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They did things differently then

Back in the 1930s you could travel by HP 42 and HP 45. Travel by printer? No, not them. Handley Page. They (and he) did planes.

Illustration for article titled They did things differently then

Yes, the lower wing was bent. That helped with headroom.

The HP 42 was the biggest passenger plane in the world in 1930 but for all that it carried only 26 passengers who had their choice of the forward saloon, the cocktail bar (only two at a time mind) and the rear smoking lounge. First class only of course. This was not a low cost operation. Later HP added the HP 45 which had more power and a different passenger/cargo split (more of the former, less of the latter).


They all had names, so the 42s were Hannibal, Horsa, Hanno and Hadrian and the 45s Heracles, Horatius, Hengist and Helena. The observant will notice a pattern and the more observant a second pattern. I thought there was a third until I reached Helena.

One could travel all the way from the UK to South Africa by HP 45 but not in one day. Oh no. The itinerary could include some or all of these stops:





















Broken Hill







Cape Town

The ones we’ve never heard of are in what used to be the pink parts of Africa and have in some cases been given non-colonial names since. Amongst these there were three or four overnight stops when the passengers were accommodated in suitable style in nearby hotels.


Each leg was in the region of four or five hours so the passengers were wined and dined aboard in a manner not reminiscent of Ryanair. Bone china and silver cutlery were used and drink flowed freely, especially in the cocktail bar. Food and drink were in the hands of a steward. No, not a stewardess. This was work for a chap. More chaps were to be found up at the pointy end as this was at least a generation before women commercial pilots were a thing and at least another before they stopped being oddities. Still not common, mind. In the past ten years I’ve been on a fair few planes and I could count the number of female voices I’ve heard from the flight deck on the fingers of one hand which has had a nasty injury. Interestingly, female pilots were more of a thing in the previous generation because this new activity had not yet been masculinised. Those with an interest in gender studies can research this..

The general ambience was intended to be that of a pullman railway coach, so also not Ryanair.


This is the front saloon, looking back though the corridor to the bar and smoking lounge beyond.

Illustration for article titled They did things differently then
Illustration for article titled They did things differently then
Illustration for article titled They did things differently then

Yes, you dressed up to fly then. Quite right too. Only the proper sort could afford to fly.

There were however downsides attached to all this fine dining because planes then flew low and slow (the HPs did about 100 mph or about the same as a non high speed inter city train today) and consequently were much more prone to nausea inducing movement. There was quite a good chance you’d be seeing your splendid lunch again.


Both 42s and 45s had the distinction, and it wasn’t a common one then, of never losing a civilian passenger (one plane disappeared with all aboard after being taken over by the military) despite the fact that the whole lot of them were lost by 1940 due to fire, forced landings and being blown around on the ground (those big and multiple wings provided plenty of lift at low speeds and did this just as well in a strong wind).

There was a plan in the 2010s to build a replica but nothing came of it. Similar plans for several other types went the same way, unlike projects (by the same kind of people probably) to recreate steam locomotives which I’m guessing is down to this whole dropping out of the sky if you get it wrong thing which is less of an issue on the rails.

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