Guppy Visit by Julian Hyams

I’d hazard a guess that most Southend Airport aviation enthusiasts who were around between the 1980s and 1990s are more than familiar with the huge Canadair CL-44-O Conroy Skymonster or ‘Guppy’ as it was more commonly known. Some of us no doubt recall this aircraft operating with Heavylift as EI-BND from around 1982 onwards, while others will likely remember it sitting idle for much of the time at the airport during 1997 in its Azerbaijan Airlines colours as 4K-GUP. Well a couple of years after this, I was fortunate enough to be given a guided tour around the inside of this huge aircraft where I had an interesting chat with one of the flight crew and also took a few pictures. So, this is basically how such a visit came about…

Our family home was at the time being renovated so while this was going on, my dad took up temporary residence at the Skylark Hotel on Aviation Way. While sitting in the bar one evening, he got into a conversation with a CL-44 crew who just happened to be the Johnson Air pilots of the Guppy that was at the time parked up at Southend. So over a beer or three, my father mentioned that he had a son who was extremely passionate about aviation and in the process, managed somehow to blag me a guided tour of the aircraft. Having been a registration collecting aircraft enthusiast since the mid-70s, spurred on by another well known SEN regular and old school chum of mine – Martin Lawless, as you can probably imagine, I was extremely happy when I heard about this.

So, one day in April 1999 my dad and I arrived at the airport where we met CL-44 flight engineer Gerry Overstreet from North Carolina, USA. Even in those days, security was still quite laid back and F/E Overstreet opened the fire gate next to Viscount House with his own key after which we then drove across the apron in my car to where 9G-LCA stood waiting for us. Steps were already in situ and we then proceeded to board the aircraft where we were shown the cockpit and the cargo hold before being told a few things about CL-44 flight operations. To this day I have distinct memories of four Flying Tiger Line boiler suits in a cabinet at the back of the cockpit that had likely been left there by the aircraft’s very first operator and a rather curious smell that was probably from the last cargo that the aircraft had carried. All in all this turned out to be a very special day indeed, especially when you consider that few aviation enthusiasts have likely stepped inside this unique aircraft, let alone been given a full tour of it.