blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Air Travel, 1950's

Pilot ready to go, DC-3
(You'll agree, a wonderful shot!)

I was young when we took our first trip to the British West Indies.  In those days, air travel wasn’t quite the routine it is today, and the air route to Bridgetown, Barbados, was not a single hop. One reason for this was that although jet planes had just entered the commercial sphere, travel to the West Indies was not the popular run-of-the-mill destination it is today. The piston-driven planes and prop jets on which we’d travel had top speeds of a mere 200-350 mph v. the 550 mph of true jets like the Boeing 707.
Vickers Viscount
We’d fly from Syracuse, New York on Allegheny Airlines to La Guardia, on a trusty DC-3 or one of the newer Convairs. Then, the next day, somehow or other—I remember, sometimes via small planes, taxis, and buses—we’d travel across NYC east to Idlewild (now JFK). From there, we’d fly to Bermuda, and then the long leg to San Juan, where we’d pick up flights that took us to Barbados.  Mom was an Anglophile, so we often traveled BOAC, (British Overseas Airlines Corp.) though sometimes we’d go Pan Am for that first long leg, flying in DC 6’s and 7’s, or on TWA on the famous “Super Connies” (Lockheed Constellations), whose stick-insect bodies and three vertical stablizers marked them out. 

 Super Constellation
My Dad had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and he loved aircraft, so he always managed to have a few words with the pilot.   In those days, we could go up front and  look in at the flight deck, at the impressively uniformed pilot and co-pilot in their dial-and-gauge filled cockpit. Once on BOAC, we had a memorable ride from Idlewild to Puerto Rico on a Bristol Britannia, a 4 engine “whispering giant” turbo prop, which could fly with a top speed of 385 mph, and at the serene (and then remarkably pressurized) altitude of 20,000 feet. That was a real change from the noisy piston planes barging and bumping through turbulence and clouds. The older planes would drop for what seemed thousands of feet and then leap up again while still within a big cumulus, tossing overhead luggage down upon us and leaving our stomachs somewhere up on the ceiling. From those, we’d emerge almost deaf after so many hours of banging and rumbling.  

On the island hops, we’d be on feeder airlines again. BWI, British West Indian Airways, flew some Vickers Viscounts on the grand run from San Juan to Trinidad, Caracas and on into South America. Often, though, it was back to the good old DC 3’s again, where, lugging my carry-on, filled with books, teddies, a Swan Lake L.P. and sundries, I’d clamber up the steep rise of the gangway to find a window seat. Once in the air, I could see the islands and reefs surrounded by azure water and white caps, an astonishing change from the filthy frozen piles of snow we’d left behind in New York a mere 24 hours ago.
--Juliet Waldron

About the pictures:
 Love this image of boarding a plane, the way it used to be done, by lining up on the tarmak with luggage in hand. This appears to be a period shot of a DC-9, SAS. The Super Connie with her 3 tail stablizers appears to be in an air museum. It was a pretty singular looking plane.

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  1. Very interesting article. I remember walking across the tarmac to board a plane too!

  2. Hi Juliet,
    A trip down memory lane for sure. I too can remember walking across the tarmac to board a plane. How times have changed.



  3. Thanks, Ann and Margaret, for visiting! It's kind of strange to have one's early childhood suddenly become "historic." :)