Luton Airport, being just outside London, and at that time not called “London Luton”, was always an interesting airport to visit in the late-’70s and early-’80s, albeit not a very busy one. Paul Filmer continues his walk down Memory Lane with a look at what he caught at the airport between 1978 and 1985.
At that time, there were still single-engine general aviation aircraft based there and a grass runway with hangar.
Even though it was quite close to where I lived, it was quite a pain to get to. The only viable option was the Green Line Coaches 727 service that routed Gatwick-Heathrow-Luton – a journey that took quite some time as the M25 wasn’t built yet. Sometimes we would even travel Heathrow-Luton-Heathrow-Gatwick-Heathrow, all on the two pound Golden Rover ticket that was available back then.
The viewing area was at the curved taxiway from the runway to the ramp and there was a café situated at that point, which was a popular place for anyone to stop and look at the aircraft. The issue with photos from here was the plastic coated, square-holed fence that our camera lenses couldn’t quite fit through and, as the aircraft were so close, it was a difficult job to quickly snap the aircraft as they sped by. Remember that it was manual focus, manual exposure and no motor-drives at that time, so we did have quite a hard time. This area was taken over by easyJet in the modern era.
During the late-’70s and early-’80s Luton was Britannia central, both aircraft wise, with the Bristol Britannia being a popular freighter, and also it being the home of Britannia Airways and its Boeing 737s.
Aer Turas was always present with its Britannia fleet, and here we see EI-BBH parked up awaiting its next flight in June 1979.
The Geminair Britannia 9G-ACE, below, was pictured sometime in 1980. Geminair was a Ghanaian on-demand cargo operator formed in 1974 and was the first privately-owned airline in that country. It later chartered Dag Air and Anglo Cargo Airlines Boeing 707s. This Britannia ended up with Lukum Air Services as 9Q-CUM in 1981 and was later sold to Katale Aero Transport for spares and was eventually broken up at Kinshasa in 1986. This was the last Britannia built at Filton and was in service with the RAF as XM520. In this photo you can still see the basic RAF scheme.
EI-BCI is seen here in Eurafric’s basic colour scheme in the snow, shot in January 1979. Around that time it was leased to Aer Turas and is seen here with the trademark rhino on the tail painted out. Redcoat Air Cargo, also based at Luton, bought this airframe as G-BHAU. It replaced ill-fated Britannia G-BRAC which crashed after take-off from Boston-Logan due to severe icing, descending into a wooded area after only gaining an altitude of 1,700 feet.
Redcoat Air Cargo CL-44 G-BRED, taken in 1981, was ex Transmeridian Air Cargo G-AZKJ. The airline entered voluntary liquidation in 1982 partly due to this aircraft having an engine failure and the only spare being held by Roll-Royce after overhaul and non-payment. Redcoat didn’t have the cash flow to release the engine and ceased operations.
Now, the other Britannia from Luton was Britannia Airways, the famous charter airline which was based here. Back then it was awash with Boeing 737-200s, and here we see a Gulf Air example on lease to Britannia taxying up the curved ramp to the runways past the viewing area in 1979. This was when the aircraft was first leased from Gulf Air and still carrying the registration A4O-BG. It was later registered as G-BGFS.
Britannia Airways Boeing 737-200 G-BFVB is seen here in March 1985 just prior to its lease with Nordair Canada after being painted in that scheme. She flew as C-GNDW in Canada before returning in February 1986.
Now on to things that look like a Britannia: can you see a theme for Luton now? The Il-18 was a rare beast in the UK before the Iron Curtain came down, and this Tarom Il-18V, YR-IMH shot in June 1979, was certainly a great surprise to us when we pitched up, as in those days we had no idea when aircraft were due or what was around. It was pure luck and patience that rewarded us in those days.
This airframe crashed into the Carpathian Mountains in Romania on 13 August 1991. The taxying shot was from steps on the side of a building from what I can recall, which at least gave an elevated look over the fence at the time.
Convair 880 N88CH is seen here in a backlit photo from September 1978. Originally with Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, when photographed it was owned by Orchester Incorporated and used for executive transport. This airframe now resides in East London, South Africa, and is used as a restaurant.
Fokker F-28s were popular as low-density, short-haul aircraft during this period. First is a Martinair F-28-1000 PH-MAT shot along the taxiway in September 1978. This airline was hardly ever seen in the UK at the time.
Linjeflyg F-28-4000 SE-DGN in October 1978, again on the taxiway, shows how hard it was to take photos here, with the back end being out of focus on a typically rainy dark day. Linjeflyg was usually seen at Stansted, so to see one here made a change.
We saw Alaska International L-100-30 Hercules on rare occasions, and this one was shot in January 1979 during a period of snow. Behind you can see a pair of Redcoat Britannias.
Eastern Airways C-47B G-AMYJ shot in June 1979. This was the heyday of UK independent airlines, before they were mostly merged into Air UK. This aircraft is currently on display with the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington having been restored into its 1940s’ RAF colours when it served as KN353.
An interesting paint scheme on this private BAC111-400, N5LC, taken in November 1978; thank goodness I wasn’t shooting black and while film! You can’t quite see from this angle, but it has a simple smiling mouth painted on the front. The aircraft is now N101PC and is stored at the former Castle Air Force Base in California.
Electra L-188C N8LG is seen here in March 1979 and was serving as singer John Denver’s transport on this occasion. This airframe later came back to the UK and flew with Channel Express, Air Atlantique, Hunting Cargo Airlines and again with Channel Express all as N360Q. She is now with Air Spray as C-CYVI.
An airfield that I look back on with fond memories, and one I wish I’d visited a little more often.