Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
Image: Comet 4
I was sent to South America in 1959 to assist in the introduction of jet services. I flew in a Panair do Brasil DC7C, and the total elapsed time from Heathrow to Montevideo was 31 hours. The sector from Lisbon to Recife was over 12 hours non-stop and I had the middle of three occupied economy seats. That was before modern seat design enabled you to straighten your legs under the seat in front! Your shins hit a bar to prevent you doing that. When I arrived in Montevideo, nobody met me - they'd forgotten to say I was coming!
The new South American route was set up in a way that was reminiscent of the airlines predecessor on the route, British South American Airways (BSAA). The route from London had stops in Madrid, Lisbon, Dakar, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and finally Santiago. The route general manager, route captain and a number of the other 15 captains on the route had flown previously with BSAA.
My job in Montevideo was to train the new airport staff. Only one, who came from Pan Am, had worked for an airline before. The others had been a banker, a farmer and a convent school pupil. BOAC had very wisely kept the old airport accommodation which consisted of a storeroom in the basement with vehicle access, a check-in desk and offices opening on to the tarmac, an upstairs office and a small storeroom above that.
I immediately set about training the staff and inquired where the manuals were. I was told that everything had been sent out by sea in a large packing case, which had been impounded in customs at the port. On going to investigate, I discovered that the whole consignment had been banned because the box contained many items, which were produced in Uruguay, such as paper and drawing pins. No, they would not release anything. So the training went ahead with me conjuring up the complete syllabus from memory.
When Comet operations started, there were only to be four flights a week and it was quite remarkable that the station was set up to be completely self handling. The engineering staff and loaders nearly all had a second trade - carpenter, painter and so on. The most important was the head loader who was also the asado (barbecue) expert. The same people did aircraft cleaning and loading, switching from one to the other as required.
With the exception of PLUNA's (the Uruguayan airline) Vickers Viscounts, all the aircraft operating through Montevideo were piston-engined, Douglas DC7Cs or Lockheed Super Constellations operated by Pan Am, KLM, Alitalia, Air France and Pan Air do Brazil. I remember seeing a KLM DC7C with the cowling off one engine and the engineer looking in each successive cylinder with the aid of a special light. When he reached one particular cylinder his face fell a mile when he saw the end of a connecting rod instead of the top of the piston.
Pan Am was notable for running its own operational communications, duplicating what was done by air traffic control. In their office I saw for the first time someone using a bug key, which operated from side to side instead of the more familiar Morse key.
I spent some time getting the airport used to the idea of jet operations. Getting the runways cleaned was a major task - small stones, which are of no trouble to piston-engined aircraft, were very bad news for a jet, particularly the Comet IV. Then there was the problem of jet blast on the apron. No one would believe that behind a jet engine starting up, the more lightweight pieces of ground equipment could take to the air. In the end they had to learn by seeing some engineering steps in full flight.
Air traffic control needed some education as well. They, and in fact the whole of the air-traffic control world, were used to aircraft cruising at fixed altitudes determined by the direction in which they were flying. In order to increase range and save fuel the Comet IV operated at a cruise climb which meant climbing initially as high as possible and then allowing the aircraft to climb continuously maintaining maximum altitude as fuel was burned off and the weight decreased.
The post office at Montevideo airport ran a unique service. You could post a letter at the airport to catch a specific flight to Europe two hours before it left. In 1968 a letter I posted at Montevideo airport was delivered to my parents at a village in Somerset 36 hours later!
In between staff training sessions we gradually got the office in order. This involved sorting and throwing away a lot of old files from the storeroom in the basement. One of the staff doing this came to me one day with a file, which he said he thought I would like to see. It was marked Top Secret with a diagonal pink line in true RAF tradition. Inside I found a confidential letter from Air Marshal Bennett, the then boss of BSAA, to all overseas managers. The gist was that at long last the British aircraft industry was going to produce an aircraft which would solve all the current problems of a range and payload and would start a new era of aviation for BSAA. I turned the page and found an artist's impression of - the Princess Flying Boat!
