The Pan Am Series – Part XXIV: The Boeing 377

Pan American’s Boeing 377 – The Stratocruiser

Boeing 377 - Clipper America (Mike Machat)

Boeing 377 – Clipper America (Mike Machat)

One of Pan American World Airways’ most iconic airliners was Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. In the post war years and into the 1950s, it epitomized the ultimate in luxury air travel that was unparalleled at the time and probably never will be.

The Stratocruiser was developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter, a military derivative of the B-29 Superfortress. It was Boeing’s first commercial transport since the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and it possessed all the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of the war.

Like the C-97, the Stratocruiser was developed by grafting a large upper fuselage onto the lower fuselage and wings of the B-29, creating an “inverted-figure-8” double deck fuselage. The aircraft had four huge Pratt & Whitney 4360 radial engines with Hamilton Standard propellers.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, the Stratocruiser “looked as ponderous as the Constellation looked graceful. It seemed to bore its way through the air, defying apparent theories of clean aerodynamics. It was, in fact, as fast as the Constellation, and set many point-to-point records.”

The Stratocruiser set a new standard for luxurious air travel with its tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin and gold-appointed dressing rooms. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck beverage lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for 50 to 100 people in a state-of-the-art galley.  As a sleeper, the Stratocruiser was equipped with 28 upper-and-lower bunk units.

Pan American placed the first order for 20 Stratocruisers, worth $24 million, and they began service between San Francisco and Honolulu in 1949. Fifty-six Stratocruisers were built between 1947 and 1950. In addition to Pan American, the Stratocruiser was also operated by American Overseas Airlines (acquired by Pan American in 1950), United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, B.O.A.C. and others.

The Stratocruiser was most remembered for its lower-deck lounge and staterooms. It was used on Pan American’s most prestigious routes and attracted the most discerning of passengers. Although its operating costs were high, they were offset by high revenue.

The Pan American Stratocruisers saw service all over the world. A “Super” Stratocruiser was deployed on the airline’s most prestigious route, the New York-London flight 100/101 and was operated until replaced by the Boeing 707. The “Strat” was also deployed on the New York-Rio “President Special” service but was eventually replaced by the DC-6B, the DC-7B and the Boeing 707. The aircraft also saw extensive usage on Pan American’s Pacific routes as well as the round-the-world service. The timetable images below illustrate these services:

The aircraft was also a favorite of flight crews, not the least for the fact that many celebrities were passengers. Barbara Sharfstein, a former Pan American purser who started working for the airline 1951 and stayed until 1986, when she went to United Airlines with the sale of Pan American’s Pacific routes, said, in a story in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

“I applied and was hired as a “stewardess” by Pan American World Airways in July, 1951, one month after reaching my 21st birthday and after graduating from college.  About three months later, my friend from home and school, Pat Monahan, joined me and three other new hires in a rented house one block from the Miami Airport.  We started our careers flying to South America and almost all islands in between.  We agreed it was the most amazing, wonderful life imaginable. The types of airplanes we crewed were: Convairs, DC4s, Constellations and our all time favorite, the Boeing- 377 Stratocruiser.  * * *

“[O]ne of the most memorable times in my flying career happened on the Stratocruiser when Louis Armstrong and his band were downstairs in the lounge longing to get to their instruments.   As it happened, there was a door to the cargo compartment right next to the bar.   In fact, the liquor kits were kept in the same compartment as the luggage with only a mesh rope curtain separating us from what they could spot as a few of the instruments.  I can only say it was fortunate for the weight and balance of the airplane that the lounge was centrally located or we might have been in trouble.  Almost all the passengers were in the lounge seats or on steps.  Passengers were helping me serve drinks and neither they nor I will ever forget it.”

Pan American was known for many historic “firsts” in commercial flight and the Stratocruiser was no exception, albeit, in one case, in a most unusual way. On 12 October 1957, Captain Don McLennan and crew started the four engines of Clipper America for a special mission. The story follows from the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s website:

“It was a charter flight for the U.S. Navy. The ultimate destination for the flight was just shy of 10,000 miles away, in the Antarctic at 77 degrees 51 minutes S,166 degrees 40 minutes E – the 6,000 ft. runway at the United States Naval Air Facility, McMurdo Sound; operations base for the Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze III. 

“The passengers included thirty-six Navy personnel, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and a New Zealand cabinet minister, some reporters, but public attention was directed mostly towards the flights’ two Pan Am stewardesses, Ruth Kelly and Pat Hepinstall. The pair were about to become the first women to travel that far south, and although the clipper would be “on the ice” for less than four hours, their arrival caused a big stir at the bottom of the world – and a great news story everywhere else. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral George J. Dufek, the polar veteran in charge of the operation had suggested that such a flight might provide a great PR coup for Pan Am. Operation Deep Freeze would be probing the mysteries of the massive Ross Ice Shelf. The Pan Am flight would mark the first commercial airline flight to the Antarctic. But the admiral was also in for a surprise.

“Three kilometers away from McMurdo was New Zealand’s Scott Base, and as the social calendar was fairly wide open at both facilities, invitations were extended to the Kiwis. Many of the personnel at both bases had been there for months, while some were more recent arrivals – “summer people”. But it seems the arrival of the two young women was apparently not appreciated universally.

“According to an article written by Billy-Ace Baker in the Explorer’s Gazette, official publication of the Old Antarctic Explorer’s Association, in 2001:

“Commenting on the report that there would be no women on the proposed Pan Am flight to McMurdo Sound, Rear Admiral Dufek said: ‘If there are any hostesses they’re going to be men.’

“The Admiral, before the flight anyway, was adamant about not opening the gates to other requests to accommodate women in what was – in 1957 – an exclusive male bastion. But apparently, the stewardesses’ arrival created other conflicts, according to Baker:

“The summer tourists made a big fuss over the girls, but some members of the wintering-over party, who had several more months to spend on the ice, ran away and hid. If you haven’t seen a woman in 12 months, it’s not going to do you much good to look at one who will be gone in a couple of hours. That explains why there were only 50 men in attendance.

“During their brief stay, Kelly and Hepinstall were tasked with judging a beard contest (categories included: longest, blackest, reddest, & sexiest) and were participants in a U.S. v New Zealand dog sled race. The latter event was a failure as far as a picking a winner was concerned, as the stopwatch froze up. So did Pan Am Navigator Earl Lemon’s camera, which also froze after getting one picture.

The event was commemorated in a John T. McCoy watercolor, one of his series of Historic Pan Am Firsts:

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

During its service for Pan American, the Stratocruiser was dressed in three liveries. The most familiar is pictured above. Below are images of the other two, the first, the original livery upon delivery and the second, the “blue ball”, applied toward the end of its service.

The Stratocruiser played an important role in the phenomenal growth of commercial aviation after World War II and remained a presence on the world’s prestige airline routes up to the beginning of the Jet Age. From Ron Davies:

“While the Constellation is remembered with affection as the epitome of elegance of the piston-engined era, and the DC-6B for its reliability and efficiency, the Stratocruiser was the last to be retired from the world’s prestige routes when, first the turboprop Britannia, and then the Comet and the Boeing 707 jets ushered in a new era that became the Jet Age.”

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

Air Tahiti Nui raises the bar on airline videos

Really cool video.

World Airline News

Air Tahiti Nui (Papeete) has produced a new video (above) using the relatively new Go Pro camera (and other cameras) to produce a new state of the art airline video. The Go Pro camera is revolutionizing photography with its unusual angles and ability to go places not normally seen before. OK, all airlines, top this.

If you are in a cold weather climate right now, this video may help you to warm up (especially for our friends in ice-bound Atlanta, Georgia).

More information about the Go Pro camera: CLICK HERE

Air Tahit Nui: AG Slide Show

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The Pan Am Series – Part XXIII: Panagra

Pan American-Grace Airways

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It might come as a surprise, but probably one of the most unknown of U.S. international airlines pioneered one of the key segments in Juan Trippe’s quest to circle South America with airline routes. That airline was Pan American-Grace Airways.

Once Pan American Airways began operations in 1928, it soon became clear that Juan Trippe was intent on operating routes south of the Caribbean and around the entire continent of South America. His most important destination, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, was Buenos Aires, the “Paris of South America”. The plan, according to Robert Daley in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, were two lines in South America itself. One down the west coast to Santiago, Chile and the other down the east coast to Buenos Aires. The shortest route to Buenos Aires, however, was by the west coast, and Juan Trippe needed the landing and traffic rights to set up that route. He was faced with a formidable challenge. And if it was not for Pan American-Grace Airways, Panagra, that west coast passage would not have been possible.

It all started in Peru.

In 1854, William R. Grace, the son of an Irish immigrant, founded the W. R. Grace and Company in Peru, where he worked as a ship’s chandler. In 1865 his brother Michael joined the business and the company name was changed to Grace Brothers & Co with head offices in New York City. The company was incorporated in 1865. Later a third brother joined and the three consolidated their holdings into a new private company, W. R. Grace & Company. The consolidation involved W. R. Grace & Co. of New York, Grace Brothers & Co. of Lima, Peru, Grace & Co. of Valparaiso, Chile, William R. Grace & Co. of London and J. W. Grace & Co. of San Francisco.

One of Grace’s main business was shipping. To get products from Peru to North America and Europe, William Grace founded the shipping division and service began in 1882. The shipping operation grew and Grace Line ships became a regular presence in the shipping lanes of the west coast of South America. They were known as the “Santa” ships and carried both passengers and cargo. The shipping operation, tied with an extensive business presence, including investment and ownership of piers, warehouses and real estate, gave W. R. Grace & Co. a powerful presence in the region.

In the meantime, in 1928, also in Peru, another historic event took place: A tiny single-engined Peruvian Airways Fairchild FC-2 with four passengers and mail took off from a racetrack in Lima and landed in a soccer field in Talara, Peru, 550 miles away. For all intents and purposes, this represented the beginning commercial air transportation along the west cost of South America. Another company, Huff-Daland Dusters, a crop-dusting specialist, had, on the initiative of its local representatives Harold Harris and C. E. Woolman, obtained full Peruvian traffic rights. Harris was also founder of Peruvian Airways.

Because of the power of the W. R. Grace, Juan Trippe encountered a huge obstacle. The company was run by Trippe’s father’s college roommate, W. R. Grace. That was no help, however, as the company saw no reason why Pan American should be allowed to operate in its domain. As Grace was a shipping company, there was also no need for an airline to move mail and passengers faster than its ships did.

To counter the power of Grace, Trippe sought to “exercise a political flanking movement”, according to Davies, by establishing airlines in Peru and Chile.  As Peruvian Airways already existed, he purchased half interest in it on 16 September 1928 and on 28 November acquired the Peruvian air permits held by Huff-Daland Dusters. In Chile, Chilean Airlines was formed on 21 December 1928, but never operated. The formation, a “tactical move” by Trippe, put pressure on Grace.

As a result, a compromise was reached and on 25 January 1929, Pan American-Grace Corporation (Panagra) was formed. Capitalization was $ 1 million (according to Daley; according to Davies, each side contributed $1 million), split 50-50. One month later, Panagra acquired Peruvian Airways. Panagra was incorporated on 21 February 1929 and on 2 March, won the FAM No. 9, Panama to Chile airmail contract, with a provision to cross the Andes to Buenos Aires and Montevideo. On 15 May, Panagra started its own service with a leased S-38 from Pan American. It picked up mail from Miami at Cristóbal (Panama) and carried it to Talara, where a FC-2 took it to Mollendo, Peru. The route was extended to Santiago on 21 July, and on 12 October, a Panagra Ford Tri-Motor made the first commercial flight across the Andes, reaching an altitude of 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and establishing a mail route between Santiago and Buenos Aires.

The route extended some 4,200 miles and what is often overlooked is that the flying distance it represented was virtually unheard of during that time. In less than a year from its inception, Panagra had linked Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay with the United States. According to Daley, no domestic airline in the US  had even managed to span the country, yet, with this route, and the eventual development of the east coast route, Juan Trippe and his Pan American empire was looking at pushing planes along ten thousand miles of routes.

As Panagra expanded it achieved a number of firsts. For example: In 1933, Panagra was the first to install radio and weather stations in the Andes between Chile and Argentina; in 1946, it was first to use South American flight hostesses; in 1947, it was first to introduce DC-6 service in South America and to provide sleeper service; in 1952, it was first to introduce DC-6Bs and inaugurate tourist-class services in South America; in 1954, it was first to use the latest airborne weather radar in regularly scheduled service; and in 1955, it was first to introduce DC-7B service between the US and Argentina. Panagra was also first to introduce the DC-8 to South America.

Besides its firsts, Panagra was also noted for other achievements in support of other non-aviation events. Just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when war with the Axis was imminent, Panagra, with the assistance of the respective South American governments and at the request of the US State Department, first paralleled and then replaced the services of German controlled SEDTA in Ecuador and Lufthansa in Peru and Bolivia. This was designed to remove the Nazi threat in the region. In the humanitarian area, Panagra provided relief after earthquakes in Chile (1939 and 1961) and Peru (1948) and its planes were often sent on mercy missions, carrying, for example, vital life-saving medicine for a dying man, an iron lung to a girl stricken with polio and a shipment of drugs to arrest the spread of an epidemic.

Panagra remained a presence on the west coast of South America through the decade of the 1950s. Its “El Pacifico” tourist service and “El Interamericano” first class service were the staple for travel from the United States to cities such as Guayaquil, Lima, Antofagasta, Santiago and Buenos Aires. When Braniff was awarded authority to operate in competition with Panagra, Panagra extended its operations up to Miami and New York, in a thru-plane interchange service with Pan American and National Airlines. Braniff operated from Dallas and also offered similar service to Miami and New York with an interchange with Eastern Airlines.

By the 1960’s Braniff was in negotiations to acquire the 50% interest of W. R Grace and in December 1965, a deal was made to purchase these shares. On 17 March 1966, the remaining 50% interest was acquired from Pan American. In July 1966, the acquisition was approved by the US Civil Aeronautics Board and by February 1967, Panagra’s operations were fully integrated into Braniff.

Panagra’s operations during its life can be best illustrated with timetables. As Panagra was a major part of Pan American’s operations in South America, some of Pan Am’s timetables are used. A 1939 timetable shows operations with a Pan American S-42 flying from Miami to Panama and then a Panagra DC-2 or DC-3 from Panama south to Buenos Aires.

In the Pan Am 1948 and 1952 timetables, Panagra DC-6’s operated the “El Interamericano” first class service offering sleeper berths and the “Fiesta Lounge”. DC-4’s were also in the 1952 schedule offering “El Especial” tourist service. DC-3s were used in local services in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

The decade of the 1950s featured extensive operations employing the DC-7B in the all-first class “El Interamericano” service, the DC-6B in the tourist “El Pacifico service and the DC-3 and DC-4 in local services in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. The Interamericano and El Pacifico flights were a thru-plane interchange service originating in New York. National operated the New York/Washington, DC –  Miami sector and Pan American operated Miami-Panama sector. The Panagra flights also received connecting passengers at Panama from Pan Am’s Central American services. A 1959 Pan Am timetable illustrates these services. Braniff also operated west coast routes with its first class “El Dorado” DC-7C services and tourist class “El Conquistador” DC-6 services. Braniff also offered a trans-continental service from Lima to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

PG - Tags frontPG - Tags back

In 1960 came the jets, and Panagra introduced the DC-8 to its New York to Buenos Aires thru-plane service.

Panagra DC-8 at Panama (Allan Van Wickler)

Panagra DC-8 at Panama (Allan Van Wickler).

By 1967, Braniff’s acquisition of Panagra was complete, although Pan American’s timetables continued to show the service up to 1971.

Afterword:

Gustavo Vidal was with Pan American-Grace Airways at it’s inception in 1929 and was the airline’s first Comptroller. Vidal remained with the airline as Comptroller and Vice President until November 1950. At that time, he assembled a photo album highlighting the early years of Panagra, complete with an accompanying typed list of descriptions of each photo.

When Vidal passed away in 1975 many of his files went into storage. The photo album surfaced again for the first time in 2012, and is presented here in its entirety. To view it, click here.  Also included in this link is Vidal’s Panagra-related personal images and mementos, a confidential docket on “Panagra’s Importance to National Defense” and Panagra’s 30th Anniversary Publicity Kit.

For further information and images of the airline, Chip and Jeff Reahard have made an outstanding home for Panagra on the internet. Visit PanAmericanGrace.com for the definitive Panagra website.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XXII: The Boeing 747

Boeing 747 Machat

Pan American Goes “Top of the World” With the 747

“Would you build it if I bought it?”

“Would you buy it if I built it?”

As legend has it, these were the utterances between Juan Trippe of Pan American and Bill Allen of Boeing while fishing from the Wild Goose in Puget Sound one summer’s day. By the end of their outing, there was, according to Bob Gandt in Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, a verbal commitment to build an aircraft  what in Trippe’s mind would be a “stopgap airplane” top fill the void between the first generation jets –  the Boeing 707 and the DC-8 – and the yet-to-be-built Supersonic Transport, the SST.

Pan American had been enjoying unprecedented growth during the decade of the 1960s, with traffic, according to R.E.G. Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, increasing an average of about 15% per year. Business was booming and it was time to move forward. What was the next step? In Robert Daley’s An American Saga, the next step could have been the Supersonic Transport. At the time, the British and French were planning the Concorde. In the US, there were also plans for an SST, but the costs were beyond what the government could afford. Because of that, President Kennedy was put into a position as to whether to back the US project or not, and before he could decide, asked the then head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Najeeb Halaby (who would later become Pan Am’s Chairman) to ask Juan Trippe not to buy the foreign Concorde. Trippe, however, was aware that Kennedy was wavering and decided to force the President’s hand. He traveled to England and France in May 1963 and , according to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument, “took an option on eight planes. . . [and] became the first airline other than Air France and B.O.A.C. to order a supersonic airliner”. This did not go over well with the President.

Shortly thereafter, however, President Kennedy “gave the signal for a commercial supersonic program to proceed and Trippe signed up for fifteen [Boeing] S.S.T.s.”

Unfortunately, the SST would not become operational for another ten years, and something needed to be done with the anticipated increase in airline travel. What would that be? According to Ron Davies, “Trippe had always been bolder than his contemporaries in going for larger aircraft; indeed he seemed to have followed a policy of ordering types which were typically twice the size of the previous generation. * * * [and] [t]he only way to increase capacity, apart from adding frequencies –  another method of coping with increased demand, but which was practically impossible, because of airport and airway congestion –  was to increase the aircraft size.” And that resulted in what Bob Gandt referred to as the “Everyman Airplane”: “The first jets had made world travel available to Everyman, not just the rich and elite. Now they had to build an airplane to satisfy the new yearning to travel – an Everyman airplane.” Thus lay the seeds for the Boeing 747.

By cajoling Bill Allen into such a project, according to Davies, “Juan Trippe went for broke.” To Bender and Altschul, it was a “spectacular gamble”. For Bill Allen of Boeing, according to Gandt, “[i]t would be the perfect swan song if he could step down knowing that he had launched the world’s mightiest ship of the sky. It would secure Boeing’s future well into the century. Or it could ruin Boeing“. The same fate faced Juan Trippe, according to Bender and Altschul, “by placing his company, its employees and its shareholders at enormous risk. If he judged correctly and was lucky to boot, Pan Am’s leadership would be maintained. If he was wrong or fate was cruel, the airline might well go bankrupt.”

