5.3.15

My 'day trip' to New York on Concorde

From 1982 to 1985 I was Editor of an EMAP trade magazine called CadCam International, based in Clerkenwell. As an important editor I received many invitations to jollies, the best one being a trip to New York on Concorde. (The worst was a day trip to Geneva which involved getting up very early and we never left Geneva airport!) My diary for the time was quite detailed and I've kept many souvenirs, however I was convinced until rereading it that it was actually a day trip: there and back in a day.

Before take off - that's little me in the middle
In fact we stayed overnight, in a hotel called the Vista, next to the World Trade Centre. It was destroyed when the Twin Towers came down in 2001. I was in room 1301 on the 13th floor. The trip was organised by a computer company called Data General, to launch a PC. 100 journalists flew out on G-BOAA (currently in Edinburgh) on 21 July 1983 and it took 3.5 hours to get there, setting off at 1pm our time. I was in seat 2D up front right-hand side next to a Swedish journalist. It was very luxurious and we had plenty to eat and drink. There followed a coach ride through Manhattan to a press do on the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre (which tower, I don't know). Afterwards I went for a walk to look at the gothic Woolworth building, and Battery Park. We had a cocktail party and dinner, I watched a film on the cable tv and went to bed, while others went to Greenwich Village all night. We had to be up 5.30am their time for the flight back, which was on G-BOAF (now at Filton).

Autographs
We'd just passed Nova Scotia, building up to mach 2 when there was a terrible lurch and champagne glasses and caviar flew everywhere. The mach meter stared spinning and the flight engineer said there'd been a surge on engine 2 and computer failure. They shut down the engine and returned to New York subsonically and it took us twice as long to get back. It was also at a more turbulent height too which added to the panic. In my diary I put: "I lost my appetite, missed the quail, but had a Cointreau though." We were just getting settled when we landed at Kennedy to see fire engines and ambulances running alongside. 100 ashen-faced journos made their way to the Concorde lounge for more free drinks. Some joked about going back on the QE2. It was 5.30pm, we should have been home by now. Reporters from the Times and Guardian filed stories by telex, but it only got the briefest mention next day.

Boarding passes and swizzle sticks
They found G-BOAA, the one we came on, for us, fired it up and we flew back without incident. I had missed the last coach to Woking from Heathrow, but my girlfriend at the time kindly came to pick me up.

What happened to Data General, by the way? Gone the way of all the minicomputer manufacturers. According to Wikipedia, "The old Data General domain (dg.com) ... was sold to the Dollar General discount department store chain in October 2009." We all know what happened to the Twin Towers, and Concorde was grounded after a disastrous crash in Paris in 2000. CadCam International? That's gone too, no trace of it on the internet!

My second scariest plane ride was a few years before this, during my first trip to the USA. I was flying from LaGuardia airport to Minneapolis - St Paul when the pilot announced that they had lost radio contact and had to fly low and slow, presumably so he could follow the roads. On the way back to New Jersey I got a ride in a single-prop, four-seater light aircraft, owned by a contributor to the IPC magazine I was working for at the time, CAD. He worked at Bell Labs and showed me round. His wife was an aerobics teacher, a word I hadn't heard before. Don even took me for a flight around Manhattan, along the rivers and lower than the tops of the skyscrapers. A few years later he, his wife and two kids were all killed when they flew into a storm on their way to their condo in Florida.
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