Airliners, as we know them today, originated from the fluttering biplane bombers of the First World War. Most of these aircraft could not fly for much more than three hours without refuelling, which meant that long routes, like those operated by Imperial Airways before 1936, were punctuated by frequent stops, often in remote places. Payload was often limited by the need to carry maximum fuel in full tanks, so the option of reducing fuel to accept more payload (passengers, baggage, freight and airmail) often meant an extra stop and a longer journey. For example, in 1935, the flight from Alexandria to Khartoum involved five stops, spread over 1200 miles, and took 15 hours. From 1936, Short C-Class flying boats were able to fly the route in half that time, with two stops after Cairo.

The numerous stops, or way stations, meant that there was a need for representatives to handle the flight on the ground. These were called Station Officers. They were trained, as I was, to organise and assist passengers and crew, loading and unloading, refuelling, overnight accommodation etc. They were responsible for controlling the load on board within the safety limits, for supplying weather information and communications, and local airport control where needed.

In their spare time, which in some places was generous because there were few aircraft movements, they trained local workers, helped the Post Office and joined in the social activities of the, often small, local community.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, in 1940, the two principal private airlines, Imperial Airways and British Airways were merged into a national corporation, called BOAC. It included several services within Europe but its major function was still the provision of services to the Empire via the Middle East to Africa, India, the Far East and Australia.

When the Mediterranean was closed to us during the war, the remainder of the system continued to link Egypt with South Africa, India and Australia. Most of the aircrew and ground staff continued their duties under the wing of the Air Ministry, while retaining BOAC identity. Routes were changed and developed to meet the national needs. Atlantic services were opened up in 1941 with American flying boats based in Baltimore.

With the end of the war, BOAC emerged in 1945 with a large and varied fleet of pre-war flying boats and converted bombers. Re-equipment in the late 1940s and early 1950s allowed rapid expansion of routes, faster services and fewer stops. The introduction of jet service in the late 1950s raised both the speed and capacity of the fleet. The reminiscences in this book begin in the 50s, when jets were just beginning to replace the last of the piston engined aircraft. In 1974, with an ancestry going back 50 years, BOAC and its sister corporation BEA were merged as a new airline, British Airways.

Peter Jones has coaxed an entertaining and interesting collection of contributions from his friends and colleagues involved along the routes of the airline, far and wide.

I hope this collection may encourage further contributions from the memories of others who were similarly involved.

Ross Stainton
20 August 2004

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