1989 – The Year everything changed

1989 – The Year everything changed


I can’t actually remember packing my uniform and Traffic associated things on my last day at Harlow Traffic Garage but what I do recall was being asked by the Stansted Airport Inspector (also another former Traffic Officer from ‘B’ Division) if when I started the following day I could bring my locker with me! At first I thought he was joking and that the whole posting thing had been contrived to ruin my Christmas and New Year celebrations. I really did think it was a ‘sick ‘joke.

Sick joke or not I arrived a little after 05:30 on the 6th of January at the Police Office / Station at Stansted, minus I might add my locker.

I’d had absolutely no say in the matter, nor had the eleven other officers posted and starting on the same day as me at the tiny little Police building on the North side of the airport. In charge of us ‘newbies’ was a Sergeant ‘John’ who had also been posted in the same way we all had. I have to say it was quite a trauma for all of us especially the two of us that had been snatched from our lovely warm Traffic cars.

Our remit was to dress in a Police tunic and wear the traditional Police helmet while walking the Terminal[1] areas both inside and out in all weather conditions. The Terminal in those days was divided into two check-in areas, to the left as you look at the front of the building was Gatwick-Handling [GH] who logos and uniform were Black, Red & White and the other half was dedicated to Servisair whose uniform was pale blue and white shirts or blouses.

I have to say that both GH and Servisair staff were very welcoming making time to talk to us and welcome us to the airport. In 1989, life at Stansted airport was to say the least slow in the day time and non-existent mind numbingly quiet at night. I knew that this was not for me much as I loved aviation; civil aviation was not for me.


I treated myself to a day out this time I went to east Suffolk to the bases located at Woodbridge and Bentwaters the homes of the 81st TFW using the Northrop A-10A Thunderbolt II.

At RAF Woodbridge the only note I have is that I saw an MH-53J ‘Jolly Green Giant’ of the 21st SOS serial number 66-14431

Moving across to RAF Bentwaters I saw much more to interest me including General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcons/Vipers of the 527th AS and about a dozen of the based Northrop A-10A’s. There were three visitors of interest to me there as well; firstly there was an RS coded F-16A from the 86th TFW based at Ramstein, Germany and two German Tornados from JbG-38.

I did a few more days ‘work’ at Stansted but was back on the road again on the 20th;

The first stop of the day was my old favourite RAF Lakenheath which had quite a few nice visitors which included five F-111E’s from Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, two RF-4E’s Phantom II’s from AkG-52 WGAF and three F-16C’s and F-4G both from the 52nd TFW Spangdahlem (SP) Germany and finally to CF-188s from 1 CAG, Baden-Solingen Germany.

Over at RAF Mildenhall there was the usual mix of KC and RC-135s of the USAF, as well as based C-130E Hercules. Interesting visitors to me were a pair of USAF Boeing E-3B AWACS from 552nd ACW and according to my notes I ‘made’ both.

I didn’t go anywhere in February apart from work at Stansted!

After a few weeks one of the tug drivers from GH asked me if I’d like to sit in while he pushed back Northwest airlines Boeing 747 off the stand. Well I’d seen it done many times but never ever thought I’d get to see it from the tug driver’s perspective so I accepted the invitation. I got one of the handling agents to let me out of a boarding gate and calmly strolled over to the tug, took a seat next to the driver and watched and listened as the push-back took place. One more item off my bucket list; I have no doubt in my mind that had a certain senior officer witnessed me doing this I’d have probably not been in the Police much longer, only now thirty four years later can I feel free to discuss it.

After a couple of months I began to settle in feeling slightly more relaxed about working in this environment. One day I was once again in the right place at the right time and I met the pilot / presenter of the Essex Radio ‘Jambuster’ who would do daily early morning and afternoon flights over Essex in a fixed Wing plane giving out road traffic conditions and information.


