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RAMP RAMBLINGS 18

The final touchdown 

By Keith Bradshaw

Hello and welcome to Ramp Ramblings 18, ‘The final touchdown’, This heading will be explained later.  Those of you who read the last edition will remember I promised to bring you the story of the ‘Yellow Perils’ so without further ado let’s kick off with a look at Northeast Airlines.

Northeast can trace its history directly back to BKS airlines, so that’s where we will need to start. In 1952 BKS Aero Charter Ltd began flying with a single DC3 from Southend airport. The name BKS was chosen as the three founders of the airline used their surname initials to form the company name. These were James Barnaby, Thomas Keagan and Cyril Stevens. 

More DC3s were added to the fleet and in 1954 the airline changed its name to BKS Air Transport and began its long association with the northeast England by commencing flights from Newcastle. By the mid-fifties Vickers Vikings had been added and services commenced from Leeds. However by the end of the decade it was apparent larger aircraft were needed and BKS bought some ex-BEA Ambassadors. Some of these were later converted by the airline’s engineering group to enable them to carry racehorses, which boarded through a newly fitted large cargo door in the rear fuselage. By 1960 the airline decided to enter the air car ferry business and set up a route from Liverpool to Dublin using a Bristol freighter.

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Photo : Ken Fielding
One of two Avro 748s operated by the airline awaits its next load at London Airport in 1964

The fleet continued to expand with a pair of Avro 748s being ordered in 1961. In 1964 two Britannia aircraft were operated on behalf of Airways Holidays on flights out of Newcastle at the weekend, with BKS using them during the week on its own services, including Newcastle to Heathrow. It was also in this year that BEA took its first stake in the airline, which would eventually lead to it becoming wholly owned by the state airline. This was a busy time for BKS as they also started services from the newly opened Teeside airport which, along with their routes from Leeds and Newcastle, cemented their position as the leading airline in northeast England.

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Photo :  Richard Goring
A BKS Britannia at the airline’s maintenance base at Southend.

By the late sixties the Ambassadors were phased out of passenger flying, replaced by the more modern Viscount. However those remaining with the airline were converted into livestock freighters and BKS soon became the world’s largest carrier of racehorses flying over 2000 horses a year.

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Photo:  Ken Fielding
Seen in at Liverpool in 1968 one of the Ambassadors converted to carry livestock.

By now BEA had a controlling stake in the airline and merged BKS and Cambrian Airways into a holding company, British Air Services. Both airlines continued to operate in their own colour schemes but with a small BAS logo on the fuselage.
In 1969 the Britannias were replaced by the first of four Trident 1E aircraft and at the start of the new decade BEA upped its stake and now wholly owned the airline.

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Photo : Ken Fielding
Viscount G-APEY seen at Manchester in 1972 became the last airworthy Viscount in the UK and was sold in Africa in 1998 and finally scrapped ten years later.

To better represent its connections to the north of England BEA renamed the airline Northeast Airlines and it was then that the reduced fleet of only the Viscounts and Tridents were repainted in a bright Canary yellow and grey scheme and accordingly became known throughout the airline industry as ‘the Yellow Perils’.

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Photo : Steve Fitzgerald
A Trident 1E at Heathrow carrying small British Airways wording on the nose prior to a repaint in the BA scheme.

 These wonderfully colourful aeroplanes graced the skies until 1974 when Northeast became a component part of the newly created British Airways. The colour scheme lingered on for a few more years before being repainted in the BA corporate scheme, the last Northeast liveried flight was in March 1976, then the’ Perils’ were lost for ever.

We are pleased to say that the RB211 engine that was donated to us by Monarch will we hope, soon be on an engine stand donated by British Airways. It can then be added to our display of iconic British engines which include the Dart, Tyne and Proteous. The Tyne engine has in fact just been brought into the workshop for a bit of restoration. Produced by Rolls Royce in the 1960s the Tyne powered such aircraft as the Vickers Vanguard, the Canadair CL44 and the Short Belfast military freighter.

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Our RR Tyne in the workshop for a bit of TLC.

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Photo :  Adrian Pingstone
A pair of Tyne powered BEA Vanguards at Heathrow in 1965. On a personal note I really like this picture as I not only worked on the Vanguards and the Trident in the background, but did so from the engineering building peeking out from behind the tail of the far Vanguard. I spent many years in that building which now, sadly, is part of the foundations for a taxiway to the new Terminal 2.

Down at the Military Vehicle Wing workshops is the engine that was removed from the tug that featured in an earlier Ramp Ramblings. The guys will try and get the engine overhauled and bench run whilst the aircraft conservation group at DAS are working on the body/chassis. As you can see from the photo there is a long way to go yet before it’s up and running again!

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The smaller of two recently acquired tugs sits in the yard being cleaned and de-rusted, “One careful owner…restoration project !”

Over on the Britannia, Myrna and her crew have found a number of brand new cabin windows in one of our containers and are busy using these to replace some of the more crazed original units on the aeroplane. It’s sobering to think that as you were flying at 30,000 feet sipping a nice cold  G & T the perspex window next to you was only held in by four small clamps. Time for another drink, I think ! The team hope to have fitted all the new windows by the time the May airshow comes around so come and pay the Brit a visit and see the results of their hard work.

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Photo : San Diego Air & Space Museum
A poster from 1958 when BOAC were using Britannias on routes all over the network. I believe I’m right in saying the Britannia was the only turbo-prop to fly scheduled passenger flights across the Atlantic.

