Pan Am Series – Part XXXVIII: The DC-7C

The DC-7C - Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and its Aircraft

The DC-7C – Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft by Ron Davies

“Swan Song of an Airline Generation”

Probably the most advanced of the piston airliners, the Douglas DC-7C had also one of the shortest, if not the shortest, service life with Pan American World Airways.

The aircraft came about as a result of the competition in the North Atlantic for what Ron Davies’ in Pan American World Airways – An Airline and Its Aircraft, referred to as the “non-stop prize”. The competition had already been brewing on the domestic front between Douglas and Lockheed with TWA introducing the first U.S. transcontinental non-stop service in October 1953 with the L-1049C Super Constellation shortly followed by American with the DC-7.

In the transatlantic, it was TWA with its Super Constellations versus Pan American, with its Super Stratocruisers fitted with extra fuel tanks and later with DC-7B’s, which had a slightly higher gross weight and longer range than the DC-7. Then, in November 1955, TWA introduced the L-1049G, the “Super G”, which was matched by Pan American with the DC-7C  in June 1956.

With the DC-7C, called the “Seven Seas”, an extra wing section was added, increasing the wing area by 12 percent, thus enabling the increase of weights, payloads and tankage. The wings also allowed the engines to be placed five feet further away from the fuselage which reduced the engine noise and vibration in the cabin. Lockheed later introduced its answer to the DC-7C with the L-1649A Starliner, called the “Jetstream” by TWA, but it only had marginally more range than the former.

Pan American’s DC-7B and DC-7C Operations

Pan American started taking delivery of its seven DC-7Bs in May of 1955 and these were deployed in the Atlantic. The aircraft was used primarily in all-tourist or dual first and tourist service on the transatlantic routes. The aircraft was marginally non-stop capable, requiring a stop on its westbound leg.

DC-7B - Clipper Jupiter Rex

DC-7B – Clipper Jupiter Rex

Below are pages from the April 1956 timetable showing the DC-7B’s services in the North Atlantic:

1956 Atlantic - T   1956 Atlantic

In the same timetable, Pan American also announced the introduction of the, the DC-7C, called the “Super Seven”, the “world’s newest and first commercial airliner capable of flying nonstop across any ocean or continent”.

1956a

 

Pan American ordered twenty-six DC-7C’s , including the freighter version and took delivery of the first in April 1956.

Douglas DC-7C Clipper Bald Eagle

Douglas DC-7C Clipper Bald Eagle

By 1957, the Super Seven was primarily operating in the Atlantic, some Pacific service and on the round-the-world route. The DC-7B was moved to the Latin America services, including the New York-Buenos Aires flights and points in the Caribbean.  The below pages from the September 1957 timetable illustrate the Atlantic and Caribbean services of the “-7B”. Pan American also highlighted its first class service to Nassau (bottom).

1957 Atlantic   1957 Latin America

pa570301

 

With the introduction of the jets, the Super Sevens continued operating in the Atlantic, Pacific and round-the-world markets as well as on the Africa service. The -7B continued its presence in the Latin America markets. These services are illustrated in the April 1959 timetable.

1959 Africa  1959 Latin America

1959 Pacific

DC-7B Evening Star   DC-7C-2 Van Wickler

Pan American’s DC-7B (left) and DC-7C (right; Allan Van Wickler photo)

Going into the 1960’s it became increasingly clear that the days were numbered for the DC-7C as a passenger airplane. In the September 1961 timetable, the Super Seven was largely a “DC-7CF” as a freighter with very limited passenger service in the South Pacific. By 1965, the DC-7CF was only operating freighter services in Latin America. These services are illustrated in the timetable pages below and bottom:

1961 Cargo    1961 Pacific

September 1961 timetable.

1965 Latin America

 The “DC-7CF” – Photos by Allan Van Wickler

DC-7C - 1   DC-7C -3

Pan American took delivery of its first DC-7C only two and a half years before entering the Jet Age. The airplane cost $2,500,000 each, but within ten years, they were largely gone, either sold to aircraft traders or the occasional non-scheduled airline or even for scrap. It was, said Ron Davies, an “ignominious end to a fine example of commercial airline technical development.”

The DC-7C

IDL Lineup

At New York Idlewild (photo by Allan Van Wickler).

DC-7C-1   DC-7C Frank Hudson

Left photo, at New York, by Allan Van Wickler; right photo, at London, by Frank Hudson

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 XXXVII: The DC-6B

Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and its Aircraft by Ron Davies

Drawing by Mike Machat in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft by Ron Davies

The Workhorse of the Fleet

During the heyday of Pan American World Airways’ prop-era and well into the jet age, one particular airplane figured prominently in its operations around the world: The Douglas DC-6B “Super Six Clipper”.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, Pan American ordered a total of forty-five of the aircraft that were delivered between February 1952 and June 1954. During its deployment in Pan American’s fleet, the Super Six performed just about every duty conceivable. It could be configured in an all-first class service with 44 seats, all tourist from 88 to 109 seats and in a dual configuration with 82 seats.

The Super Six, however, played a very important part in Pan American’s history when Clipper Liberty Bell inaugurated  all-tourist Rainbow service on the prestigious New York-London route. This was a significant accomplishment in Pan American’s effort to bring air travel to the mass market.

Pan American announces the new Rainbow Service with the Super Six in the april 1952 timetable.

Pan American announces the new Rainbow Service with the Super Six in the April 1952 timetable.

Clipper Liberty Bell. This aircraft inaugurated the all-tourist Rainbow Service on the New York-London Route (Allen Clarke photo)

Clipper Liberty Bell (Allen Clarke photo)

The all-tourist Rainbow Services in the Atlantic are shown below in a page from the June 1954 timetable. In the same timetable Super Sixes were also operating on the round the world routes, the Africa service as well as in Latin America. “Sleeperette” seats (fully reclining with leg rests) were also available in some aircraft.

1954 June

Clipper Viking at Leopoldville (Connie Heggblom photo)

Clipper Viking at Leopoldville (Connie Heggblom photo)

By 1956, the Super Sixes were operating extensively on all of Pan Americans world-wide routes with the aircraft in various configurations, including dual first and tourist class service in the Atlantic, Pacific and round-the-world services, all-first class in the Alaska operation and all-tourist (with all-first on some routes) in Latin America. In 1959, the Super Sixes were seen in the Atlantic, Pacific and Latin America. DC-7C’s replaced the “Sixes” on the Africa route, and in the New York-San Juan route, the aircraft was offered in a high density Clipper “Thrift” service with 106 seats. Examples of these services are illustrated in pages in the April 1956 and April 1959 timetables.

Atlantic and Pacific services from the April 1956 timetable (below).

1956 April   1956 April-a

DC-6B-1

The Super Six Clipper (Ed Coates)

Clipper Liberty Bell (Ed Coates)

The Super Six was also the mainstay of Pan American’s Latin America operations, serving Central America, South America and the Caribbean, offering all-first class, dual-service and all tourist.

Portfolio-1   Portfolio-2

Atlantic and Latin America services from the April 1959 timetable (below). Note the San Juan service offerings with the 106-seat configuration for “Clipper Thrift Service” (bottom).

