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Wonders of World Aviation

Return trips by Aeroplane from Croydon to Cologne and to Copenhagen

TWO AIR LINERS OF K.L.M., Royal Dutch Air Lines

TWO AIR LINERS OF K.L.M., Royal Dutch Air Lines, with passengers boarding one of them. Both of these aircraft are American Douglas monoplanes. The flag on the aeroplane in the foreground is the red, white and blue flag of Holland with the KLM symbol superimposed on it. The flag is lowered before the aeroplane takes off.

A PASSENGER wishing to fly from Croydon to the Continent has a wide choice of air lines. Besides the British services there are several foreign lines. These include the German D.L.H., operating fast Junkers and Heinkel machines; the Dutch K.L.M., with high-speed Douglas monoplanes of American design; Air France, with Bloch monoplanes, which cruise at 200 miles an hour; the Belgian Sabena, which has a fleet of Italian Savoia-Marchetti S.83s (commercial versions of the S.79 bombers which won the Marseilles-Damascus Paris international air race in 1937); the Swedish Aero-transport line, with Douglas, Junkers and Fokker machines; the Swissair company, also with Douglas monoplanes; and the Danish D.D.L., using Focke-Wulf Condors.

An account of two trips made to the Continent by air liner well illustrates the advanced stage of development which air travel of today has reached.

Reservation was made by telephone on a Tuesday morning in a British air liner leaving Croydon that afternoon at 1.30, spending twenty-five minutes at Brussels and reaching Cologne at 5 p.m.

Preliminaries, although seemingly elaborate, are simple. For the Cologne service the passenger reaches Airways House, Victoria Station, London, at 12.35 p.m., ten minutes before the motor coach is due to leave for Croydon Airport. Those ten minutes are devoted to the international formalities with which every traveller must comply.

Through the swing doors of Airways House, past the bookstall and Poste Restante bureau, the passenger enters a long reception hall. Its centre is occupied by six large leather settees and by writing desks at which incoming foreigners fill in their Aliens Registration forms. At one side of the hall are telephone booths, armchairs, tables, a foreign exchange bureau and entrances to cloakrooms. A counter runs the full length of the other side. Behind it assistants deal with freight, baggage registration and general inquiries. Near the main door, flanked by an automatic weighing machine, is a railed enclosure. Above it is a printed card bearing the words “Departure for Brussels and Cologne”.

It is at this barrier that the international requirements of air travel are settled. If the passenger’s passport is in order, the formalities occupy only a few seconds.

Tickets have been prepared in advance. Baggage is surrendered on entering the hall. At the counter the passenger hands in his passport and stands on the scales. Weights of passenger and baggage are noted. The free allowance is 33 lb. Without a signed permit from the Air Ministry, cameras may not be used in an aircraft. Cameras are surrendered with the baggage and are kept in a special receptacle in the air liner until it reaches the passenger’s destination. The passenger is next handed his ticket, consisting of several printed sheets, clipped into a paper cover. A second booking clerk gums a red label to the cover. It reads: “Your seat is No. 34. Kindly present this ticket to the steward on embarkation”.With the book is a blue embarkation slip.

It is now nearly 12.45 p.m. A motor coach stands at the entrance. Presently, from a loudspeaker fixed above the counter, come the words: “Will all passengers travelling in the Brussels-Cologne car kindly take their seats. Will they be good enough to give up their embarkation slips on entering the car”.

A few moments later the coach sets off for the forty-minutes’ drive to Croydon Airport.

Arrived at the entrance, passengers are escorted by an official through the main hall, with its post office, foreign exchange, European weather chart, newspaper and confectionery stalls, and offices of the various air lines which daily use the airport. At the far end of the hall passports are restored, and passengers are led, beyond the customs barrier, to the aerodrome. Here they enter the huge forty-two-seater by a covered gangway. Baggage not required during the flight has a distinctive label attached to it.

