Airports and Things

These last few weeks have seen something of a heatwave in the UK and of course we Brits are just not equipped to cope with extreme heat, well not in the UK anyway. In Spain the buildings are built to keep out the heat where as in the UK, our houses are insulated and are made to hang on to the heat throughout the cooler parts of the year as well as the usual dismal summers.

When I was a child a great lure for me on a hot summer’s day was the airport. My friends and I used to cycle to Manchester Airport and sometimes lurk around the terraces that used to welcome ‘plane spotters’ or more often than not, we used to ride around the back of the airport and wander down secret (or so we thought) lanes and avenues that backed onto the runway. We always headed for a popular spot, an old world war 2 pillbox where we would meet and observe the aircraft. I remember spending many happy hours there, jotting down all sorts of thoughts in my childhood notebooks while listening to the appealing drone of light aircraft or the exciting blast of jet engines. I sometimes imagined that the reason I so loved that light aircraft droning sound was that perhaps I was a World War One fighter ace in a previous life when that sound would have been so much a part of my existence.

Some time later, I think I was in my twenties, I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him up to Blackpool.

On the day that I joined James (as usual, names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove up to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.

I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.

The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.

image courtesy wikipedia.

image courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War Two films when German Stuka bombers hurtle down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail, but as we hurtled towards the ground, Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.

“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”

Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.

“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put his hand brake on at the traffic lights.

“What if I mentioned the mixture?”

If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.

“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”

If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane. James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume, to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.

Next time, if on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”

Much has changed with aircraft and airports since those far off days. Also when I was a child, my father who never owned and could not drive a car, took us, my mother and brother and Bob our dog, on long walks around the area. Many times we would end up at a lovely old pub called the Romper where my brother and I would get crisps (chips to you American readers) and a glass of fizzy pop before setting off on the walk back home. There would usually be somewhere to buy some fresh eggs or vegetables which we would have later. The road that took us to the Romper has now been enveloped by the ever-expanding airport and the Romper itself is also quite different. I fondly remember it as having comfy old chairs inside and no pumps at the bar: The barstaff used to fill a jug direct from the casks of ale and pour beer from that. The last time I went into the Romper was at least ten years ago. It was a posh and polite bar and eating house. Nothing stays the same.

Airports have been in the news a lot lately because the government has decided to approve the building of a third runway at Heathrow, despite this meaning the destruction of 700 houses and the entire village of Sipson. It’s pretty probable that noise pollution will increase as well as increased greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a similar situation at Manchester airport where, as I said earlier, the airport seems to be expanding all the time. A new complaint at Manchester is that where motorists have been able to drop off and pick up passengers freely, a new charge of £3 has come into effect. Three pounds, just to drop your friends or relatives off for their flight!

Personally, I’d advocate a string of smaller airports around the country which would mean people wouldn’t have to travel so far to big airports like Heathrow or Manchester. Liz and I used to use Blackpool airport quite frequently. It’s a fairly small place, very handy for us and those in the local area and it was a little like a friendly bus station until Jet2 stopped flying from there and the location returned to helicopter and light aircraft use.

If you look back at the history of aviation, you’ll see that in the 1960’s Hawker Siddeley developed the Harrier Jump Jet, a fighter aircraft which could take off and land vertically! So why has that concept not been taken up by the commercial aviation world? Imagine airports with VTOL aircraft. No lengthy runways taking up space. What are today’s generation of boffins up to? Get working on vertical take off and landing guys!

This seems to be an appropriate point to plug, no not Floating in Space but one of the videos on my YouTube page. You might breathe a sigh of relief, regular readers, to know that it’s not another video about that aforementioned novel (wonderful read though it is) but a re-edit of my second most popular video, a look at Manchester Airport back in 1986.

The original has had 7.8 thousand views which is pretty impressive but as it is enhanced by the top 20 chart music of the time, all of which is copyright protected of course, no royalties are payable to me. Naturally, that was quite a motivation for me to re-edit the film with some new copyright free music. Just as I had finished YouTube announced that as I have less than 1000 followers I am no longer eligible to be a YouTube ‘partner’ and therefore ineligible for any royalties.

My old friend Steve, now longer with us, introduces various aspects of the airport, a place he loved and knew a great deal about. A few years later I took the original video and edited him out, substituted some new video and added a lot of Steve’s introductions into my voice over narration. He wasn’t happy. Not long ago when I copied the video to DVD ready to convert to digital for yet another re-edit, my laptop would not accept the digital data. I sometimes think that maybe his spirit was watching over making sure that particular version never made it to YouTube. Oh well, perhaps I’ll leave it for another day, a day when I’m eligible for YouTube royalties!


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Flying, Technology, and British Summer Time.

I really don’t like flying. I’ll tell you that straight out. The actual flying isn’t too bad, in fact some years ago I took some flying lessons so you can see that deep down I actually like flying but the thing I don’t like is, well, everything else:! Here’s a quick list: The airport is full of people. Crowds. The constant queuing. The checking in, the passport control. The boarding. When you finally get aboard the aircraft the small, cramped seats are even worse when you happen to be a big lump, like me. The pathetic microwaved ‘meals’ that are foisted upon us, and the scrum to leave the aircraft when you finally land. Yes, I think I’ve made myself clear on flying.

Picture courtesy wikipedia

Picture courtesy wikipedia

It’s a pity really about all the negatives because the invention of flying is something that is really wonderful and has enabled many people to travel the globe and see places they would otherwise never have even dreamt of seeing. Technology can bring great benefits. Take time for instance. The recording and controlling of time is so important in the modern world and it’s something we probably don’t even think about. Time is important in flying too. Flying schedules and timetables. Timings at busy airports; returning to Manchester last Sunday from Portugal, the airport was so busy we spent ten minutes circling around the sky while waiting for a spot to actually land. You could just imagine the poor guy in the control tower with a stack of aircraft wanting to land and him trying to time it all to perfection.

