Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Northolt Airport

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Northolt Airport

Article excerpt

At 6.50 p.m. on 31 August 1997 a plane touched down at Northolt Airport. It was a lamentable and dismal evening. Prince Charles, wretched and ghastly, accompanied the coffin that carried the body of his former wife Diana. Watching from the wings was Tony Blair. The nation mourned. And Northolt Airport did the job it has done so often — being the receiver of the great and the good and the bad, dead and alive.

As a boy I’d get on my bike and head down the road to Northolt Airport to watch the planes. Being from the suburbs, the airport held me in a grip. Friends’ parents recounted stories of dog-fights in the skies over Northolt during the second world
war and of a German plane being shot down by the glorious and brave Polish Spitfire pilots. One could almost see the handlebar moustaches and hear the muffled conversations in the mess.

These days people drive by the airport on the A40 on the way into London. The Spitfire by the front gate is a fibreglass replica of the original that was sold off. It’s hard to see because of a perimeter screen. Northolt is just a small airfield and its glory days seem long gone. But what glory days they were.

The airport opened in 1915 as the flying school for the Royal Flying Corp. Zeppelins were strafing London and we needed something up in the air to fight back. The airships inflicted staggering losses.

In the second world war, the airport took centre stage in defending London, and those magnificent Poles and their Spitfires were leading the way. …

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