London Heathrow in the early 1950s


I am honoured and privileged to be able to publish these rare colour photographs of London Heathrow in its early days, taken in 1953 or 1954 by Eric Penn. 1954 is thought more likely as that was when the Central Ground Enclosure was opened. Depending upon exactly when they were taken they either pre-date me, or I was a small baby at the time! These were far different times. Air travel was only for royalty, the wealthy, businessmen, well-known actors, diplomats and servicemen and their families. The rest of us could only look on, which contributed to the glamour that is conspicuously missing from air travel today. Note in those pre security conscious days the public could get up close to the action, separated only by moveable metal barriers. Eric had just bought his first car, and he took his family out for a spin in it on a local journey to the fledgling international airport at a former RAF airfield located on Hounslow Heath.

With many thanks to Michael West for additional information.

Central Area apron right to left, an Airspeed Ambassador, two Douglas DC-3s and then four Vickers Viscounts.
This era is before the now hugely busy Central Area was completed and passenger operations were concentrated on the North Side. However this picture is from the new Central Area Ground Enclosure which sat on top the Central Area Tunnel Mouth from 1954-1958. BEA provides what is to modern eyes a spectacular line up of classic short haul aircraft, but then it was just another day! Note two different turboprop types sandwiching a piston engine type. Right to left, an Airspeed Ambassador (called "Elizabethans" by BEA), two Douglas DC-3s and then four new kids on the block - Vickers Viscounts.
Douglas DC-3 G-AJIA with an Ambassador in the background
Also in the Central Area is Douglas DC-3 G-AJIA with an Ambassador in the background.
BEA DC-3 G-AMNW being towed backwards by a tractor
BEA DC-3 G-AMNW being towed backwards by a tractor.
BEA Vickers Viscount taxiing
Shiny and new, this taxiing Vickers Viscount was then a modern state of the art airliner. It was a successful type sold in great numbers around the world, and quite rightly so. My second ever flight - in the mid 1960s - was in a Viscount and I recall it was a comfortable, smooth and quiet aircraft.
An Ambassador taking off
An Ambassador takes off. Note the control tower in the distance, total absence of clutter (quite unlike the Heathrow of today) and no encroaching development at the perimeter. Given the current (and this description has applied for many years!) agonising over whether to build a third runway at Heathrow, this picture was taken when the airport still had (at least nominally) six! Plus I can remember flying into there in the early 1990s, landing in appalling weather conditions, on the then third runway... the bumpiest and scariest landing I have ever experienced.
Two BOAC Argonauts
This picture is thought to be taken either North Side or more likely from the Hanger Area. At the time there were bus tours to view the latter. Canadair (formerly Canadian Vickers) developed the Douglas DC-4 into a number of variants, these being two North Stars which BOAC called "Argonauts". BOAC used them on routes to South America, Middle and Far East and Africa. It was an Argonaut that one or two years before this picture transported the new Queen Elizabeth ll back from Kenya following the death of her father.


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