This will bring a few tears of laughter, joy and nostalgia to those who were heavily involved in this long-lasting story at Heathrow many years ago. As with all aviation tales there have been numerous versions of this story but this is the true, unexpurgated version by one of the Heathrow ATC stalwarts - one of the best story tellers in the business. He knows - he was there! Funnily enough his name is - - Mike Romeo!!! Enjoy..
Having seen in late 2000 that the BAC-111 G-AVMR had been withdrawn from use I thought it was about time that the definitive story of this infamous 1-11 was aired.
I was the Heathrow North Radar Director when G-AVMR (the "County of Tyne and Wear") was instructed to leave BNN heading 250o for an approach to runway 10L. It was a shuttle standby that day, hence the callsign. I dropped him to 3000 feet and handed him to the No.2 Director - Mr AW (no longer in ATC). Many, many minutes later Tony, having the flight progress strip in front of him, deigned to contact Mike Romeo but there was no reply. Then came the chilling words: "Mike Romeo, where is he? He's not talking to me". Being the final director he had a short range set up on his radar display and Mike Romeo has gone "off the screen" and it was apparent that I had not transferred the aircraft to the No.2 Director. I scanned my radar from Booker... to Henley... to Reading and westwards... there he was, happy as a sand-boy, heading 250o at 3000 feet and way below CAS. Lyneham were getting interested....!
That feeling that engulfs you took over and I wondered if I could speak without trembling. Worse still - could he still hear me? "Golf Mike Romeo, turn left heading 070o, you'll just go through in the turn, and establish on 10L". He read the whole lot back without question - I couldn't believe it. "Can we descend with the ILS?" he said. "Affirmative" I agree, not adding that he'll hit the glidepath in about ten minutes time! I reckon about 5 or 6 aircraft had beaten him and turned onto the ILS before him. On that day 15-20 years ago a pact was made - Mike Romeo would never suffer again and AW and I were the original co-chairmen of the Mike Romeo Fan Club.
Whenever Mike Romeo was inbound or outbound to/from EGLL and A Watch was on duty we looked after him; some other watches sort of looked after him although some really poo-poohed the whole idea.
Inbound with the stand allocation system (BASIS) a callsign could be easily converted into a registration. Outbound our "brill" binoculars were essential but our highly trained lighting operators could easily pick out the "County of Tyne and Wear" even in LVPs!
I still recall GMC one dark night really "going it" and desperately trying to hang on - -"Ground, Speedbird 925 vacating 28L following the greens". I gave the usual reply: "925 follow the greens, right on the inner, stand will be B25 but it's occupied and the outbound hasn't started yet". The evening gridlock was building nicely: should get a mention in the Capital Radio traffic report! I looked out of the window and saw a 1-11 doing as I'd asked,then I looked at the BASIS - "BA925 - G-AVMR - HOLD B15". Composing myself I intercomed my lighting operator, who was working harder than me: "That 925 is Mike Romeo; see what you can do". Now this LO was trained to drop everything when Mike Romeo was around and he immediately asked Apron Control if there was an alternative stand for 925.. Apron were really good about it, especially on our watch, and they risked life and limb for this cause - especially that night. "Give him H34" the LO shouted.. "Speedbird 925, next right, follow the greens, new stand Hotel 34", I said. "Err 925, we're a 1-11 and we think we're for the Bravos or Charlies". I retorted: "You're Mike Romeo are you not?" "Yes, but, errr...." he stumbled. "Then it's definitely Hotel 34". The 1-11 ambled into the Hotel stands and parked amidst the long-haul Tristars and 707s. Job done but BA were cursing - one of their 1-11s had parked in the Hotels and there was a big, big bussing problem!
It was similar outbound... He often had the usual boring slot time.. but that was easily overcome...
The pilots never quite understood; they knew there were big perks to be had when flying Mike Romeo but they were not sure why. When there were inbound delays and they were told to hold they would tentatively say "If we say we're Mike Romeo would it help?" Would it help??? "Return to LAM and leave heading 270o" was the standard reply. Of course, it was known for some naughty pilots flying other 1-11s to ask the same question and get the same priority. Once this happened and the crew thought they'd got away with it... until the real Mike Romeo piped up with "But WE are Mike Romeo". The offending crew was severely rebuked and told if they did it again they would be diverted!
E Watch had their monkey at London Zoo; we had our boring but lovely 1-11. Happy Days. I was actually presented with a little plastic Mike Romeo on my 50th. It's treasured and flown on hairy circuits by my grandchildren. I pretend not to worry - but I do.
Some of us oldies have kept tabs on Mike Romeo at Hurn. I've personally illegally stumbled on it at the back of the European hangar in OKADA colours but when I saw that it was permanently withdrawn from use last Nov/Dec I realised that it was the end of an era.
THANK YOU all those fellow controllers at EGLL who participated. You will all be remembered, never fear.
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Its a bit quite on the board just now so I thought I'd post this wee story I came across a few months back. Its a bit long winded but well worth the read and brings a smile to the face. Also apologies to those of you who may have already heard it
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