Biggin Hill Notes

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Looking across the airfield, with the passenger terminal and control tower beyond the runway, and London in the background

Anyone who has seen my This is me page, can’t have failed to notice that I have a thing about aviation, and living near Biggin Hill Airport, I quite often mosey over there to see what activity is going on. Some times, there’s lots, others it’s very quiet.

Biggin Hill is a busy little airport, with a number of private jet and general aviation companies operating from it. With it only being a few miles from London, it makes a good base for the average ‘bizjet’ user to fly into and out of, and with only a 6 minute helicopter transfer direct to the City of London, its well positioned for the business traveller market, and that, also makes it an interesting place for the average aviation enthusiast.

First Light

Biggin Hill, is of course famous for the role it played as a fighter base in the 2nd world war, on the front line of air defence during the Battle of Britain. Much has been published on that subject, so I won’t venture far down that path, except to say that one of the best books I ever read about the Battle of Britain, is First Light by Geoffrey Wellum, a pilot, one of the few’ , during the battle. I highly recommend it (the BBC also made a film of it).

It’s with that sense of history in mind that I always think about Biggin Hill Airport. Time has moved on and these days it’s a civilian airfield, although the old gates still have the gate guardians of a Spitfire and Hurricane to watch over them. The main entrance for passenger’s is now on the A233 to the west of the runway but there are the many other charter companies and flying schools (as well as Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management HQ) on the south eastern edge.

The main road runs past the southern end of the runway and it makes for a good spot to photograph the aircraft as they go about their aviation business. There are all sorts of aircraft pottering around. I really like to see the sleek jets that frequent the place, although I’m only now really getting to know what these are, manufacturers, types, ranges etc., but there is always other stuff to see as well. Here’s a selection taken over the last couple of weeks (on only two visits!).

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L-R: Cessna Citation CJ2+ starting take off run, a Harvard trainer coming into land, the Supermarine Spitfire (adapted to take a passenger) and Cessna 650 Citation VII

One of the pictures I took recently was this of a Curtis-Wright Travelair, and I posted the picture on Instagram:

Curtis-Wright Travelair

In one of those strange occurances that only happens when using social media, one of the pilots of this particular aircraft, Carl, spotted it and asked if I would send him a copy to go on the website for Shipping and Airlines who own it, which of course I was happy to do. In return Carl invited me to visit their hanger at Biggin Hill to have a look around their collection of vintage aircraft, which have been lovingly and beautifully restored to airworthy condition by the engineers at Shipping and Airlines. It was a real treat for me to visit them and to get a close up look at the aircraft they have there, so thanks to Carl for taking the time to show me around.

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Miles Messenger

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Cockpit of the Miles Messenger. Timber framed and plywood skin.

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Cockpit of the Rearwin Sportster. Tandem seats, and pretty cosy!

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Rearwin Sportster

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Cessna 195

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Piper L4 Cub

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Dehavilland Hornet Moth

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Cockpit of the DH Hornet Moth. It’s like an old Rover!

The aircraft were spread out in the hanger, as they were readied for one of their regular outings, this time up Northampton way, so it was easy to wander around them and get up close to them. There is something wonderful to me, about the smell and feel of these aircraft; some made mainly out of plywood, others with a timber or metal frame with fabric stretched over it. The cockpit’s of them varied wildly from really basic, or open, to something more akin to an old 1940’s Rover, with a walnut dash and sprung leather seats. The smell was the same as well (my wife’s uncle owns a vintage Aston Martin DB5 – same smell!).

 

More information on these aircraft types can be found here, but I couldn’t visit without taking my own pictures to post on here..

 

© Richard Debonnaire

 

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A Sunny Day Out in London

 

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I had the pleasure of doing a university visit with my daughter Emily on Saturday. She wants to study Geography and today’s lucky uni, was Kings College London. We only live about 35 minutes train ride from London, so KCL would be a good choice for Emily should she choose to go there, as she would be able to live at home.

None of us in our house are strangers to London and frequently go in, either for work, or perhaps a concert or just to have a wander round. It’s a great walking city! As I often do, I took my camera along for the trip, and thought I would share the pictures that I took.

The KCL campus is spread about the centre of London, and we were headed towards The Strand campus. This is an easy train journey to London Waterloo East, and a walk over Waterloo Bridge to the Strand. The weather was, quite simply, superb.

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To the east, St. Paul’s Cathedral on the left, then Heron Tower, Tower 42, the edge of the Gherkin, the ‘Cheese Grater‘ and the ‘Walkie Talkie‘. The face of City is changing all the time.

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Looking west from Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye on the left, The Houses of Parliament (including ‘Big Ben‘), the hotels of the Strand, and the back of Charing Cross station.

The walk across the bridge is one of the nicest in London for views, and drops you right onto the Strand just a short walk from Covent Garden. However, we turned right and headed along to the KCL building. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read the open day information properly and now realised that we had to walk all the way back across Waterloo Bridge to attend the welcome talk. (d’oh!)

