Sqd. Ldr. R.J. ‘Jack’ Jones AFC

Founder and Director of E.A.F.S./Channel Airways

Born in 1912, Reginald John Jones began his working career with the Royal Navy aboard the destroyer HMS Ardent during the mid-1930s. Retaining a passion for aviation, he had requested a transfer to the Fleet Air Arm which was summarily rejected to the bemusement of his fellow ship mates who took much delight in swooping around him whilst making aircraft noises in a rather jocular fashion. On his return to Britain, he left the navy and put in an application to join the RAF, but this attempt was likewise thwarted too. However, determined not to give up he had another go and one year later he was flying operations as a Flight Sergeant with No.22 Squadron. Sufficed to say, he soon rose through the ranks, eventually ending up as a Squadron Leader flying Lancaster Pathfinder missions over Germany and after a period of rest from operations he was tasked with carrying out experimental balloon cable work with the RAE, this work gaining him an AFC. Finally, he would end the war with No.267 Squadron flying supply missions over Yugoslavia.

With the easing of post-war, private flying restrictions on January 1st 1946, ‘Jack’ Jones as he would come to be known, was determined to start a small aviation business with the three aircraft that he had purchased in February of that year. Thus in August, East Anglian Flying Services began life at Herne Bay from where it would primarily involve itself with pilot instruction, aerial photography and pleasure flights using its D.H. Puss Moths, an Airspeed Courier and later an Auster which was added to the fleet in November. However, the small Herne Bay base soon began to reveal its limitations and when Southend Municipal Airport reopened to civil aviation in January 1947, Sqd. Ldr. Jones took the decision to relocate across the river and continue operations from there.

However, not wishing to rest on his laurels Sqd. Ldr. Jones would the following year start to purchase larger equipment in the shape of a Miles Aerovan with which he would personally fly passenger and freight charters. Then in January the following year, four ex-RAF Dominies would be procured and converted into Dragon Rapides, these later providing the backbone of E.A.F.S. operations during its formative years. Expansion came quickly and by the end of the following year, East Anglian was flying scheduled services between Southend and Rochester on behalf of B.E.A. along with its own I.T. charter services. However, with the advent of the 1950s came crippling currency control regulations and ‘Jack’ Jones was forced to lay off much of his staff and store most of his aircraft although again, refusing to be beaten he retained a single aircraft and put a young lad in a kiosk on Southend seafront selling tickets for joy rides, while Jack himself would ferry passengers between the seafront and the airport in his own car and quite naturally fly the plane.

Thankfully, by 1952 these restrictions had been eased and Sqd. Ldr. Jones looked to a future of expansion while implementing a good number of radical ideas, some of which would effectively give birth to the budget airline model that exists today. In 1966, he purchased the lease to Ipswich Airfield and moved the E.A.F.S. flight school there while commercial operations would also be started from this location later that year. As a testament to Jack’s character, in an industry still overflowing with rampant sexism, he would in the late-50s take on record breaking Air Transport Auxiliary Jackie Moddridge who had ferried more aircraft around the country during the war than any other British pilot. Also as something of a testament to his character, he could often be seen out on Southend’s apron lugging bags on and off the aircraft during especially busy periods and it was not unknown for him to stop in his rather grand Rolls and give company employees he met on his way to work a lift to the airport, especially during inclement weather.

While E.A.F.S. and later Channel Airways was considered by many to be a somewhat chaotic organisation some of Jack’s ideas worked well, especially the pack ’em in concept which saw toilets being removed and replaced with seats on aircraft flying shorter routes while two Tridents purchased in 1967 were the first and possibly the only aircraft of the type to be fitted with 7 abreast ‘family’ seating. Another, albeit more risqué idea was to operate into smaller airfields that the bigger airlines wouldn’t touch and in most kinds of weather too. Needless to say, Sqd. Ldr. Jones was determined to get people to the airport as quickly and efficiently as possible too and as a result, eventually began a coach service which would bring people to Southend and later Stansted from both London and the outer lying towns and villages of Essex.

Going one step further, in 1967 he set up a ‘bus stop’ service know as the Scottish Flyer which flew from the south to the north of the country and back again, stopping at several of the larger airports along the way. Passengers would be encouraged to lug their own baggage on and off of the aircraft which would stop for a maximum of 10 minutes with both starboard engines still running. While this all seemed like a good idea in practice, this too floundered within a year. However, Jack was still determined to push the boundaries to the limit and with the 1970 arrival of Channel’s largest type – the Comet – he entertained the possibility of removing two engines from what he considered to be a hugely overpowered aircraft while using the two empty nacelles as baggage/freight holds instead! Maybe less controversial was the awarding of an affinity charter contract to Channel, the intention being to start transatlantic crossings with Boeing 707s but by this time, financial woes were beginning to bite.

It was during this time that Channel seemingly lost its sense of direction, purchasing either old or complicated jet airliners after which it lost many of its scheduled routes and instead had to rely instead on seasonal charters, while a somewhat inexplicable determination to move its base of operations from Southend to Stansted resulted in plummeting profits and increased costs. Local competition didn’t help matters either. At the beginning of 1972, Jack Jones closed the engineering base at Stansted in an attempt to stave off the airline’s collapse, but it was too late and by the end of February, it was all over with Jack’s pride and joy being summarily forced into administration. As far as the British School of Flying at Ipswich was concerned, this was later sold to Lonmet Aviation on May 31st 1972. By this time, Jack was of pensionable age and as such took the decision to hang up his wings and enjoy his well deserved retirement in Cornwall where he spent the remainder of his life. Sqd. Ldr. Jones eventually passed away in 2006 at the grand old age of 94 and with his passing, left a legacy that will be remembered within the historical archives of British commercial aviation for decades, if not centuries to come.

 

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