|Dawn over west London
The alarm went off at 5 AM and by 6:30 AM my sister and I were sitting in a tube train heading for Hatton Cross station. Just after 8 we arrived and walked north to where an aircraft taxi-way crosses the road at a large "level crossing". I was hoping to see them move Concorde from the engineering hangers to the gate (for the 10:30 take off) but some other enthusiasts who had stayed overnight in the nearby Ibis hotel said that they had seen the plane moving shortly after 6 AM.
We waited for a while to see if anything else was going to happen and were rewarded by seeing a British Airways jumbo jet getting pulled across the road.
For the first take off we walked around to the north west corner of the airfield, forcing our way along paths half blocked off by traffic cones and tape. I found a nice spot on a bridge over an area of building work and set up my tripod and camera and admired the view which the additional height of the bridge gave us ... but it was not to be. After a short while a supervisor from the building site showed up to move us all on (several other people had collected there as well as my sister and myself). Fortunately there was a bus layby just a few yards along the road so we all decamped there. The view wasn't quite so good and any traffic would block the early part of the take off but it was the best site in the area.
|The people there were all very friendly and chatty. One woman had told her work that she was taking the day off to attend a funeral - when her work actually found out where she was going to be they weren't upset and let her take the day off any way. Another lad was only there because he had come to see his parents off on a holiday and hadn't been aware it was Concorde's last flight. His father worked for BA and the son had actually had a holiday job (several yeras ago) working on Concorde - was I green with envy? I'll let you guess :)|
|And so time passed, we chatted, rumours of the take off being moved to the southern runway came and went - our viewing spot was not particularly good for the southern runway (27L) but the general feeling was that Concorde would use the northern runway (27R) as all the Concorde flights had been on that runway for a few weeks.
Then we started getting information from people with air-band radios. Concorde was taxiing. Concorde had been given permission to cross runway 27L. Concorde was holding by runway 27R. There were four more planes on approach. There were two more planes on approach. No, there were four more planes on approach. Then eventually we heard "Concorde has permission to go onto the runway" and finally "Concorde has permission to take off".
|Well, what can I say? Mere words are insufficient to describe the event, but I'll do my best. First we heard her distinctive roar then, from behind the airport fence she stuck her nose up and rushed skywards. The noise just built and built - I have never been that close to her on take off before and it was amazing. The sound shakes you to the core of your body. Once she had passed directly overhead she carried on climbing and her engine exhausts were pointing almost straight at us as she rushed away to become a small white tick-mark on the horizon. After the sound had gradually died away and you could actually talk again there was a sense of ... what? Loss? Yes certainly, but overall more "wow" and a feeling of being part of an historic event. A thorough bred performing for one last time.|
|For the second take off we walked back along the road, stopping for a McCoffee to warm up and relieve ourselves at a nearby take-away. We moved on to another bus layby across the road from the Pink Elephant Parking area and just along from the BA visitors centre where staff had put up their own message for the day.
Once again the crowd of spectators was friendly as we shared food and drinks and chatted to some airport bus drivers who were also waiting to see Concorde. One of them had a plan to take out one of their double-decker buses, have it "break down" in a good viewing area then charge people to sit on the upper deck. Needless to say this did not actually happen.
|For a second time we heard the distinctive roar of Concorde's engines and she rushed skywards, becoming airborne much earlier than we were expecting and spoiling some of the carefully positioned photos. As she disappeared off into the distance her sound gradually faded and we were left with the symphony of car alarms that had been set off by the take-off.
|During the day the number of people standing around increased and by the afternoon it was getting hard to walk around. At on point there was a grandstand erected and the lucky winners of a draw were able to get a better view of the take-offs and landings. Other people brought step ladders to get a better view and one group I saw had a pair of portable work benches and were standing on planks of wood between them - looked quite precarious!
There were many marshals around and many police officers trying to keep the crowd in the designated areas. It all seemed friendly and I didn't see anyone getting annoyed or angry.
|For the three landings we went to the north east corner of the airfield and I managed to wedge myself into a shrubbery (no Monty Python jokes please) on the edge of the road and got about 5 foot above road level. It was a bit precarious and I set up my tripod in front of me with each leg quite a different length to try and get a good footing for it on the sloping ground. In the end I actually held the camera by hand as the planes moved so quickly and the tripod was in an awkward position to use the camera viewfinder. The tripod did serve two useful purposes - it kept other people from climbing right in front of me and blocking my view and it proved very useful in helping me climb down the slope afterwards with stiff legs from standing still so long.
|The first sighting
G-BOAG overflies the airfield. I only caught sight of her once she had passed overhead and had to take these pictures through the fence of the car park behind me.
|Landing 1 - BA9020C/LHR-EDI. BA9021C/EDI-LHR. G-BOAE
Capt - Andy Baillie
F/O - James Bedforth
E/O - Trevor Norcott
With Capt Les Brodie
|Landing 2 - BA9022C/LHR-LHR (Via the Bay of Biscay). G-BOAF
Capt - Paul Douglas
F/O - Mark Jealous
E/O - Peter Carrigan
With SEO Warren Hazelby
|Landing 3 - BA002/JFK-LHR. G-BOAG
Capt - Mike Bannister
F/O - Jonathan Napier
E/O - David Hoyle
With SEO Bob Woodcock
All images copyright Peter Sheil 2003