On 22 December 1965, Juan Trippe and Bill Allen signed a Letter of Intent for the Boeing 747. On 13 April 1966, Pan American formally ordered twenty-five airplanes. But before the April agreement, a huge obstacle arose: On 30 March, President Johnson invited the Business Council to a dinner. Both Juan Trippe and Bill Allen were in attendance. During the dinner Johnson pleaded for austerity due to economic problems caused by the war in Southeast Asia. This jolted both Trippe and Allen, whose 747 project was not exactly austere. Was the project in jeopardy? After the dinner, Trippe, who had previously no success in having a personal meeting with Johnson, approached him to press his case. Johnson asked Trippe if anyone knew about the project and Trippe said “no, except for Bill Allen”.  Johnson then asked Trippe to be at the White House the next day “to see someone”. The next day Trippe was taken to the Pentagon to discuss the project with the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. At the time, another large capacity aircraft, known as the C-5A, was being developed for the Pentagon by Lockheed. McNamara pressed Trippe on the possibility of his waiting for a commercial version of the C-5A. Trippe argued his case for the 747 noting the impracticability of creating a commercial version of the C-5A. McNamara agreed and brought Trippe back to the White House where Johnson ordered that they “work it out”.  Both Trippe and Allen hammered it out with the White House and the Pentagon, and then went for approval from their respective Boards of Directors. With Johnson’s approval, the Pan Am directors were convinced. So convinced, that an option for an additional ten planes was authorized for incorporation into the contract, thus making it, according to Bender and Altschul, “the largest single order for a single aircraft model in the history of commercial aviation”.

Retired Pan American Captain John Marshall, who flew for the airline for years, wrote about the development of the Boeing 747 in an article that appeared in Airways Magazine. Below are excerpts from that article:

“Pan Am’s Juan Trippe was a visionary executive who dreamed in only one dimension: big.  Pan Am was the launch customer for the first successful jet transport, the Boeing 707, and it was Trippe who saw the need for an even larger airplane to keep up with the burgeoning growth in air traffic in the early ’70s.  In the mid-60’s, when the 707 was still a novelty in the world’s skies, Trippe took his ideas to Boeing’s Bill Allen.  He and Allen were alumni of the old school, both of them men of courage and daring, and after many long and sometimes contentious meetings between Pan Am’s planners and Boeing’s engineers, the decision was made to go ahead with the giant aircraft. 

“It was a tremendous gamble.  The 747 would embrace new design and technology that up to then had only existed in the dreams of engineers.  The technical hurdles that had to be cleared were enormous.  The new airplane would carry up to 500 passengers; one of the early questions was, how do you evacuate 500 people from an airplane in just 90 seconds?  The FAA, approached by Boeing to relax its 90-second evacuation criteria, dug in its heels and remained firm.  90 seconds was the limit, or the airplane would not be certified.  Engineers wrestled for days with the problem, and eventually redesigned the interior of the cabin to include not just one center aisle, but two, running the entire length of the airplane, with cross-aisles at each of the four main entry doors (there was an additional over-wing escape exit).  The doors were redesigned to permit egress of a staggered two-abreast.

“Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the aircraft’s designers was that of the engines.  While Pratt & Whitney was working on the prototype of the huge JT-9D engine, it had yet to be tested, and it was far from certain that it would be ready in time to mate with the 747.  Boeing had bitter memories of the B-29 bomber and its star-crossed marriage with the Wright Cyclone engines, which had a nasty habit of catching fire and burning off the wing.  The giant JT-9D engine would be the first jet engine mated to an airframe that had not earned its stripes on the wing of a military airplane.  It was an enormous gamble.

“The initial design specifications of the new airplane had the takeoff gross weight pegged at 550,000 pounds.  As the 747 design grew and matured, it put on weight, the bane of every aeronautical engineer.  A massive effort was directed at slimming-down the airplane, and eventually an all-up weight of 710,000 pounds became the final design target.  Four engines, each producing 41,000 pounds of thrust, would be required to get the 747 airborne, and as the airframe design came closer to being finalized, Pratt was way behind the power curve.  Engine development and production proceeded so slowly that the entire project threatened to sink under its own weight.  At one point there were so many engine-less airframes sitting on the ramp at the Everett production facility that their cost exceeded the net worth of the Boeing company.

“The early JT-9D-3 engines that powered the early model 747s were fraught with problems; they suffered from frequent compressor stalls, and would overtemp at the drop of a hat.  It quickly became a procedure that once the engines were running, while the airplane was on the ground at least one of the three cockpit crewmembers had to constantly monitor the engine temperatures for overheat.  Even the first scheduled passenger flight of the giant airplane was delayed several hours because of engine problems, severe enough to force an ignominious change to a backup aircraft.  The sheer weight of the engine and nacelle resulted in a new, heretofore unknown phenomenon, the “ovalizing” of the engine itself.  Its weight was literally pulling the engine out of round.  One of Boeing’s engineers put the situation into cleverly-phrased perspective.  “We have an unround situation,” he said.

“Engineers devised a unique, space-age solution.  It required that the largest amount of weight be placed in the smallest package, in the cowling of the engine itself.  The result was the use of one of the densest metals known, spent uranium, which was embedded in the engine cowl.  It solved the problem

“Trippe envisioned the 747 as a bridge aircraft which would carry the airlines through the adolescent years of the jet age until the supersonic transports, or SSTs, came along.  He insisted on the double deck design for the jumbo, with the flight deck perched high above the main level, so that when the airplane had outlived its passenger-carrying days, it could readily be converted into a very economic cargo carrier.  The nose cone would swing upward to reveal a nearly 200-foot straight-in main deck, accommodating cargo of a size and weight that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

747 Cargo

“Here the visionary pioneer made a major miscalculation.  The SST would be personified only by the Anglo-French Concorde, and even then only a few would be built.  Esthetic and graceful, it was nearly an economic disaster.  Designed when jet fuel was literally pennies per gallon, by the time it had completed what was then the most exhaustive test program ever devised, the oil crisis of the early ’70s had made the airplane almost prohibitively expensive to operate.  It soon became obvious that there would not be squadrons of supersonic transports gracing the skies, criss-crossing the oceans and continents to the world’s capitals, slicing flying times from hours and hours to hours and minutes.  The United State’s answer to the Angle-French Concorde, Boeing’s 2707, was slain by the stroke of a Congressional pen.  The B-747 would have to carry the transoceanic burden, at least for the foreseeable future.

“The introduction of the Boeing 747 represented a quantum leap in air transport technology and design.  Twice as big as its predecessor the 707, the Jumbo not only dwarfed anything it might encounter on the world’s airport ramps, but provided wonderful grist for anecdotal tales that were told among the airlines that were fortunate to have been at the head of the line to fly her.  Untold numbers of photos were snapped of comely stewardesses (still so-called in the early ’70s) standing in the cowling of the huge Pratt JT-9 engines, surrounded by the great shroud that enclosed the big fans.  “Artist’s renderings” was a fanciful term applied to the surrealistic drawings of the new 747 that appeared in promotional material.  The airplane was parked at a futuristic terminal, with a jetway conveniently nestled against each of her eight main entry doors.  There were piano bars (an innovation that briefly came to pass with at least one jumbo operator) and movie amphitheaters, a Radio City in the sky.  Passengers would be able to pass to and fro, as though attending a wonderful, celestial cocktail party. 

Pan American’s 1967 Annual Report noted that its order for the Boeing 747 “led the airline industry to a new generation of heavy duty transports. . .[and that] new standards of passenger comfort and convenience will be introduced. Simplified ticketing, computerized check-in and automated baggage handling will be provided. Pan Am’s 747s will have two aisles and seat 366 passengers.” In the 1968 Annual Report, Pan American noted that the “year 1969 will mark the beginning of the second stage of the jet age – the time of the Boeing 747 and other wide-bodied, advance-technology jet transports. Pan Am again is the leader. * * * Pan Am will be the first to put it into service to the major world markets we serve. Pan Am’s fleet of thirty-three 747s will be the largest. * * * Pan Am’s operating and marketing plans for the 747 program have already been formulated. Ground facilities are also being prepared. The men and women of Pan Am at home and abroad will be ready to put the plane in service”.

Development of the Boeing 747 as described above, was not without other challenges affecting performance and costs – the addition of a spiral staircase, for example. Building the massive aircraft also required a larger  assembly plant. That was achieved by construction of a new plant at Everett, Washington, near Paine Field.  In addition, Pan Am built a maintenance facility and extended the Pan American terminal to accommodate the big jetliners.

The illustrations below were taken from Pan American’s 1968 annual report.

The first 747 was delivered on time and was christened by the First Lady Pat Nixon on 15 January 1970. Six days later, on 21 January, the first commercial flight of a wide-body jet, Pan American flight 2, was scheduled for departure at 1900 hours for London. Clipper Young America was assigned the duty. Unfortunately, an overheating engine delayed the departure and also required a substitute aircraft, Clipper Constitution.  Never-the-less, at 0152 hours on 22 January, the 747 departed New York and arrived later that morning in London, completing an historic flight, opening the door to new era of commercial airline operations and making the Boeing 747 one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world.

In preparing this article, the following sources were used: John Marshall’s article in Airways Magazine, “The Big Jumbo”; The Chosen Instrument by Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul; An American Saga –  Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley; Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, by Ron Davies; and Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, by Robert Gandt; and Pan American’s 1967 and 1968 annual reports.

On interesting side-note:  Pan Am’s order for twenty-five 747s and an option for ten more in 1966 was the biggest ever at the time. In November 2013 Emirates airline rewrote all records in civil aviation with an order for 150 Boeing 777X, comprising 35 Boeing 777-8Xs and 115 Boeing 777-9Xs, plus 50 purchase rights; and an additional 50 Airbus A380 aircraft.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

 

The Pan Am Series – Part XXI: The Constellation

Around the World in a Constellation

Lockheed 049 Constellation (Illustration by Mike Machat  in Ron Davies' Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Lockheed 049 Constellation (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Many who have followed the history of Pan American World Airways during the piston era often associate the airline with the Boeing Stratocruiser, the DC-6B and the DC-7C, aircraft that played starring roles during that time. Often overlooked was the Constellation, which is always associated with Trans World Airlines (TWA). The ubiquity was obvious: when one sees a Stratocruiser or a DC-6B or DC-7C, one thinks of Pan Am; when one sees a Constellation, one thinks of TWA. Yet, the Constellation played an important role in the post-World War II history of Pan Am, not the least, making the first commercial airline flight around the world.

The Lockheed Constellation (“Connie”), built by the Lockheed Corporation, is a piston airliner driven by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 propeller engines. Between 1943 and 1958, 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models at Lockheed’s Burbank, California facility. The aircraft is distinguished by a triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage and was used as a civilian airliner and as a military and civilian air transport, and saw service in the Berlin Airlift and the Biafran Airlift. It was the presidential aircraft for U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, Ron Davies said this about the Constellation:

“British aviation writer Peter Brooks described the Lockheed Constellation as the ‘secret weapon of American air transport.’ The description was almost literally true as it was produced, if not clandestinely, certainly behind locked doors. It was the inspired result of close cooperation between Lockheed’s design staff headed by the redoubtable Kelly Johnson, and the leadership of Howard Hughes, now actively in charge of TWA. Discussions were first held in 1939. TWA ordered nine in 1940, and the ‘Model 049’, as Lockheed engineers always called it, first flew on 9 January 1943. All concerned must have known it was a winner, even if the C-54s (DC-4s) were piling up the hours across the conflict-stricken oceans.

“On 19 April 1944 Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye flew the ‘Connie’ nonstop from Burbank, Lockheed’s plant location in California, to Washington, DC in three minutes less than seven hours, an air journey which normally took between 12 and 14 hours, including stops. The aircraft was immediately handed over to the Government for military use, and Howard Hughes no doubt made a considerable impression on the assembled bureaucratic multitude as he demonstrated it (illegally) in TWA’s colors”.

With the onset of World War II, the TWA aircraft entering production were converted to an order for C-69 Constellation military transport aircraft, with 202 aircraft intended for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The aircraft was mostly used as a high-speed, long-distance troop transport during the war.

After World War II the Constellation came into its own as a popular, fast, civilian airliner. Aircraft already in production for the USAAF as C-69 transports were converted to civilian airliners, with TWA receiving the first on 1 October 1945. TWA’s first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, DC, on 3 December 1945, arriving in Paris on 4 December via Gander and Shannon.

Pan American’s involvement with the Constellation came about before World War II and involved none other than Juan Trippe’s rival, Howard Hughes. According to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument, during the first winter of transatlantic service with the Boeing 314, flights suffered many delays because of weather conditions and only 56% were completed. There were icy conditions in the Northeast and rough seas around the Azores. Because of the weather conditions in the Northeast, eastbound passengers were ferried south, sometimes as far south as Miami, by train or domestic carrier to pick up their transatlantic Clipper. On the westbound trip, heavy headwinds and swells at Horta in the Azores caused cancellation of many flights. Later, in the summer of 1940, Pan Am received authority to use Bolama, on the coast of Portuguese Guinea, for an alternative route during the winter months. Westbound flights originating in Lisbon flew south to Bolama and then west and north through Belem and Bermuda to its U.S. destination, adding over 4000 miles to the trip.

Pan Am desperately needed a long-range plane, a type of plane the domestic airlines had taken the lead in developing; but none existed that was capable of spanning oceans. According to Bender and Altschul, “Providence, in the person of . . . Howard Hughes bailed Trippe out on his dependence on the flying boat.” Hughes had bought a controlling interest in TWA and spurred Lockheed to build a four-engine high altitude plane for his airline. It was the Model 049 and it was a challenge to the DC-4 Douglas was building for United and American. As TWA was a domestic carrier at the time, Hughes “allowed” Trippe to enter the Lockheed program. Pan Am ordered twenty 049’s and ten long-range versions of the model in June 1940.  The latter version had pressurized cabins that allowed for flying over the Atlantic storms. However, with the outbreak of war and before the delivery date in 1942, Lockheed had to assign Pan Am’s contract to the Army, with the promise to deliver the aircraft after the war.

As a sidebar to this story:

During the war four significant events occurred that would change the way international airlines did business. Briefly, and without going into the details, these were: (1) a decision between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill whereby, according to Bender and Altschul, the British were to concentrate on production of fighter planes and small bombers and the Americans were to build large bombers and transport planes; (2) great leaps in technology during the war that resulted in the development of larger airplanes with more efficient engines capable of airlifting supplies and personnel over the oceans and that eventually gave the U.S. a clear advantage in the field of international civil aviation; (3) the Roosevelt Administration in Washington not supporting, according to Bender and Selig, a “monopoly [for Pan American] of the overseas air routes. ‘Juan Trippe cannot have it all'”; and (4) the Chicago Conference of 1944, called because of the U.S advantage in international civil aviation and the concern of other nations over that advantage.

The Chicago Conference provided for the “Freedoms of the Air”, governing overflight and landing and traffic rights; “bilateral agreements”, a mechanism for the exchange of traffic rights between governments; and the creation of the International Civil Aviation Organization which would oversee the agreements within the convention having to do with the technical side of international civil aviation. Unfortunately, economic issues, such as frequencies and tariffs, were not resolved largely due to the failure of the British and the Americans to resolve their differences on a variety of economic issues.  These were eventually resolved in 1946 in what became known as the “Bermuda Agreement”. One of the most important features of this agreement was the granting of “Fifth Freedom” rights, which in the case of a bilateral agreement between the United States and a foreign country, gave the right of a U.S.  airline to pick up traffic in that foreign country and carry it to another foreign country along the airline’s route. For example, in the the Bermuda Agreement a passenger may board Pan Am’s flight 2 at London and travel to Frankfurt (or another destination along its route). This right would prove to be important for Pan American with respect to its round-the-world services.

With the end of hostilities, the aircraft built for service in the war, including the Lockheeds, were turned over to the airlines, including Pan Am. In addition, the U.S. Government, through the Civil Aeronautics Board, awarded international routes to several U.S. domestic airlines, including TWA.

Lockheed 049 Constellation - Clipper Challenge - at New York (Connie Heggblom)

Lockheed 049 Constellation – Clipper Challenge – at New York (Connie Heggblom)

From Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft:

“Juan Trippe had been accustomed to sponsoring new generations of aircraft, and it must have been quite a shock to his system to see Hughes and TWA not only taking over such leadership, but also receiving extensive international route awards from the Civil Aeronautics Board, enthusiastically supported by the President (Roosevelt), and now challenging the Chosen Instrument, as Pan American was unofficially dubbed, on the lucrative North Atlantic route.

“The first of the Lockheed airliners, with 54 seats in Pan Am’s layout, was delivered on 5 January 1946 and was christened Clipper Mayflower. A second arrived one week later and Pan American opened North Atlantic Constellation service on 14 January 1946. This was a measure of Pan Am’s considerable organizational strength as TWA itself did not start scheduled transatlantic service until 5 February. * * *

“Pan American took delivery of 22 Model 049 Constellations before the end of May 1946. Two went directly to Panair do Brasil, still very much a Pan Am subsidiary and which was the fortunate recipient of eleven more during the 1950s as they retired from the parent company’s routes.

“On 17 June 1947 a Constellation Model 749, an advanced version, one of four delivered to Pan Am, made the first round-the-world airline inaugural flight from New York to San Francisco. * * * Later, with the purchase of American Overseas Airlines (A.O.A), seven more of the 049 model were added for a total Connie fleet of 33.”

This round-the-world flight undoubtedly was the Constellation’s most notable achievement during its service for Pan Am. Clipper America departed on its historic flight from La Guardia Field in New York. After stops in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake, Midway and Honolulu, the Clipper arrived in San Francisco on 29 June. As Pan American did not have authority to operate domestic flights in the United States, the Clipper ferried to New York, arriving at La Guardia on 30 June via Chicago to complete the journey. Because of the Fifth Freedom rights granted the United States (and Pan Am) in the Bermuda Agreement, Pan Am was able to carry passengers between countries along its round-the-world routes, provided one of the stops involved a British Commonwealth Country and was on Pan Am’s route.

McCoy print First RTW

 From Ron Davies:

“The Lockheed 049 Constellation was in a class of its own. It was at least 70 mph faster than the DC-4; it was pressurized – at a higher equivalent altitude than the Boeing 307 had been; it was larger, with 60 seats against the DC-4’s 44 at the same seat pitch; and it had the range to fly the North Atlantic with only one stop. It sent all the Douglas design staff back to the drawing board in a hurry to develop the un-pressurized Four into something bigger and faster and higher-flying. For the path which airlines had beaten to Santa Monica was superseded by one to Burbank, because when TWA put the Constellation into service, it quickly became evident that there were two classes of airline: those with Connies and those without them.”

Pan Am operated the Constellation for about a decade from its first deliveries in 1946. In a 1948 timetable, the airplane was used primarily on the airline’s round-the-world flights (although sharing duty with the DC-4) and on its services across the Atlantic, including Africa. The Constellation was also operated between New York and San Juan. Pan Am’s subsidiary Panair do Brasil, operated the Constellation between Istanbul and Buenos Aires through Europe and Africa. In a 1950 timetable, the Constellation still operated in the around-the-world service, sharing duties with the DC-4 and Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. Of note was the Friday westbound trip originating in San Francisco designated “PA1”. The airplane continued to be used on Atlantic services, including Africa, as well as the New York-San Juan rotation. The timetable images below illustrate some of these services:

Clipper Winged Arrow

Clipper Winged Arrow

As the decade of the 1950s progressed, Constellation operations began to fade. In a 1952 timetable, its round-the-world sector was between London and Hong Kong. It’s transatlantic operations were replaced by the DC-6B and the Stratocruiser, although it still operated to southern Europe and Africa. The airplane also experienced an increased presence in Latin America. By 1956, the Constellation was only seen in Central America under the Pan Am livery, as seen in a timetable of that year. By the end of the decade the Pan Am Constellation fleet had been sold to Panair do Brasil, Cubana, Delta and Air France.