At the head of the gangway uniformed stewards show passengers to seats corresponding with their ticket numbers. Not a moment is wasted. The four engines are ticking over. Captain, second pilot, navigator and wireless officer are seated and waiting. The hands on the control-tower clock point to half-past one. The last passenger has been comfortably settled. Ground assistants close the cabin door and remove the gangway. Stewards return to the galley. At a signal from the control officer, the machine taxies out to begin its flight of 312 miles. A British Airways Electra is about to land. Stationary on the aerodrome are a Belgian Savoia-Marchetti, flying the black, yellow and red national flag; a German Junkers, with the blue and yellow house flag of the Deutsche Luft Hansa; and a Douglas monoplane with the K.L.M. symbol superimposed on the red, white and blue flag of Holland.

The machine turns into wind and roars across the aerodrome. In the centre of the ground, in enormous white letters, is the name CROYDON. The wheels leave the ground at the letter D. A few moments later the machine’s shadow is seen on the grass far below. The bunkers of Purley golf links resemble giant footprints in the sand. Past a checkerboard of small tilled fields, the R.A.F. station at Kenley appears for a fleeting instant. Stewards distribute route maps. Tables are laid for luncheon; menu cards and wine lists are submitted.

To-day’s luncheon menu is typical of modern air-line catering:

Sole in Aspic

Roast Fillet of Veal

Potato Puree       Brussels Sprouts

Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce

Roast Chicken

York Ham

Vegetable Salad

Sherry Trifle

Fruit Salad and Cream

Cheese: Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Dutch

Toast Imperial          Assorted Biscuits


TTHE CONTROL TOWER AT SCHIPHOLhe first course is served as the aeroplane passes over Maidstone, Kent. From 4,200 feet, a row of gasholders against a chalky background suggests tiny red buttons on a card.

Before the second course has been served, we have left the English coast at Deal, with its narrow ribbon of sand, and are above the Channel. Brown sails of fishing smacks, white wake of a steamer, and already the harbour of Dunkirk is in sight.

THE CONTROL TOWER AT SCHIPHOL, the airport of Amsterdam. The control officer is operating the signal light which gives permission to take off to the pilot of the aeroplane at which it is pointed. Schiphol Airport is one of the finest and busiest in Europe In 1937 more than 83,000 passengers passed through the port; in the summer more than 100 commercial aeroplanes make use of it each day.

The air liner offers such amenities as current periodicals, unrestricted leg-space and roomy lounge seats with pneumatic cushions. Walls and doors are panelled in mahogany. For each passenger there is an adjustable ventilator. Silk-curtained windows, shaded reading lamps, carpeted floors and a staff of stewards combine to make the journey no less comfortable than one by sea or by land.

As stewards serve the third course, the aeroplane crosses the sand dunes south of Blankenberghe. Presently Dixmude, with its imposing war memorial, draws attention to Belgium’s new strategic highway from the coast at Ostend direct to the capital. Memories of the ravages of 1914-18 are revived by familiar roads still treeless, and by the thousands of new farm-houses and dwellings in the old war zone, their bright red roofs contrasting oddly with the dull green moss-clad slates of those few which survived four years of shellfire. The unhealed scars of extensive trench systems are still visible from the air.

Before the arrival of fruit salad and cream, from the pantry refrigerator, we have passed the canals of Bruges, the cotton mills of Ghent, and the jute factories of Alost. There is barely time to take coffee before a panorama of the outskirts of Brussels unfolds itself.

Croydon to Copenhagen

A few miles north of the aerodrome of Haeren the aeroplane is put into a gentle glide, retaining sufficient height for a circuit above the airport before landing smoothly. Haeren is used by commercial aircraft of many nations and by the Belgian Air Force. Excavations are in progress. Ruts and pitfalls abound. The aeroplane is taxied past these and halted at the entrance to the airport buildings. A gangway is brought to the cabin door.

Five passengers have reached their destination - to be replaced by four others. A baggage truck appears. Mailbags and suitcases are removed from the hold and wheeled to the Post Office and customs shed. Passengers visit the kiosks in the hall, send off postcards, buy souvenirs, inspect the restaurant and study the tape machine. The captain is discharging routine duties at the office in the main hall.

