N&B Petrel 1960: where it all started!


When I was 13/14, we moved home back to Leeds, and my bedroom, at 53 Cookridge Lane, overlooked Yeadon aerodrome – or at least it was on the top of the next hill. This started me off as an aeroplane spotter, particularly as the approach to the main runway at the time, runway 28, came straight past our house.

I tried using my Dad’s ex-Army binoculars, but could not get on with those, so decided I needed a telescope, to identify any interesting aeroplane (mainly light aircraft) visitors. My favourite photographic shop in Leeds was Beckett’s in “The Headrow”: I think we went there: and without much other choice I bought this N&B “Petrel”, a pancratic x25 – x40 aluminium bodied telescope. I honestly don’t know how much it cost, but when I worked full time at the airport five years later, in the holidays, I earned an enormous wage every week, of £12/10/0: to me that was a fortune, so it could have cost as ‘little’ as that!


Long range spying

Google maps are now able to tell me that it was 1.75 miles, or 9000 feet, from my bedroom window to the main apron at Yeadon: at x40 trying to use the scope hand-held was impossible, even if the aircraft was parked on this apron. But the small window with hinges at the top could wedge the scope while it was pointing in the right direction: and standing on a little chair I could get my eye up at the other end. Given reasonable climatic conditions, and no heat haze from the airport tarmac, I could just read the registrations on the airliners, like the BKS Dakotas and similar: you could certainly read the airline names. So, if when you come home from school there is something interesting sitting there, the procedure was to jump on a bike and cycle the 5 miles or so to the airport – a lot further than the crows or aeroplanes would have to fly!

Spotting light aircraft ‘on approach’!

The next problem with a narrow angle/field of view of a telescope was finding the aeroplane in the sky – something that had caused a problem with Dad’s binoculars too. But with a telescope and a Meccano set the problem was soon solved. I used my right eye to look thru the telescope, so the left eye was still available and sort of looking in the same direction. The simple instructions are:

Strap a Meccano right angle bracket to a rubber/eraser (the thing you use to remove unwanted pencil marks) using elastic bands, align the Meccano bracket in the same plane as your eyes, and use the left eye to point the telescope so that the aeroplane is in the hole at the end of the Meccano strip – ‘hey presto!’ the aeroplane appears thru the scope view in the right eye. After training your brain/eyes for a while, they work independently, and later, you can throw away the Meccano, as the left eye knows where to put the end of the scope.


dscn4906The  pictures show the nearest I can reproduce to the original location system these days: I lost the Meccano set when my parents moved house and I was at University – by the way, if you live at 53 Cookridge Lane, you’ll find it by crawling under the floor of the lounge!

The telescope

Nowadays I know that N&B Ltd stands for Newbold and Bulford. The scope is black anodised aluminium – which on occasions got very hot sitting on the bedroom windowsill, with two sections extended and focussed, ready for action. After 60 years the anodising has worn off the main draw: there are three draws in all, one for magnification and the second for the focus, with a knurled finger grip. Closed it is just over 12”, open fully it is 28”: the objective is 1.5” OD. The sliders are all felt covered, to keep them tight. While the knurled ring releases the first draw, the second and third draws have to be removed thru the objective end.


Many years ago I replaced the plastic type cover on the barrel with some green leather. It was then that I started in a quest to find a decently built brass telescope, to replace this well used unit – but mainly well used at airports and on aeroplanes! You can find all my aeroplane pictures from the 1960s era in the FlickR albums on tinyurl.com/nickplanes.

Accession Number had to be #0 (zero).


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