As a footnote, the Constellation holds two records for flight duration: On 29 September 1957, a TWA L-1649 Constellation  flew from Los Angeles to London in 18 hours and 32 minutes. On its inaugural London to San Francisco flight on 1 October 1957, the aircraft recorded the longest duration non-stop passenger flight, staying aloft for  23 hours and 19 minutes.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XX: Belated Happy Holidays

Pan Am and the Holiday Season

NOTE: Because many Pan Amers would be working somewhere overseas during the holiday season, by necessity, they very well could be celebrating their holidays after the season. This story is posted with that idea in mind…  

Now that the holiday season is over, it is a good time to reflect about Pan Am’s role during that time. The holiday season to many is a celebration of giving and taking care of fellow human beings. And that is what Pan Am was all about. During the bustle of the holiday season, Pan Am was there, taking care of its passengers around the world. For American expatriates this meant a lot, as it was the Pan Am Clippers that brought them home to their families. And who put them on the Clippers and flew them home? It was Pan Am’s flying and ground staff, who sacrificed their holidays so that others can enjoy theirs. But the sacrifice did not go unnoticed.  Whether in Tehran, Berlin, Tokyo or home, Pan Am took care of its own, in its own unique way, recognizing their contributions to the good of its passengers around the world.

Below are some holiday season memories from Pan Amers of different callings.

A Holiday Greetings Card placed on meal trays during the late 1980s. (From Romlee Stoughton)

A Holiday Greetings Card placed on meal trays during the late 1980s. (From Romlee Stoughton)

From Jan Curran:

“I am a little sketchy on the names ..so I won’t put them in here……………. but this is both a happy and sad story…At the time I was a union officer ( IUFA) in Miami. Every year the Miami Herald published a Christmas wish list for readers to donate to. One of the stories was about an elderly lady who had not seen her family in 40 years. They lived in Detroit , she in Miami. I found it very touching and approached my base director to see what we at Pan Am could do for this lady. With the help of several generous and kind flight attendants we got her some warm winter clothes………coat, sweaters…and one flight attendant bought her a pair of boots in Buenos Aires! Then the company came through with two First Class seats for her and a niece to travel to Detroit to see her sister and family . We met her at her humble home with her pastor to give her the news…………it was one of the proudest moments of my life………..we were able to grant this woman her dying wish….thanks to Pan Am and a great group of caring flight attendants.

“We had a little “bon voyage” ceremony at the airport – she had never been on a plane! The Miami News covered it on the front page the next day. A few days later I got a call from her pastor saying she was ill and wanted to come back to Miami early……..we arranged for her return the next day. We truly had granted her her dying wish as she passed away on the flight home. Her niece told us she was the happiest she had seen her in years…….and content . We were all heartbroken but at the same time joyous. It was a Christmas I will never forget.”

From John Marshall:

“The year was 1977.  I was a first officer on the 747 out of New York, with not too bad seniority.  Nonetheless, I was stunned when I got my December bidline and discovered that I was not only flying over Christmas, but would spend Christmas day in Tehran, a layover that definitely was not high on my list of favorites.

“It was a flight 2 and 1 trip, out to Bangkok and back, and on Christmas we would leave Delhi at the usual 3 AM and head for Iran, arriving mid-morning.

“We had picked up three Los Angeles-based flight attendants in Bangkok (crew tracking worked in mysterious ways) and after arrival at Mehrabad Airport our tired and unhappy little bunch boarded the crew bus and headed for the Intercontinental.  We were greeted in the lobby by a jaunty Pan Am rep who informed us that the company had a suite reserved for us to help celebrate the Christian Christmas, and if we wished, we could go up any time.  We all looked at each other, and tired as we were, we felt that if the Company had gone to that effort, it would be impolite to refuse.

“We walked into the suite and were stunned to find a fully decorated Christmas tree, a table laden with wine, eggnog and plates full of snacks.  A tape player in the corner softly crooned Christmas music.  The L.A. girls had been together for several days and had purchased trinkets for the crew.

“We sang carols and exchanged the small gifts and dined on the tasty local snacks laid out for us.  We were surprised to see the day passing into the afternoon, when our delightful Pan Am rep stopped in and informed us that a table had been reserved for the crew that evening at the Royal Peacock Restaurant, the fanciest at the hotel.  Dinner would be on Pan Am.  Fully into the spirit of the occasion, we all met for drinks and dinner, that lasted well into the night.  We were a happy, bonded crew that retired to bed.  Thankfully, we had a late pickup the next morning.

“I spent several Christmases out on the line, in places like Tokyo, Sydney, and Frankfurt, but this holiday in Tehran was definitely one of the most memorable.”

From Tania Anderson:

“One Christmas eve in the late ’80s, my friend Bodo Hellfeld who flew the Internal German Service on 727s around Germany, invited our entire A310 crew to dinner at his place in Berlin. Dear Bodo, such a generous man, had really gone all out for us with all the culinary trimmings. He had gorgeous 6 foot tanenbaum in his flat with branches perfectly spaced for the lit candles and weighed down by traditional ornaments. You can well imagine with a dining room full of flight attendants being safety conscious as we are, how each of us eye-balled that tree the entire night in case a candle fell from grace and started a fire. Somebody would have been on it pronto!

“Bodo had roasted a couple of geese for the Christmas celebration and I’ll never forget how his cat kept begging us for more meat through his ever-so-greasy whiskers. We opened small gifts and told war stories about our beloved Pan Am.  And, you know what’s that is like…if you want to yak for hours, just get a group of Pan Amigos together and the next thing you know, it is hours later!”

From Debbi Fuller:

“One year I went to Tokyo over Christmas.  I was junior and found that volunteering to fly over Christmas was a good way to get trips that were hard to hold at other times of the year.  I had finished all my shopping and didn’t want to stay in town.  Another  more senior flight attendant and myself (can’t sadly remember her name), spoke to the concierge and she found us an inn (riokan) to stay in for 2 nights.  We took a bullet train out of Tokyo, then a narrow gauge railway, then a funicular over the crater of a small volcano which smelled pretty sulfurous, and finally a bus to our little inn.  We had a view of Mt. Fuji during the day when it wasn’t overcast and a little Japanese garden that was covered with snow but still beautiful.  We entered the inn and were seated immediately in a couple of New England style wing chairs in front of a roaring fire in a stone fireplace and given hot cups of sake.  There was a Christmas party there that night for some businessmen and they were being entertained by geishas!  The next morning a woman came into our tatami room with a brazier and some fresh fish for our breakfast which she cooked right there.  We spent part of the day walking in the little garden and part of it in the sulfur springs in the basement of the hotel – natural rock with hot water bubbling up from beneath the earth.  By the time we returned to Tokyo for our flight home we were completely relaxed and looked a few years younger than when we had arrived!  One of my nicest memories of a Pan Am Christmas.  This would have been in the early 80’s.”

Hanger 14 at New York (IDL/JFK)

Hanger 14 at New York (IDL/JFK)

From Ed Jankiewicz:

“I’ll never forget Dad taking me as a kid to the Pan Am Christmas party at hanger 14! Was totally awesome!! One end, there was the tallest tree that I can remember! Then, there were one or two aircraft on display to walk through. The highlight: hanger bay doors sliding open and hearing the engines of a 707 winding down. Pan Am of course! And then, Santa, coming down the stairs! That, was the best!! Totally, awesome day!!”

From Joan Tirino

“[My Christmas memory] was years before I became an employee. Back in the 50s, when my uncle worked for Pan Am, he took me to the Pan Am Christmas party that was given for employees families. I was probably about 4 or 5 at the time. I must have enjoyed it because I still remember it, and the coloring books they handed out. I managed to find one on eBay to add to my PA memorabilia collection.”

dc 4 alsaka pahf-1

From Regina M. Fagan:

“Back in the 1950s, Pan Am offered a ‘Letter from Santa Claus’ promotion in New York, probably in other cities as well. For the price of a first-class stamp (about .03 cents in those days) you would get a sheet of Santa’s personal stationery and an envelope with Santa’s North Pole address under a Pan Am logo (all in red for this). Mom or Dad would write a letter to a child from Santa and bring it back to any Pan Am office. The letters were then flown up to Fairbanks on a Clipper and mailed back to the children, with a North Pole postmark. My dear father did this, and one day when I was about 7 years old, maybe younger, I got that letter from Santa! He had actually written to me! And Pan Am had flown his letter all the way from the North Pole to our home! It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized this beautiful loving letter had been written by my Daddy. I still have it. It’s in a safe deposit box, so I can’t get it until after the holidays, but I’ve been thinking about it these past few days. Many years later, when I was a Pan Am Stewardess, my father reminded me of the letter and said to me, ‘Pan Am has had an influence on you for many years. Remember the Santa letter? That came from Pan Am.’ One more wonderful memory courtesy of Pan Am.”

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XIX: Clipper Maid of the Seas

“Clipper 103 requesting oceanic clearance”

21 December 1988, the day Pan Am flight 103, Clipper Maid of the Seas, was destroyed by a terrorist act, is a date that anyone connected with Pan American World Airways – passenger, employee, friend or fan – will always be, to quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “a day which will live in infamy”. For many, this tragic and awful catastrophe marked the beginning of what was to be the slow demise of the once great airline. During the course of the past two weeks Pan Amers all over the world have been posting messages on the social media with thoughts about the events of that horrible day and the loss of their colleagues and passengers on that flight and the people of Lockerbie, Scotland. In addition, memorial events have been scheduled around the world as well as a call for a moment of silence at 1902 hours, GMT, the moment  Clipper Maid of the Seas disappeared from radar.

Pan American flight 103 was the last of three daily nonstop Pan Am flights scheduled between London Heathrow and New York Kennedy airports.  It originated in Frankfurt Main with a Boeing 727 and changed gauge to a Boeing 747 at Heathrow for its transAtlantic sector. The scheduled departure was 1800 hours. The October 1988 timetable, below, illustrates the flight:

On 21 December 1988 Clipper Maid of the Seas (Clipper 103) operated the London-New York sector and pushed back just after its scheduled departure time of 1800 hours.

Clipper Maid of the Seas

Clipper Maid of the Seas (photo credit itusozluk.com)

Paula Helfrich and Rebecca Sprecher in their novel, Flying – a novel, dealt with that day through their fictional character Zoe Longfield. The pre-departure events described in the excerpt below are factually correct.

“Zoe heaved her crew-bag over the aircraft’s wet doorsill, the rain seeping around the jetway’s transom on this rainy evening.  Hawea’s nanny had been late arriving at the flat, so she’d rushed to the airport in a hurry. As she passed through the doorway, she noticed a small chip in the molding of the emergency slide.

“Damn, Morning Light, here you are again!”  She smiled ruefully at the maintenance chief, who turned the pages of the ship’s maintenance log for the engineer’s signature as he headed out on his pre-flight check.  Making a bet with herself, she checked the history of cabin maintenance items going back several weeks.  Sure enough, N739PA’s aft toilet banks had been inoperable on at least 15 log entries, and all had been written off.   One acknowledgement out of Amsterdam responded to the entry “Toilet 4-3 broken,” with a terse, “Still broken, but trying.”  She laughed and showed the maintenance chief.

“’Yes, miss, sometimes it’s a bit tough to get all these moving parts moving in the proper order.’  He noted that the aircraft had just come in from San Francisco some four hours earlier, and they had not been able to schedule several major cabin items due to a worker shortage and the weather.

 “She responded, ‘You know, Chief, this Clipper Morning Light is almost older than I am!  I remember her from that tiny chip on the slide cover at the L-1 door on my training flight in 1970, and the damned toilet was broken then!’

“He laughed, ‘G’wan, then. Yer not that old! Besides, she was Morning Light for a long bit, and then the big brains changed her name to protect the innocent.  Now they’ve called her Maid of the Seas.’   Look, they’ve even repainted the name on the nosecone.”  And sure enough, they had.

* * *

“Maintenance workers in blue uniforms swarmed over the exterior of the aircraft, refueling from massive fuel points set into the cement apron and conferring over maintenance items. Ramp workers drove out the long buggies of baggage containers, which had sat in the rain all day, unsupervised, set up by some anonymous daily planning docket. She looked casually out as the ramp workers maneuvered the first silver baggage container tagged AVE4041 up the belt.  Engines roared from the takeoff runway, aluminum baggage cans rattled, and voices crackled loudly on two-way radios, their words indistinct.  Permeating all of this familiar mayhem was the heavy, sweet-thick smell of jet fuel and machine oil and the constant scream of accelerating engines.

“Zoe looked out at the rain falling steadily, softly, creating a grey ground fog on the tarmac and a ghostly pall over the other aircraft in the middle taxiway as they glided past towards the active runway, their colors muted in the mist. In the First Class galley before her, two port stewards conferred with the flight attendant on duty, covering the inventory of meals, equipment, supplies and special orders that had been loaded and labeled in each galley compartment. They laughed companionably, and the younger of the two men, a handsome man of Mediterranean complexion, flirted amiably with the attractive German flight attendant.  Zoe smiled, catching the eye of the older steward and rolling her eyes, causing him to laugh out loud and nudge his colleague.  She laughed, shaking her head and heading down the left aisle to the economy section galley.

“Several of the crewmembers were gathered there, discussing the latest in the depressing news about Pan Am’s seemingly endless financial woes while they went about the business of preparing for another load of passengers.  They were a collegial, cosmopolitan group.  Zoe had met or flown with most of them in one place or another.  She had shared the December 24th birthday of the French woman some years ago in Beirut at a wild all-night party. She heard the accents of Germany, England, Ireland, Spain and the Scandinavian countries. Crewmembers recounted stories of paying several hundred dollars to commute from Berlin to London on a Pan Am subsidiary, and then working back from London to Frankfurt later that day.  It was a crazy world, and every dollar was measured twice. 

* * *

“There were 13 working crew altogether, almost all based in London. The cockpit crew was from New York, and all were tired from the ongoing anonymity of the new scheduling policies, in which practically everyone was a stranger.  The cabin crew were somewhat alienated by the new locked doors and cockpit-exclusive rules.  Everything appeared to be more-or-less on time for a 6 p.m. departure, with the cooperation of the weather. 

“The load was forecast at 257, with a few deadheading crew and Christmas vacation non-revenue passengers hitching a ride stateside for the holidays ahead.  There was the usual mix of Europeans, Americans, students, diplomats, military and civilian families, single soldiers, businessmen and professionals.  As was typical these days, the load was heavy in First Class and Clipper Class, and fairly light in the three economy sections, where savvy travelers could snag several adjacent seats in a row for a good night’s sleep.  [Zoe] had volunteered to work in the First Class section where there was an extra jumpseat, and the load certainly warranted the extra hand. The briefing was soon over, and the crew dispersed for duty-free shopping.

* * *

“[Zoe took a]  look through the preliminary passenger manifest, listed by name and seat number.  Businessmen and senior professionals in the First Class and Upper Lounge, many with VIP codes next to their names: DALPO—do all possible, or EXCOR—extend courtesies.   A number of diplomats, techies and university professors in Business Class were often distinguished by their titles.  She thought of the impossibly handsome man she’d known briefly, seated opposite her jumpseat, his slow smile of recognition, their brief and white-hot affair. Pahlavian had reappeared in her life just days before with pleasant surprises, and they’d agreed to have dinner when she returned, after Christmas.  Nowadays, most surprises have to do with who might blow us up.

“She noted two stars in the Clipper Class section:  Gannon, 14-J and McKee, 15-F, who appeared to be travelling under diplomatic status but with military recognition.  Another Swedish diplomat named Carlsson was seated nearby in 17-H.  She frowned slightly and noted the anomaly.

“In the economy sections, the demographics loosened up and passengers were spread out, leaving empty rows in the middle of the aircraft.  The list showed lots of single travelers—professionals or sales executives, military officers and enlisted, some with family members seated next to them.  There would be many students travelling alone for the holidays. She noted the name of a young student, Khalid Jaafar in 53-K, almost the last row, as the only ‘profile’ candidate on the plane.  Stop being stupid, she told herself.   There were several young couples.  Some special needs coded:  diabetic meal, vegetarian, hamburgers, seats together.   No birthdays or wedding cakes today.  These codes were clustered around seven families travelling with elderly parents or teenagers, some younger children.  Baby meals and bassinets were noted for six infants and toddlers travelling with their families.  On a flight like this, it would be easy to move passengers around, ensuring an empty seat next to a young military sergeant travelling with her infant child in seat 32-K.

“Waiting for the boarding announcement, [Zoe] took a few moments to observe the actions of the young flight attendant she was check-riding, noting her calm assurance and professional demeanor with approval.  She thought of her training check-ride so many years ago with Sally—sweet Sally so far away in Hawai’i, so happy and settled.  She was sorry that their friendship had gone on hold.

* * *

“The old-timers and the Sky Marshalls had taught her to read the manifests, something crews rarely had time to do these days, but it gave an airline an advantage to find someone a birthday cake and have the crew sing, to deliver a bottle of champagne for an anniversary or to an obviously enamored honeymoon couple, or even to folks who had just met. At least tonight, just a few days before Christmas, she thought it might be a great gesture to offer a bottle of champagne to the oldest passenger, seated in 26-F, Ibolya Robertine Gabor, a 79-year-old Hungarian who had ordered a wheelchair on arrival in New York.

“Military personnel were noted on the manifest for any special duties and emergency assistance, primarily because of their training.  Some Pursers at holiday times offered on-the-spot upgrades, or asked other passengers to step aside to allow the young soldiers to leave the aircraft first, a form of honor reserved only to the Purser’s discretion, and not found in any regulation book.

“She took her assigned position as the passenger-boarding phase was announced, greeting passengers cheerfully and recognizing names or seat numbers she had noted. 

“The Purser signaled the imminent departure by announcing that the doors had been closed. . .

* * *

“The aircraft hummed along its taxiway, finally turning into the active runway and revving for takeoff position.   [Zoe] noted . .  the clouds still scudding by with intermittent rain and a fitful sunset, as the huge aircraft started its ponderous take-off roll.   She pressed her head back, completely relaxed, always anticipating this special moment when rotation took away the thudding roar and the thousands of pounds of aircraft became airborne, every time a miracle of flight.”

At about the same time, Roger Cotton, a London businessman driving west on Bath Road, which runs parallel to Heathrow’s runways, saw a Boeing 747 lift off and noted that it was a Pan Am Clipper, likely heading to New York.

In London, Denny Rupert, a student on his way to the United States to visit his parents for the holidays, had checked into a hotel for the night. He was originally booked on Clipper 103, but elected to take a flight the next day so he could spend extra time in London with friends rather than his parents in Minnesota.

At about 1900 hours, at 31,000 feet with a ground speed of 434 knots on a northwesterly track of 321 degrees, Clipper 103 was picked up by the Scottish Area Control Center at Prestwick, Scotland, where it needed clearance to begin its crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft appeared as a small green square with a cross at its center showing its transponder code. The code gave information about the time and height of the plane: the last code for the Clipper showed it was flying at 31,000 ft.

Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie called Prestwick: “Good evening Scottish, Clipper one zero three. We are at level three one zero.” Then First Officer Ronald Wagner spoke: “Clipper 103 requesting oceanic clearance.”

These were the last words heard from Clipper 103. Soon after that, air traffic controller who watched the Clipper as it crossed Scottish airspace, saw that the aircraft’s transponder stopped replying somewhere over Lockerbie. The ATC controller tried again to communicate with the aircraft, but there was no reply. Not one, but several radar returns on his screen altogether disappeared.

