All over our Trident, G-ARPO, there are unusual items and features to discover which hint at its former life as an airliner flying hundreds of thousands of passengers over many miles around the UK and Europe.
Some of these features are part of the airframe and cabin, while others are part of the displays we’ve put together since restoring her and opening her up to the public in Sunderland.
In this article we’re going to take a look at some of those features and quirks and their significance. Then next time you come to visit, you can look out for them!
G-ARPO is a Hawker Siddeley HS.121 Trident 1C. She was built at the end of 1964 and flew for British European Airways and British Airways between 1965 and 1983. She operated out of London Heathrow airport, carrying passengers on domestic and European routes.
She was retired in 1983 and became a cabin trainer for firefighters at the CAA Fire Training School (later Serco International Fire Training Centre) at Teesside Airport, before Save The Trident group was formed to rescue her. At this point she was the last complete Trident 1C airframe anywhere in the world.
She is now on display at the North East Land, Sea and Air Museums in Sunderland.
One of the most famous quirks about the Trident airliner is its offset nosewheel.
If you stand facing G-ARPO from the front, have a look at the nose wheel and see it is off to one side.
This was because the complicated and revolutionary Autoland equipment (the Trident was the first airliner certified to land automatically without pilot input) was so huge and located under the cockpit floor. Therefore the nosewheel had to retract sideways instead of forwards, like on conventional airliners. To do this, it had to be positioned to one side!
Walk along the cabin of G-ARPO and you’ll notice that the seats (which are all original Trident seats) have little compartments on the arm rests. These are metal ashtrays where passengers could drop ash and put out their cigarettes, with a little sliding flap to keep the smoke inside.
Smoking onboard aircraft was quite common at one time. It was permitted as late as 2000 in the UK, although many airlines had banned it during the 1990s, at which time it was only permitted in certain rows.
These ashtrays are a reminder of a different time in flying. It must have been very smokey at times during G-ARPO’s flights!
In the cabin, look up and you’ll see the racks overhead the seats do not have lockers like on modern aircraft. When G-ARPO and Tridents first emerged, these overhead racks were only intended for putting a hat, coat or small bag. Today it’s common for passengers to put suitcases up there, and the racks are huge!
By the end of G-ARPO’s career, locker doors had been fitted to the racks, but we took them off to better reflect her early life. You will see some original BEA bags placed up there.
Cabin Wall Décor
During G-ARPO’s restoration we refurbished the cabins to reflect both British Airways and Northeast Airlines (the airline who’s livery it is painted in). We also had to clean and paint a lot of the stained and damaged interior left over from its fire training days.
However, there are a couple of original features from her final days in service. At the forward wall of the rear cabin, you’ll see this design which was used by British Airways in the cabins of its aircraft during the 1980s, particularly on the domestic ‘Shuttle’ aircraft.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Positioned on the forward cabin wall near the galley is a small framed letter. It often draws peoples attention when they visit G-ARPO and they ask what it’s all about.
When we held our official opening ceremony of our Trident in July 2015, inviting lots of former pilots, cabin crew and other guests, we cheekily sent a letter off to Kensington Palace inviting Prince William, Catherine and their children.
The reason we did this is that Catherine’s grandfather was once a Trident pilot and actually flew G-ARPO many times! We know this from the log books we’ve acquired. So we thought it would be wonderful if they could visit.
Understandably they couldn’t do this, but Catherine sent this lovely letter to use which takes pride of place.
Unlike more recent airliners, the window shades on Tridents had an unusual design whereby they could be pulled from the top and the bottom. Each covered half of the window, and they are still quite see-though, which might have been frustrating to passengers!
If you head into the cockpit and look down to the left of the captain’s seat, you may notice a rope in a small compartment.
In event of an emergency, the flight deck crew would use these ropes to climb down from the aircraft after escaping through the cockpit windows.
Moving Map Display
As well as pioneering Autoland technology, the Trident also had an early form of GPS in its cockpit, known as the moving map display.
If you look at the centre console between the pilots in the cockpit, you will see the orange map which has a white pointer hanging down over it.
Pilots would load a map of their destination airport and position the pointer. It would then use inertia to keep track of the aircraft’s position, aiding the pilots in their spatial awareness and positioning.
Rearward Seats and Tables
In the days of the Trident, it was still common for some rows of seats to be positioned facing rearwards.
In the rear cabin you’ll see the first three rows faced this way, as well as the first row in the front cabin, which is set around a table.
It is very rare to see this kind of configuration today (some military transport aircraft still have rearward facing seats) on an airliner, but was standard in early Tridents.
Behind the cockpit door, look on the wall and you’ll see a panel with lots of signatures.
When we opened our Trident to the public in 2015, we had lots of former pilots and cabin crew come to celebrate with it. Most of them had at one time flown or worked on G-ARPO and loved being back onboard to reminisce.
We took lots of photos of them, and we asked them all to sign the wall, which we proudly display today.
In our display cabinets in the rear cabin are lots of interesting items and artefacts that tell the story of the Trident and G-ARPO. One notable item is this logbook.
This is just one of the many that we have had access to which unveil the life and career of G-ARPO between 1965 and 1983. They have allowed us to discover the flights it flew, the destinations it went to, the names of the crews who flew her, and many other interesting times like maintenance, diversions, training etc.
If you look closely at the log book in our display, you’ll see a flight by G-ARPO showing it flying from London Heathrow to Manchester and back.
You can view all of our log books by clicking Flight Log at the top of the page and selection a year.
We have various models displayed in our cabin and cockpit, and each of them is wearing an authentic crew uniform which would have been seen at one time or another onboard G-ARPO (or BKS/Northeast Tridents). They include early British European Airways right up to 1980s British Airways cabin crew uniforms, plus BKS uniforms and genuine flight crew uniforms.
G-ARPO in Action
During our open days, we usually have a DVD showing on our TV screen in the cabin which shows some classic airliners in operation at London Heathrow.
At one point we always stop to watch and point out to any visitors as it shows the very Trident we’re standing in, G-ARPO, in action! During this particular sequence you can watch her as she taxies out in her BEA Speedjack livery and commence her takeoff roll. It’s amazing to have this footage on display.
Tridents like G-ARPO had three lavatories on board – one at the front and two at the back. You can see them all (but not use them!) when you visit our aircraft. But they show evidence of a class divide!
If you visit the rear toilets, you’ll notice that the sinks only have a cold tap. However, if you visit the forward one (which would be used by first class passengers and flight deck crew), there is also a hot tap!
So that’s it, the quirks of G-ARPO. Have you spotted them all? Why not make a visit to see us on one of our open days to check them all our for yourself?