I first experienced Concorde, the world’s only supersonic passenger plane, while it was training in Ireland. While lunch was in the oven on a Sunday morning, my dad used to take us kids out for a drive. We would usually head for the end of the runway at Shannon Airport, watching Concorde pilots training over the Atlantic west coast and waiting for the 747 EI-104 to come in from New York.
We owned several music shops at the time and also sold TVs, hi-fi and radios. An air-band radio was always in the car, and several friends’ fathers worked at Ballygreen: a big air traffic control centre for the north west of Europe. Hearing familiar voices talking to Concorde pilots as the aircraft flew take off and landing circuits for hours was always entertaining.
In 1978, we flew to Jersey on a family holiday, which involved a flight from Shannon to Heathrow on a BAC-111, then on to Jersey on a Vickers Viscount. The high point of the Viscount flight was when the pilot invited us all to look out the window and watch Concorde take off: the first time I had seen the plane use its afterburners in anger. My dad bought me a copy of the now very collectable Concorde book by F. G. Clarke at the Heathrow shop on the way home: it’s still in the loft at my parents’ house.
In 1989, I left a mechanical apprenticeship in Ireland and returned to London, where I had spent three months working in 1986. I started playing music with bandmates already here and got a job working with a gang of West African car cleaners: they were fun times. My sister and I were drawn back to the airport on weekends, often getting a pizza and parking on the top floor of MSCP 2 in the centre of Heathrow, just to watch planes taking off and landing. I decided that working at the airport might be interesting and came back to the Heathrow job centre on a day off to see what was about. I found a job working with British Airways at Terminal 4 as a valet parker for Concorde passengers.
The job was predictable, with a lot of activity around Concorde’s flight times and quiet periods otherwise. I got to know many interesting customers, who often had time to chat about flying on Concorde. I started clocking up some overtime in the car parks at T4 and was offered a job as a Duty Manager there, running the short and long term car parks for a company owned by an energetic north Londoner. He eventually sold his company to National Car Parks and I was part of the furniture. They gave me an opportunity to move across Heathrow to the long term car parks on the eastern side, by the Concorde maintenance hangars.
Concorde was maintained to a rigorous schedule and the aircraft was frequently moved across the road from the apron to the hangars, so we saw it a lot. The engines were run up into huge concrete diverters, which directed the air upwards over our offices: that was always interesting in the wee small hours of the morning. Eventually I moved again, this time to the central area long terms, alongside runway 27R. My office looked out on the runway, so again Concorde was a big part of life, setting off just about every alarm in our parks when it took off at 10:30AM.
I stayed in long term for a bit and then NCP tendered for the short term car parks in the centre. I ended up running this contract for several years as General Manager and became the first GM to make one million pounds profit for my employers. We built a great team of people, debuted groundbreaking technology and handled some huge operational challenges, but the constant was Concorde: a mad blast of noise at 10:30 every morning for the eight years I spent working at Heathrow.
Having several thousand car parking spaces at my disposal led to buying a lot of cars while I worked at the airport, and it was an easy place to sell cars from also. Heathrow has a huge working population that likes to buy and sell all sorts of items in its spare time, so I built up my trade contacts over three or four years before leaving the airport in 1997 and running my own thing for a while. Sliding into motor trade purchasing in 1998 led down many other trade avenues, eventually exposing me to a rich education in trade valuations: something I am still involved with almost twenty years later.
Concorde stopped flying several years after I left Heathrow, but it remains a big part of my youth. The entire experience of air travel has lost its mystique since the late 1970s and the access to viewing nowadays is a real issue for aviation enthusiasts, but I remember my days around this great aircraft fondly. It was nice to see Porsche sending photographer Justin Leighton down to Concorde with the 917-001, creating some interesting juxtapositions between these two iconic mechanical achievements.