Arnie Reiner was working at Pan Am’s flight safety office at New York Kennedy Airport on that day. It was just a routine day until the secretary of Pan Am’s Senior V.P. of Operations came through the door. What follows are Reiner’s recollections of that day, which are featured in his story about Lockerbie in Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer:

 “[T]he Senior V.P. of Operations’ secretary came through the door and announced that the airline’s system control group had just been informed that Flight 103 had disappeared from the radar during departure from London and was presumed down.  Soon after that, network news reports flashed word throughout the world that Pan Am 103 had gone down in Lockerbie, Scotland with the loss of 243 passengers, 16 crewmembers and an unknown number of casualties on the ground.

“The company’s aircraft accident contingency plan was immediately activated.  Every key department was involved and a 24-hour command center at Kennedy Airport was established to coordinate company post-accident efforts and assign duties.  Concurrently, a go-team  was  assembled primarily from Flight Operations and Maintenance and Engineering with supporting members from other departments to assist in the investigation at the accident site with government investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB ), a Boeing representative and  a large contingent of investigators from Britain’s Air Accident Investigation Branch (AIB).  Representatives from the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) and Flight Engineers International (FEIA) unions also flew to the scene and assisted in the effort.

“As a member of the go-team I assembled with the rest of the group at Pan-Am’s JFK Worldport that evening to catch the evening flight 002 to London.  Captain Bob Gould, Senior Vice President of Operations, would lead the team.  The Worldport was a somber and frenetic scene swarmed by media reporters with their cameras and lights intent on capturing the sorrow and anguish of relatives and friends gathered there to meet those who would never arrive on Flight 103.  Company representatives were on hand to lend what comfort, support and assistance  they could at a time of bottomless despair.

* * *

“.  .  . We were met at Heathrow by Pan Am staff, whisked to a chartered twin engine plane and flown to an airport near Lockerbie.   After quickly dropping off our bags at a hotel, Captain Gould and I split off from the group and had a driver take us about the town and out into the nearby countryside to take in the scope of the accident scene.  It was immediately obvious from the large debris area in town and out in the surrounding countryside east of Lockerbie that the 747-100, Clipper Maid of the Seas, N739PA, experienced a catastrophic in-flight breakup at a high altitude.

* * *

“The nose section had broken off and was in a field outside town with First Officer Raymond Wagner and Flight Engineer Jerry Avritt still inside the wreckage when we arrived.  Captain James MacQuarrie lay outside, already covered by a tarpaulin.   Debris was visible in the steeply rolling pastures in every direction.   A portion of the horizontal stabilizer was off in the distance.  An engine lay imbedded in a Lockerbie street.  The center fuselage and wings   had come down almost vertically, striking a housing area and exploding on impact.  Over 10 homes in the immediate vicinity were destroyed and others were badly damaged out to 900 feet.  The impact and explosion fueled from the fuselage and wing tanks gouged a huge elongated crater where the houses once stood.  Looking down into the scorched impact trench, there were no signs of cabin occupants.  About a half mile away, a fuselage section aft of the wing root struck  a house and impacted a street leaving passengers and  cabin crew  tangled and broken in building debris and aircraft structure. Constables guarded the scene. Residents milled about, quietly.

“We returned to the hotel, washed up and gathered the Pan Am group for a preliminary briefing. I presented to the group what Bob and I had seen and learned so far: That obviously there had been a very rapid catastrophic in-flight breakup and the aircraft had come down steeply, shedding parts as it descended; and so far as we knew there was no distress transmission from the crew before the plane disappeared from air traffic control radars; and that our objective was to keep an open mind about what might have happened, not speculate, and follow the evidence.  But privately my thinking was that by then 747s had been around over 18 years. Pan Am was the driver behind their development.  They were structurally damage tolerant, solid planes with robust systems redundancies and in nearly two decades of operating experience at Pan Am, they didn’t just suddenly fall apart in midair.

“Something else was going on here.  I’m certain the structural engineers from the company’s Maintenance and Engineering Department who sat at the briefing that evening were thinking along the same lines.  

* * *

“[After several days of investigative work] “[o]ur group’s first break, the one confirming our unspoken suspicions, came while walking down a country road when a farmer approached and told us he and his wife had removed a number of suit cases from nearby sheep meadows to keep them out of the rain.  He said they were in a shed by his house.  There in neat rows were about a dozen pieces of passenger baggage, one with distinct scorch marks.  Also that day, one of the British AIB team members noted a distinct bowing out of a fuselage skin fragment.  Then a constable accompanying our group found a heavily pitted fuselage fragment in the tall meadow grass.  It was tagged and bagged by the constable to assure continuity of evidence and taken away for analysis. The following day the British announced that analysis of the wreckage confirmed that an explosion had occurred in a cargo container in the forward cargo compartment.  A later investigation revealed that forces from the blast breached the fuselage and internal shock waves led to further fuselage failures which quickly led to the aircraft’s in-flight disintegration.

“With official confirmation that the loss of Flight 103 was a terrorist act and not an accident, our role as accident investigators had  ended and one of the most  intense forensic and criminal investigations was just beginning.” 

Kelly Cusack was working the New York Reservations Department that day. Below are his memories:

“On 21 December 1988 I was working in Pan Am’s New York Reservations Department. About 2:20 in the afternoon I was summoned into the Manager’s Office along with about 20 other experienced agents. The manager, Bob Turco, closed the door and said “the 103 is missing.” In 1988 flights between London and New York did not go missing. We all instantly knew that our aircraft, passengers and crew had been lost. We were assigned to work a toll free number for families and friends calling in for information. It was emotionally excruciating as we were not authorized to give out any specific confirmations until London did a flight coupon (this was back in the days of paper tickets) recount, though we could see the passenger list in the computer. 

“Later that evening I was assigned to begin arranging travel for Next of Kin who wished to travel to the crash site. I worked 24 hours straight and remember a colleague, Cathy Dorr passing me in the hallway and remarking she had lost complete track of time and her only gauge was passing me periodically in the hall and seeing my beard grow in. I finally went home and slept a few hours and then worked another 24 hours on various crash related follow up. I flew home to my family Christmas Eve morning, got into bed and slept for 24 hours. 

“My life would be all about the 103 for the next 6 weeks, traveling to Lockerbie for the Memorial and working at both the Pan Am Building and JFK Operation Centers. It was a very sad time. I was 26 and was very aware of all the young Syracuse University Exchange students who had perished on the flight as well as crew members I had known.”

Below is a poem by Susanne Malm, a former Pan Am flight attendant:

The Demise of Clipper Maid of the Seas

“Clipper one zero three,
at level three one zero,
requesting oceanic clearance,”
advised the transmission
over Scotland’s Prestwick Control.

Cpt. MacQuarrie throttled back,
scanned the gauges,
affirmed the crossing
of the shining, briny “pond.”

“All is well!” chimed the bell,
oblivious, like the innocents
cradled in aluminum and
safely secured by seat-belts,
to a ticking terror
in the cargo hold below.

Pulsing Mach stem shock waves,
spawn of terrorists’ maniacal minds,
punched through the P in Pan Am
on the Clipper Maid of The Seas,
maimed at 434 knots,
giant wings afire like Apollo’s muse,
Cpt. MacQuarrie lifeless at the helm,
thumbs indented, clutching the yoke.

Wreckage rained on Lockerbie,
unwary sleepy Scottish village,
flaming fragments
of a proud clipper’s voyage,
and an echo of
MacQuarrie’s final desperate plea
to save the souls entrusted to his care:

“Clipper one zero three,
at level three one zero,
requesting oceanic clearance,”

That never came.

Thanks to the late Paula Helfrich and Rebecca Sprecher for excerpts from their novel, Flying – a novel and to Susanne Malm for her poem.

Further information about Flying – a novel is available through Amazon.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The Book Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer is an oversize hard cover book, suitable for a coffee table. There are over eighty stories written by Pan Amers and friends of Pan Am about historic events during the 64 years of Pan Am’s operations, each illustrated with colorful images that include posters, ads, rare baggage tags, timetables and aircraft.

This book is available through Amazon.

20170612_114625

Also available is 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 Second Edition

front-and-back

The book is available on eBay. Signed copies (on request) if purchased on eBay.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XVIII: First Round the World Flight

A Round-the-World Trip Home

If there is any one thing that stands out in Pan American World Airways’ history is its legendary round-the-world service. After World War II, Pan American pioneered the service on 17 June 1947 when Clipper America, a Lockheed 749 Constellation, departed La Guardia Field in New York on the first ever scheduled round-the-world flight. After stops in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake, Midway and Honolulu, the Clipper arrived in San Francisco on 29 June. As Pan American did not have authority to operate domestic flights in the United States, the Clipper ferried to New York, arriving at La Guardia on 30 June via Chicago to complete the journey.

There was, however, a previous round-the-world flight to La Guardia Field, completed just a few years before Clipper America’s historic trip, and that was the epic journey of the Pacific Clipper, a Boeing 314 flying boat, commanded by Captain Robert Ford.

This flight, which was unplanned, is recognized as the first flight around the world by a commercial airliner. It began as a routine trip from California to Auckland, departing 2 December 1941 from San Francisco for Honolulu, with a stopover in San Pedro. The departure of Clipper NC18606 (the call-sign used at the time), always a memorable experience, is described in Ed Dover’s The Long Way Home – Revised Edition:

“The full-throat-ed roar of the four engines filled the cabin as NC18606 moved forward into the takeoff run.  The slap-slap of  the water under the hull became a staccato drum beat.  Spray whipped higher over the sea wings.  After a few seconds the hull began to rise out of the water but was not quite free.  Ford held the yoke steady as the airspeed indicator displayed the increasing speed: 40 knots…  50…  60…  70…

314a

“At 70 knots Ford brought the yoke back gently.  The Clipper nosed up.  Passengers seated in the aft compartments might have thought they were about to submerge as the tail came close to the water and the spray hurtling back from the sea wings splattered the windows.  At 75 knots Ford eased up a little on the yoke then immediately brought it back.  This rocking motion was necessary to raise the ship “on the step” – that area of the hull which would be the last to break free from the clinging suction effect of the water now hurtling along underneath the ship.  As the airspeed went to 80 knots the sound of the water abruptly ceased.  The thrumming beat against the hull was replaced by a sudden smoothness as the great ship broke free and began climbing.”

From San Francisco to Honolulu, the total flying time was twenty-two hours and fifty-eight minutes. The next leg of the trip, from Honolulu to Canton, was scheduled for departure on 4 December. For this leg, and the rest of the trip, another Boeing 314, NC18602, the California Clipper, later named the Pacific Clipper, was employed; and at 0830 that morning, Captain Ford, with passengers and crew, took off and headed south. Twelve hours and fifty-seven minutes later, the Clipper landed at Canton. Two days later, after stops in Suva and Noumea, the Clipper was en-route to Auckland when, two hours out, Flight Radio Officer Eugene Leach heard the following (quoted in The Long Way Home-Revised Edition):

“…no confirmation from the American Consulate in Auckland at this time, but it appears that Japanese naval forces have launched a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.  Unconfirmed reports indicate that at least twowaves of bombers have destroyed or disabled a great number of naval vessels and have also attacked and severely damaged Army Air Force installations at Hickam Field and Schofield Barracks.  We are attempting to obtain details from the American Consulate, but all communications are subject to priority delays.  Please stand by and we will bring you the latest developments as they become available. Once again, repeating our initial report…”

Upon learning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Ford reached for and opened an envelope labelled “Plan A – Top Secret – For Captain’s Eyes Only”. The Captain was ordered to remain in Auckland until further orders from headquarters in New York.

For a week after landing in Auckland, no word was received from headquarters in New York until, on 14 December, Captain Ford received the following (quoted in The Long Way Home-Revised Edition):

“TO:              CAPTAIN ROBERT FORD

FROM:         CHIEF, FLIGHT SYSTEMS

SUBJECT:  DIVERSION PLANS FOR NC18602

NORMAL RETURN ROUTE CANCELED STOP PROCEED AS FOLLOWS COLON STRIP ALL COMPANY MARKINGS COMMA REGISTRATION NUMBERS COMMA AND IDENTIFIABLE INSIGNIA FROM EXTERIOR SURFACES STOP PROCEED WESTBOUND SOONEST YOUR DISCRETION TO AVOID HOSTILITIES AND DELIVER NC18602 TO MARINE TERMINAL LAGUARDIA FIELD NEW YORK STOP GOOD LUCK STOP”

On the evening of 15 December 1941, Clipper NC18602, left Auckland. From The Long Way Home-Revised Edition:

“Bill Mullahey peered into the darkness ahead of the small boat. Except for the electric lantern he held in his hand, no lights were visible along the length of the seaplane channel. As he motored slowly along the length of the takeoff area he strained to detect the presence of any floating object that might present a risk for the takeoff. Water takeoffs and landings at night were marginally safe at best. Under these conditions the risk was magnified many times. With full fuel tanks and the added weight of the stripped down engines, NC18602 was at least 1,000 pounds over-grossed. Ford would need every bit of takeoff length to break free of the calm water of the bay. There would be no room for error. As Mullahey approached the far end of the channel, with his electric lantern providing the only visual reference, he slowed to a stop and took one more look around. Then, very carefully and deliberately, he held the lantern aloft and waved it in a horizontal arc toward the takeoff end of the channel where Ford waited with engines idling. “’There it is,’ Johnny Mack called out. ‘Bill’s reached the end of the channel. That’s the all clear for takeoff signal.’ Bob Ford had also spotted the light signal. He tightened his grip on the throttle controls. ‘Okay, Swede, full power follow through, now!’ Once again the overpowering roar of the four Wright Cyclone engines filled the cabin. NC18602 surged forward into the blackness, guided only by the dim point of light at the far end of the channel. Within 35 seconds, Ford had the big ship on the step and, with a gentle back pressure on the yoke, broke free of the water and settled into a shallow climb. As they reached 200 feet, they passed the motor launch where Bill Mullahey was still waving his lantern.

“’Godspeed, you guys!’ Mullahey uttered a quiet prayer as the Boeing roared past. ‘…and good luck. You’re going to need it!’”

The Clipper flew through the night to Noumea, where it picked up Pan American staff and refueled. From Noumea the Boeing proceeded to Gladstone to off-load its passengers (the Pan American staff) and get fuel. Unable to get 100-octane gas, the aircraft flew on to for Darwin with the fuel tanks one-third empty, an eleven hour trip over land, and, for Captain Ford and his crew, a journey into the unknown. Having no charts, the crew had put together some makeshift charts from old geography books found at Auckland library. In addition, as the trip was over land, if something went wrong, a safe landing would be impossible: a belly landing would destroy the aircraft and end the flight home.

At Darwin, the crew faced a city in panic, fearful of a Japanese attack, with drunks either fighting or passed out in the street. They were, however, able find the fuel, and gassed up in the midst of a thunderstorm. Not long after fueling was completed, early in the morning of 18 December, the Clipper was back in the air, en-route to Surabaya. This trip was not without a big scare for Captain Ford and his crew, as described in Robert Gandt’s China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats:

“Flying in radio silence over the island of Java, the Pacific Clipper was suddenly intercepted by fighters – Dutch – whose pilots had never seen a Boeing flying boat and were unable to identify the aircraft. For several tense minutes the fighter pilots debated by radio whether to shoot the intruder down. Finally one of the Dutchmen thought he could discern part of an American flag on the top of the wing. The fighters stayed on the Boeing’s tail, their guns armed, until the entire entourage arrived in Surabaya-with the Clipper landing in a minefield. “Not until later, when they chatted with the young fighter pilots in the officers’ mess, did the flying boat crew realize how close it had been. The Dutch in the Far East had been badly mauled by Japanese air raids. The fighter pilots were anxious to retaliate. They wanted to shoot something down. It had almost been the Pacific Clipper.”

After landing in Surabaya, Captain Ford and his crew learned that there were no accommodations available for them and that the only fuel they could get was 90-octane. They also learned that they would need immunizations for their next stops, Trincomalee (Ceylon) and Karachi (then British India). The Boeing was fueled with 90-octane, with the remaining 100-octane shifted to the inboard mains for use in takeoffs and landings.

After a brief rest, the Pacific Clipper was off to Trincomalee, flying over an unknown sea. Having taken off with 100-octane fuel, at 2000 feet Captain Ford decided to switch to the 90-octane. The procedure involved switching from the inboard mains tanks to the sea wing tanks. The process was slow as the cylinder head temperature gauges needed to be monitored. Once finally stabilized the Boeing was, according to Ed Dover, “flying on auto gas; a condition never contemplated by the engineers at Boeing or at the Wright engine factory.”

Things went well for a while, until something went wrong with the engines. From The Long Way Home-Revised Edition:

“’How’s it look, Swede?’” Ford asked. ‘So far, so good. Cylinder head temps seem to be holding. But we’re flying full rich. We’re going to have to lean it out for best fuel range.’

“BANG! The sudden sound filled the cabin and the Clipper shook as though it were in the grip of a gigantic storm. BANG! Again. ‘Backfiring on Numbers Two and Three!’ Johnny Mack called out. ‘Those cowlings are shaking like Jell-o!’

“’Back off the mixture, Swede!’ Ford shouted. Rothe quickly moved the mixture controls toward the rich side of their range. Just as quickly the banging stopped. But the cylinder head temperatures remained just under redline.  

“Once again the mixture controls came back. Once again the manifold pressures increased and the cylinder head temperatures rested within a degree of the forbidden redline.

Then: BANG! BANG! The Clipper shook as though it were a rag doll in the hands of a very active child. Quickly, but with more control this time, Rothe eased the mixture controls back to just under the mark where the backfiring would start. ‘That’s about the best we can do,’ he called out. ‘We can stay below the backfire point, but I can’t guarantee the head temps. They’re just about out of normal range for long-range cruise.’”

Because Captain Ford had no charts for the trip, just the coordinates of their destination, he had to fly by dead-reckoning at a very low altitude in order to detect any landmarks that could help in navigation. As the Clipper droned on, they encountered a Japanese submarine. The submarine, crew, lounging on deck, quickly ran for the deck gun. At the same time, Captain Ford went to full power and pointed the nose up, where they found safety in the clouds. After a flight of twenty hours and twenty-six minutes, the Pacific Clipper landed in Trincomalee, where the crew was able to find accommodations as well as 100-octane fuel. After a day of rest the Clipper was off for Karachi. However, about an hour into the flight No. 3 engine blew, spewing oil over the wing. Ford turned the plane around and returned to Trincomalee, where the crew was able to repair the engine with the spares they had on board, starting work on Christmas Eve and finishing on Christmas Day.

On 26 December, the Boeing was off for a second time for Karachi, and this time they made it, landing in the city’s harbor at 1600 hours. The crew rested and refueled and on 28 December took off for Bahrain where they spent the night and also topped off the fuel tanks, but only with 90-octane. This time, the problem was not as acute as previously, given that the amount taken on was minimal.

From Bahrain, the Clipper flew to Khartoum, over-flying the Arabian Desert and the Great Mosque at Mecca. Soon they intercepted the Nile River and followed it to Khartoum, where they landed on the confluence of the Blue Nile and the White Nile, below Khartoum. There they encountered a British presence and were able to get 100-octane fuel and charts for their next flight to Leopoldville. During takeoff down the Nile, part of an exhaust stack blew off No. 1 engine. Although the Boeing continued to gain altitude, No. 1 engine was much noisier than the others and it constituted a fire hazard. But with no spare parts in Khartoum, Captain Ford continued southward. On New Year’s Day, 1942, after a flight over the interior of Africa, Captain Ford put the flying boat down in the fast flowing muddy waters of the Congo River at Leopoldville. Their next stop, Natal, Brazil, was 3100 nautical miles away across the Atlantic and loomed as the longest leg the Clipper ever covered.

