The Early Days

As a young RAF pilot in the Second World War, Bernard Gardiner flew the legendary Typhoon. When peace broke out he went to work for the airlines. In 1949, he spotted an advert from Barclays International Airways at Croydon for a Rapide pilot to operate a series of charters from Jersey. So began his long association with the Channel Islands. He was Jersey Airlines’ first pilot, then Director of Operations and was still there when the airline was sold to British United Airways in 1963. Later, he flew the Dart Herald for BUA and its successors BIA and Air UK before retiring in 1982.

Bernard Gardiner is sitting in the lounge of his house at St Aubin with its spectacular views over the bay. Around him are reminders of the happy years he spent as a stalwart of Jersey’s aviation scene: nearly forty years given to carrying thousands of passengers safely to and from the Channel Islands in Rapides, Herons, Dakotas and Dart Heralds. In his scrapbooks are photographs of the early years including a captain’s “Flight Bulletin” handed around the cabin in to give passengers a progress report in the days before loudspeakers – one autographed by Gracie Fields: “Your doing O.K.” The legendary singer was on her way from Paris to Jersey for a charity concert. Another photograph shows him with the Queen at the re-opening of London Gatwick in June 1958: Jersey Airlines operated the first scheduled service into the newly reconstructed airport.

The amazing thing about Bernard is his memory. He is quite clear about how it all began. During the summer of 1948 a Welshman called Maldwyn Thomas was working with a hire car company in St. Helier. For the many visitors who asked him how they could get to France – only fourteen miles away - Tommy (as he was universally known) managed to charter a variety of aircraft from Croydon to take tourists on day trips to Dinard in Brittany. These trips became so popular that he decided to form a company and make the charters available on a longer term basis. So, Airlines (Jersey) Limited was formed in November 1948, with the express purpose of operating aircraft for tourist traffic. Tommy had tried to name the company Jersey Airlines Ltd., but the similarity to Jersey Airways Ltd., (an existing company, recently nationalised as part of British European Airways) ruled that out. He had to settle for registering Jersey Airlines as a trading name.

The following year, 1949, he contacted Barclay’s International Airways at Croydon – a big name for a small company with one ancient DH 89A Rapide G-AGLP. Tommy chartered the Rapide for the Easter period and Bernard Gardiner was its pilot. On 9 March – the day after his job interview - Bernard was airborne from Croydon bound for Jersey. There he was met by Tommy and arrangements made for a flight the next day to Dinard and on to St. Brieuc. Bernard remembers: “Down at Dinard we were joined by Aubrey Storey, who had looked after the French side of the day trips the year before. At St. Brieuc Leon de Villermay was waiting to receive us and arrangements were made to start flying to that destination as well. St. Brieuc’s aerodrome had been left in a dreadful condition by the Germans in 1944; there were bomb craters around the taxiways, but the staff set to and runways were cut in the long grass.”

Flying then started in earnest, mostly with day trips to Dinard, but with other destinations thrown in such as Guernsey, Alderney and Paris (Toussus le Noble) and, in early April, a longer range charter to Clermont Ferrand to pick up a family injured in a car crash. One passenger was on a stretcher and a less fortunate one was in a coffin. “Of course, space was limited in a Rapide” says Bernard “and it was suggested that the stretcher be loaded on top of the coffin. The stretcher patient demurred! So, he was left behind and a later charter went down to bring him back to Jersey.” Carrying coffins became a frequent source of business for Jersey Airlines as there was, at that time, no crematorium in Jersey, so bodies were flown to Guernsey for cremation.

The Rapide, which had first flown in the mid 1930s, proved ideal for the type of operation Tommy had in mind so he looked around for a machine to buy. Two, which were being overhauled and in excellent condition (G-AKNE and G-AKNF), were found at Kidlington, Oxford. Tommy mortgaged everything he had, with one aircraft to be ready in 1949 and the second a year later. At the end of April G-AGLP was returned to Croydon and on 3 May G-AKNF was collected from Oxford. But just one aircraft was not enough to cope with the work during that summer season and, as NE was not yet ready, a second Rapide was hired from Croydon. This was delivered in mid-June by Jimmy Turner and stayed in Jersey until the end of 1949. Early in 1950 G-AKNE was ready for collection, so NF (“Nan Fox we called it in those days”) was flown to Southampton for annual overhaul and NE replaced it in Jersey. Alan Spencer joined the Company shortly afterwards to fly this second Rapide – and, like Bernard Gardiner, stayed for the rest of the airline’s history.

