As well as my camera gear I always carried Mars Bars or Yorkies to make sure that I had enough energy in me…… I always carried a 2 litre bottle of mineral water to stop my self from dehydrating due to loss of water through sweat during the long walk to and from the north runway.
It was very exhausting but when I got to the end of the runways the walk was worth it as I had a brilliant place to see Concorde take off. When I got to the relevant side of North runway I use to take my blue stool stand around 3 feet from the North perimeter fence which was a “ Legal and public“ place and make sure my camera could see planes taking off, then I just waited for Concorde.
I’ve never had air band radios or what ever to know when she was actually coming, for me it was just pure and simple walk to the end of the runway in good time and wait for her to take off or land…….Although British Airways said she was going take off at 6.30pm they where never ever right.
She often left terminal 4 at around 6.30pm but she never took off at 6.30pm she took off any where from 6.45 – 7.20pm so it was a question of just sitting tight, making sure the camera was ok, waiting and watching the runway …….As soon as I heard the distinctive loud high pitched whine and roar in the distance and saw a small plane very very rapidly coming up the runway I knew it was her (as no other plane moved or sounded like her).
When I saw her approaching it was both a frightening and exhilarating experience. I stood on my blue stool with my camera ready for her to get to the right spot on the runway, as soon as she got to that spot I started taking photos and followed her (with my zoom lens) until I ran out of film.
The experience of seeing her take off was frightening, while she was a tiny spec in the distance the sound was a quite distant murmur which quickly got louder…… as she came in to full sight the sound changed to a faint roar which very very very rapidly got louder and louder…… the ground under me started to shake and felt like a baby earth quake.
As she went directly past me the sound was at its loudest and strongest, it was terrifyingly loud and the ground was shaking a lot, then every thing quickly faded to nothing as she almost instantly disappeared in to the horizon.
In normal circumstances if my feet had felt the ground shake and if my ears had heard such a loud noise then my gut reaction would be to run for safety but my eyes knew it was Concorde and my mind knew that
where I was stood (on a “public“ foot path next to the runways) I was safe and knew I would not ever get hurt by Concorde going past me so I stayed where I was and took photos of her.
From the mid 1970s – around 2000 (before Heathrow Airport closed it down) I often used to go to Terminal 2’s plane spotting area to see Concorde take off or land……Every single time I saw her taking off the entire building use to shake under my feet as she thundered past and smoothly but deafeningly stepped in to the sky…………
The ground shook in the same way as it shook while in 2003 I was on a “public“ foot path next to the runways so this was normal for Concorde.
Seeing her was also exhilarating because it was incredible to see her running under her own power and approaching very very fast, there was nothing as big as Concorde which could go as fast as Concorde ……wow it was an incredible site……
She was as long as a Boeing 747 but when she moved god she moved and she made every thing including a Boeing 747 look extremely S L O W ………..
From the point of her nose wheel leaving the ground to her disappearing in to the sky it took Concorde around 6-10 seconds to take off…….In that time you and the camera had to try and focus to get a pin sharp image taking photos at around 1/500th - 1/800th of a second.
You also had follow a supersonic plane taking off at full power faster than any other plane in the sky, depending on where it is you had to rapidly zoom the lens in or zoom the lens out to get a full framed picture of her.
While all this is going on the camera was also constantly auto focusing and taking 6 pictures per second…… So every 1/6th of a second I had to zoom the lens in or out to try and get a decent photo of her while she took off or landed this was extremely difficult to master.
Some times I got photos where I had just cut her nose or tail off. but 90% of the time I got photos which where spot on and I got all of Concorde nicely framed in my photo, in 6 seconds I use to take 36 pictures.
On top of all this when she took off her shock wave was strong enough to knock you off your feet and set off car alarms of cars parked next to the runway.
Concorde pushed me and my camera to the absolute limit, believe me taking good photos of Concorde was not easy…… it was very very very difficult but the results of all my time……effort and hard work paid off as some of my photos are unique ...... no one else in the world has got photos like them.
Mid summer – Early Autumn 2003
July - End of August 2003
If she took off to the west, I use to get either the 285, 555, 556 buses to Renaissance hotel and from there it took me 40 minutes to walk to the West (09L) side of the North runway or when the buses didn’t turn up in time I walked straight from Hatton Cross to the west (09L) side of the north runway which took around an hour to walk.