heathrow Airport at about three thirty in the afternoon. During the initial climb out, the number two engine caught fire, and was so severely damaged that it fell from the aircraft, leaving the rest of the left wing ablaze.

The flight made an immediate emergency return back to Heathrow, where it made a safe landing. However, the fire on the port wing intensified to the point that the cabin windows were actually melting. Once the stricken aircraft touched down, the situation was so dire, that the cabin crew were beginning to start an immediate passenger evacuation.

Barbara’s crew position was at the rear of the aircraft, and her emergency duties were to assist the cabin attendant at the aft crew station in opening the appropriate passenger door, and help to inflate the escape slide, and then subsequently direct passengers to the door to make their escape.

The pair eventually managed to open the rear starboard door, furthest from the fire and fired the escape slide, however, during the deployment, the slide twisted, making it useless. Bravely, the steward climbed down the slide, and straightened it, leaving Barbara in the cabin to organise the evacuation.

She managed to evacuate six passengers before the slide was punctured, and deflated, but despite this she managed to evacuate a further five passengers through encouragement and in some cases forcibly ejecting them down the deflated slide.

She then moved to the port rear door, which was extremely close to the blazing left wing, but she still managed to evacuate a further five passengers before that slide was damaged by the intensity of the fire, and deflated.

21 year old Barbara Harrison was last seen in the doorway, looking as if she were preparing to jump.

She didn’t…

She disappeared back into the blazing cabin in a desperate attempt to save the four remaining passengers – including a disabled woman and an eight year old girl.

She was never seen alive again.

 

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in recognition of her selfless gallantry that day – the only woman to have ever received the award in peacetime, and the youngest woman ever to hold the George Cross.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.38.58

Digging a bit further, I found out about Neerja Bhanot.

Neerja was a senior Cabin Attendant working with Pan American Airlines. She was just twenty-three when she was rostered to operate Pan Am Flight 73, scheduled to fly from Mumbai to New York on the 5th September 1986[1].

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.59.38

The flight was to be operated by a Boeing 747-100 series aircraft, and departed from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International carrying 394 passengers, 9 infants, and 13 Indian cabin crew.

Flight 73 was planned to land twice before getting to New York, with stops at Karachi, Pakistan, and Frankfurt in West Germany.

Arriving at Karachi at 04:30, Flight 73 had disembarked over a hundred passengers, and was in the process of boarding the first busload of passengers for the next leg of the trip, when the aircraft was violently taken over by four Palestinian hijackers.

The Hijackers identified themselves as belonging to the Abu Nidal terrorist group.

During the ensuing confusion, Neerja managed to contact the flight deck and give the alarm, and the flight deck crew, following corporate policy, immediately evacuated the flight deck, thus leaving the hijackers with no means of flying the aircraft away[2].

This escalated the tension, and a passenger was arbitrarily selected, and taken to the forward aircraft door, where he was brutally murdered – shot in the back of the head, and thrown onto the tarmac from the aircraft door.

As the Senior Purser on board, Neeraj maintained her professionalism, and kept the passengers calm in an effort to stabilise the situation.

She was ordered to collect all of the passenger passports, and give them to the lead hijacker.

Realising that holders of US passports would be at the highest risk, she briefed her colleagues to hide as many of the US passports as possible, and many were hidden under seats, and the rest thrown down a galley refuse chute.

Realising the situation could only get worse, Neerja removed the page detailing how to open an aircraft door from her cabin crew manual, and slipped it into a magazine. Passing down the cabin, she passed this to a male passenger sitting adjacent to the door, instructing him to read the magazine carefully and to refer to it again later if needed. The page contained full instructions on how to open the door safely, and how to deploy the evacuation slide.

As the hijack progressed, The aircraft ran out of fuel, resulting in the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) shutting down.

The aircraft was now only lit with the emergency lights, and this obviously unnerved one of the gunmen standing by the forward aircraft door, who opened fire in the darkness, aiming at the suicide vest worn by another of the terrorists.

The shot was inaccurate, and the desired explosion didn’t happen, but the sudden gunfire acted as a catalyst, causing the remaining gunmen to detonate explosives and open fire indiscriminately in the passenger cabin injuring and killing many of those on board.

