Monday, 13 July 2009
Nostalgia, Ephemera and Aeronautica
I said I'd share some more stuff from my wee collection of information on the Handley Page biplanes that used to ply the pioneering route from Croydon to Australia in the 1930s. There's more info here and here and a fantastic video of Sharjah airport (Kalba, incidentally, was the location of the 'backup' air strip and therefore posessing a greater importance in the 1937 scheme of things than, sleepy little town that it is, it does now) as it was back in the days of Empires, tally-hoes and people whacking the ball long and straight, dont'cha know.
This is the plane itself. These used to land at Sharjah in Oman (from Basra via 'Koweit and Bahrein) on the way through to Gwadar in Baluchistan. Let's just take the [sic]s as read. With 36 seats (and TWO toilets - you listening EK? A bog for every 18 pax!) and a bar, the planes were luxuriously decked out in mahogany and the like. It must have been a gut-wrenching ride.
The planes' engines had to be completely overhauled overnight at Sharjah, where guests were put up at the Mahatta Fort, a remote outpost (the fort was built for Imperial Airways by the ruler, who also provided a guard) containing three stir-crazy Brits and assorted staff. The met report used to be done by flying a light bulb up on a balloon to measure the wind.
This is the 1936 timetable. Arab readers might like to note where Gaza is located. Have a think about these journey times! Given that the 7 hours to Heathrow gives me mild shudders, this trip must have been a complete joy and let us not forget that these planes flew low, had no weather radar, no stabilisers and had wings made out of stretched canvas. Oh! And when you get to Shar-Jar, there's no AC. Let alone Gwadar and the others!
Mind you, if you think the hack to Sharjah's bad (4 overnights, including a train journey from Paris to Brindisi), it's a 14-day, 12 night flight to Brisbane!
Perhaps interestingly, my information is out of whack with the info on Wikipedia - it is my strong understanding that one of the HP42 series 'planes was lost at sea in the late 1930s in the Indian Ocean, while Wikipedia says only one was ever lost to a hangar fire in the UK. Hmm...
I also have a set of 1938 timetables and if anyone's interested in better quality scans that aren't quite so JPEGed, do just drop me a DM on Twitter or a mail at the usual address. I collected all this stuff because of an abiding fascination with Mahattah (which is, after all, on my doorstep) and the idea that one day I'll get a novel out of this lot...
If anyone owns copyrights to these, I'm not aware of them so please do let me know and I'll arrange appropriate attributions or whatever.
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