Pan Am Series – Part XXX: Hawaii Reunion

 PanAmers Gather in Hawaii for an “Aloha” Celebration

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The name Pan American World Airways brings to mind many destinations around the world, some exotic, some glamorous, some politically important and some world centers of commerce:

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  Dakar  Madrid  Calcutta-1JFK

However, one destination, not shown above but should be, played an extremely important role in Pan American’s early accomplishments in commercial aviation and could very well be regarded as one of the most important in Pan American’s history:

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Honolulu represented one of Pan American’s greatest achievements, the historic crossing of the Pacific Ocean by the China Clipper, detailed in a previous post. The challenge of being able to complete the initial leg between California and Honolulu meant the remainder of the voyage to the Orient was possible. The challenge was met and the rest is history. Pan American went on to establish routes all over the Pacific and become the dominant airline in the region for decades. This lasted until 1985, when the routes it pioneered were sold to United Airlines. For many PanAmers, this was a bitter pill to swallow.

During its heyday, however, Honolulu was one of Pan American’s most popular and important destinations.

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Fittingly, this year, former Pan American employees are joining together in one of many of their favorite destinations, Honolulu, Hawaii for the “Pan Am Aloha Celebration”. Organized by former Pan American Captain Don Cooper who was the drive behind this celebration, Pan Amers from all over will have the opportunity to meet old friends (and make new ones) and reminisce about their times working for “The World’s Most Experienced Airline”. They will also visit sites in Honolulu where Pan American history was made.

Captain Don Cooper

Captain Don Cooper

  S42 at Hawaii   377 honolulu   HNL-2

Helen Davey, a former Pan American Purser, has written an eloquent and moving description about this event, and what Pan American means to its former staff, in the Huffington Post. The article in its entirety appears below:

“On April 2-5, 2014, former Pan Am employees from all over the world are converging on Honolulu, Hawaii, to enjoy the Pan Am Aloha Celebration. It will be a week of seeing old friends and making new ones, sharing memories and stories, and interestingly, celebrating our experience, while at the same time mourning our loss of Pan Am together.

“The day that Pan American World Airways ceased operations, December 4, 1991,Newsweek ran an article about the airline’s history, beginning with the statement, ‘This is not a story about planes. It’s about romance….It may be hard for today’s all-too-frequent flyers to remember that once, air travel was an adventure; that airlines once had a soul. Pan Am certainly did.’

“As a veteran Pan Am flight attendant for 20 years (1965 – 1986), and now as a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist for 27 years, I have studied and written about the unique relationship between Pan Am and its employees, and about the airline’s triumphs and traumas, in order to help those people who were still suffering from the loss of their beloved company.

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Helen Davey

“Pan Am. No other airline in history ever evoked such images of glamour and adventure, because it was the airline that practically invented aviation. Known as the “Queen of the Skies,” it was the benchmark by which all other airlines were judged.

“And for good reason. Pan Am was the first airline to fly to Latin America, the carrier whose famed Clipper flights to Europe and the Pacific were the stuff of romance. It was also the first airline to circle the globe. Its round-the-world Flight 1 (westbound) and Flight 2 (eastbound) were inaugurated just after World War II. Then, at the dawn of the jet age, Pan Am flew the first Boeing 707 in 1958. Then came the 747. Pan Am was the airline of the ‘stars,’ and to the moon (2001: A Space Odyssey).

“But none of these innovations, as impressive as they were, was what made Pan Am different from other companies. It was the feeling of “family” and adventure and loyalty that Pan Am inspired from its very beginning. Its rich history, almost unbelievable events, and stories of our legendary “characters” were passed down through the generations, filtering – as family legends do – into each new-hire group.

“Indeed, no other airline had more intensely loyal employees, who continue even now to keep alive the spirit of a company that went out of business so many years ago. From the beginning, we were introduced into Pan Am as “family,” strongly bonded and loyal to each other. We became deeply interested in helping our company be the best, and while some people outside our ‘family’ saw that as arrogance, we saw it as striving for excellence.

“But what did that mean? It wasn’t just about the glamour of far-off places, 7-course meals served on fine china, or how proud we were wearing the Pan Am uniform. It’s about something called ‘the Pan Am World.’

