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  • To kick off the commemoration of 75 years as a commercial airport on 31st May 2021, we have been on the look-out for our very own ‘Heathrow Historians’, highlighting our history through the personal stories and memories of colleagues, passengers, partners and members of the local community.

    Since opening for civilian aviation in 1946, Heathrow has welcomed over 2.5 billion passengers through its doors and has played host to some of Britain’s most memorable moments, including British ESA astronaut Tim Peake landing at Heathrow following his six-month trip to the International Space Station; the Beatles returning to the UK as global superstars in 1964; the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen onto sovereign soil for the very first time as the reigning monarch; and the iconic Love Actually scenes, filmed at Terminal 3 in 2003.

    Stories, memorabilia and archive imagery are all available to view below, in the Heathrow Historians Virtual Museum, from Mike Tunstall’s recollections of the last Concorde flight; to Ian Bird, who monitored airport operations for any risk from the Millennium Bug back in 1999. We’ve also scoured our own archive, based at the University of West London, to showcase a selection of momentous moments from the past 75 years, such as HRH The Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales opening Terminal 4 in 1986; and the arrival of the first ever A380 to Heathrow, in 2006. Longstanding airport partners, British Airways, NATS and WH Smith have also contributed to the virtual museum.

    Heathrow CEO John Holland Kaye said: “Over the past 75 years Heathrow has undergone an incredible transformation, from a once military airport, to a national asset and globally recognised brand. Heathrow Historians provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the people who make Heathrow possible, and to commemorate the long-serving connections many of our colleagues, passengers and local community members share with the airport. As we look forward to the next 75 years, I know that Heathrow will recover from its worst year and will continue to deliver the benefits of aviation for future generations, but in a more sustainable way for people and planet.”

    If you have any Heathrow memories or stories you’d like to share with us, please email Heathrow_Historians@heathrow.com.

    My father worked for Esso as an Aircraft Refueller and as a driving/refuelling instructor for new employees. He worked started at Heathrow in 1952 and retired in 1991 and was known as ‘Raggy’ whilst at work.

    As a young boy I can remember getting the bus over to his the offices to see him and the team. I was lucky enough to be able to go out to the aircraft in one of the refueller trucks with him and the aircraft dispatchers would even let me inside some of the aircraft. I remember going onboard both BEA and Pan Am planes and sitting down in the pilot’s seat.

    We lived in Southall during this time and when the buses went on strike, my Father decided to skate to work instead. The buses were only on strike for a short period but having heard my Father’s skating abilities, a number of media outlets wanted to make a story of it and he appeared in several newspapers and even ESSO company magazine.

    Image source: Steven Whitaker

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    I began working at Heathrow in 1968 and went on to work at the airport for  38 years. My first job was as part of the Heathrow planning team, with the goal of expanding Terminal 3 for the arrival of the first B747’s. At the time, T3 was the current departure building but handling both arrivals and departures. Our plan was to convert what was known as the Northern Office Block into a new Arrivals Building and convert the existing Terminal 3 into just Departures. We had to battle various issues, as with any project of this scale, and ultimately a complete replica of the Terminal 3 system was built off-site to aid with construction. Terminal 3 went on to deliver fantastic service to our passengers and still does to this day.

    Image: Terminal 3 in the early days.
    Image source: Heathrow

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    This year we also celebrate 30 years of our partner Virgin Atlantic flying at Heathrow, since 1st July 1991. Though difficult to choose one, a memory that stands out has to be the Spice Girls joining Richard Branson to open the airlines’ new home at Terminal 3 open! The girl group chose Virgin Atlantic to be the official airline of their tour that year, renaming one of the aircraft ‘Spice One’.

    Image source: Virgin Atlantic

    My family has been involved with Heathrow for more than 60 years. My Dad (Bob Le Blond) was a Duty Officer for British European Airways, moving from Northolt in 1954.

    This of course meant that we went on many flights as part of our holidays. The photos below are from the 60s - the BEA Viscount from the wonderful roof gardens on Terminal 2 and the Queens Building; and my brother Tim, on his way to Edinburgh as an unaccompanied minor.

    My career included several spells at Heathrow, working at the Cargo Terminal, two roles at Terminal 2 - the second as General Manager – and also at Terminal 5.

