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BOAC junior jet club logbook

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BOAC junior jet club logbook

BOAC junior jet club logbook
June 16
15:25 2016

Published in January 2015 issue

By Peter Summers

When darkness fell, I could look out of my childhood bedroom window and see the night mail plane moving barely faster than the clouds scudding by, its noisy piston engines’ hypnotic rhythm lulling me to sleep. In later years, I would hear Concorde scorching overhead as it came back to Filton for maintenance.

I took to the skies very young. I was just four when I made my first Atlantic crossing. I flew from London Heathrow to New York Idlewild with my parents on September 3, 1963. We were carried on a BOAC Bristol Britannia 312, G-AOVK (MSN13419) and the 3,560 statute miles were accomplished in 12 hours and five minutes. How do I know? I know because it’s the first entry in my BOAC Junior Jet Club Logbook. The gold lettering of its title has worn thin against the dark blue background, but the Speedbird logo still cuts an elegant figure on the cover.

My father was Britain’s Billy Graham and I spent my Easter and summer holidays traveling all over the US and around the world. Everywhere I went, my logbook went with me, its pages gradually filled by the pilots who flew us through the ether to our next destination. The logbook had seven columns containing the date, aircraft and registration, departure and arrival cities, flying time, statute miles and the captain’s signature.

Back in the pre-9/11 days of innocence, my logbook was often the key to the cockpit. Looking at an old photograph of the Britannia’s three-person cockpit, what strikes me today is how tiny and cluttered it was. Back then, as a very young boy admitted to the presence chamber in the middle of a starry night, I recall only the wonder of a dimly-lit cave—an eyrie in the sky, clotted with glowing instruments, dark levers and multiple dials.

Squeezing past the flight engineer, I could see the pilots looking out into the darkness. I strained to look down from the Windows onto the soft white clouds thousands of feet below.

On a later occasion, talking over the noise of the Bristol Proteus 765 turboprops, the pilot, smiling, told me to press a rubber-tipped button and, as I did so, the plane banked sharply. The pilot never let on, but I left the cockpit convinced that I had flown the plane!

The wonder of the journey began at the airport, which didn’t look like any other building. Even at Heathrow, with its intricate web of tiny roads seeping in and out of each other, winding your way to its terminals was like entering a magic realm, where the dragons flying overhead came in unique sizes and colors, where the roar of their engines, or the swirl of their contrails inevitably lifted my eyes to the sky.


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Back in the ‘sixties, airports had space to spare. The roofs were tall, the halls large, the stairs elaborate and the chandeliers real. And there was room enough for everyone.

There was a thrill checking in and announcing your destination, seeing your bags disappear on a conveyor belt, knowing you would be reunited somewhere across the sea, on another continent, in a building the same yet different.

Even now, fifty years later, I always pause before I enter an aircraft, looking down at the tiny crack between the air-bridge and the cabin and, as I consciously place my foot over the gap and board the plane, I marvel at the mystery of flight. The old saw — wherever you go, there you are — simply isn’t true when you fly. If your eyes are open, the places you go will change you.

Landing in New York when I was four changed me. Architect Eero Saarinen’s magnificent TWA terminal had opened the year before, and its combination of gull-wing sweep and sheer bravado stunned me. To a child, it looked exactly the way an airport building should; you couldn’t see it and not want to fly. Over the years, as 747s arrived, and the small gate spaces made it a tight squeeze, I was still entranced by the bright red and orange gate seating. The terminal’s many hidden oases, reached up winding stairs and blessed with entrancing views from enormous windows, let you look out onto the ramp from a position of rest, almost as if you were in a cocoon. The Paris Café, the Lisbon Lounge and the Ambassador Club still linger in my memory years after they have gone the way of that once great airline. They, too, were squeezed into a space too small to long survive, but they made a lasting impression in my imagination.

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I remember meeting up with my parents in front of the TWA information desk with its huge visual display, when they had arrived from Florida and I had flown in from Los Angeles, and we were off to London to celebrate Christmas together. As we walked up the gentle incline of the arching jetway towards our gate, reaching mid-point, where we would sink out of sight, we had turned for a final look back into the terminal before we continued on our way and disappeared from view — a simple and profound transition that Saarinen had added to a building replete with meetings and farewells.

Over the years, the logbook’s pages filled not just with destinations but with aircraft. I flew a Piedmont NAMC YS 11 N268P (MSN2120) turboprop from Washington, DC, to Rocky Mount, North Carolina; a BEA Comet 4B G-ARJL (MSN06455) from Gatwick to Malaga, Spain; and a TAP Boeing 727 CS-TBP (MSN20489/856) from Lisbon, Portugal, to Funchal, Madeira. Funchal sounds like an exotic place, and it was. We stayed in a five star hotel, lush in its décor, with many cool, dark hideaways behind thick red curtains in marble lounges perfect for a young boy to hide in. The local taxis were all Mercedes and the pool was reached by riding an elevator down the face of a cliff.

But what was really memorable about Funchal was the layout of the airport or rather, to be precise, of the runway. A single runway built so that the sea, let’s call it the Atlantic Ocean, was not just at one end but at both. I know this because I saw the daunting sight out of the window just before the pilot blew our first attempt at landing. I then saw the runway a second time in the silence of a plane in which all conversation had ceased. I am glad to say that number two was the charm. We made it, although I had to wipe the sweaty fingerprints off my logbook.

Safely logged between the royal blue covers and the gold lettering, these and a myriad other memories float up from decades past; but they still have power because they have made me who I am, and I am glad they linger, not like ghosts, but like the warmth of a summer’s day, welcoming and familiar.

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Peter Summers

Peter Summers

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