Engineering checks and servicing in the first year were carried out by two BEA engineers, but when BEA’s management found out the arrangement was promptly ended and the Company’s own engineer, John Daley, was employed. Bernard chuckles about the rigmarole involved in putting the aircraft to bed every night. They were kept in an old blister hangar, erected by the Germans during the five-year long occupation of Jersey and approached down the main road to Les Quennevais. “This road was controlled by traffic lights, which were unfortunately placed either side of the road closer than the Rapide’s wingspan. Getting the aircraft to the hangar involved taxiing so far, then shutting down and manoeuvering the wings past the light posts – a tricky operation.” When John Daley left to return to an overseas appointment, he was replaced by Tom Chandler who became the company’s Chief Engineer.

All this pioneer work has to be seen in the context of British aviation in the late 1940s. With Churchill’s national government swept away in July 1945, the Labour government had embarked on a policy of nationalisation. Two state airlines were created: British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) to serve the world and British European Airways (BEA) to serve the British Isles and Europe. The Air Navigation Regulations of the time prohibited air companies other than the state corporations from operating scheduled services. Tommy Thomas’s day trips to Dinard were frequent enoough to be classed as a scheduled service but he overcame this problem by persuading one passenger on each flight to sign a Charter Agreement. It appeared to work. Besides Jersey Airlines, two other companies were running the same day trips – BEA and Air Transport Charter (CI) Ltd. Both were using both Rapides and Dakotas on the run and, eventually, BEA decided that so much competition was not acceptable. ATC was prosecuted and fined for its breach of the regulations. This effectively finished the Company in Jersey and it left for England to operate from there, but its departure left a hangar available for use by Jersey Airlines.

One advantage Jersey Airlines had over the other two operators was that the Rapides could fly with eight passengers, whereas BEA and ATC carried a radio operator on each flight, occupying one passenger seat. Jersey Airlines aircraft were fitted with VHF radio so the pilots were in direct communication with air traffic controllers, an arrangement which eventually became universal. Both NE and NF were fitted with two-channel radios, which worked well at the time, but as the use of VHF became more widespread, two channels was insufficient. The aircraft were then fitted with new five-channel sets, but with interchangeable crystals to allow any number of channels to be used (as long as the crystals were carried!).

And what of navigation? Bernard Gardiner recalls that: “initially all flights had to be made in visual conditions as no navigation receivers were fitted, but this problem was eventually overcome by fitting Standard Beam Approach receivers. We all had to undergo a flight test with a Ministry of Aviation Examiner to obtain Instrument Ratings on our licences to allow us to fly in instrument flying conditions.”

With a Conservative government back in power in 1951 there was a promise of return to free enterprise. Jersey Airlines introduced new routes and scheduled services were started – legally - in 1952. By this time eight Rapides had joined the fleet together with the pilots, engineers and ground staff needed for the greatly increased size of the Company. As the new, all-metal de Havilland Heron was introduced from 1953 onwards, the Rapide fleet was gradually reduced, although one, G-AGSH, was retained for Company communications until 1965.

Bernard has fond memories of the Rapide, partly because it was the workhorse of those exciting, early years and partly because it was a single-pilot aeroplane. And, for a wooden aeroplane first produced twenty years before, it was robust. It could be fitted with a choice of propellers depending on the aircraft’s use. A fine pitch propeller, called the X9, gave an improved take off performance over the coarser pitch one, called the X4, which gave a faster cruising speed. Because take off performance was better with the fine pitch propeller, its maximum permitted take off weight was increased by 200 lbs. This meant one more passenger or an increase in fuel or payload. All Jersey Airlines Rapides were fitted with the X9. A later development, in 1954, saw the change of engine in some aircraft to the Gipsy Queen II, which was fitted with a variable pitch propeller. This meant an even greater maximum weight as well as improved all round performance. Another advantage was that the engine was fitted with an engine driven electrical generator, so that electrical power was available at all times that the engines were running. The earlier engine was not equipped with a generator and electrical power was derived from a wind driven generator fitted in the upper wing. On the ground the aircraft was dependent on battery power alone.

