Fairey Air Surveys/White Waltham Connection

Geoff Milsom, former Chief Pilot of Fairey Surveys, contributed “The Record of Air Survey” article on the Home page from his files, and wrote the following notes to extend the history from 1955.

Notes on the Fairey Air Surveys/White Waltham Connection

The article “The Record of Air Survey” is taken from an old brochure circa 1955.

At that time the company had about a dozen pilots and operated three Dakotas, two Doves and a Rapide.

I am not very sure about the fleet before that, as I was away on lengthy overseas tours from 1947 to 1957 but I seem to remember there was an Oxford, an Avro XIX, an Auster, an Aerovan!!  Mike Young may be able to verify the fleet details.

The aircraft were hangared/parked and maintained by Fairey Aviation Company on the North side of the aerodrome at that time.  In fact, they were probably owned by FAC, but I am not sure of that.

Around the time of the Westland take-over, the survey company moved most of the staff into Maidenhead – i.e. admin, photographic laboratory, drawing office, mapping machines, etc.  Just the flying unit remained at White Waltham.

This may have been 1963?

A couple of years later (1965?) we moved to the South side of the airfield to be maintained by Jim Kelly and his merry men alongside all those RAF Chipmunks.  Jim’s section was now taken over by Short Bros.

I am sorry to be so vague about the timing of all this but no doubt the dates of the Westland involvement can be verified elsewhere.

Probably the best known of the company’s aircraft was the Dakota ‘Whisky Charlie’ (G.ALWC).  It was ‘home-based’ and operated for more than 20 years out of White Waltham and Farnborough on contract to the Ministry of Defence for flight trials of various sorts of airborne equipment.

Our main line of work was air photography for mapping (worldwide) but we also flew many hours of airborne geophysics i.e. with a magnetometer and scintillometer for oil/uranium exploration, etc.

The company also carried out airborne infra-red line scan surveys in France, Holland and the UK generally for heat loss investigation.

Thunderstorm research was also on the agenda in 1969 on behalf of RAE Bedford and the Bracknell Met Office.  This was a project with a view to the avoidance of thunderstorm tops by cruising supersonic airliners.  One of our Dakotas (Charlie Tango) was fitted with some special equipment at Bedford and our job was to measure the tops.

Incidentally, the highest top we measured was 65,000 ft. (in Bengal).

I am sure most of this is irrelevant but it tells you something about the company.

In 1968 a third Dove was purchased followed in 1972 by two Queen Airs – and at this time a Dove and a Dakota were phased out.

In 1974 the company was included, briefly, in an association called Fairey Britten Norman Air Services.  It lasted barely a year and did not affect our operations but it did enable BN to sell us a couple of Islanders that we did not really want!!

In 1980 the company was purchased by Clyde Petroleum and the name was changed to Clyde Surveys.

Operations continued as before but, by now, overseas contracts were less plentiful and gradually the fleet was reduced.

Sometime in the early 1980s Sir William Halcrow and partners bought the company from Clyde Petroleum, but we continued to trade as ‘Clyde Surveys’.

In 1982 we lost the Farnborough contract due to defence cut-backs, so that was the end of Whisky Charlie.

The reduction of the fleet continued until, by the mid-1980s, we were operating just one Queen Air.

The flying unit was eventually closed down in April 1990.

This does not seem to tell you much about the history of White Waltham – it is more a short account of a company whose home was White Waltham.

I hope it helps.

Geoff Milsom

5 thoughts on “Fairey Air Surveys/White Waltham Connection

  1. I had dinner with Geoff Milsum and our crew in 1956 at a restaurant in Teheran and have died deaths about it ever since. It was Beef Stroganoff and the dish came around with everyone helping themselves; I was last but one, Geoff was last. When it came to me there was only one portion left; Geoff said ‘have it; we’ll order some more’ but no amount of our shouting “Bishta, bishta” brought any response and Geoff missed out on dinner — I had the last portion! How do you think that made me feel? A heel, that’s what. Sorry Geoff. JB

  2. I worked for Fairey Air Surveys for almost two years from 1956. I joined as a junior photographer ex-RAF, and was assigned to printing duties at White Waltham. I rented a cottage on the edge of the airfield from another of the company’s employees, who was away on a foreign trip. Lofty Stoford was in charge, but my first efforts in printing were rejected by a shorter, stouter man whose name I cannot remember. I can remember arguing with him about print quality, though he won cos he was a boss.
    I was posted to Iran with a crew consisting of Mike, the senior photographer, the captain Des Plunket, two engineers, one of them a happy New Zealander and the co-pilot, a morose, short-tempered man who chewed beetlenuts all the time. We flew via Nice, Benghazi and Damascus. Teheran HQ was at the foothills going up to the Shah’s palace,but we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We flew on sorties to Isfahan, Meshed and other locations, ending up over Christmas 1956 at Zahedan on the Afghan/Iran border. No flying for three weeks gave us the opportunity to drink too much Ballantine’s scotch, illegally ferried in by Iranair crews, which resulted in my developing jaundice and spending a month in a new American-built hospital in (I think) Isfahan. Great facilities; lovely nurses. HoHum.

  3. I worked for a time on the airfield and it was a real pleasure to watch whiskey charlie depart off of 25. I took the crash truck out along 25 once and watched as this lovely aeroplane lifted off into a low right turn enroute the freelane departure lane. we fueled it and I got a taxi ride in the right seat. as a mere ppl this was a really special event. it was clyde air surveys at this time and ops were more likely to be flown with a beech queenair than the c-47.

    I recall as a small child seeing the early 1960s fleet of 3 c-47, 2 dove and other types at white waltham’s south side black hanger complex. one of the daks had a strange, pointed nosecone. interesting times for white waltham.

  4. I just saw the dakota at the “Ailes Anciennes” Toulouse it would be great if it could be restored to it’s former glory. If you have any ideas someone. It’s money as usual which would help.

    Cricri a member of AAT

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