Bill Lawford learned to fly at Hendon during 1912, gaining Aviator’s Certificate No 442 in March 1913. He became proprietor of a flying school at Brooklands during 1913 and was also involved in the Wong ‘Tong Mei’ biplane project. He enlisted in the RFC in 1914 and flew BE 2s with Nos 5 and 7 Squadrons in France during 1916 and later served with the RAF Communications Squadrons, acknowledged as the cradle of the British Airlines, during 1919.
Lawford was one of Britain’s first airline pilots, and had the honour of inaugurating the first regular air service between London and Paris on August 25, 1919.
This book contains first-hand accounts of the experiences of the original British airline pilots, and tells the story of Britain’s first international airline, Aircraft Transport & Travel Ltd, the earliest ancestor company of British Airways.
After retiring from flying, Bill became a well-known figure in the control tower at Croydon Airport, London’s prewar airport, and this book also describes the day-to-day workings of air traffic control that laid the foundations of the ATC system before the Second World War.
180pp; 91 b&w illustrations and one color plate; paperbound
SPECIAL $14.95 (was $28.95)
E H ‘Bill’ Lawford was the pilot of the de Havilland D.H.4A (G-EAJC) of Aircraft Transport and Travel Ltd (AT&T) that made the first flight of a regular, sustained air service operated from Hounslow Heath to Paris-Le Bourget on the morning of August 25, 1919. His son Hayden is rightly proud of his father’s place in the birth of British air transport. As this well-written book shows, while it may have been the most historic moment of Bill Lawford’s aeronautical career, it was only a part of a diverse and very interesting whole.
The opening chapter dates to the days before the Great War, when learning to fly was a sport and a diversion for the adventurous and mechanically-minded. Bill Lawford learned to fly at Hendon. One of several evocative photos in this section shows him standing proudly in front of his Caudron biplane, having just gained his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate, number 442, on March 13, 1913.
Having joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) by transfer from the Territorial Army at the earliest possible opportunity, Bill Lawford first saw service in France with No 5 Squadron as an Air Mechanic 2nd Class. It was here he received the name ‘Bill’—by which he was always subsequently known rather than his given names of Eardley Hayden. Before long, it was realized that Lawford would be better employed piloting aircraft, even though he had considerable technical skills. Having gained his ‘wings’, in the spring of 1916 he returned to France with No 7 Squadron, which was equipped with the B.E.2c. In the course of the next nine months he flew over 200 hours of operations above the Somme battlefield. This part of the book includes many quotes from Bill’s log book and gives a real insight into what it was like to fly artillery spotting, reconnaissance, and bombing missions in the stable but slow B.E.
Lawford returned from France to spend the rest of the war as a test pilot at Farnborough, flying no less than 922 aircraft of 59 types and variants. His final service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) was on communications duties, ferrying politicians and officials between London and the Versailles Peace Conference.
This latter experience resulted in Bill being employed by AT&T and taking a major rôle during the challenging early days of trying to establish the British airline industry. Great efforts were made, despite the weather and fairly primitive equipment, to run a reliable and safe service. This section of the book contains the most detailed history of AT&T’s operational history that this reviewer has read, and includes an excellent selection of photographs.
The effort took a heavy toll on Bill and ill-health forced him to retire as a pilot. But it was far from the end of his aviation career. He once more became a pioneer, this time of the new skill of air traffic control, at Croydon Airport, in the first dedicated airport control tower in the world, popularly known as ‘The Cucumber Frame’. Here the rules of ATC were developed and learned through experience as air travel grew in popularity, speed, and complexity. Good descriptions are given of the techniques used and also of the personalities whom Bill encountered. He was one of a select band of airmen whose caricatures were displayed on the walls of the pilots’ room at the Aerodrome Hotel at Croydon. An interesting facet of the rather more informal and less red tape-ridden days of the Twenties and Thirties is the fact that, when travelling by air, Bill was often invited up to the cockpit. The bonus was that he was usually invited to take over the controls and so, unofficially, tried his hand with most of the contemporary airliners.
His career came to an end following wartime service as aerodrome officer-in-charge at Barton and Bristol. Retirement in Jersey beckoned, punctuated by a series of reunion dinners with fellow pioneers. He died in 1955 when son Hayden was only 15, so did not live to see the latter becoming a well-known airline pilot, particularly in the west of Ireland with Aer Arann.
This is a most enjoyable book, written with affection and an affinity with the subject, and concludes with a useful series of appendices on AT&T aircraft and operations, as well as copies of key documents. Highly recommended.
Pioneer Airline Pilot is an account of the aviation career of Captain E H ‘Bill’ Lawford (1884-1955), written by his son whose own aviation career saw him fly for many years as a Britten-Norman Islander captain in the west of Ireland for Aer Arann.
Bill Lawford took his first flight in 1911, in the earliest years of aviation when aircraft were frail and temperamental, a condition that was accepted as being quite normal. To gain his Aviator’s Certificate he had to undertake ‘two distance flights of at least 5 kilometers, each in a closed circuit, marked out by two posts situated not more than 500 meters apart, the aviator changing direction after going round each post, so that the circuit shall consist of an uninterrupted series of five figures of eight.’
He was also required to do ‘One altitude flight, consisting of a minimum height of 50 meters, but this must not form part of one of the two flights prescribed above. The method of alighting for each of the three flights should be with the motor stopped at or before the moment of touching the ground, and the aeroplane must come to rest within a distance of fifty meters from a point indicated previously by the candidate.’
The examining officer wisely observed these tests from the ground.
As an ‘experienced pilot with two and half years under his belt, Bill offered his services on the Western Front during World War One, a hazardous job where forced landings were standard and the least of the worries of these courageous pilots.
In 1919, Bill Lawford flew the first international scheduled passenger air service from the UK, from London to Paris. The one way fare was set at twenty-one guineas. Bill Lawford continued flying until 1920 when he flew one of the first KLM services between Croydon and Schiphol.
Unsophisticated aircraft, unpredictable weather conditions, loss of friends and colleagues to accidents, and poor airline economics prompted Bill to move to air traffic control: the small band of controllers at this time all had to be qualified pilots. In this role, Bill continued in a long aviation career during which he witnessed dramatic change, and he was a founder member of what was to become the Guild of Air Pilots and Navigators in 1929. He was on duty in the Croydon control tower in 1930 when the monitoring of the R 101 was broken as the giant airship came to grief near Beauvais. A few days later, he flew over the wrecked framework of the R 101. Lawford was experimenting with psychic phenomena at this time and he later believed that he had a conversation with Sir Sefton Brancker shortly after his death in the R 101.
Although Pioneer Airline Pilot would have benefited from some further proofing before going to press, this is a fascinating account of one man’s experience of the earliest of airline operations.
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