“One of our company’s jingles was, “Pan Am has a place of its own. You call it ‘the world.’ We call it ‘home.'” In my view, there are two very different meanings of the word ‘world.’ One pertains to geography, and, of course, this was very significant to our peripatetic lives. Globetrotting was our lifestyle, but very few of us ever got over the thrill of taking off on a brand-new adventure.

“However, ‘world’ has another very important meaning, and that has to do with the way in which people make sense of their lives. Many Pan Am employees have described their relationship to the company as ‘a love story.’ Pan Am felt to us as if it had a living, breathing soul (as Newsweek described), and so the company’s essence was much more than a merely practical world.

“Indeed, it was a very emotional world, and Pan Am was much more than a mere company. A job with Pan Am was a passport to the world with unlimited horizons, and its employees shaped their lives around the framework of the Pan Am culture. In other words, every trip was a meaningful event, which makes the upcoming Aloha Celebration an even more meaningful event.

“On a personal level, I’ll have the opportunity to share with other Pan Am family members about our relationship to the company. I’d like to extend the invitation to my fellow attendees who’d be interested in being interviewed about their Pan Am experience.

“And we’ll have plenty of opportunities to chat. Several cocktail receptions and dinner at the Pacific Aviation Museum, as well as a special tour of the historic sights used by Pan Am during Pan Am’s China Clipper era, have been planned. And a ‘Clipper Club’ (Captain’s room) will be available each day for us to find our friends and circulate.

“On Thursday, April 3, from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., the public is invited free of charge to share in an exciting day of legendary “family” memories. This forum will be held in the Prince Hotel in the Mauna Kea Ballroom. One of the featured speakers will be Ed Dover (author of The Long Way Home), who was on the crew that flew a B-314 flying boat all the way around the world the other way, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was an unanticipated first circumnavigation of the globe by a commercial airline. They flew in total secrecy and radio blackout for six weeks. It’s a great story.

“Author Jon Krupnick, author of Pan Am Pacific Pioneers, will be discussing his wildly successful book about Pan Am’s “boat days.” Our own Captain Don Cooper (the man largely responsible for organizing many of our most spectacular reunions) will set the historical and political scene in the Pacific before 1935, which led to Pan Am’s subsequent hegemony in the area. There will be other speakers as well, all passing along our Pan Am family stories.

“Fittingly, the world ‘aloha’ means both hello and goodbye, and it is with a tinge of sadness that we know that Captain Don Cooper will no longer be doing this. At 82, Captain Cooper feels that this reunion will be his swan song, reminding all of us that many of our ‘Skygods’ are now in their 80’s and 90’s. Our ‘hellos’ are joyous, but as is reflected in the closeness of our Pan Am family, we don’t like saying ‘goodbye.’

“But just as I was thinking this might be the last big all-inclusive Pan Am reunion, up pops the news of a Pan Am Worldwide Family Reunion on Long Island, New York on July 31 – August 3, 2014. It is being sponsored by Pan Amigo News (Miami), a newsletter for former employees for the purpose of keeping in touch, and sharing news of reunions, travel discounts, and finding friends we’ve lost track of.

“But it doesn’t stop there. We also have philanthropic organizations with their own newsletters, such as World Wings International (retired flight attendants), Clipper Pioneers (retired pilots), The Retirees Club (retired ground staff), and the Pan Am Historical Foundation (open to all including non employees). Many Pan Am websites can be found on the Internet, such as everythingpanam.com, and various closed groups just for Panamers. Meanwhile, the Pan Am AWARE store in Miami is busily supplying Pan Am memorabilia to those people who are nostalgic for ‘the Queen of the Skies.’

“Pan Am, as the slogan goes, is ‘Gone But Not Forgotten.’ The company as parent has died, but the family endures; the siblings continue to forge meaningful connections with each other all over the world – finding creative ways, as families do, to project themselves unendingly into the future. As long as the airline’s employees and their children (known affectionately as Pan Am ‘brats’, who grew up flying around the world with us) are still alive, the deep affection for Pan Am will endure.

“And like all families, we’ve had our share of tragedy. Most former Pan Am employees can tell you where we were when we heard about the sale of the Pacific routes to United, the Lockerbie tragedy, and the demise of Pan Am. We share common trauma, as well as phenomenal experiences: the high life and slow death of Pan Am is seared into our collective memory, but nobody can take away our love for our company.