1959 April   1959 April-a  1959 April-b

By 1961, the Sixes were no longer on the round-the-world and Pacific service. Most were deployed in the Internal German Service out of Berlin while some remained operating in Latin America and on the Alaska service in an all-first class configuration. By 1966, the Boeing 727 began replacing the Sixes in Berlin. However, the Sixes returned to the Pacific, having been given a new life as rest and recuperation charters for the U.S. military serving in Southeast Asia.

Latin America and Internal German Services(IGS) from the September 1961 timetable (below).

1961 Sept   1961 Sept-a

Phasing out the DC-6B service from the IGS in the September 1966 timetable (below).

1966 Sept

A DC-6B in Berlin (Ralf Manteufel photo).

A DC-6B in Berlin (Ralf Manteufel photo).

Boeing 727-100 landing at Berlin (Ralf photo).

Boeing 727-100 landing at Berlin (Ralf Manteufel photo).

 

DC-6B Vietnam-1

DC-6B on Rest and Recuperation mission in Vietnam (courtesy everythingpanam.com)

An all-freighter version of the DC-6B, the DC-6A, was also purchased by Pan American for use in its all-cargo operations. These aircraft operated all over the world and continued operations through 1966 when they were replaced by the DC-7C and jet aircraft.

DC-6A freighter (photo by Jon Proctor).

DC-6A freighter (photo Van Wickler/Proctor).

 

Retired Pan American captain John Marshall flew the DC-6A while assigned to Pan American’s Internal German Service stationed in Berlin during the early days of his career. He wrote about his experiences in a story “Flying the ‘6’” that appeared in Airways Magazine. Below are excerpts:

“In the early days of my airline career, I cut my teeth at the flight engineer’s station of one of the most venerable airliners of the time, the Douglas DC-6B. My class of newly hired, neophyte would-be airline pilots were assigned to the company’s Internal German Service, stationed in Berlin. We were handed over to the care . . . of the Assistant Chief Flight Engineer. He was a baleful, somber figure. . . a great hulk of a man . . . [who] walked with an ambling, rolling gait as though he were treading the deck of a ship in heavy sea. Out of hearing we called him the Cinnamon Bear, with awe and trepidation at first . . . and then . . . with great respect and affection.

“It was my fate to be assigned the nightly freighter as my perpetual training flight. This was the only flight that was operated by our aging DC-6A freighter, affectionately known as Nineteen Charlie. She was a battle-scarred veteran of milk runs into the Caribbean and Central America, squatting on sun-baked strips carved from bug-infested jungles. She had hopped from island to island carrying coconuts and bananas, and now she was carrying mail into and out of Berlin. * * * Every night except Sunday, the blue and yellow trucks of the German Bundespost would begin to gather at the cargo depot at the far end of the big hanger. . . [and] by 10:30 [p.m.] hundreds of  sacks of mail and other assorted cargo would be loaded aboard Nineteen Charlie. She left for Frankfurt at 11 p.m. and you could set your watch by her.

1965 IGS-1

Page from April 1965 timetable showing the Berlin-Frankfurt DC-6A freighter service.

“The flight crew sauntered down leisurely from operations around ten-thirty. Everything on the airport was quiet now, the last flights having arrived from the West by ten. * * *  The flight engineer was always the first to arrive and in my case, new at the game and anxious to absorb all the quirks and tricks of the trade, ‘early’ meant at the airplane an hour and a half before departure, with the hulking figure of my instructor never far from my side.

“Precisely at 11 p.m. the four big Pratt & Whitneys were cranked into sputtering life, and we slowly taxied out to the end of the runway. With the exhausts glowing an angry orange-red and the propellers straining to a pulsing song we roared the length of runway 27 Left, lifted off and careening over the railway station, we were off into the night. Upon arrival in Frankfurt the mail flight became part of a carefully orchestrated scenario that turned the Frankfurt Airport into a central mail depot for all of West Germany. Flights from all over the Republic were arriving within minutes of each other, bound for the same rendezvous. Sacks of mail were unloaded, sorted, exchanged and reloaded, and two hours later the same planes dispersed, bound for the cities from whence they came. It was one of the original hub-and-spoke cities.

“During the two-hour layover the pilots took pillows and blankets to the Operations Office and were able to snatch forty winks while the loading was completed, but I did not join them. The DC-6 was a sleek-looking creature from a distance, but up close she was mottled with dozens of orifices — some large, others the size of soda straws. We would be asked the function of each on our final check, and the check engineers were sure we were well drilled. The entire layover was spent walking around the airplane, flashlight in hand, instructor at my side, poking and peering into the nether regions of the airplane. I saw valves, pipes and cables in my sleep for weeks afterward.

“Then it was back aboard for the flight back through the south corridor to Berlin. It was nearly 3 a.m., and the sparkling lights of the East German towns were about half the size they had been earlier. The country slept. Finally the glow of Berlin appeared on the horizon ahead, and soon we could see the blackness of Tempelhof, like a hole on the middle of the city. The tires squeaked onto the runway at 3:30, give or take a few minutes, and the day’s flying was finally done.”

The predecessor of the DC-6B, the DC-6, was in response to the challenge by Lockheed to out-class the DC-4, although reliable and route-proven in World War II, not pressurized and an under-performer against the Constellation. For the DC-6, Douglas stretched the fuselage of the DC-4 and pressurized it. The aircraft was further improved when an all-cargo operator ordered the DC-6A, the freighter version. This type was then produced in a passenger version, the DC-6B, five feet longer than the DC-6 and twelve feet longer than the DC-4.

According to Davies, the aircraft was considered marginally more economical to operate than the Constellation, and from an engineering standpoint easier to put through the system of inspection, maintenance and overhaul checks for both the airframe and engines. Said Davies, “[a]lthough later developments of the Douglas line were to outperform the 6B, this was the aircraft that wise old airline folk would refer to as a thoroughbred”.

 DC-6B-2

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 XXXVI: Press Charters

White House Press Charters

One of the perks as the “World’s Most Experienced Airline” was being the preferred airline of the White House Press Office. This involved carriage of the White House press corps that accompanied the President of the United States flying in Air Force One. Although other airlines were periodically given this assignment, it was Pan American who got the lions share of the White House Press Charters, largely because of its international route system and ability to offer greater capacity.

“Air Force One” is the official air traffic control call sign of any United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States.  The call sign was created in 1953 after an incident during which a flight carrying President Dwight D. Eisenhower entered the same airspace as a commercial airline flight using the same call sign. Recent examples of this aircraft include the VC-137 (a customized Boeing 707), pictured here arriving at Andrews Air Force Base with President Jimmy Carter on board (below, left) and; on the Boeing VC-25 (a customized Boeing 747-200) shown here arriving at MacDill Air Force with with President George H. W. Bush on board (below, right).

AF1 at Andrews AFB-big-1    President Bush visits MacDill AFB

The first U.S. President ever to fly in a commercial airliner while in office was Franklin D. Roosevelt, when, on 11 January 1943, he traveled on Pan American’s Dixie Clipper to the Casablanca conference.