Neeraj bravely opened doors, and assisted passengers in making their escape. Shot in the hip, and bleeding heavily, she was eventually evacuated to the local hospital, where she died of her wounds.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.06.18Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.05.26

Stories on the internet suggest that she was shot whilst shielding three children, one of whom was so inspired that he learned to fly, and subsequently became a captain with a major air carrier, although I have found no corroborative evidence for this, not even in documented interviews with the crew.

There is no doubt in my mind though, that Neeraj saved many lives with her selfless actions that terrible day in 1986.

More recently, on the 5th May 2019, Aeroflot Flight 1492 left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport bound for Murmansk. Shortly after take-off, the Sukhoi Superjet was hit by lightning, sustaining damage to its fly-by-wire flight controls, autopilot and radios.

It returned to Moscow, where it made an emergency landing. During the landing, it bounced heavily, and burst into flames.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.12.55

Twenty-two year old Maxim Moiseev was positioned in the aft section of the cabin, where the intense fire struck first. Unable to open his exit door, he directed his passengers forwards, but died quickly in his valiant efforts to assist his passengers.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.19.44

His colleague, Tatyana Kasatkina stationed in the forward part of the fuselage managed to kick her door open, and forcibly ejected passengers down the escape slide, saving many lives as she did so. This was conducted whilst the cabin was filling with pungent, acrid smoke, and with intense fire. Temperatures in the cabin were so high that windows were melting.

In all of these cases, many passengers only survived as a result of the courage, selfless bravery and cool thinking of their cabin crew.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.20.15

Call them what you will – Flight Attendants, Cabin Crew, Stewards and Stewardesses, they have as much to be proud of in an emergency as their flight deck colleagues.

Next time you fly, show a little respect for the “hostie” or “trolley dolly” that is serving your meal, or bringing you another Gin and Tonic. Behind the uniform, or the make-up and smile, there will be a brave, highly trained and caring person – who could be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Draining the last of my coffee, I closed the lid of my laptop, the article finished.

The result is here on my page.

Mark Charlwood©  December 2019

[1] One India news article     India Times article

[2] Boeing 747 Flight Crew Escape System

A Summer Fly-in at a Country Airfield

The sky was an azure bowl, and the scent of new-mown grass lay heavy in the mid-morning sunshine. The playful breeze toyed with the surrounding tents, causing them to billow and sway, like an insane troupe of Turkish Belly Dancers.

I wandered along, past ranks of parked aircraft, each one trembling slightly at each soft breath of wind. To the other side of the runway stood a mediaeval cluster of tents, gazebos and stalls, each accumulating untidy gaggles of pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

The subdued hubbub of conversation was suddenly overwhelmed with the electronic hiss of the public address system. The disembodied voice of the commentator rolled across the airfield, bouncing back from the surrounding hills, the echoes garbled and distorted.

The announcement was garbled, but I caught a few words and realised that a lost boy was being held at the First Aid tent. I wondered idly where his parents were. At the Burger Van? The Mobile Bar?  Or were they queuing to use the lavatories?

The murmuring was quiet at first – almost beneath the threshold of hearing, but it gradually became persistent, growing in volume and engorging with tone. Suddenly the day was split apart with the thunderous yet melodious note of three vintage aeroplanes flying in perfect formation – appearing low over the trees at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The staccato high-pitched whine of motor-driven cameras was just audible above the palpable growl of the engines. Every spectator looked skyward, envying the superb airmanship shown by the pilots.

The flight swooped majestically around the airfield, the sun glinting on the polished cowlings, refracting off wings as they looped and rolled above the South Downs. They were gone as suddenly as they arrived, and peace reigned once more.

As I continued my ramble towards the end of the runway, I heard the much softer note of another aircraft engine. I spotted a single light in the sky, which grew steadily until it metamorphosed into a small aircraft.

With its engine at idle, the aeroplane passed me, sighing softly as it touched down on the bumpy grass, its nose nodding up and down, affirming a good landing. As I watched, it slowed to walking pace, and taxied sedately towards the low Nissan Hut housing Air-Traffic Control.

A sallow youth wearing a very grubby High Visibility Tabard, stood glumly at the head of a vacant parking slot, and  began to unenthusiastically wave his arms at the pilot, marshalling him into the vacant position.

