CROYDON—AIRPORT OF ENGLAND
.,HULLO CROYDON, Imperial Beer George, from Paris to London, now passing Abbeville OVER."
It was a faint voice that came over the wireless telephone, to the control tower at Croydon, the voice of the pilot of " IBG," flying one of the new fourteen- seater Handley Pages belonging to Imperial Airways, Ltd.
" Croydon speaking," answered the operator, in his staccato voice : " Hullo Imperial Beer George, understand you're passing Abbeville. Is that correct ? OVER."
" OK," whispered the pilot from the French skies.
To this little room of control-switches and telephones, overlooking a kingcup-strewn field, comes news of all the air traffic of England. On a cork map in front of the Chief Controller are spread the airways of Nearer Eurppe tp Paris, Zurich, Amsterdam and Berlin. Little flags indicate the exact position of the air-liners at each moment of the day. On bad flying days the tension is terrific ; half a dozen machines may be converging over the Channel ; every half-hour they send a report ; and when they are actually over sea, the air must be kept clear for them so that in case of engine failure (announced by the word Mayday (M'aidez)—the airman's S.O.S.) their exact bearing may be instantly found by means of directional wireless operated from Pulham and Lympne. Meanwhile the machines on the northern route must be kept well up to Calais ; then when two or more machines are close to the aerodrome they must be directed to different heights to avoid the risk of collision, and, in addition, landing signals must be operated by means of ground lights according to the direction of the wind. And while all this is going on hourly weather reports are coming in, which must be transmitted to the pilots.
A newspaper office when a Government inconveniently collapses half an hour before the formes are locked is nothing compared to the Croydon Control Tower on a foggy day. Not that there is confusion. But there is a terrible responsibility. Mistakes don't happen, instead, the Controller's hair is grey and -the air-routes on his cork map are pitted half an inch deep with the machines he has moved.
Presently " IBG " swoops down. A dozen passengers emerge and stroll through customs. Within ten minutes they are of for London.
Another air-liner is being loaded for the return trip.- The passengers left the Hotel Victoria, Northumberland Avenue, at 11 o'clock. It is now 11.35 a.m. and they are being weighed in the waiting-room of- the Imperial Airways. There is no limit to the excess luggage which may be taken,- but everyone is weighed, first to ascertain the total flying weight and also because a certain passenger recently -travelled all the way to- Zurich wearing three suits of clothes and his complete • wardrobe of under- clothing on his badk. Thirty -pounds (the weight of a large suitcase) goes free, the rest is paid for at 4d. per lb., which works out at less than one would think. A young lady of fashion happens to be travelling to-day (a movie star, perhaps) with a couple of wardrobe trunks and a fortune in sables, satchels, vanity cases, also a " Pek." She pays £4 for the lot to Paris. A Sealyham terrier is also travelling independently, in a wicker basket, and apparently enjoying the experience. (No doubt it is less trying for a dog to fly to France than to undergo all the changes of a rail and steamer journey.) Other freight on this machine includes a thousand day-old chicks, three boxes of baby-milk, a bundle of polo sticks, and a dumb waiter. Who sends such things, one wonders ? Gold bullion is often sent by air in quantities up to £150,000 worth, which is as much as the average 'plane can carry with pilots and fuel. Sea lions and ordinary lions have flown, also babies and invalids for operation.
The passengers take their seats, the pilot tests his great twin engines, an Air Inspection Department official signs to him that he is satisfied, a flag is waved from the control tower, assistants whip out the skids from under the wheels and the Handley Page glides off like a heron, crossing Kenley and Biggan Hill at ninety miles an hour.
Why don't more people fly ? In addition to the mid- day service, an early service has been started since the strike, leaving Victoria Hotel at 6.45 a.m. and reaching the Hotel Edouard VII at 11.40. The return journey can be made at 3.45 p.m. arriving at Northumberland Avenue again at 8.30, thus enabling one to spend an afternoon in Paris in the interval between an early breakfast and a late dinner. The cost of a round trip is eleven guineas.
" I'd sooner go up in one of your machines than cross the road in Trafalgar Square," a distinguished passenger wrote recently to Imperial Airways, Ltd. But in spite of the safety and speed of our airways—to say nothing of their comfort as against a Channel crossing —too few of us travel by air. If every visitor to the Continent would spend six guineas on the experience of a flight to Paris there are few who would not become permanent patrons of the new travel. This is not said as an advertisement of Imperial Airways, but only because the future existence of England as a World Power depends on flying. If we do not go up in the air, one of these days Somebody may send us up with bombs.
Young England is alive to its fascination : we elders are the laggards. The public enclosure at Croydon is crowded with children ; in their bright eyes, in their sane minds lives the hope of conquests wider and worthier than any our race has yet made. Let us not deter their hopes or daunt their heroisms with the crabbed counsel of age. 'Ten-year-old Peter haunts the aerodrome, his friends are the mechanics, the pilots are his Drakes and Nelsons. As we were leaving, he came up cap in hand to a pilot to thank hini for a flight in an experimental machine.
" That boy's all right," said the pilot, " and so are his people, which is the great thing. They trust me to see he doesn't take unnecessary risks. One day he'll be a good pilot, for he's got air-sense. Another kid came to me the other day ; his parents were furious when they heard he wanted to fly, so I had to send him away. But it was a shame. For goodness' sake try to tell people what the air is going to mean to England."