Having written a few aviation-based books, I have learned a great deal from research and from stories from aircraft crew as well as Flying School trainers. These, coupled with the reports via AAIB investigations into many of the unfortunate incidents that have occurred over the years, have led me to the conclusion that there are two basic rules of flying that have to be picked up quite quickly and adhered to at all times by people in control of, or wanting to learn to be in control of, an aircraft:

1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
2. Do not go near the edges of it.  The edges of the air can be recognised by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.


Manchester’s airport’s history dates back to 1911 when an aerodrome was established at Trafford Park. Between then and 1935 (when the site at ‘Ringway’ was developed for use) there had been four other locations, all of which were abandoned as aircraft became larger to meet increasing passenger numbers and required longer landing strips and more facilities.

Terminal 2 is on the left with Pier 'C' of Terminal 1 at the top of the photograph.

Terminal 2 is on the left with Pier ‘C’ of Terminal 1 at the top of the photograph.

The airport today is both the first and last impression of Manchester and the North West of England that international visitors will see, and as the UK’s third busiest airport (and the busiest of the non-London airports), the quality of the airport’s facilities is constantly under revision to meet the needs of the customers and the airline partners, transport providers and businesses across the North of England and in the most responsible and cost-effective way.

It also has a direct impact on the local area and is proactive in listening to and working with its neighbours and its stakeholders, and as it expands, it creates more jobs for local people and helps to provide skills development and training they may need.

A ten-year plan was given the go-ahead by Manchester City Council in March 2016 for the demolition of Terminal 1 and the expansion of Terminal 2 to increase the size of the security hall, add new retail outlets and eateries, and provide more self-service check-in facilities, thus making it the primary terminal. Laing O’Rourke was selected in July 2016 as the preferred bidder for the £700m overhaul and expansion of the terminal, beating off BEGGI UK which is currently working on ‘Airport City’.

The plan also includes new stands and piers as well as improvements to Terminal 3 and a direct link provided by airside transfer facilities to and from Terminal 2 to meet the increase in demand. The transformation will ensure that the airport plays its part in driving economic growth and developments as a key part of the UK transport infrastructure.

In the new book ‘Manchester Airport Through Time’ from Amberley Publishing (978-1445663906), the history of what is now the third largest International Airport in the UK is unfolded and supported with a balance of period and contemporary original photographs.

John Fishwick Leeming (8 January 1895 – 3 July 1965), a businessman and early aviator, along with nine friends, founded the Lancashire Aero Club (LAC) – the oldest established flying club in the country – at Alexandra Park Aerodrome in 1922. Daily scheduled flights were already being made to Croydon Airport by Daimler Airways, and Leeming wanted to impress the vision of growing success for this local airport on the minds of businessmen and councillors.

Alexandra Park Aerodrome hangars in 1923 looking West

Alexandra Park Aerodrome hangars in 1923 looking West

He had already designed and built his own single-seat high-wing monoplane glider with the help of friends and fellow glider builders Tom Prince and Clement Wood, but when the wartime lease ended in 1925, so did his hopes for Alexandra Park. The club moved to Woodford Aerodrome upon invitation from the Avro Aircraft Company (where there was also a good source of spares).

John F Leeming, a director of Northern Air Lines Ltd (in the top hat) with a delegation of Manchester’s Civic officials at Croydon receiving the licence for Manchester’s aerodrome from Sir Samuel Hoare on 22 April 1929

John F Leeming, a director of Northern Air Lines Ltd (in the top hat) with a delegation of Manchester’s Civic officials at Croydon receiving the licence for Manchester’s aerodrome from Sir Samuel Hoare on 22 April 1929

There, the club acquired its first two powered aircraft – de Havilland DH.60 Moths. LAC were requested to vacate Woodford at the start of the Second World War and moved to Barton, where all of their aircraft were impounded for the duration of the war. Post-war, the club started up again, initially using Auster Autocrat and de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft. LAC moved to Kenyon Hall Farm (near Wigan) in 2007, which has a single 580m by 30m grass strip (23/05), and is where they currently operate flying seasons between March and late October.

The aerodrome was closed to air traffic on 24 August 1945. Under the terms of the land lease laid down by Maurice Egerton, the 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton, flying was to cease within five years of the end of the war. The ancillary buildings that had been erected for training RAF personnel were converted to provide accommodation for around 100 single constables of the Manchester City Police because of a desperate shortage of housing for families of men returning from the war. Avro moved to Woodford airfield, and the hangars were demolished. The site remained undeveloped until the Hough End playing fields were laid out in 1945. A plaque commemorating the aerodrome’s existence hangs in the sports pavilion.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to fulfill a personal goal or to break a habit, and they must be truly blessed if they can foresee what will happen over the next 365 days. Typically for some, resolutions begin to fade soon after the cessation of festivities and become memories to be jibed about before the end of January. Others may strive to meet the declarations made at the start of the year but find that after six months, when the realism kicks in, they will be putting them on a back burner to be included in following year’s scroll of resolutions.