More incoherence from the Tannoy indicated something would soon be happening. Looking up, I faintly recognised the profile of an aeroplane, obviously at high altitude – a ghostly insect crawling across the window of the sky.

Suddenly, the blue fabric of the sky was cross-stitched with a web of pristine white trails, each creating patterns of gently expanding white.

Blossoming into multi-coloured parachutes, each action-man figure oscillated like a small pendulum, expanding as they approached the white cross laid on the grass.

With a graceful pull on their control lines, each man arrested his descent, landing as softly as thistledown. An appreciative crowd clapped, as the team collected their deflated chutes.

Shadows were lengthening as I drove out of the car park. A Spitfire suddenly howled overhead, just in front of my car, its wheels already tucking up into its belly, its sides bronzed and gilded by the setting sun. Disappearing into the heat shimmer, it left only the echoes of its engine to testify to its existence.

End

Mark Charlwood MRAeS MISTC)©

The Guardian of the Skies

The Guardian of the Skies

The Pilot has a trusty friend, who’s heard, but never seen,

Who issues forth instructions, in a never ending stream,

The calming voice, in times of stress, our anchor to the ground,

The measured tones, in hours of need, a truly welcome sound
When we’re “uncertain of position” or have a crisis in the air,

It’s good to know you have a friend, who’s always waiting there,

When fuel is low, and met is poor, you’re losing V.M.C.,

That’s when you’ll really value, the folk in A.T.C.,
It’s easy for us pilots, to infringe somebodies zone,

A moments inattention in the hurry to get home,

Then we get admonished by the ATCO, we’ve unhinged,

Who curtly, politely, tells us, his airspace we’ve infringed
When things are getting busy, near an airports cluttered skies,

Our invisible supporter, lends another pair of eyes,

On flying a tricky clearance, your jangled nerves she’ll settle,

As she vectors you quite safely, amongst the heavy metal
Next time you go aloft, spare a moment for the chap,

Who commands the little lines of blue, upon your half mil map,

Don’t gripe about the airspace, that in the UKs rife,

Or curse the ATCOs down below, one day they’ll save your life 

Education And Aiports – Are we Losing the Plot?

Grumpy – And With Good Reason!

It may be because I am getting older, and therefore less tolerant of the idiocy of others, or it may be that other people really are becoming more cretinous and idiotic.
To prove my point, let me share some thoughts with you.
A few weekends ago, I had to make a short train journey to meet up with some family members for a genteel lunch, at a beautiful quiet country pub, nestled snugly in the Surrey countryside, in a fold of the peaceful and wealthy Surrey Hills.
In order to enjoy my journey to its fullest extent, I made a quick excursion into the pleasant little town of Haselmere, where I was to catch the train.  I left myself time to take a gentle stroll into the quintessentially English High Street where Costa Coffee is located, so I could buy my usual Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot.  

Meandering back to the station, I popped into W H Smiths and bought a paper to pass the time.

Standing on the sun dappled platform, I began to peruse the news of the day.  Amidst all of the hysteria about the forthcoming General Election, and the sad stories relating to the earthquake in Nepal, I found some cause for an element of grumpiness, which cheered me up considerably.
It seems that London’s Goldsmith College have banned Caucasian men from attending an “Anti Racism” event, because according to the “Diversity Officer,”  in order to attend you have to belong to the BME. It appears that the BME, far from being some supremacist group, stands for “Black Ethnic Minority”. 
Mind you, there is good news here as well, because the event also positively welcomed those who are “non-binary”. 
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some form of computer phobia, or an inability to count in base ten.  
I was a little amused to discover that those amongst us who are “Non Binary” do not know what sex they are.
Is it not somewhat ironic, that an event that is intended to break down barriers, and stop people discriminating against others based on racial background should fall into the trap of banning others from attending because they come from a different racial heritage.
You couldn’t make it up could you?
I did have to chuckle at the next article, concerning yet another bastion of the British Education system –  this time Queens University in Belfast.  Why has such a respected seat of learning become the target of my grumpiness (albeit mirthful grumpiness)?
Well, the scholarly leaders have decided to ban a conference on Free Speech, Self-Censorship and the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Who employs these people?  Are they specially selected for being stupid, so as to make the scholars feel clever?

