And then there were four...

Heralding the end of HPR.7 operations by Air UK

by Barry Friend 

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1985 was a sad year for both the Herald and for Barry Friend, for it was the year Air UK flew their last passenger Herald flight, ending 20 years of continuous Herald operations at Southampton Airport dating back to the introduction of British United (C.I.) Airways Heralds in 1965, and ending Barry’s long association with the aircraft which began at Southampton Airport in 1963 working for Southampton Airport Limited on the ramp, and marshalling Herald G-APWH onto stand in 1964, which was one of four Heralds to operate off the grass runway that was in use at the time. Barry takes up the story below...

Me, the Airport and the Herald

My association with the Herald started thanks to some time working with Jersey Airlines at Southampton in April 1965. While this was just a seasonal summer engagement I enjoyed it so much that I decided to stay, applying and being lucky to be selected as a Traffic Clerk for British United (C.I.) Airways. Little did I know that acceptance of that role would provide me with a career at Southampton Airport spanning 46 years, 20 of which were closely associated with the Herald, so much so that I often pass comment… Handley Page’s wonderful little airliner paid for my mortgage! At the time of my acceptance of Traffic Clerk, the Heralds had just started regular flights from Southampton gradually replacing the venerable but ageing BUA Douglas C-47’s. At that time, Southampton was in the process of having a hard runway laid (it had been a grass runway up to then) and this was commissioned on 25th September 1965. The first Herald movement utilising the new runway came just under a month later on 21st October when G-APWH arrived from Manchester and departed to Guernsey. The last C-47 service was to Guernsey on the 31st October, from then on it became an all Herald timetable. During my time at the Airport I was lucky enough to make the move across the different business units as they came and went, affording me positions at British United Air Ferries (BUAF), British United Island Airways (BUIA), British Island Airways (BIA), Air UK and finally KLM-UK, leaving them in 1999 after reaching the position of Airport Superintendent. I spent another 10 years working for NATS in the Air Traffic Control unit at Southampton Airport before retirement. The Herald was a joy to handle on the ground and why would it not be? It offered 50 seats, a very large cargo door at the rear and the ability to fly in a variety of passenger and cargo configurations. For the pilots, they benefitted from the twin nose wheels, an auto pilot and excellent crosswind capabilities. It was very flexible and perfectly suited the needs of travel to and from the Channel Islands from the English south coast, something clearly understood by Jersey Airlines all those years ago.

Another benefit of the Herald was the ability to carry stretcher case patients, which we did regularly to and from the Channel Islands. By taking out the last three rows of seats from the port side the engineers fitted a stretcher, and the seats were stowed in the rear hold for refitting on arrival at destination. The cabin from the flight deck front cargo/baggage hold and galley, through the passenger cabin to the far end of the rear cargo/baggage hold was pressurised, the forward end separated by the ubiquitous curtain, and the rear hold via a door. The cargo department had to be mindful of the cargo being accepted. Generally fresh fish was unacceptable, and new car tyres gave the cabin a rubbery smell. At one time we had a contract with Mr Kipling cakes who, with their factory not far away in Eastleigh used us to ship cakes and fresh bread to the Channel Islands. That gave the cabin the smell of a bakery, a lot more pleasurable than fish or rubber! Because the rear hold was pressurised we could carry animals, well behaved dogs were of course always a welcome sight, but dogs that continuously barked a bit more of a handful.

Besides the usual duty free sales, early morning departures offered a coffee & tea service with a full bar service provided later in the day. I wonder how many can now recall the 200 cigarettes and half a bottle of spirts duty free allowance? You had to be out of the country for 24 hours to qualify in the early days.

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An interesting photo of the Southampton apron taken in early 1985 from the tower by former ATCO Duncan Swift, showing a C-47 of Air Atlantique ahead of three Air UK Heralds. Ironic that while the Herald was seen by Handley Page as a C-47 replacement, the Heralds here were being phased out while the C-47 was to soldier on for a good few years yet! (Photo © Duncan Swift)  

Before the Heralds time was up, we still managed to get a few staff trips to the Channel Islands. The Herald had four rearward facing seats in the front of the passenger cabin, and two Pullman tables between the next row of forward facing seats. The table tops lowered to give you an area to place your drinks between the rearward and forward seats and made for a convivial travelling area. When we were a small group travelling we tried to sit in these seats, and we did not deprive our customers of the best seats as that was the noisy end! The best seats in terms of leg room were seats 11C and 11D. That was the emergency exit row which gave acres of space. Any travelling VIP’s were always offered those seats first.