At 3.55 flight is resumed on the 112-miles stage to Cologne. Soon, 3,000 feet below, the massive cathedral of Louvain comes into view, followed by Hasselt, at the end of the Antwerp Canal.

North of Liege the German frontier is crossed at the Meuse. Passengers at once notice the change of architecture, the round towers and conical roofs, the wide new Autobahnen (motor roads) stretching to distant horizons, the coal quarries. Presently Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), with its busy thoroughfares is seen; huge concrete chimneys of countless factories and steelworks; and, beyond the River Erft, the first glimpse of the Rhine, the university buildings of Bonn, and the twin spires of Cologne Cathedral.

An hour’s flight from Brussels brings into view the low, flat-roofed, white buildings of Cologne Airport, the vast new Reichswehr barracks adjoining it and the neat rows of dwellings. On the aerodrome are seven German aeroplanes and one Belgian. Others are seen near the hangar of a flying school.

The aeroplane glides down, lands, taxies to a standstill near the airport buildings. Again the mail van and baggage truck appear. Passengers are escorted to the custom office, comply with the currency regulations of the country, enter a waiting coach, are driven some three miles into the heart of the city and set down at the terminal office. Here they handle their baggage for the first time since they entered the Airways terminus at Victoria.

The return flight to Croydon begins at 9 a.m. the next day in drizzle and heavy mist. Wireless reports from London and Brussels promise thick fog most of the way. Ten minutes after the take-off the aeroplane is flying at 3,000 feet, above a bed of cotton wool, pierced by tall white plumes of smoke from invisible factory chimneys. An hour later, with the ground still blotted out, the aeroplane has recrossed the Meuse. At 10.30 the fog disperses. Ghent lies 3,800 feet below. A group of eight radio masts denotes the radio station of Ruysselede. Then the air liner passes Bruges again, and the River Yser. The Belgian coast is crossed at La Panne, the Kentish coast at Deal. Then come Canterbury, Maidstone, an expanse of hopfields and their adjoining oast-houses. Kenley at 12.20, and across the Southern Railway to glide down above Purley Way, followed by a K.L.M. liner from Amsterdam; again the control-tower clock - 12.28.

The forty-minutes’ coach ride back to Victoria, with endless traffic hold-ups, loses none of its tedium.

The second trip was from Croydon to Copenhagen, a distance of 650 miles, with a halt of half an hour in Germany at Hamburg. The aeroplane left Croydon at 9 a.m. and reached the Danish capital before 1 p.m.

At 8.15 a.m. the British Airways coach departs from Terminal House, Victoria. The journey out to Croydon, with its orderly bustle, is again slow. Here, near the waiting ten-seater Lockheed Electra monoplane, stand other air liners, including a Belgian Savoia, just starting for Brussels, and a K.L.M. Douglas embarking passengers for Batavia.

At 8.58 a.m. the twin-engined Electra has taken on its load for Hamburg, Copenhagen and Mahno. Although the monoplane has been designed primarily for speed, comfort has not been neglected. The blue leather chairs are mounted on plated tubes, and are adjustable to any position. Armrests are of sponge rubber. Morning newspapers and periodicals line the overhead racks. Each passenger has his own reading lamp and ventilator.

Crossing the Elbe

Signalled away at nine, the machine takes off with a fast run of eight seconds. Five minutes later, at 6,300 feet, in blue sky and warm sunshine, it has surmounted the dense blanket of fog and scudding clouds which obscure land and sea almost without a break for nearly two hours.

INTERIOR OF AN AIR LINERAt 11.30, having crossed the North Sea and Holland with barely a glimpse of the surface, we pass Bremen, with its shipyards, forest of tall chimneys and towering grain silos. At 11.40 the Electra descends below the cloud layer. At 11.47, guided by the blind-approach receiver which is standard equipment of the British Airways fleet, the aircraft has crossed the Elbe at 2,400 feet.

