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In Biggles Hunts Big Game, Bertie and Ginger landed at Almaza Airport in Cairo on their way to joining the "Hunter's Tour". Almaza is one of two large airports in Cairo today. Earlier Biggles books mention "Heliopolis Aerodrome". This usually refers to an R.A.F. station which is distinct from Almaza and which no longer exists.

The first aviation landing ground was first established in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis from as early as 1910 for an air race although the exact location of this is not known. During World War I, the RFC set up barracks and an aerodrome to the south of the Heliopolis suburb of Cairo. After the war, this became the R.A.F. Heliopolis station. This aerodrome also served as Cairo's airport when Imperial Airways began flying the Cairo-Baghdad-Basra route in 1927.

In the late 1920s, the Egyptian government, anticipating an expansion in civil aviation, proposed the development of two civil airports, one at Alexandria and another in Cairo. The civil airport in Cairo was located at Almaza, a short distance to the east of Heliopolis and was opened in 1932.[1][2] Some accounts of air travel in the 1930s and 1940s also refer to Almaza as Heliopolis Airport or Aerodrome, because of its location, although, strictly speaking, Heliopolis refers to the R.A.F. aerodrome a few kilometers to the south and west. Almaza also became the first air base for the Egyptian Air Force which came into being in the 1930s.

During World War 2, the R.A.F. maintained and operated Almaza as a military airbase. The airport was greatly expanded with new runways. In 1947, the R.A.F. vacated the airport and returned it to civil control.[3]

During the war, a second airbase, Payne Airfield, was built for the use of the US Army Air Force. This was handed over to Egyptian authorities in 1945, who decided to use the facility for international civil aviation, renaming it as King Farouk I Airport and later more simply as Cairo International Airport. New international services were directed to the new airport while Almaza was retained for domestic services and general aviation. This would have been the situation when Ginger and Bertie arrived at Almaza. The airport remained in service into the 1950s before becoming a wholly military airbase of the Egyptian Air Force.

Cairo-airports-1950

Section of a U.S. Army Map Service map circa 1953 showing Heliopolis, Almaza and Cairo International Airports all to the east of Cairo. The distance between Almaza and Cairo International is about 5 km. Misr Al Jadidah is another name for the suburb of Heliopolis.

Cairo map-us army-1958

Section of a larger scale U.S. Army map circa 1958 showing detail of Almaza Airport to the extreme right. The Heliopolis Aerodrome on the lower left, around easting 380 northing 290 is just a blank space. To the south of the race course is the grandstand. That would be the location of the United Services Club where Bertie and Ginger spent a night. Biggles stayed at Constantino's Restaurant. This would probably be found in the Greek quarter, perhaps around easting 392 northing 307.

Heliopolis aerodrome

Lovely aerial view of Heliopolis circa early 1930s, apparently from an Imperial Airways flight about to land. The R.A.F. Heliopolis Aerodrome is the large open space in the foreground. The hangars are nearest the camera and an an aircraft can just be seen. At the top left, the track of the Heliopolis Race Course is visible. The Heliopolis Palace Hotel is the grand building with the circular portico and dome just left of centre of the photo. Almaza Airport had not been built yet--it would be set up on the open space at the top right.

Almaza/Heliopolis in the Johns storiesEdit

In Yellow Freight, Biggles operates out of "Heliopolis aerodrome". This is most certainly the R.A.F. station and not the Almaza civil airport. For one thing, Almaza might not have been built at the time the story is set. For another, Biggles and Colonel Grivin walk over to see Group Captain Bruton, the R.A.F. station commander. This could only have happened if his office was nearby. Certainly the R.A.F. aircraft which featured in the story were based at R.A.F. Heliopolis.

In Biggles Flies South, it is unclear whether Biggles was using the R.A.F. station at Heliopolis or Almaza. Either would be plausible. The MISR-Airworks company which he mentioned to Zander was definitely based at Almaza.

In Sergeant Bigglesworth C.I.D., Biggles asks Wilks to help borrow a Mosquito from Heliopolis. Flying Officer Collingwood flies Algy and Bertie to collect it. The location might have been the R.A.F. station, but if the events took place around 1946-1947, the R.A.F. would still have been using Almaza so this is plausible as well.

In Biggles Hunts Big Game, Almaza is clearly named as the point of arrival for Bertie and Ginger.

In Biggles Foreign Legionnaire, Algy and Bertie go to Cairo to meet Air Commodore Raymond. Since he was arriving by commercial flight, it could only have been Almaza.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Keith McCloskey, Airwork: A History, (Brimscombe Port, U.K., The History Press, 2012), 18.
  2. John Stroud, Airports of the World, (London, Putnam, 1980), 90.
  3. U.S. Department of Commerce, "Economic Review of Egypt, 1947, " International Reference Service 5, no. 1 (1948): 73. URL

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