Flashback – Part 1. Margaret

On 21/06/2015, in Flashback, by steve

BluSky Services is a successful consultancy that looks back on a history of more than a decade. It is customary to look back on the history of a company by listing the most important events that formed its shape over the years, to present old and not so old photos showing how the company premises and its products evolved. This flashback about BluSky will be unusual. We will look at the people who built the company and who continue to be the spirit of our undertaking. It is a family story as you will see. I have selected photos which capture moments from our lives, moments both special and run of the mill… but all of them significant in one way or the other. Welcome to our world!

At first there were just the three of us… then Daniel came along, although on this photo he is not yet part of the outside environment. In case you are wondering, that license plate is a French consular plate that I was using as an ICAO officer… except that it should have silver letters. I liked the orange letters (reserved for diplomatic plates) better and a few franks in the shop where they made the plates worked wonders to change the colors.



At a certain point in those old old times we had to move house. Something like this is best left to the experts but we did it ourselves. The result? We did look like a bunch of refugees…


We will come back to the story of the kids but first I would like you to meet Margaret. She is currently running a beauty salon in Brussels that is hugely popular and an important profit center in the company. She has always been one of the mainstays of our efforts to go forward while also keeping the family going… and 2extraordinary girl if ever there was one. She is beautiful, smart and kind. Being able to put up with me all these years is an achievement in itself. This photo was taken during a visit to St. Tropez. She was actually invited to visit one of the big yachts tied up in the port but she refused… Some time later we were on a boat but it was just a regular scheduled run to one of the island near the French coast. The engines sent a very nice buzz all through the body of the boat…









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The Vickers VC10

On 03/05/2012, in Flashback, by phil

The Vickers VC10, a British design, first flew in June 1962. The Standard VC10 was designed for the hot high short runways in Africa which is why it was configured with engines at the rear, giving a large clean wing with leading edge slats and large trailing edge Fowler flaps.

G-ARVB, a standrad VC-10

In May 1964 a longer version made its maiden flight. This aircraft, the Super VC10, took advantage of the superior take-off performance to carry more passengers on the North Atlantic. Although slightly more expensive to operate than the Boeing 707, it more than made up for this by its passenger appeal. The legendary quietness of its cabin inspired the sales slogan:

A Super VC10, G-ASGC, is preserved at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

And even though no longer in airline service, VC10s are still being used by the Royal Air Force:

My friend, Phil Hogge, has written an article about flying the VC10 through Africa. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Jelle Hieminga who has created the VC-10 website where you can find many more reminiscences of this magnificent aircraft.

Flying the VC10 on African routes

Phil Hogge flew VC10s from 1964 to 1978 and looks back on those days with fond memories. He e-mailed me the article below about flying on the African routes for which the VC10 was designed.

“Reading this excellent website has set so many memories going. I was on the first Hamble intake to join BOAC in 1962, converting to VC10s in 1964. This was my first jet type, and looking back, I realise now how lucky I was, not only to fly this magnificent aircraft, but also to do so on such an extensive route structure, first to West Africa, and then to the rest of Africa, the Far East, the Americas and across the Pacific to Australia.

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Bright sunshine from historic Ferihegy

On 30/05/2011, in Flashback, by steve

I guess young people to-day are enjoying their days working at Budapest Ferihegy Airport as we did when we were young and felt that the whole world was ours. There was bright sunshine in those narrow corridors even on rainy days, making even the government-issue gray office doors look somehow inviting.

Of course the sphere came not from the building but the people working there, the people who often did not feel the need to take a holiday because they liked their work so much! We were an enthusiastic lot that is for sure.

It is difficult to pick any one person to write about and not worry that I hurt the others, after all, they all had a story to tell that would deserve a place on Roger-Wilco. Come to think of it though, there are a few who were so well liked and so completely part of the scenery that writing about them would feel natural to everyone else.

The story of Istvan Toth (nickname in Hungarian Totyi) will no doubt bring back memories for most of us old-timers and perhaps give some guidance to those belonging to the younger generation.

Totyi, in the middle up front, circa 1972

Totyi was hired by Malev on 17 December 1969 and he started work in the department that provided the air traffic control service in Hungary. Yes, back then the national airline was running ATC… When the Air Traffic and Airport Administration (LRI) was set up in 1973, he continued there and finally retired on 1 February 2008 from HungaroControl, the ANSP that was formed from the ATS parts of LRI in 2002.

He has spent 40 years and 155 days in aviation and I think that he was one of the best known people at Ferihegy Airport. You know, the kind of guy who, if seen standing next to the pope, would have visitors asking: who is that guy next to Totyi?

