As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher divided opinion greatly. Expectations that her funeral would be attended by world leaders from far and wide, by and large, proved to be inaccurate, with just two heads of state and 11 Prime Ministers present. Having learnt that Stansted would be very quiet for the occasion, Luton Airport became my venue of choice on the day itself.
The forecast the night before indicated a fairly grey and uninspiring start that would eventually break into a fairly pleasant afternoon.
I’d got to take Sammy to school first thing and so didn’t arrive at Luton until about 1015. It was grey, drizzling and bitterly cold in the howling easterly wind. Arriving the night before was the Canadian delegation, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, aboard CC-150 Polaris 15002 of the Canadian Armed Forces. That was joined early on Wednesday by Czech Air Force A319 2801, which brought in the Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Petr Necas and former president Vaclav Klaus, and the Republic of Poland’s ERJ-175LR SP-LIG, which is operated by LOT Polish Airlines. Travelling on the latter were Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and former president Lech Walesa. As far as military and government aircraft went, that was it!
A reasonably busy morning was kept vaguely interesting by a number of bizjet movements, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the Malaysian Global Express, though I’m told that it’s a fairly regular visitor to these shores.
Airline traffic was dominated by easyJet, but I was pleasantly surprised when a wingletted 767 appeared on the approach still sporting the colours of First Choice. That aircraft, more than anything else during the day, flew a very marked crabbing approach in the gusty crosswind.
As lunchtime approached, the weather did start to break a little but it remained very patchy. Typically, when the Czech and Pole departed, the sun was not present.
There were some very quiet periods during the afternoon but one string of movements comprised Gulfstream arrival, Gulfstream departure, Gulfstream departure, Gulfstream departure and Gulfstream arrival. Even by Luton standards, a run of five Gulfstreams is pretty unusual! The strong wind meant that far fewer departing aircraft than usual used the full-length of the runway available, meaning that there were some rather more imposing bizjet line-up shots to be had than normal.
My biggest mistake of the day came when I elected to use just the 400mm for what I’d assumed was just another N-registered Gulfstream on approach. As the national emblem of Bahrain appeared in the viewfinder, I knew I’d dropped a plum… Too late to do anything about it by that stage, though!
Unusuall for me, a non-metallic bird even necessitated a few releases of the shutter. Turning around, I spied a Red Kite flying straight at me. While the 400mm was somewhat akin to overkill, I quite like the results it produced. The wingspan on these birds (up to six feet) – which are thriving as a result of a captive breeding programme – is substantial, and the risks they pose in an aviation environment are obvious, but, I have to say, it was still a tremendous sight. The amount of wing blur at 1/500th of a second took me by surprise a little too!
As the only sustained period of sun all day gave way to a bank of cloud, my willingness to hang around in hope rather than expectation of the Polaris’ departure began to evaporate. I was quite glad I stuck it out for an extra 15 minutes, though, as those extra few minutes were responsible for allowing me to capture my first Gulfstream 650. Compared to its forebears, the G650 looks really mean and is quite a beast – elegant, which is a word I think you could use to describe the earlier models, was not the first thought that came to mind when I saw it. I’m told that N305CC, the aircraft in question, is owned by Carnival Cruises.
I’m not sure when the Polaris finally went but it definitely came after my own departure. As I drove under the Runway 26 approach on my way home, a Global Express was arriving. Watching its constant corrections and quite violent swings in attitude as it neared the runway really helped to put in context just how severe the wind was.
Back at home, a quick look in the mirror at my bright red face reaffirmed this too – and I’d had my back to it (and what little sun there was) for most of the day!