"Joey" the little airplane

Joey being boarded
Joey being boarded | Source

Living in the Channel Islands, the only way to commute inter-island (other than by boat) is to fly on the little yellow airplanes called Trilanders.

When these planes were first introduced, the local people (known as Guernsey Donkeys because of their stubborn nature) did not take kindly to this change. They were worried about the size of the planes and the fact that there was only one pilot. Also, in the early days passengers were weighed and seated strategically so as to maintain the balance of the aircraft. Nowadays, passengers are saved the indignity of being weighed, but there is very little room in the 20-seaters.

The company who introduced the Britten-Norman BN-2A MK3 Trilander to the islands is “Aurigny”. One of the Trilanders had the registration G-Joey, so someone in the company had a brilliant idea and the delightful 'Joey' (resplendent with eyebrows over the windows and a big red nose) was born.

Nowadays, almost all Trilanders have the red cone on the front (which looks distinctly like a nose). It was hard for the locals to be hostile to the friendly-looking Joey, especially when the island children screamed with delight each time they saw him flying overhead.

As a therapist, I had a clinic in Guernsey and once a week I was flown into the neighboring island of Alderney, to run a clinic there. This was often a hair-raising experience. The British Isles are known for more than their fair share of fog; the Channel Isles are no exception. The fog can be so thick and so low, it’s like Pea Soup. Also, Guernsey airport is situated at the highest point of the island and well known for its exposure to cross winds.

On fair weather days, flights on Joey were wonderful as you got a great aerial view of the islands. But on days where even birds found flight challenging, Aurigny, apparently, did not. I would arrive at the airport and see all other flights canceled except there's. Like lambs to the slaughter, we would board Joey and be bumped, rattled and rained on...(rain drops through a center joint above). With senses reeling, shaken and disheveled, we somehow always got there...

During particularly challenging flights, Joey seemed determined to fly sideways, land in fields, or overshoot the runway: You can't see the pilots face as you sit two-abreast behind him; what you see is him appear to wrestle a bull...by the horns. Then there's the troubling sound of the engines; either whining desperately as Joey fights through turbulence, or sudden heart-stopping splutters as Joey drops a few hundred feet.

Shaken, yet defiant like Joey, I never backed out of my flights to Alderney, (thank God for Valium). Needless to say, as Joey navigated cross-winds, stomach-in-the-mouth air pockets and "Kamikaze " landings... (sorry, couldn't resist) it was a testing 15-20 minute 'ride.'

I grew to know all the pilots. Most of them were retired from commercial airlines. The saying "an old pilot is not a bold pilot " did not apply. These were great characters and exceptionally good aviators, but when a vintage pilot is flying the plane through fog or gale force winds, you do worry about his health.

As such, whenever I got the opportunity, I would quiz them about the controls (I had occasional exhausting dreams wherein the pilot clutched his heart and slumped forward. In the dream, I would leap over the other passengers; take over the controls and save the day).

Since the advent of Joey, a series of children's fiction books have been written about this little airplane and his courageous adventures. In truth, I could write a few factual, equally adventurous stories about the courage of the passengers!

Like most of the eccentricities of the island, I grew to love my flights on Joey and miss my weekly aviation adventures.


Copyright © Helen Lewis 2009


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Comments 13 comments

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Great Hub, and as a Guernsey resident myself I can vouch for the authenticity of your Trilander/ Aurigny description. I for one well remember splitting at least one long skirt up to the waistband whilst trying to mount the portable steps to climb into my seat. If it is any small consolation the pilots must be getting younger than your remember as I socialise with two of them who are both only in their late 20's early 30's.

Trilanders are actually hard planes to fly as they require a lot more concentration and skills than larger planes, yet they have an incredible safety record with no recorded crashes ever in the Channel Islands. I hope this too makes you feel safer if you visit again in the future.


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Misty, thanks for stopping by ~ oops, sorry about your skirt. My husband and I once flew over to France in a trilander. We were going to see a Tina Turner performance. I had on a brand new leather jacket. The rain seeped in the 'join' in the ceiling throughout the flight and ruined my jacket. But, as you rightly say, they are safe and will bounce and bump, groan and dive to terra firma (and the firmer the better)!

I actually knew a couple of the younger pilots (well 40's) so good to hear they are getting even younger.

