A UNIQUE FORMATION
By Richard Fisher
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These air to air photographs of 1-11 500 G-AYOP were taken during a formation sortie on the 21st March 1974. This was primarily a filming opportunity for the marketing departments of both BCAL and BAC. However, Boeing may have featured in there somehow. Movie teams together with a couple of stills photographers were established in the forward cabins of both aircraft, with seat rows forward of the wings, lining panels and inner window protection removed sufficient for purpose. However, these images were taken by my father, who came along for the ride, and to act as liason between cockpit and the film crew on the 707 "Mothership". I have never seen the results of the days filming, and the whereabouts of both that and the official stills are a mystery, but my father took the colour shots with an MPP technical camera which he was trying out for the first time. I operated as the co-pilot on the 707 (707-320C, G-AXRS), and it was on a JFK schedule trip just previously that I picked up the MPP. I remember it clearly since the trade outlet was about half way up the Empire State building. The camera had bellows back and front, but no viewfinder. Hence most of the colour images were not useable. I'm fairly sure the black and white photographs were taken with the sturdy Hasselblad, and two of these record the moment when the 1-11 got too close for comfort!
My understanding is that there was a substantial PR archive that came into the combined companies of Caledonian and BUA in 1969. My source from the Caledonian/BUA, (renamed British Caledonian, BCAL in 1971) PR office tells me that the BUA archive, containing presumably material from Freddy Laker's introduction of the 1-11 200 to BUA, went missing shortly after an announcement of the merger between BCAL and BA in 1988. With this, quite possibly, went material from BUA's constituent companies going back to around 1946. The BA archive at Hatton Cross appears to have no trace of the 1974 air to air filming, although they may have other later archive material. Glyn Jenin, who was on board the 1-11 on the occasion featured here, tells me that his contribution went to the customer along with the copyright. Jenin did a lot of aviation publicity work, as well as his contributions as a Fleet Street picture editor.
There is one colour photograph from the 1974 sortie on the net. I think someone from Brooklands posted it. It appears on the left hand side of the 707, having taken emergency avoiding action from the right hand side where it was originally planned to remain........
I seem to recall that we had a fairly extensive pre-flight briefing together with the film crews at the Caledonian owned Copthorne House which, by this time, was probably the first of the Copthorne Hotel chain. I don't think we had a separate self brief for the four pilots and 707 Flight Engineer. In retrospect, we probably should have done! The 1-11 was handled by Adrian Ross, who had his own publicity interests outside BCAL, and may, on the day have been lead hand...........can't really remember. ( He also was one of the founders of Trans European 1959-1962 ) At some point, we had briefed for the 1-11 to formate on our right, which it did. It is a long time ago, but we had the two movie cameras set up on the right hand positions in the 707 ( I have the cabin photos ), and we were prepared for a right formation turn, or maybe the 1-11 was going to peel right.......either way, since I was in the right hand seat of the 707, my captain ( Roger Bailey ) would have to rely on me to greater or lesser extent. Can't ask Adrian, since sadly, he died relatively soon into retirement some years ago. Two of the black and white prints display something of the event. The first shows the 1-11 in a slight nose down, left banked attitude, and rapidly closing range - with one of the 707's engine pods in the bottom right hand corner. I think, perhaps, when the 1-11 decided to close up a bit, he misjudged the rate of closure, and with no time or space to correct, had to pull up overhead us, and the second shot shows this with the 1-11 still in a left bank, and his wing not a lot in front of ours...........still, no harm done, but those behind the cameras on the right hand side of the 707 reckoned that Oscar Papa's left wing tip shot past within a few feet - With the ensuing racket, it certainly sounded like it......Quick conference, followed by rapid equipment shuffle to left hand windows where the crew remained for the balance of the operation, I imagine.
I think it was this occasion, that after separating for the return to base, we got military radar clearance for a brief low level fun run up the Channel in the 707. ( We used this facility and same area for C of A test flights somewhere between Dorset/Devon and the French FIR, if memory serves.)
I had much admired the look and clever self sufficient design of the 1-11 since seeing the first Caledonian 500 series shiny fresh out the shop at the Biggin Hill Airshow ( 1969? ) At the time, swapping fleets depended on Company requirement only. However ,after joining forces with BUA, it was decided that in general, initial commands were to be on the 1-11. My number came up in 1973, but I was put on hold as money was tight, ( Yom Kippur, Fuel Crisis, blah, blah ) Not long after the above trip in 1974, I was allowed to do the full course on my own, and after a few months in the RHS to settle into my first taste of speedy- rapid- turnaround shorthaul. I had over three hugely enjoyable years before returning to the Longhaul ( tourist ) fleets. I eventually got the age related heave- ho from BA's 744 fleet, and via the company's helpful surplus used pilot marketing scheme was thinking about China Air when I heard that 1-11's were still around at Bournemouth, and not long after found myself back in Oscar Papa. Over the intervening twenty something years, both of us were noticeably more scruffy dented and scratched, but still pretty much in working order. Added to which, all this in a charmingly unmodernised venue at the original Vickers Armstrong final assembly sheds overlooking a retro 1950's open style ramp complete with a couple or three half scrapped airliners; an abandoned WW2 latrine block; weeds, and the occasional rabbit or fox - particularly if Jaffa the ill tempered company cat was busy indoors with the Dorset mice.
Richard Fisher February 2008