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From London to Paris by plane.

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

This undated map shows the London - Paris route from Imperial Airlines. It's a birds-eye view from the South, and covers the South-East of England, the Channel, and the North-West of France. It is a map from the early days of commercial flight. It could be purchased as in flight entertainment for a sixpence, but the cover of this example has been stamped 'FREE'.



Imperial Airways was the first long-distance commercial airline in Great-Britain, operating between 1924 and 1939, when merged into the British Overseas Airways Cooperation (BOAC), which merged with British European Airways (BEA) in 1974 to form British Airways.


The map is sponsored by Shell, the 'sole suppliers of Petrol to Imperial Airways', whereas an earlier route map produced by one of Imperial Airways predecessors and airplane builder Handley Page was sponsored by BP.


The airplane

The details on this map are amazing. The biplane has been depicted in such detail that the exact plane can be identified. The 3-engine plane shown on the map has the call sign G-EBIX. It is a Handley Page W.8f, the City of Washington. The aircraft accommodated 18 passengers and a three person crew: the pilot, an engineer and a steward. The cruising speed was approximately 150 km /hr (90 m.p.h.). The aircraft was build as a 3-engine plane, but that was modified in 1929, when one of its engines was removed, and the remaining two were replaced with Rolls-Royce 480 horsepower engines. This narrows the timeframe of the production of this map from 1924 to 1929. On October 30th 1930 the G-EBIX crashed near Hardelot, in the Boulogne area in Northern France.




Route

The route went from Croydon Airfield to Le Bourget Aerodrome near Paris. In the Twenties and Thirties, Croydon Airfield was the main airfield of the United Kingdom. After take of, the route goes eastwards towards Folkestone. It is interesting that on this route, which is around 100 kilometers, 3 additional airfield are found: Penshurst Airfield, Lamberhurst Airfield, and Lympne Airfield. This reflects the danger of early flight, and the anticipated need of emergency landings. This danger is also reflected in the passage of the Channel: on its smallest point, to shorten the time flying above water, from Folkestone to Cap Griz Nez (Cape Grey Nose). From there, the route continues southwards following the coastline, past Hardelot (where eventually this particular plane would find its final destination), and then more eastwards to Abbeville, Beauvais, and finally Bourget Aerodrome. On the route in France, five additional landing grounds can be observed. Total flight time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. Most of the airfields on this route are no longer in use. The beautiful website Forgotten Airfield in Europe shows these, and many other abandoned airfields.


Another feature of early commercial flight that has long gone, are the Aerial Lighthouses. During daytime flight, pilots navigated using roads, railways and train stations with town names painted on their roofs. But during flight in the dark, pilots navigated using the light of inland lighthouses, just like seamen navigate using coastal lighthouses. On the route between Croydon and the coast, lighthouses were erected at Tatsfield, Brenchly, Cranbrook, and Lympne. During night flight above the channel, pilots navigated using the lighthouse ship marking the Varne sand bank. Around WW II, the aerial lighthouse were all removed, and their function was taken over by radio beacons and radar. As far as I was able to find, none of the lighthouses has been preserved 'on site'.



Alternative ways of travel were by train and boat. The map shows three routes: From Newhaven to Dieppe, from Folkstone to Boulogne and from Dover to Calais. But, these are the more time-consuming option, as shown on the map. Train and boat will take 7 hours and 15 minutes. And showing this difference, is exactly the purpose of this map.

Nowadays, a train trip from London to Paris using the Eurotunnel between Folkstone and Calais will take about the same time as the airline trip 100 years ago.



Landmarks

Several landmarks are clearly depicted: In London the Big Ben and St Pauls Cathedral are shown, and a bit more to the south is Crystal Palace.


In the city of Paris the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame can be identified.


This map is a beautiful memento of a time long gone. When flight was exclusive and dangerous. When navigation relied on following railroad tracks or aerial lighthouses. A time when flight was so exceptional that beautiful maps were made to show passengers their location in the air.


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