The first Mini to fly 5,500 miles on Air-India International in 1959
Jordi Batlle Suñé is an aviation enthusiast based in Barcelona, and is just as passionate about Morris Mini Minors.
He visited our website while researching information on a blog post combining his twin passions. He contacted us seeking information on the London-Calcutta Air-India International flight. Upon receiving his email, we provided him a scanned copy of the September 1959 timetable.
About Jordi Batlle,
He is an IT professional who works in the aviation industry. He really love aviation and Mini, and started a blog to talk about these two topics. Please feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn if you want to discuss aviation or the automotive industry.
Now with all his research completed, he has published well-narrated story as a blog post -
'The First Flight of a Mini and has given us permission to reproduce the same on our website,
Here is the complete version of the article. Please read and enjoy.
THE FIRST FLIGHT OF A MINI
by Jordi Batlle
Although for me, all articles are special, today's is a little more. A few months ago, my friend and fellow fighter at TheComminity Fernando gave me a photo. In it, a Mini Mk1 could be seen entering what looked like an airplane hold.
It should be noted that when Fernando gives away photos, they have a high probability of having something special. In addition, they will always be original vintage photographs, they will never be reprints.
In this case, it is enough to turn the graphic document over to see that it is the original photograph that was sent to the press in September 1959 reporting the following:
A Morris Mini-Minor being loaded into an Air-India International aircraft at London Airport after a request had been received from Hindustan Motors Ltd., for one to be sent as soon as possible. Space was reserved in the first available aircraft, which was scheduled to arrive in Calcutta within 60 hours of leaving London, and the new BMW model made its first flight.
As you can see, valuable information can be extracted at the bottom of the small newspaper clipping:
Air India has not always been the trade name of the country's airline. In its beginnings, back in 1932, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, known as JRD Tata, founded Tata Airlines. The businessman, a member of the Tata family, also founded other companies such as Tata Motors or TCS (Tata Consultancy Services).
It is not until after the independence of India when the country's government enters the shareholding with 49% of the shares, including a 2% purchase clause that it needed to command the company. Clause that they would execute at the first exchange to control the airline. By then the name was changed and it was called Air India , a name that it still retains today.
Air India – International flights
The first international flight of the flag company was a Bombay – London, which it covered with a Lockheed Constellation L-749A making stops in Cairo and Geneva. The first Constellation that Air India had, called the Malabar Princess and with the registration VT-CQP, ended up in an accident at Montblanc in 1950.
Already in 1954 they began to receive their first Super Constellations, and this is where our story begins to get interesting, because it was not until 1960 that Air India entered the so-called Jet Era, so we now know which model of plane transported the first mini to india We continue to investigate.
Searching the internet I saw that the Super Constellation had some variants, which included or not the side loading door. Obviously the device I was looking for was one of those with the side opening, so I kept looking.
I wanted to pull the thread a little further along that line and got in touch with probably the group of people who know the most about Air India today. The Air India Collector website , led by Piyush Khaitan and Dharmdev Maurya, is perhaps the corner of the internet with the most information about Air India, but also about the history of aviation in that country.
They guided me with times and frequencies of the London-Calcutta service at that time, to discover that the flight had to leave London on September 9, 1959, with the Mini well loaded in its hold. The flight number was AI104 and it would arrive in Calcutta the next day, and not at 60 hours as the newspaper said.
As a curiosity, flight AI104 today connects the airports of Washington and Delhi. Unfortunately it is not related to London.
We already know what plane and even the flight number we need to know who it was for and why so much haste. The only thing we know is that it was a request from Hindustan Motors, so yours will be to know the car company first.
Who was that Mini for?
Hindustan Motors Ltd, founded in 1942 by BM Birla with the collaboration of William Morris, very soon began to manufacture its own versions of English models, such as the Hindustan 10 (inspired by the Morris Ten).
It was said that, as with Enzo Ferrari and Sir Alec Issigonis , there was a very good harmony between BM Birla and William Morris, so it is not surprising that the business relationship also flowed between the two companies.
It is not until 1957 when Hindustan hits the mark and begins to manufacture and sell the most famous car in Indian history: The Ambassador.
Built on the basis of the Morris Oxford III, the Ambassador has been in production until 2014, when production stopped after 57 years.
As you can see, the relationship between the two companies (and their leaders) led to writing a page in motorsport history, but let me go back to Mr. Birla.
BM Birla, in addition to being an entrepreneur, supported the creation of numerous institutions in India, such as the Birla Institute of Technology, the BM Birla Science Museum, or the BM Birla Planetarium, as well as numerous schools.
Hindustan Motors Ltd itself placed an order for 8 Minis to market in India, which were shipped by ship in 1959, arriving in India in December via Lisbon. Among them, this beautiful Mini that is still preserved in Goa.
But of course, these Mini were sent at the same time as the unit that concerns us today, but our protagonist left by plane, with a brutal increase in costs. That car could not be for sale.
My theory is that this Mini was a personal shipment from William Morris for BM Birla. A gift as a token of gratitude for a fruitful business relationship. Great business minds never stop working though, so the secondary motive was to try to explore the possibility of making Minis in factories in Hindustan. Which, seen what has been seen, was not carried out.
The first flight of a Mini was on September 9, 1959, and I'm sure no one imagined that 64 years later we would still be talking about that AI104 bound for Calcutta. Today, a member of the Birla family has a large collection of cars. This is Kumar Mangalam Birla. Who knows if he will have the little Mini in his possession...
This week's story ends here. I hope you liked knowing some details of this very special flight.
This post is perhaps the perfect fusion between the two main topics of the blog: Aviation and Mini coexist in a surprising way in this space, although today is probably the golden opportunity for you to delve into one of the topics, if you are a fan. of the other.
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(We are grateful to Jordi Balle for allowing us to reproduce the above blog post on our website)
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