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Article writing – music by any other name

On 08/04/2011, in Flashback, by steve


Grandad, the composer

My grandfather on my daddy’s side studied to become an architect but after finishing the university, he soon succumbed to his real calling and went on to become one of the best known operetta composers of 20th century Hungary. My dad was an engineer and we all picked vocations that had nothing to do with music. One might think that granddaddy’s talent was somehow lost along the inheritance highway. But looking closer, it is clear that it was not… it only manifests itself in different ways. My brother could tell you his story confirming this but until he does, let me recount how I discovered the presence of this special gift in our family.

Being a Zerkowitz kid in school was not always easy, not least because my music teacher at first was incapable of accepting that I had absolutely know feeling for music and sang in a way for which many will pay… so that I would stop. After a while though she accepted the inevitable but was very nice about it and from then on instead of singing, I had to learn by heart the short life story of selected composers. This was a deal very much to my liking and I played along happily, getting full marks in music class.

Our Hungarian language and literature teacher was also a very nice lady and when she realized that I could throw together a 4 page composition on any subject whatsoever in just a couple of hours, I became her favorite. She took me to author-reader meetings and I think some of the stuff I wrote actually ended up being part of speeches the school principal made on special occasions. But here again I was the cause of endless frustration because of my initial, rather lax, use of the grammar rules. I always felt that my ability to express my thoughts and also abstract constructs like nobody else could in the class did give me some latitude in ignoring certain grammar rules the logic of which always escaped me and which were difficult to remember in any case. I do remember to this day seeing the marks at the bottom of some of my compositions: 1/5 and 5/5. The 5 was for the composition, the 1 for the grammar of course.

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With thanks to Susie – wherever she is to-day

On 29/12/2010, in Flashback, by steve

One of these days I will tell you all about my office at BluSky Services, the place from which we run all the operations of the group. But not now. This story is about something totally different. It is about a memory that was triggered by the 1965 edition of the Collins English Gem Dictionary which I came upon while trying to put some order into the books filling the shelves here…

It was in December 1964 that we arrived in Cairo, Egypt and I was all of 14 and a half years old. I spent the next 5 months as a home student, learning stuff from which I would have to take an examination next Summer, upon return for a short holiday in our home country. Come September 1965, I was thrown into the deep water. At Cairo’s St.George’s College I was the first Hungarian they had ever seen… and also probably the first student ever whose command of the English language was just a tad below zero… Father Melody who was the head-English teacher and  Josef, the Egyptian headmaster were both very understanding and they even explained to the other teachers why they should be understanding too when I just stared in their eyes in response to even the simplest question. I did not understand a word!

Of course in a situation like this, you learn quickly and within a few weeks’ time I started to catch on and soon could easily differentiate between commands like stand up, sit down and shut up. I owe an awful lot to those great, understanding teachers but the fact that to-day I have a fairly good command of Shakespeare’s language was due to an English gal who was of my own age group and also the only hopeless love of my life.

Cherchez la femme you will say. Indeed…

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When things go wrong…

On 15/09/2010, in Flashback, by steve

The aviation industry has such a wonderful safety record that people boarding an aircraft rarely, if ever, think about the possibility of an accident happening to them. Of course the same people will have driven down the highway to the airport similarly unaware that, statistically, they were in a much more dangerous place than on board their aircraft. This is as it should be of course.

But for those of us whose life is dedicated to aviation as pilots and air traffic controllers, incidents and accidents have a different meaning altogether. We train to handle them intellectually and emotionally and we do everything we can to prevent and avoid them. Nevertheless, on occasion things do go wrong and we are in danger of being reduced to mere spectators of the brute forces of physics.

But we fight back, to the last breath, the last instruction, the last pull on the control yoke and never give up. In many cases, this kind of resolve can actually beat the odds and we turn a potential catastrophe into an incident of little consequence.

We all have memories of cases where things had gone wrong. Some were more serious than others, in some friends and colleagues flew west into the sunshine never to return in others some escaped with their lives while others did not.

I will never forget the sight of the blackened vertical stabilizer of the IL-18 that flew into the ground in Budapest in bad weather or the voice of the navigator of a TU-134 who continued broadcasting a narrative of what they were experiencing on board as the stricken aircraft that had lost all instruments in near zero visibility slowly rolled to one side finally hitting the ground with its wingtip…

I was on duty when we got the AFTN messages that a Tu-154 of MALEV went missing over the Mediterranean and the message was brought to the duty supervisor by the tearful wife of the captain of that flight (she was one of the operators on duty in the AFTN centre). The IL-18 that went down while approaching Copenhagen in pouring rain, took off from Budapest while we were on duty in the tower.