The Rapide was made of wood and canvas and the underside of the fuselage allowed access to the services there via laced-up panels. Bernard recalls: “These were by no means draught-proof, which was alright in summer, but flying in cold conditions in winter meant the cockpit was very cold indeed. This was particularly noticeable with a strong draught up the flap operating lever which was situated to the right of the pilot’s seat. It blew straight onto the back of the pilot’s right thigh, and most Rapide pilots I met suffered from sciatica on the right side!” The only de-icing equipment fitted was a pitot head heater to supply the airspeed indicator, and a warm air selection to prevent carburetor icing. “So” says Bernard “we avoided icing conditions, but if we accidentally encountered them the effect on the airframe was quite dramatic with serious vibration and a marked reduction in airspeed.” The days of flying high above bad weather were still a long way off.

The Rapide had been ideal to get Jersey Airlines up and running, but a replacement was urgently needed. Other airlines were flying the Douglas DC3, known from its wartime service as the “Dakota”, but these were too big for Jersey Airlines’ service to Alderney and the air regulations of time required flights between Jersey and Gatwick to stop-off in the northernmost of the Channel Islands.

At the SBAC Airshow at Farnborough in 1952, Tommy Thomas saw the new de Havilland Heron Mark 1 and realized that it would be ideal for the Company’s operations. He placed an order for four, one to be delivered in 1953, two in 1954 and the last in 1955.

The Heron presented a considerable advance in design over the Rapide. It was an all-metal construction with four engines and variable pitch propellers. The Company’s engineers, pilots and ground staff had to acquaint themselves with the new technology at a course run by de Havilland. The first pilot to attend, early in 1953, was Alan Spencer followed by Bernard Gardiner; together they then took on the instruction of the remaining pilots who had been chosen to fly the new aircraft. As Bernard points out: “For the pilots this was their first introduction to an aircraft with a nose-wheel and much more modern systems - pneumatics to operate the flaps and the wheel brakes, a modern electrical system with engine driven generators and full airframe, propeller and windscreen de-icing. The learning curve for pilots and engineers was steep.”

New manuals had to be prepared to give clear instruction on the Heron to all staff. These included a Maintenance Schedule, which lays down the number of hours which may be flown between engineering checks on the airframe, engines and propellers. A much revised Operations Manual was required setting out the operating limits, weather and performance, of the Heron. None of this daunted Bernard Gardiner who, today, is completely proficient with a personal computer but in 1953 manuals had to be prepared by typing and running off in quantities by Roneo duplicator. “We had to draw a Loading and Trim sheet, which was again a new departure. The Heron did not require additional ground handling equipment because the low loading height fitted the steps already in use for the Rapide, but all these details had to be looked after.”

Signed out by the de Havilland test pilots, Alan Spencer delivered the first aircraft, G-AMYU, to Jersey on the 1 May 1953. Even though there were two seats in the Heron’s cockpit – as opposed to the single-seater Rapide – it would be flown by one pilot. Training for the Company’s other pilots started on the same day, because at that time a pilot could sign out another pilot once he had the type endorsement on his licence. In training the other pilots, Captain Spencer was building up his experience of the Heron ready for the day when he would fly it on scheduled services. Each pilot, when he had obtained his type endorsement, was required to fly a minimum of twenty sectors with an experienced captain. Although the Heron was to be a single-pilot operation Jersey Airlines decided that, to help with quick turn-rounds at other airports, it would carry a Flight Clerk to look after the passengers and prepare the necessary paper work for the next flight. Bernard Gardiner comments: “These were all men because the Company didn’t think the passengers would consider it acceptable for an attractive young lady to disappear into the cockpit with the pilot!” When female cabin staff were introduced, the fifteenth seat at the rear of the cabin was reserved for them.