67-FDR on Clipper    pan-am-boeing-314-dixie-clipper-nc18605-630-620x413

However, there developed a concern over relying on commercial airlines to transport the president, hatching the idea of designating a specific military aircraft to transport the President. The first aircraft to be converted for presidential use was a C-54 Skymaster, called the Sacred Cow (pictured below, left). This aircraft carried Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in 1945 and was later used by President Harry S. Truman for another two years. A VC-118, a modified DC-6, called The Independence (below, middle) was also used by Truman. The VC-121E, a Super Constellation, called Columbine was used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his administration, and was later replaced in October 1962 by the VC-137C during the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

 

 Sacred_Cow_airplane    Independence_aircraft    800px-Lockheed_VC-121E_Super_Constellation

Retired Pan American Captain John Marshall had the opportunity to fly the White House Press Charters during Pan American’s 707 days. He shared his experiences in a column he wrote for Airways Magazine, excerpted below:

“One of the very pleasant chores that befell me while I was a check airman in the New York Chief Pilot’s office in the 707 days was being assigned to the very limited cadre of airmen who flew White House Press Charters.  These unusual charters were planned and assigned through the White House Travel Office, and parceled out, like packages on Christmas morning, to several different airlines.  Allocation was supposed to be even-handed and impartial, but international trips, plus most of the extended domestic ones that required greater capacity, were almost always given to Pan American.

“One primary reason we were a habitual beneficiary was the fact that the crews that flew these trips were selected from a limited pool of carefully selected airmen.  They were always the same, few in number, and taken from the managerial ranks so that there would never be any question of running afoul of the ubiquitous union with its strict rules regarding duty and flight time limits.  There were days when union scheduling reps would have thrown up their hands in shocked horror at the hours we were keeping. 

“The captains were limited to two, a long-time grizzled check airman who had been flying these trips for a number of years and knew all the ropes and unique procedures associated with White House flying, and his understudy. The flight attendants were picked from a list of about twenty of the best the airline had to offer, all of them based in Washington, and all White House veterans.  The White House liked the arrangement because it simplified the security vetting, and the Press Corps liked it because the cabin crews were generally all familiar faces, who knew from experience just how everyone liked his steak and what sort of libation to have waiting at the front door after a long day.

“Captains assigned to White House charters were permitted to choose their own cockpit crews, and their number were normally counted among the ranks of the airline’s flight instructors and check flight engineers.

“During presidential campaigns a single day’s flying might entail five or six stops, with legs sometimes as short as twenty minutes.  Not exactly the mission its designers had in mind for the 707.  The pattern for each was the same:  the President and his party arrived at the foot of the steps leading to the front entry door of Air Force One (a 707 in those days) and as the presidential shoe hit the bottom step the engines began to turn.  The press pool chosen to travel on the presidential jet hurried to the aft steps and clamored aboard, while the rest of the White House Press Corps boarded the press airplane.

“Air Force One waited for only one man.  Once he was aboard and the door closed, the big blue and white aircraft with United States of America emblazoned on the side taxied immediately.  The lone stragglers were the photo crew assigned to film the presidential departure.  It was an exercise with macabre overtones; should disaster befall the Presidential jet an official photographic record would remain.  When Air Force One’s gear folded into the wheel wells the film crew boarded, and with engines already running the door was hastily closed and we taxied out quickly, off to follow the president.

“On nearly every leg we performed an intricate exchange with Air Force One.  The press airplane always landed first in order to cover the arrival.  Photo opportunities (“photo ops” in journalese) were the meat and potatoes of the travelling press, and a clip for the evening news was always the hoped-for prize.  A certain amount of ‘slop’ was built into each flight plan, permitting us to catch up with and pass the president.  Each leg was briefed with the Air Force One crew, and a special discrete radio frequency enabled us to monitor the progress of the interchange.

“The press airplane customarily leveled off just below the blue and white 707, accelerating to the barber pole, or about Mach .88, depending on the altitude and length of the flight.  Air traffic control treated us as an entry, creating a large block of airspace around the two flights, giving us ample room to maneuver as we pleased.  On one flight from Kansas City to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Air Force One was running behind schedule (one of the rare occasions when the operation failed to run to the minute).  Air Force One was a dwindling speck flying northward as we lifted off.  We stayed low and fast, passing our quarry as we neared Chicago.  Center cleared us direct to the airport at 3,000 feet.  Overhead the field the tower declared, ‘Clipper, you are cleared visual approach to the runway of your choice and you are cleared to land…please advise.’  How often can one claim such priority at O’Hare Airport? 

“I wondered later how long it took to unsort the tangle of air traffic that must have resulted from our unusual arrival.  It was heady stuff. 

“Since the operation was a chartered one, we felt that we had a great deal of leeway in the enforcement of some of the regulations that were obviously intended for other times, other places.  The cockpit door remained open for the entire flight, and there was no shortage of takers for the two cockpit jump seats, particularly for the takeoff and landing.  In flight there was a steady procession of visitors, some dropping in out of mere curiosity, others who stayed literally for hours, with a steady tattoo of questions about the airplane, route, and  the scenery below.  

“I never ceased to marvel at the precision with which the presidential crew managed to hit its ETA’s.  The published daily itinerary printed arrival times to the minute, and it was a rare arrival (barbecued ribs notwithstanding) that didn’t see the nose wheel come to rest on the spot within a second or two of straight up on the scheduled time.  I asked the crew one day just how they did it.  ‘We time it from the outer marker,’ was the answer.  ‘We know to within a second or two how long it will take us to reach the blocks from the marker, so we plan our arrival at the marker accordingly.  Of course, it helps that we don’t ever have to wait for traffic.’

“Advance men orchestrated the carefully choreographed arrivals.  No sooner had the press airplane come to a halt and the journalists scurried off  than a telephone was brought aboard, trailing the longest phone cord in the western world.  (It was before the days of cellular phones and satellite communications.)  The instrument was placed on the jump seat behind the captain, and became the primary communications backup to the awesome array aboard the Presidential airplane.  It was a direct line to the White House switchboard, where the waiting operators could connect with any telephone on the planet.  I once called my mother from my seat in the airplane.  That renaissance lady, who still marveled at the wonders of the portable radio, was dumb-struck at the modern technology.  It took a good deal of convincing before she believed that she was at one end of a phone call from a 707, sitting on the ground or not.

“After one particularly exhausting, multi-legged day we were finally headed back to Washington after the last campaign stop in New Hampshire.  There was no intricate interchange involved, no need to cover an arrival; just a quick trip home at the end of a long day.  Claire, our wonderful British purser, popped her head into the cockpit as we taxied out to inquire about the flight time home.  ‘We’ve got a steak dinner planned,’ she said. ‘I hope we can get it all done in time.’

“‘Well, we’ve got just a little over an hour’s air time,’ I replied.

“Her face fell.  ‘Then we’ll just have to hustle,’ she said. 

“After takeoff we were given a direct clearance to Andrews Air Force Base, without the usual side trips and do-si-do’s that usually accompany any flight into the busy New York-Philadelphia-Washington corridor.  It soon became apparent that our expedited handling, plus some unforecast tailwinds, were going to have us landing well ahead of schedule.  I called Claire to give her the news.

“A moment later she burst into the cockpit in a highly agitated state, wild hair flying from her normally carefully coiffed head.  ‘John, you can’t do this to me!’ she exclaimed.  ‘We have trays out all over the cabin, and we’re just now starting the wine around!’

