Fifty-five years ago on 29 May 1963, just a normal day for most people at the Handley Page factory at Radlett in Hertfordshire. As they got on with the job of fulfilling the order book for their new turbo- prop, feeder liner, the Handley Page Dart Herald, the sound of an aeroplane taking off from the company runway outside the factory barely raised an eyebrow.
However this was no ordinary departure from the airfield, this was Herald constructors number 10, this was Herald G-APWJ, it was OUR Herald making its first flight. The first in a career of 44,000 flights.
Ordered originally by Transair, the airline changed its mind about the purchase so ‘WJ was delivered direct to British United (Channel Island) Airways in Jersey a couple of weeks after her first flight.
Five years later British United revamped its branding and dispensed with the (Channel Island) part of the airline name re registering ‘WJ as being owned by British United Airways This was accompanied by a brand new paint scheme to better reflect the late sixties early seventies era.
However, she was only to wear this scheme for a couple of years before the colours of British Island Airways were applied in 1970 following the takeover of British United by Caledonian Airways. The old British United Island Airways arm of the company was not included in the deal so BIA arose phoenix-like from the demise of BUA.
WJ taxiing onto her stand at Gatwick. now in the colours of British Island Airways. (Photo: Dietrich Eggert)
WJ at Dusseldorf, in a different version of BIA's livery (Photo: Dietrich Eggert)
She was to fly with BIA for ten years, before following a merger of several companies including BIA resulted in the formation of her last operator AirUk. Our Herald was to fly with this airline for another five years completing a total of 22 years in airline service and holding the mantle of operating the last ever scheduled passenger flight by a Herald in the summer of 1985.
This should have taken place on Saturday 29th June with a Southampton to Jersey flight with the plan being an empty return to Norwich for retirement the following day as the flight crew were due to start their F27 ground school course on the Monday. However on arriving at Norwich the crew were asked to take WJ to Leeds to pick up passengers destined for Belfast whose F27 Friendship had been delayed by technical problems. On the return leg to Leeds the crosswind had picked up and WJ had to divert into Manchester making this the last commercial AirUk Herald passenger flight. The next morning she positioned back to Norwich and the crew hurried off to their F27 course !
WJ at Jersey in 1983, bearing the AirUK livery she wears today (Photo: Eduard Marment)
Almost immediately after being retired WJ was donated to the British Airliner Collection run by the Duxford Aviation Society and was delivered to them 7 July 1985. In the thirty-three years she has been under the care of DAS much work has been carried out to keep her in as good a condition as possible. This included a complete strip down and bare metal repaint which was started many years ago and the restoration is finally approaching completion.
This April saw her spend a short spell inside the Airspace hangar so the tops of the wings could be painted and the flaps re attached. This marks almost the end of the lengthy restoration and was certainly a well-deserved fifty-five year birthday present. Sadly she will never fly a again but as the pictures show she certainly looks as if she could ! Happy Birthday ‘WJ.
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