When you reminisce you tend to think of the good times, but any story about Heralds flying to the Channel Islands would not be complete without the not so good days, in particular when the Channel Islands weather did its worse. The foggy days, sometimes with strong winds, were a Channel Islands speciality. The longest I can remember was a three day clamp which was just awful. If we had a backup like the boat for example we could keep on top of it within our own resources. But sometimes we had to call on outside help and that meant bring in a jet - one good thing about them, they were great people movers. A single BAe 146-200 was nearly two Herald loads in one, a Boeing 737-200 was near two and a half, and if our friends in Air UK Leisure helped with their Boeing 737-400 that was over three Herald loads in one lift. Two rotations with that sort of aeroplane soon made a big difference to the backlog of passengers. I once had a colleague who after a long period of no delays would say, what we could do with is a good clamp, I was never in that school of thought though.

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Over the 20 years of Herald operations to the Channel Islands, this is a view that many a crew will be familiar with - the turn into finals of runway 26 on Jersey. (Photo © Duncan Swift)  

The end of the Herald in Air UK service can be traced back well before we reached 1985, the final year. In part due to both a loss of destinations for Air UK stretching as far back as 1981 when unprofitable passenger services from Southend were removed from the schedule to mounting maintenance costs and reliability issues as the aircraft got older. By the beginning of 1984 the once proud fleet of 13 stood at just 6 and after the loss of G-BBXI which was withdrawn from service after a truck hit its starboard wing at night while parked at Bournemouth, and then G-BAZJ due to high airframe life, there was rumours the remaining 4 wouldn’t make it into 1985 and all would be retired at the end of the year. Clearly that didn’t happen and Air UK entered 1985 with 4 aircraft operational, they being G-APWJ, G-ASKK, G-AVPN and G-BEYK.

 

Over the years all of the aircraft gained weight thanks to various modifications and this impacted payload capability but in their favour, the old Heralds could still compete with the incoming Fokker F-27’s on a commercial front because on any given day when 20 sectors were completed the Herald provided 1000 seats to sell as opposed to the 44-seat F-27’s total of 880. In the Air UK winter timetable for 1984/85 it still recorded the Herald as operating services out of Belfast, Exeter, Guernsey, Jersey, Leeds-Bradford and Southampton. From February 1985 however the writing was on the wall as there was no mention of the Herald in the publication of the summer 1985 timetable and with the F-27 picking off Herald routes one by one, the news came through that we all feared… the Herald was to be phased out of service from the end of March 1985. Were we going to miss the Herald? You bet your life we were!

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The scene at Southampton in March 1985. With G-APWJ about to depart and G-ASKK having just arrived, the Heralds are still being worked hard. (Photo © Martin Fenner)  

The last four bow out

G-ASKK was the first aircraft to be retired. It was the oldest of the 4 having made its first flight on 5th July 1962, and was sadly disliked by some departments. It was the heaviest Herald in the fleet and had a smaller forward hold, which from time to time affected the payload and cargo carrying ability. Kilo Kilo completed its scheduled final four sectors on 30th March 1985, the last being a Jersey-Southampton service flown by Captain Clive Kerr and First Officer Damian Field. The following day Captain Ken Edmonston, following a good bye circuit at Southampton, positioned the aircraft to Norwich as UK072 being withdrawn from use on arrival. While Kilo Kilo may not have been a popular Herald, she was a lucky Herald, as Air UK donated her to a fledgling City of Norwich Aviation Museum on 4th May 1985, the day before the official opening, replacing former BIA/Air UK Herald G-AVEZ which had been donated to the group in February 1983. She is still on display at the museum today.

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The co-pilot of Heron Management HS.125 G-GEIL takes a photo of G-ASKK as she departs Southampton bound for Jersey on 30th March 1985, her last day of service.   (Photo © Martin Fenner)  

G-BEYK was the next to go. Having originally been ordered and built for the Royal Malaysian Air Force, it was the only 400 series Herald to be owned by Air UK, although other 400 series aircraft were utilised from time to time on lease from British Air Ferries (BAF). Yankee Kilo’s last official passenger service was a Southampton-Jersey sector on 26th May 1985. With airframe life still available it was flown to Norwich and put up for sale and flew on with a number of other operators before succumbing to the scrapman at Southend in February 1999.

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Seems like the Spring weather in 1985 wasn't great! G-BEYK about to turn into its parking spot at a very damp and wet Southampton in April 1985. (Photo © Martin Fenner)  

G-AVPN became the third retiree flying its last scheduled passenger service from Southampton to Jersey on 1st June 1985. The same day it was flown to Norwich by Captain Mike Le Galle and First Officer Ian Peridon and offered for sale as it too had good airframe life remaining. Purchased by British Air Ferries (BAF), after a good few years of service with them she strangely found her way back to the south coast flying regularly to the Channel Islands again after joining the Bournemouth based Herald fleet of Channel Express. Finally, being retired in 1997 Channel Express gifted her to the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington but exposure to the Yorkshire elements did her no good and she was unfortunately broken up in 2015. Thankfully her nose section was saved and is on display within the museum.

