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A great aircraft operating company that was formed in 1935 by the amalgamation of several other companies


WARMING UP THE ENGINES of one of the Lockheed Electra aircraft of British Airways

WARMING UP THE ENGINES of one of the Lockheed Electra aircraft of British Airways, Limited, in the glare of flood-lights. Aircraft of this type are used on the London to Paris service which is from Heston Airport to Le Bourget Airport. An interesting feature of this service is that aeroplanes leave Le Bourget for the return journey at exactly the same time as aeroplanes are scheduled to leave Heston.

OF the two subsidized air line companies in Great Britain, British Airways is the newer, the other being Imperial Airways. The rise of British Airways to its present important position has been rapid. It was formed by the amalgamation on October 1, 1935, of Hillman’s Airways, United Airways and Spartan Airlines. In August 1936 British Continental Airways was absorbed.

British Airways is the only British company which operates regular night mail services. It is responsible for the only British service to Scandinavia. Its non-stop service between London and

Hamburg is the fastest flown at present. Its services between London and Paris hold the record for frequency and the week-end return fares on this route are the cheapest. British Airways was the first British company to establish a blind-approach training school for its pilots and the first British company to use the Link trainer for the training of commercial pilots.

The founder of the parent company, Hillman’s Airways, the late Edward Hillman (1889-1934), was one of the most remarkable personalities in road and air transport in Great Britain. He left the Army, in which he was a non-commissioned officer, after the war of 1914-18 and was at first a cycle repairer. Then he bought a motor coach and began a service in Essex between Romford and Clacton-on-Sea. He soon became a prominent road transport figure. He was so successful with coaches that he turned his attention to air transport. He formed Hillman’s Airways in November 1931. During the three years from then until his death in December 1934 Edward Hillman’s vigorous methods affected air travel in Great Britain in two ways. He made a considerable section of the travelling public air-minded, and he asked the aircraft manufacturers to provide a passenger machine which could be flown at low running and maintenance costs. He expanded an air-taxi business into an internal air line, beginning with services between London and Clacton and between London, Margate and Ramsgate, Kent. He then decided to begin regular services to the Continent.

The Continental project was ambitious, as it meant that an unsubsidized service would compete with the national air line companies of Great Britain and of France. Hillman drew up a specification for a twin-engined aircraft to seat six passengers. The De Havilland Aircraft Company built a few of these machines, which proved so successful that the type, exemplified in the Dragon, came into use in many parts of the world.

Edward Hillman began a London-Paris service with the Dragons in the summer of 1933 and, in addition, a week-end service between London and Vichy, France. The low fares and the efficiency of these services brought a success which was followed by further improvements, expansion and consolidation. A contract for carrying mail between London, Belfast and Glasgow was awarded to the company in November 1934, a month before Hillman’s death.


THE BRITISH AIRWAYS ROUTE TO BERLIN is for mail and freight; the route to Stockholm is for passengers, freight and mail, and the service to Paris is for passengers and for freight. British Airways have planned to run a South Atlantic service to South America via Lisbon and West Africa.

The amalgamation with other companies in October 1935 added to the fleet of the new company’s De Havilland machines. The fleet comprised De Havilland D.H. 84, D.H. 86 and D.H. 89

machines, and Spartan Cruisers. The Spartan was a monoplane powered by three De Havilland 135 horse-power Gipsy Major engines. Spartan Airlines operated between the Isle of Wight and Heston Airport, Middlesex. United Airways used a Spartan and a D.H. 89 on services between Heston, Liverpool, Blackpool, the Isle of Man and Belfast. Hillman’s Airways operated the mail service between Essex Airport, Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow, and passenger services on internal routes and on routes to France and Belgium. Northern and Scottish Airways and Highland Airways came into the merger but were operated independently.

British Airways extended its services to the Continent and from the British Government secured the contract to fly mail to Scandinavia. The subsidy was announced in February 1936 and was the first awarded to an independent air line. The first machine flew on this service on February 17, and a month later the route was officially opened by the Assistant Postmaster-General, Sir Walter Womersley, for the carriage of mail. This was the first occasion on which mail left Great Britain by air without surcharge.