“For those who are interested, I am including a link to a video about our Pan Am world, put together by Captain Tommy Carroll for the last big reunion, which was held in Monaco in 2012. It provides a glimpse of just some of our layovers in 86 countries and every continent, except Antarctica. Click on the following link, (747skygod.com) , and then click on the video ‘Pan Am Gone But Not Forgotten.’

“Then, sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for a nostalgic journey back to the ‘good old days’ – a time when America itself was at its zenith, and working for Pan Am felt like the best job in the world.

“Postscript: This article is also respectfully dedicated to all aviation employees who have lost their companies – our ‘Kissin’ Cousins’ at TWA, the former employees of Eastern, Braniff, Western, PSA, Piedmont, and Republic Airlines – just to mention a few.”

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For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

Pan Am Series – Part XXIX: Technical Assistance Program

Pan American’s Technical Assistance Program

It has long been recognized that Pan American World Airways was an industry leader in the development of flight operations, technology and procedures. What is little known is Pan American’s history of providing technical assistance to fledgling airlines around the world.

As early as 1934, Pan American was already providing technical assistance. From the 1934 Annual Report, the airline boasted of working with the Chinese government in support of China’s aviation programs and highlighted the introduction of “modern flight equipment, new ground radio stations and direction finders.” To be fair, the annual report was a bit ambitious when alluding to the successful cooperation between Pan American and the Chinese. The problem was the weather along the Chinese coastal route of the China National Aviation Corporation. Fog and the wind currents between the mountains and the sea, combined with primitive meteorological support, made flying dangerous and caused two crashes into the hills by the S-38 aircraft sent over from the United States by Pan American. This impaired the airline’s “vaunted reputation for technical skill and concern for safety”, according to Marilyn Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument. Nevertheless, this was one of the earliest instances of Pan American’s technical assistance outside the realm of its operating areas.

In addition, up to and during World War II, Pan American provided significant technical support to its Latin America subsidiaries. These airlines sported similar livery to Pan American’s aircraft and were part of the “Pan American Airways System” that covered nearly all destinations in Latin America. After the war and into the post-war decades, these subsidiaries were eventually sold to local investors or nationalized.

Pan American’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) formally came into being in 1955 as reported in the annual report for that year:

“Pursuant to the United States policy of furthering the economic development of friendly foreign nations, the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) has commissioned your company to conduct Technical Assistance Programs with the national flag airlines of Pakistan, Turkey and Thailand. Pan American’s mission is to offer technical guidance and personnel training in all aspects of the air transportation industry. Your company is proud to share its 28 years of international airline experience and thus contribute to the improvement of commerce, communications and employment opportunities in these friendly and important nations.”

The next year, Pan American added the national flag airline of Afghanistan, Ariana Afghan Airlines, to its programs. In addition it provided the airline with active management under ICA auspices and also participated as a minority shareholder.

Over the next few years more than 100 skilled Pan American personnel comprised the specialist teams in these programs, and in 1959 key employees of Pakistan International Airlines Corp. and Ariana Afghan Airlines Company Ltd were trained in the United States in the Participant Training Program sponsored by the ICA and the FAA.

In 1965, in cooperation with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Pan American began providing technical assistance to the national airline of the Republic of Guinea, West Africa. Technical assistance was also provided to Iran and was continued in Afghanistan. Later, the airlines of Vietnam and Ghana were added. By 1967, according to that year’s annual report,“[t]wenty-four airlines in all parts of the world have been assisted by Pan Am over the years”.

Into the 1970s, Pan American continued to provide technical assistance, management and training to various airlines overseas including Ariana, Iran Air, and Air Zaire. The airline also provided airport management under contract at Roberts Field in Liberia and at Muscat and Salalah, Oman.  By 1978, 141 employees were assigned to technical support, mostly overseas. It is not known here when the program was terminated, although no mention is made in annual reports seen subsequent to 1980.

The late John Bigelow, a Pan American Captain, spent a year in Afghanistan as part of the TAP, training pilots of Ariana Afghan Airlines. He wrote a story about his experiences in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. John recently passed away and was well known and respected by his peers, that group of pilots hired in the 1960’s known as the “New Hires”. He will be missed.