A writer’s resolutions rarely span more than a month, despite their best intentions, and even then they may need to be edited on an almost daily basis.

So I make it my resolution never to make resolutions, and I post this every year on facebook.

EKCO’s involvement in Airport Radar Approach Aid (ARAA) came about as a direct result of an early example of industrial and commercial co-operation between EKCO and Southend Municipal Airport, and was the first in the world to develop Airborne Weather Radar for commercial use and had produced a succession of equipment of improved performance since 1949.

Noting the development and use of Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) radar during the Berlin Airlift, which materially contributed to the success of the operation by allowing aircraft to operate in all but the worst conditions (particularly at the Gatow and Templelhof airfields in Berlin), and proved that ‘talk-down radar’ was an invaluable aid to airports, Squadron Leader Bernard F Collins (who had been appointed the manager of Southend Municipal Airport in 1946) realised that this equipment would be needed at Southend if it was to offer ‘all weather’ capability. He also realised that GCA radar was hugely expensive (estimated at around £50,000) and only the military and large civil international airports could afford it.

Daunted by this, Bernard Collins arranged a meeting with EKCO, and local folklore says that Eric Cole was at a luncheon with the Mayor of Southend and Bernard Collins, where the issue of GCA talk-down radar was discussed together with its high price and it was suggested to Eric that he could produce something cheaper that would work just as well, to which, Eric apparently replied, ‘I’m sure we can’.

Eric tasked Tony Martin, the chief engineer at EKCO, to investigate the feasibility of designing a system which would provide a talk-down service at a fraction of the cost of the existing systems. Tony sat down with his team of engineers, lead by Ted O’Flynn (a wartime radar engineer with the company who ran a ‘special projects’ laboratory above the car radio laboratory at Southend) and they started by redesigning a simple radar that might have been developed in the early days if military money had not been so plentiful.

Their work was made much easier by the fact that work on the Hawker Hunter Radar Ranging (ARI-5820) System at the Malmesbury factory was in the advanced stages of development, and was an almost a perfect match in meeting the range requirements. It also incorporated a pulse repetition frequency (PRF) which could give the high resolution image needed to bring a ‘target’ down the glide-path when mated to the five-inch high visibility CRT (and was also used on the ASV Mark 19 for the Fairey Gannet).

Southend Airport Radar

Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) at Southend Airport

The finished design was a structure which has been likened to a periscope in a submarine; the operator stood at a console, which was about three feet square, and had a five-inch diameter ‘A’ scope and an illuminated compass above it together an illuminated series of lights, which told the approach controller if the aircraft was ‘on track’, or off to the left or right. The operator was able to follow the aircraft by literally rotating the entire radar-receiving unit by turning it on its axis.

The equipment gave a range of 16 miles and had two scales these being 0-16Nm for general acquisition and guidance and 0-4Nm for final precision talk-down. While no height information was given, these two scales did allow accurate distance information to be passed to the approaching aircraft via a graticule overlay on the screen, which compensated for the fact that the radar was not on the runway centre line. At Southend, the control tower was about 800 yards offset from the main 06/24 runway. Once the parameters were decided on, development proceeded rapidly so that by June 1949, the first tests were taking place at the airport using a Percival Proctor owned by the airport as the target aircraft.

The old Southend Airport Control Tower

The old Southend Airport Control Tower

The radar tests were complete by June 1950, resulting in the system gaining Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval and certification in December 1951, thus allowing the system to be used operationally and it was demonstrated to the press in January 1952. While the equipment was highly regarded by the operators who used it, and it was certainly cheap (believed to be circa £4,000 installed in the case of Southend Airport), it was never a best seller and probably no more than thirty were ever manufactured in the early to late 1950’s.

19424599495_0ee31c05cb_cThe original Southend Transport X1 route to London was introduced in 1980; the same year as the UK coach market was de-regulated, and was operated jointly with Reading Transport. It was in the following year that Southend Transport was granted a licence for a Southend to Hammersmith route, but disputes with staff at Reading resulted in temporary withdrawls of service. It was at the time of the rail strike of early 1982 that gave the coach route a huge boost in passenger numbers, and when the joint venture with Reading ceased following irreconcilable issues over revenue allocation and service development, Southend Transport operated a reduced service to Heathrow airport as well as added double-deck duplicates to cope with the growing patronage of the routes to Green Park. By the end of the year, period return and season tickets were introduced.

In 1983, the frequency of the service to London was increased, and the fleet of (mostly) Leyland Leopards and newer Leyland Tiger/Duple Caribbeans was augmented by the arrival in April of the first three of six 80-seat Van Hool three-axle double-deck TD824 ‘Astromegas’ powered by MercedesBenz 0M422A V8 engines coupled to Allison four-speed fully-automatic gearboxes (as opposed the eight speed manual ZF gearbox). New routes had also been introduced to the London service; the X11 (direct route not calling in to Basildon) and the X21 (from Shoebury). The X31 (from Canvey Island) began in June 1985, and the following April saw the first X41 route (from Prittlewell). Additional peak-time routes were added – the X10 and X30, and in April 1986, the X1 service to Heathrow was extended to the newly opened Terminal 4.

