RINGWAY STORIES (2)
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Memories of Airviews by Ian McLaren
I started my long career in aviation at the tender age of 11 by helping Bruce Martin with his various Auster and DH Rapide aircraft; also he had a Fox Moth. I rustled up 5s.0d for a 15 minute pleasure flight in G-AOBV one Saturday afternoon. He had no assistance at that time and was losing potential customers by having to alternate between flying and selling tickets. So being neatly turned out and still with an unbroken voice, he asked me to sit in the kiosk and sell tickets while he concentrated on the flying. He then gave me a free flight as his last of the day, including student flying like I later had in the ATC, demonstrating effect of controls, etc. He then asked me to turn up on the Sunday morning and do the same again for the whole day. From that day on I had a free flying lesson every day, taking control over Styal Forest, outside of controlled airspace, going on to study the PPL syllabus in all examination areas, which I then taught to ATC cadets.
Sadly no photos of my own, although I went on to work for Bruce in his photo lab and flew in a Dragon Rapide on aerial photography assignments. I went on to join the RAF, then later the Royal Saudi Air Force (going from 100 kts.,to 1000 kts in Lightning Mk.53). I'm now in the process of building an SSDM Ultralight initially using a Honda C-50 engine, with a VNE of 50 kts!! and 2.5 litres/hr. So even at 68, I'm actively involved in the aviation sector.
The C-97 Stratocruiser at Ringway by Michael Blank
This photo, taken on Thursday 29th January 1974, shows one of the most exciting moments of my five years plane spotting from 1971-1976 which I still recall clearly today. Its a shot, albeit distant, of Israeli Air Force C-97 Stratocrusier 4X-FPN on the second of its two ILS approaches to Manchester that afternoon. I took it from Schools Hill in Cheadle and is distant because in those days (I was sixteen when I took the photo) I did have an SLR camera, let alone a zoom lens, although my parents had actually given me my first decent (viewfinder, a Ricoh 500) camera in late 1973, for my 16th birthday.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I must have heard them call up Mnachester approach, realised this was something very special indeed (I had never seen either a C-97 or Stratocruiser, or an IAF aircraft), got its registration on the first approach; then, realising it was going to do another one, I had time to run out of my parents' house, onto Schools Hill, with my camera, and capture this photo as it came in again.
The C-97/Stratocruiser was an extremely rare type to visit Manchester, details of all visits as follows:
USAF C-97 1224 'Oklahoma ANG' (Sunday 10 September 1961)
USAF C-97 92589 'Oklahoma ANG' (Sunday 10 September 1961)
ISRAELI AF C-97 4X-FPY overshot @ 1130 en-route to Mildenhall (Tuesday 28 November 1972)
As it happens, this magnificent aircraft survives today, in preservation at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim AFB in Israel and I had the great pleasure of meeting up with the C-97 again, some thirty-four years after shooting it in the air, when, in March 2008, I visited the IAF Museum. Indeed, one of the main reasons I made the long trek out to Israel, was to see this fabulous aircraft again.
School lessons under the approach to Runway 24 by Richard Caville
In 1963, I entered the First Year at Moseley Hall Grammar School for Boys in Cheadle and while I can’t quite remember if I had already started getting interested in aircraft, I was soon to be caught up in a fascination with airliners, airlines & airports that has lasted 50 years!
The Village Hotel now stands on the site of the school – an old mock Elizabethan mansion house which housed the main offices, library, Headmasters office, staffroom and a few classrooms, while the rest of the school sprawled across several blocks of brick huts which were used by the Fire Service during the war. Sited amongst them was the “Quad” (or the playground – maybe it was the old parade ground!) as it was known, along with sundry other classrooms. Lying directly under the approach to runway 24 our lessons were regularly interrupted by the delights of the propliners of the day and the arrival of the new jets. The First Year block had probably the best view and there was always a scramble for the window desks! We moved from room to room for different lessons, and the view of planes from other classrooms was mixed so one had to make a beeline for best desks!