“‘Claire, just tell me what you feel is more important, an early landing or dinner,’ I said.

“‘Dinner!’ she replied without hesitation.

“‘You got it,’ I said.  ‘I’ll give you another hour.’  I picked up the mike and made probably the most unusual request that Washington Center had ever received.  Could they please place us in a holding pattern somewhere out of the way for about 45 minutes while our passengers finished dinner?  I could swear I heard chortles in the background as center granted our request.  We made lazy circles off the Maryland coast in the calm smooth air of a moonlit night, and after getting the nod from the back end we made a gentle letdown into Andrews.  Our well-fed and liquefied passengers disembarked, tired but content, and none the wiser.”

PAA and AF1

 Bill Frisbie, another retired Pan American Captain, flew the 747’s. His experiences are included in a story he contributed to Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People.  Below are excerpts:

“I first began flying White House charters in 1984 when President Reagan made a trip to China.  The White House knew that I had flown all the proving and initial flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Canton starting in 1978 as the bamboo curtain began to fall, with the journey of the Boston Pops to Shanghai.  The White House wanted the benefit of my China experience as China’s air traffic system was unbelievably backward, mostly ADF approaches, altitude measured in meters not feet, wind speed in meters per second and although the charters carried five crew members, they were all pilots who had no knowledge of navigation in the area.  Also, in those days, the de-icing of a 747 was accomplished by opening the over wing emergency exits and having the Chinese beat the ice off the wings with bamboo sticks.

“A Presidential trip overseas is an enormous undertaking.  The Presidential staff does not want the public to know the size and cost of these trips.  Advanced teams go to each stopover with operations, security and support people and special vehicles – all bullet proof – are flown to each city to await the arrival of Air Force One.         

“Many aircraft are involved. In addition to Air Force One, there is usually a backup Air Force One in case of a mechanical problem.  Then there is the White House press plane, other passenger jets including 707’s, Gulfstream’s, Lear Jets and countless cargo and rescue aircraft.        

“On the White House press aircraft we carried cabinet staff members, security personnel and secret service members.  We even took along our own customs and immigration staff so we could clear US government formalities onboard and also carried medical personnel.

* * *

“The longest duty day I remember was returning from Asia on the occasion of Emperor Hirohito’s memorial services. We left Tokyo before dawn for Seoul, South Korea and stayed at the airport all day during the President’s meetings. We then left Seoul around dusk for Washington and while en route we saw a sunrise and another sunset before landing in Andrews well before dark – and then we had to ferry the aircraft back to JFK.      

* * *

“All of our trips were exciting as we were witnesses to history.  I especially remember the 1987 economic summit which was held in Venice– what a beautiful and romantic place.  We also included a side trip to Rome.   Then we left for Berlin where President Reagan delivered an address at the Brandenburg Gate in front of the Berlin Wall exhorting President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to ‘tear down that wall’.    The flight to Berlin was a challenge as we landed at Templehof Airport that was used in the Berlin airlift following World War II.   We had to fly between the apartment buildings on landing and had only 4,300 feet of runway with no glide path aids.  The runway was actually longer than 4,300 feet but was only 143 feet wide so the 747 could only use the first 4,300 feet to permit a turn-around.

“In December of 1988, shortly before leaving office, President Reagan invited our crew to meet with him and have lunch at the White House in appreciation for the support the White House received from Pan Am.  This was a great thrill and remains to this day one of my greatest memories from my flying days.”

From the Flight Attendants’ view, Nancy Scully worked on the White House Press Charters for thirteen years during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. She wrote about her experiences in her story “White House Press Tales” also in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People.  Excerpts of her story appear below:

“Many times people asked me how I came to be chosen for the prestigious opportunity to accompany the White House on the Press Charters.  I believe I came to the attention of Pan American World Airways due to my performance during the hijacking of Flight 64 in 1980.  It was the beginning of the most exciting travel that anyone could experience as a flight crew member. 

“Several months after the hijacking, I received a phone call from Crew Scheduling asking me if I would be interested in working a White House Press Charter that would accompany President Carter to the Sugar Bowl to view his beloved Georgia Bulldogs.  I accepted the offer and following the trip, I was asked to join the Press Charters on future trips.  The Press Charters carried the reporters and press staff who were not part of the pool that traveled on Air Force One.  The White House Travel Office would arrange each trip and work with the advance teams to assure travel comfort, gourmet meals and what turned out to be memorable trips as history was being written.  We made the trips fun and the press and staff several times claimed that they would rather travel on the Pan Am plane rather than Air Force One because they had more fun and better food.  On foreign trips we would dress in a costume that represented the place we had visited.  We had hula skirts over our uniforms, babushkas, or an apron with pictures of sushi from Japan.  The Press was greeted each morning of departure with orange juice, Dunkin Donuts and a steaming cup of coffee.   Some of the reporters’ children nicknamed us the Donut Ladies when they traveled with us for long summer visits to the Western White House in Santa Barbara.  Many times we would prepare eggs Benedict and or lamb chops for the short morning trip between Andrews and NYC.  This was a hurried service.  One time we were rushing so quickly that the plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns flew off my tray and onto a White House Correspondent’s lap as she tried to read her newspaper in the front row of the 727.    

68-Press Plane Crew

“The charter crew and the press were like family.    This was a time when the Press Plane was the reporters’ time to be away from all their company assignments; a place to relax before the hurried and sleepless days ahead of them as a member of the traveling press.           

“As the crew, we were witnesses to history as it was being made.  For thirteen years, we were at the economic summits in Venice and England and at the meetings of Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in Moscow and Reykjavik, negotiating the end of the Cold War and limiting nuclear armament.  We were invited to climb into the huge transport cargo planes that carried the armored limos in which the Russian President rode.  It was like being in a Tom Clancy novel.  The airplane nose had a two story window of small panes of glass.  One could imagine a gunner sitting there as approaching a target.

* * *

“There were many occasions when we were invited to the White House Press Office if we were in town before or during a trip.  We watched the election returns and would often be in the Rose Garden for a visiting dignitary’s meeting with the President.  On one particularly cloudy afternoon, we were in the Rose Garden when President Reagan presented Mother Teresa with the Medal of Freedom.  As President Reagan towered over this tiny woman she became larger than life.  All of the sudden, the sun appeared and her presence displayed a magnitude of brightness.  She stated her unworthiness in accepting the Medal and we stood in awe of the moment.

* * *

“I was blessed and most thankful to all at Pan American World Airways and the White House Travel Office to have been an eye witness to world history.”