“It all started during the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, for the faithful, a mandatory rite of passage and a passport to heaven and eternity.  For years, Afghan pilgrims had made their way across the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia by bus, truck . . . and even camel caravan.  But a visionary King, Mohammed Zahir Shah, with the dream of leading his people into the twentieth century, blessed the conception of the country’s first airline.  In 1957, Ariana Afghan Airlines was born.  At last, pilgrims could fly to Jeddah – the staging point for the pilgrimage to Mecca – in hours rather than days or weeks.

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“Years later, in early May, 1968, Pan American’s Captain Richard Vinal, Chief Pilot of Latin America, summoned me to his office in Miami.  My reaction was predictable.   Chief Pilots were not in the habit of asking you in to inquire about your health.  I began to formulate complex denials and thought about calling my union representative.  I drove over to the office and sat under the suspicious eye of the Chief Pilot’s secretary who, I was convinced, knew of my misdemeanor, whatever it was.  At last, I was invited in and asked to sit down. The heavy oak door closed behind me, and I noted with some alarm that Captain Vinal and I were alone.

“‘Bigelow, how would you like to go to Afghanistan’?

“I had a vague idea where Afghanistan was – somewhere in Africa, I thought.  Whatever I’d done was about to condemn me to the other side of the world. So I asked my Chief Pilot for some background to his startling question.  A little more kindly now, he explained why we were having this conversation.

“‘Sam Miller, our Vice-President of Flight Operations, called me this morning, wanting to know if I had any young, eager pilots interested in a foreign flight training assignment.  He thinks you might be ready for something like this.

“‘Pan Am owns 49 per cent of Ariana Afghan Airlines and we run a Technical Assistance Program (TAP) with the airline.  Ariana has just acquired a new Boeing 727. Our Project Director out there thinks they need some help training the Afghan pilots.  If you’re interested, I’d like you to go up to New York to talk to Sam Miller.  They need someone out there right away.’

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“At the time, I’d been with Pan Am for two years and still felt like a new boy.  My wife, Mary Lou, and I talked it over. We discovered Afghanistan was not in Africa but a land-locked kingdom in south-west Asia. To us, it sounded exciting and different, full of adventure and opportunity.

“I bought a paperback copy of James Michener’s Caravans and began reading it on the way to New York.  I was captivated by what I read, spellbound by descriptions of Kandahar, Kabul, and the Hindu Kush.  Suddenly, I was very keen to go there.

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Ariana 727 over the Hindu Kush

“My interview with the legendary Sam Miller went well.  He had been the commander of the first scheduled commercial flight of a Boeing 707 across the Atlantic in 1958 – a major milestone in Pan Am’s history.  Captain Miller was a gracious, quiet-spoken man and, despite his aura, made me feel at ease.  He was interested in my pre-Pan Am flying experiences in the Canadian Arctic and Middle East.  He had read my personal file and seemed pleased and handed me off to Erskine Rice who headed TAP field operations.

“Rice noted, ‘Were you to accept this assignment, you would be assigned as ‘Advisor’ to the Chief Pilot, Rahim Nowroz.  You would be responsible to him for assessing pilot standards and recommending steps to improve pilot performance.  The Afghan pilots have been trained and released by Boeing instructors, but Charlie Bennett, our project director in Kabul, feels there is a need for ongoing monitoring.

“‘The assignment would be for a year. We need someone out there right away. If you’re interested, I need a decision by the end of the day.’

“I was their man, and I immediately told him so.  He got up smiling, walked around his desk, and we shook hands.  Erskine Rice became more guarded when the discussion turned to Rahim Nowroz – the man I would be advising in Afghanistan.  He said that Nowroz had a reputation for being difficult at times, adding that he was also the King’s personal pilot, and – oh yes – rumored to have a fondness for drink.

“‘John, I’m sure you’ll get along just fine out there.  Go out there and do the best job you know how. I’m sure we’ll all be proud of you.’

“Now I knew I was being conned. No, he wasn’t smiling. He was smirking.

“’What am I getting into?‘”  I thought.

