Passenger and mail communications in Great Britain and Northern Ireland
THE NEPTUNE AT CROYDON AIRPORT. The aircraft illustrated is one of the D.H.36B four-engined biplanes used on the London-Belfast Glasgow and other routes of Railway Air Services. Each of the four Gipsy Six (Series I) engines is of 200 horse-power. The overall length is 46 ft 1¼-in, the span 64 ft 6-in, and the height, with tail down, over the fixed aerial, 13 feet. Cruising speed at 1,030 feet is 138-142 miles an hour. Maximum speed at sea level is 162-166 miles an hour. R.A.S. machines are painted in silver picked out with green and red stripes.
IN planning a system of internal air transport in the United Kingdom those concerned have had to bear in mind various considerations which are peculiar to the country. The area to be served comprises a large island (England, Wales and Scotland), part of another large island (Ireland) and numerous small islands, all of which are in need of facilities. Distances between important centres are relatively short and between these centres, where there is no interruption by sea, fast and frequent services are generally provided by the railways.
Although an aeroplane is far faster than the fastest train, the overall speed of any air service is necessarily slowed down by the time taken by surface connexions at either end of the route between the city and the airport. This delay is relatively great on short routes such as exist in Great Britain, but it is negligible on routes such as those across the United States or between England and India.
Other things being equal, for journeys of less than 150 miles the aeroplane, with its road connexions to and from the airports, will not generally be faster than the fastest train. For distances beyond 150 miles the aeroplane’s advantage in speed will become progressively greater until a point is reached where the railway is completely outclassed.
A few examples will make this clear. The air journey from Croydon to Castle Bromwich, the airport of Birmingham, 107½ miles, takes only fifty minutes; but forty-five minutes have to be added for the road journey from Victoria, London, to Croydon, and from thirty to thirty-five minutes for the road journey from Castle Bromwich to the centre of Birmingham. This gives a total time of two hours five (or ten) minutes for the air and road journey from London to Birmingham - appreciably slower than the fastest trains between the two cities. Even if ultra-fast aircraft were placed in service and the time of the air journey were halved, the overall time would be only twenty-five minutes less than it is at present and not much faster than the time of the best train. If a longer distance is considered, it is found that the air service between London and Liverpool, 180½ miles by the air route, requires a total flying time of one hour thirty-five minutes and a total time, including road connexions, of two hours forty-five minutes. This is half an hour faster than the best train, which covers the 193½ miles of railway in three and a quarter hours.
When a still longer journey is contemplated, air transport is quicker by a large margin. The air journey time from London to Glasgow, 368½ miles by the direct service, is only three hours twenty minutes; even with the eighty minutes’ addition for the road connexions, the overall time of four hours forty minutes is nearly two hours quicker than that of the fastest railway service, by the Coronation Scot, 401½ miles in six and a half hours.
There are certain classes of surface transport other than direct railway routes with which the air can compete on still better terms. When a railway line has to pass over mountainous country or to conform to the indentations of an irregular coastline, the trains are necessarily slow or follow a roundabout route. The air route is not affected by mountain gradients, and aircraft can take short cuts across gulfs and estuaries. Thus, for example, the air service between Glasgow, Perth and Inverness, in the Highlands of Scotland, is much faster than the train service, which involves climbs over mountain passes. Again, the short air route of 24 miles between Bristol and Cardiff, in South Wales, is much more expeditious than the railway route, as the aircraft fly across the Bristol Channel in a quarter of an hour, whereas the trains have to make a detour of thirty-eight miles by way of the Severn Tunnel and take about an hour.
THE ANNUAL OVERHAUL. The Venus is one of the D.H.86B express air liners operating on the London-Glasgow route. Aircraft belonging to Railway Air Services are examined daily. Once a year, in addition, they are taken out of service for a complete overhaul before the renewal of the Certificate of Airworthiness, required by all aeroplanes.
When the barrier of the sea slows down the overall speed of surface transport, because of the necessity of transhipment, railway connexions are at their greatest disadvantage in comparison with the air. For example, the Ulster Express from London reaches the Lancashire port of Heysham, 239 miles from Euston, in four hours and a half; but no fewer than seven hours are required for the sea crossing of 138 miles from Heysham to Belfast, including the time of transhipment from the train to the steamer.
