In February, we headed to the UK for a family wedding that we had really been looking forward to. The overnight flight to Heathrow got us across the Atlantic. When we landed, we headed for Terminal 5 to unload. However, our gate was not yet clear. We had made good time across the water, so we were a little early and the late departures of BA were not designed to accommodate that! Instead, we started doing laps of the concourses while they waited for us to have a gate open. We ended up parking on a taxiway for a while and then doing another half lap. While this was not ideal, I did end up taking a few photos of the BA jets around the airport.
Passenger 747s are few and far between these days but the freighter world still has plenty of them. Even so, seeing a 747 is coming in is a nice addition to an afternoon. Heathrow’s arrivals included a Cathay Pacific Cargo 747-8F which was a nice bonus. I haven’t had much luck with the Cathay 747-8Fs over the years so was looking forward to it showing up. I had positioned a lot closer to the approach path when it came in and I wondered whether I might have too much lens since the 8F is the longest variant. Fortunately, it all worked out just fine and the sun played ball too.
Aviation enthusiasts are an odd bunch. They love aviation but they can really hate certain types. The emotions can really run high and no type exemplifies this more than the A380. The project hasn’t been a success by modern standards and production has now ended. This provides much glee for some people for some reason. I’m not sure why they feel the lack of success for a plane makes their life better but whatever.
I have flown on the A380 a couple of times and it was a great experience. I always like seeing them. Variety is sadly lacking in modern aviation and anything different is welcome as far as I am concerned. The onset of the pandemic resulted in many airlines parking all sorts of types and the A380s were clearly a target. If there are no passengers, the largest capacity jet is not going to be helpful. The death of the A380 was widely proclaimed. However, it turns out that this was a bit premature.
A few airlines have been reinstating their fleets and more are coming back out of storage. British Airways has their fleet back in action. Emirates is using theirs heavily. At Heathrow, I also saw Qatar and Qantas using theirs again. (Qatar might be more related to their spat with Airbus over A350s and the need for any capacity they can get.) It is good news that they are still around. We shall see what the future brings for some of the other jets that are still stored.
Lufthansa was a launch customer for the A320neo and took delivery of some of the earliest airframes. They now have an extensive fleet of the jets and they seem to be flying in to Heathrow very frequently. I ended up shooting a bunch of their jets in my brief excursion. I am not a big fan of their newest livery but, while it looks dull on the bigger jets, I actually feel like it suits the A320 a little better.
Shooting at an airport you don’t normally get to shoot at means you have the opportunity to shoot airlines that you wouldn’t see otherwise. What can be even nicer is if you get a special livery on one of these jets. (There is a small element in the back of your head that worries about not having shot the normal livery and that you still won’t have because of the special but that churlish thought needs to be suppressed!) Three of the jets coming in from overseas were in special finishes as was one of the locals. British Airways had an A320neo in a paint finish that was sky blue. I actually watched it depart too when waiting to board my flight home.
Kenya Airways flies their 787s in to London. The jet that came in on this day had a graphic of rhinos on the rear fuselage. Not a totally different livery but a nice addition. Brussels Airlines flies their A320s in to Heathrow and the airframe I saw was in a Tintin scheme that covered the whole airframe. It looked really good. Royal Jordanian was the last of my specials. Its 787 had a graphic advertising the city of Petra which covered the side of the jet. All nice efforts by the respective airlines.
One of the things I was looking forward to seeing at Heathrow was A350s in new liveries. I have seen a lot of A350s but I have never seen the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic A350-1000s and, since they are based at Heathrow, I figured I would get a chance. As we landed and taxied in, I saw both operators’ aircraft but, because of where I was sitting, I wasn’t able to get any shots. The end of the journey and the return to Heathrow allowed me to address that.
I got to shoot an arriving BA jet while outside the airport and there were some parked up on the gates when we were getting ready to board our flights. Virgin was a bit more elusive. I could see one parked up behind a Cathay 777 but that was it. Other operators were also helping out though. Amongst the arriving jets were examples from Malaysian Airlines, Finnair and Iberia. All nice additions to the A350 collection for me.
The day before we left the UK for home, we headed to a hotel at the airport since we had an early departure in the morning. We got there early in the afternoon and I figured I had a little time to make my way to Myrtle Avenue. I have seen plenty of photos from this location but have never actually shot from there. They swap runways at 3pm and I had about an hour before that time. Not a lot but the conditions were great so time to try.
What I didn’t count on was the Piccadilly Line. I stood at the station under Terminal 5 for 25 minutes before a train finally left. I was only going to get to Hatton Cross with less than half an hour to go and I wondered whether it was worth it. However, I didn’t have any other plans so why not. Some rapid walking along the A30 to Myrtle Avenue with planes arriving over my head and I joined a large crowd of people hanging out enjoying the afternoon. Plenty of photographers were there but there were also loads of families just out enjoying the sunny afternoon and the planes.
It was worth going with a few interesting arrivals before 3pm arrived and they switched runways. At this point, I was tempted to head back to the hotel. Not having ever explored the east end of the airport, I didn’t know what was possible. However, as I mentioned above, I didn’t have any other plans so I wandered along the eastern perimeter road. I bumped in to a couple of other photographers – one of whom was visiting from Vancouver. There were a few spots where good shots were possible and the conditions were getting better and better. It proved to be a well worthwhile exploration which will get its own post at some point.
A launch customer for the A320 was British Caledonian Airways. Unfortunately for those that liked Scottish themed airlines, BCal was bought by British Airways before the jets were delivered. I recall some dispute with Airbus about who would pay for the repaint of the first jet but maybe that is an urban legend. I think there were ten of them and BA took delivery. However, they were an orphan fleet for a long time in amongst all of the BA 737s and 757s.
That changed when BA went to an all A320 family short haul fleet breaking their long standing use of Boeing jets (plus some other stragglers). However, that cam much later. The earliest jets were A320-100s and these didn’t have the wing tip fences. The A320-200 followed very soon afterwards. Here are two shots of them. One is from 1988 with an A320 in BA’s Landor scheme on approach over my head to Gatwick. The other shot is a late in life shot of one of the earliest jets taken at Heathrow. These early examples are all gone now.
When we first lived in Chicago, I was working for a UK based company. I used to make regular trips to London to check in with the mother ship. For the return journey, I would usually take the morning flight back to O’Hare from Heathrow. In those days, BA operated from Terminal 4 and there was a Hilton hotel attached to the terminal. This made the whole process very easy. Get up, walk across the bridge to the terminal and check in. It also meant I could get the occasional shots of operations.
There was a fire escape on the side of the hotel that provided a view to the east and to a bit of the airfield itself. It was a bit restricted as views go but it was not bad. I could get some shots of the operations if the direction of the flow was right. I would also get up early sometimes to see the arrivals coming in as the sun was coming up. Here are some of the shots I got from there.
At the majority of airports I fly out, there are basic tugs used to push the airliners back. They are hooked on using a towbar and push the jet out. The tugs at Heathrow are a bit different from the ones I am used to seeing. They are the type of tug that actually picks up the noseleg to move the aircraft out. The leg is surrounded by the tug and elevated. The tug then drives wherever required with the leg coming along. They are pretty substantial beasts. Moving a widebody needs a big tug I guess. They can move a 747 or an A380 but in this case “only” a 787.