From tiny biplanes to jumbo jets, these fascinating photos show just how much planes have changed over the past 100 years.
Collected for a new book, they reveal the humble beginnings of the aviation industry and the ingenuity of engineers who have refined aircraft into the spectacular flying machines which take to the skies today.
Paul Jarvis, who is curator of the British Airways Heritage Collection, has put together more than 200 photos sourced from the British Airways archive.
These fascinating photos tell the story of British aviation over the past century. Pictured: This 1930s Frobisher is undergoing pre-flight maintenance at Croydon before its next scheduled service
Pictured, engineers taking apart British Airways’ first Concorde. A collection of more than 200 photos reveal a unique insight into the complexities of running an airfleet
The collection includes fascinating images of so-called ‘flying boats’ which landed on water in far flung parts of the British empire where airfields had yet to be established in the inter-war period.
On August 25, 1919 Aircraft Transport and Travel Limited (AT&T), a forerunner company of today’s British Airways, launched the world’s first daily international scheduled air service between London and Paris.
That first flight which took off from Hounslow Heath, close to Heathrow Airport, carried a single passenger and cargo that included newspapers, Devonshire cream, jam and grouse.
The early years of civil commercial flying was a time of intense competition between many small private airlines chasing not many passengers.
Costs, not least engineering costs, were high. Aircraft life spans were short given their construction was flimsy and the technology of the time was basic by today’s standards.
Civil aviation has developed enormously over the past century. Pictured: A British Airways Concorde in a hanger
The early years of civil commercial flying was a time of intense competition between many small private airlines chasing not many passengers Pictured: A Pax disembarcation after a sea trial
Collected for a new book, they reveal the humble beginnings of the industry. Pictured: Lockheed Constellation aircraft flight checks from the early 1950s
Paul Jarvis, who is curator of the British Airways Heritage Collection, has put together more than 200 photos sourced from the British Airways archive. Pictured: First BA 737 under construction
Pictured, an early advertising poster to promote British Airways as ‘the best airline in the world’
Pictured, engineers take apart Concorde, which could travel more than twice the speed of sound. It took to the skies in 1969 and was retired in 2003
Pictured, a British Airways engineer inspects the tail plane hinges. At the beginning of the aviation industry, planes were unreliable and not expected to last long
Military aircraft were not expected to last long, a few weeks at best. Aircraft engines were notoriously unreliable and needed constant maintenance.
The first ever flight
In December 1903, the first piloted plane took flight in North Carolina.
The machine was invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright, who started experimenting with gliders in 1896.
The flight lasted for 59 seconds and Orville flew 852 feet.
A good mechanic often flew as the second crew member to carry out any necessary repairs en-route, the original ‘flying spanners’.
Civil aviation has developed enormously since then – key milestones include the De Havilland Comet (1952), the Comet 4 (1958), the Boeing 747 (1971) and the advent of supersonic flight with Concorde (1976).
Mr Jarvis, 71, of Lightwater, Surrey, said: ‘It is a story I’ve always felt has never been told.
‘I’ve always felt aviation engineers were the unsung heroes of aviation hidden away doing a fantastically complex job but you never hear about them – so this was an opportunity to write a book about their work.
‘There is an interesting set of photos in the British Airways Heritage Collection dating from around 1922. They show that while aviation had advanced considerably during the First World War it was still a fledgling industry.
Pictured: A Scylla plane in the mid 1930s undergoing major maintenance
British Airways over the years: In the 1960s the Hawker Siddeley Trident became the airline’s main fleet aircraft
Hard at work: Engineers taking apart British Airways’ first Concorde, G-BOAA
In 1974 British Airways was created by the merger of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA). Pictured left, the DH66 became the main stays of Imperialís fleet throughout the 1920s. Right, the Handley Page W8 was introduced in the 1920s
Pictured, an engineer tests the plugs in a plane before flight, as the pilot sits and looks on
Pictured, engineers look at plane workings in a repair shop. In 1986 the airline’s long haul services moved into the newly-built Terminal 4 at Heathrow
‘The engineers of that time used facilities not much different from the corrugated iron and wooden garages my father and his father before him had often serviced their cars in during the 1920s and 1930s, and often used the same tools.
‘An engine was an engine that could be lifted out of a car using the same ropes or chains used in the hangar. The aircraft engine was just a lot bigger than my father’s Ford Anglia. Obviously there have been huge technical advances since then.
‘At the advent of civil aviation flying was an exclusive preserve for the rich and famous. The man on the street would not have been able to afford it.
Pictured, the Daimler Airway hanger. The company was started in the 1920s and was a predecessor airline of British Airways. It operated from Croydon airport
A 1940s BOAC converted Short Sunderland is undergoing a pre-service check that could be done while afloat
British Airways employees show off their new livery. The airline has continued to grow over the past century and merged with Gatwick-based British Caleonian Airways in 1987
Pictured, an aerial view of a Boeing 757 being worked on. British Airways own Heathrow Terminal Five, which opened in 2008
The iconic airline is still the biggest in the UK based on the number of planes in the fleet. The company is also the largest operator of the Boeing 747
‘This situation continued into the 1950s when the airlines realised they needed to expand travel and the aircraft became much larger.’
In 1974 British Airways was created by the merger of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA). In 1986 the airline’s long haul services moved into the newly-built Terminal 4 at Heathrow.
The privatisation of British Airways was completed in 1987 and the following year British Airways was merged with Gatwick-based British Caledonian Airways.
Concorde retired from service in 2003 and Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was opened by the Queen in March 2008.
- British Airways, Engineering an Airline, by Paul Jarvis, is published by Amberley books on April 15 and costs £18.99.