The morning aeroplane from Croydon to Belfast, 330½ miles, takes only three hours five minutes. Forty-five minutes must be added for the road journey from Victoria to Croydon and about ten minutes for the road journey from the new airport in Belfast Harbour to the centre of the city. The total time, therefore, is four hours, as against eleven and a half hours by train and boat.
Royal Mail Route
A still more striking example is afforded by a comparison of the services between London and the Channel Islands. Aircraft regularly fly between Heston Airport, Middlesex, and Jersey Airport, 181 miles, in an hour and a half. Road connexions make the overall time three hours. The combined train and boat journey takes between eleven and twelve hours.
With these considerations in mind, companies wishing to attract regular passengers to air routes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland have concentrated on the longer routes and on those which would otherwise involve sea passages, mountain climbs or long detours.
Based on this logical principle, British internal air services are becoming more and more comprehensive from year to year. The railway companies, in particular, are fully alive to the potentialities of air transport, and it is to them that the country owes some of its most progressive air schedules.
The first of these services was operated by Imperial Airways on a charter basis for the Great Western Railway between Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and the Devonshire cities of Exeter and Plymouth. This service was begun in 1933 with a three-engined Westland Wessex.
In the following year - 1934 -Railway Air Services, or R.A.S., was formed by the four main-line railway companies and Imperial Airways. There are, at present (1938), three operating sections: these are over the territories of the LMS, the Great Western and the Southern Railways. The London and North Eastern Railway is not yet an active participant.
The service over LMS territory is that between London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow. For several years past Railway Air Services has been awarded the contract for the carriage of mails by this route.
D.H.89 RAPIDE AIRCRAFT are used on some of the R.A.S. routes. They are powered by two Gipsy Six (Series I) engines of 200 horse-power each The span is 48 feet and the length 34ft 6-in. The maximum speed at sea level is 157 miles an hour and the cruising speed at 1,000 feet 132 miles an hour. D.H.89 Rapides have accommodation for eight passengers and can retain a height of 3,100 feet with one engine stopped. The maximum permissible loaded weight is 5,500 lb.
For the summer season of 1938 the schedules between London, Belfast and Glasgow have been revised and improved. One aeroplane leaves Croydon daily except Sundays at 9.30 a.m. and flies to Birmingham, Liverpool and Belfast, with an optional call at Stoke-on-Trent. During the winter season the Birmingham call also is optional. A connecting aeroplane flies direct from Liverpool to Glasgow. Belfast is reached at 12.35 p.m., Glasgow at 12.50 p.m. An afternoon aeroplane leaves Croydon at 3.25 and, after calls at Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and the Isle of Man, reaches Belfast at 6.50 p.m. A connecting aeroplane leaves Belfast for Glasgow at 7, arriving at Glasgow at 7.55 p.m. The afternoon service also is daily except Sundays. In the reverse direction there are similar services.
The connecting coach for the 9.30 service from London leaves Victoria Station at 8.45 a.m. for its twelve-miles journey through the crowded streets of south London to Croydon Airport, which is in the county of Surrey. Thus the first stage of the northward journey is to the south.
At Croydon a four-engined D.H.86B biplane is in readiness for the journey north. The D.H.86B express air liner has four Gipsy Six (Series 1) engines, each of 200 horse-power. The overall length is 46 ft 1¼-in, the span 64 ft 6-in and the height, with the tail down, over the fixed aerial, 13 feet. The maximum speed at sea level is 162-166 miles an hour and the cruising speed at 1,000 feet 138-142 miles an hour. The service ceiling is 17,400 feet. Total all-up weight is 10,250 lb, or over 4½ tons. There is accommodation for pilot, radio operator and ten passengers.
The company owns, besides D.H.86B aircraft, several D.H.89A Dragon Rapides. The D.H.89A Dragon Rapide is a twin-engined biplane accommodating pilot and eight passengers. It is powered by two Gipsy Six (Series 1) engines, each of 200 horse-power. The length overall is 34 ft 6-in, the span 48 feet and the height overall 10 ft 3-in. The maximum speed at sea level is 157 miles an hour and the cruising speed at 1,000 feet 132 miles an hour. Service ceiling is 16,700 feet. The total all-up weight is 5,500 lb, or nearly 2½ tons.