“I was in Kabul when, early in the morning of January 5, 1969, Ariana’s Boeing 727, YA-FAR, crashed three-quarters of a mile short of Runway 27 at London’s Gatwick airport during an instrument approach in a thick, freezing fog.  Our chief of maintenance, Ed Mix, had put his daughter Karen on the flight at Kabul.  With landing gear and flaps extended, the aircraft briefly touched down in a muddy field before becoming airborne again.  The pilot, none other than Captain Nowroz, aware at last that something was wrong, had jammed open the throttles but, seconds before, ten feet of the Boeing’s right wing had been torn away by a large tree.  The aircraft began an uncontrolled, climbing roll to the right, and would have become inverted had not a large two story house stood in its way.  The house and most of the aircraft then exploded in a large ball of burning kerosene.  The cockpit passed inches above the roof and detached itself at the moment of impact, remaining airborne briefly before skidding to a halt in the mud.

“Sixty-nine of the ninety-eight passengers and cabin crew burned to death.  Of those few who survived, most were difficult to recognize as human, even after months of restorative surgery. One of the survivors, a baby girl lying in her bassinette, a toy clutched in her hands, was unharmed in the smoking rubble. Her parents were not so lucky.

“The accident could have been prevented.  But because of a perverse and persistent aspect of human nature, people had to die before anything would change.

“Ed Mix and I traveled to London on Iran Air, a flight that duplicated Pan Am’s flight 115, stopping at Tehran, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt, and London.  Word of the accident had spread to all of Pan Am’s European stations that Ed and I were en route to London.  Ed was well known in Pan Am’s world and well-regarded. At each stop along our way, I deplaned to get an update, leaving Ed in his seat in the cabin, distraught and alone, but grateful for what I was doing.  Pan Am station personnel, waiting for our flight, met me with the latest news:  Few survivors, still no news of Karen. At each stop, as we continued up the line to London, I returned to my seat next to Ed: ‘Nothing yet, no news. But don’t give up. Don’t give up! You hear me?’

“This hard-bitten, cigar-smoking, maintenance manager was now crying.  He reached over to hold my hand. ‘I’m sorry John. I can’t help it. I can’t stop thinking about Karen.  Our beautiful daughter I love so very much . . .’

“On the last leg, from Frankfurt to London, Ed wrote me a note in pencil on an airsick bag. It said: ‘I can’t express myself properly with words at the moment. But I will never forget how important it is that you are here with me, or how grateful I am. Your friend, Ed.’

“I still have the bag.

“We were the first off the airplane at Heathrow.  Pete Dunstan, Pan Am’s maintenance manager in London, and a close friend of Ed’s, waited at the head of the jetway.  He was tight-lipped, a look of infinite sadness on his face.  Ed looked up at him, unable to speak. Pete shook his head and said: ‘I’m sorry, Ed. Karen didn’t make it.’

“Two days later, he and his wife Libby boarded Pan Am’s round-the world flight, ‘Clipper One’ to New York, with their daughter’s remains in the belly of the 707.

“Ed Mix would never return to Afghanistan.

“’You will be leaving us soon, won’t you?’ asked my administrative aide, Captain Gran.

“I answered, ‘It’s time. We both know it.  What can be worse than a guest who overstays his welcome?  My job is done here.  Ariana and its pilots now rank with the best in the world. You don’t need me anymore.’

“He answered, ‘I disagree with you.  We – and I speak for all the pilots – want you to stay.  We will always need you. You are no longer ferangi.  You are part of us; you belong with us.’

I said, ‘Look, Gran. I will always be available, but I must leave Afghanistan. It’s the essence of the program.  From the beginning, I came here to work my way out of this job and train my Afghan replacement – my replacement, not surprisingly, with whom I’m now having lunch.’  Maybe I derailed him with that remark.  When he regained his composure, he said: ‘It is strange how events sometimes unfold, isn’t it? When I look back four years ago, how different things seemed then . . .’

He answered, ‘We were suspicious of you from the start.  I agreed with Rahim – we didn’t need you.  Boeing had trained us, and we knew what we needed to know.  You were yet another example of an unwanted foreign presence. One way or another, the sooner we could get rid of you, the better. 

