Remembering London Heathrow’s Terminal 2 Spotting Deck

By: Category: AirlinersAirlinesAirports Around the WorldAviation HistoryAviation PhotographySpotting

During the 1990s and into the new Millennium, I had the privilege to fly from the U.S. to Europe at least a half a dozen times. London’s Heathrow Airport was my choice of entry to Europe, and since my reasons for travelling centered around airshows and aircraft spotting, Heathrow was never far from the top of my list of places to visit while I was “across the pond”. Even at that time, Heathrow was one of only a few airports in Europe that handled a heavy international schedule of flag carriers based all over the world, and the airport’s importance has increased today, a quarter of a century later.

Coming from America during the years 1990 through the early 2000s, I’d schedule one day to roam around Heathrow and photograph a myriad of European, Asian and African air carriers that I’d seldom see anywhere else. My favorite place to sit, camera at the ready, was the old observation deck on the roof of Terminal 2, sometimes called the Queen’s Terminal. After entering the terminal building, one followed a few signs taking you back outdoors, up and down a few flights of stairs, over the top of the Arrivals lounge area, and through a small door that opened onto the top of the terminal building. At one time it cost a few pence to get through a gate, other times I remember it was free.

The deck consisted of a concrete block floor and was contained by a low railing, perfect for camera work with a decent sized telephoto zoom lens. Of course, we’re talking about film camera bodies back then too. It was a large area, and overlooked both runways and many of the Terminal’s gates. There were a few benches set about, and one enclosed area with windows looking out at the same view. Mid-week, the area was pretty empty, but on weekends, scores of spotters, armed with their vacuum bottles of tea, binoculars or telescopes, and log books and pencils, took up much of the deck’s space. Some had air band scanners, and it seemed pretty evenly split between cameras or notebooks as their medium for recording what they saw. They’d jovially talk amongst themselves about new airliners or routes, but when an inbound oddity was announced by one of them, things got hushed and they’d peer through their spyglasses at the rare aircraft. Then deftly, they’d write the serial on their log page and go back to talking.

For me and my camera, the deck was a perfect place to catch about three quarters of the airfield’s activity. The gates in front of us usually attracted inter-European aircraft, but occasionally a charter flight or an airframe leased from a foreign carrier made its appearance. The British Airways hangar across the field was surrounded by blast fencing, and on occasion, a Concorde would be tugged from behind there to the new Terminal 5, allowing for great photos of the sleek jet.

The original Terminal 2 was opened in 1955, and some of the flooring and stairs to get to the deck seemed to be part of the original structure in spots, four decades later. I’ve had a long streak of absence from Heathrow that started shortly after the turn of the 21st Century, and I’ve read that the observation deck had been closed! Evidently, it had been shuttered shortly after the new Millennium arrived, in advance of a modernization of the Terminal 1 and 2 area at Heathrow.
Since the last time I was at Heathrow, the Tristars, DC-10s, MD-80s and Tu-154s, etc. have all but disappeared from the sky. My favorite spotting platform is gone too, but I’m left with some great memories preserved by pages of 35mm negatives. Here is a compilation of some of them… and remember – if you have a favorite spot or two to watch airplanes from, get some photos from it now, before those spots are gone!

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