Scottish Memory Lane - First Flights

A flight in an aeroplane is fairly routine occurrence nowadays but it was not until commercial aircraft became more accessible after World War II that many of us first had the excitement of travelling on an aircraft for the first time. Flying to another country is now almost routine but in earlier days things were somewhat different - and exciting!

First Flight - To Kathmandu

Your article reminded me of my own first flight, while I was serving National Service with the Royal Engineers in the Far East when I flew to Kathmandu in Nepal. The recollections and graphics here are from my personal handwritten album record of my Far East national service tour. I was surely the luckiest national service man as a result of my postings, and for 60 years I have been able to boast that in 1956 I was the only Lance Corporal in the British Army to have his own personal servant!

The flight itself was from a grass strip in Jogbani in NE India to Kathmandu in Nepal, and after the usual first time nerves I was able to sit back and enjoy the view of the Himalayas. If I recall it correctly the Kathmandu airport strip was paved, but my first real impression was the 'taxi' ride from the airport to downtown, captured in my attached sketch - see graphic on the right! That was in 1956, when there was still no paved road into the country from outside. On arrival at Kathmandu by air, my companion and I looked round for a taxi for some time before our eyes finally alighted on a battered old machine which seemed to be a cross between "Genevieve" and Walt Disney. This was it, the taxi into which we were squeezed along with an outsize Indian family, children's legs dangling across our shoulders, the luggage strung along broad running boards. A hearty push from a few willing helpers and we were gathering speed down the long slope leading from the airport, sufficient to enable the driver to grate the car into gear and for the engine to splutter into life. Onwards we rolled to the outskirts of the town when almost inevitably a loud hiss and a gentle lurch from a front wheel brought us to a gentle stop with a flat tire some distance from our destination hotel. No problem, said the driver. He jacked the vehicle up, removed and replaced the wheel in the reverse position, going to work with a rusty old hand pump then scratched his head when the tire remained flat after removing the jack ! My companion and I ended walking the rest of our way to the hotel, suitcases in our hand.

A feature of Kathmandu at that time was the almost entire absence of vehicular traffic, a state of affairs that was but slowly altered due to the fact that any additions to the thirty or so cars (which present few parking problems in the town and neighbouring villages have still to be carried across the steep mountain passes from the road head in India on the broad backs of coolie gangs - not the most suitable form of conveyance and one that necessitates an outsize spare parts kit accompanying the vehicle. Indeed, rambling cattle were the cause of most of the pedestrian jams in the narrow streets and the rules of the road were generally ignored by the four-leg powered traffic. Fortunately for everyone their horns were silent!

My return visit to the UK from Singapore was by air and took four days, with three overnight stops. A long cry from today's nonstop flights, but still much better than the three week voyage on a troopship on the outward journey.

Norman Croll, Canada

Vikings, Viscounts and Vanguards

I very much enjoyed your item (further down this page) about your first flight. It exactly mirrored my first flight, but the opposite way - from Edinburgh to Renfrew. I wanted to impress my then girlfriend. The plane was a Vickers Viking of British European Airways (BEA), pictured on the right. The flight was so short that it was hardly worthwhile taking a seat!

Later flights from Edinburgh (Turnhouse) were on Vickers Viscounts (pictured here) and Vickers Vanguards of BEA and other ones, (possibly Douglas DC10?), of Caledonian Airways.

I also flew on a Bristol 170 Freighter of Manx Airways/Airlines. We flew from an airfield, not an airport, at Castle Kennedy near Stranraer; the Isle of Man airport was called Ronaldsway.

On another occasion when, I think, Turnhouse was being upgraded or the new Edinburgh Airport was being constructed, I flew in Viscounts to and from London via the airfield at East Fortune, in East Lothian. This is where the Scottish National Museum of Flight is now based (and now has a Concorde supersonic aircraft as a museum highlight). I remember the take-offs and landings were particularly bumpy along the wartime concrete runway. You could feel the joins in the runway every few hundred yards. Later flights have all been in modern jet aircraft. I no longer live in Scotland.

Nicholas Keegan

Dakotas, Boeing 707, the Shuttle and Friday 13

I'm sure that my interest in aviation was sparked by Winston Churchill... His resounding words about the Royal Air Force and its valiant efforts to repel the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain - "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few" made an impression on me at early age.

So after attending a few air shows (with my box camera in hand) and cycling from home to Renfrew airport, pictured above (at that time the airfield nearest to Glasgow) to see commercial aircraft and some Royal Canadian Air Force Sabres and CF-100s in storage there after service in Germany, I was keen to fly, at least as a passenger.

