BSAAC – Pathfinder Bennett’s Airline 1945-49
The Avro 691 Lancastrian was a Canadian and British passenger and mail transport aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s developed from the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. The Lancaster was named after Lancaster, Lancashire; a Lancastrian is an inhabitant of Lancashire. The Lancastrian aircraft was basically a modified Lancaster Bomber without armour or armament and with the gun turrets blisters replaced by streamlined metal fairings, including a new nose section. The initial batch was converted directly from Lancasters; later batches were new builds.
BSAA Aircraft and Aircrew
British Latin American Air Lines (BLAIR) was formed on 25 January 1944 by shipping interests (Royal Mail Lines, Pacific Steam Navigation Company, Lamport & Holt Line, Booth Steamship Company and Blue Star Line) to complement the shipping services to South America, at the end of 1945 the company was renamed British South American Airways Corporation. Chairman of the new company was W J Booth. The initial aircraft – until the Avro Tudor II was available – would be Avro Lancasters converted by Avro into the same configuration as Lancastrians and the crews were being sought from former Pathfinder Force members: the General Manager former Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett had been the Force Commander during WW2. The single route to be flown was Hurn (Bournemouth) – Lisbon-Bathurst-Natal-Rio de Janeiro-Montevideo-Buenos Aires. Starting in October 1945 Hurn had served as London’s transatlantic airport until Heathrow opened to the airlines in mid-1946.
It had Aircraft. It had Pilots. All BSAA needed now was an Airport from which to operate. Bennett knew exactly which one he wanted: out to the west of London was a new airfield still in the throes of development. There were no buildings to speak of or hangars for that matter but in time it would prove itself, Bennett was sure of that. The only immediate problem was the condition of the runway, which was covered with Builders’ materials. One morning in December 1945 he turned up to survey it. He was immediately stopped by the Contractor’s Foreman who wanted to know what he was doing there. Bennett asked if, in exchange for a few quid, he could get the runway cleared. The Foreman agreed that it could be done. The next day Bennett flew down from the AVRO factory at Waddington in the first of the Lancastrians. There was no one manning the Control Tower that day because the control tower had not yet been built. Bennett simply looked out of the window to find his way to the airfield. Once down he went immediately to the Air Ministry in the centre of London and boldly announced to the Civil Servant in charge that he was ready to start services from the new airfield. The official demurred. BSAA was listed to fly from Hurn, near Bournemouth on the south coast. And in any case, the London airport wasn’t ready for aircraft. Yes it was, Bennett said. He’d just landed there. And as he’d have to take off again, the service might as well start from there. The weary official agreed. Bennett had contrived to make BSAA the very first airline to operate out of that new London Airport which, in just a few years, would become known as ‘Heathrow.’
The Passenger Terminal was an area of Army tents and duck boarding next to the south side of the Bath Road. Later the tents were replaced by prefabricated buildings. (It was straight opposite the Bricklayers Arms pub, which in 1954 was renamed the Air Hostess, and in 1988 was demolished.) The first Control Tower was a crude brick building (3 storeys, plus 2 huts on its flat roof) roughly where the airport police station is now
Former Air Vice-Marshal Donald C T Bennett
We have therefore adopted certain rules which we consider essential for success. The first is that we use British equipment, not simply because it is British but because we believe it is ultimately the best. The Lancastrian is – in reality as opposed to advertisement – the fastest airliner in the world. It is far from satisfactory but is a make-do until we obtain our faster types it has proved a wonderful asset. The York combines the reliability and staunchness of the Lancastrian with better passenger space. Our 2nd rule is that only those who are professionally experienced in a particular function are appointed to any position of responsibility. Each man knows his own job, and regardless of his position is not required to control those whose jobs he does not know. It is a policy of “the profession for the professional.” Air Vice Marshall Donald Bennett
Between 1938-50 Langley was the site of the former Hawker Siddley aircraft factory, Hawker built the famous Hurricane, The Hawker Tornado (1940), Typhoon (1940), Tempest (1942), Fury (1944), Sea Fury (1945), and the General Aircraft Hamilcar X tank-carrying glider (1945) all made their first flights from Langley.
Postwar, the aerodrome was also used by Airwork Ltd and British South American Airways for aircraft maintenance work all on the former site of Parlaunt Farm.
Langley Airport was a grass field, but had 2 Large “runways” marked out on the grass. Langley’s grass runway was not suitable for jets and because of the proximity of Heathrow, London’s new airport they had to request permission when taking off. Then it was just large enough to be used by BSAA (British South American Airways) Lancastrians, Yorks and Tudors. BSAA used Langley as their maintenance base from 1946, sharing the facilities with Hawker. The aircraft were indeed lightly loaded when arriving and departing, there were still some hair-raising departures when the grassed runway was soft. In those instances the ta, e-off started from the hard standing.
1949: BSAA absorbed by BOAC and leave Langley.
1958: Hawker moved their factory and thus leave Langley. The Ford Motor Company opened a commercial vehicle component factory at Langley Airfield in 1949, and then bought the entire site from Hawker Siddeley in 1959. The former aircraft factory was reused for commercial vehicle manufacture and the Ford Transit was built there until production was transferred to other sites.
……down the A4 towards Slough and up Sutton Lane by Colnbrook to the Langley Aerodrome. The car park was at the Northeast corner which meant we had to walk through 2 rows of hangars to get to our workplace. Ford’s occupied the 1st row where they were back then assembling Fordson Tractors, and it wasn’t long before they banned us from walking inside which meant that, in inclement weather, we could get very wet. All Langley flying required flying permission from Heathrow as their main runway was E-W whilst Langley’s grass strip was basically NE-SW.
In 1948, Captain Peter Duffey joined British South American Airways, flying the Lancastrian, and Tudor. He had some time on the Berlin Airlift, and flew to Santiago, Chile through many ports of call, and across the Andes to Buenos Aires. When BSAA was taken over by BOAC he was kept on the South American route for several years, but flying the Canadair Argonaut. In 1952 he joined the Comet 1 fleet, and served on that until its grounding in 1954, (he believes he is the only airline pilot to have flown both the 1st Jetliner, and the Concorde). Returning to the Argonaut until 1956, he then flew the DC7c, the first airliner capable of non-stop westbound flights from London to New York. In 1961 he left the North Atlantic to fly to the East on the Comet 4. Soon he was a Training Captain, and transferred to the Boeing 707 in 1965, becoming a Training Captain on that type for about 10 years. In 1975 he was nominated as one of the 8 pilots to form the nucleus group to bring Concorde into service.