Imperial Airways in 1937: Hanno at Al Mahatta Airport in UAE

If you have read my novel, Kamikaze to Croydon, you know that our two Japanese flyers went straight from Karachi to Basra. Their Mitsubishi Ki-15 had that much power.

Out in the desert, there were many other established aerodromes or airfields, but what were conditions there and what did they actually look like?

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Here is an excerpt:

Our altitude was again near 3,000 metres, which the Ki-15 seemed to find most agreeable, no matter what the conditions were. We had Iran on our right, and there was Arabia proper and Oman, according to the new maps. Tsukagoshi read the names. We reached Musandam and the Strait of Hormuz, which was just 54 kilometres wide.

I clearly recalled all we had back a few months ago was a terrible old chart, with no elevations indicated, and Charles Lindbergh’s new maps were such a revelation. “These maps,” Tsukagoshi muttered, “I have to say, are rather detailed.” He was thinking aloud, and clearly not sure what he was seeing from his windows, compared to the maps in his lap. “My oh my.” I waited for the next burst of intelligence from my trusted navigator, hoping he was not becoming too immersed in his musings.

He slowly continued: “Interesting way to deal with elevations. Would be useful for military missions in these parts of the world. Nothing like the tourist maps we saw before. I am not sure we are allowed to have them.”
“Better keep quiet about them, then.”
“Every oil field is indicated. Topographic profile... It is explained here: 'One type of profile that helps visualize topographic data aids the pilot to understand the topography of rivers is called a longitudinal profile. A longitudinal profile allows you to visualize the changing gradient. A longitudinal profile is a graph of a river's elevation versus its length.' How about that. Applies to flying over deserts, too, apparently. And...”
“Very well. Tsuka? Enough of that. You have any thoughts about how we might get to our next destination, without any of that, whatever you call it.”
“Navigation? It is such an art, and a science. The map here, it is amazing. Such details. You should study it.”
“I might, if you got on with the task of getting us to Basra.”

Our direction now was a smooth curve, I knew that much. West north-west up towards Europe, and compared to the small ships down below, I had no such troubles that they must have, navigating that narrow strait.

Once we were again over land, Tsukagoshi easily found Basra, the desert town in Iraq. We landed promptly at 9:45 am, local time. That was a fine runway, it was very good to land on, we should have that in Japan. They called it bitumen or tarmac, I noted that in my notebook. That stretch over the deserts took us about 4 hours. We were now further in towards the central British possessions, with clear signs of civilization all around, in spite of the remote location. Clearly, they were doing very well there due to their oil wells, according to Tsukagoshi.

I suspected he took a brief nap back there over the Persian Gulf. It was hard to fly yesterday with the sun setting in the west, right in front of me. The small curtain helped. This morning, the sun was behind me and rising. It didn’t bother me much except for the glare from the instruments. If they really wanted pilots to do these long flights on a regular basis, they would have to sort out all such issues, and more.

Tsukagoshi was paying attention to all he saw below, and gave me updates: “Basra is 2,000 km from Karachi, are you tired up there in the front, you Japanese pilot in a rush to get to London?” But I was not tired. It was more the rush of the adrenaline that kept me up and happy. It was a kind of joy that I could not help but feel, as if it was pumping in my blood vessels and veins and recharged each time it hit my heart. “I am a civilian aviator from Nagano, Japan,” I said. “...Who flies with his heart on his sleeve,” shouted Tsukagoshi, explaining the English idiom.

I got it, I got it, I told him I did get it, but he was in one of his splendid moods and had more to explain.

He was such a dear, suddenly he started quoting in his very best English what he said was from Othello:

It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

From Shakespeare's Othello (1604)

We both rolled over laughing, well, not literally of course, and he could not hide his exuberance: “'I am not what I am'! You hear that down there, all of you Moors!?”
“Hahaha, yes, we all got it, so who are you?”
“I am air, I am sky! And you would be Roderigo, captain.”
“So am I, we are one and the same.”
“’Heaven is my judge’!”
“Whatever that means. Hey, Tsuka. We may just have reached Arabia, on our little trip, can you believe that?”
“I cannot, Iinuma-kun, I truly cannot believe my eyes. I thought to myself, that this is a magic flying carpet, and we are about to wake up from an ancient dream, straight out of the Arabian Nights stories.”
“You woke up alright. Do admit it. I think you had a nice nap back there while I was busy getting us from there to glorious here.”
“Oh, I might have closed one or two of my eyelids for a second or two, be that as it may…”
“Just joking, dear old chap, we made it all this way.”
“Isn’t the view just marvellous?”
“Not much for me to see, I am just here to fly straight and make sure we land and get to our next destination. But I do dip a wing once in a while to look out of my windows, I will admit to that.”
“Admit all you like. This might be the best flying carpet I have ever had flown on, except for your landings.”

Watch the 1937 video below for an amazing journey back in time. If you were rich enough, the Imperial Airways would take you there - or if you had an important diplomatic mission. Or, as in the case of the Kamikaze-go, owned by the Asahi Newspaper, there was a record to break. To fly from Japan to Europe in less than 100 hours...

This is such a great video of the Imperial Airways and its Handley Page four engine passenger plane, back in 1937.

We get to visit the Al Mahatta Airport (that the Kamikaze-go by-passed).

The Al Mahatta Fort was built in 1932 as the route from Croydon (London) was established. Also, advanced weather report balloons and proper British officers, making sure everything is ready when the Imperial Airways passengers arrive on their way to Singapore or Australia.

The Hanno was a British-made, four-propeller Handley Page HP42 biplane, the first plane to land at Sharjah's airport, known as Al Mahatta. Jupiter engines.

Hanno first flew in 1931 (and was named after Hanno the Navigator, who explored the Atlantic coast of Africa in 570 BC).

Top image from the front cover of Vogue Magazine, June 1937.

That airplane is a Fairchild 24C-8F:

Thanks Pandabonium for help with the research.


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