A giant aircraft in Lisbon

WHILE AWAITING TAKE-OFF from Lisbon’s main airport, our aeroplane was ‘parked’ beside the largest aircraft I have ever seen. Operated by Maximus Air Cargo company, its nose was pointing upwards towards the sky. It was being loaded with freight through an enormous aperture at its front end. The aeroplane was so large that it dwarfed the numerous workers around it and the forklift trucks being used to load its cargo. Even the Airbus 320 craft standing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. As we had to wait for what seemed like ages before we taxied to the runway for take-off, I had plenty of time to stare at it and to take photographs through the window next to my seat. My curiosity increased when I observed that the ‘plane had its make written on the raised section of its nose: Antonov 124-100.

The Antonov aircraft were built mainly during the years that the Soviet Union was in existence. The company that built these freight carrying ‘planes is named after the aircraft designer Oleg Konstantinovich Antonov (1906-1984). Born in the Moscow region, he was the son of a civil engineer. From 1923 onwards, he was deeply involved in aircraft engineering and design. By 1938, he was the leading designer in the aircraft plant headed up by AS Yakovlev (www.antonov.com/en/biography). And in May 1946, he headed up his own aircraft design plant, based in Novosibirsk. By 1948, ‘planes designed by Antonov and his team were being manufactured in Kiev (Kyiv in what is now Ukraine). In 1952, Antonov and his design bureau moved to Kiev. Antonov’s team began designing the AN 124 heavy transport aircraft in the early 1970s. The AN 124’s maiden flight was in 1982, but the vehicle only became known to the world at large when it was exhibited at the Paris Air Show in 1985. The AN 124s were produced at two factories: one in Ulyanovsk (now in Russia) and the other at Kiev (now in Ukraine). One special feature of the AN 24’s design is that its landing gear with 24 wheels is designed both for landing on rough terrain and to enable the ‘plane to kneel down so that its front entrance can be lowered to make loading and unloading easier.  About 55 of the AN 124 craft were built between 1982 and 2004.  According the uk.flightaware.com website, the AN 124 (registration UR-ZYD), which we saw on the 17th of June 2022 had flown from Leipzig to Lisbon that day and was about to fly on to Cairo (Egypt). It flew to Kigali (Rwanda) from Cairo on the 18th of June. Another website ( www.planespotters.net/airframe/antonov-an-124-ur-zyd-maximus-air-cargo/ejn4jx) revealed that UR-ZYD was built just over 18 years ago, in about 2013/14, making it one of the last to be built.

Maximus Air Cargo, which operates the AN 124, which I saw, is an Abu Dhabi based company, which specialises in transporting larger than usual objects. The company owns one Antonov 124-100, about which its website (www.maximus-air.com/fleet/antonov-124-100) noted:

“The heaviest of the heavyweight cargo lifters. It has a unique self-contained multiple winch and overhead crane system capable of self loading / unloading 120 tonne from front or rear. Can carry 21x Toyota Land Cruisers or 4 x Mi 17 MTV Helicopters without breaking a sweat.”

The aircraft’s maximum range is 6710 nautical miles (‘nm’), but when it is carrying its maximal pay load (120,000 Kg), this reduces to 2420 nm.

I had heard of the Antonov aircraft before, but the example I saw in Lisbon is the first I have seen ‘in the flesh’. I found that seeing this giant was very exciting.

Landing in Madeira

MADEIRA IS A PORTUGUESE island in the Atlantic Ocean. Most people, including us, arrive by air and land at the Airport of the island’s capital, Funchal.

We flew from London to Lisbon to Funchal on the Portuguese airline. The climax of the somewhat poorly organised and unsympathetic airline‘s handling of its passengers was not entirely the fault of the airline: it was the landing at Funchal airport.

Funchal airport is hazardous to say the least. It consists of a single short runway with sea along one side and at both ends. This short runway, rather like that of a large naval aircraft carrier, lies almost surrounded, not only by water, but also by nearby rocky mountains.

After flying over the empty Atlantic for about 80 minutes,  the rocky island of Madeira, partly shrouded in clouds, loomed into view.

We descended towards the short runway and almost a few seconds before we were to have touched down on the concrete,  the pilot caused the ‘plane to ascend steeply. We headed back into the clouds before the pilot announced that his first attempt to land had been thwarted by an unexpected gust of crosswind and that he would make another attempt to land.

I noticed that during the second attempt, we approached the runway far slower than the first time. The few hair-raising minutes before we touched down seemed like hours, so anxious I was beginning to feel. It was a great relief to set foot on the tarmac when we left the aircraft.

