Since we’re still aeroplaneless in the middle of another protracted annual, the closest I’ve got to aircraft lately has been a Flyer forum trip to Manchester for the “Four Aircraft tour” at the very nice viewing park there.
The vagaries of public transport meant a predawn start, and as it was the day after Halloween, there were an astonishingly large number of partygoers approaching morning from the opposite direction!
I flopped sleepily into a seat, then watched dumbfounded as a tin of spam walked past, closely followed by a seventies disco dancers, loudly complaining he’d lost his kebab, a black and white cow who’d lost his girlfriend, and an angel who’d lost one wing and most of her dignity.
I didn’t know whether to laugh, stare, or hide my head in my coat and try to get back to sleep. Fortunately there were mass exoduses at Neath and Port Talbot and as it fell silent, I was left exchanging bemused looks with the few fellow passengers who were, like me, on their way to somewhere not back from a night out!
I slept most of the rest of the way. Connections were short, apart from one chilly wait at Newport, and their was an easy (and cheap!) shuttle bus from the terminal to the viewing park. It seems to be the preserve of a number of regulars as the bus driver appeared to recognise most of those boarding!
Again, due to the timing of trains, I was the first forumite to arrive, and spent some time watching the arrivals and departures, until I found myself developing a case of “camera inferiority complex” which drove me off the nice little raised areas overlooking the runways.
I headed for the meeting point, the onsite “Concorde Departure Lounge”, and found Vince already there, and ready with the champagne. I admired the photographs on the walls while enjoying this very civilised breakfast. (Well Second Breakfast for me — not for the first time!)
As others started to arrive the usual confusion of matching names to faces to forumish handles ensued. Blank looks at real names segued into recognised at things like; “Merlin”, “Lighttwin Jnr”, “Met24” and “Established Localiser”, this to the apparent amused of the nice lady who sold us tickets!
Chat and champagne flowed and soon it was time to start the tour. Vince, as one of the tour guides, preceded us, and we ambled over to join the few members of the public who were also along. The tours are only about a dozen people max, so the forum contingent made up a goodly proportion of the total!
We started with the partial nose section of a DC10 which has been converted into a display and presentation area. We were all quite dismayed by the video of the fate of the rest of the aircraft! “Dismantling” is far too gentle a word for what happened to the scrapped section!
We moved onto to the Trident, which in spite of the rather clipped wings which had been shortened for storage before it was moved to the museum, I think is a rather attractive looking aeroplane. Possibly I just have a weakness for T-tailed machines.
The Trident’s main claim to fame is that of being the first aircraft with full, down-to-the-ground autoland, and I stared in some awe at the bit of kit which had achieved this, which frankly in light of modern almost-computer mobile phones, looked as thought it belonged in a museum of computing!
Also interesting, was the rather more literal interpretation of “moving map” than we’re used to, which featured on the flight deck. I’d never seen a paper one before, but there it was, a chart on a sort of tractor feed arrangement like an old dot-matrix printer, with a swinging pointer over the top of it. I think I gathered correctly that it took its information from the inertial navigation system. Very clever device!
Next up was a particularly unique aircraft with the distinction of being the last complete airliner built in Britain, the Avro RJX. Sadly it never made it to commercial service, and the little signed notes of the crew who’d brought it to Manchester were rather touching. “Please look after our baby with lots of TLC…”
As a test aircraft the interior had not yet been finished and furnished and the control runs, and structural features were exposed to view which was quite fascinating. The contrast on the flight deck, which was more more the modern style “glass” cockpit was also very different from the other aircraft we’d seen.
Climbing back to the ground we could peek between the four large engines, hanging off the odd anhedral wings, and see the real star of the show sitting on her temporary hardstanding.
Concorde was next.
But first tea and biccies and a few videos, including one of the last day in service which ended to a certain amount of blowing of noses and clearing of throats among the assembled watchers!
Vince was leading the external part of this tour and we were all enthralled. What struck me the most (and the whole trip was pretty striking!), was how every little feature had a reason behind it — and generally that
reason was the same every time — to go fast!
Where compromises had been needed, speed always won. From the shape of the wing, to that famous “dropping nose”, to more mundane things — one example being that the gear legs were too long to fit between the engines, but the engines needed to be where they were for best performance, so a complicated little arrangement was created to hydraulically shorten the legs as part of the retraction sequence.
I’m not going to list all the wonderful little details we discovered — go on the tour for that! But it was fascinating and awe inspiring, and we weren’t even on board yet…!
Once we were, we settled into the extremely plush cabin for more on the history and service life of this particular Concorde G-BOAC, a particular highlight of which was crossing the Atlantic four times in one day!
We discovered things from test flight process, to which seat the Queen preferred to sit in, then in turn we took a trip up to the flight deck and got to indulge any flying fantasies we might have by sitting in that P1 seat.
A forum group photo to finish and we all agreed it had been an outstanding day. The enthusiasm of the tour guides and the genuine affection and pride which they care for those aircraft just shone through the whole time we were there.
And I have a daydream to tide me over until we get out little tommyhawk back again…
More on the day can be read on the original forum thread, with photos from the other attendees.
My (less than stellar) photos are up at Flickr.