On the morning of the 8th of March I climbed aboard a Piper PA-28-180 registration G-BMTR alongside ‘Richard’ the presenter / pilot from Essex Radio. Take off from Stansted was 07:00; for the next one hour forty minutes we flew all over Essex to places like Chelmsford, Basildon, Southend and Colchester. We landed back at Stansted at 08:40; I think I went home from that, I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to work that day.

One morning I was walking outside the Terminal minding my own business and wondering about nothing in general when one of the Porters from the Terminal came up to me and handed me a slip of paper with a telephone number on it. He looked at me and smiled and said “I think you’re in there boy” indicating with his hand to a very young Servisair Handling Agent smiling at me through the glass fronted Terminal building. More about her and what happened will come later in this story, but all I will say is she did have a very captivating smile. I later learnt that her name was Melanie.

Back to the aviation;

 On the 16th Stansted had a military aircraft visitor which was an Algerian Air Force Lockheed C-130H-30 registration 7T-VHN which my serial / registration reference books show became re-registered to 7T-WHN in 1997.

The day after the visitor at Stansted I was one again on the road again, this time just for a change I stopped off at RAF Mildenhall first. A couple of interesting visitors were two Grumman C-2A Greyhounds of the US Navy VRC-40 Det. ‘A’ and a Lockheed HC-130H of the USCG (United States Coast Guard) which I believe came for the USCG base at Clearwater in Florida USA.

Over at RAF Lakenheath it was a real feast of aircraft numbers, codes and types; amongst those present were A-10A’s from RAF Alconbury, U.K, F-15s from Bitburg Germany and Soesterberg, The Netherlands, F-16s from Hahn, Ramstein and Spangdahlem, Germany and Torrejon, Spain and RF-4s from Zaragoza, Spain as well as based GD F-111F’s and a couple of EF-111E’s from Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire. The EF-111s were known to the majority of spotters as the ‘Sparkvark’ due to their role in Electronic intelligence gathering.

Meanwhile back at Stansted, on the 22nd saw the arrival of a RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) Boeing 707-338C serial number A20-627. A week or so later on the 31st a Hawker-Siddeley Andover E.3 serial XS610 landed and stayed at Stansted.

Later on the 31st my log book shows that I was once again back at RAF Mildenhall where yet again there was a good mix of the KC and RC-135s. However I did ‘make’ a KC-10A Extender serial 83-0081 which was in its original white with a blue cheat line colour scheme, the scheme much preferred by the photographers of this type of aircraft.





I must have gone straight from work at Stansted to RAF Alconbury as I didn’t arrive there until 17:54 hours but what a sight, six RF-4C Phantom II’s coded BH which told me that they were from 106th TRS Alabama ANG (TRS = Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron) based at Birmingham Municipal Airport, Alabama, USA. They had their ground support flown in on an ANG (Air National Guard) C-130H Hercules serial 80-0321.

Also seen and made was a based Lockheed TR-1 (U-2) of the 17th RW and a Tennessee ANG KC-135 Stratotanker. Seen from Alconbury was a KC-10A en-route to RAF Mildenhall serial for that was 86-0035.

From there I drove straight home as I had no doubt I’d have been working the following day!


This was my next day out starting at Cambridge. Nothing of interest to me there so I cut across country to RAF Lakenheath where yet again I wasn’t too disappointed about what I saw there that morning. There were four F-15C’s from Bitburg in Germany and also a 1 CAG CF-188 Hornet from Baden-Solingen, Germany. Unfortunately for me I only made two of the BT / Bitburg F-15C Eagles.

Moving back to RAF Mildenhall there was the usual mix of KC and RC-135s most of which according to my logbook I had seen on previous occasions. An unusual visitor to Mildenhall was a CF-188B the twin-stick version of the F-18B and another CF-188A from 1 CAG, Baden-Solingen, Germany. In all probability they were the flight partners of the CF-188A I’d seen a bit earlier at Lakenheath. A couple of bonus aircraft were two McDonnell-Douglas C-9B’s of VR-51 US Navy/Marine Corps. Also present were eight of the based Lockheed C-130E’s of the 463rd TAW. That was it for the day so I made my way home.