Obviously it was relatively quiet in those days and the regular flights were mainly BEA, BOAC, Cambrian, British United, Dan Air, Derby Airways/British Midland, Aer Lingus, Sabena and KLM – excuse the lack of chronology but I can't remember when various mergers and name changes took place! The delights of Carvairs (both BUA and Aer Lingus) Bristol 170’s, Danair Ambassadors, Cambrian DC3s, Sabena Convairs, Balair DC6s were among the regulars. I remember the first Trident to visit, G-ARPE i think, though i seem to remember it took off over the school from 06.
However, over time the charter flights gradually increased, and then there the diversions from London....magic to young lads who had never travelled very far from home. In that first winter my dad took me up to the airport one evening to see the several Pan Am flights that had arrived during the day, and it was a delight to see them still lined up along the International Pier!
Every winter day when we heard there was fog in London we waited in anticipation to see what might turn up – sometimes just a few British, then again it might be an East African or MEA Comet, Qantas 707s, though more often than not, European airlines. Memory evades me of what other goodies appeared ! Whether it was a divert or a charter, again I can’t remember, but one lunchtime I borrowed (without permission!) someones bike from the bike sheds to nip up to the airport with a friend as something special had landed. When we got back I was summoned to see the deputy head (I had unwittingly picked a prefect’s bike) and though I was threatened - probably with the cane - i never heard another word! It might have been that day when we saw and spoke to singers Dusty Springfield and Julie Felix who had diverted in.
Another incident was when I was skiving off from sports afternoon and waiting at the bus stop with the same friend and SE-CFE, a TorAir C46 came rumbling in. PE lessons outside in the quad or on the fields near Ladybrook were welcome as it meant we didn’t miss other special & unexpected rarities – like VP-YYR a Rhodesian Air Services DC4. Over the next few years we enjoyed the burgeoning (for the 60’s) charter market with SAM (Italy) DC6s, Sterling DC6s then Caravelles, Spantax DC7s and Coronados, Adria Airways DC6s and Aviogenex TU134s, though the latter often came in on Sundays. Both Alitalia & Iberia announced new services so we eagerly awaited the DC9s (or was it Caravelles?!) each day! (Initially Caravelles but both airlines did upgrade to DC9s - Ed)
Often spending Saturdays on the terraces we used to evade the one shilling entrance fee (both for the main terraces and each of the piers) and climb through the bars of the turnstiles....I don’t think we were ever caught out! However one time I was collecting my bike from the public car park and found I had a flat tyre, a policeman came over and accused me of nicking my own bike! In those days there was respect for the cops, though I was mad as a hatter at his bolshieness! The early radios had come out and Shorrocks was the most popular make, but was quite pricey at £36 for a youngster, though some schoolfriends had them - £599 at 2013 prices!! So it was a new thrilling experience to listen not only to the tower but also look out for flyovers – we used to write off to airlines with the dates, flight numbers etc and they would post back with the registrations – Air Canada DC8s, Loftleidir CL-44s and many others on Amber One, Red Three or Blue One airways which were the main routes. Fortunately the US charter flights used their registrations as their call-signs! We could even phone up the airport offices of the airline or Servisair agents and be given the registrations – a regular occurrence after Swissair started their evening flights.
One Sunday morning in June 1967 I was having extra tuition for my GCE O level exams and news came through of a crash – a Canadair C4 had come down in the middle of Stockport, killing 72. That was one event which I did not go to see.
The school had a thriving Aviation Enthusiasts Club with regular coach trips, slide & film shows and talks – one time i think we had a BOAC VC10 pilot who had once been a pupil. In 1964 I was able to go on my first trip to Heathrow & the Biggin Hill Air Fair. Most of the excursions used to leave at midnight, have a breakfast stopover at the Watford Gap Blue Boar services on the M1, and arrive at Heathrow at 6am before going on to the next airfield or show on our itinerary. A quick dash round the outside of the terminals to log the aircraft already in, then up to the small roof garden on Terminal 2 – it was too early for the Queen’s Building terraces to be open – and there waited for the Pan Am “Bongs” (as we called them), DC8s and other early arrivals.