The excerpts above of Bill Frisbie and Nancy Scully are from two of 71 stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People 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 XXXV: Saigon and R&R-2

Pan American in Vietnam – A Pilot’s Perspective

In the previous posts Pan American’s Vietnam involvement was presented from the perspective of a station manager, Al Topping and flight attendants, Anne Sweeney and Helen Davey. In this posting, the pilot’s perspective is chronicled through the words of former Pan American Captain John Marshall, who flew the DC-6B’s in the Rest and Recuperation airlift and also flew scheduled flights in and out of Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon. His story was first published in Airways Magazine and is set forth below in its entirety:

The year was 1966.  The war in Southeast Asia had been simmering, percolating just below the boil for more years than we cared to count.  By 1966 enough troops and materiel had been amassed in that poor and backward corner of the Third World that it was time for the commanders to seriously look at relief for some of the longer serving units.  It only made good sense that instead of rotating entire units back stateside they would be given a hiatus from the awful conditions under which they lived and fought, and the war-weary GIs would be afforded the opportunity to sample the cultural diversities of the cities of East Asia.  The operation was to be called ‘R & R’, standing for Rest and Recuperation.  It would require the use of enough commercial airliners to carry  GIs out of Vietnam to the bright lights and flesh-pots of Asia, set them down for a week, and re turn them to the war zone to fight again.  It was one of the only sensible decisions made by American commanders in that most unfortunate of wars.

“Pan American Airways at the time was in a transition of equipment from the venerable propeller-driven transports of the fifties and early sixties to the jets which would eventually take over the skies.  The last hurrah for the DC-6 at Pan Am was the Internal German Service, based in Berlin, and even now that venerable airliner  was rapidly being replaced in Germany by the sparkling new Boeing 727s.  As the 6’s were replaced they would be headed for the backwaters of aviation; to South America and Africa, there to spend their dying years carrying livestock, heavy equipment for distant oil fields, or worse; ending up forgotten and decaying in the corner of some airplane boneyard.  But wait!  There was indeed one more mission, one more humanitarian task they could perform.  Pan Am’s DC-6s were offered to the government under contract to carry GIs to R & R for cost plus a dollar.  How could any sane government functionary refuse?

“And so it came to pass that the old Douglas’s made a slight detour on their way to pasture.  They would rumble out to Hong Kong where they would form the backbone of Pan Am’s contribution to the war effort.  Since the only DC-6-qualified airmen in Pan Am’s system were those in Berlin, flying out the days of the last pistons, it fell to us to man the new operation while newly-hired crews were trained and sent to Asia.  We jumped at the chance to escape the dreary northern European weather and sample the exotica of Asia and the Pacific rim.

This DC-6B pictured here in Berlin was probably used initially in the Rest and Recuperation Airlift. These aircraft were brought over from the Internal German Service in Berlin. (Ralf Manteufel photo)

This DC-6B pictured here in Berlin was probably used initially in the Rest and Recuperation Airlift. These aircraft were brought over from the Internal German Service in Berlin. (Ralf Manteufel photo)

“After a flurry of government-mandated paperwork, mostly involving visas, inoculations and other tiresome functions , we departed in twos and threes, embarking for the long tortuous flight aboard Pan Am’s famous Flight Two, boarding at Frankfurt and finally coming to ground many sleepless hours later on another planet.  We were in Hong Kong!

 “After a suitable period of decompression and recovery from a first degree case of jet lag, we were ready and raring to go.  The mission was deceptively simple.   Battle-hardened and frazzled GIs were pulled from the war zones and sent to one of several embarkation points.  Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay, Nha Trang, and Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon were the most prominent.  The men were loaded aboard and flown to any one of a number of Asian cities for a week’s R and R.  Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, and Singapore were the initial destinations; other cities were added as the program grew.  Through a complex set of negotiations with the governments involved, immigration and customs formalities were kept to a minimum.  Once the operation was up and running it was simply a matter of taking a load out of Vietnam, and bringing a load back.  Needless to say the mood in the cabin peaked at wide extremes depending on whether the trip was headed out or back.  The airline pulled out all the stops in the catering department.  Kobe beef steaks, French fries, lots of cold milk and all the ice cream one could possibly eat made up the meal of choice.  The flight crews dined on the same fare, but even for us such extravagant cuisine paled after a while.  On about the third day of a six day trip we began to wish for chicken, or even fish — anything to break the monotony of such sumptuous gluttony.

“After a quick course in long-range operation of the airplane, we were thrown into the fray, and embarked on our first trips.  None of us flight engineers had flown the airplane on a leg longer than two hours; in Europe the fuel requirements and the short flights in the ‘6 were simplicity itself.  Some gas in the mains, off you go, and Bob’s your uncle.  But hidden perils lurked behind the innocent conduct of a flight from Hong Kong to anywhere.  Any reader who has ever had a passing acquaintance with Mr. Douglas’ piston airplanes knows what a labyrinthian maze their fuel systems could be.  I learned the hard way early on.

“On a flight from Saigon to Taipei we carried fuel not only in the mains, but in the auxiliaries and reserves as well.  (Ancient piston drivers, bear with me.   Memory may not serve with total accuracy the nomenclature of the tanks, but you get the idea.)  After top of climb we settled into the cruise routine for the long flight across the South China Sea and the Western Pacific.  Mixtures were carefully leaned and spark advance set.  After a bit it was time to reset the fuel panel.  This was located in front of the center pedestal, behind the throttles and propeller controls.  There were long levers which controlled the shutoff valves in each tank, and depending on the fuel load, there were a stupefying number of combinations with which to set the tank feed.  The flight engineer (me) had to lean way over the pedestal in order to reach the controls.  The captain on this trip was a laid-back old-timer who smoked a pipe (still acceptable in those days) and he leaned back in his seat and watched my efforts carefully.  Tendrils of blue smoke curled gently from the smoldering briar and wafted over my shoulder.  Finally satisfied, I sat back smugly.

dc-6_cockpit

Cockpit of DC-6B

“It wasn’t long before the skipper disengaged himself from his seat and disappeared aft.  I clamored up onto his throne and settled in to enjoy the view from the best seat in the house.  The sea below was a shimmering slate, and the sky ahead was dotted with puffy cumulus.  How could life get any better than this?  I was soon to find out. 

“Half an hour passed, and the flight deck settled comfortably into the ennui of a lengthy overwater trip.  The first officer was absorbed in a manual of some sort, and I gazed out the window at my side.  The captain was a garrulous sort, and had not returned from the passenger cabin.  Suddenly our reverie was rudely shattered by the barking cough of the number 1 engine, followed by a series of backfires in quick succession.  We shot bolt upright in our seats as the number 4 quickly followed suit.  I reached down and slammed the mixtures to full rich, while staring at the panel of engine instruments.  The fuel pressure gauges caught my eye, primarily because the needles on the outboard engines were wildly careening around the dials.  The first officer grabbed the wheel and disconnected the autopilot, at the same time exclaiming, ‘Fuel panel!  Check the fuel panel!’  Startled, I reached over and slammed all the fuel valve levers to the forward position, opening all of them.  After an eternity, while we gently massaged the throttles and mixtures, the outboards finally caught and resumed their healthy roar.  My heart settled down to a trip-hammer rate, and I wiped beads of sweat from my brow.  In a moment I was composed enough to get out the book and carefully reset the fuel feed.

“Suddenly I realized that the captain had not reappeared.  I looked aft through the open cockpit door and saw him slowly sauntering forward.  He stopped in the entrance and shifted the pipe from one side of his mouth to the other.  He gazed at me without saying anything.  ‘Little screw-up in the fuel sequencing,’ I stammered, shame-faced.  I unfolded myself from his seat to let him back in.