“’At first we assumed you would just give up and leave like so many others who, for whatever reason, had come to Afghanistan.  But, to Rahim’s frustration and, to a lesser extent, mine, you didn’t.  You were behaving like . . . like an Afghan!  You didn’t give up.  You had the testicles of a goat, and it was driving Rahim crazy!’

“He paused, took a deep breath, and continued.

“This is the part I find most difficult to admit:  I began to see what you were trying to do. But because of my loyalty to Rahim, and because, honestly, I was afraid of him, I did nothing.  If I had cooperated with you then, and you had left, Rahim would have made my life unbearable. We are a small country.  Never forget: Rahim and I are Pashtun, and blood, as they say, runs thicker than water. . . .

“’The accident changed everything.  Captain Rahim Nowroz, my Chief Pilot, I discovered, had committed a dreadful and unforgivable error.  He had killed many people, not the least, the daughter of your friend, Ed Mix.  And of course I knew about his drinking.  I was being split down the middle, in an impossible position.  I will never forget my first meeting with you in London after the crash. I saw myself on a buzkashi field – the calf fought over and pulled apart by opposing chapandaz.  You, Pan Am, and the British on one side, Afghanistan and everything it stands for on the other. I must tell you, John, it was the worst moment of my life.’

He continued, ‘What you did – and this is perhaps the most important aspect of your time with us – was to take our natural inclination to compete and to win at any cost, and to turn this inclination into something positive.  No longer could we buy our way into the seat of an airplane.  No longer was it a question of who we knew or how we were related. Only through training, only through passing through the necessary gates could we expect to succeed. We were all now competing with each other to be the best. . . .

“’We could not figure this out for ourselves; it took a pale-skinned, blue-eyed ferangi to do it for us.’

“I thought about what Gran had said. I was flattered by his words, but it went beyond the apparent success of this Afghan endeavor. For me, from its outset, it had been born out of failure.  In that moment, I saw what I was really doing here: proving to myself I wasn’t quite the hopeless screw-up I’d always seemed to be.  After so many false starts in my life, I’d needed a win.  Maybe, at last, I had one.

“I went on, ignoring him.  

“I said to him, ‘You, my friend, belong in an airplane, not behind a desk.  You know it.  No one ever was killed by paperwork, only inconvenienced. We’ll find someone to fill those administrative duties.  I’m recommending that you be appointed Chief Pilot, Training and Check.  It’s the only reason I can leave Afghanistan and sleep at night’”.

“I still sleep at night; now I am doing the sleeping in Dubai, training pilots at my ripe age of 75. Never will I forget my Afghan Journey, the frustrations and accomplishments. The turbulence and mistrust today, however, cause me to question whether Afghanistan can ever return to the era of serenity and enlightenment which I experienced in the sixties. May peace overcome.”

Arian 707

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation

Malaysia Flight 370: What Didn’t Happen.

The JetHead Blog


Speculation on what happened to Malaysia 370 now runs rampant across the world media, just as it always does after any airline disaster. But as usual, most of what the “informed sources” hypothesize is unfounded or at least, not based on fact. That’s because whether the “experts” popping up on broadcast media want to admit it or not, there are few facts; and for all the wrong reasons in this case, there are fewer than ever.

That in itself is significant and, in my judgment from the perspective of one who makes a living piloting Boeing jets, a major factor largely ignored in the media. Specifically, what didn’t happen to that Boeing 777 holds the key to what did.

First, let’s start with the most obvious clue, which basically is the common denominator in one major risk factor that affected everyone who boarded Malaysia flight 370: the two travelers…

View original post 881 more words

Pan Am Series – Part XXVIII: Clipper Cargo – 2

Cargo Flights

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As described in the previous story, Pan American World Airways was an innovator and leader in the early development of the air freight business. Although freight and cargo was nearly always carried on passenger flights, Clipper Cargo was different and was identified with Pan American’s all-freight operation that for all intents and purposes was an airline within an airline. Whilst the all-freighter flights were included in the passenger timetables, as illustrated in the previous story, the flights operated at crazy times , carrying crazy cargoes and sometimes going to crazy places.

