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Before we really get underway, let’s have some civil aviation history in our time. Breaking the sound barrier was in mid 1940’s. Following that here are some of the major milestones:

1949 – the de Havilland Comet first flew – the first commercial jet airliner – entered commercial service in 1952. Early versions suffered metal fatigue but the redesigned Comet 4 series which debuted in 1958 had a career of over 30 years.

1958 to 1979 Boeing 707 - Boeings first jet airliner built

1969 Concorde first flew commercially. It featured a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04, with seating for 92 to 128 passengers. Continued in service until 2003.

1970 Boeing 747 first flew commercially (the Jumbo) The 747-400 version could seat 416 passengers on a traditional 3-class layout or 660 passengers in a high density one-class configuration. The latest version is the 747-8

2007 The Airbus A380 flew commercially, a wide-body, four-engine jet airliner which normally seats 525 passengers in 3-class configuration or up to 853 people in an all-economy class configuration!

There is some big stuff flying around up there today! (I have flown in the Comet, 707’s, 747’s and a various miscellany of others.)

Anyway, back down to ground level. As I started pondering on what was happening, this morning’s high flights seemed to be coming out of London (sometimes they change it around and they are inbound) and I couldn’t help but reflecting that although this is the fastest means of transport available to Joe-average-mankind, the planes overhead leaving the country would only have been in the air from ten to fifteen minutes and yet I guess that on average each passenger will have left home anywhere between 3 and 5 hours earlier. The shorter the flight, the shorter that period can be. Flights overhead coming out of Southend may have meant that passengers could actually have left home only an hour to an hour and a half earlier. The shear logistics of handling our baggage is the key thing that slows us down.

However as I ponder that statement I realise that with the passing of years that is actually no longer (in bigger airports at least) the key thing – passing through security is. I can remember days before it was usual to see police with serious weapons patrolling the airport, and the days when the queue for security was a quarter what it is today and we did not have to display every electronic gadget in our possession (do you remember the days before everyone had a mobile phone and few people carried laptops, let alone any other variety of communication devices?), or take our shoes or belts off.

As I reflect back on my distance travelling over the years, (I have been more than once or twice east to Singapore or Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, more than a few times west to Calgary or Los Angeles) not only has travelling become easier and flights more common, but various aspects of air travel have changed considerably. The existence of easyjet or other cheap carriers, especially from our home airport has made foreign access that much easier and cheaper for short haul flights at least. But, as I mentioned briefly above, the increased security has become a necessary evil. As one who travels with a metal knee these days, the guarantee of being pulled out by security is frustrating and annoying. Passing through Atlanta in the States was pure joy when everyone went through a body scanner which clearly showed my knee and did not make me a terrorist suspect. More body scanners needed for us Silver Surfers! When someone invents a two second body scanner we’ll know we’ve got back to the good old days when we weren’t slowed down.  

Long distance flying has taken on a new surreal feeling. It always was strange. I suppose being cooped up in a confined space for thirteen hours (which is what it used to be to those eastern destinations I mentioned) was always going to have a bit of a weird feeling to it. That feeling has changed as technology has meant that any half decent carrier now provides  five times as many films as you can possibly watch in the available flight time, and how they handle that shows how advanced they are. There are still some for whom your watching is limited to the set times films are showing but the more up to date mean you can start or finish your film as and when you want. But when else would I watch six films, one after another?

The idea is to beat the feeling of time wasted in travel but it is still there; it is just time wasted watching films while you travel!  The news that some group is talking about resurrecting Concorde again brings the memory of being envious of those who could cross the Atlantic in a shorter time. However, and here’s a revolutionary thought, I think the first carrier who can invent suspended animation for travellers will have people queuing up to fly. The thought of getting on the plane and falling asleep without any difficulty for the duration of the flight has got to be a winner (You read it first here!) And how cheap would it make it – no meals, no drinks, no drunks, no stewardesses or stewards! Of course the development of the autopilot will mean no crew but don’t let me know when it is!   

Hey, here’s the other revolutionary idea – you arrange for your luggage to be sent a day early on a different flight so you don’t have to be slowed down by baggage problems. And they make sure your baggage gets to its intended destination without hassle; that would be good as well. Hey, think about the reality of that – your flight could carry twice as many people if it wasn’t carrying baggage.  Baggage for three flights could be put on one massive transporter that may be slower, but your stuff would be there when you arrived and at half the price. Economies all round!   Oh, one last suggestion. When they say you check-in online, they mean it so that you don’t have to line up at the airport to smile sweetly at the girl who will weigh your baggage and put a ticket on it, even after you “checked in” online the night before on your computer! What’s wrong will self-service that automatically throws out over-weight bags or impounds them until extra money is paid?

You see the truth is that things may have changed incredibly since we were kids but when it comes to technology and flying, they’ve only just started. If you and I are still flying in fifteen years’ time, it will be an entirely different experience. It had better be! Writing this has stirred a whole raft of memories of the weird and wonderful that I have encountered in my years of flying so I’ll see if I can do something a bit lighter on this shortly.  In the meantime, as usual, here are a few light hearted (or serious) quotes to finish with.

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”   Leonardo da Vinci

If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic - being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago.  Elon Musk

There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror.  Orson Welles

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society.  The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute. 

Gil Stern

Misc. Aviators Wisdom:

The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire.

In a twin-engine aircraft, the purpose of the second engine is to supply the pilot with enough power to fly to the scene of the crash.

When a prang seems inevitable, endeavour to strike the softest, cheapest object in the vicinity, as slowly and gently as possible. - (Advice given to RAF pilots during W.W.II)

When in doubt, hold on to your altitude. No-one has ever collided with the sky.

Try to learn from the mistakes of others. You won't live long enough to make all of them yourself.

Airspeed, altitude or brains: Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.

Basic Flying Rules:

1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.

2. Do not go near the edges of it.

3. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there.

Pilot: Good morning, Frankfurt ground, KLM 242 request start up and push back, please.

Tower: KLM 242 expect start up in two hours.

Pilot: Please confirm: two hours delay?

Tower: Affirmative.

Pilot: In that case, cancel the good morning!

Eggenfelden Info : D-EXXX please report persons aboard.

D-EXXX (C-172) : Pilot and two pax and one dog.

Eggenfelden Info (after Cessna finally bounced to stop): Assume the Pilot in Command was the dog ?

(The above three courtwesy of the excellent

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