“‘Well,’ he drawled, after he had settled himself.  ‘I didn’t think it looked exactly right, but I figured you probably knew what you were doing, so I didn’t say anything.’   It was an abrupt and exciting initiation into the oceanic operation.

“I took a healthy ribbing from the flight attendant crew on our way to the hotel in Taipei.  They were a venerable, uninhibited bunch, not above exploiting the chinks in the veneer of cockpit crew perfection with mirth and enjoyment.  The following night the wet-behind-the-ears flight engineer was to have another adventure, although nowhere near as heart-stopping as starving two of the airplane’s four engines of fuel. 

“We were the same crew, departing Taipei just at dusk for the five-hour flight to Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo.  By the time we levelled off in cruise full darkness had fallen.  We flew in an ocean of black, the sky above dimpled with stars that shed just enough light to outline the occasional cloud formation.  After dinner the skipper again went back into the cabin to socialize, and once again I occupied the left seat.  This time I had made double sure of the fuel feed sequence, and the four big Pratts rumbled along contentedly.  I gazed below into the blackness, and then sat abruptly upright in the seat, heart pounding.  Now I am pretty good at world geography, and I knew without really thinking that if one flew straight from Taipei to Tokyo the trip was all over water.  But here we were over land, and there was a major city below us, or at least a good-sized town.  Good God, we had strayed over mainland China!  A curious tingling sensation began between my shoulder blades, in immediate anticipation of a barrage of .50-caliber bullets that I was sure any second would slam into the defenseless Douglas.  We would fall victim to the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution!

“I  looked over at the first officer.  His eyes were closed and his head nodded on his chest.  “‘Clyde!’  I fairly shouted.  ‘Get your charts out!  Where in the hell are we?’

“Eyes opened wide in startled surprise, Clyde looked around hurriedly, straining to get his bearings.  I pointed frantically downward at the thousands of lights that stretched to the horizon.  Before I could say anything more, he looked over the side for a long moment, then settled wearily back in his seat.  A long sigh escaped his lips.  ‘Fishing fleet, John.  Just fishing boats.  They’re all over the ocean around here.’  In a moment his head nodded chest-ward and silence once again engulfed the cockpit.

tan-son-nhat

Tan Son Nhut Airport

“Operating in and out of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Airport was an experience unto itself.  It was like no other airport in the world.  While the other strips that we flew out of were primarily military bases, the airport at Saigon wore many faces.  It bravely attempted to be a commercial airport like any other, with everyday airline operations trying valiantly to pretend that things were normal, coexisting with the maelstrom of military hardware fighting a war swirling around them.  Even Pan American sent its 707 round-the-world flights One and Two into Tan Son Nhut on a weekly basis.  Most of the time the airport made O’Hare look like a sleepy country strip.  The ramp was an overwhelming place.   707s and DC-8s under military charter carried troops and materiel in and out; military C-130s from countless different squadrons and with just as many esoteric missions kept up a steady stream as they taxied to and fro, their unique rumble trembling the gut as they passed.  Helicopters of every description, led by the workhorse Hueys, buzzed like malevolent insects.  There were Vietnamese Air Force fighter units based there as well, flying ancient hardware that has a habit of trickling down to the Third World.  Venerable C-47s and C-46s completed the mix, along with the occasional B-26.

tsn-map-o51-bunker    tsnab_2   71S1hxbr

“The airport had intersecting runways, which proved to be a mere annoyance, as operations were conducted simultaneously on both.  Controllers took great pride in threading the needle at the intersection, seeing just how close they could cut it.  Occasionally a flight of fighters would return with one or more of their number shot up, requiring the controllers to break out all the existing traffic until the wounded had safely landed.  This resulted in a fur-ball of major proportions orbiting near the field, each pilot jockeying for position when the field re-opened.  The controllers were native Vietnamese, some with limited language and/or controller skills.  The sheer volume of traffic would have been daunting to an experienced journeyman, and at times the local controllers were simply overwhelmed.  It was then that the down-home drawl of a GI controller would come on the mike, and laconically unravel the havoc.  When things had returned to some semblance of normal (a relative term), back came the Asian controller to begin the process all over again.

Phelan_1968-70vietnam_0418-1   typical-day-at-Tan-Son-Nhut-Airport-Saigon-1968   C-130

“The normal entry into Tan Son Nhut used by the big transports was called a ‘Canyon Approach’.  It called for the initial approach to be made at 5,000 feet above the field, an altitude safely out of range of snipers perched off the end of the runway.  Once the runway had nearly disappeared under the nose, gear and full flaps went down, and the props into fine pitch.  Over went the nose, pointing straight at the touchdown zone.  It was a maneuver that demanded great skill and the courage to wait until the very last minute to complete.  It was exciting to sit through, particularly the last few feet before the flare.

“Once safely on the ground and disembarked, Tan Son Nhut assaulted all the senses.  The heat and humidity were unlike any other in Southeast Asia, and the noise and clamor and hubbub were nearly disorienting in their sheer intensity.  Quickly in and quickly out was the name of the game; not only was ramp space at a precious premium, but the longer on the ground the greater exposure to dangers unknown.

“The operation lasted the better part of three years with the venerable DC-6.  Eventually the new Boeing 727s and 707s took over the job, and the old Douglas finally flew into the sunset as part of Pan American’s fleet.  Many ended up in Latin America and Africa, and not a few simply expired in the boneyards of the world.  Their last hurrah was a stirring and exciting one, a fitting climax to the old girls’ career.”

DC-6B and Boeing 707 at Hong Kong (Jon Proctor)

DC-6B and Boeing 707 at Hong Kong (Jon Proctor)

66-Marshall    66-Marshall-3

Pan Am Captain John Marshall attended Deerfield Academy, Stanford University and served in the US Air Force in preparation for his distinguished career with Pan Am. He was based in Hong Kong, Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco and served as Chief Pilot of the Honolulu base a.k.a. “the Royal Hawaiian Flying Club”. He received the civilian Desert Shield and Desert Storm medal for flying military troops and materiel in support of Operation Desert Storm, and finished his Pan Am career commanding the last 747 revenue flight from South America-Sao Paolo to JFK. John retired as a 747 Captain with Korean Airlines. He was recently presented with the prestigious Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award, and is enjoying his membership with fellow Quiet Birdmen. John’s writings and columns have been published and featured for a number of years in Smithsonian Magazine and Airways Magazine, and he keeps in shape flying a WWII B-25 Bomber, “Show Me”John presently works for the FAA as an Aviation Safety Inspector in St. Louis, MO, where he resides with his wife, Carla.

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 XXXIV: R&R in Vietnam War

Pan American’s Rest and Recuperation Airlift – Vietnam War

The DC-6B was used initially in the Rest and Recuperation Airlift. These aircraft were brought over from the Internal German Service in Berlin. (Ralf Manteufel photo)

The DC-6B was used initially in the Rest and Recuperation Airlift. These aircraft were brought over from the Internal German Service in Berlin. (Ralf Manteufel photo)

It is well known that over the years Pan American World Airways’ Chief Executive Juan T. Trippe might have held differing views with respect to United States government policy toward his airline. However, notwithstanding his personal feelings, he always made his airline available for service to the country. This went back to the earliest days of the airline and carried on throughout its existence.

