The skies of Britain, for millions of years, have been comparatively peaceful. Up there lived the birds, the odd bat, the moon and the stars.
There was absolutely zero chance of ever getting up there. A few visionaries tried, of course; Daedalus even managed it mythically, by all accounts, but should really have chosen his materials a bit better. Any engineer worth his salt, ancient or modern, will spot the wax-sun thing a mile away.
Da Vinci drew such exquisite blueprints for flight that we sit and marvel at how similar to our biplanes his drawings are, and how he conceived of the rotary blade which would one day grace our helicopters.
And there were hot air balloons: but most of us tended to worship the skies, rather than launch assaults on them.
The Wright Brothers demystified flight with all speed in 1903, and it was not long before the dogs of war commandeered planes and airships in their service.
In a part of the world where hurricanes, floods and famine are rare, we looked up into that blue beyond and realised for the first time that it might hold a threat.
The first world war brought airships: regular raids from January 1915, two a month. William Leefe-Robinson managed to shoot one down using new incendiary bullets: the fire, it is said, could be seen from a distance of 100 miles. The planes followed hot on their heels, Gothas and Giants, and people became accustomed to looking up to do a quick identification.
It was in the lull between the wars – 1930 to be exact – that aircraft engineer Richard Falrey paid the Vicar of Harmondsworth £15,000 for a plot of 150 acres on the outskirts of London, near Staines. It had just one grass runway, and buildings which today’s Heathrow site describes as ‘hastily erected’.
Naturally, Mr Churchill had his eyes on the aerodrome, and its surroundings, which were centred round the little village of Heath Row.
The land was requisitioned. And if you go to the nerve centre of operations, buried in the cliffs at Dover in Kent, you will see Heath Row alongside Biggin Hill, East Malling and all the other RAF aerodromes, on that fascinating map where women used to push little aeroplane models around to keep track of their whereabouts.
The skies were very full. Brits witnessed bombers, dogfights, more action than most of us would like to witness in a lifetime.
In January 1946 – just 30 years after that first airship raid – Heath Row was officially handed over to the Air Ministry as the UK’s first civil airport.
Twenty one years later, my husband and I were born. I squinted from my pram at jumbos heading for exotic destinations. I used to watch my grandmother, down from Hull for a holiday, sit out with her cup of tea to watch Concorde which appeared every day at 11 o’clock sharp.
The engine of a plane has always been a source of indescribable comfort to me: an early experience and a sign of promise, all rolled into one. When I moved to Cornwall I hankered after the sound, and since my return I adore the earliest plane of the day, before six, and as I walk the dog in my forest I look up and watch the planes soaring and dream a little dream.
I have always yearned to know who they were carrying, and where they were going.
And now, technology has caught up with my dreams.
I was browsing my iPhone apps the other day when I happened upon what seemed to me a small miracle.
It is called Plane Finder. And, free of charge, it will plot every plane flying over my head on a satellite map.
Not only that, but if one taps one of the little red plane icons which are shown, circling over my town, one can get its flight code. And from that it’s a mere shuttle flight to a range of search engines which tell you what kind of a plane it is, and who owns it.
I brandished the iPhone under Phil’s nose. “Look!” I squawked, almost incoherent with triumph.
It took him a moment to register, and his son was only split seconds behind him. And then, inexplicably, my laptop was no longer on my lap and my son had cornered the iPhone, and Felix was reading out codes and Phil was sourcing the plane, and it had all the charge of an aeroplane cockpit, although none of the rather nice airline food.
So now we have a new toy. As I type we have an Easyjet over us, flying out of London Gatwick, and a BA Boeing 777 a bit further away, and over Heathrow there must be a cluster of ten of 15 craft and every time I tap it I get a different plane, from Singapore Airlines to Quatar Airways.
It is, for a plane worshipper like me, quite literally breathtaking.