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• My happy memories of Prestwick and Wilf White •
I wrote this for Larry Milberry, part of it was included in his fine book of Wilf White's images - The Wilf White Propliner Collection by Larry Milbery - CANAV Books • ISBN-0-921022-17-4

Prestwick reminiscences and memories of Wilf White.

Kingston, Ontario, Canada - 06 March 2006 © Neil Aird

The excitement would build throughout the long train journey from Paisley Gilmour Street. By the time Troon station had come and gone, the anticipation was palpable. If travelling alone, I would quietly gaze out of the window, wondering if anything interesting might be “up the back”, or maybe I’d see some “tails” sticking above the airport buildings. It was frustrating if there were adults in the compartment as I would be unable to express my great pleasure or disappointment with anyone. If none were present, and pals were there, the window would be lowered, using the leather strap, and four to six heads would be “hingin’ oot” anxiously into the slipstream, often risking cinders in the eyes, from the steam locomotive.  “A Strat!”, “Two Globs!”, “A WV-2!”, “A Neptune!”  Cries of joy.

Prestwick station would appear, and, usually before the train stopped, the door would be swung open and young lads would jump to the platform, be off through the barrier and up the street into Prestwick, hanging a left and following the lane, past the roofless ruined “kirk”, and eventually reaching the airport. No bus fare available from the pocket money/ paper route budget. This was the only way.  Old graffiti covered gas mask cases slung over shoulders, crammed with the important gear. Sandwiches, bottle of pop, an apple and banana, maybe a package of crisps, pencils, pens, notebook, “bins” or “scope/pole” and perhaps a camera. In long trousers, the bigger boys with longer legs, usually led the way. Sometimes puffing away on fags, Woodbine, Capstan, or Senior Service the usual brands. Conversations usually centered on aviation topics, but sometimes “girls” came up as subject matter. Dress varied, the older lads usually in smart blazers and school ties, these being mostly from the posh Allan Glen’s, Bellahouston Acadamy and Lourdes Secondary. They usually carried leather brief cases!

After the twenty minute hike, if the changeable Ayrshire seaside weather decided to give us a quick shower, we’d be thoroughly “drooked” by the time we reached the airport proper. After a cursory look at the dispersal apron, we’d retire to dry out in the airport café near the rose garden beside Orangefield House. The back corner tables were usually commandeered by older, local “spotters”, the younger set would choose a table nearby and carefully listen to the tales of adventure and bravado. Travels to faraway places like England, Italy and Spain.  There was a long established spotters’ club at Prestwick. When I was there, being from Renfrew/Abbotsinch , I could not join, or so I thought.  I knew most of the faces, and some of the names, certainly of the “icons”. A few of the members were really old. I was 14 years old at the time, they were probably 17. Some were so old they had even left school. If I was brave, I would ask if they knew if anything interesting was “coming in”. Sometimes one of them would disappear into the terminal to “check the board” at the Marshaller’s office, and return with the news that an R-5D was ETA’d in from “Kef” (Keflavik, Iceland) at 15;30  or a C-118 from Ramstein, was due later in the day. With that news, we would wait and wait, often playing “Battleships and Cruisers” or “Hangman” on the back pages of our log books. Now and then we would try to buy something so that the “wifies” running the café would not chuck us out. They were usually very kindly disposed to us however, if we were not too rowdie. Especially if it was cold, wet and windy outside.  I don’t think I ever remember the café being too crowded. As Trans Atlantic flights boarded, well-wishers would come in for a cup of tea. Often we would make a mad scramble out the door and head to the gate to see which landing aircraft had made all the noise. On sunny days, we would take up permanent station there to catch the action. A KB-50J Superfortress taking off with props turning and jets burning…awesome. A TCA or KLM  Super Connie, a SAS DC-7. . . .  We were always proudly answering questions from passengers’ family members, about the different planes, where they were going and coming from. USAF/MATS C-97’s, the Canadair Sabres, CF-100’s of the RCAF provided some action to punctuate the often long, long periods of quiet. Flyovers and contrails would cause excitement. “Trail!” and off we would run . . lying on the ground with telescopes and “bins” tracking the three B-47E Stratojets as they curved westwards across the Atlantic. Sometimes we would scrounge four pennies between us to call from the public phone booth…several of us crowded in while the brave one spoke to the controllers at Redbrae to see if we would be lucky and could get a Callsign for our log books…no serials, we knew that. Official Secret.