One of the biggest operations in support of the country was during the Vietnam War, when Pan American Clippers carried troops and cargo between home and the war. As noted in the 1965 Annual Report, Pan American was providing approximately “40 flights every week between California and Saigon for the support of the military”. In March 1966 Pan American helped boost morale when it began a massive airlift of troops between Vietnam and rest and recuperation areas initially in Southeast Asia and Japan, and later the addition of Australia and Hawaii. Pan American was, according to the 1967 Annual Report, “the only airline providing this service. . . .[and in] two years more than 500,000 round-trip passengers used the Rest and Recuperation Airlift. Each has enjoyed full First Class amenities on these flights”.

As government needs for airlift increased as the war progressed, the 1968 Annual Report highlighted the fact that operations in support of the military increased dramatically:

“Pan Am provided a larger portion than any other airline of civil airlift of medical supplies, matériel and personnel across the Pacific in support of the armed forces in Southeast Asia. As of March 1, 1969, approximately 12 percent of Pan Am’s long range jet fleet was assigned to military support services. [The airline’s] transpacific airlift provides up to six flights a day to Vietnam.

“Pan Am conducts the airlift of troops between Vietnam and rest-and-recuperation sites. Since the start of this program in March, 1966, Pan Am has carried more than 800,000 round-trip passengers on the Rest and Recuperation Airlift.

During the Tet offensive beginning February, 1968, Pan Am responded to the urgent request of the Department of Defense and assigned a total of 18 Boeing 707-321’s to the emergency airlift. Additional cargo and passenger expansion capability was also provided on regularly scheduled services.

“On July 1, in response to a Government request, Pan Am opened seven Sales/Service offices in Vietnam.”

Soldier and FA Saigon    Cargo

Two former Pan American Flight Attendants (then Stewardess) worked on the R&R flights during 1967 – 1968 and generously share their experiences in the following two stories. The first, by Anne Sweeney, originally appeared in the Pan American Historical Foundation’s newsletter, Clipper:

“The tropical sun shone through the window of the DC-6 and on to the baby face of the young blond soldier sleeping off five days of R&R in the bars and brothels of Bangkok. His stubble was sparse and soft in the morning light.

“I moved to the next row- two brothers with Darth Vader shades and a shy, slight Puerto Rican kid. Their meals were always the same on the R&R flights – steak, home fries, green beans, fresh milk, ice cream – and ketchup. On everything but the ice cream.


“They were typical R&R passengers – young kids, from the ghettos, barrios and backwaters of America – LeRoy, Manuel, Billy Bob.


“Our Pan Am crews were based in Hong Kong and we worked these R&R flights, exclusively, flying troops from Saigon, Cam Rahn Bay and Da Nang to for five days of “Rest & Recuperation” in places like Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei and Hong Kong. In support of the war effort and to gain government favor, Pan Am organized and operated these flights for $1 a year plus costs. The aircraft were old DC-6s; propeller planes phased out from the company’s Berlin operation by new 727s.


“We did our best to make them comfortable on the flights – to chat, smile and bring extra milk or ice cream. The soldiers were polite and deferential. ‘Where are you from in the world, ma’am?’ The world was anywhere outside Vietnam; a country few of them knew existed until their draft boards set them straight.


The plane started its approach into Cam Rahn Bay. Miles of blue and green water and beaches were covered from end to end with military equipment. Scrap metal, artillery, jeeps and tires rotted and rusted in the tropical heat. Cahn Rahn Bay was an Air Force Base. We unloaded one group of soldiers, the aircraft was cleaned and provisioned, another group quickly boarded and we were aloft, headed home to Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport. Landing at Kai Tak was actually more perilous than landing in Vietnam

“My Christmas was waiting to begin across the harbor in a modern flat overlooking the South China Sea. It would be like no other Christmas for this small town girl from Rhode Island.

“When I got there, a Japanese Spruce tree would be hung with handmade ornaments, and Ah Nee, my houseboy, would be busy with preparations for Christmas Dinner. Ten people were coming – friends from Pan Am, my next-door neighbor, an Englishman I’d been seeing, plus friends of his from the British Navy whose ship was in port. There was room for more. I invited two young GI’s, Mike and Ted, from the flight.

“As soon as we were off-duty I headed for the Star Ferry and home. I loved the ferry at sunset. Violet dusk settled over the harbor and the lights came up on both sides of the port. Behind me, in Kowloon, the white Colonial façade of the Peninsula Hotel glowed in the last light and the deck lamps of the luxury liner SS Rotterdam were lit. Junks, sampans, pleasure craft, tankers, and freighters, military ships from aircraft carriers to supply boats, plied the harbor or rested at its piers. Up ahead on the Hong Kong side, a portrait of Chairman Mao stared from the towers of the Bank of China..

“On the Peak, lights glimmered in the great houses of the Tai Pans and along the Tramway that slowly climbed the steep hills.

“The Hong Kong Hilton yacht, Wan Fu, in full sail, glided by. A cocktail party was in progress; the well-heeled passengers, flying their colors of bright silks and navy blazers, sipping Tanqueray martinis and Tattinger Champagne.

“We docked, and within minutes, a taxi was speeding me up and over the hills and home for Christmas.

“The next morning was overcast, its chill mitigated by some of Ah Nee’s homemade and hot rice wine. Guest arrived at 2 – pilots, stewardess, naval officers and the two young soldiers from the plane. The Brits brought some very fine Scotch and Roger’s mother has sent a plum pudding from Fortnum’s. The festivities were interrupted briefly at 3 when Roger insisted we listen to the Queen’s Speech, broadcast at 3 o’clock on Christmas Day throughout the Commonwealth. Her Majesty’s high, clipped voice wished us all a Happy Christmas just before Ah Nee, who could cook in several languages, presented a perfect turkey with all the trimmings.

“In the midst of the meal, the phone rang. It was my father, calling me from Rhode Island. How was I, he asked. Had it been a lonely day? No, no, I assured him. We had made our own Christmas.

“‘You know what I always told you,’ he said, his voice cracking over the time zones and tears. ‘That there would always be cake and ale and Christmas.’

“Gathered around the table, strangers and friends, we found a glad holiday, however far from home. Thankfully, we didn’t know what the future held. Those at the table would scatter and lose touch. The war would be lost. Pan Am would one day fold its proud wings. The Queen would send her son to preside at the return of Hong Kong to China. One of the young soldiers would die on another holiday a few weeks later in what became known as the Tet Offensive, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year.

“But on that Christmas Day, all seemed merry and bright. Carols rang out. Toasts were raised to the season. The plum pudding flamed in a brandied glow. There was indeed, cake and ale and Christmas, and I knew then there always would be.”

