Crossroads of the World?

by R.G. Pelley

If you did an internet search today for 'Crossroads of the World', you would probably get one of three things : Times Square in New York City, a shopping mail on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood or a hotel and mall in Jakarta, Indonesia.

But it wasn't always that way. If Internet had existed in the late 40s and early 50s, the most prominent result would surely have been Gander Airport.

But folks in Gander had a feeling that Gander was the center of the world even before the start of civilian air traffic. Below is a photo of a signpost in Gander in 1942 on which one can see several worldwide destinations and the distance. For those who don't understand the "Keep to the left" sign, at the time Newfoundland was under British control so everyone drove on the "wrong" side of the road.


I have been trying to find an iconic photo of Gander, something that clearly shows the break between past and future. While there are many more in existence, two come to mind. The first one shows three piston-engine airplanes along with a single jet which almost seems to be trying to force its way into the portrait as jets did in real life.

Even more interesting is that this photo showing the old RAF hangars was taken from the 2nd floor of the new terminal, almost like a changing of the guard.


The second photo (see note1) is rather rare, showing a older TWA Constellation at the new terminal. What is striking about the airplane is that it is not on the tarmac in front of terminal on the runway side. It is tucked away behind the terminal, almost as though they were afraid to show it in this world of modern jets.


It is almost possible to put a date on the start of the declination of Gander as Crossroads of the world. On October 4, 1958, BOAC beat its Pan American rival to jet services by just three weeks in a bold and unexpected simultaneous operation of east and westbound Comet 4 services between London and New York. G-APDB flew non-stop from New York in a record time of 6 hours 12 mins while G-APDC flew westbound via Gander in an overall time of 10 hours 20 mins. 
It was effectively the start of the modern jet age as we know it today.

On October 26, 1958 PanAm entered the jet age with a B707-121 named Clipper America. It flew from NY to Paris with 111 passengers and 11 crewmembers for 8 ½ hours including a fuel stop at Gander.

But it should be realized the nonstop trans-Atlantic flight would have happened anyway, even if jets had not been invented. This trend had started with the DC-7C, and the most senior of the Constellation family - the Lockheed Starliner, the L-1649A. A record was set by a Constellation in November 1955 on an Air-France Paris-Montreal flight. The fight time was 12h 05 min compared to an average flight time of 15h 30 min. The airplane did the run without any stopovers.

As an example on the military side, the Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" was a strategic bomber operational as early as 1949. With a range of 16,000 kms and a maximum payload of 33,000 kgs, the B-36 was the world's first manned bomber with an unrefueled intercontinental range. (A B-36 crashed in the Clarenville area (Nut Cove) on March 18, 1953 on a nonstop Atlantic crossing.)

Simply put, jets added speed rather than distance - so Gander would have eventually lost out anyway.

One well known reference to Gander as the Crossroads of the World was this sign from the early 1960s on the Gander Bay Road a short ways north of the present College of the North Atlantic.


It has now been replaced by a very modern and elaborate sign, a piece of art, made out of stone and metal, that reflects even better and more permanently that time when Gander was indeed the cornerstone of aviation between North America, Europe and places beyond.



Note 1: I am owner of the TWA and Gander Bay postcards. However the two other photos came to me without reference – any information on their origin would be appreciated

Researched and contributed by R G Pelley from his personal historical aviation collections.
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