The Heron was soon put into service, flying from Jersey to Gatwick via Alderney, to Exeter and to Paris. A second Heron, G-ANLN, was delivered in 1954, followed later in the year by G-ANSZ, and in 1955 by G-ANWZ. With all these aircraft in service, the Herons were able to operate on the whole of Jersey Airlines’ scheduled network.

In 1956 two more Herons were added to the fleet. These were the later model, the Mark 2, fitted with a retractable undercarriage. It gave the Heron an extra fifteen knots of cruising speed and reduced fuel consumption and it allowed scheduled services to be introduced to destinations such as Bilbao in North Spain, where passengers could connect with international flights.

The Heron was, and still is, extremely popular with the passengers; red seats with white trim, grey cabin walls, white head-rests and large panoramic windows which gave an excellent view of the passing scenery. For many, it was like travelling in a flying car. It was the first Jersey Airlines aircraft to carry a stewardess and coffee and biscuits were served from a small galley at the rear of the ‘plane.

Jersey Airlines added the name “International” to its advertising and, by 1959, had begun to think about supplementing the Herons. Another independent company, Transair, was discarding Dakotas as it changed over to the Vickers Viscount and six of these twin-engined 32-seaters – used by so many fledgling airlines after the War – were acquired by Jersey Airlines in 1959. A further two came from BEA.

Many Jersey Airlines pilots and engineers had had experience of the Dakota before moving to Jersey, so it was possible to fit them into operations quickly. Pilots who had a type endorsement on their licence upgraded these with refresher flying in the aircraft; others were given ground instruction to pass the necessary Air Registration Board technical examination and were then passed on to the Company’s Training Captains for flying experience. Bernard Gardiner oversaw these changes and remembers the culture shock: “The Dakota was more than twice the weight of the Heron and, being a tail wheel aircraft, the cockpit was much higher off the runway. The result, at least initially, was misjudged landings.” It seemed strange to being going backwards, from the tricycle undercarriage of the Heron.

And, of course, the Dakota was a two-pilot operation. The Ministry of Aviation now had a Flight Operations Inspectorate and all operating procedures before, during and after flight were carried out by check lists read between the two pilots. Bernard knew that Jersey Airlines had to take particular care over the introduction of the Dakota. It could not afford the inconvenience of aircraft made unserviceable by poor handling: “Engine handling was a new subject for pilots to study and learn. The Heron had a system of interconnection between the engine throttle and the propeller controls, so that one lever was sufficient for the control of each engine. The Dakota has three for each of its two engines – a throttle, a propeller pitch control and a mixture control. The correct operation of these was critical and much damage could be done to an engine if they were mis-handled. Our pilots and engineers had to learn about the hydraulics system in the Dakota. The retractable undercarriage, the flaps, the brakes, the automatic pilot and numerous small ancillary services were operated by the hydraulic system.”

More seats meant that it was mandatory to carry cabin crew to look after the welfare of the passengers. Cabin crews and pilots had to undergo emergency training to know what to do in the unlikely event of an in-flight emergency. In the days before spin doctors, as Bernard says, the advert for cabin staff told it like it was: “There was a requirement, among others, for the successful applicant to be able to swim!” Fortunately, such ability was never put to the test.

Additional ground equipment was needed. Higher steps for the passenger door were required and loading of baggage into the front baggage hold used an even higher platform. Fortunately this was provided by a rack on top of the driver’s cab on the baggage truck. The Company’s route network was, by now, greatly increased and, where passenger handling was the responsibility of the Company, such equipment had to be provided at each aerodrome on the network. Jersey Airlines was becoming a major player in Britain’s aviation scene.

There is an old saying that “the only replacement for a DC 3 is another DC3”! But that didn’t stop manufacturers such as Avro, Handley Page and the Dutch company Fokker, trying to design one. Sales staff of all three companies sent Tommy Thomas glossy brochures. He flew up to Woodford to see the Avro 748. His first word on sighting the aircraft was “no” because the aircraft had not been fitted with airstairs and the increased height above ground would have meant a complete replacement of all ground handling equipment.

