BKS                        Readers Stories

Return to Home Page

How I wished I kept it!

How silly of me not to tap BKS into the Google search before now....what a wealth of memories! I was born and brought up in Newcastle, and, living in Fenham, was treated to the several times daily very low approaches for landing across the town moor (surely sometimes below the minimum permitted) of a succession of Dakotas, Elizabethans, and later Britannias.
 My first ever flight was in an Elizabethan, August 1958 to Jersey, aged 3. I remember so much of it. I even have a slide taken in flight by my father of the view out, on the return, at 22000 feet. The most memorable thing about the Elizabethan, yet never mentioned, was the glorious sound it made....so musical. I wonder if anybody has a recording of it in flight?.
 Next flights were in BKS Dakotas August 1961 to Guernsey. This was a regular weekly summer schedule that year. Outward flight was at 178 mph cruise at 8000 feet and took 2 hrs 20 mins. Return at 5000 feet took 2hrs 40 mins. The stewardess served cheese sandwiches, biscuits, and fruit in little cardboard boxes, and my parents enjoyed the pleasure of hot Nescafe. I was fascinated by the cabin lights which were exactly the same as in a contemporary Bedford coach, and the seats were upholstered in the same plastic as a contemporary Austin Mini, with curtains at the windows. No idea what registrations these planes were, though my father has a slide of Dakota G-AMSH on the ramp at Jersey at sunset, in 1957(Click here to see it). What a memory from age 6! I had all the in flight memorabilia for this trip for years, and could kick myself for not keeping it....the airline magazine, packets of salt, a tea spoon.....
Elizabethans were used for some years on charters to Palma de Mallorca, but with anything approaching a full load, which was more usual than not being holiday charter flights, Palma was well beyond the range of the Elizabethan, so a refuelling and technical stop would be made in Marseilles. However, rumour has it that under favourable circumstances the stop could be avoided, but only with some careful planning, good luck, and a bit of rule bending. And if successful, a good hour and a half could be shaved of the normal rather gruelling seven and a half hour journey time.
     Firstly, weigh everything at Woolsington, passengers and all their luggage alike, so that the last ounce of fuel could be squeezed on, but keeping reserves to a minimum. Secondly assume good weather en route. Thirdly, do a flap free take off from Woolsington, retracting the undercarriage at the moment the Elizabethan came off the runway, and climbing out at the shallowest possible angle. Given that the runway at Woolsington was only 5200 feet before being rebuilt in the winter of 1965, much affected by mining subsidence, and that the Elizabethan had a very high take off speed for a piston engined airliner (was it around 106 knots?), this must have been perilous indeed. People who remember Woolsington in those days will recall that every commercial arrival and departure was accompanied by all the fire tenders going to one end of the runway or the other in case of disaster, which fortunately there never was.
     I was incredulous when I first read this story, but apparently it was possible, because of the take off procedure and shallow climb, to save enough fuel to then go non-stop to Palma. I certainly witnessed such take offs however, though of course I have no idea whether Palma bound or not. But I particularly remember once driving past the end of the runway on the A696 with my family as an Elizabethan roared across the road in front of us at no higher than the height top of a double decker bus, with the undercarriage doors already shut, and than watching as it climbed so gently but serenely over the countryside to the west of Newcastle.....as dramatic a sight as you could imagine.
     Of course, the arrival of Britannias in 1964 changed all that. With a cruising speed of 50% more and at least double the range of the Elizabethan, Palma was always a non-stop trip and took only around four hours.
 Never flew in Britannia, my favourite. I have some very bad photos taken with my sister's Kodak Brownie of the scrapping of G-APLL in September 1969. Much better photos of the same fate of G-ANBD in 1970. And excellent slides of both outside and inside G-ANBK in her final months of service (with Northeast, by then) in late 1971. Incidentally, once G-ANBK had made her last flight on 31 December 1971 (admirably covered by BBC Look North that evening) I could not bear to go back and see the scrapping process. This was much delayed because of attempts to sell the aircraft, even with plans to make her into a restaurant in situ. however, I remember the airline made some money in the end....it was widely rumoured that her scrap value was 600, and yet somebody paid that for one propeller! I guess there are still bits and pieces of her all over the place cluttering up garages and annoying long suffering wives, because collectors had a field day. I even have some Newcastle Evening Chronicle cuttings of G-ANBK's final landing.

I sincerely hope that the person who told me this story will not mind being mentioned by name. It will probably strike a chord with many former cabin crew and flight crew from both BKS and Northeast during Britannia and Trident operations, although the story here was in fact after Britannias had all been retired and the airline was well established as Northeast.
     Yvonne Edwards retired from British Airways in about 2003 after many years as a British Airways Eurofleet purser, having started her career with Northeast in 1972. I was a passenger on one of her last flights, and we got talking. One of the other crew was moaning how the number of night stops, staying in nice hotels all over Europe, had gone down and down in recent years with BA. Yvonne said, " You don't know how lucky you are. When I started, we had a late arrival scheduled for the summer season in Palma, but the airline never provided any accommodation. We used to take turns to change in the loos and galleys, flight crew and cabin crew alike, then sleep overnight across the seats, and still have to be up in time for pre- flight preparations the next morning, looking as bright as daisies for the return to Newcastle...."
     Unthinkable now.  
Yours with wild enthusiasm for those days long gone,
                                                                             Peter JL Rickinson

Return to Story Index