41-Anne Sweeney-1   41-A Sweeney today

A former Pan Am flight attendant, Anne Sweeney also worked in the corporate communications department at Pan American World Airways. She was based in Hong Kong from 1967-68, flying the company’s R&R flights for US troops, taking soldiers from Vietnam to cities throughout Asia. She is president of Anne Sweeney Public Relations in South Brunswick, NJ

 The second story, by Dr. Helen Davey, is featured in the book  Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

 “I’ll never forget my first glimpse of Vietnam. It was the spring of 1968, after the disastrous Tet Offensive had resulted in an escalation of the war.  I was flying my first volunteer flight as a Pan Am stewardess into Saigon to pick up American soldiers and deliver them to their R & R’ (rest and recreation) destination.  Glued to the airplane window as we approached Tan Son Nhut airport, I was astonished to see actual bomb craters and smoke rising from scattered skirmishes on the ground. I had to give myself a reality check: was this really me, and was I really seeing this, and were American men really being killed right below me? I thought I had seen it all on the nightly newscasts at home, but somehow I was shocked to see this vision of hell first hand.

“As we had been briefed, the pilots made the steepest descent I had ever experienced in an airplane.  I remember thinking about all the stories of bullets being found in the fuselage of Pan Am airplanes, and the jokes about Pan Am pilots sitting on their manuals for a little extra protection while flying in and out of Vietnam. In my purse, I carried the paper that awarded Pan Am stewardesses Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force status, which meant that under Geneva Convention rules we would be treated as officers in the event of capture.  Used to providing elegant in-flight service to our passengers in a rather formal atmosphere, I was about to experience the most surreal flight I had encountered to date. We had been told that ‘almost nothing was by the book,’ but only the male purser on our flight and the pilots who had flown many flights to Vietnam knew what that meant.

“As we taxied around the airport, I felt overwhelmed to see the sheer numbers of war machines of all types buzzing around seemingly everywhere. As we swung the door open, the noise was deafening, and the hot humid air enveloped me, taking my breath away. Our stewardess uniforms were made of fabric that was supposed to be ‘all weather, which really meant that it was too hot in summer and too thin in winter. Add to that the fact that we were still required to wear stockings and girdles, and I think you can imagine our discomfort. As I stared out of the open door, I became aware of the pallets of aluminum coffins lined up on the tarmac – each one containing somebody’s precious husband or son or father or boyfriend or uncle or friend.    

“I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the sight of the soldiers that boarded our airplane. I was expecting to see excited young men ready for a new adventure, laughing and joking with each other, and relieved to get away from the war. But as the men quietly filed aboard the airplane, I clearly saw the faces of trauma.  Many were strangely quiet, with expressionless ‘masks’, and most of them stared at our ’round eyes’ as if trying to take in a bit of home. I had no idea how young these men would be, but I wasn’t expecting them to look like they should be in high school! Twenty-five at the time, I wasn’t used to being called ‘Ma’am,’ and I felt strangely old. I’m convinced that my experiences with these traumatized men helped fuel my later professional interest in the study of trauma.      

“The Pan Am pilots, mostly ex-military men, felt deep empathy for these soldiers, and their announcements reflected it.  And here’s where our very talented male purser came in. As funny as any stand-up comedian, he knew exactly how to handle these traumatized men. Totally throwing aside our traditional announcements, he used colorful language that I had never heard uttered on a Pan Am intercom. He spoke right to the men, as if he were waking them up from their nightmare. And he loved to tease the stewardesses! As we were doing our regular emergency demonstrations, we were supposed to point overhead to the forward, center, and aft life rafts in the ceiling. During the part where he was supposed to say ‘forward, center, and aft life rafts,’ he mixed it up and said, ‘aft, center, and forward.’ By rote, all of us stewardesses pointed out the rafts in their normal sequence. He said, ‘So you see, guys, our young ladies don’t seem to know their ‘forward’ from their ‘aft!’ The soldiers exploded in laughter, and the tone was set for helping to relieve these young men’s burdens for a short time. By the end of the flight, some of the soldiers seemed less robotic, and their eyes were coming alive.     

“Nothing about this flight felt familiar. Several of the men got up and helped with the serving of meals, leaving us stewardesses with more time to talk to the homesick men. Some of them wanted to ask about what was happening at home, especially about the escalation of protests. One of them asked me to call his mother when I got home, which I did. They showed us pictures of family, children, girlfriends, and wives. They wanted to know all about our crew, where everybody was from ‘in the world.’  One Vietnam vet wrote about Pan Am stewardesses that we were ‘some of the sweetest, caring women I’ve ever known and need to be recognized for their contribution. Nurse, psychiatrist, mother, sister, daughter, girlfriend, confessor, sex object – they wore all the hats.’

“So hungry for a touch of home, their eyes pleaded for just a little conversation. I learned on that first flight that if anybody had gone to sleep due to exhaustion, we had to be very careful in waking them up; they would awaken in an extremely startled state, arms flailing, reaching for their imaginary guns. I didn’t realize at the time that I was witnessing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which might stay with them for the rest of their lives. I picked out one particularly vulnerable looking soldier who was very shy, and as we talked, I decided to become his pen pal. I knew that having a Pan Am stewardess as a pen pal would qualify any soldier to be regarded as a ‘rock star.’

“This was the first of four soldiers that I eventually agreed to have as pen pals.  When I began to receive notices, one by one, that each one had been killed, I started to regard myself as a jinx and stopped writing letters.  Now I regret this, but at the time it just became too painful for me to be able to put a face to the names of dying men.       

“Music is where my memory of Vietnam lives, and this time of my life comes with its own special sound track; Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills & Nash, Otis Redding, the Animals, Aretha Franklin, and Edwin Star who sang ‘War’ (‘War! Huh! Good God, y’all! What’s it good for? Absolutely nothing!’) The music describes wartime — especially the ambivalence about this particular war — better than words can convey. When I hear it, I feel as if I were back there.  I think that any of us Pan Am employees who flew into Vietnam feel that we, too, were a part of that war.  At the time, many of our regular destination cities in Asia were teeming with American soldiers, and wherever there were American soldiers, there was the music, blaring and insistent.

“In a bizarre conclusion to my first flight to Vietnam, I asked the Captain if I could sit in the cockpit for landing.  He said, ‘Of course.’ Again, since all rules were mostly suspended, the Captain decided to generously allow the engineer, who never really got to fly the airplane, to help with the landing.  On final approach, just before touchdown, the left wing of the airplane dipped way too close to the runway.  At the last moment, the Captain grabbed the controls back, and I think that every person in that airplane knew that we probably narrowly escaped disaster. Nobody in the cockpit spoke. I could tell that the blood had drained from the pilots’ faces, and the engineer was shaking     

Trembling from what had just happened, I stumbled out of the cockpit. The purser was up to his old tricks, and was just waiting for me to step through the door. He had signaled to the men, and when I appeared, a soldier yelled, ‘Nice landing, Ma’am!’ Again, everyone exploded in laughter. After all, what was a little ‘near crash’ to them? These brave men were facing death every day anyway. I sat down by the purser on the jumpseat and said, ‘We were just in the middle of a battle, and we almost crashed!’ He replied with a phrase that I was to hear often:

“’Well, welcome to war!‘”

15-Helen707-1    15-Helen Davey today

Dr. Helen Davey is a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in private practice in West Los Angeles and a former Pan Am Stewardess. Her doctoral dissertation, A Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Fall of Pan American World Airways, is a study of the trauma experienced by Pan Am employees when the airline collapsed.  She published an article entitled “The Effects of the Trauma of 9/11” for airline employees following the terrorist attack.  She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

Below is a YouTube Video of Pan American’s Rest and Recuperation Airlift:

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