The flight logs of 1st Officer John Mack (left) and 4th Officer John Steers (Courtesy of Ed Dover):

The next morning, the Clipper was off again. In preparation for the long trip that lay ahead, 5,100 gallons of fuel was taken on, weighing some 33,600 pounds. Takeoff would be tricky. The temperature was very high and there was no wind. And just downstream began the cataracts. Robert Daley, in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, describes the takeoff:

“A worried Ford revved his engines as high as they could go, and headed downstream  . . . taking advantage of the six-knot current, but heading straight for the cataracts, hoping to lift off out of this glassy calm before going over the edge. But the flying boat was so heavily loaded that it would not lift. An average takeoff would have lasted thirty seconds. This one took ninety-one. Just before entering the rapids, the hull broke contact with the river – barely. Ford held the throttles wide open because beyond the cataracts came the gorges of the Congo – a new problem. The flying boat was so heavy that Ford could not make it climb. It was down in the gorges. The wings were deformed from the overload of fuel and the ailerons wouldn’t move, and Ford was skidding all of his turns. To hold the engines wide open any longer than a minute was to risk burning them out, but three minutes had now gone by, and still Ford couldn’t throttle back. Still he held full power until at last the Boeing had cleared the gorges and begun to climb.

“After dropping back to cruising power, Ford listened to his engines for a while. They sounded all right, so he pointed the nose of the Boeing due west toward the South Atlantic and Brazil.”

The flight to Natal, Brazil took twenty-three hours and thirty-five minutes, the longest flight of the entire journey. The  Clipper arrived at about noon, where repairs were made to the exhaust stack on No. 1 engine and the ship was refueled. Insecticides were also sprayed inside the aircraft. Soon the Boeing was back flying to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on its penultimate leg where she landed at 0300 hours, thirteen hours and fifty-two minutes from Natal. In Port-of-Spain, after nearly forty hours of continuous flying, the crew rested. However, sensing the smell of home, the crew filed back on board and were soon off on the last leg of their epic flight. From The Long Way Home – Revised Edition:

“Bob Ford glanced at his wrist watch. 5:54 A.M. I guess it’s time to give those LaGuardia boys a wake up call, he thought. He picked up his microphone, but paused with it poised just in front  of his face. Just what the hell do you say after coming all this way? The simpler, the better, I guess. Well, here goes. He pressed the microphone button with his thumb.

“The morning was black and bitter cold. A mournful whisper of wind teased the outside of the glassed-in tower. It was the only sound to be heard inside the dark interior where the lone mid-shift controller sat nursing his coffee mug. Aircraft movements during the night in the New York control area were minimal. His thoughts rambled. Two hours to go. * * * Tough trying to stay awake on dull shifts like this when it stays dark so long. * * *

“‘LAGUARDIA TOWER, LAGUARDIA TOWER – PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER NC18602, INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND. CAPTAIN FORD REPORTING. DUE TO ARRIVE PAN AMERICAN MARINE TERMINAL LA GUARDIA IN SEVEN MINUTES. OVER!’

“‘What the hell!’ Did he fall fast asleep and dream it? But in a couple of seconds he was fully alert and digested the full impact of the sudden presence blasting out of the loudspeaker. Hunching forward in his seat, he grabbed his microphone and, almost sub-consciously, out of long habit, responded.

“‘PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER 18602. THIS IS LAGUARDIA TOWER,  ROGER'” * * *

“[Ford was told he had to hold for about an hour to land in daylight] * * * ‘AND SAY AGAIN, CONFIRM YOUR DEPARTURE POINT. WE HAVE NO OVERSEAS INBOUNDS AT THIS TIME.’

“‘I SAY AGAIN, INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND, BY WAY OF THE LONG WAY ‘ROUND FOR ABOUT THE PAST MONTH. IT’LL SURE BE GOOD TO GET HOME AGAIN'”

With that, this epic round-the-world flight was completed. Robert Gandt summarized it fittingly:

“To a flying boat had fallen the distinction of making the first round-the-world flight in a commercial airliner. Bob Ford and the Pacific Clipper, though they had not set out to do so, had entered history.”

Ford's Flight Route

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

The following works were used in preparing this blog: Robert Daley’s An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, Ed Dover’s The Long Way Home – Revised Edition and Robert Gandt’s China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying BoatsIn addition, retired Pan Am Captain John Marshall’s two articles on Captain Ford’s flight published in Airways Magazine were also valuable sources in preparing this blog.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XVII: Death of a Grand Lady

Clipper Witch of the Wave at Sao Paolo, taken in 1991 (photo by Normando Carvalho, Jr)

Clipper Witch of the Wave at Sao Paulo in 1991 (photo by Normando Carvalho, Jr)

Memories of a Last Flight

On 4 December 1991, Pan American World Airways ceased all operations. The night before, Captain John Marshall flew the last flight from New York Kennedy Airport to Sao Paulo, Brazil, flight 211, a Boeing 747, departing at 8:30 p.m. Arriving in Sao Paulo the next day, he was awakened from his post-flight sleep by a phone call advising him that the airline had ceased to exist and that all aircraft needed to be out of South America that afternoon. In “Death of a Grand Lady”, he writes about his experiences. The story first appeared in the February 2001 issue of Airways Magazine.

Below is his story in its entirety:

“It was a miserable early December night.  The ride to the airport seemed to take forever; riding in the last row of the airport bus I sat and brooded as the rain pounded against the windows and the wind howled.  I was in uniform, overnight bag on the seat beside me, attracting glances from the few other passengers as we boarded, but then I always did when in uniform.  Was it my imagination or was this night different?

“I was scheduled to take the airline’s last flight of the night from Kennedy to Sao Paulo, Brazil, an eleven hour undertaking that would arrive in time for the unbelievable Sao Paulo rush hour.  We would snatch what sleep we could during the day, and then operate the return flight that evening, landing back in New York just as the sun was coming up.  Two all-nighters back to back, but only away a day and a half.  Tough, but productive.

Pan Am’s last timetable with map, schedule page showing Captain Marshall’s flight and 747 configuration.

“I disembarked from the bus at our “new” terminal, dingy and uninviting.  Our venerable and traditional Worldport, once the most modern and innovative structure of its kind in the country, had been usurped by our successor on the North Atlantic, Delta Airlines.  We had been displaced into the aging facility next door that had been hastily vacated by Delta.  Rumor and conjecture had been running rampant throughout the airline for weeks.  Delta had appeared during the summer, a White Knight making all the right noises, trading for our fabled Atlantic routes along with airplanes and crews, in return for a promise to support the New Pan Am, an emaciated airline returning to its Latin American roots.  Now as Pan Am was poised to exit from the ignominious bankruptcy that had plagued and embarrassed us, we would survive and fly on, albeit in a bit of a different form.

 

Overhead view of Terminal 2 (left), Pan Am's terminal after Delta took over the Worldport (Terminal 3, right)(photo from Airchive)

Post 1991 overhead view of Terminal 2 (left), Pan Am’s terminal after Delta took over the Worldport (Terminal 3, right)(photo from Airchive)

“I stopped at the desk in the tiny make-shift Operations Office and met the rest of the crew.  Due to the length of the flight there would be five of us, three pilots and two engineers.  The two first officers and I went over the paperwork while the plumbers went to the aircraft.  Then I climbed the stairs to the flight attendant’s briefing room, and walked into a buzzsaw.  I heard the latest, and nastiest, rumor for the first time.  I walked in and twelve voices all clamored at once,  ‘Is it true, captain?  Is Delta really pulling out of the deal?  What would happen then?’  It was a cacophony of shrill anxiety, with questions that I could not answer.

“This was new to me, but if even a bit of it were true it wasn’t good.  Voices swirled around me as I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. A tiny sick feeling niggled in the pit of my stomach as I quickly finished the briefing and hurried out to the aircraft

“A late-night ennui seemed to have settled over the terminal, and the unending drizzle outside did nothing to dispel the gloomy atmosphere.  I strolled quickly through the boarding area, alone with my thoughts.  The milling throng of waiting, restless passengers may as well not have existed.

“Once aboard, I settled into the long-familiar pre-departure routine, losing myself in the comfortable ritual.  For awhile it seemed like just another flight.  Passenger boarding and cargo loading was seamless, and without a glitch.  It was almost as though we were being hurried away.  We pushed back exactly on schedule, more the result of the late hour than anything else, and for once the lousy weather did not hold us up.  Only fifteen minutes from push-back to takeoff.  They should all be this efficient!

“At top of climb we settled into the task of tuning the big Boeing to the knife-edge efficiency of cruise flight, a delicate exercise designed to extract the maximum benefit from each pound of fuel.  Hurrying south into the night, the familiar checkpoints passed quickly, and soon we picked up the call sign of  Clipper 441, the nightly service from Miami to Rio.  Captained by an old friend, we chatted into the shank of the morning about the chain of ominous developments that threatened to overwhelm the airline.

“We crossed the Amazon at Santarem, with the eastern sky beginning to gray on the horizon.  Down across the endless green rain forest, we touched down at the sprawling Sao Paulo Airport almost exactly on schedule.  It was a beautiful early summer morning, and I was very much looking forward to a breakfast beer and a long nap.  Little did I know that for Pan American World Airways, this was a day that would live in infamy.

Baggage tag for Sao Paulo from 1950s era.

Baggage tag for Sao Paulo from 1950s era.

  ViewfromAir-SaoPaulo   guarulhos-airport-c-wing

Recent views of Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport

“The telephone rang, rudely, just past noon.  I came swimming up out of a deep sleep, confused and disoriented, groping for the insistent instrument.  The Pan Am Manager for South America was on the line, and his first words erased all traces of sleep from my brain.  In essence, it was over.  The airline had ceased to exist, just like that.  Decades of colorful history, of pioneering routes and opening oceans and continents to air commerce, all of it gone, in a stroke.  ‘All of the airplanes must be out of South America by this afternoon, Captain,’  he said.  ‘Your aircraft is turning around in Montevideo immediately, and will be back in Sao Paulo by three.  You must contact your crew and any others who may be at the hotel.  I suggest you contact the local station manager to make the arrangements.  The airplane must be away by dark.’  He rang off, and left me pacing the room with my jumbled thoughts.

“The next couple of hours passed in a blur.  By some miracle I managed to contact everyone in the crew and pass on the sad news.  I talked to the Sao Paulo station manager, the cheery Brazilian who had met me at my airplane just a few hours earlier.  ‘We must have some sort of catering,’  I said to him. ‘I’m sure no one has eaten anything since early this morning, and it’s going to be a long night.’  I tried to think of all the little details, to cover all the bases.

“Our crowded crew bus left the hotel at three.  It was a somber trip.  Tears flowed as questions and endless speculation filled the air.  The bus hurried through the mysteriously light traffic and sped toward the outskirts of the sprawling city.  It was as though our departure was being hastened by some dark and sinister force.  At the airport the transformation was nothing less than appalling.  The orderly infrastructure that we had left just hours before was now chaos.  All of the signs bearing the airline’s name had mysteriously disappeared, counters were deserted, computers unplugged and stacked haphazardly wherever there was space.  The few passengers we met stared at us as though we had some terrible contagious disease. I left the cabin crew in a forlorn little knot in front of the now anonymous ticket counter and went backstage looking for the operations office.  By mistake I opened a door into a room full of employees — it was a meeting of some kind, and not a happy one.  I could make a good guess at the subject.  The only sounds were muffled sobs; I hastily closed the door and moved on.  The operations office was manned by a harried clerk manning the one lone working computer.  He glared at us as he tossed the paperwork on the counter, as though all of this was our fault.  He explained that we were to ferry the airplane to New York; the crew that had brought it in from Uruguay would remain on board.  He was hurrying us along just like everyone else, anxious to be rid of this dreadful contagion.

“Finally there was nothing more to do.  The station manager appeared and covered the details of the departure.  The airplane was parked in a deserted corner of the massive airport, and he had managed to have it catered, thank God.  My stomach was reminding me that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast on the inbound flight, eons ago.  Our unhappy little brood gathered around and we headed for the bus that would carry us to the last departure, the last airplane we would ever call Clipper.  There was a hurried consultation between the station manager and an assistant, and then a quick question:  ‘Captain, we have a favor to ask.  The mother of one of our agents here has been visiting her from New York. Now she will have no way to return without paying full fare.  Do you think you could take her?’

“I almost laughed aloud.  What could they do, fire me?  ‘Of course, señor. That should be no problem.’  They could have gone out front and sold tickets on the sidewalk, for all I cared.

“In less than half an hour we were airborne.  We were a miserable band of about fifty crewmembers plus one somber Brazilian lady who spoke little English.  As we took the runway I keyed the mike.  ‘Sao Paulo Tower, this is Clipper One Zero Two Two.  Request permission to make a low pass over the airport on departure.’

“’Negative, Clipper.  Permission denied due to traffic.’ Short, terse, and to the point.  There was to be no sentimental farewell here.  To them it was just another departure.  I thought briefly about doing it anyway, then said to hell with it.

“We took off into the lowering sun and set the nose of the big Clipper northward toward the northern hemisphere winter.  I thought briefly about what we would do if we had any sort of problem and had to divert.  What would happen then?  What would we do for support, for maintenance if we needed it?  Would there be money for hotels for my oversized crew if we had to overnight?  All questions with no answers.  I thought about the airplane that was carrying us home on our last ever journey.  She was a 747-122, one of several we flew that had once belonged to United Airlines.  What would happen to her now?  Would she be bound for an ignominious grave in some southwestern desert?

“We had two full crews aboard, and the pilots offered to share in the duties, an offer that normally I would have gratefully accepted.  Tonight, however, I was reluctant to give up my seat to anyone; this was a flight that none of us wanted to end.  In ordinary times this takeoff and landing would have been the first officer’s, but not tonight.  He had accepted the inevitable with grace and a smile.  Finally I relinquished my seat and wandered back into the darkened cabin.  Little knots of people gathered in the galleys, pools of light amidst the great cabins now dark and empty, almost sinister in the silence.  I sat in one of the luxurious first class seats, seats that by all rights should have been filled with happy, chattering passengers who would pay my salary.  Tonight there was no one.  I tried to doze and could not, and finally gave up and went back to the flight deck.  As I opened the door I had a sudden feeling that this was all a cruel hoax, that everything was just as it was.  The airplane roared into the night, the three crew-members watching the performance with studied indifference, it was like a thousand other nights, quiet and comforting.

“I got back into the left seat, savoring the sounds and the night; the benign drone of the engines, the majesty of the December sky.  I wondered when I would ever experience them again.  For lack of anything better to do,  I decided to see if I could raise the company.  I dialed up Houston Radio and asked for a phone patch.  To my surprise, Pan Am dispatch answered almost immediately.  We chatted for a moment about routine things; I dragged out the brief conversation.  We were both reluctant to sign off, each of us recognizing the finality of the contact.  ‘You’re the last one, Clipper,’ he said.  Suddenly tears welled in my eyes, for the first time the reality of this unspeakable scenario hit home.

“Then finally it was time to go, to close this unhappy chapter.  We started down into the early morning glitter of New York City; it was cold and windy, the air crisp and sparkly.  At two a.m. we were the only traffic, and we cut the corners onto the runway 31 Left ILS.  None of the controllers knew what to say, and we didn’t either.  We taxied to a far corner of the sprawling ramp in front of the International Arrivals Building where we were greeted by one lone maintenance type whose sole contribution to the proceedings was to install the gear pins and wheel a maintenance ladder up to the left forward door.  He wore a Delta Airlines uniform; I had never seen him before.  He was gone almost as soon as he arrived.  The descent from the airplane was almost worse than the flight itself, the flight attendants teetering down the rickety ladder with tote bags and flight kits, following slowly one by one.  There was a Volkswagen van of undetermined vintage poised to take us into the customs hall, where the one lone inspector sympathetically waved us through.

“And so it was over.  What the future would hold for all of us none could foresee, only that this chapter was closed.  We had had a grand run, dancing with one of the grand ladies of the industry.  Growing gracefully beautiful in her middle age when we met, she had moved with stately grace even as she grew older.  We waltzed happily together into her sunset years, and it was only later that she showed the lines and ravages of age and neglect.  None of us will ever forget her.”

Captain John Marshall served as a pilot for Pan Am from July 1964 until 4 December 1991.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XVI: What is Pan Am

What is Pan Am and Why Should We Care?

Every Thanksgiving millions of Americans take to the air to visit loved ones for what has become a four-day weekend. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest day of the year for airline travel. And the nation’s airlines gear up for the onslaught of passengers at the nation’s airports. For the past twenty-two years one airline has been missing: Pan American World Airways.

For the past 15 weeks this “Pan Am Series” has been written and shared with the purpose of keeping the Pan Am story alive. Many born in the 1980s and later probably don’t remember Pan Am and maybe never ever heard of it. For those who do not know, or know very little, about Pan Am, the words and illustrations below will be an introduction to one of the greatest airlines ever.

Below are two articles: The first from the Pan Am Historical Foundation explaining who is Pan Am and why it is important; and the second, a “from the heart” retrospective on Pan Am logos, symbols and slogans, from a former Pan Am Captain who flew one of the airline’s last flights.

From the Pan Am Historical Foundation:

“For those who flew internationally for business or pleasure before 1991, the words Pan Am will provoke memories that range from a peripheral awareness of an airline that is no more to vivid recollections of an American company that achieved archetypal status as an icon of the 20th century.

“For those in the commercial aviation and air transport industries, Pan Am resonates as the prototypical intercontinental carrier that drew the blueprints and set the foundation for the global air transport system of today. Driven, dominant, fiercely competitive—loved, hated, or envied—the company’s long list of trailblazing firsts is an indelible record of operational achievement. All the while, its corporate identity exuded a sense of style and élan that remains legendary. The Pan Am identity projects a highest standard and its mark stood worldwide above all others.

“For those whose fate depended on a desperate flight to freedom, and to the many more who never boarded an airplane, Pan Am brought the ideals of the nation and the support of a caring world community to the teeming shores of five continents.

“The safety and affordability of air travel today enjoyed by many millions of the world’s mobile society can be traced directly back to Pan Am. The ability of the company leadership in the formative years of air travel to structure such an industry and open its markets, and to move so quickly on multiple fronts of technology, finance, diplomacy, and human resources remains a model of entrepreneurship. The same can be said for its brand of patriotism and service to the national interest in both peacetime and in war.

“Air travel is a complex experience today. Nevertheless, in the industrialized world it has become an entitlement, an expectation that we can be in London one day and in Hong Kong the next. Something only a Jules Verne could imagine a few generations ago. The ancient dream of flight was passed from the grasp of a few intrepid experimenters into the hands of a globe-trotting public via Pan Am in just a few decades.

“A complete corporate history of Pan American World Airways from 1927 to 1991 could fill ten volumes. The following points and milestones, however, are some of the broad brush strokes in the colorful history of this unique company and its lasting significance.

“Pan Am was not “another airline.” In transport by fixed wing aircraft Pan Am had no equal in either domestic or foreign rivalry. First across the Pacific, the Atlantic, and round-the-world with regular scheduled and sustained service.

“It all began in South Florida. While domestic, overland airline development evolved coast-to-coast, the state of aeronautics and geography dictated that of all the world’s continental configurations the ninety-five-mile gap from the extreme tip of the Sunshine State across the Florida Straits to Cuba was just right for attempting a first foray of over water international air service. Furthermore, this location was a natural gateway for linking the Americas and to begin building an aerial network to unify the Western Hemisphere.

“The first principals of Pan Am, its holding company, and subsidiaries were leading experts and visionaries in aeronautics, finance, business, governmental affairs, and international diplomacy. These executives were able to identify and gain access to like minded individuals and foster a culture of competence. The same caliber of recruitment was carried out at the engineering and operational levels. While standard business practices of the day were employed organizationally, close coordination and many cross-over skills kept the pyramid from being overly hierarchical in the early years. Professionalism, from the boardroom to the flight crews and maintenance departments changed the face of the airline business. As things progressed, an esprit de corps evolved best summed up by the catchphrase “Clipper Glory.”