As you may remember from an earlier Ramp Ramblings, the IWM are offering us slots in the conservation hangar for painting etc. Our first planned input was going to be the Herald for its wing to be repainted and the flaps re-attached. This has not happened yet as to do this work we will have to wait until a longer slot is available hopefully later in the year. In preparation for this the flaps have been brought out of storage and given a fresh coat of paint ready for the big day. The Herald flaps are all in one piece and as such will be a devil to fit, so we need to be in a hangar away from any wind!  Work is also still ongoing to make the Ambassador nose cone waterproof. Believe it or not the original nose contains large amounts of plywood which is now in poor condition and needs to be replaced.

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Looking inside the Ambassador nose cone showing the rotten plywood.

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The pair of Herald flaps and rear nacelle fairings getting a lick of paint in the workshop.

Elsewhere, our electrician, Alan, has not only updated the power supply to the Hermes but has also managed to get the tail navigation light and many of the cockpit panel lights to work. He has also fixed several of the defective lights in the cabin, so all in all the Hermes is beginning to look better than ever. Our Hermes fuselage is in fact the only large piece of Hermes anywhere in the world. First flying in 1950, after retirement in 1962 it was used by British United and then British Caledonian as a cabin crew trainer before being passed on to the Gatwick Fire Service. For many years it could be seen at Gatwick alongside the old A23 road that ran by the terminal before the M23 was built. It came to Duxford in 1981 as a joint project between DAS and the Handley Page Association.

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Photo : Ken Fielding
A Hermes from Air Links giving pleasure flights at the 1963 Biggin Hill Air fair, What a trip that would have been ! I missed this by one year, my first of many visits to the Air Fair being in 1964! The good old days for sure.

We have been helping out IWM recently by cleaning some of their aircraft in the AirSpace hangar so I thought I would show you the lengths DAS volunteers are willing to go to get the job done. We cleaned the Vulcan by walking on the wing, it being so large and flat this was the safest and easiest way to do the cleaning. However to prevent our boots marking the paintwork the entire upper wing and fuselage was a boots off, socks only area!

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No boots on ‘ere sunshine !

It’s hard to believe it was only three airshow seasons ago that the Vulcan’s sistership XH558 stopped flying and finally retired to its hangar at Doncaster. As we don’t often get the opportunity to feature a Vulcan in Rambling,s here are a few pictures of her where she belongs, in the air. Its good to know that the Trust that looks after her has been granted planning permission for a new hangar/education centre at Doncaster airport. Only the building funds to raise now.

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Leaping off the Waddington runway for her first ever post restoration public display in 2008.

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Slow fly by with air brakes out at a Yeovilton Air Day.

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Bye bye old friend…..XH558 departing Old Warden after its last ever public display in October 2015.

We also cleaned the Sunderland and Lightning amongst others. Interestingly from a British Airliner Collection perspective the Sunderland was developed from the old Empire flying boats which were used by Imperial Airways for long-distance travel pre-war. Similarly after the war the Sunderlands were converted to Sandringhams with the later development, the Seaford, converted to Solents and again used as passenger transport.  BOAC used them for their flights to Africa and beyond. Another milestone this year, in June, will be the seventieth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. This will see a new display on our York and will be covered in a future article.

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Sacks and boxes being made for the York Berlin airlift display.

Sunderlands also played an important role in the Airlift. Because of their high levels of anti- corrosion treatment for operating off the sea, they were ideal for hauling salt into the city without it attacking the airframe. They flew from Hamburg on to Lake Havel in Berlin.

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Photo in public domain
A RAF Sunderland unloading on Lake Havel, Berlin in 1948.

Mention of the Lightning being cleaned reminded me of a story I read many years ago in Flight magazine. A very similar aircraft to the Lightning was the Russian built MIG 21 which also had a long pitot tube extending out in front of the air intake.

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Lightning T5 at Cranfield. Note the long pitot tube under the air intake.

The story goes something like this :  the Egyptian Air Force were operating MIG 21s at the time and four of them were away from base on an exercise that required them to night stop at an airfield out in the wilds of Egypt. After a good day’s flying the four MIGs arrived at the airfield, parked up, the pilots walked off to do what pilots do in the evening and the aeroplanes were left for the night guarded by a solitary sentry. When the pilots returned in the morning they were surprised to see all the planes had their pitot tubes pointing down to the ground at an angle of about 30 degrees!

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Photo : Cristian Ghe
A Romanian Air Force MIG 21 with a similar pitot tube to the Lightning.

At the subsequent board of enquiry it transpired that the sentry had become bored and decide to do a few pull ups using a pitot tube as a bar. However, the clue being in the name, pitot tube, not pitot bar, it bent. So, being a quick thinking lad, he decided to bend all the other pitot tubes down the same way in the hope nobody would notice anything wrong !

To close this month an explanation of the ‘final touchdown’ comment at the beginning of this edition of Ramblings. They say all good things come to end and I’m sorry to say this will be the last Ramp Ramblings in the present format. I am moving away and will not be able to attend Duxford regularly any more. Therefore the Ramp Ramble as we know it will come to an end, as I will not be able to keep up to date with what’s going on. Sadly we cannot find anybody else to take up the baton so instead of a regular update with a story, it will be a story with a very occasional update ! I hope you have enjoyed the last couple of years of the regular Ramblings and will find the not so regular stories in the future of equal interest. So it’s goodbye from me (Keith) and goodbye from him (Steve) as the RR team ramble off back into the hangar !