Captain John Marshall flew Pan Am Clippers for nearly thirty years and remembers some of his more memorable flights – and cargoes – when assigned to flying the freighters.  “Flying freighters was always an exercise in curiosity – one never knew just what the next load will bring”, he recalls. On one trip out of Anchorage, the load-master presented the Dangerous Goods Notifications Sheet, a document that listed all the hazardous materials loaded. On the list were all manner of flammable liquids, solids, poisons, corrosives and explosives. It turned out the explosives was an elephant tranquilizer gun, prompting the question whether there was an elephant on board. Also on board were five kilos of 24 carat gold in one kilo ingots. On another flight were six thoroughbred race horses bound for stud in Japan from New York. Marshall and his crew took over the trip at Anchorage and was told by the incoming crew that one big grey stallion had “an emphatic dislike for turbulence, and that during some light chop over Canada, they could hear him whinnying and stomping in his stall and when he kicked the sides of his enclosure the whole plane shook”. After take off the crew made contact with a Northwest flight twenty minutes ahead on the same track at the same altitude. The Northwest crew promised to advise them of any turbulence. Fortunately there was none, and the horse slept most of the way.

“We carried all manner of cargo on those flights – loads of over one hundred tons of payload were not uncommon”, says Marshall, “on one flight I was informed that the day’s cargo consisted of 110 head of elk — stags, does and yearlings. They were the entire load; there was no room for anything else. When I boarded there was no question as to the nature of the cargo. The smell was overwhelming. It followed us all the way across the Pacific, and permeated my clothes for weeks afterward.”

Once, when reporting for duty at the cargo hanger one midnight in Los Angeles, “I thought I had stumbled into the private quarters of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. There were cages all around the tarmac, carrying all manner of exotic fauna. One held two Bengal tigers, on the next pallet were half a dozen caged chimpanzees,chattering noisily at the big cats. Ahead of the wing was a portable stall which held four Lilliputian ponies, each so small it looked like a real horse viewed through the wrong end of a telescope.”

One of his oddest experiences in Anchorage was when he was told he and his crew were operating out of the Air Force Base at Elmendorf. No explanation was given and when they got to Elemendorf they soon found “our big 747 freighter sitting lonely and alone on the most remote pad on the base”. They boarded the aircraft and saw pallets of cargo tightly covered with dark green tarpaulin stretching into the darkness all the way aft. The cargo was Patriot missiles bound for Kimhae, at the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Upon arrival they were met with battalions of huge trucks, along with the usual heavy loaders and forklifts. The plane was unloaded in less than a half an hour.

Jim Duncan, another former Pan American captain who flew the Clippers for over twenty years, had one interesting freighter trip that was then a highly classified Military Airlift Command (MAC) Mission from Little Rock, Arkansas to Mogadishu, Somalia. At the time Duncan was a 747 Check Airman and held the title Manager of Flying of the New York Base at JFK Airport. He wrote about his experience in his story “Night Flight to Mogadishu” in  Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below are excerpts from his story:

“It began with Bill McCarthy, the Duty Director in Pan American’s Operational Control Unit informing me that a request had come by way of the Dept. of Defense, the State Department, and possibly the CIA, to ferry a 747 Cargo freighter to Little Rock AFB to take on an extensive load of Class A munitions (rocket propelled grenades, .50 caliber bullets and T.O.W. —Tube-launched, Optically Wired controlled missiles), and transport them non-stop to Ramstein  Airbase, Germany with continuation, after a short crew lay-over in Frankfurt, via Cairo for refueling, to Mogadishu, Somalia. Ramstein’s main runway length of 9300 feet would not allow enough fuel, given the heavy cargo load, to make the flight nonstop to Mogadishu.

“My initial call was to my wife who did not take well to the idea.

“’Are you insane?’ she screamed into the phone. ‘Have you forgotten we have small children? Why you?’

“’It’s something I need to do,’ I replied, assuring her that this was not any different than some military missions I had flown in the past. ‘Plus, there will be added life insurance’, I joked.

“[I put together a crew] and [a]t sun-up the following day, the empty, overpowered 747 Cargo Liner lifted off the runway at JFK like a jet fighter and rocketed to our cruise altitude of 39,000 ft in a matter of minutes on its way to Little Rock AFB. Later that day, after arrival and a few hours rest, we closely inspected the Dangerous Goods Manifest. ‘Looks like a mega load of fireworks,’ commented [one of our crew] sarcastically as we checked the secure tie downs of hundreds of boxes in the lower cargo compartment. In addition to the flight plan, weather and wind forecasts, we were handed a special advisory to steer and remain clear of British and Belgian airspace.  European and African countries had allowed ‘only by exception’ the overflight of any aircraft carrying class A explosives.  