“With European nations leading in aeronautics after WWI and pressing their efforts in scheduled ocean air transport, it was Pan Am that achieved the breakthrough with China Clipper service to Asia propelling the US to the forefront of the air age. Its proprietary radio direction finding technology and long-range, multi-engine aircraft, which it had demanded of manufacturers, set it apart from all other of the world’s fleets.

“This is Pan Am. A unique American enterprise that did so much to define the twentieth century and an entrepreneurial success story that continues to inspire and point the way to what is possible. The story is multi-layered, and while its complexities draw on many disciplines in science, technology, human factors, international relations, and more, they are all connected by a simple idea—the desire to strive for excellence. Such is the legacy.”

From Captain Don Cooper:

Pan Am Logos and Slogans

“Over six decades, Pan American’s magnitude of operation extended to six continents, and included numerous nations and cities and thus established the company as an international icon,  second only to Coco Cola. Pan American’s pioneering and technological achievements, along with its passenger innovations projected the company’s image to the forefront of the international travel. As its route system expanded, the quality of service and safety improved, generating public confidence in the company and commercial aviation. Because of these outstanding achievements, Pan American became the premier airline of the world insuring its corporate name, clipper call sign, nautical aircraft themes, logo and slogans to be recognized internationally.

“International maritime law requires all aircraft and ships to display the flag of the country of registry. Pan Am prominently and proudly displayed the American flag, sometimes on the fuselage near the nose and at other times on the tail of the aircraft, which symbolized that Pan Am aircraft, at anytime, anywhere in the world, were the sovereign territory of the United States of America.

“Pan American’s first logo was an arrow piercing a bracketed shield with the letters ‘PAA’ enclosed. From the top of the shield, lines flowed towards the tail giving an impression of an arrow in express flight. In October 1930, [Chief Engineer] Andre Priester ordered a standard theme for all Pan American aircraft, a logo designed with a hemispheric globe underneath a half wing. This logo eventually evolved into a series of three symbols, which were painted on the nose and near the tail of all its aircraft. The first in the series showed the continents of North and South Americas in the center of the globe. In 1944, several changes were made by placing the letters “PAA” on the wing, incorporating grid lines, and rotating the globe to show portions of the western hemisphere. Later, the grid lines were removed. Navy blue became the official color for aircraft livery. In the same period, the slogan “The System of the Flying Clippers” was introduced.

 “In 1949, with the introduction of the Boeing 377, called the ‘Stratocruiser’, the airline’s most enduring slogan, ‘World’s Most Experienced Airline,’ was adopted.

377-n

“Pan Am’s corporate name changed several times. In 1950, the company’s original name ‘Pan American Airways’ was changed to ‘Pan American World Airways.’ Then on November 1, 1972 the corporate name was changed again to the company’s popular nickname ‘Pan Am.’

“Juan Trippe had an affinity for nautical aspects of mid-nineteenth century clipper ships that were developed in the U.S. These ships were sleek and fast sailing vessels and acquired the name ‘Clipper’ from the way they ‘clipped-off’ their miles, dramatically reducing sailing times between distant ports of call. Sailing to Australia in 1854, Donald McKay’s ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ reported the highest rate of speed, 22 knots, ever achieved by a sailing ship. Clipper ships were built for seasonal trade, where early cargo delivery was paramount. These sleek vessels were ideally suited for low-volume, high profit goods, such as tea, spices, gold, opium from China and wool from Australia. Their cargoes could be spectacular in value.

Donald McKay's Sovereign of the Seas

Donald McKay’s Sovereign of the Seas

“In 1930, Trippe made a corporate decision that all Pan American aircraft would adopt a nautical theme. Airspeed would be calculated in knots, time in bells, aircraft interiors would be nautical and a crew’s tour of duty would be referred to as a watch. All company aircraft would be christened ‘Clippers.’ This tradition continued for the life of the company, with the brand name registered to ensure its exclusive use. On Columbus Day 1931, a Sikorsky S 40, was the first aircraft to bear the name ‘Clipper’. It was christened ‘American Clipper’ by Mrs. Herbert Hoover, the President’s wife. Since the law of Prohibition (18th Amendment, later repealed) was in effect, a bottle of Caribbean Sea water was used for the christening instead of a bottle of champagne. Pan American Clippers, the ultimate in aviation technology, were the proud symbols of America’s ability to lead the world in the advancements of commercial aviation.

Sikorsky S-40 - "Southern Clipper" - the first Clipper Ship

Sikorsky S-40 – “Southern Clipper”

 “During this same era, André Priester ordered that cockpit crew members’ uniforms be changed from white trousers and dark blue coats to navy-blue serge uniforms, standard black neck ties and gold wings pinned on the breast of their jackets. These uniforms changes were for all divisions and for certain ground personnel and included the subsidiary companies of Pan American.

” In the summer of 1932, a new uniform insignia was introduced along with standardized pay for all pilots and other employees. Captains received a flat salary of $600 dollar a month. Chief pilots received wings with three stars on a blue bar. Senior pilots wore wings with two stars, co-pilots had one star and junior pilots had none. The title of captain was adopted and implied master of the ship. Originally, crew rank was not indicated on uniforms, but after WW II, four gold braided stripes were added to the sleeves of captain’s uniforms and ‘scrambled eggs’ were placed on hat bills. All other cockpit crew members wore three gold stripes and plain black billed hats.

 “Pan American cabin crews were traditionally male stewards or pursers, modeled in function and appearance after stewards of luxury ocean liners. Their uniforms were white shirts, black neck ties, white waist-length jackets and black trousers. Their work was considered to be too arduous for women, but in 1944, this tradition changed. Pan American hired its first seven stewardesses to fly in their Latin America Division from Miami. The following December, the Alaska Division hired one lady, Marcia Black. On September 15, 1945, the Atlantic Division hired a class of stewardesses to be trained for the Boeing 314 Atlantic service. In March 1946, the Pacific Division hired their first stewardesses.

“After World War II, Pan American Airways hired four unique and very special ladies: Marjory Foster-Munn, Ruth Glaser-Wright-Guhse, Barbara Hart-Kennedy and Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Haas-Pfister. During the War, these ladies became members of an elite group called WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). Twenty-five thousand ladies applied, 1830 were accepted and took the oath, but only 1074 completed flight training, freeing a male pilot for combat service and duties. Thirty-eight WASP lost their lives in accidents, 11 in training and 27 fulfilling flight duties. As a group, they flew every aircraft in the military inventory, including fighters and bombers and did a myriad of flying jobs. After serving their country as pilots, Pan American denied these four WASPs employment as pilots because of discriminatory polices at the time. So, they hired on as stewardesses.

“In October 1955, Juan Trippe in his typical covert manner, without telling Pan Am employees or other airline executives about what he was up to, started secret talks with aircraft manufactures. He pitted one aircraft manufacture against another for competitive purposes, and brow beat Pratt Whitney, the aircraft engine maker,  for more powerful and fuel efficient jet engines. After clandestine negotiations with Douglas and Boeing for new jet aircraft, Trippe decided to have a cocktail party in his Manhattan apartment over looking the East River to celebrate and announce Pan American future plans. His guests, members of IATA executive committee, were having enjoyable time and praising themselves for ordering new turbo-prop Lockheed Electras to replace their outdated propeller aircraft fleets. When someone ask Trippe what Pan Am’s plans were, he announced that Pan Am was going all jet with an order of 24 Douglas DC-8s and 21 Boeing 707s. That announcement had a chilling effect on his guest and ended the party’s upbeat note. Trippe had just forced the jet age upon his competitors and in the process, they would be forced to dump their propeller aircraft at loss. In the following days, airline executives were headed west to the Boeing and Douglas plants to get in line behind Pan American for their new jets.

 “What followed was a complete revamp of the Pan Am’s image in preparation for the jet age. In 1955, New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes was hired as Pan Am’s consultant designer. He and his associate Charles Forberg revamped the image of the company. The most notable changes were the new 1960 terminal building at JFK fashioned after Berlin’s Tempelhof with an overhanging canopy roof and by replacing the traditional half-wing and hemispheric globe logo with a large clean blue globe over-laid with curved parabolic lines to give an impression of an airline without geographic demarcations.

“The jet age arrived on October 26, 1958, with Pan Am’s first Boeing 707 inaugural flight from New York to Paris. The jets were an immediate financial success for Pan Am, along with the blue ball, which became one of the world’s most recognized corporate symbols.

“Because Pan Am was a recognized world icon, which represented America’s greatest; Islam terrorist on December 21, 1988 bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland shortly after departing London, killing 269 people. This terrorist action eventually led Pan Am to its demise. On December 4, 1991 Pan Am declared bankruptcy and closed down after sixty-four years of service and the blue ball, along with its patent rights, was sold by court ordered auction for 1.3 million dollars.  In order to circumvent the patent issues of the blue ball logo, a new symbol was created for the 2006 Pan Am/Victoria BC reunion by combining the blue ball and the half wing/hemispheric globe logos into one symbol as seen below. The combined logo truly represents Pan Am’s legendary sixty-four year history, which no other airline can match and all Pan am employees should be proud to have been a part of this extraordinary legacy.”

logo-11

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XV: President Kennedy

President Kennedy and Pan Am

This November 22 Americans born in the 1950s and before will recall that day in 1963, fifty years ago, when the 35th U.S. President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Like their parents and grandparents who remember where they were on December 7, 1941 and their children and grandchildren who remember where they were on September 11, 2001, these baby-boomers will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the words of Walter Cronkite announcing that the President had died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite announces the death of President John F. Kennedy. (CBS/Landov)

But for everyone, the significance of that event, and the history that followed, will be a memory forever. Pan American World Airways, in service to the White House that day, was there.

Pan Am on November 22, 1963

For most of this month, television networks have been broadcasting specials and documentaries about the assassination of President Kennedy. Often are shown old newsreels of the President and his party leaving Dallas Love Field in his limousine, and in many, one can see in the background a Pan Am 707 and members of its crew. That 707 was a “White house Press Charter”. The aircraft carried the news media and other White House staff and went everywhere the Presidential Aircraft, Air Force One, also a 707, went. Pan Am’s 707 was specially configured with all First Class seating and was stocked with “gourmet” food and drink. The operation involved an interchange during the trip to allow the media to cover both the departure and arrival of the President. At departure, Air Force One would depart first, allowing the media to cover it. En-route, the Pan Am aircraft would overtake Air Force One and land at the destination first to enable the media to cover the President’s arrival. On the morning of November 22, 1963, Air Force One and Pan Am traveled from Fort Worth to Dallas.

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Cecil Stoughton photo)

Air Force One departing Carswell Air Force Base for Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963 (Rob Hinnant photo from The Kennedy Gallery)

On board the Pan Am Press Charter that day was Kari-Mette Pigmans, a young Flight Attendant (then called “Stewardess”) from Norway who was in her first year of employment with Pan Am. She wrote of her memories from that day in a story featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt:

“During my first year of employment, I was chosen to fly the White House Press Charters.  The year was 1963 and John F. Kennedy was the President. I was amongst the select few chosen to fly the press that tailed Air Force One wherever President Kennedy went.  * * *

“I would not say that we were special, but we were the 11 chosen and led by Captain Doug Moody.  There were 4 in the cockpit and 7 in the cabin and that rounded out the crew for that year.    * * *

“I am writing about a particular day, however, and as I sit down to write this, tears fill my eyes and drip down my cheek to my notes that I have scribbled down.  The day was Friday, November 22nd 1963.  We flew . . . to Dallas (Love Field) where the President was fulfilling an invitation from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to visit his home state of Texas.  I remember the day vividly; it was a beautiful fall Texas day probably in the 70s. * * *

“The press had left the plane in the same quick fashion that they normally would so that they could get positioned to cover the Presidential events.  With our plane parked right next to Air Force One, the other 6 girls and I walked down to the tarmac to catch what was to be our last glimpse of the President that we had all become so fond of.   Jackie Kennedy joined him for this day in Dallas.  We saw the motorcade leave the airport with Gov. John Connally and his wife in the front of the open-air limo and JFK and Jackie in the back seats. * * *

“The crew was set to have a short layover in Dallas so we headed to the terminal for a quick meal.  It was not long before we were called back to our plane.  The news we received back on the plane hit us like a rock.  After what seemed like an eternity, a very solemn row of cars appeared.  Jackie Kennedy stepped out of the car.  She was still wearing that iconic, beautiful pink and navy Chanel suit, but now stained with blood.  * * *

“Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his wife Lady Bird arrived right behind Jackie and they all quickly entered Air Force One.  We had the misfortune of seeing the coffin which was later lifted into Air Force One.  There was not one dry eye around us and we stood there in complete silence as there was nothing really to say – conversation was just out of the question.  * * *

John F. Kennedy's casket being loaded on board Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

John F. Kennedy’s casket being loaded on Air Force One (The Kennedy Gallery)

“As we soon found out later, Lyndon Johnson was quickly sworn in as the 36th President on Air Force One.  A few minutes later the President’s plane took off and we headed behind in tow for Andrews Air Force Base.  Everyone remembers where they were that tragic afternoon.  We had truly witnessed history.  American History….World History….[and]….Pan American was there.”  

Here is a video of Kari Mette-Pigman’s interview with the Sixth Floor Museum:

Two Days Later

In New York, another young Flight Attendant, Carla Levesque Marshall, was assigned to work Pan Am’s flight 110 to Rome. It was a very emotional trip for her, as recalled in her story, “Indelible Impressions”, also featured in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People. Below are some excerpts from her story:

“I tore myself away on Sunday, November 24th to report to New York’s Idlewild Airport for Pan American Flight #110 to Rome.  I didn’t want to go, feeling as though it was some sort of treasonous act to leave my country during this terrible crisis.

“Our 707 was filled to capacity with anxious passengers.  It turned out that most of them felt just as I did – they were leaving home and preferred instead to stay to support America.  Throughout the long hushed night across the Atlantic, no one slept, whispering to us and to each other, communicating sadness, homesickness and despair, crying and comforting each other until we all arrived exhausted in the morning mist at Fumicino Airport in Rome.

“As soon as we stepped into the terminal, members of our Pan Am ground staff came up to greet us, first to offer their sympathy, [and also tell us about] a proxy memorial service for President Kennedy to be held . . . at the Basilica St. John Lateran, the Pope’s own cathedral.   

“Upon arrival at [our] hotel, everyone from the concierge to the porters to the housekeeping staff expressed their condolences to us. President Kennedy’s photo was on the wall in the lobby draped in black.  We changed clothes as quickly as we could and jumped into a taxi to take us to the cathedral.  We didn’t realize that thousands of Romans [had] the same idea.  When our driver stopped the taxi, he pointed to a huge throng of people all dressed in black, which we suddenly recognized as the end of an impossibly long line of fellow mourners. * * *

“We were talking about how worried we were that we would never even see the church, let alone get inside to participate in the service, because the line was well over a mile long.  Someone near us asked in heavily accented English, ‘Are you Americans?’ We nodded, and then the miracle began to happen.  In Italian, I heard them say to the people in front of them that we were Americans, and with that, a few people stood aside to let us move up in the line. This incredible courtesy repeated itself over and over, until we found ourselves being gently pushed inside the cathedral.  There was San Giovanni in Laterano in all of its palatial glory. 

“The courtesy extended to us did not stop there. Unbelievably, the Italians continued to open a path for us until we were actually standing directly in front of the High Altar encased in its brilliant gold.  Television klieg lights were above us and shown down upon the most stunning scene: On the High Altar was a coffin draped in the flag of the United States. Stationed at each corner of the altar were Honor Guards in full dress uniforms from each of the United States armed services, and also from each of the Italian armed services.  Behind the High Altar was the entire assemblage of the College of Cardinals and the Ecumenical Council dressed in their scarlet robes.  Pope Paul VI, dressed in white robes, began the high mass for President Kennedy, and we joined in the prayers with hearts filled with love for our President and gratitude for the wonderful people who had allowed us to witness this astonishing event. Tears were streaming down my cheeks when a very small elderly lady at my side reached up and began patting my arm, saying, ‘Mi dispicere tanto’ – I’m so very sorry.

“The following day, my crew and I flew on to Tehran.  The sentiment, ‘I’m so very sorry’ was repeated by almost every passenger during our flight, and by every Iranian with whom we came into contact on the ground – the airport staff, our crew bus driver, the hotel staff and even strangers on the street who saw us in our Pan Am uniforms. Again, President Kennedy’s photograph was on the Hilton Hotel lobby wall, and there were other photos of him on the walls of our individual rooms, all draped in black.

“This global outpouring of grief and sympathy took place early in my career, and it was the first time that I comprehended how completely the rest of the world identified Pan American Airways and those of us who worked for the Pan Am family, as extensions of America, and extensions of what America stood for: freedom and hope of freedom. The rest of the world had recognized that the death of young President Kennedy was a blow to those hopes of freedom. The expressions of sympathy were not really directed at me, but to the symbol I had the privilege to represent.”

While preparing this installment of The Pan Am Series, it was discovered that Father John Schultz, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, then a seminary student in Rome, was also present at the Mass on 25 November at the Basilica  St. John Lateran.

*****

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XIV: Crossing the Pacific

Crossing the Pacific – The “Unsung Hero”

On the date 22 November, Pan American World Airways was part of two historic events. The first, in 1935, was the inauguration of trans-Pacific airline service, and the second, in 1963, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In this installment is the story of the China Clipper, which crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1935; in the next will be the story of Pan Am’s part in the tragic events in Dallas, Texas in 1963.

Whenever there is reference to the first airliner crossing of the Pacific Ocean, invariably it is the Martin M-130 China Clipper that comes to mind. This, event, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft, was “one of the most noteworthy and historic dates in the history of transport”. The Clipper, commanded by Edwin C. Musick, departed San Francisco Friday afternoon, 22 November 1935 and arrived in Manila, Philippines Friday afternoon, 29 November, having stopped in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam along the way. The 8210 mile trip took 59 hours and 48 minutes flying time.

In addition to its historic importance, the event was one of the most publicized ever. Described in detail by Robert Daley in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, the celebration included lunches, speeches by VIPs and “crowds on the docks, crowds on the rooftops and crowds aboard the extra ferries that had been added on”. In addition the inaugural ceremony was broadcast both in the USA as well as in Europe, South America and the Orient and included speeches by Postmaster General James Farley and Juan Trippe. Trippe concluded matters with the command, “Captain Musick, you have your sailing orders. Cast off and depart for Manila in accordance therewith”. Receptions greeted the Clipper in Honolulu and upon arrival in Manila between two and three hundred thousand Filipinos jammed together along a jetty to welcome the ship. In addition was an enclosure with two thousand prominent guests as well as people in the streets and on rooftops. A flotilla of military fighter planes flew out to escort the Clipper through its splashdown and landing. There followed a reception, banquet and parade. Later, Captain Musick presented a letter from US President Roosevelt to Philippine President Quezon commemorating the flight. It was indeed an important event in aviation history.

The Atlantic

Crossing the Pacific, however, was not the original intent of Juan Trippe in his desire to cross an ocean. It was the Atlantic. However the geopolitical situation coupled with technological limitations made that option impossible. The details are spelled out with precision in Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul’s The Chosen instrument. In a nutshell, the path to Europe was through Newfoundland. Unfortunately, negotiations between Juan Trippe, Britain, Canada and Newfoundland in 1932 did not provide the access desired, although some understanding was achieved between Pan American and Britain’s Imperial Airways with regard to traffic rights. Because Newfoundland appeared to be in doubt, Trippe looked south. Unfortunately, the political situation in Portugal made it difficult for Pan American to negotiate for traffic rights there as well. In addition, a survey trip made by Charles Lindbergh in the summer of 1933 brought into question the feasibility of using flying boats for regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic service.

