BA186 from Newark on very short final for runway 27R during a beautiful sunset in London

BA186 from Newark on very short final for runway 27R during a beautiful sunset in London. Some nice aircraft are visible in the picture as well as Terminal 5 towering over the old terminal complex. (Photo by Gordon Gebert Jr.)

London’s Heathrow Airport is an incredible airport to spot. The airport offers very accessible spots via walking and public transportation and the variety of aircraft you will see is like no other airport. If that is not enough, the airport also has frequent visits by head of state aircraft. Heathrow has two runways, with one used for departures, while the other is used for arrivals. At 6am and 3pm everyday the airport alternates runways. For weeks at a time the airport will operate the same alternation and then switch. For more information, see the Heathrow Runway Alternation Schedule. Although London is notorious for its foul and unpredictable weather, there are still plenty of patches of sun throughout the year and sometimes even cloudless evenings or mornings.

Identifier FAA: LHR | IATA: LHR | ICAO: EGLL Airport Diagram
LHR Airport Diagram
Lat/Long W 000° 27′ 41.00″/N 51° 28′ 39.00″
Elevation 83 ft / 25.30 m
Time zone UTC 0(+1DT)
Variation W 2°05.3′ (2008-04)
Runway 09L/27R
Dimensions 12799 x 164 ft / 3901.1 x 50.0 m
Runway 09L Runway 27R
Longitude -0.489428 / W 000° 29′ 21.94″ -0.433261 / W 000° 25′ 59.74″
Latitude 51.477450 / N 51° 28′ 38.82″ 51.477675 / N 51° 28′ 39.63″
End Elevation 0 ft. 78.0 ft
Displaced Threshold 1007 ft 0 ft.
Runway 09R/27RL
Dimensions 12001 x 148 ft / 3657.9 x 45.1 m
Runway 09R Runway 27L
Longitude -0.486772 / W 000° 29′ 12.38″ -0.434078 / W 000° 26′ 02.68″
Latitude 51.464939 / N 51° 27′ 53.78″ 51.464953 / N 51° 27′ 53.83″
End Elevation 0 ft. 77.0 ft
Displaced Threshold 1013 ft 0 ft.
1930s and 1940s
Aviation at the location of what is now Heathrow Airport began during World War I, when the site was used as a military airfield. By the 1930s the airfield, then known as the Great Western Aerodrome, was privately owned by Fairey Aviation Company, and was used for aircraft assembly and testing. Commercial traffic used Croydon Airport, which was London’s main airport at the time.

In 1943, Heathrow came under the control of the Air Ministry, to be developed as a Royal Air Force transfer station. Construction of runways began in 1944, on land that was originally acquired from the vicar of Harmondsworth. The new airport was built by Wimpey Construction,[13] and was named after the hamlet of Heathrow, little more than a row of isolated cottages on Hounslow Heath frequented by highwaymen; which was demolished to make way for the airport, and which was located approximately where Terminal 3 now stands.

The Royal Air Force never made use of the airport, and following the end of World War II control was transferred to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on 1 January 1946. The first civil flight that day was to Buenos Aires, via Lisbon for refuelling.[citation needed] The official opening ceremony was performed on 25 March 1946 by Lord Winster, the Minister of Aviation. On 16 April a Panair Lockheed L-049 Constellation landed after a flight from Rio de Janeiro, the first aircraft of a foreign airline to land at Heathrow. The first BOAC scheduled flight departed for Australia on 28 May. This route was operated as a joint route with Qantas.

The airport opened fully for civilian use on 31 May 1946, and by 1947 Heathrow had three runways, with three more under construction. These older runways, built for the piston-engined planes of that era, were each slightly longer than a mile in length, arranged in a 6-point star pattern to allow for all wind conditions. The temporary “prefab” passenger and cargo buildings were located at the northeast edge of the airport, just south of Bath Road.

1950s and 1960s
In 1953, the first slab of the first modern runway was ceremonially placed by Queen Elizabeth II. She also opened the first permanent terminal building, the Europa Building (now known as Terminal 2), in 1955. On 1 April 1955, a new 38.8-metre (127 ft) control tower designed by Frederick Gibberd was opened, replacing the original RAF control tower.

The Oceanic Terminal (renamed as Terminal 3 in 1968) opened on 13 November 1961, to handle flight departures for long-haul routes. At this time the airport had a direct helicopter service from central London; there were also public viewing facilities and gardens on the roof of the Europa Building. By the time Terminal 1 was opened in 1968, completing the cluster of buildings at the center of the airport site, Heathrow was handling 14 million passengers annually.

The location of the original terminals in the center of the site has since become a constraint to expansion. The decision to locate them there reflected an early assumption that airline passengers would not require extensive car parking, as air travel was then only affordable to the wealthy, who would often be chauffeur-driven.

In the late 1960s a 160 acres (0.65 km2) cargo terminal was built to the south of the southern runway, connected to Terminals 1, 2 and 3 by a tunnel.

