Life Beneath the Deafening Roar of Heathrow’s Flight Path

If you live on Myrtle Avenue in Feltham, London, you never have to sweat missing your flight. The 1,000-foot street lined by 1930s-style row houses ends at Heathrow Airport. You can see the airfield from your house.

It’s a nice perk, if you don’t mind the to and fro of planes overhead—one taking off or landing every 45 seconds, every day, every year. They soar within a few hundred feet of the rooftops, blocking the sky like giant aluminum birds. And they make a helluva racket too. “It’s almost deafening if you’re standing underneath,” says Bertie Taylor, who photographed Myrtle Avenue for his series Under the Flight Path.

Photograph: Bertie Taylor

Feltham has been a transportation hub since the early 20th century, when it hosted Britain’s second largest railway yard, targeted by German air strikes during World War II. But it didn’t become the consistently noisy place it is today until January 1, 1946, when an Avro 691 Lancastrian departed Heathrow for Argentina, marking the airport’s first flight. In the 1960s, its two main runways—one located just a quarter-mile northwest of Myrtle Avenue—were extended a few thousand feet to service even bigger planes like the Boeing 747.

Photograph: Bertie Taylor

Noise levels are allowed to reach up to 94 decibels during the day (equivalent to a jackhammer 50 feet away) and 87 decibels at night (a gas-powered lawn mower)—though they’ve fallen in recent decades with quieter engines and smarter flight paths. Still, last year Heathrow received an average of one noise complaint every seven minutes. Noise isn’t the only nuisance. Nearby communities also receive an extra dose of air pollution from vehicle and aircraft traffic, not to mention the occasional scare: In 2008, a Boeing 777 nearly slammed into Myrtle Avenue after its engines failed.

All this sounds nightmarish—and indeed, it troubles locals. But when Taylor visited Myrtle Avenue in September 2018, curious to see what life near an airport is like, folks seemed more irritated by having their driveways blocked in by planespotters’ cars. Aviation enthusiasts from as far as Germany and the Netherlands throng to the green park near the airport fence to ooh and aah at landing Airbus 380s and Boeing 777s. One middle-aged man even stood atop his van in a nearby field, livestreaming the spectacle on Facebook.

Photograph: Bertie Taylor

Of course, Taylor brought his own brand of crazy to Myrtle Avenue over 15 visits there—running into traffic, scaling a nearby gas station wall, even climbing a barbed wire fence into a horse pasture to capture the planes’ proximity to everyday life. In many of his images, seemingly oblivious locals wash cars, play soccer, and order ice cream as they’re photobombed by 500,000-ton aircraft. “Like anything in life, you get tuned out to it,” Taylor says.

But for most people, it’s still odd to see these exalted technological wonders peeking out from behind someone’s roof. “It’s more impressive than going to Buckingham Palace or Big Ben,” Taylor says. Though maybe just enjoy his photos and give the people of Myrtle Avenue some peace.

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