John Stroud's Hatfield memories – Part 2

Reproduced below is the continuation of an article that first appeared in the December 1975 edition of Air Pictorial – a monthly aviation publication (by courtesy of Key Publishing, publishers of aviation titles like Aviation News and FlyPast). It was written by John Stroud, a childhood Hatfield resident who became a lifelong aviation expert.

Click here for the John Stroud aviation feature


Click here for Hatfield Memories – Part 1


Please note: the article is reproduced in full and in the style it was written. However, photographs in the original article are not included as ownership of the copyright for them is not certain. Text in square brackets and the box has been added for clarification / further information.


1933 King's Cup

In 1933 the King's Cup race began and ended at Hatfield and that brought a lot of interesting aeroplanes including the first, second and fourth Leopard Moths G-ACHD, 'HB and 'HC – Captain Geoffrey de Havilland winning in 'HD; both the Arrow Actives; Alex Henshaw's red and white Comper Swift with Pobjoy engine; Gipsy Swifts G-ABWW and G-ACBY; Desoutter G-AAPE; the one and only Spartan Clipper G-ACEG; Dragon G-ACFG (later used by George Nicolson when he started air services in the west of Scotland); a beautifully finished light and dark blue Percival Gull, G-ACGR; Genet Martlet G-ABIF; Hendy 302 G-AAVT; three Hawker Tomtits; two Monospars; and a variety of Moths and Puss Moths.

Apart from G-ACFG, I had seen the prototype Dragon flying at Hatfield while still unpainted, watched the Mollisons [Jim and his wife, Amy Johnson] using a Hillman Dragon for high-weight take-off practice before their transatlantic flight; and seen the Iraq Air Force Dragons (even being allowed in one). On 18th July 1933 I had my first flight in a Dragon when R V Wrightson took me up in G-ACHX. The starboard engine cut dead when he throttled back for the approach and we did a nice involuntary circle on touching down. Later in life most of my engine failures were confined to Super Constellations.

Earlier I had flown at Hatfield in the R.A.F. Flying Club's Moth G-AAEO with H. L. Palin who after two flights insisted that I must do some loops if he took me up again – we did three in succession but I once saw him do fourteen.

I was lucky enough to see the first Comet racer before its first flight and also the Tiger Moth monoplane when it was mounted for a while as what now seems to be called a gate guardian.

I left the Hatfield area about 1935 but returned there for the 1937 King's Cup – the T.K.4 took part and Charles Gardner in the Mew Gull G-AEKL was the winner – and I used to visit when I was involved in designing the livery for Imperial Airways' Albatross fleet. These were the only Imperial Airways aircraft to have bright cobalt blue markings and the first to carry the "Speedbird" – after the war I was to transfer the cobalt to Scottish Airways' Dragon Rapides. During one of those Hatfield visits I saw the Albatross that de Havilland's had broken the back of!

BOAC Speedbird logo on tailfinSpeedbird

Speedbird was the name given to the sleek art deco logo first used by Imperial Airways in the 1930s.

Imperial Airways was incorporated on 31 March 1924, and was made up of the combined fleet of Handley Page Transport, Instone Airline Ltd, Daimler Airway, and British Marine Air Navigation Co.

Air Mail label with Lee-Elliott's wingsTheyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988) is credited with creating their iconic logo design. He is also known to have created design work for London Transport and the General Post Office – including the wings used on Air Mail labels (also called 'etiquettes').

Although it was used in posters and advertising, the Speedbird logo was only used on the actual aircraft some years later.

The DH.91 Albatross, which made its maiden flight from Hatfield on 20 May 1937, is thought to be the first aircraft to bear the Speedbird logo (on its nose).

One of the photograph captions (below) in John Stroud's article indicates that the Speedbird logo was first painted on an aircraft (a DH.91 Albatross) at Hatfield.

On 1 April 1940 Imperial Airways was merged with the privately owned British Airways Ltd to become British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

The new company initially used both Imperial Airways' Speedbird and the British Airways' Winged Lion logos on its advertising. This led to at least one aviation commentator wondering which one would win out ultimately.

BOAC livery used a white Speedbird (later gold) against a dark blue background on the tail (as shown in the picture above).

In 1974, BOAC merged with British European Airways (BEA) to form British Airways (although the iconic logo was dropped in 1972). However, Speedbird lives on and is still in use – as the radio callsign for British Airways aircraft.

Post-war visits to Hatfield were mainly connected with new de Havilland aircraft, the first being on 29th May 1946 when I flew in the second prototype Dove, G-AGUC, with Geoffrey Pike, followed by some very close formation work in the first prototype, G-AGPJ, when Geoffrey de Havilland [Jr] took me so close to G-AGUC that I could only get its nose and cockpit in the viewfinder of my camera.