Good to have a fellow islander on-board hubpages!


mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

Always great to see a fellow islander on here, and we aren't alone either :)


ralwus 6 years ago

Now this was a fun read. I like Joey now and would love to fly him sometime as I prefer these sort of planes over the big ones. Thanks for sharing. CC


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Thanks for your comments ralwus ~ glad you enjoyed the story!


petermdhart profile image

petermdhart 6 years ago from Cornwall, UK

I lived in Guernsey 53 years and can attest to the above hilarious description of a wonderful service.. thanks for the memories! Love this!


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Peter

Another Donkey!!


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

It's much more exciting flying small planes when they rise and fall in the wind, you could have been the new Amy Johnson if the pilot had carked it. Wouldn't that have made an air raising story? Nice hub, different and interesting.


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 6 years ago from Florida Author

Hi funny guy - good to hear from you again and thank you for supporting my hubs. I must admit flying in these little airplanes can be more fun *(as well as heart-stopping and terrifying).

I do indeed see myself as a potential Amy Johnson (but, thank God) I never got the chance to give it a try; that indeed would make for a very interesting story if I'd lived to tell the tale. Thanks for your very kind comments.


M Kirk 5 years ago

1st flew to Alderney in the 50's from Croyden airport in a De Havilland Dragon Rapide. Now THEY were exciting ! It was always a worry looking at the bi-planes wings, which had signs saying 'please do not walk on the wings', printed on the top surface + they were covered with what looked like large bicycle repair kit patches. (covering holes?) I'm just back from visiting Alderney again, and flew from Guernsey to Alderney on Joey. Luckily we had a lovely smooth flight and it was so nice being in a little plane again. (Dec flew to US in Jumbo - no character atall) Did you know Aurigny no longer allocate seat numbers, they call you by name to the plane, and tell you which door & seat you have to use. Great touch !


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 5 years ago from Florida Author

Hi M Kirk

Great to hear your experience on the De Havilland (sit up and beg??) Dragon Rapide - Yikes! Hope you weren't tempted to walk on the wings at any point...

Isn't Alderney wonderful! Good to hear that Joey behaved himself and you had a lovely smooth flight; those are the best. I agree, small planes are full of character.

Well, fancy that! Allocated seat numbers and called by name - sounds positively intimate. That is a nice touch.

I really appreciate you taking the time to share this with me - very nice to meet you! :-) Helen


richardhall 5 years ago

Great read! I was actually looking for a picture of Joey for a comparison as I have just spent 2 and then 3 days over on the Scilly Isles (hence 4 flights) working for a company doing a utilities survey at their new 5 Islands school,

now if I was a 'plane geek' doubtless by now I would have found the Britten-Norman website, found model numbers, wingspans, engine sizes etc.. as I am not, and would be rapidly out of my depth, suffice to say that the 3 out of 4 20 minute flights were in a Britten-Norman 'Skybus'(the other was in a DeHavilland Twin Otter, somewhat larger plane..the number of passengers was I think the same but it was not a 'Trilander', it lacked that third motor in front of the tail) :)

I flew on the Joeys with my folks on holiday to Alderney in the 90's, difficult to remember precisely what the flights were like to compare but one thing I do remember was the noise, to my younger ears Joey seemed terribly noisy, much more so than my recent Scillies flights, I'm thinking this would be due to the third engine, but possibly I'm just deafer these days, working with construction machinery will do that to you!

On my recent flights I too shared your concern for the pilots health! especially through fog..let me tell you now, however foggy the Channel Islands trip can be, its not a patch on the fogs around West Cornwall, hanging around Lands End and the airport! Our pilots were all young though..I too found it a little unnerving to be within touching distance of the pilot, more used to 747's and the like these days! almost to the point where I thought they should add 'and kiss your a*se goodbye' at the end of the takeoff briefing!! but as you say, marvellous little planes, immaculate safety record etc.

I have to say though, my flights were relativly sedate, one of the islanders was telling me about one mid winter emergency flight I think it was, the plane got over in -6- minutes and took half an hour to get back!

Anyway not certain when my next trip on the Skybus will be, but looking forward to it already :)

it certainly makes a farce out of the ferry trip, 2 and something hours to travel 20 miles!!


brightforyou profile image

brightforyou 5 years ago from Florida Author

Hi Richard Hall, thank you for your interesting contribution. I certainly do know what you mean about the fog and dreadful weather around Land's End. I recently spent 9 weeks in St. Ives (in the summer) and the weather was as changeable and treacherous as most winters. Strangely when I returned just a couple of weeks ago, it was mild and warmer than summer with much less wind, mist, drizzle and fog.

I really enjoyed your read and hope to hear more from you! Helen :-)

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