There were two inaugural flights during which the staff were able to put into practice what they had learned. Fortunately, by then we had been able to negotiate the manuals and a few other essential bits and pieces from that big packing case in customs. Then came the inaugural flight, running late as they usually do with the fleet captain asking for the fastest possible transit. We managed 27 minutes - a good effort for the first commercial flight with the new staff. (Later I believe the minimum transit allowed was 30 minutes to give the brakes time to cool).
In general, flights operated smoothly, although we had to get used to the idea of the Comet IV flying faster than the air-traffic control communications, which were transmitted by Morse code. We were lucky to receive the departure message for the last station but one by the time an aircraft arrived! For the first flight I followed the BOAC tradition of lining up the staff for the aircraft departure. We too learned a lesson about jet blast - after that I was on my own!
Our engineers did the aircraft marshalling on the ground, but one day the aircraft totally ignored the marshaller and turned in the opposite direction - to my great surprise since the captain was an old friend of ours. When I got on board I found that the nose wheel steering was partly jammed which limited turns to the right. They discovered this at the previous stop in Sao Paulo when he tried to turn round on the runway and finished up at 90 degrees to the edge and called for a tractor. Because the air traffic control personnel spoke no English, our multilingual airport manager was brought in and had to tell the captain that he could have a tractor but that there was no tow bar - it hadn't arrived yet. What followed was probably the only three-point turn ever achieved in a Comet IV.
Quite early on during the operations I was very alarmed when the aircraft did a wet start. 15 foot flames coming out of the back of the engine are, after all, rather spectacular. The station engineer standing beside me told me not to worry. If you want to have a fire anywhere, the best place is inside a jet engine.
My worst memory at Montevideo was arriving at the traffic office one morning to find a signal left on the desk by the airport communications people. The first words were aircraft accident. It was the Comet IV which had approached the wrong airport in Madrid at night, diverted to the right one but brushed the very top of a hill in between which was not marked on the map. He had then managed to land safely on two engines, leaving a quantity of metalwork on the hilltop.
BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
About the charity 'Practical Action'
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
Bangladesh - All Together Now! by John Anderson (1973)
Bangladesh - Memories of Dhaka, by Simon Watts (1981-1985)
Life and Work in Bangladesh
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
China - Scotland the Brave by Ralph Glazer (1985)
India - Holy Cow, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Obstruction on the runway...
India - Delhi (Not) Singing in the Rain, by Ralph Glazer (1964)
Monsoon (and its Cargo) Close airport
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
Dubai - a Training Posting, by Peter Liver (1970)
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
Kuwait in the Fifties by Jamil Wafa (1955)
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia - Rats! An Unwelcome Customer, by John Anderson (1978)
An Unwelcome Passenger
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
Nigeria and Concorde, by Peter Jones (1976-1979)
How Nigerians took to Concorde
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1979)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
Uganda - Kenneth's Mortars, by John Anderson (1972)
Diplomatic Incident in East Africa
Zambia - Jottings from the Copperbelt, by Peter Jones (1969-1972)
Malawi - The President's Plane, by Peter Woodrow (1977)
VIP Travel to the Commonwealth Conference...
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
Kenya - Customer Recovery, Kenya Style, By Simon Watts (1988)
Going the extra mile...
Kenya - Concorde and other big beasts, by Simon Watts (1986-90)
Concorde and other big beasts
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
Libya - Monkeys in a Hangar, by Ralph Glazer (1954)
Wildlife in Tripoli
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
St. Lucia - There's a Hole in the Runway, by Peter Jones (1984)
suspension of operations in St Lucia
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
Concorde, a Road Accident and the Mexican Police
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
UK - A Shetland Story, by Anthony McLauchlan (1972)
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (1976)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer (1971)
A Meeting with Franco
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
Further reading and watching for addicts....
Some miscellaneous photos that don't have a story to go with them
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