This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
Here is a promotional film by BOAC, with a full transcript, from the early 1950s entitled “Tomorrow Is Theirs”.
It covers all aspects of BOAC’s operation from engineering to flight and cabin crew training in the 1950s. This was of course before the advent of the jet age.
The film also shows the huge advances in flight operations and passenger reservation systems over the past 70 years. In this era, aircraft in flight were tracked manually with plastic models on a map!
An aircraft of the BOAC feet travelling the airways of the world comes home to London Airport.
Soon, the flight will be a memory. For some, a memory of exacting duties of the pleasure and problem of people. For others, a memory of care and comfort, above the turbulent clouds of the murmor of giant engines that carried them so easily half across the world. And with the memory, perhaps a question. How does it come about? What makes it possible to cross continents and oceans in a count of hours? To straddle the world in an easy chair. The answer is, people, and planning. Individual skill, integrity and forethought that add up to the organisation of a world airline.
The passengers brought together for a few hours in the chance companionship of flight have gone. The aircraft is taken to rest. One journey is over, but the cycle of passenger flight continues. The work of the airline that spans the world goes on around the clock.
Here in movements control the world is at their fingertips. They turn messages picked out of the air by radio, or sent along transcontinental cables into a running record of every Speedbird on the global air routes.
An urgent call comes in from a 1,000 miles away. Reassurance starts here. A plane is due soon at a point along the route where plasma is available.
It will be delivered with the speed that only flight can give. Each light means an aircraft on its way. Each model a Speedbird over the world watched by the monitors and movements control.
Behind them in the maintenance hangars are the men who keep the aircraft in condition, grooming and checking them between each flight.
Routine tests cover every part from the intricate wiring of the engine to the smallest needle, quivering its message to the pilot.
The mechanism behind the aircraft aisles is adjusted to the finest point of accuracy, Science and craftsmanship reach the acme of precision.
Mind and hand are backed by equipment, geared to measurement beyond the compass of the eye. This device, for instance, finds microscopic bumps on a metal surface enlarging them to look like drawings of a mountain range.
The experts of the instrument repair section, work to 1000s of an inch. In contrast, there’s the engineering hall, a quarter mile of it.
The aircraft’s heaviest components are serviced and tested here, and at Treforest in Wales.
In the hands of men like these the great machines reach maximum efficiency. Precision, power, reliability, and comfort are the measure of an airline. Work goes on through all the hours. The rhythm is unbroken as the changing shifts divide the clock.
In hangars, offices and workshops responsibility changes hands. Different hours of duty, different people. Different except in the knowledge of the job in hand.
“The estimated times of arrival for two flights, the BA272152” There’s variety within variety for the duty officer of the day. Responsibility as varied as the people or the cargo, passing through the airport. Take cargo, for instance, it may be anything from model guns to radios, or elephants to Angel Fish.
Each taken care of, according to its kind. It may be high borne elegance, or pampered beauty. Or it may mean life to someone half a world away. Like these isotopes carried safely in the Speedbird’s wing.
What makes it possible? Let’s look again. This time at experts of another sort.
The medical department, whose care is the health of passengers and personnel, and for their comfort too.
To keep a count of millions ever year converting currency of every country to Sterling credits.
There’s the stores department, who can produce most things at a moment’s notice and supplies by the aircraft as well as everything an aircraft or its passengers can need. From propellers to pillow slips and pins. Their security guard the precious cargos. It may be diamonds, documents or gold, until the Speedbird’s Captain takes them in his charge.
And of course there’s transport for the use of passengers and cargo on the ground. There are the planners for tomorrow. They keep in step with a demand that’s always growing.
And to gild the lily, art adds glamour to efficiency. Thousands of people on the move. Thousands to be looked after by ground traffic staff stationed all over the world. Thousands of tickets to be issued. Each one is important to the airline, as to the passenger concerned. In the background, reservation staff in touch with colleagues everywhere keep track of people moving between six continents and many countries, Partner and associated airlines are the link. Together, they form a network of domestic flight, connecting with the transcontinental aircraft of the BOAC fleet,
While sister aircraft travel the skies, others wait. Groomed and ready to take off within the next few hours.
Soon they will fan out, north, south, east and west to destinations far across the world.
BOAC, like the world its spans is made up of all sorts of people doing all kinds of jobs. Here are some who fly, and some will train others for flight. In the lecture room engines are stripped and laid open for study. So the trainees learn every part of power, until understanding of aircraft is in their blood.
For technical flying staff in training, and for refresher courses, there’s the simulator. An exact reproduction of the forward section of an aircraft. Built in a room, it never leaves the ground, yet it reproduces right exactly to the sound and the feel of the controls in any weather.
“On this takeoff, I’d like you to open the throttles yourself to full power with your right hand and the First Officer will hold the stick forward with his right hand, and you will steer the aircraft down the runway with the steering wheel with your left hand”
“Right, just before we go to run through this again. Keep your left hand on the nose wheel steering, your right hand on the throttles. Open the throttle smoothly. When you hear the limiters are on release the foot brakes and continue opening to full power”.
“Let’s try that then. Standby for takeoff. Now, open the power up smoothly.”
Height, wind, airspeed, radio range, and the crew’s performance, are all recorded.
Flying staff are picked for intelligence and personality. Training is meticulous. A mock up of an aircraft cabin is used to give practical experience. Other substitutes can be surprising. Practising meal service with bottle tops, for instance.
Trainees must be dexterous, have long memories, and be interested in other people’s comfort. All this must be combined with poise and tact.
People vary in their choice of pastime. Passengers may want anything from books to safety pins and razors. So on every flight a bag is carried ready mixed to suit the most demanding tastes.
A visit to the catering department stewards and stewardesses in training watch the preparation of food, soon to be served in the air.
They learn about wine and how to serve it. Bottle tops are left behind. Soon will come the final test.
Many different skills make up the smooth organisation or passenger service across the world. Watching others doing work related to their own, trainees learn the care for detail that adds elegance to service in the air.
Now fully fledged and really on the job, they are members of a flying team of experts, each one working with self assurance that springs from interest in the job, backed by long and careful training.
A Speedbird on a routine flight with all that care can give. One routine fight of many over every quarter of the earth. As the Speedbirds climb the skies.
Below, the world unrolls its carpet of mountains, oceans, continents and countries. In the air, comfort is set to the murmur of the engines flying in a space of hours from here to there.
It may be anywhere. New York. San Francisco. Montreal. Tokyo. It may be Australia. South Africa in the spring. It is easy to see the world now the flight has conquered time. It is easy to know one’s neighbours. Now the space has shrunk.
Flying is no longer an adventure, but a matter of efficiency. Of people who know the job. People thinking, working and being responsible.
Administrators, scientists and technicians, give the best in flight today. Tomorrow is there. Now.