This article was published in 2019 in a series on the history of British Airways and its predecessors Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse all 100 stories in number order, by theme or by decade.
Many have been updated since first published.
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II has a long history with BA and its predecessor airlines, BOAC and BEA.
The Royal Family’s First Atlantic Flight
On 8 October 1951, then Princess Elizabeth and the Duke Of Edinburgh were the first members of the Royal Family to cross the Atlantic ocean by air.
They flew on a BOAC Stratocruiser aircraft “Canopus” G-AKGK from London airport to Montreal. This was also the first royal tour to start at the airport.
Princess Elizabeth Becomes Queen Elizabeth II
On 31 January 1952, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, bid farewell to King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at London airport.
They departed on a BOAC Argonaut “Atalanta” G-ALHK aircraft with Prince Philip for a world tour of Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The aircraft routed via RAF El Adem (Libya) for refuelling and a change of crew. This trip was cut short following the unexpected death of King George VI. Princess Elizabeth returned a week later from Entebbe via El Adem on the same BOAC aircraft as Queen Elizabeth II.
In February of 1952, Princess Elizabeth as we then knew her with the Duke of Edinburgh set out on a tour that was to have taken them to the other side of the globe.
King George IV was not fit enough to make the arduous journey across the world to Australia and in his place went his daughter. From London Airport to East Africa, this was the first stage of the 30,000 mile tour. A tour that so soon was to be halted.
BOAC Chairman Sir Miles Thomas and others were present with the Duchess of Gloucester and Earl Mountbatten on that historic day.
King George, his Queen and Princess Margaret their farewells said left the aircraft at Atlanta shortly before the takeoff. The King walked hatless across the tarmac. It was his first public appearance since his operation. We could not know that it would be his last.
The Princess waved the last farewell to her parents before she entered the specially converted BOAC Argonaut that was to speed her and the Duke to the Commonwealth beyond the seas.
From a balcony the King watched the mighty aircraft soar into the air and set course for Nairobi. With the royal couple went the good wishes of all Britain and the Commonwealth.
Meanwhile in Nairobi, preparations were going ahead to give a warm reception to the royal visitors. Welcoming banners hung everywhere. And thousands of Africans gathered at the airport to greet their young princess. Right on schedule the Atalanta taxied in at the end of her 19 hour journey. The Princess followed by the Duke in naval uniform step from the chill of London into the warm sun of East Africa, and another world.
Then through streets crowded with cheering African children, the Royal pair drove away from the airport. At royal lodge they were to spend a short holiday. Then came the sudden tragic news. The King was dead. London stunned into silence lowered her flags in tribute to the dead King. In far off Kenya, his daughter learned that she was now the Queen. At London Airport, the great of our land gathered to welcome her home and to vow allegiance to her as they had done so loyally to her father.
Once more Atalanta returned to London. Her chapter of history was flown. Upon her wings Atalanta had bourne a Princess across the seas, and had brought her safely and swiftly home as Queen.
Before her aircraft Her Majesty received the homage of her counsellors, the Prime Minister and leaders of the other party’s gave sombre welcome to the young girl upon whom destiny had placed the burden of sovereignty. Behind her stood the Duke of Gloucester, her uncle.
Even in her sorrow The Queen remembered those who had brought her safely home to her capital. The Duke of Edinburgh too expressed his thanks to the crew in whose skilled hands Atlanta had spanned 4000 miles of land and sea on that memorable journey.
Thus ended a chapter in Britain’s history. Now, another chapter began. Her Majesty made her way into the royal car to complete her journey to London. King George was dead, but there to take his place was his daughter, Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain and the Empire. Long may she reign.
BA has the original telegram received on the flight home from the Queen Mother to her daughter, which read:
To: Her Majesty The Queen
All my thoughts and prayers are with you.
The message was received over the radio, written directly into the Captain’s log book and then copied out by hand onto a BOAC signal form, before being presented to Her Majesty.
State Visits and Royal Tours
BEA, BOAC and BA have flown The Queen on many state visits and tours.
The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh departed London airport, again on a BOAC Stratocruiser aircraft “Canopus”, on 23 November 1953 for the first leg of their Commonwealth Tour.
The Queen is pictured below arriving the next day in Bermuda.
Other tours include the US in 1957 (on a BOAC DC-7C aircraft), Bermuda and Jamaica 1963 (on a BOAC Stratocruiser), New Zealand in 1974, Japan in 1975, the Commonwealth Silver Jubilee tour 1977, the Middle East in 1979, a state visit to China in 1986 (Lockheed L-1011 Tristar) and The Queen’s 16th and final visit Australia in 2011 (Boeing 777).
Those crews who have flown with The Queen are bound by strict confidentiality agreements, but it is known that aircraft are reconfigured for The Queen’s use.
The Queen On Concorde
The Queen flew on Concorde for the first time from Barbados to Heathrow following the Silver Jubilee tour on 2 November 1977, as pictured below.
The flight time was 3 hours and 42 minutes. The Queen also used Concorde for many legs of a tour of the Middle East in February 1979.
Airport Terminal Openings
The Queen also officially opened London Heathrow’s Central Terminal Area in 1955, Terminal 1 in 1969 and Terminal 5 in 2008 and Gatwick’s North Terminal.
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