On 1 January 1946 the British South American Airlines Corporation airline’s 1st Avro Lancastrian Star Light was flown by CEO Don Bennett as Pilot and Captain Robert Clifford Alabaster as Navigator and Marie Guthrie as Star Girl undertook the inauguration flight from the then still under construction Heathrow Airport, it was to be a proving flight to Buenos Aries, South America. The 1st Commercial Flight followed weeks later on 29th March 1946. Heathrow Airport was not officially opened until 31st May 1946.
In 1946 passenger terminals were made from ex‑military marquees that formed a ‘tented village’ along the Bath Road. Each was equipped with floral-patterned armchairs, settees and small tables containing vases of fresh flowers. To reach aircraft parked on the apron, passengers walked over wooden duckboards to protect their footwear from the muddy airfield.
Prior to that Hurn Airport now Bournemouth Airport was used. For a couple of years became the UK’s only intercontinental airport (until the opening of Heathrow Airport). Among the destinations served from Bournemouth were Accra, Cairo, Calcutta, Johannesburg, New York, Sydney and Washington.
Air Vice-Marshal D C T Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO, formerly head of the RAF Pathfinder Force, and now of British South American Airways, himself captained the successful ” proving” flight on the Buenos Aries service in the Avro Lancastrian ” Star Light.” Inaugurating London Airport – now Heathrow, Lord Winster (Minister of Civil Aviation) is seen at the microphone, before the departure. Air Vice-Marshal Bennett (holding a case), praising the Lancastrian from his personal experience, said that it had “all the attributes of a good airliner—comfort, speed and safety.” Navigator Cliff Alabaster stands behind him. Once more Avro leads the way – with a reputation that will be still further enhanced when the Avro Tudor comes into service.
Former Lancastrian Captain Robert Clifford Alabaster (left) stands with ATA Pilot and Stargirl Stewardess, Marie Guthrie and his then CEO Don Bennett of BSAA Corporation in front of a Commemoration Plaque for their Inaugural Proving Flight to Buenos Aries in the ‘Star Light’ Lancastrian Airliner 40 years (1986) on at Terminal One, Heathrow. Bennett had bribed the Contractors Foreman to clear the Runway so that the flight could be clandestinely arranged in advance of any other Airline.
Donald Clifford Tyndall (Don) Bennett (1910-1986), Aviator, Air Force Officer, Politician and Company Director, was born on 14 September 1910 at Toowoomba, Queensland, youngest of 4 sons of George Thomas Bennett, a Queensland-born stock and station agent and grazier, and his English-born wife Celia Juliana, née Lucas. (Sir) Arnold Bennett was his brother. Educated at Brisbane Grammar School, Don left without academic distinction to work on his father’s cattle station. His move to Brisbane and attendance as an evening science student at the University of Queensland, together with his rank as a non-commissioned officer in the Militia, resulted in a successful application to become a Cadet in the Royal Australian Air Force. He joined on 16 July 1930 and began flying training at Point Cook, Victoria. At the end of the course, he came 2nd in the theoretical examinations and top in practical flying.
Through his acceptance of a short-service commission in the RAF on 11 August 1931, Bennett began an association with England; he was to live principally in the Home Counties for the rest of his life. He served with No.29 Squadron, flying the Siskin, a biplane fighter aircraft, and with No.210 Squadron, equipped with flying boats, before becoming an instructor. In January 1932 he had been promoted to Flying Officer. He left the RAF and transferred to the RAAF Reserve on 11 August 1935, holding a 1st-class Civil Navigator’s Licence, a Wireless Operator’s Licence, 3 categories of the Ground Engineer’s Licence, a Commercial Pilot’s Licence and a Flying Instructor’s Certificate. On 21 August that year at the Registry Office, Winchester, Hampshire, he married Elsa (`Ly’) Gubler. With her cooperation, he wrote The Complete Air Navigator (1935), which became the essential textbook on the subject and remained in print for over 30 years.
Bennett joined Imperial Airways Ltd in January 1936 and was soon flying between London, Paris and Cologne, Germany. Posted to Egypt, he flew Handley Page 42s to India and Kenya, and Empire flying boats from Southampton, England, to Alexandria and South African ports. In 1938 he published The Air Mariner, which was concerned with the handling of flying boats. That year Imperial Airways decided to fly the North Atlantic mail using a small 4-engined aircraft, Mercury, launched from the back of a larger flying boat. Bennett was placed in command of Mercury and in July he successfully made the 1st commercial trans-Atlantic flight employing this revolutionary combination. In doing so, he achieved a record east to west crossing of the North Atlantic. For these feats, he was awarded (1938) the Johnston Memorial trophy and the Oswald Watt gold medal. In October he flew Mercury non-stop from Scotland to South Africa, setting a long-distance record for seaplanes. Next year he took part in proving the concept of air-to-air refuelling, designed to make possible non-stop trans-Atlantic commercial flights. From July 1940 Bennett was Flying Superintendent of the Atlantic Ferry Service, which was established to bring American aircraft to Britain. In mid-winter he personally led the 1st flight of 7 Hudson aircraft to make the crossing.