Here’s another thing about time: Greenwich Mean Time. Great, a world-wide standard for time but here’s another thing that sort of messes with that, it’s British Summer Time. Now, maybe you’ve started to see what I’m getting at, that bi-annual messing with our clocks and the hour going forward and then backward. I don’t get it, OK it means that we don’t have to go to work in the dark or come home in the dark or whatever but personally I’m willing to put up with that if it means not messing about with the time!

It just so happened that flying back from Portugal on Sunday to the UK coincided with the hour going back. Now, I know we’re mad enough to do this in the UK but as Sunday approached I started thinking, what about Portugal? Does the hour go back there? Yes it does actually. So, it’s stressful enough situation anyway but now we had to deal with another issue, putting the clocks back! Anyway, what time did we need to get up? First of all, we have to factor all the various problems in:

(1) Breakfast.

(2) Getting washed and dressed.

(3) Driving to the airport.

(4) Handing over the hire car and dealing with the actual people in the car hire place, and we know that this is not easy because it was pretty hard work getting the car in the first place.

(5) Checking in, finding our gate and going through security and all that stuff.

Now setting my alarm becomes a much bigger issue than it was before; do I put my phone back an hour and set the time I actually need to get up at, or do I leave the time on the phone and set the time an hour later? Now this is where technology tries to fox us. My mobile phone has a gimmick on it which automatically changes the time when the hour goes back! Great -but is it? Would it work? Could I trust this new technology? No, was the answer and so I disabled it, after all, I wasn’t going to chance missing my flight home.

The next morning when I awoke Liz’s alarm was going off but mine wasn’t. It all seemed kind of early and when I checked my phone to see what the problem was I saw that the time had gone back an hour -even though that option was supposed to be disabled! I checked with my Blackberry playbook and it had gone back an hour automatically also. Wait a minute! Had they both gone back automatically or was I an hour early? What time was it? I hated to admit it but Liz’s ancient old slider phone had actually woken us up at the correct time! Anyway, the good thing is that we made it to the airport pretty early and the people at the car hire place seemed to be pretty much on the ball, perhaps because I was bringing their car back safely despite all their horror stories of crashing and uninsured drivers and me not having enough insurance cover and so on. Anyway, I wasn’t expecting efficient service at that time in the morning so consequently we were even earlier than expected at the check in.

Pity about that extra-long wait in the packed departure lounge though! Personally I blame the car hire people.


If you liked this post why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

 

 

The Sound Barrier and My in-flight Canine Friend

I’ve always liked that lazy droning sound of light aircraft; maybe it comes from my childhood, brought up a stone’s throw from Manchester Airport which my friends and I would visit every weekend, cycling to the back of the airport down lanes and alleyways looking for obscure fields where we could get close to the aircraft. We spent many a lazy afternoon on the airport terraces, jotting down aircraft registrations and ticking them off in our flight books.

When I was younger I knew someone who had an ambition to be a pilot and was taking lessons at Blackpool Airport. He used to alleviate his tuition costs by taking friends or colleagues on his training flights if they would drive him down to Blackpool.

On the day that I joined James (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) as an eager passenger, I drove down to Blackpool Airport pretty excited. James advised that on the day he would be doing some instrument tests which involved flying the aircraft on instruments alone.

I stepped into the back of the small plane and strapped myself in. It was a hot day and the aircraft had a huge glass cockpit making it warmer still. I was at a point when I thought I would have to get out and cool off but just then the instructor turned up. He was an older chap and brought his big woolly dog along as he enjoyed, well so I was told, flying. Fido was led in to the rear seat with me and we eyed each other warily as he was strapped in.

The engine was started, we taxied out on to the runway and a few moments later we were aloft. It was exhilarating to look down on Blackpool and the tower, a place where I had spent many happy holidays as a child. After a while James had to put on a rather odd-shaped helmet which blocked out the view through the windscreen and he could only see his instruments. The small plane flew higher and higher, Blackpool Tower becoming the merest pinprick in the distance. Then the engine stopped.

image courtesy wikipedia.

image courtesy Wikipedia.

I’m not sure if you have ever seen one of those World War two films when German stuka bombers hurtled down at their targets with a banshee type wail. I only mention that because it seemed very much akin to our current situation and not only that, the pilot was lucky on this occasion that it wasn’t me issuing the wail but as we hurtled towards the ground Fido and I eyed each other with mutual fear in our eyes.

“Now come on James” said the instructor. “What have we forgotten?”

Fido pawed the back of the pilot’s seat in a vain attempt to jog his memory but our downward path continued. If you ever happen to see that rather old film ‘The Sound Barrier’ you might get some idea of our situation hurtling down towards the earth with Blackpool Tower looming ever closer in our windscreen.

“You’ve forgotten something haven’t you? The instructor might have been talking to a learner driver who had not put on his hand brake at the traffic lights.

“What if I mentioned the mixture?”

If that was a hint it was certainly in a much better class than his previous comments but either way the pilot got the message, adjusted the engine mixture and our tiny aircraft’s propeller burst into renewed life and not long later we touched down rather bumpily back in Blackpool.

“Watch out” said the instructor, “Fido gets a bit excited when we land.”

If this was a typical flight with his master then it was clear to me why Fido was excited when he landed but anyway, the dog gave me a look which said in its canine way “We made it!” and hopped out of the plane.

James completed his flying studies and left our company. He went on, I assume to a career in aviation and we never met again but I have learnt one thing.

Next time if, on the way to Spain, the engines of our jet airliner conk out I’ll be shouting to the pilot “What about the mixture!?”


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