INTERIOR OF AN AIR LINER taken from the back of the passenger cabin. Some of the pilot’s controls are visible through the door at the front end of the cabin. The machine is an Italian Savoia-Marchetti used on the Belgian Sabena lines. Note the headrests to the armchairs and the folding tables attached to the back of each seat.

On the stroke of 12 we have landed at Fuhlsbuttel, the airport of Hamburg, and enter its restaurant for a quick meal.

From the restaurant windows the activity that characterizes every large airport in Germany is noticed, the endless arrivals and departures of liners of half a dozen European nations; the efficiency of aerodrome officials in their distinctive uniforms. The customs officers are dressed in bright green tunics, heavily gold-braided; baggage porters in dark blue jerseys and semi-naval beribboned caps; the ground-control traffic officer, in Wellington boots, wears a grey military overcoat, and a grey peaked cap with silver winged badge. In his leather-gloved hands is a signalling stick, topped by a large white disk, red-circled on one side, green on the other. It carries all the authority of an automatic traffic-lights system and is in constant use. Serving the aircraft lined up on the “tarmac” is a battery of petrol and oil motor-tankers of varied colours and representing many interests.

At 12.25, the meal ended and international air traffic requirements satisfied, the Electra is circling over Hamburg, with its enormous blocks of new flats and rapidly extending outer suburbs.

In twenty minutes it has crossed Fehmern Sound and its small island, and is flying at three miles a minute, over the belt of water which separates Germany from Denmark. The Danish coast is crossed at Rodby, on the island of Laaland. At 1.15 the aeroplane glides down from 6,600 feet to 3,000 feet, and the passengers enjoy a clear view of one of the engineering triumphs of the age. This is the Storstrom Bridge, one of the longest bridges in Europe; the bridge connects the islands of Falster and Zealand and replaces the old train ferry.

The journey quickly comes to an end. Less than ten minutes are required to cross the southern portion of Zealand, from Svaedeborg to Stroby; another four to cross the Kjoge Bay to Amager, on which stands Kastrup, Copenhagen’s busy airport. At 12.40, punctual to the minute, the aeroplane had landed. The arrival is a routine affair. To fly the 650 miles from London to Copenhagen in about three and a half hours is a daily incident; for Denmark is one of the most air-minded countries in the world. In 1937 more than 60,000 passengers visited her capital by air. New airport buildings, five times as large as the existing accommodation at Kastrup, are being built; and plans are in hand for additional wings and other extensions to cope with the growing volume of traffic.

Nearly 90,000 Passengers a Year

Air traffic has expanded beyond expectations, because passengers have found that the air lines maintain an exemplary record for regularity and punctuality. For convenience, luxury and speed in combination, modern air travel is unsurpassed.

A short and pleasant coach ride, through clean, wide avenues and boulevards, brings passengers to the company’s Copenhagen offices in the main thoroughfare (Vesterbrogade) in good time for luncheon.

The organization behind these daily flights across Europe is considerable. The flights are governed by the council of the International Air Traffic Association, and apply equally to all European air lines. Booking office systems are standardized. They cover acceptance of passengers, control of tickets throughout the route, surface transport and baggage regulations. The baggage regulations deal with free allowance, dimensions, prohibited articles, excess charges, luggage carried in cabin, and the carriage of livestock.

The traffic department is responsible for the adjustment of bookings to the number of seats available at various ports of call, coach dispatch, the transport of passengers’ friends to and from airports, and the collection of passports, passenger lists and various other documents. These documents are placed in a satchel and handed to the coach driver. At the departure airport they are taken over by a representative and entrusted to the aircraft pilot or commander.


IN THE CUSTOMS HALL AT SCHIPHOL, AMSTERDAM showing passengers receiving their baggage (left), and (in the centre) having their passports checked. One of the advantages of travel by air is the lack of congestion at the customs offices, passengers being put to the least possible inconvenience when their journey involves crossing a frontier.

The key document of the trip is the load sheet. It embodies twelve sets of entries: (1) maximum permissible loaded weight of the aircraft; (2) net weight, including water and fixed equipment; (3) weight of removable equipment - rugs, maps, logbooks, radio headphones; (4) weight of fuel at start of flight; (5) weight of oil; (6) individual weight of each member of crew and of his baggage; (7) number and total weight of passengers, analysed to individual destinations; (8) number of pieces and total weight of passengers’ baggage for each stage; (9) total weight of cargo and mail; (10) loaded weight of aircraft; (11) distribution of cargo, showing how and in which compartment each piece is stowed; (12) certificate of general fitness of aircraft.

The load sheet must be signed before flight by the traffic officer supervising the load, by the loader who certifies that it has been properly loaded, and by the pilot who checks and countersigns the entries.

Papers carried by the pilot are: load sheet, journey logbook, passenger and baggage list, cargo manifest, daily certificate of safety for flight, outward clearance form, freight and consignment notes, advice of fuel carried and meteorological reports.

During the flight the wireless operator on board the aircraft maintains constant touch with airports on the route. Pencil in hand, logbook on chart-table, and headphones clipped to his ears, he receives and transmits Morse signals from take-off until a few moments before landing, when he “signs off’’ for the trip and winds in his trailing aerial.

Since the aircraft left Croydon the wireless operator has handled several hundred words of “traffic”, as well as sending and receiving commercial and private messages for passengers.

In a modern air liner the close teamwork between commander, navigator and radio officer and the wholehearted cooperation of all foreign airports can be fully appreciated only by the passenger who has been privileged to observe the system at work and has studied the wireless log of an “over weather” flight.

The journey back to London from Copenhagen started from Kastrup at 1 p.m., after a leisurely lunch at Copenhagen (one hour ahead of Greenwich mean time), and ended at Victoria five hours later. Besides the twenty-five-minutes’ halt at Hamburg, a visit of half an hour was paid to the Amsterdam airport of Schiphol - one of the finest and busiest in Europe. In 1937 more than 88,000 passengers passed through the port; and during the summer season it is used daily by more than a hundred commercial air liners.

A flight across Holland, in the setting sun of an early spring day, over vast expanses of tulip fields, a geometric network of canals, dikes and waterways, punctuated by old-world windmills and brightly painted barges, provides a kaleidoscope of colour to delight even the most sophisticated traveller.

By way of contrast, the towering masts of Hilversum broadcasting station remind passengers that time marches on, despite the fifteenth-century headdress, the wooden clogs and voluminous coloured trousers of the people below. After the Zuider Zee and a thirty-five-minutes’ crossing of the North Sea, Sheerness is passed and a glimpse is obtained of Tilbury Docks, with a P. & O. liner lying at her wharf and another entering the docks. Seven minutes later a floodlight landing is ade in the Airport of London - Croydon. To the reflective user of European airways, the ever-increasing importance of wireless as an aid to navigation needs no emphasis. Flying high above the cloud layer, the pilot of today must rely less on visible landmarks than on guidance from an invisible agency and on his skill to make use of the information thus brought to the cockpit.

Already the volume of traffic is outgrowing even the biggest and newest airports. In 1938 air-line operators, aircraft constructors and aerodrome designers are planning ten years, ahead. They foresee the day when airport customs officers will be as numerous as railway ticket collectors, and air routes will link every important town and city.

BRITISH AIRWAYS LOCKHEED ELECTRA MONOPLANE in flight among clouds. At the beginning of 1938 machines of this type were used exclusively on all passenger-carrying services to Scandinavia. Provision is made for ten passengers in the main cabin behind the pilot’s cabin. The space in the nose of the machine is used for baggage and has a capacity of 35 cubic feet. Two Pratt and Whitney Wasp-Junior S.B. engines are fitted and give the aircraft a cruising speed of about 175 miles an hour. The maximum speed is 210 miles an hour at 5,000 feet.

[From Part 11, published 17 May 1938]

You can read more on “Air Routes of the World”, “Air Traffic Control”,  and “Homing Radio” on this website.

Air Travel to the Continent