    My last jobs at the airport were with Heathrow Express, first as Project Manager and later as Director of Strategy and I left in 2001. What changes we have seen over 75 years!


    Heathrow in the 1960s
    Image Source: Paul Le Blond

     

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    I was born in Kew nearly four years before Heathrow opened as a commercial airport. I grew up living directly under the approach flightpath, known then as the Number 1 Runway and, of course, this sparked my interest in aviation.

    I used to visit the spectator’s area in my free time, which consisted of the grass between the north taxiway and the Number 1 Runway.  We were even allowed to cross the runway to reach the spectators area, you just needed to ensure no planes was taxiing before you could walk over.  Coach tours of the airport were offered, where you could see all the mothballed Comet 1s in the BOAC area and the active aircraft. There were even joy flights available for the public aboard the De Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide G-AFFB. I still live in Kew today and continue to be transfixed by aviation.

    Imagery below:
    Visitor Brochure 'A look at London Airport'
    Heathrow in 1946 when it first opened.
    Source: University of West London Archive

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    Heathrow has been my workplace since 2011 but it was my first-ever flight from Terminal 1 at the age of 10 - in a British European Airways Viscount to Guernsey - that sparked what has been a life-long interest in aviation. Over the years, I have amassed around 50 pieces of memorabilia, including items from the 50/60s branded ‘London Airport’, a variety of postcards and display models representing the aircraft I’ve made transatlantic flights on.

    I regularly visited the "roof gardens" of the Queens Building in the school holidays. Opening time was 10am and once admitted, on payment of a small fee, you could walk from left to right around the far side of the building to your preferred vantage point, or continue further onto the roof of Terminal 2.

    As an inveterate aviation enthusiast, I am familiar with the various locations around Heathrow for watching and photographing various movements over the years. Among the most memorable of these, I would cite: the flypast of the NASA Boeing 747 carrying the space shuttle "Enterprise“ in 1983; and the delivery flight of Qantas's first Boeing 747-400 in 1989, which made the first ever non-stop flight between London and Sydney.

    Below: The 3 postcards together give an idea of the extent of the public areas, on the roofs of the Queens Building - Source: Keith Bollands

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    To mark the last day of service in fare carrying flight for Concorde, British Airways decided to hold seven Concordes at Heathrow on the same day in March 2003. They invited those of us lucky enough to regularly fly on the Concorde fleet to say goodbye to the aircraft ‘in person’.

    We were offered glasses of bubbly and fed trays full of canapes to celebrate. A large screen allowed us to view the sequential landing and taxiing of three Concordes in succession, which was thrilling. The really regular customers on Concorde were the lucky ones who were also invited to travel on one of these three final flights.

    I confess I had a tear or two in my eyes -  as well as in the eyes of many past air and cabin crew that night - as we watched the aircraft land for the final time.

    Below - Concorde images (left and right) Source: Mike Tunstall.
    Last Concorde Flight Strips - 2003 (center) Source: NATS

     

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    I joined BAA in 1995 and then Heathrow in January 1996, when I took on a corporate office role. A favourite memory of mine is from the late nineties, when the Retail team – which I was part of – hosted a real-life fashion show in Terminal 4.

    We created a catwalk in the departures lounge and gave all our retailers the opportunity to showcase their apparel and accessories, as part of the show. The fashion show was presented by none other than Dame Edna Everage and the event proved incredibly popular with passengers and colleagues alike.

    Image: Dame Edna Everage, Charlotte and colleagues at the T4 fashion show.
    Source: Charlotte Burns

    It was January 1976 when Concorde first took off from Heathrow, travelling to Bahrain, and there was significant media interest in the flight.

    As I live close to the 28 Left Runway, the press asked to use my garden to give them the possibility of capturing some fantastic images. I had never had so many people in my garden and I remember being interviewed by TV stations on the day and by the Daily Mail!

    Heathrow also asked if I would like to attend the last Concorde flight into Heathrow in 2003, which I did with a bottle of champagne. We all sat in the stands just behind the runway to watch the final flight and I have to say, it was a wonderful aircraft to look at when it flew out in the dark at 6.45pm each day - you could see the flames coming out of the jets. It really was a spectacular sight.