The original mail service was to Copenhagen and to Malmo, Sweden, and was later extended to Stockholm. The company later secured the contract for flying the night mail between London and Berlin, via Cologne and Hanover.

Another step forward was the amalgamation with British Continental Airways in August 1936. That company operated services between Croydon, France, Belgium, Germany and Scandinavia, and between Liverpool and Holland. At one time British Airways operated from Gatwick Airport, Surrey; later, the operating staff was transferred to Croydon. At the end of May 1938 the operating staff, service department and workshops and the instructional school removed to Heston Airport. The head office is at Terminal House, Victoria, London, close to Victoria Station. From Terminal House passengers are carried by coach to Heston Airport.

The British Government announced in 1937 that British Airways had been selected to operate a South Atlantic service to South America. The route is via Lisbon and West Africa. Aerodromes were inspected by a survey party and, after approval of the report and recommendations of the survey party, survey flights to Lisbon, West Africa and across the Atlantic were planned.

A STRESSED SKIN OF ALCLAD is used for the wings and fuselage of the Lockheed Electra

A STRESSED SKIN OF ALCLAD is used for the wings and fuselage of the Lockheed Electra. Although this covering is smooth on the outside, it is corrugated on the inside to provide it with strength. The two engines are Pratt and Whitney Wasp-Juniors, developing 450 horse-power each at 2,300 revolutions a minute.

The services operated by British Airways in June 1938 were as follows: To Scandinavia the week-day passenger, freight and mail service is flown by the Viking Royal Mail Express between London and Stockholm, via Hamburg and Copenhagen. A mail and goods service is flown at night between London and Stockholm via Cologne, Hanover, Copenhagen and Malmo. British Airways is in charge of the section between London and Hanover. From this point the service is operated in conjunction with the Swedish A.B. Aerotransport Company and Det Danske Luftfartselskab Company of Denmark. To Germany a night mail service is flown between London and Berlin in conjunction with Deutsche Lufthansa. To France there are six services in either direction on the London-Paris route on weekdays and five on Sundays. All services, except the night mail and freight service to Germany, operate from Heston Airport. The service to Berlin is flown from Croydon Airport.

British Airways fleet comprises Lockheed Electra machines for passenger routes, Junkers Ju. 52 for the Berlin mail, and a Fokker machine and an Electra at the training school. Lockheed 14 aeroplanes are being delivered for the preliminary work on the route to West Africa and South America. The decision to use American Lockheed aircraft on the passenger routes was made to avoid delay. No British aircraft suitable for these routes were available, and it was essential to fulfil the commitments of the company to the British Government.

Passengers for Paris join the coach at Terminal House, London, fifty minutes before the Lockheed Electra is scheduled to take off from Heston; this time allows for the journey by road and for the preliminaries to flight. The journey to Le Bourget airport is flown in ninety-five minutes. Thirty-five minutes suffice for the disembarkation, the customs examination and the journey by coach to the heart of Paris.

AIR MAIL FOR SCANDINAVIA is carried by British Airways

AIR MAIL FOR SCANDINAVIA is carried by British Airways. For this the company receives a subsidy from the British Government. This subsidy was announced in February 1936, and was the first to be awarded to an independent air line. It was on this route that the first mail left Great Britain by air without surcharge. Passengers also are carried to Scandinavia in the Lockheed Electra aircraft.

The Electras leave Heston on week-days and on Sundays at exactly the same times as the sister ships take off from Le Bourget. The times (Summer, 1938) are 8.35 and 10.50 a.m., and 1.5, 3.20, 5.35 and 7.50 p.m. on week-days; arrivals are 10.10 a.m. and 12.25, 2.40, 4.55, 7.10 and 9.25, both at Heston and at Le Bourget. Except that the early morning machine is not flown on Sundays, the timetable is the same. Single fare is £4 10s., midweek, day and weekend return fares are £6 6s., fifteen-day returns £7 10s., and sixty-day returns £8. Passports are not necessary for British, French and Belgian subjects resident in the United Kingdom who use day or weekend return tickets.

