Featured image: Virgin Atlantic

6/22/1984: Virgin Atlantic Takes to the Skies

DALLAS – Today, in 1984, Richard Branson’s brand new airline Virgin Atlantic (VS), operated its inaugural flight.

Operated by a leased Boeing 747-200 (G-VIRG) – ‘Maiden Voyager,’ the first VS1 was a full-on party from London Gatwick (LGW) to New York (EWR).

Never one to shy away from publicity, Branson poses in front of ‘Maiden Voyager.’ Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Inflight Entertainment

As the aircraft taxied out for departure, an announcement was made informing passengers they could watch the historic take-off with a view from the flight deck via the entertainment screens.

As the Boeing 747 hurtled down the runway, passengers were shocked to see the crew seemingly paying little attention to their duties. When the plane rotated, one of the pilots reached behind his ear, pulled out a joint and offered it to the other. A stunned silence fell over the previously excited cabin.

The pilots then turned to face the camera and were revealed to be cricket legends Ian Botham and Viv Richards, with Branson taking the role of Flight Engineer. The video had been filmed a day earlier in Virgin’s flight simulator.

Onboard were Branson’s family plus a host of celebrities, including magician Uri Geller, singer Holly Johnson, and actresses Bonnie Langford and Suzanne Danielle. Legend has it that the champagne supply had run dry when ‘Maiden Voyager’ arrived at EWR.

Branson watches the pre-recorded take-off video on the maiden flight. Photo: Virgin Group

Breaking the Mold

From the airline’s launch on February 29, 1984, Branson had wanted to shake up the aviation world, which he believed was tired and stuffy.

This even came down to its livery. Added to the tail of VS’s aircraft was ‘The Painter,’ an illustration of a man perched dangerously on a painting platform, which had dropped his paint tin down the side of the plane.

Sadly, this drew the wrong kind of attention and was removed after other pilots reported to ATC that they believed the aircraft’s tail was damaged.

Its quite easy to see how ‘The Painter’ and his spilled paint could be mistaken for damage to the aircraft. Photo: Virgin Group

Upper Class Amenities

Branson also wanted to brand his different classes on board as Upper Class and ‘Riff-Raff Class.’ The latter was unsurprisingly dropped for the standard economy.

Upper Class passengers could enjoy a drink at the bar or book themselves with one of the onboard hairdressers and beauticians for a pampering session.

Today, VS is 51% owned by the Virgin Group, while the remaining 49% is owned by Delta Air Lines (DL). Despite the carrier’s recent struggles, VS remains one of the world’s most iconic airline brands.

In March 2000, Branson was knighted at Buckingham Palace for "services to entrepreneurship." The featured Image shows VS' first Boeing 747 ‘Maiden Voyager’, retired in 2001.

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