    Image: Concorde at Heathrow. Source: University of West London Archive.

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    Back in 1999, I worked in the Heathrow Engineering team, specifically the Airfield Ground Lighting department. I was responsible for looking after the AGL system - the electronic system that switches red and green lights on the taxiways, runway exits, approach lights - and runway lights switching, all operated from the air traffic control tower.

    That year, the Millennium Bug was considered a big concern. On New Year’s Eve of December 31st 1999 / 1st January 2000, we needed to come into work to monitor the system and be on hand if anything did go wrong - no millennium parties for us!

    I was lucky enough to be in the warmth at the top of the control tower, to ensure the equipment in the tower, related to the AGL system, remained functioning. As midnight approached, everyone was little apprehensive but it came and went, and… nothing happened, much to everyone’s relief despite our confidence in the pre-tests!

    We could then relax and, being up in the tower, ensured we had a fantastic view of all the firework displays. All of the people who were in the tower at midnight were presented with a clock by the NATS management team to commemorate the evening. With only a few of us up in the tower on the night, these clocks are very rare.

    Image source: Ian with his Millennium Night Clock. Source Ian Bird

    When I was growing up in the late 50s, Heathrow had a public enclosure roughly adjacent to the old Queens Building. My aunt kept horses and secured a contract with London Airport to offer horse and pony rides around the enclosure.

    Along with a colleague, I would collect the horses from a paddock off Cranford High Street and ride them to the Central Area, where we would then provide accompanied rides to paying members of the public and their children. This would have been a service that was available in the school summer holidays for children, as part of their visit to Heathrow.

    Imagery below: Visitor Brochure 'A look at London Airport'
    Source: Universirty of West London Archive

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    Along with a colleague, I would collect the horses from a paddock off Cranford High Street and ride them to the Central Area, where we would then provide accompanied rides to paying members of the public and their children. This would have been a service that was available in the school summer holidays for children, as part of their visit to Heathrow.

    My life working at Heathrow has followed the same path as my mother’s, as BKS rebranded as Northeast, who were later integrated into British Airways; while I joined British Midland, who rebranded as bmi, who were also later integrated into British Airways. I have witnessed countless friends and colleagues get married and start a family or forge lifelong friendships and partnerships, all brought together at Heathrow. The power of Heathrow to bring people together extends way beyond those who take to the skies but also to those who stay rooted to the ground as Heathrow’s community of workers.

    My mother left Heathrow over 40 years ago but still talks with complete affection of her time working at the airport. One of her fondest memories is meeting the late actor, Peter Cushing, who was a frequent flyer with Northeast during the 1970s. My father who spent many years based at Heathrow with the Metropolitan Police, still feels connected to Heathrow, despite leaving 25 years ago.

    My 25 years at Heathrow has been spent in Terminal One (which holds my fondest memories, when I worked with British Midlands), Terminal Five and at the British Airways engineering base. I have met countless movie stars, politicians, members of royalty and TV starts over the year but have always believed Heathrow is a place that levels everyone and shows a person’s real character.

    Image source: Simon Fraser

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    I was an intern at Heathrow from October 2018 until Sep 2019, during my placement year from the University of Warwick. Throughout my internship, I was fortunate enough to take part in a wide range of events and had access to a lot of the behind the scenes work at Heathrow as part of my role.

    I participated in an overnight runway inspection, represented Heathrow at a careers fair, explored Terminal 2’s rooftop and took part in the 5th Midnight Marathon. The event sees teams of 12 people run a relay, with each runner completing 2.2 miles, almost the full length of the runway, and each team running a full marathon distance combined. This was the 5th Heathrow Midnight Marathon event held with organisations from across the airport including Mace, Atkins, American Airlines, London Ambulance Service and many more; raising thousands of pounds for Heathrow’s charity partners.

    Image source: Sadiq Alibhai

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    We created and flew a Pride flag on our flag mast at Terminal 2, for the first time in July 2018 – to celebrate Pride, the LGBTQ+ community and our own Proud Network. The flag went on a tour of terminals, so that passengers, Heathrow colleagues and partner colleagues could pledge their support by stamping the flag in coloured lipstick to create the globally recognised rainbow.