The cabin crew laughed at us when we told them how scared we were during the landing. They could have tried to be reassuring at the very least. I was unimpressed by their reaction to our concern.

Terrifying and alarming as was the landing, Funchal is proving to be a delightful destination.

Will this village near Heathrow Airport disappear?

SITUATED AT THE northwest corner of Heathrow Airport (and within sight of it), is the former village of Longford. Now in the Borough of Hillingdon, it lies on what was once the main road between London and Bath. Its name derives from a ford which used to cross the River Colne. James Thorne, writing in 1876, noted that there were then three roadside inns and that:

“The fishery here is in good repute among anglers; as is also the Kings Head Inn.”

Today, there are only two pubs in Longford, The Kings Arms and The White Horse. The Kings Head, marked on a map surveyed in 1875, no longer exists. It stood just east of the Duke of Northumberland’s River, near the boundary fence of The Thistle Terminal 5 Hotel. Nearby, next to a bus stop (Stop J), stands the now disused Longford Pump. This is almost 10 feet tall and was used to top up the tanks of steam-powered traction engines. Of the two surviving inns, The White Horse looks to be the oldest. According to a notice attached to this picturesque old pub, it was probably built as a smokehouse (for curing meat) in 1534 and became an inn in 1601.

Cottage in Longford

Across the road from The White Horse, there is a magnificent half-timbered building. This Elizabethan (16th century) edifice is Yeomans House. The historian Wendy Tibbits wrote (www.wendytibbitts.info):

“In 1542 Leland in his ‘Itineraries’ describes a building about a mile north of the wooden bridge over the Colne between Longford and Colnbrook, which suggests it could be the building now known as Yeomans. At the time it was the manor house of Colham and owned by the Earl of Derby who died there on 23 May 1521. He had built the Tudor Manor House on the site of a medieval house. At that time the manor of Colham had extensive land extending from Hillingdon southwards … In the mid-eighteenth century this house was owned by Thomas Streeting who died there in 1773. It was inherited by his daughter, Elizabeth, who had married the other prominent Longford farmer, Thomas Weekly. Thomas, his wife, and their nine children were living in the Weekly house, a hundred meters along the Bath Road, and so they decided that the Elizabethan would be divided into three dwellings and rented to their farm labourers’ families …”

Between The White Horse and The Kings Arms, there is a charming, thatched cottage. Almost opposite this, there is a three-storey brick building, now next to the entrance of the Heathrow Medical Aeromedical Centre. According to Ms Tibbits, this is the house built by a wealthy London cloth merchant, Thomas Weekly, about 10 years after the 1666 Great Fire of London. The Weekly family lived here from the late 17th century until 1899. The house had its own farm, which was compulsorily purchased during WW2 to use the land for the construction of an airfield in the neighbouring, now demolished, hamlet of Heathrow.  

The Kings Arms Pub faces Heathrow Close. Immediately to the east of the hostelry, there is an old long barn with a sagging roof. This is one of the few reminders of the era when Longford was in the midst of agricultural terrain. To the west of this pub, the old road to bath crosses the River Colne over a bridge with elegant cast-iron railings and roundels, each with a crown and beneath it, the following: “WR IV 1834”. This is marked on old maps as “The King’s Bridge”.

Longford contains the remnants of what was once a small country village. Ms Tibbits noted that:

“… its four inns provided travellers with hospitality. Six miles from Windsor Castle the village was the usual stopping place for the Royals to change their horses on the way to and from London and Windsor … Highwaymen prayed on the coach travellers who had to cross the notorious Hounslow Heath to get to Longford, but if any villagers were aware of the culprits they kept it to themselves.”

Sadly, like nearby Harmondsworth, Longford’s future might well be bleak. Should the projected extension of Heathrow Airport finally get the ‘go-ahead’, much of Longford, if not all of it, will be demolished. This would be a great pity as it would involve the displacement of a small community and the loss of several buildings of historical interest.

Threatened by Heathrow Airport

THE PARISH CHURCH of Harmondsworth is about 1.7 miles northwest of Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1, yet it feels as if it were much further from it, maybe in the heart of the countryside. What was once a small village in rural Middlesex has now been engulfed by London’s westward spread. However, the old village green retains a certain rustic charm.