The flying time from Heston to Stockholm is six hours fifteen minutes, the stopping time at Hamburg and Copenhagen making the elapsed time seven hours.

The Junkers Ju. 52 machines on the London-Berlin night mail service are identical in design and power with the machines used by Deutsche Lufthansa which collaborates in the service. These Junkers Ju. 52 are low-wing cantilever all-metal monoplanes, with three 600 horse-power Pratt and Whitney Wasp engines. Cruising speed at 5,000 feet is 155 miles an hour.

By the use of aeroplanes with similar mail capacity and operation the mail service is simplified. British Airways began the night mail to Cologne and Hanover in July 1936; in August 1937, the service was extended to Berlin. The night mail from Croydon takes off at 10 p.m. and lands at Cologne (Butzweiler Hof Airport) at twenty-five minutes past midnight.

The aerodrome, which is four miles north-west of the city, is one of the major airports in Europe, and forms a circle the diameter of which is 1,094 yards.

The Junkers takes off at 1 a.m. and flies through the night for about 70 minutes to Hanover (Stader Chaussee Airport), for another stop of thirty-five minutes. Here is unloaded the mail to be flown by Danish and Swedish night pilots to Copenhagen, Malmo and Stockholm. The aerodrome, which is nearly circular, measuring 1,094 by 1,313 yards, is three miles from Hanover.

The night mail takes off at 2.55 a.m., and at 4.5 a.m. alights at Tempelhof, the airport of Berlin. There is a corresponding return flight the following night.

TWO INSTRUCTIONAL AIRCRAFT are maintained for the advanced training of the personnel of British Airways

TWO INSTRUCTIONAL AIRCRAFT are maintained for the advanced training of the personnel of British Airways liners. These machines are a Lockheed Electra and a Fokker F 12, and are as elaborately equipped with instruments and radio as the service Lockheed Electras. This photograph shows a course being worked out by dead reckoning and celestial observations during flight in one of the instructional aircraft.

This night mail flight is one of the most notable operated by any company in the British Empire, although it is little known to the general public, as passengers are not carried. The British pilots emulate the regularity of the German, Danish and Swedish pilots whose steady flying adds to the speed and facilities of the postal services.

The Lockheed Electra, used on the passenger routes, is one of the most interesting machines in service in the world. The low-wing cantilever light-alloy monoplane has a span of 55 feet, length being 38 ft. 7 in. and height 10 ft. 1 in. Wing loading is 22·04 lb. per square foot and power loading 12·62 lb. per horse power.

The monoplane has two Pratt and Whitney Wasp-Junior engines, each of which develops 450 horse-power at 2,300 revolutions a minute. The cruising speed at sea level is 176 miles an hour, when the machine has a full load of passengers. The stressed skin of alclad is smooth outside but corrugated on the inside to provide rigidity.

The tail unit is distinctive. The cantilever tailplane is bolted directly to the fuselage, with a small cantilever vertical fin at either side approximately in line with each of the two propellers. The elevators have adjustable flaps in the trailing edges for trimming. The landing wheels are fitted with Goodyear hydraulic disk-brakes, and are retracted into the engine nacelles electrically. Hamilton-Standard constant-speed airscrews are fitted.

Formidable as the equipment of the Electra may seem, it is a beautiful machine to look at or to fly. The soundproofing is so good that, although the roar of the engines is impressive when the Electra is on the tarmac, little is heard of them by the passenger when in flight.

The instrument panel of the Electra is noteworthy. The pilots use power and altitude charts to enable each flight to be made with the utmost efficiency and economy of fuel and time, according to the conditions encountered on each individual flight. The graphed charts enable the pilot to select the appropriate setting for the engine controls, according to the altitude, the length of the route and the immediate meteorological conditions, so that he can arrive as near to schedule as is possible.

Each machine is fitted with Marconi two-way radio, also with a Marconi rotating loop which can be used for obtaining bearings on the various public broadcasting stations, or for approaching an airport with the aid of an indicator on the instrument panel. For approaching airports in thick weather, the Lorenz ultra-short-wave receiving set is particularly useful.


