When the last aerial imagery was flown in November it didn’t just mark the end of the 2011 flying programme, but also the end of our tenure at Blackpool Airport. We’ve been flying from the airport for over 50 years, had an office in the area since the mid 1960s, and two members of our Flying Unit have been spending six months of the year there for the last 20 years.
In its early days, the flying programme operated from a number of bases around the country, including Blackpool. Over time, the central position of Blackpool for flying to the far north of Scotland and down to the Isles of Scilly made it the sensible choice to have as a permanent base for the Flying Unit. In addition, the climate in the area meant that it was rarely a fog-bound airport and flying time could be maximised.
The Flying Unit could be in the skies over you anytime that weather allows between March and November, capturing around 50,000 images a year. Five people, some from our field teams and others from head office, work on a rota from our Blackpool airport base during the flying season. The two people on the rota spend around two weeks at a time in Blackpool, flying as often as the weather allows, including weekends.
The team are in the process of moving to a new hangar at East Midlands Airport and will start the 2012 flying programme from there. The team is on the move because of a mix of commercial and operational efficiencies connected to the current contract with the aircraft service provider, RVL Group, who has recently opened a new purpose built hanger at East Midlands airport. The decision to move from Blackpool was not taken lightly and the impact on the Flying Unit team was considered, and considered again.
To mark the end of an era, I caught up with two of our air camera operators, John McGrandle and Ron Cole to hear their memories of the Blackpool Airport base. Over their time in Blackpool they have been filmed for Countryfile and Coast, and featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles, so a chat with me for the blog was an easy task. They’re both currently back in their head office roles in Remote Sensing and about to start planning for the 2012 season.
Ron recalled that the wartime building that the team used for the first 10 years he spent there – it leaked during wet weather and wasn’t fit for the arrival of the digital era and computer equipment. When new facilities were built on the airport boundary, it seemed a perfect opportunity to move and that became home for the next 10 years. Ron admitted he’ll miss the base, saying, ‘I like the hustle and bustle of the tourists in the summer and seeing the lights come on in September. Most of all, I’ll miss Booths supermarkets – you don’t get them down here!’
John described their location near the beach, with a view of the airfield – and a perfect spot on the sand dunes nearby to see the Red Arrows taking off and landing when they were performing at shows in the area! With kitchen facilities built in, the office became a home from home as the team spend long hours there during their two-week duties. John said, ‘I’ll miss the people I came to know over the 20 years and the place, Blackpool is in a beautiful part of the world. I loved the smell of the sea and being close to the coast too.’
Both John and Ron agreed that they love their jobs, seeing them as the best you could have at Ordnance Survey, despite the travelling and missing family.
The two are about to start work on planning for the 2012 flying programme and then will be seeing their furniture and equipment moved to their new home at East Midlands airport. We’ll be updating you on the blog once they move in and can show you their new second home.