The name of the place derives from the name of a person, ‘Hermode’ or ‘Harmond’ and the Anglo-Saxon word ‘worth’ meaning a farm or enclosure. Set in what was once fertile farmland that provided corn and green crops for the London markets, it is now a mainly residential area. Writing in 1876 in his “Handbook to the Environs of London”, James Thorne remarked:

“The village of Harmondsworth is small and not remarkable …”

Writing 146 years later, I must disagree. The place is remarkable for retaining some of its rural atmosphere. The village green is surrounded by a row of picturesque old cottages, a slightly newer-looking village store (Gable Stores), and two pubs (The Crown and The Five Bells [formerly ‘The Sun’]), and the entrance to the churchyard of the parish church of St Mary.

The vicar of St Mary kindly unlocked the church for us. According to a history of the church by Douglas M Rust, it is probably located near the site of a pagan place of worship on one of the quintarial lines defined by Roman surveyors’ landmarks. The archaeologist Montagu Sharpe, writing in volume 33 of the “English Historical Review”, published in 1918, observed:

“Two curious discoveries came to light after the quintarial cross-lines had been drawn, making each pagus appear like a gigantic chequer-board. The first was, that 47 out of 56 mother churches of parishes in Middlesex were situated upon one or other of these lines, the apparent explanation being that Romano-British chapels (compita) adjoined the principal rural ways, which were designed to follow the quintarial lines. In the next age these little edifices were adopted by missionaries for Christian worship, following the astute and well-known direction of Pope Gregory to utilize the pagan sacra where the people had been accustomed to assemble. If so, then such sites have been associated with public worship, first pagan, then Christian, for nearly 2,000 years.”

Be that as it may, the present parish church in Harmondsworth was constructed from the 12th century onwards, much of it before the 16th century. In the 18th century, a cupola was added to the bell tower. In the following century, repairs and restoration was undertaken. The south entrance has a decorated carved stone Norman archway. The carved capitals of the pillars on the south side of the nave are 12th century. The westernmost pillars on the north side of the nave are 13th century, whereas the four pillars to the east of these are 16th century. The chancel, which is supported by the newer pillars was constructed later than the nave. Where the newer part was joined to the older, there is a discontinuity in the stonework of the arch that joins the nave to the chancel: the two halves of the arch do not match each other. The pointed arches along the north side of the nave are Perpendicular gothic in style, whereas those north of the chancel are a Tudor design.

The tower of the flint covered church used to be the tallest building in Harmondsworth until the control tower at nearby Heathrow Airport was constructed, Douglas Dark mentioned of the church:

“Little did the early builders realise that their church was later to become the parish church of the manor where many visitors to Britain first arrive.”

A few yards northwest of the church, there is another treat awaiting visitors to Harmondsworth. This is the Harmondsworth Barn, which was constructed 1425-27 on land bought in 1391 by William of Wykeham (c 1320-1404), Bishop of Winchester, to endow Winchester College. It is now maintained by English Heritage, from whose website I gleaned the following information:

“Used mainly to store cereal crops before threshing, it remained in agricultural use until the 1970s. At 58 metres (192 ft) long and 11.4 metres (37 ft 6 in) wide, the barn is one of the largest ever known to have been built in the British Isles, and the largest intact medieval timber-framed barn in England.”

The barn’s main purpose was to store locally grown cereals (e.g., wheat, barley, and oats) and was still in use during the 1970s. Its interior is a fine example of well-preserved mediaeval carpentry. The barn is located on the eastern edge of what was once Manor Farm, through which a stream of the River Colne flowed. The erstwhile farm covered the probable site of a long-since demolished Benedictine Priory.

James Thorne noted that the barn had once been ‘L’ shaped, rather than rectangular as it is today. The part of it that had made it shaped like an ‘L’ was taken away and relocated elsewhere. To quote Thorne:

“This wing was taken down about the same time as the Manor House and rebuilt at Heath Row, 1 ½ miles S.E. of Harmondsworth church. This, which is known as the Tithe Barn, exactly resembles the Manor Barn in structure, except the walls are of brick…”

Well, ‘Heath Row’ is now ‘Heathrow’ and this fragment removed from the barn at Harmondsworth no longer exists. I located it on a map surveyed in 1862. It then stood on a road or lane that ran south from the Bath Road to Perry Oaks Farm on the western edge of Heathrow village. This land is now covered by the airport terminals (1,2, and 3).

Harmondsworth village has a few other old buildings apart from those already mentioned. One of them is Harmondsworth Hall, which Wendy Tibbits described in her blog (www.wendytibbitts.info) as follows:

“This grand-sounding building was built in the early 1700s, but still has elements of a fire-damaged Tudor building which was on this site. The central chimney and a fireplace are remnants of the former hous. … In 1910 this house was the first house in Harmondsworth to have its own electricity supply.”

