ON THE morning I visited Baginton Airport near Coventry there was little evidence that it was still in use.
At the end of the small tarmac runway two orange wind-socks were swinging despondently in the breeze, like the sleeves of an otherwise invisible traffic policeman.
But no aircraft of any sort landed or even attempted to land. The main terminus buildings — a collection oT white huts — were almost empty. The bar, where one would expect at least one stiff-lipped ex-RAF officer, replete with tall stories, was uninhabited.
On Sunday, May 30, Pentecost Sunday, more than 560,000 visitors will fill the 300 or so acres of ground. Not since Battle of Britain days will the airport have seen so much activity.
On that day, of course. only one aircraft will be permitted to land; the helicopter carrying the Pope and his entourage. As the organiser, ex-Irish rugby international Mgr Thomas Gavin, told me, the air-space above the ground will be designated a "sterile zone".
But what would happen if any aircraft tried to circle the airfield to catch a glimpse of the Pope? "We would fetch someone back from the Falklands to shoot it down," Mgr Gavin joked, refusing to be drawn into discussing security arrangements.
Organisation at Coventry is well advanced. The pupils of St Thomas' Junior School, Coventry, have built a spectacular 18 foot by 12 foot scale model of the site out of
matchsticks, plywood and glue.
From this model it is possible to judge the full splendour of architect's conception. "We are bulding an open-air cathedral," said Fr Michael Sharkey, Press Officer for the event. "If we had decided just to use a very large church or football ground. we could have done it very cheaply indeed. But many people would have felt let down."
One of the key decisions made early on by the organisers was not to restrict numbers. "We feel that this will be the big religious event. It is Pentecost Sunday and a bank holiday weekend," Fr Sharkey said.
When I was there the papal podium, supported by a web of scaffolding, was already taking shape. Eighteen flags, coloured white, yellow and blue, will flank the altar, which ill be surmounted by a huge "diamond vision" screen whieh will show the whole of the papal Mass.
The 560 corrals, each holding 1,000 people, were being put up by youths from the Job Creation Scheme. All the aisles between the corrals have been given the names of saints, except for the central way, which has been called Pope John Paul II Aisle.
When the Pope touches down — at about ten to ten on Sunday morning — the crowds will have already been waiting seven hours. They will have watched films on the "diamond vision" screen, taken part in choir rehearsals and watched local schools performing pageants depicting the history of the Church.
The Pope will be greeted by Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville of Birmingham, and the two auxiliaries, Bishops Joseph Cleary and Leo McCartie.
The greeting will be heartfelt, but it will not compare with the welcome the crowds will give the Pope ten minutes later as he begins his 35-minute drive around in the special papal transport.
Although the route the Pope will take has not been announced for security reasons, everyone should be able to get a good view of him.
This will mean that people will have a clear image which will stay in their minds during the service, so that he does not remain just a speck in the distance until the Mass is over.
Mass will begin at eleven o'clock, after a short but colourful procession to the altar by the concelebrants, including Cardinal Hume, and the other bishops and priests.
After' the readings, the second of which is being given by Mrs Monica Sargent, a blind woman, and the Pope's homil,, a short confirmation service will begin.
Twenty six representatives from the five dioceses of England and Wales will be confirmed by the Pope. During this section, and during the whole of the service, the theme of the Coventry event, "the birth of the Church". will be emphasised.
Mass ends just before one o'clock, and the Pope will drive to the terminus buildings where he will meet VIPs and have some lunch and rest.
He returns to the Podium for a final farewell at a quarter to three, and leaves for Speke Airport, near Liverpool, at five to three.
If everything goes well, the organisers are in no doubt that the cost will have been well worth it.
"The cost of the preparations will be about f600,000," Fr Michael Sharkey said. "which. is only just over a pound per head from those we expect to come to the event.'
"And after all," he added, "the cost of the whole visit is less than the cost of a single wing on a B-1 bomber." Jonathan Petre