Back on the road again today; first stop was yet again at RAF Northolt for a quick ‘over the fence’ look, here again there was only one real aircraft of interest a US Army (Europe) Beechcraft C-12 Huron.

Having navigated my way along the A.40 I arrived at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire where according to my log I saw ‘NOWT’

About twenty minutes later I was at RAF Fairford where there were just seven KC-135 Stratotankers from a mixture of Squadrons including the 2nd BW, 42nd BW and 379th BW, but there was no evidence as to what they were supporting / tanking to or from or at Fairford.

I then made my way across to RAF Upper Heyford which much to my disappointment I found was closed. Ho hum, time to head home.


Another day out; Marshall’s aerodrome at Cambridge was the first stop and yet again nothing to me of interest.

RAF Lakenheath was equally quiet with only an EF-111E coded UH signifying it came from the 42nd ECS at RAF Upper Heyford and a WGAF Tornado serial 45+51

Back to Mildenhall and the usual mix of KC and RC-135s awaited; however having only been there a couple of days previously there was nothing new to add to my log that I had not already seen so this day hadn’t really been worth my while either in time or petrol!


This was an early evening visit to RAF Mildenhall; two McDonnell-Douglas KC-10A Extenders both from the 2nd BW but one in the white and blue colour scheme and one in the camo scheme. Transpired that I had seen both previously; of three Lockheed C-141A Starlifters I made the sum total of none the only thing I did make was a Lockheed C-5B Galaxy.

Over to good old RAF Lakenheath before it got too dark to see the serials / tail numbers. Seen on this occasion were four F-16s from Ramstein, two RF-4C’s from Zaragoza, Spain and four F-15C Eagles from Bitburg, Germany and finally two A-10A’s from RAF Alconbury’s 509th TFS, both of which I’d seen previously. Its days like this that I/you seriously consider giving up the hobby or going further afield to see different aircraft.


4th; Back at Stansted and I think a very good start to that month was the sighting of a Yugoslavian Air Force Gates Lear Jet 25B serial 70401.


North Weald Bassett a Second World War base for 111 Squadron RAF hosted a small air show and I went and did a ‘look over the fence’ ‘spot’ the day prior to the air show proper on the Saturday (the following day). The most predominant visitors were as one would expect the Royal Air Force, sending four Tornado F.3s two of which came from number 111 Squadron. Other RAF assets included a Hawker Hunter, SEPECAT Jaguar GR.1, Bristol Bulldog T.1, Harrier GR.5 and T.4 and a Sea King. The Army Air Corps sent a Westland Lynx and Gazelle. The Royal Navy sent a Harrier FRS.1 and the Royal Norwegian AF sent two F-16s, one Mk. ‘A’ and one Mk. ‘B’.


Yet again back on the road again and yes, it was to RAF Lakenheath again! This time four AR coded A-10A’s from nearby RAF Alconbury and four BT coded F-15C’s from Bitburg AB Germany. Rather nice start to my time out.

Over at RAF Mildenhall was the usual collection of KC and RC-135s as well as nine Lockheed C-130E Hercules and another four AR coded A-10A’s so a fairly good day.


My first and so it seems only outing in May was on the 27th for the annual Air Fete at RAF Mildenhall. Another early start to the day and for me the now customary breakfast of a ‘wet’ burger and a can of ice cold Budweiser. There was an excellent line up of aircraft from all over Europe, the U.K. and the United States Air Force, Navy and Air National Guard. It was always a highlight seeing the SR-71A Blackbird up as close as was possible on these occasions. This year was no exception other than it was a double deal as the Blackbird was sat alongside a TR-1 from the 17th RW over at RAF Alconbury, so double the secret squirrel stuff!