“We took off into the evening sky crossing over the Atlantic to overhead at Quimper, France in the early morning hours and continued on a straight path to land at Ramstein AFB in Southwestern Germany.  An Air Force ‘Follow Me’ truck in bright yellow colors guided us to the Dangerous Cargo loading ramp where six Armored Personnel Carriers were added to the upper deck cargo compartment.  

“Over breakfast the following morning, [the crew] and I speculated how we would be routed from Ramstein to Cairo having been denied overflight rights over Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. We were to be picked-up at the hotel at 3 p.m. for a late afternoon departure. However, back in our rooms we were further perplexed by a phone message stating that our departure from the hotel had been moved up by one hour to allow time for a military classified security briefing. The puzzle was solved at Ramstein when we heard the words of the Air Force intelligence officer: ‘From Cairo Southeast bound to Mogadishu you must fly radio silent. Do not answer any transmissions, don’t use your transponder; what’s more important, you will not obtain the usual Air Traffic Control clearance!’

“That was big news to me.

“Despite this unsettling information, we agreed to stick with the plan and take off on our night flight to Mogadishu. Soon we left France behind and looked down on the dark waters of the Mediterranean flying around the boot of Italy southeast to land in Cairo. During refueling we scrutinized our flight plan once more at the operations office. We were to fly a southeasterly track along the center line of the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The airspace to the east of our course was Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to the west the Sudan, Ethiopia, the disputed territory of Eritrea, and finally Somalia.  At the mouth of the Red Sea, to make it appear on radar that we  were destined somewhere else, we were to fly one hundred nautical miles off-shore, and around the Horn of Africa.

“’We are going to be pretty much on our own for most of the night without any Air traffic Control contact’, I noted. ‘Let’s take on a bit of extra fuel in case we have to divert to Nairobi.’

“The Pan Am freighter lifted off once again into the night sky. The city lights of Cairo gave way to the darkness of the desert below.  Thirty minutes into the flight, 150 miles southeast of Cairo, the heavy plane was still laboring to reach its cruising altitude. The termination of all communications with the Egyptian Air Controllers created an eerie stillness. The only contact we could safely make was an hourly call to contact Pan Am Dispatch via Berna Radio in Switzerland on the high frequency single side band radio: ‘Pan Am Clipper Operations Normal.’

“We continued to monitor the local VHF air traffic control frequencies for information on other air traffic nearby and overhear various aircraft reporting their positions.

“As we approached 200 miles north of the mouth of the Red Sea, we eased the power up to hold Mach .88, cutting our transit time by ten minutes. A blind warning call came over the radio: ‘Aircraft heading 140 degrees at high speed 65 Miles NW of Addis Ababa, identify yourself.’

“With us not responding, the warnings came repeatedly from Addis Ababa and San’a. ‘Strangest flight during my Pan Am career,’ I remarked as a visible shrug of relief is felt by all three of us once the plane has turned further to the East to carry us out over the Indian Ocean and around the Horn of Africa.

“More than four hours after leaving Cairo we made our first radio call to Mogadishu, where we would arrive forty minutes later.

On the ground, and from the ramp we watched the Armored Personnel Carriers being unloaded. ‘Do you think we could take one for a spin around the ramp?’ [a crewman] asked the Somali officer. ‘If you think you know how to drive it, go ahead,’ he answered.

“It was a small reward for the Pan Am family having performed the assigned task. Pan American had supported our nation in the past.  We were merely filling another square.”

Pan American also carried traditional cargo, like the hard drive of the IBM 305 RAMAC computer, launched in 1956, shown below being loaded onto a Clipper freighter. The hard drive weighed over a ton and stored 5 MB of data. To put this into perspective, it would take  3200 of these units to equal the capacity of that little 16-Gig stick plugged into the side of a laptop.

Computer pic

It would not be surprising that every former Pan American pilot or flight engineer who flew the freighters would have similar stories. Hauling cargo may not have been glamorous, but it must have been fun.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of  Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline

The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.

For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation