Monday, 31 August 2015

Celebrity of the Skies: Captain O. P. Jones

Cheryl Bailey finishes her pieces on the Silver Wing Service with a maverick celebrity pilot:

The Silver Wing flights from Croydon to Le Bourget, Paris in the 1930s were a feature of the celebrity lifestyle of the time and the pilots involved became celebrities too. Foremost among them was Capt. Oscar Philip Jones, known simply as 'O.P.' to his friends and colleagues but certainly not to the other staff of Croydon Airport and Imperial Airways where he was viewed with awed respect and a tinge of fear.

His flying career had begun at the age of 18 towards the end of WW1. At the end of the war, he became a pilot in a firm offering ‘joy rides’ to passengers and then progressed to acting as a pilot for Instone Airlines which was one of several which joined forces in 1924 to form Imperial Airways. He flew many routes and, indeed, in 1926 was the first pilot to transport a member of the royal family when the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) flew from Paris to London. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

How Safe was Flying in the 1930s? Part II

Rapid Development in the 1930s.
The graphs showing the number of flights (Machine Flights, left), the number of Passengers and the amount of Cargo and Mail carried show a huge increase starting in 1931/32. We also know that Croydon was handling about half of all UK passengers, 62% of the mail and 84% of the cargo - so this increase inevitably made for a much busier Croydon. So did this increase bring with it an increase in accidents and fatalities?

Monday, 24 August 2015

How Safe was Flying in the 1930s?

U3A member Peter Day examines the safety of flight in the 1930s:

Air Ship Hindenberg burning
In the 1930s flight in heavier-than-air aeroplanes was still in its infancy. The Wright brothers had made the first such flight only in 1903. Aeroplanes were flimsy with some parts of the fuselage still covered with cloth, to save weight. Engines were underpowered and unreliable. Planes flew slowly and could not climb to a great height because of lack of oxygen, they weren't pressurised like modern planes, so flights were subject to turbulence. So were those early passengers risking their lives? Read more.....

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The New London Airport (Croydon): A Major Attraction

King Amanuallah of Afghanistan at Croydon Airport, 1928 
A post from U3A member Mike Holmewood on an unusual visit to Croydon:

The building of the new Air terminal at Croydon in the late 1920s may well have seemed like the space race of the 60s to the then general public. This building of modern design, covered with white china clay, was visible for 10 miles from the air. It’s no wonder it attracted the air adventurers / entrepreneurs and people looking for the thrill of flying. 

The public was also greatly engaged with this new invention of the age, thronging to see famous fliers and celebrities in their thousands, as can be seen from the many photographs of the time.

The government was not slow in recognising the potential of showing off this New London Terminal to visiting dignitaries, and statesmen from around the world. Whilst looking through archive material at the airport society, and old newspaper articles in Sutton library. It became apparent that some unusual world leaders who were on official visits to Great Britain visited Croydon.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Britain's Busiest Airport

A post by U3A member Peter Day on, well, post:

Air Mail with Croydon Airport in background
Many people are completely unaware that there was ever an aerodrome/airport at Croydon. That it was, for many years, the only airport for London and the focus of a network of flights that covered not only the UK but a substantial part of the British Empire always takes them by surprise.

In 1936 Croydon Airport saw an average of over 50 aircraft movements (arrivals and departures) every day. That represented just over a quarter of all flights into, away from and across the UK carrying passengers, mail and freight. The next busiest was Speke airport at Liverpool with almost 30 movements a day.

Croydon, however, was clearly the aerodrome of choice for passengers, for mail and for freight.
With a quarter of the flights, Croydon carried just under half the passengers - 131,853 out of a total of 268,448. Portsmouth and Southampton, at about 25,000 passenger movements each, were next busiest - the Imperial Airways Flying Boat service was based at Southampton.
International Air mail was a service created in the late 1920s which grew massively in popularity over the next decade. In 1929 the airlines carried in total some 99 tons of mail, by 1936 that had grown by over 1300% to 1,332 tons - and 62% of it, 832 tons, was despatched and received through Croydon. All those flights into and out of Portsmouth and Southampton carried no mail at all!

But it was in the carriage of cargo that Croydon showed overwhelming popularity. Even the earliest airplanes had
been used to carry freight and there were freight-only flights, just as there are today. In 1925 the total tonnage of cargo was about 550 and that grew steadily over the next decade to about 2,720 tons in 1936. And how much went through Croydon? 2,282 tons - fully 84% of the total.

The odd thing about this dominance, especially with cargo, was the absence of a railway into Croydon airport - all the freight and mail had to be carried by van and lorry, all the passengers by car, taxi and bus.  

Peter Day

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Serving a crisp salad – the stewards of the Silver Wing Paris flights

Another post from U3A member Cheryl Bailey on luxury travel to Paris by plane in the 1930s:

In the 1930s, responsibility for the comfort and enjoyment of passengers on the Silver Wing Imperial Airways flights from Croydon to Paris rested squarely on the shoulders of the two stewards. Dressed in their blue trousers, white jackets and peaked caps, they were the efficient and smart face of Imperial Airways. The rule book described their job as requiring good manners, tact, a sense of humour, unlimited patience and above all, imagination, ‘which is the power of anticipating passengers’ wants and supplying them before they are expressed’. Their appearance was expected to be immaculate. Another quote from the rule book observes, ‘a wilting collar will do much to take the crispness out of a salad’!

