Tag Archives: West Indies

Air Travel in the 1950’s, a kid’s memory

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DC-9 loading on the tarmac
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Vickers Viscount, a sturdy little workhouse

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. 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.

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DC-3 Pilot in his cockpit

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“Super Connie,” this one now in an air museum

My Dad had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and he still who loved aircraft, so he always managed to have a few words with the pilot. In those days, we could go up front and briefly look in 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. It was a real change from the noisy piston planes barging and bumping through turbulence and clouds. Sometimes they’d drop for what seemed thousands of feet and then leap up again while still within a big cumulus, tossing overhead luggage out and leaving our stomachs somewhere up on the ceiling.

From those older planes, 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

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Find Juliet Waldron at Second Wind Publishing

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