A flight to remember.
Posted by Big John on February 26, 2008
I was reminded of the very first time that I flew in an aeroplane, when I read recently that the last two Dakota (DC3) aircraft still in service in this country are to be grounded by EU health and safety regulations.
Now I have to disappoint those of you who are expecting this post to be about some daring exploit undertaken during my time in the R.A.F. because although I spent two years in the airforce I never once flew in an aeroplane, in fact I never even got to see one on the ground.
I married the old ‘trouble and strife’ in the summer of 1961, and after a brief honeymoon staying in a small
hotel boarding house in a wet and windy Bournemouth we decided to save up for a ‘proper’ holiday the following year.
Yes … In the words of the song … ”We were off to sunny Spain” … with, what was then, British European Airways, in one of their latest ‘Vanguard’ turboprop airliners … Or so we thought !
This was the first flight for both of us, and although a bit nervous we were looking forward to the experience, which at that time still had an air of glamour and luxury about it: and so we were dressed accordingly in our ‘Sunday best’ when we checked-in at the West London Air Terminal for the night flight to Barcelona.
When we arrived at Heathrow airport we were advised that our plane was delayed elsewhere and that we would be flying in a replacement aircraft.
I first caught sight of this ’replacement’ as we walked across the tarmac towards the boarding point, and was immediatly reminded of the ‘Berlin Airlift’ and ’The Paras’ dropping over ‘Arnhem’.
We climbed the short flight of steps into the DC 3 and were ‘squeezed’ into a pair of rear facing seats. We were each given a pillow and a blanket, but no parachute. Instead we were offered barley sugar (candy) as the stewardess muttered something about … “for your ears”.
My ears were the last things I was worried about, when a couple of hours or so later this noisey old crate was bucking and rattling it’s way over (or was it through) the Pyrenees. I looked between the ’fingers’ of ice on the window at the vibrating oil streaked wings and the snow capped peaks illuminated by the continuous lightning, which my wife claims until this day she could see flashing through the pillow which she had over her face and the blanket which covered her head.
I have flown in many types of aircraft and have made hundreds of flights since that night in 1962; and a few have been a bit ‘hairy’ to say the least, but none could compare with that first time in that old Dakota.
As we came in to land hailstones rattled on the fuselage like machine gun fire, and I was never more thankful to have my feet on ‘terra firma’ than when I stepped off that plane into the heat of a stormy Mediterranean night wearing my crumpled ’Sunday best’ suit. I pulled off my tie and shoved it into my brand new BEA flight bag.
I had survived .. I walked away .. I was unharmed .. I had not used a sick bag .. and .. It had not been necessary to ..
… stick the barley sugar in my ears.