Both Ms Tibbits and the vicar of the parish church fear for the future of Harmondsworth should plans to extend Heathrow Airport are carried out. Most of the old village will be demolished, leaving the church and the barn. Ms Tibbits noted:

“If the London Airport Expansion plans go ahead eleven listed buildings in Longford, and twelve in Harmondsworth will be demolished, along with hundreds of other homes. Only Harmondsworth medieval Great Barn and its Norman church will survive the destruction, but who will want to visit them when they will be meters from the airport’s perimeter fence?”

Although extending the airport might benefit the country, it would be sad to lose yet more of Britain’s heritage.

At the end of the runway at Heathrow Airport

TODAY THE MAIN roads leading from London west, the A4 and the M4, run more or less parallel from Hammersmith west towards Slough and then beyond. Before these roads were modernised, or in the case of the M4 and, existed, the old road from London to Slough and points further west ran through the village of Colnbrook, and onwards to Bath. This was long before London’s Heathrow Airport came into existence. Today, the centre of Colnbrook, bypassed by both the A4 and the M4, lies 1.2 miles west of the western perimeter of the airport. Aeroplanes coming into land fly low over Colnbrook because they are within a minute or two of touching down on the runways. Despite being sandwiched between the airport and the ever-expanding town of Slough and having some new housing, Colnbrook retains many features of a rural English village.

With a bridge crossing the River Colne, a tributary of the Thames, Colnbrook was an important staging post on the coach road between London and the west. An old milestone near The Ostrich pub marks the halfway point between Hounslow (west London) and Maidenhead. A modern sign next to it informs that the toll-road through the village was known as the Colnbrook Turnpike. Writing in 1876, James Thorne noted that during the coaching era, Colnbrook:

“… retained something of its ancient noise and stir; it is now a dull, sleepy, roadside village of a long main street and 2 or 3 shabby offshoots, the many inns testifying to its old character.”

No doubt, the advent of the railways put pay to much of the traffic through the village. It is still rather sleepy if you disregard the ‘planes passing overhead every few minutes. But it is not shabby in my opinion. It has maintained a certain rustic charm and a few of its inns or pubs. Many other buildings in the place have tall archways that might well have led into coaching yards of former hostelries.

A well-restored brick and stone bridge crosses one of the streams of the River Colne. The stonework that lines the tops of the walls of the crossing have carved lettering that shows that the centre of the span was the boundary between Middlesex and Buckinghamshire and that the bridge was built in 1777. A large building with an archway that would have admitted stagecoaches at the eastern entrance to Colnbrook bears the name ‘White Hart House’. When Thorne was writing about the village in 1876, he noted that this was an inn:

“… a good house, with bowling green, and grounds, much in favour for trade dinners and pleasure parties…”

The George Inn, unlike the White Hart, is still in business. It is said that Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, might have spent a night there when being taken as a prisoner from Woodstock to Hampton Court in 1588. The pub was first established in the reign of Henry VIII. Its present façade is 18th century (www.sloughhistoryonline.org.uk). Other royal visitors to Colnbrook included the Black Prince with his prisoner King John of France, who were met here by King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377).   The half-timbered Ostrich Inn, almost opposite the George, is far older and has a less salubrious history. Its foundations were laid in 1106 but much of its present construction is 16th century. Its name, the Ostrich, might well be a corruption of an earlier name, ‘the Hospice’.

During the 17th century, the Ostrich had an extremely dodgy landlord called Jarman. The pub’s website (https://ostrichcolnbrook.co.uk/history.html) describes his activities well. Here are some extracts from it. Jarman:

“…with his wife made a very profitable sideline by murdering their guests after they had retired for the night.

They had a trap door built into the floor of one of their bedrooms and when a suitably rich candidate arrived Jarman would inform his wife that a fat pig was available if she wanted one! She would reply by asking her husband to put him in the sty for till the morrow. The bedstead was hinged and they would tip the sleeping victim into a vat of boiling liquid immediately below, thus killing him.”

All went well for the Jarmans until they chose a clothier from Reading, named Thomas Cole:

“After persuading him to make his will before he retired, Jarman killed Cole. Unfortunately Cole’s horse was found wandering the streets nearby and caused a search for his owner who had been last seen entering The Ostrich! His body was found some time later in a nearby brook and some say that this Cole-in-the-brook is how Colnbrook got its name. It’s a nice story but whether it is true or not, who’s to say!”