So, it was with a mood of cheerful grumpiness that I met up with my family, and enjoyed an excellent lunch, with good company and good food.
Having to a certain extent, forgotten the previous evidence that modern educationalists are sillier than primary school children, I awoke the following morning early, as I had to take a trip to London to attend a business meeting.
Driving to the station, I grabbed a coffee, and picked up a Metro free newspaper at the station entrance.
Skimming through it, – amongst the latest daily doses of pre election hyperbole and more sad stories of the earthquakes and avalanches around Everest I spotted what I was subconsciously looking for…..my morning fix of idiocy to fuel my impish inner self.
Now, I work in the aviation industry, and have done for the best part of my working life, having previously served as a security officer, VIP services manager, an aircraft cleaner, a passenger services executive, and have been flight crew.  I have been exposed to much witless behaviour on many occasions from both passengers and colleagues, but I did draw a sharp intake of breath at the story published.
It seems that a little boy, of four years old was travelling through East Midlands Airport with his family, who were flying out to Lanzarote for their holiday.
All would have been well, but for the four year old carrying a plastic toy gun. It was promptly confiscated by airport security staff because “it posed a security risk”. A spokeswoman for the airport apparently said “No items may pass through security that resemble a prohibited item”
Having seen a Nerf gun in a photograph, it’s quite difficult to see what part of a bright yellow and orange plastic toy could cause anyone but a certifiable lunatic, (or maybe a user of psychotropic drugs) or someone of less than normal eyesight and common sense to mistake it for a real weapon.
Are these people actually recruited for their simplistic interpretation of a regulation that is obviously designed to stop people wandering round the departures lounge with replica AK-47s and similar.  
Mind you, a few years ago I  personally witnessed another situation whilst passing through to airside as a passenger.  The lady in front of me was asked to cover up her tee shirt….it was camouflaged and had an image of a Hand Grenade on it.  
She was justifiably irritated, but was told that the image could be distressing to other passengers.
We live in a very strange world these days, where reality is skewed to accommodate flawed thinking, and four year old children can’t take their favourite toy with them on holiday.
Welcome to brave new world.
Discuss! 
Mark Charlwood © 2015.  Mark Charlwood holds the intellectual property rights associated with this article. Please contact me if you wish to use it, or quote from it.

Electric Taxi – A New Brand New Era in Green Aviation Practice

.Ask anyone in the street about pollution and noise, and most folk will immediately talk about the road transport industry, or, if like me, they live near a major airport, then they would probably refer to the airlines.

Over the last fifty years, air travel has opened up a whole new dimension to travellers. Whether travelling on business, or taking the family away, air travel enables people to reach some of the remotest parts of our planet.

During the early and mid parts of the 20th century, air travel was expensive, and only those travellers with access to a large amount of disposable wealth could afford to fly. 

This was in part caused by the relative lack of supporting infrastructure, but the size of aircraft was also a limiting factor.

The biggest direct operating cost for any airline is that of fuel, and the current smaller aeroplanes were unable to offer the economies of scale necessary to place flying within the reach of the average man. 

To put this into perspective, in the early 1960s, the workhorse of the sky was the Boeing B707, which had a seating capacity of about 140. 

On the 22nd January 1970 Pan Am introduced the very first Boeing 747-100 into service. This aeroplane changed the face of aviation forever.  With its massive seating capacity, of more than double that of the 707, the costs for air travel fell dramatically, and even the poorest backpacker could save enough money to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight.

Over the years, developments of the 747 have continued, and as an example, a British Airways 747-400 will carry 345 passengers over vast distances.

But there are always other factors.  The 1973 oil crisis made fuel costs escalate rapidly, and a number of airlines went out of business. Those that survived recognised the need for newer far more fuel efficient aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers rose to the challenge, and many new aeroplane were developed, constructed from much lighter materials, including polymers and carbon fibre materials. 

Engine manufacturers have developed cleaner, quieter and far more fuel efficient engines, and new software driven control systems enable aircraft to fly far higher, out of the worst of the weather, and at altitudes where engines are even more frugal.

Sadly, this is still not enough.  The global energy crisis continues, and international concern with  climate change is driving fuel costs upwards.

Airlines are looking to save costs wherever they can.  Most airlines will defer operating the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) until shortly before boarding, and some airlines have established a policy that requires aircraft to be taxied with one engine shut down.