Having left Croydon at 9.30, the aircraft flies past the western suburbs of London and is soon over the Chiltern Hills. It crosses the Chilterns beyond Chesham (Buckinghamshire). A few minutes later it is over the RAF station at Halton, near Aylesbury, the county town of Buckinghamshire. Beyond the little town of Buckingham, which has given its name to the county of which it was formerly the county town, the liner flies over the Warwickshire boundary. It passes between the almost adjoining towns of Leamington and Warwick, on the west, and the city of Coventry, on the east.
Across the Irish Sea
In fifty minutes the D.H.86B lands at Castle Bromwich Airport, five miles east of Birmingham and 107½ miles from Croydon. At Castle Bromwich it may pick up some passengers, who have left the centre of Birmingham at a quarter to ten.
The next stage is one of 73 miles to Speke Airport, six miles south-east of Liverpool. Provided due notice has been given, a slight deviation may be made to include a call at Meir Aerodrome, Stoke-on-Trent, in the centre of the Potteries District. Speke is reached at 11.5, after a flight past the county town of Stafford, on the verge of the Potteries, and Crewe, the great railway junction on the Western Division of the LMS. Just before reaching the airport the aeroplane crosses the River Mersey above the Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks. The road journey between Speke and Liverpool takes half an hour.
Speke is an important air junction. The Belfast and Liverpool routes diverge here and there is a connecting service, operated by Isle of Man Services, Ltd, to the airport of Ronaldsway, in the Isle of Man.
ENGLAND, SOUTH WALES, NORTHERN IRELAND AND SCOTLAND are served by R.A.S. aircraft. Associated companies run services to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the Hebrides, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Where the routes cross the sea, the saving of time, in comparison with surface transport facilities, is remarkable. Thus London and Belfast are only four hours apart by air (including road connexions), but the train and boat journey requires 11½ hours.
At 11.15 the Glasgow liner takes off; the Belfast craft, which has flown from Croydon, follows five minutes later. The Belfast aeroplane passes the city of Liverpool, whose unfinished cathedral is a prominent landmark, and then flies down the estuary of the Mersey, between Liverpool, on the Lancashire bank, and Birkenhead, on the Cheshire bank. The Cheshire coast is left at Wallasey, in the Wirral Peninsula.
The aircraft flies over the Bar Lightship, off the mouth of the Mersey, and is soon over the southern end of the Isle of Man and the airport of Ronaldsway. In continuation of its flight over the Irish Sea, the aeroplane crosses into Ulster near the mouth of Strangford Lough. A few minutes later it lands at the aerodrome in Belfast Harbour, having covered a distance of 150 miles from Speke Airport in an hour and a quarter. Until recently the landing was made at Newtownards, eleven miles east of Belfast. The fifty minutes’ road journey from Newtownards to Belfast is now avoided.
The Glasgow aeroplane, having left Speke, flies north-west, past Blackpool, Morecambe Bay and the fringe of the English Lake District. The craft crosses the Solway Firth and is soon over the uplands of southern Scotland. A landing is made at Renfrew Airport, near the county town of Renfrewshire, which is Paisley and not Renfrew; the two burghs are almost contiguous. The airport is five miles west of Glasgow and the road journey to the centre of the city takes thirty-five minutes. The air journey from Speke has taken one hour thirty-five minutes for the distance of 188 miles.
The afternoon aeroplane from Croydon to Belfast leaves at 3.25 and lands at Castle Bromwich at 4.15. Five minutes later it takes off for Manchester, reaching the new airport of Ringway, 62 miles away, at 4.50. Ringway, situated near Wilmslow, Cheshire, and about eight miles south of Manchester, is now used by Railway Air Services instead of Barton Airport, which lies six miles west of the city.
After a stop of five minutes the aircraft has a short journey of 24 miles to Speke Airport, Liverpool, which it reaches in fifteen minutes. Noteworthy features of the east-west journey are the Manchester Ship Canal, the towns of Warrington and Widnes and the River Mersey. At Speke a quarter of an hour is allowed.
