Royal Air Force cadets from Lewisham are flying high this week, after spending the day with the British Airways Engineering Hub at Heathrow Airport.
The Squadron aims to offer Londonâ€™s best aviation experiences to young people, and when a visit was arranged, cadets were quick to sign up â€“ eager to see how commercial aviation was managed and engineered at the top levels. But even for cadets who are used to having access to aircraft and seeing how aviation works, the sheer scale and complexity of British Airwaysâ€™ operations would be an eye opening experience.
The day began with a security briefing and welcome by David Tubb, the Strategic Development Manager for the airline. He introduced the operations at Heathrow, and the engineers who would accompany the visit, and then we made our way to the first of many huge hangars to the paint shop. Here, cadets started to get a sense of the size of the task facing engineers â€“ whether it was the 140 litres of paint needed to respray a 747, or the 70 000 individually hand-cut dots making up the tail logo â€“ the attention to detail was impressive. In the engine bay, where over half a billion pounds of engines in various states of repair were stored, the focus and skill of the engineering team was clear to see. In the simulator hall, where sixteen different aircraft operations were taking place across five different aircraft types, the training and dedication of the pilots was on show. Despite longing gazes inside the simulators, and wishful comparison to our own, the cadets were soon whisked off to their next visit.
It kept getting better. In the next hangar, one of the â€˜Queens of the Skyâ€™ â€“ a Boeing 747 â€“ was undergoing engine maintenance. Excited cadets were allowed to get up close to the engineering work, and then board the aircraft for a tour. Whether it was relaxing in the First Class cabins, exploring the hidden crew rest areas, or having a guided tour of the cockpit and flight controls of the 747, the cadets were continually able to discuss the aircraft systems with expert engineers and guides, who were only too happy to help. Cadets witnessed the complete removal of an engine package from a 787 Dreamliner, before heading to what most considered the highlight of the tour.
We were really starting to appreciate the enormity of British Airways fleet and operations. Sandwiched in between the two runways, the continual take off and landing of aircraft was awe-inspiring; and really brought home the reality of what â€˜capacityâ€™ at Heathrow looked like. BAâ€™s 45% slot share was also pretty evident â€“ it felt like every other plane proudly flew the Union tail fins we had watched being created earlier.
And yet, the biggest treat of all was in the final hangar of the day â€“ where an Airbus A380 was undergoing maintenance and repair. The size of the aircraft dwarfed everything else; even the tail plane was the same span as an A321â€™s wings. Climbing aboard, and exploring the cabins, flight deck and operations of this super-jumbo was a real treat to finish the day.
Our visit had been an incredible insight in to the working, scale and challenges of British Airways operations. The size of the aircraft, the scale of the maintenance and engineering tasks, and the immense professionalism and friendliness of the engineers and teams we met had been astonishing â€“ one of the best visits the Squadron has ever done. Our enormous gratitude to David and his team for making it all possible!
For all of our photos from the day, click here. To request high resolution copies of any of our images, please contact the Squadron.