My first jet ride came at Hatfield on 1st September 1947 when I flew in Avro Lancastrian VM703 which had two Ghost I turbine engines in place of its outer Merlins. This was followed by a ride in West African Airways' Dove VR-NAG while Charles Brown photographed the Ghost Lancastrian. Just over four years later I landed at Hatfield in Comet 1 G-ALYS returning from the 1951 S.B.A.C. show; this was the culmination of watching Comets in various stages including pre-dawn departures on proving flights by the prototypes. At the other end of the size and performance scale was a flight, in August 1953, in the Beaver 2, G-ANAR. The sole Comet 3, G-ANLO, appears in my log books for a flight from Hatfield on 29th December 1955, after the aircraft's world tour.

My only Heron flight from Hatfield was on the delivery flight of Vestlandske Luftfartselskap's LN-BDS, a Mark 2, when we flew to Stavanger [in Norway]. This was my only international flight from Hatfield and the details are best left unrecorded because they were no credit to the British aircraft industry. 

A big day for someone who as a schoolboy used to watch the aeroplanes at Hatfield was 10th September 1957 when Hunting Percival let me fly the Jet Provost G-AOHD and I flew from Luton and made two landings and two touch-and-goes at Hatfield.

A very different flight was in the first Comet 4, G-APDA, on 28th August 1958. For this I left London in glorious sunshine but the nearer I got to Hatfield the worse the weather became. There was a reception in the fire station and the thunder echoed round its unfurnished interior. At the height of the storm came the call "We are ready to fly", so we climbed aboard in pouring rain and there was an enormous flash of lightning beside us as we began our climb. We were struck by lightning several times and the weather radar appeared to have some infectious disease. On the way to Hatfield my wife had voiced her envy of some cows in a field because they didn't have to fly in that weather, but when reading the evening paper we saw that six cows had been killed by lightning in Hertfordshire!

I have no record of my last visit to Hatfield but the last time I took-off and landed there was on 30th August 1962, in the Trident G-ARPB flown by John Cunningham. Thus, I saw more than thirty years of Hatfield development but I must admit that my happiest memories were of the Moth and 9J period – I was lucky to know that era but it was just chance.


Photos and Illustration captions

The article included sixteen photos, and one cartoon by John Stroud. For copyright reasons they have not been included but as the captions also contain useful information they are recorded below in the order they appear.


The de Havilland School of Flying D.H.9J G-EBGT. Fuselage was painted red.


Early days of the de Havilland factory at Hatfield. Gaps have been made in the boundary hedge to enable aircraft to taxi across the farm road to reach the landing ground. Two DH.86s can be seen outside the factory, behind the buildings.


Hatfield scene in the 1930s. The fuel pumps are on the left and the parked aircraft include a Desoutter, Avro Cadet, Cierva C.30 Autogiro, B.A. Swallow and Tiger Moth. In the air are three B.A.C. Drones.


The blue and silver D.H.75 Hawk Moth G-AAUZ, was a Hatfield visitor. Powerplant was a 240-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Lynx.


The U.S. Naval Attache's dark blue and silver Puss Moth, A8877, which was normally kept at Hatfield.


A display at Hatfield on 15th June 1935. Left to right: Amy Johnson's Beechcraft B-17L G-ADDH, Granger Archaeopteryx G-ABXL (still in existence at Shuttleworth's) and Stinson SR-5 Reliant G-ADDG. Coming in to land are three Hawker Furies.


The Royal Air Force Flying Club Moth G-AACZ outside the original Hatfield hangars.


Alex Henshaw's red and white Comper Swift G-ACGL at Hatfield for the 1933 King's Cup race – Henshaw standing on the starboard wheel.


Also at Hatfield for the 1933 King's Cup was the Arrow Active G-ABVE. It came fifth.


The first of the de Havilland School of Flying's Tiger Moth fleet, G-ACDA.


The Hermes-engined Hendy 302 G-AAVT being run up at Hatfield in preparation for the 1933 King's Cup race.


Granger Archaeopteryx tailless monoplane G-ABXL at Hatfield, 15th June 1935. The fuselage and rudder were green.


D.H. line-up at the 1937 S.B.A.C. Display at Hatfield. Left to right: Tiger Moth, Hornet Moth [G-AEXM], Dragonfly, Dragon Rapide, D.H.86B "Venus" of Railway Air Services and D.H.91 Albatross.


Mock-up livery on a D.H.91 Albatross during its construction at Hatfield. The "Speedbird" emblem appears on the nose for the first time. The blue line along the cabin side was not adopted. Although the name "Frobisher" appears on the nose, it does not mean that this aircraft was G-AFDI, the genuine "Frobisher".


The first D.H.88 Comet taxi-ing in after an early flight at Hatfield, unpainted and carrying the identification "E.1" on the fuselage. Hubert Broad was the pilot.


Hatfield during the 1937 S.B.A.C. Display. Among the varied types on view are the Walrus, Lysander, Short Scion, Whitley, Shark, Skua, Gladiator, Wellesley, Harrow, Albatross, Anson, D.H.86B, D.H.89A, Dragonfly, Hornet Moth, Blenheim, Oxford and Heston Phoenix.


An early John Stroud drawing showing the end of D.H.9J G-EBGT [written on the drawing: "G-EBGT (D.H.9J) after crashing at Hatfield on 16/10/32", signed "JHS"].


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