The economics of this are sound, and saving may be made.

According to Airbus Industrie an Airbus A320 fitted with CFM56 engines will burn 250kg of fuel conducting a twenty minute average taxi time. A single engine taxi of the same duration will burn a reduced amount of 190kg.

Using IATA fuel data, jet fuel (Jet A-1) costs £0.3613 per kilo so a single engine taxi will cost the operator £68.65.  Two engines £72.26. This is doubled effectively, as the aircraft also has to taxi in after landing, which again, will take an average of twenty minutes.

Throughout 2014 fuel prices fell by an average of 42.8%, so it is reasonable to assume that they could rise again by the same amount, giving taxi costs of between £98.03 and ££103.19. 

A very simple costing taking into account British Airways fleet of 105 Airbuses, assumes that each aircraft flies 5 sectors a day (5×2 taxies = 10 x 20 minutes x 105) that’s a massive 350 hours of taxiing. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 12.5kg/min = 262,500 kg = 262.50 tonnes!

Now the figures look very different. In the above example, fuel currently costs £361.25 per tonne.  

£94,828 to just taxi around the airfield. Remember this is just a single days operation for one short haul fleet. 

Operators will be very keen to both minimise taxi times, and to reduce costs as much as possible during taxiing.

Airbus have been working on a new self propelled taxying system for the Airbus A320 series, known as eTaxi.

This system utilises a powerful air cooled electric motor that drives the main landing gear wheels via a self contained gearbox.

Powered is provided by the APU generator. The eTaxi motor has sufficient power and torque to enable the aircraft to be reversed off the parking stand, and then taxied to the holding point for the departure runway. At this point, the engines may be started.

Naturally, current procedures and checklists would have to be amended and modified to reflect the use of eTaxi to ensure continuation of current ground movement safety.

The eTaxi system offers many benefits.  Airbus’s own studies have shown that even greater fuel savings may be made than by using single engine taxying. 

Using the AP/eTaxi and a single engine for taxying equates to a fuel burn of 140kg, and full electric taxying only 40kg for the same 20 minute taxy.  

 Using the same fleet data as before, the savings are considerable. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 2kg/min = kg = 42.00 tonnes!

With fuel in our example currently costing £361.25 per tonne, 42 tonnes costs £15,172.50, a massive daily saving of £79,655.50!

Naturally,  there is a weight penalty for the eTaxi equipment, consisting of motor, gearbox, wiring harness and software and control equipment, but Airbus Industrie quotes this as being about an extra 400kg, and over a 500nm sector, this would require an additional fuel burn of 16kg.

Overall the use of eTaxi with both engines shut down, and including a 5 minute engine warm up and a 3 minute engine cool down, will offer a trip fuel saving of about 3% on a typical A320 sector of 700nm. 

So, the airline accountants will be happy with the considerable direct financial savings.  However, there are many other associated benefits by using an eTaxi. 

During taxying operations, aircraft frequently have to stop, accelerate, turn and hold in position.  This places wear on the brakes, and incurs fuel penalties every time that the thrust levers are opened to recommence taxying.  

As eTaxi is a direct drive system, the normal wheel brakes become redundant, the braking being delivered through the gearbox itself.  

 Environmentally, eTaxi makes a lot of sense.  The use of clean electricity for ground movements will significantly reduce the amount of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide) and CO (Carbon Monoxide) found in the local atmosphere.  Noise levels will also be significantly reduced. 

An additional benefit is a reduced exposure to the risk of the engine ingesting foreign objects, and extending the time between mandated engine inspections and checks.  

Bearing in mind that the biggest cost for an airline is fuel. Last year British Airways spent £3.5 Billion pounds on fuel. Most large national carriers will be spending about the same.  The figures are almost too large to contemplate. 

It would appear then, that any additional costs in retrofitting such devices to an existing fleet will pay for itself many times over, and any airline that specifies new deliveries without this option are potentially wasting millions.

Facts from Airbus Industrie publication FAST 51

Fuel costs from IATA Fuel cost analysis 2015

BA fleet data from http://www.ba.com

BA Fuel costs data from http://www.iag.com

Mark Charlwood©2015. Mark Charlwood is the owner of the intellectual property rights to this work. Unauthorised use is not permitted. If you want to use this article please contact me for permission. Thank you.