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Relative secrets

On 22/07/2010, in Flashback, by steve

I have an old book here, entitled “On the highways of the sky”. Published in the 60’s in Hungary and translated from the original East-German edition, it did reflect the spirit of the times but for me at age 13 or 14 it was the most wonderful book ever. It talked about all the fascinating things that were already pulling me towards a career in aviation.

There was a sentence in the book, advising air travelers to pack their cameras in the checked baggage. Of course… making photos from aircraft, even passenger aircraft, must have been anathema to the regimes in Eastern Europe back then. I remembered this sentence every time we flew and as a kid often wondered what the always polite and nice Malev cabin crew would have done had I kept my camera with me. On a flight with Aeroflot with a cabin crew perfectly capable of upsetting the balance of the aircraft had they congregated at the aft galley, I did not even wonder any more…

Several years later my dream came true and I started working at Ferihegy airport. Like all such places, Ferihegy too had its share of old stories and as the new boy in town, I was an avid listener whenever the old hands started to reminisce.

One story had a particular relevance to my earlier experience with the camera…

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At least the Red-Arrows survived…

On 14/07/2010, in Flashback, by steve

Concorde, QE2 and the Red Arrows in happier days...

I am pretty certain that few in the travel industry would have believed when this photo was made in April 1985 that the Queen Elisabeth 2 would actually stay in operation longer than Concorde would… Yet that is exactly what had happened.

Concorde’s future was sealed when F-BTSC crashed in Paris on 25 July 2000. Air France and British Airways tried to keep the magnificent bird alive after they re-launched service following modifications to the fuel tanks but the operation simply did not make economic sense any more. The last commercial BA flight on 24 October 2003 marked the end of 27 years of supersonic travel…

QE2 continued to plow the world’s oceans, retiring from Cunard service on 27 November 2008. She was destined to become a floating hotel, moored at Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.

The fate of Concorde, the fastest child of the species that killed the kin of QE2, was a bit like a child dying before the parent. A tragedy that hurts… as did Concorde’s disappearance from the skies.

Luckily, the Red Arrows survived and they continue to claim our  place above the clouds.


Train them well… but watch your step!

On 30/06/2010, in Flashback, by steve

During my ATC years and also after, I did a fair amount of training that ranged from ICAO Annex 14 (Airports), radio telephony procedures and ATC automation to HMI design and airspace user requirements in the future ATM system. The students represented a similarly broad spectrum from ab-initio controller trainees to ATC supervisors, engineers and pilots with a dizzying variety of nationalities and classroom customs. I had to learn early that ignoring their sensitivities was not a good idea.

I was reminded of this when our friends in The Netherlands bought a very nice house in the South of France and although they like to stay there as much as possible, during the school year they still tend to stick to rainy “kikkerland”. I am not sure but I suspect that part of the problem is their primary-school son whom they may be reluctant to entrust to the school system in France. He is a bright little guy and there is nothing wrong with the school system in France. But it is different and a kid used to the more free-wheeling Dutch system would need to adapt.

Several years ago a few times a year I was delivering a presentation entitled “Airspace user requirements for the future ATM system”. The course was meant for ATC supervisors who came to the EUROCONTROL Institute of Air Navigation Services in Luxemburg to attend. I held a very similar presentation once a year at ENAC in Toulouse for ATM engineering students whose study language was English and they had to incorporate the presentation material into their final exam papers.

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When reality meets your dreams

On 08/02/2010, in Flashback, by steve

Admit it, you too have had dreams of one day coming face to face with a famous actress, or one not so famous but with attributes that made you feel weak inside just thinking about them. Think Pamela Anderson in her early Bay Watch episodes… I most certainly had such dreams but I must also confess that I had dreams also about a different kind of beauty, dating back to the days when the sight of bouncing tits was more cause for giggle than excitement.

I was may be ten when a friend of mine surprised me with a book he found in his grandparents’ attic, entitled “Duel in the sky”. It was a wonderful collection of short stories about aviators in WWI plus a few descriptions of more recent events, among them the story of the historic flight of an Air France Lockheed Super Constellation which was carrying back to Europe the signed copies of the peace treaties terminating WWII. That Super Connie almost ended up in the Atlantic Ocean, treaties and all, due to multiple engine problems… The radio operator on the flight was an ex-pat Hungarian and most of the story was recounted as he saw it from behind his crackling boxes. In the end, they landed safely in Dakar… I do not know how many times I read that story but it must have been hundreds. On each re-read, the Connie crept closer and closer to my heart. We were from different times, never to meet or touch, but she was there all the time.

Then the years passed and, with burning face I have to admit, for a time girls occupied my attention more than airplanes did… Not that much more and only for a time, but still…

Eventually I also learned to accept that those dreams about running into Pamela Anderson on the airport commuter bus were just that, dreams. You do not run into the icons of your dreams in real life. And then it happened…

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