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RAMP RAMBLINGS 11

RAMP RAMBLINGS……….By Keith Bradshaw. Photos Steve Jeal, Keith Bradshaw and Ralf Manteufel.

Welcome to Ramp Ramblings number 11. I can’t believe we have done that many plus the occasional specials. Time really does fly here at Duxford !! (No pun intended !)

I have to kick off this month with some disappointing news. The planned Airliner Day, has been postponed and will be replaced by a much smaller enthusiasts event. This is due to reasons beyond our control. When there is concrete news it will appear here on the website so keep checking for updates.

One of the displays that was planned was a review of some of the 200-odd British airlines that have come and gone since 1918. One of these was Court Line who operated a very colourful fleet from their base at Luton, flying all over Europe and further afield on holiday flights. This is their story.

Photo:  Ralf Manteufel

Named Argus Air Transport in 1957, the airline became Autair operating Ambassadors, Heralds and HS748s. In 1965 Court Line a shipping company bought Autair and renamed it Court Line Aviation. The airline was to fly exclusively I.T. holiday flights, mainly for tour operator Clarkson’s. A fleet of BAC 1-1 500s was obtained, all painted in bright pinks greens and blues. In 1973 two Lockheed L1011 Tristars joined the fleet, these being the first of the type operated anywhere in Europe. From 1971 the airline was losing money and with the economic downturn caused by the three-day week, miner’s strike and the falling pound, the banks called in the receivers in 1974 . Court Line ceased flying leaving passengers stranded all over Europe who had to rely on the goodwill of other airlines to bring them home.  At the time this was the largest-ever holiday airline collapse and led to the founding of the ATOL insurance scheme.

Photo:  Ralf Manteufel

I have chosen Court Line as I have a personal story about them I would like to share. In 1973 a friend and I tipped up at Luton to board the pink Tristar for a charter flight to Le Bourget for a visit to the Paris Air Show. Once we had all boarded we noticed two doors in each seat back in front of us; this was the new idea called ‘seat back catering’. One of the doors was open, the other locked, and inside each was lunch –  a sandwich, apple, biscuit and a tub of orange juice. Court Line was one of the first airlines to trial this, thankfully short lived idea.The aim was to cut down on catering costs and cabin crew time. One door was opened for the outbound flight and then the other unlocked for the return. Being hungry teenagers, we had devoured our lunch before the Captain had even started the engines. It then turned out that the lack of motive power was due to a delay caused by bad weather in France.

After about an hour sitting on the stand, the Captain announced we would all be returned to the departure lounge as there was no end in sight to the delay. So off we all trooped back into the gate area only for a very stressed Purser to come on the PA and ask us all to get back on board as the Captain had just got a slot time! To avoid any further delay we were asked to sit in the first available seat and disregard our allocated seats. Having done as we were told, my mate and I were pleased to find the previous occupants of the seats we were now in were not as hungry as us and had not touched their packed lunch. I often wonder what the people in our original seats thought when they opened their seat back door to find nothing but some wrappers and an apple core !!!

Nearer to home, here at the British Airliner Collection, it’s wash and brush up time! Every year we try and give all the planes in Airspace (other than the Dove, it’s too high up, suspended from the ceiling) a dust and polish. You would be amazed at how much dirt accumulates on them over a year. By the time you read this they should have all been done, with Concorde being the first to receive its spring clean. We surround the edges of the wings with scaffolding to act as fall arrestors as the well polished wings can be slippery. It’s the erecting and moving of this scaffolding that takes most of the time during the cleaning programme as we have to thread it around all the other exhibits in the hangar. The aeroplanes outside receive a hose down and wash to get the grime off.

Once again it’s a shock to see how dirty the air is next to the M11 motorway. The Britannia which has only been outside for a month following its repaint is already covered in black streaks where the rain washes the dirt down the paintwork. So can to keep them looking as good as possible it is essential the planes are given a regular wash.

The first one outside to have its annual bath was the Viscount. There are plans this year to repaint the white fuselage and fin and fit new British European Airways decals.

The few badly corroded panels on the bottom of the Britannia wing are slowly being re-fabricated and replaced and soon we hope to have a new set of decals to fit around the aeroplane to replace those removed during the repaint. Following the success of the Britannia repaint our painting gurus Sean and Marketa are once again helping out the B17 trust with the internal repaint of Sally B over the winter.

Back on the Concorde project much work has been carried out during and after a two week closure to enable the electricians to finish their work and the contractors to lay new floor covering along the centre aisle. The test engineer’s seats have been fitted at the rear and the Ice Station is now installed and showing various videos of the Concorde during flight tests.

All the test cabling in the hat racks has been cleaned and is now protected behind Perspex panels The crew oxygen bottles have had their old covers removed and the bottles cleaned and with new lighting fitted they are proving a very good display item. The test engineers station has also been cleaned up with a new visual display fitted and a similar display describing the re activation of the nose droop can be found at the bottom of the exit steps. A replica hyposcope that was used to view the engine intake doors has also been fitted. This replica is based on the unit installed on Concorde 002, preserved at the Fleet Air Museum at Yeovilton. The mechanism used to open the outer hatch is original.

Still to be fitted inside is the  monofuel emergency generator unit (this was only ever fitted to our Concorde) and a number of Zonal Units that held all the test computers and equipment. This will all take some time as whenever possible we have to keep the aeroplane open to the public whilst these works are going on.

We also have the original flight suit worn by Test pilot Brian Trubshaw for some of the early test flights, this is awaiting a suitable cabinet and then it to will join the displays.

Outside on the display wall at the back of the aeroplane we are waiting for some new panels to arrive back from the printers. These will replace the existing ones about air transport and will tell some more of the Concorde story.

The entrance steps are slowly being repainted with new display boards fitted and a video monitor station for the CCTV has been made and will shortly be positioned next to the plane’s entrance. This will be where the aircraft steward will control the number of visitors on board at any one time. This will make visits more enjoyable and remove the feeling of being in a crush when numbers are high. Finally, on the subject of Concorde, we still have some of the original leather passenger seats for sale. If you are interested contact Dermot on dasebay@sky.com for further info. So a lot is going on with Concorde with things changing every week, come along and see the transformation for yourself.