At 5.25 Speke is left and the Irish Sea is crossed to Ronaldsway, in the Isle of Man. Forty-five minutes suffice for this journey of 88 miles. Ronaldsway is near Castletown, in the south of the island and about ten miles from Douglas, the island capital. After ten minutes’ halt at Ronaldsway the aeroplane takes off at 6.20 for the final stage of 63 miles to Belfast Harbour, which is reached at 6.50 p.m.
Between Belfast and Glasgow there are three services on most days in either direction during the summer months. The distance of 105 miles is flown in fifty-five minutes. The Ulster coast is left near the seaside resort of Bangor, Co. Down, and the aeroplane passes between the Mull of Kintyre (left) and the lonely island of Ailsa Craig (right). Farther on the island of Arran is passed on the left. The Scottish coast is crossed near Irvine (Ayrshire) and in a few minutes the aeroplane lands at Renfrew.
An interesting service is that between Manchester and Shoreham Airport, Sussex. The route taps the territory of the LMS, Great Western and Southern Railways. Although a direct course is not taken, the journey is completed in an overall time of three and a half hours.
The aeroplane leaves Ringway Airport, Manchester, at 8.55 a.m. and lands at Speke, Liverpool, at 9.10. At 9.20 it takes off for Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, reached in forty minutes. After a wait of five minutes at Castle Bromwich the liner leaves at 10.5 for the 84-miles’ stage to Whitchurch Airport, Bristol, reached in forty-five minutes. A call is made, when required, at Gloucester Airport, which serves the city of Gloucester and the Cotswold town of Cheltenham.
The next stage is from Bristol to Southampton, 62 miles, flown in half an hour. The route is over Westbury, Salisbury Plain - with the Wiltshire county town of Salisbury on the right - and Romsey, in Hampshire.
Southampton, reached at 11.30, is left five minutes later. Fifteen minutes are allowed for the 19-miles’ flight to the Isle of Wight, the Solent being crossed on the way. The aircraft may fly over one or more of the transatlantic liners which use the port of Southampton. After ten minutes’ halt at Ryde, Isle of Wight, which is in air connexion with Bournemouth, Hampshire, the aeroplane takes off at noon for the last leg of the flight. Shoreham Airport, 38 miles from Ryde, is reached at 12.25. A corresponding return service is provided by Railway Air Services.
CABIN OF A D.H.86B BIPLANE. The ten seats are upholstered in blue leather, which covers the walls as well. Each passenger can adjust the ventilation near his seat. The seats are provided with lap belts for the use of passengers when the aircraft is taking off or landing. Under each seat is a lifebelt, to conform to Air Ministry regulations, as the aircraft may fly for part of the journey over the sea. At the far end of the cabin is the door leading to the cockpit for the pilot and the radio officer. Above this door one of the circular skylights is partly seen.
The Great Western territory is partly covered by a service between Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter and Plymouth. The overall time of the air journey is seventy minutes. The liner flies daily in summer, except on Sundays, once in either direction. As, however, it spends the night at Cardiff, there is an extra service between Cardiff and Bristol. These airports are 24 miles apart.
At 10.35 a.m. the aeroplane leaves Cardiff, arriving at Bristol at 10.50. Ten minutes later it leaves Bristol for Cardiff, which it reaches at 11,15. From Cardiff a third crossing is made of the Bristol Channel. The aeroplane reaches the Somerset coast at Watchet, on the fringe of Exmoor, and flies over the Brendon Hills into Devonshire. Exeter is an optional call and Roborough Airport, Plymouth, 92½ miles from Cardiff, is reached in fifty minutes from the Glamorganshire coast. This service, too, is balanced by a return service in the same time.
A Sunday connexion between Bristol and Cardiff is provided by the aeroplane which flies on Sundays from Cardiff via Bristol to Southampton and Ryde, Isle of Wight. This journey takes seventy minutes in either direction. The route combines parts of the Manchester-Shoreham and Bristol-Plymouth routes.
The Isle of Man is in air connexion with Blackpool (Stanley Park Airport, formerly Squire’s Gate), Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds (Yeadon Airport). These services are operated by Isle of Man Air Services, Ltd. The journey from Ronaldsway to Leeds, including the various stops, takes two hours. In the height of summer the traffic is heavy and additional aircraft fly non-stop between Ronaldsway and Manchester in 60 minutes and between Ronaldsway and Leeds in 70 minutes.
