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Idris Airport, Tripoli to Gatwick (London).

 

Contributed by: Trevor STUBBERFIELD (52A)

 

On the 22nd of May 1959 I stood in the departure lounge of Idris Airport, Tripoli, 3 years and 13 days after arriving to start my tour of duty. Time to go home. Still fresh in my mind was the flight in an Eagle Aviation Viking that brought me here. The same company and aircraft had also taken me to Cyprus via Benina Airport in Benghazi. I was grimly apprehensive about the journey back to the U.K.

This time I was accompanied by my wife who had been in Tripoli for two years and my daughter who had been there for six weeks having been born at the British Military Hospital, Tripoli.

Called forward, we walked towards the waiting aircraft and my nerves eased. We were to travel in a Vickers Viscount 800 series, in the colours of Airwork, who had secured a trooping contract. This was the current "state of the art" aircraft which had received rave reviews from air travellers. It stood on the tarmac looking very smart, neat, almost pretty, and level as it had a nose wheel rather than a tail wheel.

We were seated in large, individual reclining seats which, unlike the Viking, were forward facing. There was plenty of leg room with a foot rest, and also a larger than normal window through which to watch the clouds roll by.

Cabin secured and strapped in there was a slight increase in the whine of the engines and we moved smoothly towards the end of the runway where we turned for take off. Waiting for the plane to stop and go through the sequence of running up each engine I was surprised when we kept moving and with lightning acceleration we raced down the runway and took to the air in a remarkably short time. Undercarriage raised, we took our last look at the desert spread out below and we were on our way.

An air hostess, as they were called in those days, took our baby and her travel bag and settled her into a sky cot at the rear of the aircraft where she would spend most of the journey. For each landing she was brought back to us, freshly changed and sweet smelling, with not a little trace of lipstick on her cheeks. Broody air hostesses were on board.

Malta was the first stop where we were served light refreshments in the lounge whilst the plane was serviced. Some passengers stayed in Malta and more joined us for the flight home.

The next leg took us on to France where we landed at Nice airport. I still remember seeing sea spray on the windows as we approached directly and very low over the water to land on the runway which seemed to start right on the beach. Here we were taken to the airport restaurant where we found a full meal laid out for us in very civilized surroundings, with two carafes of red and white wine to each table. Now that's air trooping in style. Our little one had once again disappeared and was in the company of the crew who were determined to make the most of her whilst they had her. She didn't seem to have any complaints with all the attention she was receiving.

The last lap took us to Gatwick (London) Airport, approaching in the late afternoon over the Isle of Wight which looked like a jigsaw puzzle laid out below. I was struck by the various hues of green in the fields and trees which seemed so vibrant after having looked at sand and the occasional palm tree for so long.

With our grateful thanks to the crew for their care we made our way to customs where we received a true British welcome. Seeing us as an easy target we were stopped by a young customs officer, who didn't need to shave more than once a year. He proceeded to question us and examine every bag in great detail, turning most of the contents out onto the table. This was taking quite some time and our daughter decided to let Britain know she had arrived. She started to bawl for England, probably missing the cosseting she had been receiving. The waiting queue began to get very restive and the murmuring started to swell. "What a way to treat servicemen returning home." "Who does he think he is?" "Doesn't he know how far we've just travelled?" At this point my wife laid the baby on the counter, reached for her bag and got ready to change a nappy. A senior customs officer approached, whispered in the shell like, and the young officer actually repacked our bags, even doing up the straps before making the magic chalk squiggle which gave us clearance. Funnily enough the rest of the passengers seemed to go through customs in no time at all.

The final memory is of the coach ride up to London, a beautiful sunlit evening, passing through rich countryside, sights that had been just a distant thought whilst we were away. We were truly home.

 

Vickers Viscount Type 831 of Airwork Services.

 

Photograph Copyright. Brian Robbins. http://www.airliners.net/

 

The Vickers Viscount was the first gas turbine, propeller driven airliner to enter regular service. Originally to be named the Viceroy it made it's first flight in 1948 as a Type 630. Two prototypes were built, one with four Rolls Royce Dart engines, the other with two Rolls Royce Tay engines.

During the extensive development period, airline requirements had rapidly moved on and the aircraft underwent more refinements, finally entering regular service with British European Airways in 1953 as Type 700.

The aircraft was well received by travellers and was noted for it's quietness and lack of vibration from the engines.

The plane was upgraded through various stages and became the Type 800 which could carry up to seventy five passengers.

A total of 445 aircraft were made, the last leaving the production line in 1963. Further plans to increase the capacity of the craft were made but eventually they resulted in the birth of the Vickers Vanguard.

It is thought that six of these aircraft are still in service in Africa.

 

Published 1st. December 2006