You might be interested to learn that the Ostrich still offers rooms for guests to stay overnight. We met four men, who had done so, sitting quite contentedly in the morning sun that was flooding into the pub’s pleasant courtyard. Despite the story of Thomas Cole, it is far mor likely that the village was originally called ‘Colebroc’ (in 1107) and later ‘Colebrok’ (by 1222).

We visited the parish church of St Thomas just as guest were arriving at a christening. We were given a warm welcome by a female cleric dressed in white with a colourful stole, which she told us that she was wearing at such a happy occasion. The church, a Victorian gothic edifice, was designed by an architect who specialised in Gothic Revival, Benjamin Ferrey (1810-1880). Built between 1849 and 1852, it has walls containing flints. A north aisle, designed by a great practitioner of the Gothic Revival style, George Edmund Street (1824-1881), was added to the church in 1862.

Streams of the River Colne run through parts of the village. In some places their banks are lined with old houses, some half-timbered. Colnbrook, over which millions of people have flown since Heathrow was opened as Great west Aerodrome in 1929 and then as a much larger establishment, now known as London Heathrow, since 1946, is visited by few except mainly locals. Bypassed by major roads and not on the railway, the village has a picturesqueness that rivals many much more frequented places deep in the English countryside. Yet, Colnbrook is a short bus ride from Slough’s railway station and about 40 to 50 minutes’ drive from Hyde Park Corner. Visit the place and be surprised by its charm.

PHD on arrival

Arriving_240

 

A few years ago, the new airport at Devanahalli just north of Bangalore (Bengaluru) was opened for use. It was already too small when it opened and in recent years there has been much new construction to more than double its size and passenger handling capacity. 

On arrival passengers from some flights enter the airport by airbridges that connect the aeroplanes to the terminal building. Passengers proceed up escalators to the first floor where they walk along a gallery overlooking the departure lounge. We have spent many hours in the departure lounges awaiting the departures of flights which often depart in the dark early hours of the early morning. For a few years, there used to be a branch of the Pizza Hut chain available for passengers awaiting departure.

One year, I was truly surprised to reach the gallery overlooking the departure lounge because there was a large sign above the Pizza Hut counter, which bore the letters ‘PHD’. What, I wondered connected the Pizza Hut with the academic degree of Doctorate of Philosophy (‘PhD’)? ‘Surely some mistake’, as the British satirical magazine Private Eye often says.

Very soon I learnt that according to Pizza Hut, PHD stood for ‘Pizza Home Delivery’. Sadly, the Pizza Hut outlet has long since closed. It has been replaced by costlier eateries hoping for wealthy foreign travellers.

 

PHD-offer

Travelling on a budget

Suitcases that become trollies.

Trollies that run over the feet of others.

Wheelies that fit overhead lockers.

Hand baggage that is too big for a hand.

Waiting in long queues.

Cases filled to the brim to avoid paying for baggage in the hold.

Seats that cannot be reclined

Baggage for flights that often run late

To airports far from where you actually want to go.

Suitcases to avoid waiting at the baggage claim.

The joys of ‘budget’ airlines.

Fear of flying

Flying by wire_500

 

I used to be very apprehensive about flying. It scared me to think that each time we lifted off from the runway might be the prelude to the sudden ending of my short life. I used to read the safety instruction card, and still do today. However, I had little faith that by following the safety instructions, had there have actually been a disaster, would my life have been saved. On one occasion, I became very agitated because the man in the seat beside me had not fastened his seatbelt when instructed by the voice that cracked through the loudspeakers of the ‘plane’s tannoy system. My mother mentioned my concern to him, and I felt reassured when he told us that he worked for BEA (British European Airways) and knew exactly when it was essential to fasten this safety device.

During the 1960s, there were no moving map displays in aeroplanes such as are commonplace today. However, halfway through the flight, a small piece of paper used to be passed from passenger to passenger. It contained a bulletin about the progress of the flight, and it was signed by the pilot. I used to feel privileged being allowed to handle such an important document.

It was many years later that my hitherto irrational fear of flying became rational. I was on a jet ‘plane flying into London’s busy Heathrow airport from where I cannot remember. The ‘plane was descending, the buildings below us were becoming larger and clearer, and most of the clouds were above us, when suddenly the aircraft jolted and began to ascend rapidly.

We have had to climb,” the captain announced calmly over the loudspeaker system, “to avoid another aircrft that had come into our flight path.”

A few minutes later, we began descending 

We can now continue our landing,” the captain announced in a nervous voice, “There are no other aircraft in our way this time.”