CONTROLS AND INSTRUMENT PANEL of a Lockheed Electra used in the United States of America. The machines of this type used by British Airways are slightly different. Instead of the radio controls being in front of the second officer, a radio operator is carried and he has a compartment to himself. This has reduced the accommodation available for passengers; eight passengers are carried instead of the ten the aircraft would normally be able to take,

The controls include those for constant-speed airscrews, carburettor mixture and heater, undercarriage and flaps. Instruments include exhaust gas analyser, cylinder head and atmospheric temperature gauges, and the blind approach indicator. Each of these adds to the efficiency and safety of the aeroplane. The analyser is one item which tells much, enabling the pilot to see that carburation is correct. The airscrews are adjusted to change pitch automatically within certain limits, so that the revolutions of the engine continue at a predetermined rate. The analyser and not the revolution counter is used to check the mixture and the engine powers. The pilot is able to check the analyser, if he doubts its efficiency, by locking the pitch of either propeller and then looking at his revolution counter.

Another method of checking the petrol mixture is by the temperatures recorded by the cylinder-head temperature gauge. The gauge can be switched to either of the two engines. If the temperature were abnormal something would be wrong.

Each instrument has justified its space and weight by utility. It is there not to puzzle but to warn the pilot. Another useful accessory is the Goodrich de-icing equipment, which has robbed the “over weather” flights to Northern Europe of many dangers.

The Lockheed 14 machines, which are mid-wing cantilever monoplanes, are a development of the Electras. Each item represents the results of experience in practical flying of the Electras in various conditions. Passenger seating arrangement is similar to that in the Electra, except that each chair can be turned round to enable a passenger to converse in comfort with his neighbours. Each of the two Wright Cyclone engines develops, normally, 850 horse-power, which is increased to 900 horsepower for the take-off. The maximum speed at 8,700 feet is 265 miles an hour.

The wheels are retracted into the two-engine nacelles, the hydraulic gear enabling them to be lowered in six seconds. The Hamilton full-feathering airscrews will enable the aircraft to reach a ceiling of 12,000 feet on only one engine.

The fact that the Lockheed 14s cruise at about 14,000 feet “over the weather’’ has necessitated the provision of a supply of oxygen for passengers and crew.

Extensive Training for Pilots

Although the transition to high-speed American machines was a big step to take, the British pilots of the company had no difficulty. A training school was set up in 1937 to provide extensive and continuous training for pilots, engineers and radio operators. The school enables the personnel to keep abreast of technical development and take advantage of the most modern instruments placed at their disposal. The object is to train the individual to the high standard of precision and reliability reached in aircraft performance. Efficient operation of the high-altitude aeroplanes used by the company necessarily makes considerable demands on the knowledge and skill of the personnel.

A comprehensive course of technical training has to be mastered before a pilot is qualified to take charge of these aircraft. The equipment of the school and the qualifications of the instructors are regarded as essential to the success of the company.

The courses are essentially practical, and include extensive applied navigation by day and by night. One of the most important courses is that for the Lorenz system of blind approach, as every machine in the British Airways fleet is fitted with this device. The school was the first of its type in the British Empire to train pilots in the use of this system.

In addition to training flights in the aircraft in service the pupils have practice in the two machines assigned to the school.

Instruction in the machines in flight is part of the pilot’s training in conjunction with school work including Link Trainer “flying” in the classroom. The trainer is designed to conform to the standard equipment of the company’s aircraft in service.

GATWICK AIRPORT was at one time the headquarters of British Airways

GATWICK AIRPORT, SURREY, was at one time the headquarters of British Airways, Ltd. Later, Croydon Airport was used for a time before the company moved completely to Heston in 1938. A De Havilland Express air liner used by British Airways in 1936 is here seen in front of the circular terminal building at Gatwick. It was from this aerodrome that the company ran the first British night mail service to the Continent.

Click here to see the photogravure supplement to this article.

You can read more on “Air Mails of the Empire”, “The Link Trainer” and “Railway Air Services” on this website.

British Airways