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Heathrow Coach-link, Fifties-style

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Ah, the half-term holidays. It was great to see so many visitors to the Science Museum last week – hope you had a good time!

Others may perhaps have jetted away with the kids for a relaxing overseas break. Did you use Heathrow Airport? These days there are several ways to get there: car, taxi, train, Tube or coach. But for many travellers back in the 1950s, coach was the only option:

AEC Regal IV airline coach, 1953 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

AEC Regal IV airline coach, 1953 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

That’s our AEC ‘Regal IV’ airline coach from 1953. Isn’t it just a peach? British European Airways (BEA) ran a fleet of 65 of these one-and-a-half-deck coaches in the 1950s to whisk travellers between the ‘West London Air Terminal’ (in Cromwell Road, not far from the Science Museum) and the airport.

The special body was designed by London Transport and featured a raised passenger deck over a large luggage compartment. They seated 37 people, and although owned by BEA, they were operated on their behalf by London Transport.

These coaches were still carrying passengers well into the 1960s, by which time BEA’s fleet included Hawker Siddeley ‘Trident’ aircraft. We have one in our aviation collection – more on that later. In the meantime, I’d love to hear comments from anyone who remembers using these Heathrow transfer coaches or the West London Air Terminal…

Written by David Rooney

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  1. Marcus de Mowbray

    Although I never travelled on one of these I used to fly to fly from London Airport to USA and back during school holidays, 1964-1969, and these were one of my favourite sights at the airport. Boeing Stratocruisers were still in use, and there is a vague frontal resemblance. They also look a bit like 60s VW vans. I sometimes managed to look inside.
    I had more-or-less forgotten about these distinctive and beautiful coaches until a few years ago on the A303 at Salisbury Plain I saw 2 of these going the other way. They were drab grey and looked like they were being used by travelers, but I was amazed and delighted to see that at least 2 had survived.
    Does this one belong to the Science Museum? Is it based at the store at Wroughton? Is it possible to see it any time?

    1. David Rooney, Curator of Transport

      Thanks, Marcus. Great to hear your recollections. Yes, this one’s in our reserve collection at Wroughton. The site’s not open to the public except for special festival weekends, but anyone who wants to look at a specific object for research is welcome to contact the conservation manager (Science Museum at Wroughton, Wroughton, Swindon, SN4 9LT) for an appointment.

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