What is interesting here, with respect to the negotiations over Newfoundland, is that it was not the American government doing Pan American’s bidding. It was Juan Trippe. And it was Juan Trippe who personally dealt with the governments of Britain, Canada and Newfoundland, following a pattern used when he negotiated traffic rights to countries in Latin America.

The Pacific

Any hope for trans-Atlantic operations, however, was dashed when, in April 1934, the British government demanded reciprocity with the United States over traffic rights.  According to Bender and Altschul, the British “[g]overnment pulled the strings for Imperial, and if it viewed Pan American Airways as a similar instrument of national policy, then it would want to settle matters with the United States government.” Juan Trippe had overestimated his diplomatic skills and his “go-it-alone diplomacy” was not working. He admitted that he did not see much future for Pan American in the North Atlantic. In addition, as pointed out by Bob Gandt in China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats, “[t]he British, in 1934, had nothing like the S-42 or the coming M-130. Until Imperial Airways . . . possessed an airplane that could commence scheduled flights from Britain to the United States, Pan American would find itself blocked from the British crown colonies”.

One point of interest here is that during this time the state-owned flag carriers of several European nations were establishing routes to their own colonies in Asia, Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent, all without the need to obtain traffic rights. Privately owned Pan American did not have this luxury in that part of the world.

The focus thus switched to the Pacific. After a “great circle” trans-Pacific route through the north was ruled out due to issues between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was decided to take the route that represented the longest distance between the United States and the Orient: the mid-Pacific.

Here, the issue of traffic rights was not a problem for Pan American. The route involved stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam, terminating in Manila, all of which were under U.S. jurisdiction. At Guam and the Philippines, the U.S. Navy had established bases on the pretext of potential confrontation with Japan. Midway was being used by the Navy for war games staged in the area. This left Wake, a tiny island, discovered by Juan Trippe in the New York Public Library, and, according to Daley, “[f]or a brief time – only the blink of an eye as history is measured – it was one of the most famous places in the world”.

Wake Island

The tiny island of Wake, an uninhabited coral atoll, was to become one of the most important way points on the route west to the Orient. It lay over 4000 miles from the U.S. mainland in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and was a minor trophy of the Spanish-American War. Inside was a lagoon with surface water smooth enough to handle landings of flying boats, but the presence of coral heads made landings impossible. Its location, however, made it a critical point for the trans-Pacific flight. Juan Trippe eventually got permission to use the island as a base, and on 27 March 1935, the S.S. North Haven, a cargo ship, sailed west with provisions to set up bases for Pan American at Midway and Wake. At Wake, an entire village was built, including a hotel for passengers en-route to or from the Orient. Everything used in building the base was shipped from the mainland. In addition, a swimmer from Columbia University, Bill Mullahey, who boarded the ship in Honolulu in a swimsuit, straw hat and a surfboard over his shoulder, was brought on board as the one man demolition expert to clear the lagoon for landings. Wherever there was a coral head in the lagoon, he would dive down and place dynamite sticks in holes in the coral heads and attach detonator wires to them. After he surfaced the dynamite was blasted, and afterward he would go down to inspect. The channel to be cleared was one mile long and three hundred yards wide and it took months to clear the channel of several hundred coral heads. His only gear was a pair of marine goggles; fins, face-masks, snorkels and scuba tanks had not yet been invented.

The below illustrations of Wake Island are from Robert Daley’s An American Saga. Shown is the treacherous surf outside the lagoon the workers bringing in gear had to brave, the village and the hotel’s lobby. Because there was no anchorage, the North Haven anchored offshore.

 The Aircraft

On 1 October 1932, Pan American placed an order for three Sikorsky S-42s, The aircraft was a product of the joint oversight of Pan American’s Chief Engineer Andre Priester and Charles Lindbergh. What was unique about this aircraft, according to Bob Gandt, was the design of the wing, which gave it greater range and the ability to bear a greater load. By the time Pan American accepted delivery of its first S-42, the aircraft had set several aviation records that made it probably the most advanced airliner in the world. Unfortunately, it was primarily designed for service in Latin America and was not suitable for trans-oceanic passenger operations. The aircraft could only carry six or eight passengers with the required fuel. In Latin American operations, passenger capacity was up two thirty-two.

At the same time, the Martin M-130, a larger aircraft capable of trans-oceanic flight, was on the drawing board. A more advanced airliner than the S-42, Juan Trippe also placed an order for three.

Survey Flights

The M-130 was the intended aircraft for the new trans-Pacific route, however it was not due for delivery until the end of 1935. Survey flights were needed and Juan Trippe would not wait. The West Indies Clipper, an S-42 then being used in Latin America, was selected for the duty. It was renamed the Pan American Clipper and was stripped of all passenger accommodation and fitted with extra fuel tanks, giving it an endurance of 21 1/2 hours and a range of 3000 miles. The key, and most important flight segment of the trans-Pacific trip was California-Honolulu. The ability to fly this critical segment meant there would be no barrier to the eventual establishment of trans-oceanic flight. That was achieved. The Pan American Clipper departed San Francisco on 16 April 1935 for Honolulu and returned on 22 April. On 12 June it surveyed the Honolulu-Midway segment; on 9 August, Midway-Wake; and on 5 October, Wake-Guam. On 24 October, the U.S. Post Office awarded Pan American the trans-Pacific mail contract, the day the  Pan American Clipper arrived back in San Francisco from its survey flights across the Pacific.

The two illustrations below are from different sources: On the left is a picture of an S-42 departing San Francisco, presumably on one of the survey flights. It was provided by the late Marcel “Skip” Conrad, Esq., who was an attorney for Oakland International Airport. The picture was on one of the walls in his office. The picture on the right is the S-42 upon arrival in Honolulu on its first survey flight. This was an illustration in Robert Daley’s An American Saga.

China Clipper

The first Martin M-130, China Clipper, was delivered 9 October 1935. On 22 November, China Clipper inaugurated trans-Pacific airline service. The planning and preparation for this service was typical of the efficient organization nurtured by Pan American, and was a manifestation of the high standards demanded of the flying crews. As described by Ron Davies, “… there was a certain inevitability about the event. . . .the planning which went into the preparation for the historic event left no stone unturned, or to be exact, no potentially damaging piece of coral reef unmoved. * * * Pan American Clippers had cut the trans-Pacific travel time from a matter of weeks to a matter of days. The world’s biggest ocean had been conquered. A new age had begun.”

Below is illustrated the cover and the inside page (showing the route map and flight schedules) of Pan Am’s June-August 1940 timetable. Note the flight numbers were 800 and 801 and the aircraft used were either the M-130 or the Boeing 314. Until the sale of its Pacific routes to United in 1986, all Pan Am flight numbers in the Pacific were numbered in the 800’s.

The Unsung Hero

The "Unsung Hero" of Pan American's historic crossing of the Pacific, Bill Mullahey. Without his bravery in blasting out each coral head in the lagoon of Wake Island, the flying boats could never have landed. (Daley, An American Saga)

The “Unsung Hero” of Pan American’s historic crossing of the Pacific, Bill Mullahey. Without his bravery in blasting out each coral head in the lagoon of Wake Island, the flying boats could never have landed. He had another role in a later Pan American historic event that occurred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Daley, An American Saga)

On 22 November 1985, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the historic flight of the China Clipper, Pan American re-enacted the event with a Boeing 747-212B, named China Clipper II. Ann Whyte, who was Manager, Public Relations at the time, was a participant. She tells about her experiences of that flight in the book, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt from her story:

“The 1935 China Clipper, piloted by Captain Edwin Musick, departed from Alameda and stopped in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam before finally landing in Manila.  * * * Our 747 would follow the exact route. The revenue passengers, in addition to many VIPs, were composed of members of our frequent flyers program, others who yearned to be a part of aviation history, and those who wanted a package tour to the Pacific. 

China Clipper II (Don Boyd photo, airliners.net)

China Clipper II (Don Boyd photo, airliners.net)

“Excitement and expectancy were evident at our airport ceremony that included music and speeches. The son of James A. Farley, Postmaster General in 1935, was there.  His father had delivered a message from President Franklin Roosevelt, who said, ‘Even at this distance, I thrill to the wonder of it all.’  San Francisco Postmaster Mrs. Mary Brown told us that a special China Clipper international 44-cent stamp had been issued at Treasure Island in February 1985 and that the original flight carried 100,000 letters to the Philippines.  Also, 5,000 envelopes which had received philatelic treatment were on board our flight and would get special cancellations at each stop.  Flight attendants paraded in the various styles of uniform worn since the early days.  We cheered members of our flight crew when they were introduced.   It was a festive atmosphere.

51-Comm Envelope

“For the 1935 flight, the San Francisco to Hawaii leg was the most dangerous.  It took 21 hours for the seaplane to fly over the 2,397 miles of open water.  There was no radar, no voice communication.  The flight navigator had to climb out of a hatch several times at night to take star sightings with a sextant.  Harry R. Canaday, a pioneer captain on board our flight, remembered that in the early days, even with the best equipment available, it was what they called ‘flying by the seat of your pants.’  Shure V.  Sigfred, another pioneer captain on board, was astounded by the amount of people and cargo carried on our modern 747.  ‘We loaded the ship according to the weather and weighed every ounce,’ he reminisced.

“But on our flight there was a party atmosphere.  It took just five hours for us to reach Honolulu.  I was eager to see each island for a different reason.  I had had the opportunity to look at photographs and read accounts of those early days in the archives.  What I saw were pictures of enthusiastic crowds, flowers, song and dance waiting to greet the M-130 crew in Hawaii 50 years ago.

“I could feel the hospitality as soon as we landed.  To me, Hawaii signifies music, dancing, singing, fragrant blossoms, romance and exotic fruit.  We received a warm Aloha welcome of leis, song and dance.   Next we were whisked away to Pearl Harbor where we were honored with a ceremony to dedicate a plaque commemorating 50 years of commercial air service at the location where the original China Clipper landed, Middle Loch, Pearl City Peninsula.  That evening, it was thrilling to be part of the reception, testimonial dinner and entertainment at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel where our pioneers were recognized and applauded.”

At the other end of the trip, Cass Myers, Regional Director for Sales based in Hong Kong, was involved with the re-enactment of the China Clipper’s historic flight as well. His memories are also included in the above book, and are excerpted below:

“The seats on the flight were marketed commercially and there were many celebrities participating, including author James Michener, an astronaut, and other dignitaries such as Charles Lindbergh’s four grand-sons.  The Manila Hotel on Manila Bay was also nearly taken over for the group where two days of fun was planned.

“Two outside factors made this flight re-enactment especially interesting:  (1) United Airlines had already purchased Pan Am’s Pacific Division and was scheduled to take over flight operations as United Airlines in early February 1986; and (2) the President and First lady of the Philippines, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, were on their last legs as rulers, both  literally and figuratively.  In a couple months, the world would know that Imelda Marcos owned 2,000 pairs of shoes.     

“Being based at the Pan Am Regional Office in Hong Kong, I was fortunate to be one of the people responsible for the setup on the ground in Manila for the arrival, greeting and hotel transfer for the passengers and all the ceremonies and entertainment that followed. 

“The event itself was what was expected and more!   The arrival went without a hitch. The Pan Am Country Manager,  the late Joe Basso, even managed to locate the same bugler who in 1935 was a Boy Scout and then (at 58 years of age) still had the same bugle and played for the arrival. Needless to say, a great time was had by all but it was, in a way, bittersweet as Pan Am’s presence in the Pacific was rapidly coming to an end.”

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The writer of this article gratefully acknowledges the four sources liberally used in its preparation:

Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul, The Chosen instrument

Robert Daley, An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire

Ron Davies, Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft

Robert Gandt, China Clipper – The Age of the Great Flying Boats

The Pan Am Series – Part XIII: Farewell Boeing 314 and Hello DC-4

Ending the Flying Boat Era: The DC-4

Douglas DC-4 (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies' Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Douglas DC-4 (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

During 1936, Pan Am and the four main U.S. domestic airlines engaged in talks with Douglas Aircraft Company regarding the development of an airliner designed to carry more than 60 passengers with a range of 1000 miles. The result was the DC-4E, the first large airliner to feature a nose wheel as well as a main landing gear. The first flight was in June 1938. Unfortunately, the aircraft design did not meet the requirements of all of the five airlines and as a result it was scrapped and attention was switched to a smaller airliner, the DC-4.

DC-4E (Carl Malamud photo)

DC-4E (Carl Malamud photo)

The DC-4 initially went into production as a four-engine propeller-driven long-range commercial land plane. However, with the start of World War II, the focus switched to the military and the aircraft  was re-designated the C-54 for the Army Air Corps and the R5D for the Navy. The first flight was on 14 February 1942 and eventually over 1000 were built. During the war nearly 80,000 ocean crossings were made including a 250-strong armada that delivered two Army divisions to Japan from Okinawa after the Japanese surrender. The DC-4 also had a prominent role in the Berlin Airlift.

The aircraft proved to be a popular and reliable type, and its tricycle landing gear design allowed the fuselage structure to be stretched into the later DC-6 and DC-7 aircraft. Douglas continued production throughout the war and after. The aircraft was not pressurized, although it was an option.

Once hostilities were over, the C-54s and R5Ds were released and the world’s airlines scrambled for them. The U.S. airline industry went into high gear, and Pan Am was no exception, taking its first delivery on 3 November 1945. And for Pan Am, the acquisition of the DC-4 meant the end of the flying boat era, as described by Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and its Aircraft:

“In an epoch-making mission, Pan American dispatched a DC-4 on 21 October 1945 on a 25,000-mile survey flight to Japan, China, Southeast Asia and India. The message was clear. To underscore the point, Pan Am replaced its Boeing 314s on the California-Honolulu route with DC-4s. The daily flight took about 10 hours, compared with the Boeing’s 20, and the fare was reduced from $278 one way to $195. The era of the flying boat was at an end.”

Below is an image from Pan Am’s 1945 Annual Report of the first DC-4 taking off from LaGuardia Airport heading to Europe on a route proving flight passing over the Capetown Clipper in Bowery Bay. The Boeing 314 crew waves “good by” as the new landplane flies over the flying boat.

End of an Era (Pan Am 1945 Annual Report)

Besides the U.S. carriers, airlines from all over the world acquired the DC-4. Among the many were SAS, Iberia, Swissair, Air France, Sabena, KLM, Aerolineas Argentinas and South African Airways, as well as Pan Am affiliates Panagra, Cubana and Avianca.

DC-4 in "bare metal" color scheme.

Clipper Westward Ho in “bare metal” color scheme.

Pan Am eventually acquired over 90 DC-4s and employed them throughout its world-wide route system. It was also the aircraft used on 19 January 1946, when Pan Am operated the first landplane passenger flight to Africa with Clipper Lightfoot to Leopoldville, Belgian Congo. Pan Am’s use of the DC-4 from the end of the war until it was withdrawn in the early 1960s was initially extensive but became more specialized. A look at the timetables from that era tells the story.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the inauguration of service to Africa.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the inauguration of service to Africa.

In the June 1948 timetable, the DC-4 was used on Pan Am’s round-the-world flights between Calcutta and California and saw service on European, Alaska and the Pacific routes. The aircraft was also used in Latin America, including on Pan Am’s signature flights 201/202 between New York and Rio de Janeiro.

Clipper Reindeer in Alaska (PAHF)

Clipper Reindeer in Alaska (PAHF)

By the April 1952 timetable, Pan Am had introduced the DC-6B and the DC-4 was used more sparingly. In Europe it was used primarily on the Internal German Services (IGS) and in the Pacific it operated for the most part between Tokyo, Manila, Hong Kong and Singapore. The aircraft was also used in the Alaska service, Bermuda service and for Tourist class service between New York and San Juan and Miami and Havana.

By the April 1956 timetable, the DC-7B and DC-7C had been introduced to Pan Am’s fleet and the DC-4’s operations became more and more specialized. For example, the aircraft was employed exclusively on the IGS, with limited service on the Alaska and Pacific routes, and in Latin America with Avianca flights out of Bogota, Colombia.

Clipper Dreadnaught at Frankfurt

Clipper Dreadnaught at Frankfurt

DC-4 at Berlin

DC-4 at Berlin

By the April 1959 timetable, jet service had been introduced. The DC-4s were still employed in the IGS and with very limited service in the Pacific, and also with Panagra in Latin America.

And in the September 1961 timetable, with minor exceptions, Pan Am’s DC-4 passenger service ended when the DC-6B replaced the venerable aircraft on the IGS.

The DC-4, along with the Constellation, played a big role in Pan Am’s early post-war operations. The aircraft enabled Pan Am to become a “world” airline and it was instrumental in establishing Pan Am’s presence in Europe, the Pacific and in Latin America.  Its range enabled it to make ocean crossings, which gave Pan Am and the United States a distinct advantage in the development and operation of long range, large capacity aircraft. Unfortunately the DC-4 was remembered for its lack of pressurization and slower speed. Nevertheless because of its massive production and wide deployment by both military and commercial operators, what should not be forgotten, as so succinctly said by Ron Davies, “is the record of the intercontinental airlines, U.S. and foreign alike, almost all of which  inaugurated their prestigious trunk routes with DC-4s.”

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XII: The Boeing 747SP

The Boeing 747SP and a Record Making Flight

Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Boeing 747SP (Illustration by Mike Machat in Ron Davies’ Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft)

Once the Boeing 747 was a fixture in Pan Am’s fleet, the focus in the mid-1970s was toward ultra-long range flights. In the airline’s eye was the important and potentially lucrative New York-Tokyo market. What was called for was an aircraft with a range of 7000 miles and capable of carrying approximately 200 passengers in a mixed class configuration. The flight would be about 13-14 hours duration.

Pan Am was convinced there was a demand in the New York-Tokyo market for such an aircraft and persuaded Boeing to produce a shortened version of the 747 with the range for that route. Iran Air was also looking for a high capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover its Tehran-New York route. What resulted was the Boeing 747SP.

Boeing 747SP - Clipper Freedom

Boeing 747SP – Clipper Freedom

The Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747, and was designed for ultra-long-range flights. Compared with its predecessor, the 747-100, the 747SP retains its wide-body four-engine layout, along with its double-deck design, but has a shortened fuselage, larger vertical stabilizer, and simplified trailing edge flaps. The weight saved by the shortened fuselage permitted longer range and increased speed relative to other early 747 configurations. The aircraft was also intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011. And until the introduction of the Boeing 777-200LR and 747-8, the SP was the first and only Boeing wide-body with a wingspan greater than the length of its fuselage

The SP could accommodate 230 passengers in a 3-class cabin to a maximum of 440 passengers in one class. Originally designated 747SB for “short body”, Boeing later changed the production designation to 747SP for “Special Performance”, reflecting the aircraft’s longer range and faster cruise speed. Pan Am was the launch customer, taking the first delivery, Clipper Freedom, on 5 March 1976.

Captain Sherman Carr, one of the former Pan Am pilots who flew the Boeing 747SP had this to say about the aircraft:

 “The plane was originally developed for Pan Am to be able to operate non-stop from the U.S. to Hong Kong and be able to stay aloft for over 15 hours. It was actually a regular 747 with upstairs lounge seating but shortened by about 48 feet to make it lighter and additional fuel tanks for longer range. If it’s not loaded with full fuel for extended range flights, the aircraft actually scoots like a hot rod and will outperform any WWII or Korean conflict fighter aircraft and is a lot of fun to fly.  It will roll or loop or do most of the maneuvers you see at airshows but of course this is not authorized so no pilot would ever tell you he had done those things.

The 747SP first entered service on Pan Am’s New York-Tokyo route on 26 April 1976. It was later used on other long-haul routes, including New York-Dhahran, San Francisco-Hong Kong and Los Angeles-Sydney.