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A great view from behind the Royal Festival Hall, of Big Ben (see FAQ here) seen through the London Eye. The sky was so clear and blue during the morning. Not a cloud to be seen.

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To the west of Waterloo Bridge is Hungerford Bridge, which is a rail bridge that brings the trains into London Charing Cross station. That’s another very nice walk. About 10 years ago, Hungerford Bridge was renovated and two pedestrian walkways were added to the bridge, one on either side to mark The Queens Golden Jubilee.

These also make great places from which to view London, and also make for a great walk from Charing Cross over to the Royal Festival Hall and South Bank complex on the other side of the river.

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A British Airways Boeing 747 seen through the ‘eye’

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Big Ben bracketed by the supports for the Hungerford Bridge walkways.

 

 

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A Qantas Airbus A380 seen over the top of the London Eye…

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A Qatar Boeing 777 flies over the London Eye. This one taken from Victoria Embankment underground station, by Hungerford Bridge

London is a fantastic city…there is so much to see and do. It’s not the cheapest place in the world to visit (or live!), but there are many things you can do for free such as walking, visiting the royal parks or the museums and galleries etc. (check a good guide book for details), and it is a city steeped in history.

If you view London on the basis of the Tube map, it’s possible to think it’s larger than it is, but you will find that if you walk, places tend to be easily walkable, although it’s a good idea to have a street map to make sure! It’s useful to know that if you fancied walking from Tower Bridge to say, Kensington Palace; it’s long walk!

But, when the sun is shining (and mostly even when it’s not) there is no better place to be – although all city dwellers in New York, or Paris, or Sydney would say the same about those places I imagine!

 

© Copyright Richard Debonnaire

Trooping the Colour

I really do love living in London…I never tire of it, and this weekend was quite a big one in London, for monarch and aircraft spotting.

June 14th 2014 was the date of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony which is held each year on Horse Guards Parade ground in London.  For those not in the know, this is (to quote from Wikipedia):

a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although the roots go back much earlier. On battlefields, a regiment’s colour’s, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the soldiers’ ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their regiments’ colours.

The ceremony is held to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Official Birthday, and a great deal of pomp is involved. The British military, apart from being a very efficient fighting force, also know how to put on a show!

It’s a terrific day for tourists and locals alike to be in London, as the opportunity for seeing the Royal Family in the flesh is more or less guaranteed. Debs and I went into London on Wednesday evening to see a jazz gig, and grabbed a bite beforehand. We ended up chatting to a newly arrived American family from Arizona, on their first trip to Europe. They had their 4 days in the UK planned out, but by the time we finished talking to them, I think Stonehenge was shelved in favour of the ‘Trooping’ (you can imagine the reactions of 2 teenage American girls at the prospect of seeing the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge  -William and Kate in real life, not to mention Prince Harry. Stonehenge didn’t stand a chance! I think the London Eye might also have been added to their itinerary!).

Unless you have tickets, access to the actual ceremony in the parade ground is not possible (although it is shown on television), but you can get a great view of the participants from anywhere along The Mall. If you get there by about 9.00am, you can pick a great spot and guarantee a great view. Which is what we did.

From about 10.20 the bands of Her Majesty’s Household Division, comprised of the Foot Guards (Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards, and the Welsh Guards) and the cavalry (Life Guards and the Blues and Royals) set off from the Buckingham Palace end of  The Mall and march towards Admiralty Arch, playing marches as they go. First off are the foot guards bands! What a sound! As a trombone player I am always thrilled to hear the trombones at the front of each band, ably accompanied by the rest of the band. (I know a few of the players, and it’s usually quite a challenge to spot them under their bearskin hats!)

Guards Trombones

A little behind them comes the Household Cavalry and the mounted band. As trombone player (I know I just used that line) I am always enormously impressed with how the trombones, or indeed any of the mounted musicians, manage to ride a horse and play an instrument simultaneously! I struggle with just the trombone to be honest, forget about the horse!

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It’s a fantastic way to spend a Saturday morning, as we did with friends, two of whom are Canadian, so we had the fun of explaining it all to them too! Once the procession has passed, if you wait around for an hour or so, you can see the Royal Household return to Buckingham Palace along The Mall, and this time, when the bands come back, they are formed up as a massed band, which is a sight to see!

Once everyone is back in the palace and the bands have returned to Wellington Barracks, the crowds are then allowed to move onto the The Mall itself, and everyone moves down towards the palace to see the Royal Family appear on the balcony of the palace. We didn’t see this as we were enjoying coffee and cake in Cafe in the Crypt!

I love all things aviation – more of which in some future blog! I’m not quite a full on geek (although my family may disagree), but I love to watch aircraft, so I wasn’t about to miss out on the fly past that completes the Trooping celebrations, which we watched from Trafalgar Square. With 28 RAF aircraft taking part, it makes for an impressive site, but all over so quickly!

Fly Past

If you find yourself in London around this time of the year, make a point of including Trooping The Colour in your plans! Its a great event, and FREE!!

 

© Richard Debonnaire