HM Queen Elizabeth II: A Life In Flight

A look at the aircraft and airlines Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II flew with during her 70 year reign.

London Air Travel » Special Feature » HM Queen Elizabeth II: A Life In Flight

Her Majesty The Queen, BOAC
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II returns to London airport on BOAC, 7 February 1952 (Image Credit: Heathrow)

Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II has died.

During her 70 year reign, The Queen had visited more than 100 countries, with 22 visits to Canada alone. The Queen had also visited members of The Commonwealth 150 times.

Here is a look at the aircraft and airlines The Queen had flown with.

Princess Elizabeth’s First International Visits

The Queen’s first official overseas visit as Princess Elizabeth was in 1947, when she toured Southern Africa.

The Queen celebrated her 21st birthday in South Africa, which was marked by a speech broadcast across the Commonwealth.

On 8 October 1951, 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 British Overseas Airways Corporation (“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.

British Airways has the original telegram received on the flight home from the Queen Mother to her daughter. This read: 

To: Her Majesty The Queen 
All my thoughts and prayers are with you. 
Mummie 
Buckingham Palace 

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

The Queen has flown on a vast range of aircraft and airlines on 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 following The Queen’s Coronation.

The Queen is pictured below arriving the next day in Bermuda.

Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II, BOAC Stratocruiser, Bermuda
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II, BOAC Stratocruiser, Bermuda, 24th November 1953. (Image Credit: British Airways)

Other tours on UK airlines & aircraft 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 777-200).

Her Majesty The Queen, Malta
Her Majesty The Queen, Greeted By Archbishop Michael Gonzi, Luqa Airport, Malta, 23 November 1967 (Image Credit: British Airways)
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II disembarking from a BEA Trident aircraft following a State Visit to Turkey, 1972. Steward Bob Godfrey bids farewell to Her Majesty.
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II disembarking from a BEA Trident aircraft following a State Visit to Turkey, 1972. Steward Bob Godfrey bids farewell to Her Majesty. (Image Credit: British Airways)
Her Majesty The Queen, British Airways Lockheed L-1011 Tristar Aircraft, 1986
Her Majesty The Queen, Departing For A State Visit To China, British Airways Lockheed L-1011 Tristar Aircraft, 1986 (Image Credit: British Airways)

Crews who flew with The Queen were bound by strict confidentiality agreements, but it is known that aircraft were reconfigured for The Queen’s use.

The Queen has also flown on government & military aircraft and commercial airlines from around the world. These include Air Canada, Air New Zealand and Qantas Airways.

Picture of Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II greeting guests on arrival in Australia for the 1992 Royal Tour, having disembarked a Qantas Boeing 747 aircraft.
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II greets guests on arrival in Australia for the 1992 Royal Tour. (Image Credit: Qantas Airways)

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.

Her Majesty The Queen, Concorde, 1977
Her Majesty The Queen, Concorde G-BOAE, Barbados – London Heathrow, 2 November 1977 (Image Credit: British Airways)

Concorde also completed a fly past over Buckingham Palace for The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002.

London Airport Openings

The Queen also officially opened a number of London airport terminals.

At London Heathrow, The Queen opened its Central Terminal Area in 1955, Terminal 1 in 1969, Terminal 5 in 2008 and Terminal 2 in 2014.

The Queen also officially opened Gatwick Airport in 1958 and the North Terminal in 1988.

Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen's Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening on 9 June 1958.
Queen Elizabeth II steps from a Heron of the Queen’s Flight on her arrival at the new Gatwick Airport, for its official opening on 9 June 1958. (Image Credit: London Gatwick)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh open the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh open the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport, March 1988. (Image Credit: London Gatwick)
Her Majesty The Queen pictured outside The Queen's Building, Heathrow Airport, 1970s.
Her Majesty The Queen, Heathrow Airport, 1970s (Image Credit: Heathrow)

When opening Terminal 5 in 2008, the Queen also met with the crew flight BA38 from Beijing (not pictured) that landed short of the runway at London Heathrow.

Her Majesty The Queen at the official opening of London Heathrow Terminal 5, 14 March 2008.
Her Majesty The Queen at the official opening of London Heathrow Terminal 5, 14 March 2008 (Image Credit:Heathrow).
Her Majesty The Queen officially opens Terminal 2, The Queen's Terminal, at London Heathrow Airport, 23 June 2014.
The Queen officially opens Terminal 2, London Heathrow, 23 June 2014 (Image Credit: Heathrow)

The Queen also visited BA’s Waterside Headquarters in May 2019 as part of the airline’s centenary celebrations.

Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II pictured with Jim Davies of the BA Heritage Centre and then BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz and British Airways' Waterside Headquarters, 23 May 2019.
Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II pictured with Jim Davies and Alex Cruz and British Airways’ Waterside Headquarters, 23 May 2019. (Image Credit: British Airways)

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3 thoughts on “HM Queen Elizabeth II: A Life In Flight”

  1. When she arrived home from Kenya as the new Queen, which airport did she land at? Is Heathrow now London Airport? Or was it a different airport at the time?

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