After that first trip came regular excursions – Heathrow & Gatwick; sometimes smaller airfields combined with LHR & LGW; a Luton visit gave us a trio of Canadair Northstar DC4s of Overseas Airlines – probably stored after the airlines collapse. Also there was a Spanish Bristol 170. Another trip we had was to Rearsby and a tour of the Beagle production line, then Leicester East and Sywell airfields. As I write I lament over the demise of so many British companies!
In 1965, my family moved from Bramhall to Woodford, and from my bedroom window I could see the AVRO production hangars across a field and the back garden! When the hangars were opened, sometimes at night, it was time to dash across to the path that ran the length of the fence and view the 748s and Nimrods. So i usually saw the Philippine, Varig and Chilean examples before my friends saw them do touch and go’s at Ringway! One time we sneaked through a hole in the fence but were caught by the hangar doors and frogmarched out through the main gates. Dont think our parents were even notified – security was a lot more laid back in those days! By the late 60’s Vulcans, Victors & Valiants were stored across the airfield as they were taken out of service.
One of the last memories of school and aircraft was the annual 6th form trip to London for 4 days – we stayed at a hostel and the Saturday was always a free day. As several of us planned to have a day at Heathrow we wanted to be there for the early arrivals. So 2 of us hatched a cunning plan – we forged a letter from our dads to get permission to stay at the (non existant) house of a relative in London, when in reality we spent the night at the airport.....it worked and I don’t think they ever found out!
In 1970 we left school & moved on to University or work. I left home for Southampton and a career as a cartographer. The passion for airliners has stayed with me and the 70s saw many more trips – hitchhiking up to Heathrow & Gatwick for the weekend, meeting friends & sleeping in Terminal One; several visits to the Paris Air Show, including a 10 day jaunt, sleeping all but one night at Orly Airport along with many other enthusiasts, using the long-gone lockers to store our clothes and changing in the toilets! In those days access to the local airfields was still allowed, and on that trip some of us were appalled to find two of the lads had cut out and stolen a registration in fabric from a light aircraft, so we composed an apologetic letter and returned it to the airfield to show that most enthusiasts still had respect for property.
In 1974 a friend and I did an air-coach holiday to Italy in an Invicta Vanguard to Milan, down to Rome for 3 days, two of which we spent visiting Fiumicino & Ciampino – at the former we were surrounded by the police & taken down to the “cop shop” and our identities checked! Next stop was Naples and then return home from Genoa. Before getting married and taking on a family I had two more main trips – saving up for a five week tour of the USA in 1978, using the TWA Air Pass from New York to the West Coast and points in between. Miami was the best, though after walking the length of the runway and the hangar areas I found that I had put the wrong film setting on the camera, but it was too hot to do it all again, so lost some of the pictures! At Washington National I was spotting from the Exec Jet terminal when a pilot started talking to me and he took me out to his Allegheny Commuter Nord 262 – when I came out of the cockpit the passengers were already on! But after 4 weeks on my own I was glad to get back to the UK. Athens was the next holiday in 1982, staying at the Emmantina Hotel complete with bar & pool on the roof garden. Great position under approach! But now another new airport and another viewing area redundant!
Fifty years on from those early days at school, Ringway remains the best place to watch and take photos – it is such a shame that Heathrow & Gatwick have never provided new viewing areas, killing off the family days out which so many enjoyed back in the 60s & 70s. Oh, for the good old days when access was allowed to airfields and hangars! The world may have have gotten smaller but its a lot less friendly. And i must admit, a lot less exciting with mainly Boeings and Airbuses around and not the variety of types now that the propliners and Russian aircraft are disappearing. But airliners and airports still hold my fascination!