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G-AVPN about to start engines at Southampton in April 1985. (Photo © Martin Fenner)  

On so, to the last. G-APWJ. Perhaps fittingly too as she was the last of the order of 6 placed by Jersey Airlines 25 years previously in 1960, and the last of the 6 to remain operational. Air UK’s planned final scheduled Herald flight took place on the Saturday 29th June 1985, UK447, departing at 19:20 from Southampton bound for Jersey.

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The business end of G-APWJ at Southampton in May 1985. (Photo © Martin Fenner)  

After completing its previous three scheduled flights to and from Southampton that day, the old Herald departed on time with Captain J A ‘Spenny’ Spencer in command with First Officer Tim Bennett alongside him. Working the cabin were Stewardesses Maggie Thompson and Mary Bolton. I had decided some time ago to make sure I was aboard this flight and along with my good pal and colleague Ray Thompson, it was with some sadness that we climbed the passenger cabin entry steps for our final flight in an Air UK Herald. There was to be no fanfare, no wave off, no fast low goodbye pass at Southampton as we had a cabin full of passengers, but we both secretly enjoyed one last time the occasion of the unique sound of the Dart scream, the rumble of propellers and the unique pitch change sound of the Herald as we taxied out for departure. Over the years we had both flown on the Herald many times. For myself I managed to fly in eighteen different examples during my career but this flight was obviously going to be a little more special than any of the others.

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 With a brace of his devoted cabin crew in attendance, Captain 'Spenny' Spencer enjoys a celebratory drink on the apron at Jersey following the arrival of UK447 from Southampton on 29th June 1985. Left to right are – Nichole Baraclough, Liz McClure, Debby Le Bail, Debby Fox, Sandra Parks, Mary Bolton, Judy Cardwell, Sue De La Haye, Teresa Hayes, Gilly Barker, Senior Hostess Maggie Thompson and Captain J A 'Spenny' Spencer. (Photo © Mike Le Galle Collection)  

The last passenger flight

As it turned out, UK447 wasn’t to be the old girl’s last operational passenger flight. The next day, she was readied for her flight back to Norwich, and with Captain Mike Le Galle in command and First Officer John Campbell alongside, with Captain Mike Carnegie also on board, all of which were due to start their F-27 ground school conversion course the next morning, G-APWJ departed Jersey at 17:00. Without passengers onboard Captain Le Galle requested and was given permission to carry out the obligatory farewell fly past. Upon arrival at Norwich, Air UK operations asked them to position the aircraft to Leeds to pick up passengers delayed by an F-27 with a technical problem and take them on to Belfast. After a quick check that the Air Operators Certificate was still going to be valid the old Herald was airborne again from Norwich at 19:45, now with an Air Hostess onboard who luckily was still current on the Herald. A quick turnaround was made at Leeds and for the third time that day G-APWJ found herself bound for Belfast at 21:00 with a cabin load of passengers that should have been flying in a Fokker F-27. Some might say that was ironic! Another quick turnaround was made at Belfast with the Herald departing back to Leeds at 22:35. The weather at Leeds had deteriorated since departure earlier that evening and with the wind now gusting 40 knots straight across the runway Captain Le Galle knew a diversion was the only option available to him so at 23:35 the last passenger carrying Herald flight for Air UK touched down at Manchester’s Ringway Airport. The next morning the crew were back at the controls of G-APWJ and departed Manchester at 10:20 for the short VFR flight to Norwich. It was the last time Captain Le Galle was in command of a Herald giving him a total of 3,556 hours on type.

The final flight

 

Six days later on Saturday 7th July 1985 G-APWJ closed the book on Air UK’s 5 years of Herald operations, the history of which extended back to Jersey Airlines accepting delivery of G-APWE in 1962 when it was flown into preservation at Duxford using the flight code UK1000. The cabin was full of Air UK staff with Captain J A ‘Spenny’ Spencer in command and First Officer John Campbell in the right hand seat, with Stewardess Sue Walton in the cabin.

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After a 30-minute flight from Norwich, G-APWJ crosses the threshold at Duxford on 7th July 1985 to carry out her last ever landing. (Image source unknown)  

Complied by Barry, below is an interesting look at the number of Herald services completed by the last four aircraft from the beginning of 1985. The four aircraft completed an impressive 1661 movements at Southampton flying to eight different destinations.

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