But it was not until I had left school and was working (in a bank - a far cry from being a fighter pilot) that I had the means to satisfy my ambition. Of course I had neither the time or the money to fly far. So my first flight was from Renfrew airport to Edinburgh - a distance of around 50 miles. It was in a British European Airways "Pionair" (better known as a Douglas DC-3 or even C-47 Dakota transport in the USAF. Graphic of Pionair © Mitchazenia via Wikimedia Commons).

I was surprised when I got up the short steps into the fuselage that I was faced by a steep uphill climb to get to my seat - such piston engined aircraft had a tail wheel and main wheels under the wing as in the later jets and the last of the commercial piston-engined aircraft, rather than a centre of gravity that required an undercarriage totally under the wings. One great advantage of the short flight was that we flew all the way at around 10,000 feet which gave a better view of the ground. Having landed at Turnhouse (Edinburgh) airport, I spent the rest of the day there doing "aircraft spotting". I recall that with none of the security concerns we have now, spectators were accommodated outside of the terminal near the aircraft as they taxied in with passengers having a short walk to the terminal building. At the end of the day I flew back to Glasgow again - I think the cost of the return trip was a modest 1!

Package Holiday Flights

Over the following years the era of "package summer holidays" dawned with low-cost flights and accommodation to a number of European destinations including Saltzburg in Austria, Lido di Jessolo near Venice in Italy - and even Tangier in Morocco (which gave me an opportunity to fly a bit further and even "fly" a camel!) Then my employer asked me one day "Would you be willing to go on a sort of "study tour for six months to USA to learn about these new-fangled computers they are using?". It took only a few seconds to recover from the shock to stammer "Yes!".

First Trans-Atlantic Flight

While jetting around Europe was becoming more common, crossing the Atlantic in 1964 was more of an adventure. At least I was able to fly from Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire direct to New York (JFK) in a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) Boeing 707 (graphic © Russavia via Wikimedia Commons. The flight itself was uneventful and the only thing I recall of note on that journey was the landing... From my knowledge of aviation I should have known better, but as the wheels touched the runway there was a sudden roar from the engines and I wondered if we were taking off again? Of course, it was only the engines going into "reverse thrust" to stop in a shorter length of the runway. On European charter flights I had never experienced that before. If the cabin crew gave any advance warning, it didn't register with me!

First "Shuttle" Flight

During my stay in the USA I was based initially at the Howard Savings Institution in Newark, New Jersey, one of the pioneers of cashiers with terminals on the counter linked on-line to a central computer system. A school friend from Scotland by now was working at Harvard University near Boston so I had the opportunity to use the new "Shuttle" air service between Newark and Boston to visit him from time to time. The service was operated using older piston-engined aircraft which were being replaced by new jet aircraft so I got to fly in Lockheed Constellations and Douglas DC6 aircraft. It is amazing nowadays that in those days passengers turned up at the gate for the flight, gave their name (could be an invention) to a clerk. provided no identity and then paid for the flight while on their way to their destination. Security? What's that?

First Flight in a Snow Storm - on Friday 13th

Later, I was travelling from IBM plants in Poughkeepsie to Endicott in New York state. They are both in the Catskill mountains and it was December and the snow began to fall and continued for much of the day. I went out to the airport after my visit (secretly hoping the flight would be cancelled - even though that would create other problems!) but as we waited in the terminal a twin engined Convair 340 taxied in through the blizzard and incoming passengers disembarked, walking through the snow to the terminal. Departing passengers like me trudged out to get on board - with the piston engines of the Convair still running (I suspect that if they had stopped, they wouldn't have got them started again). All that was bad enough but we were flying on Friday 13. Now, I don't regard myself as superstitious, but as I looked down from the aircraft window as we flew over the snow-capped Catskill mountains (covered in much more snow than this graphic which is © Mitchazenia via Wikimedia Commons), I updated a log I kept at that time of all my flights (starting with that Glasgow to Edinburgh one, years earlier) I realised that the Convair 340 was the 13th type of aircraft I had flown in... Clearly, as I am typing this 50 years later we reached our destination safely!

First Flight to Florida

Some years later I returned to the USA, this time with my wife and two children so of course we had to go to Orlando in Florida and Disneyworld and all the other attractions. That was ostensibly for the kids but my wife and I enjoyed it just as much as they did! We flew with British Airtours (an offshoot of British Airways) and were somewhat surprised when our first landing was at Toronto airport in Canada before turning south to Florida. I have three large folders full of photos (taken of course with a film camera - long before the days of digital cameras). I can honestly say that it was the best (and most expensive) holiday in my life.

Return to Index of Memory Lane.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

Separator line