Other Isle of Man services are Carlisle (Cumberland)-Ronaldsway, 89 miles in 45 minutes, Belfast-Ronaldsway, 63 miles in half an hour, and Glasgow-Ronaldsway, 123 miles in 65 minutes.
From Jersey to the Shetlands
The Channel Islands are served by Jersey Airways, Ltd. Jersey Airport is connected with London (Heston Airport), 181 miles in 90 minutes; with Southampton, 129 miles in 65 minutes; with Shoreham, 140 miles in 65 minutes; and with Exeter, 120 miles in 60 minutes.
An important Scottish service inaugurated in April 1938 is that between Glasgow, Perth and Inverness. Another connects Inverness, Wick (Caithness) and the airport of Kirkwall, capital of the Orkneys. The journey of 118 miles is completed in 80 minutes. By train and boat the passenger would take the best part of a day. From Kirkwall Scottish Airways operates a connecting service to (80 miles) Sumburgh, the airport of the Shetland capital, Lerwick. Thus it is possible to travel by air, with four or five changes, from the Channel Islands to the Shetland Islands - from end to end of the British Isles.
Some impressions of a flight in stormy weather from Glasgow to London should reassure the most timid passenger. Shortly after eight o’clock on a May morning in 1938 intending travellers went to the R.A.S. office in Glasgow Central Station, showed their tickets and were weighed, with their luggage.
AT SPEKE AIRPORT, six miles south-east of Liverpool. The aeroplane hangar is an integral part of the new buildings which were completed in 1938. Speke Airport, one of the most important air junctions in England, is 180½ miles from Croydon, 150 miles from Belfast Harbour and 188 miles from Renfrew Airport, Glasgow, by the direct route. Speke is the only regular port of call for the direct express services between Croydon, Belfast and Glasgow. Glasgow passengers normally change at this airport.
At 8.15 a large Rolls-Royce limousine left the station with the air passengers, and. threaded its way through the suburbs. Along the streets were numerous A.A. signs directing traffic to the Glasgow Exhibition grounds; but it was not possible to divert to see the Exhibition, as the car had to be at Renfrew Airport before 8.45.
The Rolls-Royce stopped within a few yards of the aircraft hangar. Drawn up on the tarmac was the Venus, one of the R.A.S. D.H.86Bs, her engines ticking over. The R.A.S. machines are most attractive in appearance, with their silver paint picked out with green and red stripes - the R.A.S. Colours.
The interior arrangements of the aircraft are well planned. In front is the cockpit, accommodating the pilot and the radio officer; the cockpit is separated from the passenger compartment by a door. The ten seats for the passengers - four on the left and six on the right - are upholstered in blue leather, which covers the walls as well. In the roof are circular skylights covered with linen fabric, which can be readily removed in an emergency. Each passenger can adjust the ventilation near his seat, and the heating, too, is adjustable. Small but adequate electric lights are fitted over the seats. Underneath each seat is a lifebelt, provided to conform to Air Ministry regulations, as the aircraft flies for part of the journey over the sea. The seats are provided with lap belts, for the use of passengers, if they so desire, when the aircraft is taking off or landing.
Everything is ready. The Venus taxies into the wind and takes off. This is done so skilfully that the inexperienced passenger scarcely knows the moment that the aircraft becomes airborne. On this particular morning, though it is fine in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, there are heavy clouds not far away.