European air arms were from, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Spain. The Canadians were included there as they sent three CF-188s (F-18A) and a CF-133 (T-33A) from 1 CAG at Baden-Solingen, Germany. NATO/OTAN sent along a single E-3A AWACS and the U.K. well just about one of every type on the RAF inventory, the Royal Navy sent three different types of rotary wing aircraft; a Lynx HAS.3, two Lynx HAS.5 and two AEW.2 Sea Kings as well as a Sea Harrier FRS.1. The Army provided an Auster, Sioux and SARO Skeeter from the Army Historic Flight as well as two Westland Gazelle from 670 and 671 Squadrons.

The South side of the airfield was also packed out with operational based aircraft as well as display and standby/back up aircraft from the U.K. and Europe. As with most air shows I mention a full and comprehensive list is available at www.scramble.nl on their show reports pages.

It was a really great day out and I so looked forward to being afforded the opportunity to attend these Air Fetes on an annual basis.

It was customary now to finish off the day after the Air Fete with a quick stop at RAF Lakenheath to see what if any “visitors” had shown up during the day. This year there were two F-16A’s from HR/Hahn, three F-15C’s and one F-15D from Bitburg (BT), a lone JbG-31 Tornado of the WGAF.



First stop of my time out was at Cambridge – Teversham / Marshalls airport were first prize went to an Algerian AF Lockheed C-130H-30 Hercules.

Travelling around the A.14 then to RAF Lakenheath; one WGAF Tornado IDS serial 45+89 and an F-4F serial 37+73 also from the WGAF and there were two RF-4E’s from AkG-52, WGAF. To finish the Phantom Phest was a 52nd TFW F-4G serial 69-0263 from Spangdahlem, Germany

Over to RAF Mildenhall, where there were a few nice surprises such as three Lockheed Galaxies one of which was in the White and grey colour scheme from the 436th MAW. Another surprise was a Belgian Air Force Sea King, alas I had seen it previously, but loving helicopters as I do it was still a very welcome sight.


I had managed to secure tickets to the Paris Air Salon held at Paris – Le Bourget airport or to give it its French name Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget. On the evening of 9th June having been checked in by now ‘friends’ at Servisair I boarded a SAAB.340  registration F-GELG of Air France for the flight from Stansted to Aéroport – de Paris – Charles de Gaulle [CDG]. I had been asked by a few of the ladies working for Servisair to bring them back specific brands of perfume, IF I had bought all of them what they wanted then I’d have been way over my allowances so I had to choose very carefully who were going to be the recipients. It goes without saying that one in particular got her wishes!

Take off was at 20:15 local time and we landed at CDG at 21:30. This flight was yet another ‘first of type’ and was quite a pleasant flight. From CDG, it was a short taxi ride to my hotel an Ibis not too far from Le Bourget airport.


I was up early and made my way again by taxi to the airport of Le Bourget, gained entry and started ‘spotting’ and photographing the exhibits. For me there were many ‘first of types’ to be seen with assets from Argentina, Brazil, China France and other Western European Countries including the U.K. The Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden also sent some of their assets. I had a fantastic day, logging and photographing these aircraft and talking to aircrew and manufacturers from the many countries represented at the show.

The evening was spent back at the hotel eating one of their ‘house specials’ for my dinner and enjoying a glass or two of the local beer.


The next day was a slightly later start than the day before none the less I went back into the air show rather than go sightseeing around Paris!

It was a relaxing day spent at the show, but as they old saying goes ‘all good things must come to an end. I made my way back to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport for the flight back to Stansted. The flight back was on another first of type being an ATR-42 registration F-GGLR of Air France. Take off was 19:30 and I landed an hour later at 20:30 at Stansted (STN).  This was a lot noisier than the SAAB-340 I’d flown out on and I’m pleased to say that that has been the only flight I’ve done in that type!


Back to work for a few months before going off on another adventure; this time it was back to the USA and it was with a friend of mine called Marion aka Sis, we stayed the night at the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick airport before flying out the following day as in the 18th of October 1989. The flight was on a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-212BF registration G-TKYO to Newark, New Jersey (KEWR) flight number VS001. We took off at 14:40 local time and arrived 8 hours later at 17:40 Eastern Time (EST).