Monday, 10 August 2015

National Aircraft Factory No. 1: Part 2

Bill O'Neill continues his piece on tha National Aircraft Factory No. 1 at Croydon here:

first of the DC9s nearing completion March 1918
The building of the factory nearly didn’t happen, at least not in Waddon. Originally, the proposed site was Watford, but this was not approved by the Air Ministry. Waddon was preferred because it provided:
  • A 200 acre site with space not just for the factory buildings but for test flights also.
  • Good transport facilities as it was close to both tram and rail links (a spur line was built into the factory from the Croydon – Epsom line).
  • An available workforce. Croydon had a population of 170,000 with no similar factories in the area.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Faces of Amy Johnson: The Engineer

Mrs J.A, Mollison CBE, 1934. Courtesy IET
The final post by Trish Allen on Amy Johnson and this time is is on her passion for engineering. We owe a tremendous debt to the Women's Engineering Society and Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) and great thanks to Jon Cable, assistant archivist there for all images in this blog:

As stated earlier, Amy was the first woman to receive a Ground Engineers Licence from the Air Ministry. If we reflect on the national shortage of female engineers in 2015, i.e. only 7% of the engineering workforce is female, that was a major achievement in December 1929.

In 1930, she subsequently became a member of the Women’s Engineering Society and in 1931 she was invited to address the society on how she had maintained the engine and the airframe during her flight to Australia. She had to pump petrol, clean and change plugs, drain the oil, examine the plunger and spring, tighten electrodes, help to repair a wing fit on the spare propeller, examine and filter oil and petrol and constantly check for leakages. This work often took place in the dark with the aid of a small torch and insects and sand flying in her face or petrol squirting in her eyes plus coupled with intense heat.

She added: 
We women are just on the threshold of another career which has so far been regarded as the strict province of man-that of aeronautical engineering [. . .] The only argument that men can bring forward against woman’s intrusion is that of physical strength, but this seems to me very poor grounds for establishing and retaining a monopoly. In engineering there are many job’s beyond a man’s strength. What does he do? He fetches an instrument.

In 1932 Amy Johnson accepted the Vice Presidency and in 1934 she was elected President and this lasted for three years. The Women’s Engineering Society or W.E.S. as it is called was initially a small but extremely innovatory society. It was founded in 1919, after WW1, to address the problems faced by women who had contributed to the war effort by working in engineering and allied fields, but who now faced opposition from the establishment. It started publishing a quarterly journal, The Woman Engineer, to help support women engineers to push for a change. The first issue was in 1919, price 3d. The Institute of Engineering and Technology archives hold a complete set of issues which make fascinating reading. Significantly the aeronautical section of WES led, in 1957, to the British Women Pilots Association.

Amy Johnson, Caroline Haslett and Jim Mollison
At the time of the conference at which she became President, Amy was doing a daily trip to Paris for the purpose of exploring commercial radio possibilities. She also worked on ideas for high altitude and long distance flying. As commented, it was strange and significant that in England there were no women engine drivers or ships captains but an airways pilot was a woman! The conference was also informed that Amy had spent time in the U.S.A. studying the methods of manufacture and design in the chief air planes looking in particular at propeller design and American welding. She was anxious for more women to study aircraft design and aeroplane instruments. This was in 1934!

During her Presidency in 1935, a debate took place between Amy and her then husband Jim Mollison focusing on the value of record breaking flights with Amy maintaining they no longer served a useful purpose. She felt that whilst they are “good news” there was an urgent need for improved ground facilities emphasising:
a) rapid transport from the centre of the city to the airport
b) complete wireless equipment, with some sort of beam, on all transport machines
c) night flying equipment
d) better equipped aerodromes with emergency landing provision
e) multi engine machines with a crew


WES Annual Conference 1935 , Mrs Mollison speaking
Amy was a magnificent role model to encourage girls to become engineers but how many people even know about her engineering skills and vast knowledge? Currently there is still a myth that engineering involves dirt and spanners! Even if girls study for the right subjects e.g. maths and physics, they so often opt for other careers such as banking! Clearly there needs to be more education such as teachers advising on the breadth of engineering, the scope, the importance plus companies linking in with schools.

In May 1940, Amy joined the women’s section of the Air Transport Auxiliary. In Amy’s time, the ATA flew transports, trainers and other non-combat aircraft from the manufacturer’s airfields to the RAF bases. Flying unarmed aircraft without radios, was a highly dangerous task. On 5th January 1941, Amy disappeared on a flight from Blackpool to Oxfordshire somewhere in the Thames estuary. Only her luggage was ever found.

Tribute issue of The Woman Engineer
I will conclude with sections of tribute speeches reproduced from The Woman Engineer:
Amy demonstrated for all time that women can plan daring feats, can pay close attention to detail, can superintend and carry out a prescribed programme, can overcome obstacles as they are encountered, can learn from misfortune, can face disappointment without loss of courage.

All the world knows of the Amy Johnson who flew solo to Australia ten years ago, but it is perhaps those who know her more closely who were able to appreciate her gifts and abilities, the generosity of her mind, her modesty over real achievement, her unquenchable spirit which, with her keen wit and boundless humour, must have carried her through times of tension as well as of horrific experience. Whatever Amy did she did it with zest and relish.

Caroline Haslett (Secretary of the WES), The Times, January 14th 1941

Trish Allen

Monday, 3 August 2015

Faces of Amy Johnson: A Struggle with Depression?

Another post by Trish Allen on Amy Johnson and what drove her:

Amy at Cairo on her return from Australia, 1930
So what interests people about Amy Johnson? In a small survey that I conducted amongst friends I asked the question “if Amy Johnson was sitting at your dinner table what would be the one question that you would like to ask her?” Many responses had similar themes. What made you fly? What was the most exciting thing you saw when flying? Did you have much resistance from men? In your darkest hour what helped you through? Gin or vodka? and did your ears hurt?