Past England’s Highest Peaks
The pilot flies south, climbing into the clouds. The ground vanishes from sight and the aeroplane is in a black mist. In an instant - or so it seems - the Venus is on top of the clouds, at a height of 10,000 feet. The sun is shining brilliantly; the sky is blue from horizon to horizon. Below are billows upon billows of what appears to be cottonwool on a gigantic scale. The air passenger of today is thus privileged to take part in what was formerly the exclusive experience of the mountaineer. Even the mountaineer is not so detached from the world, as the peak on which he stands slopes back through the clouds to the Earth. After an incredibly short while the Venus has crossed the Scottish Lowlands. The clouds have thinned; the silvery sands and reticulated waters of the Solway are seen far below. The pilot has come down to about 3,500 feet. Keeping over the sea, he follows the coast of Cumberland and Westmorland. Beyond Whitehaven passengers have a splendid view of most of the mountains of the English Lake District and of one or two of the lakes. Wastwater is clearly seen, with its amphitheatre of the highest English mountains. One of the passengers seems to recognize Scafell (3,162 feet), Scafell Pike (3,210 feet) and Great Gable (2,949 feet), which, for the first time in his experience, are looked down on from a superior height. A little farther on Coniston Water is partly revealed behind Coniston Old Man (2,633 feet). In this day of weather contrasts virtually the whole of the Lake District - despite its reputation for rainfall - is enjoying fine weather. Yet, on the west, the Isle of Man and Ireland are completely invisible.
While the passenger is trying to identify the various peaks, they are slipping behind, and the Venus is passing over Morecambe Bay, that deep indentation which divides the Furness District from the rest of Lancashire. Passengers see the railway viaduct across the estuary of the River Kent, which flows into the bay.
The Fylde Coast of Lancashire soon comes into sight and the pilot, still keeping out to sea, treats the passengers to a close view of Blackpool. The piers and the tower are distinctly seen from what the uninitiated think is a height of only a few hundred feet. In reality the Venus’s height is about 3,000 feet. Here the visibility is poor again, the aircraft bumps a little. The nervous passenger takes heart, however, after having read in the “Information for Passengers” that the “ups” and “downs” are caused by gusts of wind and are “nothing to worry about”. In a few minutes the Venus passes Liverpool, although the city is all but invisible in the mists, and lands gently at Speke Airport.
The airport buildings of Speke are modern and are provided with everything calculated to make air travel congenial. The passengers leave the Venus, expecting to change into the Belfast aeroplane, which has arrived a few minutes earlier. Today, however, it has been decided to send the Venus on to Croydon and to use the Belfast craft for the journey back to Glasgow. The Belfast passengers, therefore, join those from Glasgow in the Venus. All of them who smoke have doubtless taken advantage of the few minutes’ halt at Speke to light cigarettes or pipes. Smoking on board is strictly forbidden, although the D.H.86B type of aircraft is exempt from this restriction under Government regulations. The maximum penalty for endangering life in an aircraft by smoking is a fine of £200 and six months’ imprisonment.
Now all is ready for the next stage of the journey. The passengers embark, the pilot taxies into the wind and takes off. The Mersey is crossed into Cheshire, and the Midlands are approached. The country looks as flat as a map in an atlas, although it is, in reality, gently undulating. The weather now, unfortunately, becomes bad and the untravelled passenger wonders where he is. Today neither the Stoke-on-Trent nor the Birmingham stop is made and there is a flight of an hour and a half over imperfectly seen landmarks. Wolverhampton appears and then the gigantic conglomeration of Birmingham. The Home Counties are approached and the Venus, flying against the wind, runs into a series of hailstorms. Through rifts in the clouds are seen the outer suburbs of London. The conditions are now so bad that the signal Q B I has been sent out from Croydon. Although from time to time the Venus is flying through patches of inky blackness there is virtually no danger, as the Control Officer at Croydon has the situation in hand. There are, the passengers learn afterwards, several aeroplanes wishing to land at Croydon at about the same time. The Control Officer has given them all by radio the order of their approach; the Venus is the fifth. All the aircraft are flying at different heights and so, even though visibility may be nil, they cannot collide.
After but little delay, the Venus circles over Heston and then over Croydon. As the aeroplane crosses the Thames, the river is just seen through the mist. The Venus makes a perfect landing. The passengers, grateful to those who have perfected blind flying, land at Croydon and are swiftly taken by coach to Airway Terminus, Victoria Station, London.
PREPARING FOR THE DAY’S FLIGHT. The Jupiter, another of the D.H.86B biplanes, is receiving its daily attention, which includes refuelling. The cruising fuel consumption is 35½ gallons an hour. The ultimate range with 114 gallons of fuel is 450 miles, and with 191 gallons 750 miles. Between 12 and 16 gallons of oil are carried. The total all-up weight of the machine is 10,250 lb, or over 4½ tons.