Most of the time, in fair weather, we would congregate in the Public Enclosure and while away the day, have the odd wee tub of ice-cream with a wooden spoon, sunburned and happy and more often than not, wind burned. Watching the pretty, long legged stewardesses in their high fashion uniforms provided visual variation for the lads. For aircraft, cameras were always present, albeit hand me downs, old box Brownies, folding bellows cameras from Uncle Bill, small Reflex cameras from Kodak. Finding the money to load them with expensive 120 black and white film was always an issue. Some of the club members had fancy equipment. A certain Wilf White always carried a neat camera. I cannot remember when I first met this friendly, knowledgeable fellow. Later in the day, would still hope that the C-118, Noratlas, C-45 or whatever was “on the board” would arrive before we had to make our way back to the station and our return journeys homeward to Paisley and Glasgow. It was always more interesting if Wilf was on the train to entertain us during the journey with his travel tales of places we had only heard about. Sometimes he would produce some of his pictures for us to pass around. A real treat.

I left Scotland in 1968 for Canada.

Many years later, I was visiting Scotland on a regular journey to visit my elderly Mum. She lived in Ayshire. Always aware of my passion for planes, she knew I would rather be at Prestwick than sitting inside chatting. She would send me off on the train from Girvan. “Go see yer pals”.  There was now a dedicated station at Prestwick Airport, part of the new terminal complex built in the mid 1960’s.  During my frequent visits back, I became a member of the PAAG and to this day, treasure the “keys”. I would pop into the smoke filled building and enjoy the “chat” listen to the VHF and look at the logs to see what I had “missed” or to find out which plane I had seen from Girvan on a certain day.

One day I popped up to the public enclosure, located now on the roof of the terminal, and looked at the few planes present on the ramps. An elderly fellow was holding council with two younger spotters at a table with the paraphernalia appropriate to plane spotters on the table. Log books being compared, notes being scribbled, cameras and long lenses. I popped inside to have a coffee and get warm, I recognized the older chap.  Wilf White! We had a grand chat and exchanged addresses before I left. That was around 1999.  On yet another trip, the same thing occurred. What good timing! Wilf told me he had not been to Prestwick for ages. We sat in the sunshine and had a long natter. I was curious to know how he managed to come to Prestwick by public transport (expensive) and he explained how he frugally budgeted his trips, “Being a Senior has it’s advantages!”, he told me. He was heading off to Greenock and “the tail of the bank” to do some “ship spotting”. I’m sure Wilf probably has a great collection of ship photos too! When I returned to Canada, I received a huge package of photos from Wilf: recent shots taken at Glasgow and Prestwick. They were all excellent, but there were many, many others from bygone days that I would have loved to see instead.  I look forward to seeing Larry’s Book, to have my wish fulfilled. I feel the same anticipation now, as I did each time the train left Troon!

My days at Prestwick as a serious spotter really began in 1959. Many years before (while still in nappies) I used to be taken by train see my Grannie and Grandad, who just happened to be in a direct line of the old cross runway. I still remember the noise and vibrations of American Transports roaring over the back garden and house. During the night it was especially exciting, often frightening. When I was older my Dad and Grandad (when he was home from sea, he was a Chief Engineer with the Harrison Boat Lines) would take me to the Pow Burn area (near the mound!) to watch the planes. Boeing SB-29’s with lifeboats under them are an early memory.  Streaming flights of USAF F-86 Sabres (silver) breaking off and landing.  My father grew up in Prestwick and went to Ayr Academy. His lifelong love was for trains. I have some early pictures, taken with his box Brownie, of Hawker Demons on the grass at Prestwick/Monkton and of the "control tower" when it was just an old rickety bus!!

In early 1956 when I was at the airport, my older cousin Roy introduced me to Plane Spotting (to keep me busy I think!)

The main event for me and others, who were not locals, was to ask “What’s up the back?”  Then we would head off, cross the runway at the traffic lights, head all the way up to SAL. If things were quiet, we would hop over the wall and sneak around, peeking into the hangars… I have seen some very rare aircraft there. Wilf has many, many pictures, whereas I only have a few, but I still have every log book! I have been over every inch of the place, when they were building Single and Twin Pioneers, right up until they were working on the CF-104’s. It was then, when I saw the large new Canadian flag on the tail for the first time, that I decided to come to Canada. No regrets.

We never knew what we would see at Prestwick.  In later years, the grapevine sometimes mentioned when a delivery flight of RCAF Canadair T-33’s or Beech C-45’s were coming over the pond. Or a pal was down and saw RF-84’s and mentioned they were staying overnight . . ”Hookey” was played and some truant’s were often found on the train to Prestwick the next day.  Now, I know what is there every day, pictures often arrive on my computer to accompany the reports. I am a member of PAAG, and view PAMG, and ScotAvNet postings . . so I have never really left!

Hope some of this you enjoy, it was fun to write.   Cheers!