That left The Fokker F27 Friendship and the Handley Page Herald. The Herald’s four Alvis Leonides piston engines counted against it: the 748 and the F27 had Rolls Royce Dart turbo-props. Tommy Thomas and his fellow directors went to Amsterdam and were so impressed by Fokker’s product that a ‘Letter of Intent’ was signed, with the proviso that the aircraft could be imported to Jersey without heavy Customs dues. The UK Government was in control of that situation and representations by Avro and Handley Page meant that a heavy import duty would be levied on the non-British parts of the Friendship. It was this restriction that suddenly made the Herald more attractive and a deal was clinched when Handley Page replaced the Herald’s piston engines with Darts. An order for four Dart Herald 200s – with fifty seats – was placed at the Farnborough Air Show in 1960, for delivery one year later.

Design and production problems put back delivery to 1963 but Handley Page kept its promise by supplying two series 100 Heralds for operations during 1962. One of these was the prototype/demonstrator G-APWA, and the other, G-APWB, was awaiting delivery to BEA. The 100 Series Herald had only 44 passenger seats

Once again Bernard was involved in the re-training of aircrew. “The Herald was a very different machine from any previously operated by the Company. Pilots and engineers attended a comprehensive course at the Handley Page factory at Radlett and an engine operation and handling course with Rolls Royce at Derby. The initial training captains received their instruction with HP Test Pilots at Radlett and were then able to take over pilot training in Jersey, meantime building up their experience of the aeroplane to enable them to start flying it on the Company’s scheduled services.” The Herald incorporated a galley from which hot and cold drinks and a bar and duty-free goods could be supplied. Cabin staff were now to be trained, not only in their prime duty of passenger care, but in catering and bar sales. Bernard recalls that: “Any reluctance disappeared when they were offered a commission on sales!”

Which takes us to 1963 and the delivery, in January, of the first of Jersey Airlines own Dart Heralds in its blue and gold livery, the civil air ensign painted on its tail. The remaining three were delivered later in the year to allow the type to be used on most of the scheduled routes. And, as always, Jersey Airlines was inventive about the way it used its new aircraft: as the summer season wound down it chartered the aircraft to Lord Brothers, a travel Company running ‘Air Tours’ to Spain, Morocco and the Canary Islands, and a further series to Athens and the Greek Islands.

This was the last year of operations for the real Jersey Airlines. On 1 August 1963 the Company’s trading name was changed to British United (C.I.) Airways and its operation was folded into Air Holdings Limited, the parent of British United. Bernard Gardiner stopped flying a desk part-time and went back to full-time flying. But that, as he will be the first to tell you, is another story.

Every picture tells a story. From top to bottom:
1. A young Bernard Gardiner with de Havilland DH89a Rapide and passengers at St Brieuc, probably 1949.
2. View from the cockpit of a Rapide and the Gracie Fields autograph on a Flight Bulletin. Position: "passing Caen".
3. Bernard Gardiner uses a Rapide to take gift parcels from Jersey to the victims of floods in Holland, February 1953.
4. Bernard in the cockpit of a Rapide.
5. de Havilland Heron Mk1 G-ANLN Duchess of Guernsey, somewhere in France.
6. Bernard Gardiner and colleague check watches in a manufacturer's endorsement, with Heron behind.
7. The re-opening of Gatwick Airport, 9 June 1958. Captain Alan Spencer is being presented to the Queen, Bernard Gardiner is on his right. A highly-polished Heron stands behind. During the two-year renovation of Gatwick Jersey Airlines' services used Croydon.
8. Jersey Airlines DC3 Dakota G-AMYJ at St Brieuc.
9. Standing to attention alongside one of the first Dakotas, circa 1959.
10. Demonstration tour of the four-engined Herald with Bernard in front of the nose and Handley Page test pilot, Squadron Leader Hedley Hazleden, to his right. The founder of Jersey Airlines, Maldwyn Thomas, is fifth from the right. On this occasion, the Herald showed off its short-field capabilities by flying in and out of Alderney!
11. Postcard showing the first of Jersey Airlines' own Dart Heralds, G-APWE.