1970s to 1990s
In 1970, Terminal 3 was expanded with the addition of an arrivals building. Other facilities were also added, including the UK’s first moving walkways. Heathrow’s two main runways, 09L-27R and 09R-27L, were also extended to their current lengths in order to accommodate new large jets such as the Boeing 747. The other runways were closed to facilitate terminal expansions – except for Runway 23, which was preserved for crosswind landings until 2002.

In 1977, the London Underground Piccadilly Line was extended to Heathrow; connecting the airport with Central London in just under an hour. On 23 June 1998 Heathrow Express started operating, providing a direct rail service to London’s Paddington station, via a specially-constructed line between the airport and the Great Western Main Line.
Aircraft stands at Heathrow’s Terminal 5

Continued growth in passenger numbers to 30 million annually by the early 1980s led to the need for more terminal space. Terminal 4 was constructed to the south of the southern runway, next to the existing cargo terminal, and away from the three older terminals. It was connected with Terminals 1, 2 and 3 by the already-existing Heathrow Cargo Tunnel. Terminal 4 was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in April 1986, and became the home for then newly-privatized British Airways.

In August 1982, the “Airport Spur” section of the M4 was opened to give the airport a direct link with the motorway and provide motorway access to airport users from as far away as the West Country and South Wales. Four years later, the M25 was completed as the London Orbital Motorway giving a direct motorway link to much of the rest of the country.

In 1987, the UK government privatized the British Airports Authority (now known as “BAA Limited”) which controls Heathrow and six other UK airports.

During the 1980s and 1990s, since privatisation, BAA has expanded the proportion of terminal space allocated to retailing activities, and has invested in the development of retail activity. This has included expanding terminal areas to provide more shops and restaurants, and routing passengers through shopping areas, in order to maximise their exposure to retail offerings.

  • On 3 March 1948, Sabena Douglas DC3 Dakota OO-AWH crashed in fog. Three crew and 19 of the 22 passengers died.
  • On 31 October 1950, British European Airways Vickers Viking G-AHPN crashed at Heathrow after hitting the runway during a go-around. Three crew and 25 passengers died.
  • On 1 August 1956, XA897, an Avro Vulcan strategic bomber of the Royal Air Force, crashed at Heathrow after an approach in bad weather. The Vulcan was the first to be delivered to the RAF, and was returning from a demonstration flight to Australia and New Zealand. The pilot and co-pilot ejected and survived, but the four other occupants were killed.
  • On 27 October 1965, BEA Vickers Vanguard G-APEE, flying from Edinburgh, crashed on Runway 28R while attempting to land in poor visibility. All 30 passengers and six crew on board died.
  • On 8 April 1968, BOAC Flight 712 Boeing 707 G-ARWE, departing to Australia via Singapore, suffered an engine fire just after take-off. The engine fell from the wing into a nearby gravel pit in Staines, before the plane managed to perform an emergency landing with the wing on fire. However, the plane was consumed by fire once on the ground. Five people – four passengers and a stewardess – died, while 122 survived. Barbara Harrison, a flight attendant on board who helped with the evacuation, was posthumously awarded the George Cross.
  • On 3 July 1968, G-AMAD, an Airspeed Ambassador of BKS Air Transport, dropped a wing during approach, causing the aircraft to contact the grass and swerve towards the terminal building. It hit two parked British European Airways Hawker Siddeley Trident aircraft, burst into flames and came to rest against the ground floor of the terminal building. Six of the eight crew died, as did eight horses that were on board. Trident G-ARPT was written off, and Trident G-ARPI was badly damaged, but subsequently repaired, only to be lost in the Staines crash in 1972.
  • On 18 June 1972, Trident G-ARPI, operating as BEA548, crashed in a field close to the Crooked Billet Public House, Staines, two minutes after taking off. All 118 passengers and crew on board died.
  • On 5 November 1997, a Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A340-300, G-VSKY, made an emergency landing with an undercarriage malfunction. Part of the undercarriage collapsed on landing, and both aircraft and runway were damaged. Recommendations made as a result of the accident included one that aircraft cabin door simulators should more accurately reproduce operating characteristics in an emergency, and another that cockpit voice recorders should have a two-hour duration in aircraft registered before April 1998.
  • On 17 January 2008, a British Airways Boeing 777-236ER, G-YMMM, operating as flight number BA038 from Beijing to London, crash-landed at Heathrow. The aircraft landed on grass short of the south runway, 27L, then slid to the edge of the runway and stopped on the threshold, its undercarriage having collapsed. It was the first accident resulting in a Boeing 777 hull loss, and eighteen minor injuries were confirmed, with 13 people being admitted to hospital. In 2009 a second interim report from the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that ice may have formed in the fuel lines during the flight, restricting the flow of fuel to the engines. Air accident investigators called for a component on the Rolls-Royce Trent 800 series engine to be redesigned.

This page contains excerpts of Wikipedia entry London Heathrow Airport, shared under the GNU Free Documentation License.