My First Air Flight – Donaldson International Airways

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The Juno – Donaldson International Airways Prop Jet – Toronto 1970

I came across this photo in my parent’s collection of slides and prints, and it reminded me that this was my very first air flight – a transatlantic journey from Toronto (it was called Malton Airport back then) to Belfast, with a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland. One of my earliest memories that precedes this one is also a journey across the Atlantic – but aboard the Empress of Canada passenger ship.

In 1970 though, it was an aircraft – and it was either very late June or very early July. I recall that I had much excitement that I would experience flying – along with my mom – enroute to our “home” back in Northern Ireland. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience (although the return trip was not so enjoyable for me), and back then, they hadn’t seemed to work it out that flights east across the Atlantic are best done overnight for sleep and internal clock resetting.

We left at some point in the middle of the day. That meant daylight the whole trip and I had a window seat which was awesome. I recall landing at Gander, and then taking off again, heading out across the Atlantic and my mom pointing out to me big icebergs floating no the sea, down below. Because it was a prop jet, I don’t think it flew at as high as the elevations that full jet passenger planes do.

Back in “those days,” you didn’t wear your most comfortable old clothes to travel – you wore your best and my parents had me dressed up in my Sunday suit. Traveling by air had a different vibe to it back then, and mostly I’m glad that today, when flying, I’m not expected to wear the same attire as we wore back then!

While it was a very long flight, broken up by the refueling at Gander, I had lots of books to read so there was no boredom. I don’t recall much about the flight attendants (they were called stewardesses back then) except they all had smiles, were very friendly, and very pretty.

When we finally arrived in Belfast, we were met at the airport by my Grandad who whisked us off to his house on Magheraconluce Lane, near Hillsborough. And that’s where I recall quite vividly, the issues with the time differences and flying through the day. For my mom and I, it was still quite early – but my Granda and his wife, Jean Spence, were quite tired – it was already very late for them. They tried to keep us entertained while we were wide awake well into the evening and past midnight.

The Donaldson TurboProp Jet Flight Back

As mentioned, the return flight was not so enjoyable for me, for a number of reasons. While I missed my dad and my siblings, I really felt at home in Northern Ireland, and loved spending time with my Granda. Almost every day, we’d walk down the lane to where his goat was and milk it, and we’d see places together in his car, when my mom and I weren’t off exploring in the rental she had hired.

When we took off from Belfast, we were in the air only a very short time when we descended into Shannon Airport for refueling. It seems the Donaldson Bristol Type 175 Britannia turboprop jet aircraft couldn’t make it on a single tank of fuel to Toronto from Belfast.

As we flew west, against the trade winds, the engines would make noises that I did not like; the pitch of their sound would go up and down and I remember being terrified that pilots weren’t giving the engines enough fuel! It also didn’t make sense to me that we’d fly all the way to Gander before continuing on to Belfast, but this time, it was a short trip to Shannon and then back across – a much longer distance to Toronto than Gander to Belfast according to the maps I was looking at.

But in the end, we arrived safely, of course. I do believe we flew most of the way west across the Atlantic at night time – but I may be wrong.

The other thing I recall about trip to Toronto is that I had “collected” a lot of rocks and sea shells… that were in my carry on luggage. I insisted on bringing them back with me – so my mom insisted that I carry my own luggage with its weight of rocks and shells. But that was fine; they were precious to me at that time.

What I did with all those rocks and shells, I’m not sure but for many years, many of them sat on top of a bookcase in my room.

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