    In 2018 we worked in partnership with British Airways to create a promotional video for the Bohemian Rhapsody film and to mark Freddie Mercury’s birthday. Freddie Mercury worked as a Heathrow baggage handler before he joined Queen in 1970. Heathrow’s and BA’s baggage colleagues took the starring role and learnt choreography to Breaking Free and performed it in the baggage hall and in arrivals. They also did put on a live performance and ended up being invited to the premier in London!

    Image source: Heathrow

    One of my most memorable experiences at Heathrow was when I was asked to be part of the Freddie Mercury tribute video, to mark the release of the film Bohemian Rhapsody and celebrate Freddie’s birthday. To audition we had to film the routine from home - this was hilarious as I practiced the routine in my kitchen using pots and pans as props with my daughter filming. The Heathrow team and the producers absolutely loved my fusion of English and Punjabi Bangra and I was selected as one of the performers.

    We practised the routine for three nights in Terminal 5 and completed a live routine in front of passengers on 5th Sept 2018. This was incredibly nerve-racking, but once we’d performed the routine a few times we got onto our stride. We were then invited to walk the red carpet for the London premier of the film Bohemian Rhapsody and were interviewed by a number of TV shows from the around the world and even had an offer to attend Britain’s Got Talent!  We were also invited to Madrid for the Spanish premier and we travelled to Zurich to visit Freddie Mercury’s recording studio.  The experience certainly made me proud to work for Heathrow and it was incredible to have had the opportunity to take part in this video which has over 2million hits on YouTube and almost 2.5million hits on the Queen website The routine has been viewed by my friends and family as far away as Australia and the USA, needless to say I’m delighted to have been a part of this.

    Image source: Heathrow, British Airways and Twentieth Century Fox

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    On Friday 23 November 2018, Heathrow hosted a Guinness World Record® official attempt in support of Aerobility’s mission, to help people with disabilities participate in aviation. The airport’s ‘Wheels4Wings’ event saw a team of 98 people in wheelchairs pull a 127.6 tonne 787-9 Boeing Dreamliner over 100 metres, beating the previous record of 67 tonnes held by a Belgian team set in 2011.

    Over £21,000 was raised from this event, which helped Aerobility continue to enable people of all disabilities to participate in aviation. Their programmes include a wide range of services from ground-based activities all the way through to supporting flyers as they achieve their Private Pilot Licenses.

    Image source: Heathrow

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    Images 1 - 3: Keith has collected 50 items of memorabilia and a collection of books. I also have display models representing the aircraft types and airlines on which I have made transatlantic flights, the majority of these from Heathrow.
    Source: Keith Bollands

    Image 4: 1950s London Airport postcards.
    Image 5: Queens Building Rooftop Gardens 1961.
    Source: University of West London Archive.

    Images 6: Heathrow in 1946.
    Image 7: The Control Tower in the 1950s.
    Image 8: Air Traffic Control in 1955.
    Source: NATS.

    Image 9: Heathrow Air Traffic Control in the 1960s.
    Image 10: Heathrow's previous Air Traffic Control Tower.
    Image 11: Heathrow's new ATC Tower under construction in 2003.
    Source: NATS.

    Image 12: W.H.Smith first based tent located next to the runway 1946.
    Image 13 :W.H.Smith inside the departure lounge.
    Image 14: W.H.Smith Computer shop on the departure lounge at Heathrow.
    Source: Heathrow.

    Image 15: The view along the Bath Road in the 1940s.
    Image 16: Terminal 1 in the 1960s.
    Source: University of West London.

    Image 17: 1950s Christmas Card sent to colleagues.
    Image 18: Heathrow Visitor book signed by the Queen in 1947.
    Image 19: Pricess Marget, the Queen and Prince Philip signed again when they returned in 1948.
    Source: University of West London.

    Image 20: Heathrow opens its first dedicated cargo tunnel.
    Image 21: A view into one of Heathrow's terminal restaurants in the 1950s.
    Image 22: The viewing Platform for the publice in the 1950s.
    Source: University of West London.

    Image 23: The Passenger Buliding during the 1950s.
    Image 24: HRH The Prince of Wales and Diana, Pricess of Wales opening Terminal 4 in 1986.
    Source: Univesity of West London.