The Astromega Fleet:

243: JEV243Y CH57/27F 4/1983

244: JEV244Y CH57/27F 4/1983

245: JEV245Y CH57/27F 4/1983

256: C256FHJ CH57/27F 11/1985

257: C257FHJ CH57/27F 12/1985

258: NDS841Y CH57/23Ft 1985 (secondhand acquisition from Stagecoach, Perth)

Van Hool Astromega (JEV243Y)

Van Hool Astromega (JEV243Y)

Van Hool was founded by Bernard Van Hool as a family business of coach body builders in Belgium in 1947, and at the time were producing one-off as well as series units for clients. In 1957, a commercial contract was entered into with Fiat, who supplied the engines and running gear for their new line of vehicles, branded under the name Van Hool-Fiat, while Van Hool still expanding their own enterprise as coach builders. The contract, which had proved to be a great success, was terminated in 1981.

In 1990, Van Hool purchased the coachbuilding business of LAG Manufacturing of Belgium, and continued producing their EOS models for about ten years. Most of the buses and coaches are built totally by Van Hool, with engines and axles sourced from Caterpillar, Cummins, DAF and MAN, with ZF or Voith gearboxes, with some of their production still consisting of building bus and coach bodies on separate bus chassis from manufacturers such as Volvo and Scania.

Van Hool established itself as the manufacturer of the broadest range of coaches on the market. Their ‘T8’ Touring Coach platform was introduced in 1979. The body was based on the Alizee bodywork that had been launched the previous year. The early models were powered by Cummins L10, and later models by M11 diesel engines. Over the course of several years, a large range of touring coaches were developed based on this platform, each distinguished by a number and a name, following a clear naming convention. For example, in ‘TD824 Astromega’: T= Touring Coach series, D= Double Deck, 8=Part of the T8 series, and 24= the theoretical number of seat rows.

An upgraded version of the T8 (the T9) was produced for the North American market, and the T8 itself was discontinued in the 1990s after the introduction of the (European) T9 platform, which became the most extensive series of motor coaches available today. In the British Isles, however, the T9 body is only available on Scania, Volvo, and VDL chassis.

Van Hool presented the TX series – the successor to the T9 series – at Busworld, Kortrijk, Belgium, in 2011.

When Horncurch became the Sector airfield covering London and the south east of England for RAF Fighter Command’s 11 Group during the Second World War, it became policy for Hornchurch-based fighter squadrons to use the advance attack outpost RAF Rochford as a satellite airfield. 54 (Spitfire) Squadron, under Squadron Leader ‘Toby’ Pearson, moved in to Rochford on 11 August 1939, already prepared for combat as the Nazis threatened Europe.

Given its importance as a defence position, a Battle Headquarters and Control Room were erected between two aircraft pens on the eastern side of the all-grass airfield, backing onto Eastwoodbury Lane. Close to these were two large Bellman Hangars, a Gas Defence Centre, fire crew huts, oil and petrol stores, water tanks and barracks. Spread among all these were eleven Stanton shelters which provided bolt-holes during air raids, and ground defences comprising three pillboxes (sited at the boundaries and close to the LNER railway line), four Hispano 20mm machine gun posts and an anti-aircraft emplacement.

rafsndmapOn the southern side were two aircraft pens, blister hangars, flight offices, barracks, latrines and drying rooms, two pillboxes, a 12,000-gallon aviation petrol store, an anti-aircraft gun emplacement, and shelters.


A retrieved turret of a Pickett-Hamilton Fort

Three Pickett Hamilton forts were also constructed in the north-east, northwest, and south-west of the landing ground. Unlike pillboxes, which would have presented a constant danger to aircraft on the landing areas, especially at night time, these were pre-cast concrete sleeves inside which a turret could be raised or lowered when required by means of a hydraulic pump, and the gun crew inside would be in action within a few minutes. It was manned by two or three men, and was not the best environment in which to spend any length of time as they frequently filled with rain water. In the event that the aerodrome was in imminent danger of capture, it could be destroyed. Pipes filled with blasting gelignite were laid under the surface of the flying field, and four igniting points were set – one in each corner of the airfield.

There were also vulnerable targets in the vicinity of Rochford – in particular the EKCO works close to the Southend Victoria to London railway line, and the Chain Home Radar Station at Canewdon. Fifty pillboxes and machine-gun emplacements were constructed to defend the area against an airborne assault, and troops under the command of the Reserve Battalion Area Command consisting of No. 1 Infantry Battalion, a Battery of the Royal Artillery, and Rayleigh Coy, 1st Essex Battalion (HG), were on site at “Stand-To”. No.9 Platoon ‘B’ of Southend Coy (HG) Essex Regiment were posted to defend the east and south-east approaches to the aerodrome, as well as ‘Cuckoo’ Corner, Temple Farm and the Rectory, with standing patrols along Sutton Road.

From: RAF Southend 1940-1944

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