He rejoined the RAF on 25 September 1941 as an Acting Wing Commander and became 2nd-in-command of an elementary Navigation School. In December he was given command of No.77 Squadron, which operated Whitley bombers; he consistently flew on Operations. He became the commanding officer of No.10 Squadron, equipped with the Halifax bomber, in April 1942. Sent to attack the German battleship, Tirpitz, that month, his aircraft was shot down by ground fire over Norway. Bennett and several of his crew evaded capture and reached neutral Sweden. After release from internment, he returned to Britain and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In July 1942, on promotion to Acting Group Captain, Bennett was directed by Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to form and command the Pathfinder Force within Bomber Command. The establishment of a force to find and mark targets for night bombing raids was deemed essential if Bomber Command was to continue its offensive. Only 1 in 3 aircraft claiming to have attacked a target had got within 5 miles (8 km) of it. With a loss rate of between 4-5% of the aircraft sent on each operation, Bomber Command was achieving very little at great cost. The appointment of Bennett with his superlative navigational skills and technical understanding was to be crucial to its success. Harris later remarked that Bennett was the most efficient airman he had ever met. His Pathfinder Force, with its ability to guide bomber formations to their targets through the use of radar and pyrotechnics, greatly improved the accuracy and effectiveness of Bomber Command. Bennett saw the potential of the then underestimated Mosquito, and this magnificent aircraft, which could carry a 4000-lb. (1814 kg) bomb to Berlin, was used principally as the leading aircraft of Pathfinder marking forces.
Bennett had been appointed Chief Executive of the British South American Airways Corporation in 1945. He won his 2nd Oswald Watt gold medal in 1946 for a survey flight to South America. His policy of using only British-made equipment, principally the Avro Tudor, and his conviction that the airline should return a profit, contributed to a series of tragic accidents. In 1948 the Tudor was grounded. Bennett publicly criticised the board of BSAA and was asked to retract his comments or resign. He refused to do either and was dismissed. During the Berlin airlift later that year he formed a profitable air transport company, Airflight Ltd, using 2 Tudors, which he later employed on equally profitable long-distance charter work as Fairflight Ltd until 1951. He then founded Fairthorpe Ltd, a company supplying sports cars in kit form, which he owned until 1983.
Percival Proctor 3, G-AGTH ‘Star Pixie’
C/N 397 (LZ715)
Registered as G-AGTH to BSAA on 11/09/45
To French Morocco as F-DAAO August 1951
Airspeed A.S.40 Oxford 1 G-AIVY ‘Star Mentor’
C/N 891 (HM965)
Bought 14/10/46 from the R.A.F. by Airspeed
Registered by Airspeed with c/n 828.
Registered as G-AIVY to BSAA 09/11/46
C of A number 8708 issued 08/03/48 and aircraft named‘Star Mentor’
Transferred on 30/07/49 and registered 05/09/49 to BOAC Training Flight at Hurn
Registered 01/10/53 to Cyprus Airways Ltd., Nicosia.
Scrapped at Nicosia 09/56
Airspeed A.S.65 Consul G-ALTZ ‘Star Monitor’
C/N 3000 (Oxford) (HN844)
C/N 5134 (Consul)
Bought 22/02/47 from the R.A.F. by Aer Rianta, Teoranta. Dublin
Delivered to them on 30/06/47 and C of A number 9408 issued.
Registered as EI-ADB to Aer Rianta 07/07/47
Transferred 02/08/48 to Aer Lingus, Teoranta
Bought by BSAA on 15/06/49
Registered as G-ALTZ ‘Star Monitor’ to BSAA on 21/06/49
Transferred on 30/07/49 to BOAC
Delivered 10/49 to BOAC at Hurn
Bought 11/54 from BOAC by M J Conry t/a Aeromarine Salvage Co.
Registered 15/05/56 to Leon M. Berner & Co. of Elmdon (Birmingham)
04/06/57 accident in Léopoldville. 13/11/57 abandoned as unserviceable Léopoldville, Belgian Congo
Avro 19 Series 2 (Anson) G-AIKM ‘Star Visitant’ C/N 1364 Bought on 31/10/46 by Short Rochester and Bedford. Registered on 27/06/47 to Short.
Re-registered on 12/01/48 to Short Brothers & Harland Ltd.
Registered on 06/10/48 to BSAA and named ‘Star Visitant‘
Crashed at Luton on 21/4/49 and cancelled same day (inset)
G-AIUX ‘Star Master’
C/N 539 (Oxford) (LB527)
C/N 5106 (Consul)
Bought 27/01/47 from the RAF by Airspeed
Originally registered with incorrect C/N 718 but corrected 06/03/47
Converted to Consul and registered to Chartair Ltd, Haddenham, Nr Thame on 14/02/47
C of A number 9036 issued 15/4/47
Registered to BSAA 20/11/48 and named ‘Star Master’
Used for evaluation of the prototype Sperry Zero Reader by BSAA in 1949
The Zero Reader is an automatic flight indicator which electronically combines attitude, heading, altitude and radio information on a single indicator. The coordinated information is presented on a vertical and horizontal needle indicating to the pilot control movements required to achieve a selected flight plan.
Transferred on 30/07/49 to BOAC
Registered on 05/09/49 to BOAC Training Flight at Hurn
Registered 05/54 to East African Airways Corporation (Kenya) as VP-KMI
Withdrawn from use 12/11/55 due to wood and glue failure in tropical conditions
Reported as returned to service in 1957
G-AJLT Vickers-Supermarine Type 309 Sea Otter 1 (C/N 181716) (JM982)
3/47 to BSAA (never converted for use)
Scrapped at Langley 1949
G-AJLU (C/N 129893) (JM985) 3/47 to BSAA (never converted for use)
10/10/47 Ferried from Wroughton to Langley (Pilot – E.D. Fieldson)
Scrapped at Langley 1949
G-AKRX (C/N 1806/C/206) (JM968) 20/1/48 to BSAA (never converted for use)
Scrapped at Langley 1949
G-AKWA (JM739) 2/7/48 to BSAA (never converted for use)
Second production Sea Otter. Used for catapult trials in 1943.
Scrapped at Langley 1949