19th Marion and I spent the day sightseeing in New York City, taking in places like the World Trade Centre, Empire State Building, Macys, Bloomingdales, Rockefeller Plaza and as many of the other sights that we could cram into the time available.

20th: At 09:20 I took off from EWR in a DC10-10 registration N104AA of American Airlines en-route to Chicago O’Hare International (KORD) where I landed just 40 minutes later at 09:50. Marion flew from KEWR to Nashville (KBNR) Tennessee to meet up with her partner Giles at the apartment we’d rented from a friend of hers who worked at Stansted airport. As I landed at KORD it was possible to see eight KC-135s and six C-130s of the Illinois Air National Guard on the ANG Ramp. The rest of my day in Chicago (the windy City) was spent trying to avoid the wind and the associated chill as I went sightseeing!

21st: This time I was flying from KORD to KBNA to meet up with Giles and Marion. This time it was a Boeing 727-223 registration N847AA and flight times were 12:45 to 14:30 which should equate to 1 hour 45 minutes of flying time. We went back to the apartment and dropped off my cases before returning to the airport to meet Melanie who had flown across the Atlantic to be with me/us (pre-planned of course). We spent the next week sightseeing and doing a bit of plane spotting at bases like Nashville Memorial airport which is another part or was in 1989 part of the TN ANG and Smyrna where there was a good selection of US Army National Guard helicopters. In Nashville there was a TC-47B Dakota (44-76884) that had its fuselage elevated so it appeared to be in level flight and it had become the 101st Airborne Restaurant

We also managed to fit in a visit to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery at Lynchburg, Moore County TN, it was a little disappointing at the end as we all assumed that there would be a ‘taster’ alas it turned out to be homemade Lemonade as Moore County is a ‘dry’ County! We picked up a bottle of JD not long after crossing the County line.

28th: Melanie and I flew home on the same planes but in separate seats following a difference of opinion the previous evening (totally MY fault not hers), first flight was from KBNA to KEWR on a Boeing 727-227 registration N728AA of American Airline leaving at 13:50 and arriving at 15:50. Later that day we boarded a Boeing 747-243B of Virgin Atlantic, registration G-VGIN flight number VS002 for the return journey across the pond. We took off at 19:45 and landed at 01:50 EST which was about 06:50 local time on the 29th.

As far as I can recall we did travel home together albeit the conversation was rather stilted (to say the least)! Hindsight is a wonderful thing[2] ……


In November 1989 I managed to escape from Stansted and got a position in the Force Information Room [FIR] (Command & Control Centre) at Police Head Quarters, Chelmsford which meant an hours travel daily to and from my home in Harlow. I went to working in a windowless building sitting behind a VDU for eight or twelve hours at a time interspersed with a 45 minute break. I learnt how to answer 999 (emergency calls) and also non-urgent calls nowadays called 101 calls. All things being equal it was far far better than working under the regime at Stansted airport.

I had only two visits out in November, the 7th found me at RAF Mildenhall for only a few minutes as the number of aircraft seen was minimal. I visited Stansted airport on the 18th to see a Boeing 707 of the Royal Australian AF (RAAF) serial number A20-627

That was the end of 1989 which had been a very trying and somewhat traumatic year for me being wrenched away from Traffic and thrown into the mire of Stansted. But I don’t want to dwell on that because it wasn’t my colleagues fault it was so traumatic it was one certain senior officer that really made it ‘uncomfortable’ for most if not all of the newer colleagues.

My only hope was that 1990 was going to be a far better year, fingers crossed

[1] The old Terminal is now the VIP Terminal and the Police Offices were demolished when they moved to the ‘New’ Terminal area.

[2] Apparently due to my ‘influence’ Melanie went on to join Hertfordshire Constabulary and had a very successful career.