Until the 747-400 entered service in 1989, the SP was the longest-range airliner available. Despite its technical achievements, the SP never sold as well as Boeing hoped. The cost of fuel in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, the SP’s heavy wings, expensive cost, reduced capacity and the increased ranges of forthcoming airliners were some of the many factors that contributed to its low sales.  Some of the engineering work on the 747SP, however, was reused with the development of the 747-300 and 747-400 permitting them to fly the same range as the SP with the added bonus of extra seats and cargo capacity.

The aircraft was later acquired by VIP, government and corporate customers. At the end, a total of 45 aircraft were sold. Pan Am took delivery of eleven and disposed of them with the sale of its Pacific Routes to United Airlines.

Boeing 747SP - Clipper Plymouth Rock (John Wegg photo)

Boeing 747SP – Clipper Plymouth Rock (John Wegg photo)

While in service for Pan Am, the 747SP made two record-setting round-the-world flights. From 1-3 May 1976 the “Liberty Bell Express” flew around the world from New York with two stops, Delhi and Tokyo. The flight took 46 hours and 26 minutes over 23,137 miles. And from 28-30 October, celebrating Pan Am’s 50th Anniversary, “Pan Am Flight 50” flew around the world over both the North and South Pole with stops in London, Cape Town and Auckland. The flight took 54 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds and covered 26,706 miles.

Pam Hanlon was Managing Director, Corporate Communications at the time of the flight, and was also editor of the employee newspaper, the “Pan Am Clipper”. Below is an excerpt about Pan Am Flight 50 from her essay about her experiences in that position in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People:

“[T]he most spectacular of all the Pan Am celebrations was a record-setting round-the-world anniversary flight that hurdled both the North and South Poles.  “Clipper 50,” a Boeing 747SP, carried 172 passengers, including aviation enthusiasts and Pan Am loyalists who paid $3,333 for First Class service and $2,222 for Economy; five employees selected by lottery; official guests, among them Miss Universe and Miss USA; a guitarist; caricaturist; hairdresser; members of the press; and a crew headed by Pan Am’s Chief Pilot, Captain Walt Mullikin, and Astrid Seemueller on the flight service side.  Clipper 50 (in regular service, the aircraft was Clipper New Horizons, or N533PA) took off from San Francisco, flew over the North Pole to London, then to Capetown, South Africa, and over the South Pole to Auckland, New Zealand, before returning to San Francisco. * * *  Reservations for the flight were on a first-come, first-serve basis, and the flight was sold out in less than a week after it was announced, due in large part to extensive media coverage of the dazzling plans.  It seems no one was disappointed in the experience.   As Clipper 50 taxied to the gate in San Francisco at journey’s end, Captain Mullikin asked over the public address system, ‘Would you do it again?’ His question was met with a resounding cheer of enthusiastic fliers. ‘Just say where and when,’ one passenger shouted above the rest.”

(left to right) Janelle Penny Commissiong, the reigning Miss Universe; Captain Walter H. Mullikin, Vice President and Chief Pilot; Kimberly Louise Tomes, Miss USA.

(left to right) Janelle Penny Commissiong, the reigning Miss Universe; Captain Walter H. Mullikin, Vice President and Chief Pilot; Kimberly Louise Tomes, Miss USA.

Pam Hanlon’s recollections of her experiences at Pan Am is one 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.

Also, in the “B747SP Website“, retired Pan Am pilot Lee Nelson contributed a great story in “A 747SP Love Affair”. This website is dedicated to the 747SP and contains a potuporri of information about the “cutest airplane”.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

Kindle Edition Now Available!

Now Available in Kindle!

CoverDesign.Book2-2011

 

A Kindle Edition of Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People is now available!

Click here for more information.

The Pan Am Series – Part XI: The First Jet Flight

Pan Am’s Inaugural Trans-Atlantic Jet Flight

THE LAST WEEK OF OCTOBER IS SIGNIFICANT IN THE HISTORY OF Pan American World Airways.  Looking at the last six days of the month, the first Amazon route service was established on the 25th in 1933. On the 26th was the first service to Buenos Aires in 1931. On the 28th was Pan Am’s first scheduled flight in 1927. And on the 29th was the first operation at Pan American Field in Miami in 1928. There were two more recent events: On the 26th was the inauguration of the first scheduled trans-Atlantic service with an American-built jet, a Boeing 707-121 in 1958, the subject of this article, and on the 28th was the record-breaking Pole-to-Pole round-the-world flight with a Boeing 747SP in 1977, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Pan Am’s first scheduled flight, to be covered next week.

During World War II, Pan Am President Juan Trippe, Charles Lindbergh and Pan Am Chief Engineer Andre Priester explored the idea of jet propulsion.  However, the idea that jets would eventually become commercially viable did not have its genesis until the early 1950’s. Then, there was no jet airliner even in the design stage in the United States. Britain had been developing the “Comet” jet, but it lacked range. Boeing was developing a bomber, called the B-47, but its design did not lend itself to commercial flight. In December 1951, BOAC (predecessor to British Airways) took delivery of its first Comet, notwithstanding its poor economy and range. What Pan Am wanted was a plane that could carry at least 65 passengers from New York to London at 500 miles-per-hour. In mid-1952 Pan Am engineers Priester and John Borger made the rounds to Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed. What was seen was disappointing.  The manufacturers, however, soon began focusing on a commercial jet because by September 1952, jet airliners had become inevitable.  Boeing developed the Boeing 707 prototype and Douglas was working on its DC-8 project. At the same time, the turboprop engine had been developed and airlines were lining up for the likes of the Lockheed Electras and British Viscounts. Pan Am was not in the line because its engineers were of the opinion that propellers were the cause of most mechanical breakdowns.

BOAC indicated its intent to start trans-Atlantic operations with the Comet jet, even though its range required two stops westbound and one stop eastbound. Despite that, it was still 3-5 hours faster than the comfortable Startocruiser that Pan Am was using on its trans-Atlantic routes. To play it safe, Pan Am ordered three Comets although doubtful they would ever be delivered. They were not. After a number of accidents it was determined the Comet had a design flaw that required its grounding.

Other problems had to be dealt with, most foremost were the lack of airports that could handle jets, lack of fuel to “feed them”, lack of tugs to tow them, lack of suitable stairways and lack of adequate hangers to overhaul their engines. Other issues included the engine to be used, the size of the aircraft and its range, and its economics, pitting the air-frame manufacturers, the engine manufacturers and Pan Am on seemingly a collision course, given the different needs of each group.

After hard negotiations, Pan Am got what it wanted: The Boeing 707 and the DC-8. And on 13 October 1955, Juan Trippe made the announcement that he had just bought 45 jetliners. According to R.E.G. Davies, in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft:

“Each [jet] had twice the capacity of all but the largest piston airliner, had the potential for trans-Atlantic nonstop range, and was twice as fast. In economic terms this multiplied to about four or five times the productivity of the DC-7Cs . . . . and furthermore the reliability of the engines and airframes held out the prospect of far higher levels of annual utilization. “

While the 707 got all the attention given it was the first to be delivered, the jet aircraft order was for 20 Boeing and 25 Douglas machines. The fact that Pan Am ordered more DC-8’s suggests, according to Davies, that “Pan Am was prepared to support the company which had supplied it with so many reliable aircraft during the postwar years, but was also warning it that its product had to be good and that tradition and sentiment would not guarantee a continued market.” In fact, the Douglas jets were bigger and had better range than its Boeing counterparts, and because Boeing feared the foreign airlines going to Douglas, Boeing and Pan Am renegotiated the order for a bigger 707. Pan Am did take delivery of six smaller 707s in order to open service in the north-Atlantic before anyone else did (BOAC, however, did beat Pan Am, operating the first jet service to New York from London on 4 October 1958, although not daily). Boeing took Pan Am’s warning to heart. It assembled a production and marketing team that, according to Davies, “out-produced and out sold the experienced Douglas. More important, Pan American switched to Boeing as its main supplier. * * * [And] when Pan American sneezed, the rest of the aviation world felt a severe [draft] and most of it caught [a] cold or worse.”

DC-8 and Boeing 707-121 (photo by R A Scholefield)

DC-8 and Boeing 707-121 (photo by R A Scholefield)

The issue of economics of the jets was a major consideration during the transition from prop to jet. There was the belief that the jet would be a “rich man’s airplane” – “extra speed at extra prices. . . a “super-first class premium ride” for well-heeled patrons, according to Robert Daley, in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire. Pan Am took the opposite view. Daley notes that Pan Am saw the jet as a way to keep costs down as the tourist fare had just been introduced with great success resulting in increased trans-Atlantic travel 30% over the previous year. Once the jets were in service, Pan Am’s position was clear, as shown in the 1958 Annual Report to shareholders:

“In April, 1958, Pan American inaugurated transatlantic Economy class service offering fast, comfortable transportation at a greatly reduced fare. Whereas the roundtrip fare between New York and London was $783.00 First class, and $567.00 Tourist class, the new Economy class fare was $453.00.

“Economy class service increases aircraft seating capacity by use of close seat spacing required for that new class…Luxury services are curtailed. Economy class service, sponsored by your company, again emphasizes the leadership in expanding air travel by bringing it within the budgets of more and more people who heretofore could not afford to travel abroad.

“Over 100 transatlantic Clipper flights per week are scheduled during the 1959 season, all offering Economy class service. Jet Clippers will operate 50 of these flights with the remainder being flown with long-range Super-7 Clippers”.

1959 timetable -0002

This page from a 1959 timetable (above) demonstrates the extent of Economy (“Clipper Thrift”) class service on trans-Atlantic flights. Every flight offered it. Tourist (“Rainbow”) service was only available on a handful of flights. It should be noted, however, that Rainbow (and not Economy) service was available on all flights beyond the UK and European gateway cities, probably due to limitations in the bilateral agreements between the US and the countries concerned. Deluxe “President Special” service was only available on jets. The other aircraft used on the trans-Atlantic routes was the DC-7C with a change of gauge to DC-6Bs once “over the pond”. One interesting note is that some flights offered three-class service: First, Tourist and Economy.

Pan Am’s first scheduled jet flight was No. 114 from New York to Paris on 26 October 1958. The flight was operated with the smaller 707-121 and required a fuel stop in Gander along the way.

Former Pan Am purser Jay Koren was a flight attendant on the first trans-Atlantic jet flight. His story about his experiences on that flight is featured in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People published by BlueWaterPress. Below are excerpts from his story:

“Pan American flight 114 to Paris, slated to depart New York on October 26th, would not only mark America’s entry into the Jet Age, it would mark the inauguration of the world’s first daily trans-Atlantic jet service. * * *

“Crew rosters had been posted weeks earlier and the lucky chosen few notified of their assignment to the first fights.  Four days before the inauguration, my supervisor called. “We’ve decided to add a seventh flight attendant to the inaugural, Jay, and you’ve been selected.”  I couldn’t have been more excited if I were being sent to the moon.  Day before our departure, we were given an extensive briefing.  * * * First Class on the Boeing 707s, with seats and aisles wider than any pre-jet aircraft, was designated Deluxe Class and Pan Am’s President Special dining service would be featured. * * *

:On the eve of participating in this historic event, although supercharged with anticipation, we all confessed to a sense of apprehension.  We were about to zap across the Atlantic at more than eighty percent of the speed of sound—nearly twice as fast as any of us had ever flown before—at an altitude nearly twice as high, and in an aircraft capable of carrying double the load of our old, familiar, piston-engine airplanes. * * *

Until boarding began we were busy checking out our new workplace: its closets and cabinets, galleys and equipment, food and bar provisioning.  * * * [Captain Miller announced], ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the runway. Flight Service, prepare for take-off’.  * * * As we began our roll down the runway and Captain Miller opened the throttles to full thrust, the powerful force of our rapid acceleration pressed our backs into the thinly-padded bulkhead behind us.  Even more startling was the unexpected vibration and violent roar of the jet engines as we gathered speed for our leap up into the night.  We grasped hands and stared wide-eyed at one another in disbelief.  Where is that vibration-free, quiet-as-a-whisper ambiance the airline ads have been touting? We discovered why the first-class section is now located in the front. Just opposite to piston-engine aircraft—where the cabin becomes quieter toward the rear—we were seated in the noisiest spot in a jet. * * * 

“Also unlike conventional airplanes that lift off the runway in a horizontal attitude, jets do it nose up. No one has given us prior warning of this characteristic either. As we attain take-off speed approaching 200 mph, Captain Miller rotates the nose of the Clipper sharply upward. This causes us, seated in the very tail of the jet, to drop sharply downward—a sensation I would never become totally comfortable with. We are airborne!

“In half the time required of the “pre-jets,” we reached cruising altitude. The vibration disappeared completely and the engine roar subsided to little more than a gentle hum.”

John T. McCoy watercolor of the takeoff of Flight 114.

John T. McCoy watercolor of the takeoff of Flight 114.

Arrival in Paris

The introduction of jet service changed the travel industry forever. Slowly, trans-Atlantic travel by passenger steamship as a mode of transportation (as opposed to cruising or pleasure) disappeared. Similarly did long-haul rail service in the United States. Because of the jet, more places are available to more people than anytime in history. What Juan Trippe envisioned some 80 years ago not only has become a reality, but also a part of the life we live today.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

The Pan Am Series – Part X: Flight 100

Flying from New York to London – Pan Am’s Flight 100

707 bw

PROBABLY THE MOST IMPORTANT, COMPETITIVE AND DENSE INTERNATIONAL ROUTE in any form of transportation is the North Atlantic. Today, hundreds of flights make the crossing daily between the major cities of the United States and those of Europe. However, it was not always that way. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the principal market was between New York and London. These two cities for all intents and purposes were the main gateways to the United States and Europe respectively, and more passengers and cargo passed through these cities than any others. This article will focus on that market and highlight a major player in it, Pan American World Airways and its signature flight, Clipper 100, one of the most prestigious of airline lore.

But first, a little history. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, crossing the Atlantic was by sail, and the trip was often perilous and time-consuming, often several months. With the advent of the steamship, travel times were greatly reduced and safety and reliability noticeably improved. The Cunard and White Star Lines pioneered these routes and developed the great ocean liners that were national and company symbols. The “grand” ocean liner became a staple in the North Atlantic passenger trade at the beginning of the 20th Century as the technology improved to allow construction of mammoth (at the time) ships with large passenger capacity. The liners competed in the luxury market offering opulent accommodations designed to please the most discerning of passengers. They also competed in speed and comfort. Until the jet age, the liners were the transportation of choice for many a trans-Atlantic passenger. In the US-UK market, the names are legendary: Acquitania, MauretaniaQueen MaryQueen Elizabeth and United States, to name just a few.

(Note: To enlarge any of the images below, simply click on it)

Aquitania   Mauretania I

Queen Mary   Queen Elizabeth

SS United States

SS United States

Commercial travel by air in the trans-Atlantic market did not really play a role in transAtlantic commerce until after World War II. The first commercial flights were pioneered by Pan Am. In 20 May 1939 the first transAtlantic mail service was inaugurated when the Yankee Clipper, a Boeing 314 flying boat, flew from New York to Marseilles, France via Horta, Azores and Lisbon, Portugal. About a month later, on 24 June 1939, the Yankee Clipper established the first airmail service from New York to Southampton, England. In June 1939, the Dixie Clipper, also a Boeing 314, inaugurated passenger service between New York and Marseilles, and in July, passenger service was inaugurated between New York and Southampton. These services were suspended during World War II and it was not until 1945 that passenger service resumed.

As best can be determined, flights were not numbered in the timetables until the ending of the War. In the October 1945 Pan Am timetable, flights were numbered and the flight between New York and the United Kingdom was identified as “Flight 100”, a Boeing 314. It departed New York’s La Guardia Airport on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5 a.m. for Foynes, Ireland with stops in Shediac, Canada and Botwood, Newfoundland. At Foynes, passengers connected with a BOAC DC-3 for London (Croydon), arriving at 3 p.m. the next day. By the October 1948 timetable, the equipment had been changed to a Lockheed Constellation and offered a daily non-stop service departing La Guardia at 4 p.m.  and arriving at London Airport at 11 a.m. the next day.

 1945 Timetable -0002-c   1945 Timetable -0001-c

October 1945 Timetable

 314a-oct 13Interior 314-n

 1948 timetable -0001-c   1948 timetable -0002-c

October 1948 Timetable

Interior constellation annual report 1945 Pan American L749 Constellation

In the 1950’s Flight 100 switched to the Boeing 377.  In the June 1954 timetable, the flight departed New York’s Idlewild daily at 4 p.m. arriving London at 9:30 a.m. the next day. On Fridays “The President Special” service was available, which, according to the timetable, was “the ultimate in luxury service”, featuring “Sleeperette” chairs that provided “bed-length sleeping comfort”. Also included was special food service and extra cabin attendants. “President Staterooms” with berths were also a feature of the service. In the October 1957 timetable, the equipment was upgraded to a specially configured Boeing 377 designated a “Super Stratocruiser”.  “The President Special” was offered on Fridays. By 1959, a Boeing 707 was operating the service and in the April 1959 timetable, a 707 departed daily at 8 p.m., arriving London at 7:35 a.m. the following day.  “The President Special” service was offered daily. It should be noted that in the timetable effective 26 October 1958, which included the first jet service, Flight 100 had a 10 a.m. departure from New York, arriving in London at 9:35 p.m. The service was started on 16 November. On 15 November, the all-First class Super Stratocruiser service was discontinued. The new jet service was later changed to the evening departure.

1954 timetable -0001-c   1954 timetable -0002

June 1954 Timetable

 1954 Pres Stateroom cover only 2  1954 Pres Stateroom    377-n

1957 timetable -0001-c   1957 timetable -0002

October 1957 Timetable

 Strat Lounge   377 bw

Page from 26 October timetable (above) showing the start of jet service. For the first time, flight 100 included two-class service, Deluxe President Special and Economy.

 1959 timetable -0001-c   1959 timetable -0002

April 1959 Timetable

 1959 timetable inside-c   707 postcard

By the 1960’s, Flight 100 was a daylight flight departing New York at 10 a.m. and arriving at London at 9:45 p.m., as shown in the September 1961 timetable. In the 1970’s, the Boeing 747 was introduced to the route, as shown in the January/February 1971 timetable, and continued operating the same daylight flight through the decade as shown in the Summer 1978 timetable.

 1961 timetable -0001-c   1961 timetable - 0002

September 1961 Timetable

 707 inflight pres special pahf   707 Main Cabin

1971 timetable -0001-c   1971 timetable -0002

January/February 1971 Timetable

 747-121 postcard   first class 1 300

1978 timetable -0001-c   1978 timetable -0002

Summer 1978 Timetable

With the merger of Pan Am and National in 1980, Flight 100 was discontinued as shown in the Spring/Summer 1980 timetable. All New York-London services were overnight flights and none were numbered “100”. In the timetable that became effective 24 April 1983, Flight 100 returned, operating a daytime flight with a Boeing 747SP. The flight offered 3-class service with “Clipper Class” in a separate cabin, departing at 10 a.m. and arriving in London at 9:40 p.m. Interestingly enough, the timetable announced it as a “New Daily Daylight Service”.

After the sale of Pan Am’s Pacific routes, which included the 747SP fleet, the equipment was changed back to a 747. In the timetable effective 26 October 1986 the 10 a.m. departure was changed to 9 a.m., with an 8:40 p.m. arrival. With the sale of the London Heathrow routes to United, Flight 100 came off the timetable. In addition, as shown in the May 1991 timetable, Pan Am no longer operated the New York-London route. Ironically, the cover of that timetable boasted “More Nonstops Across The Atlantic Than Any Other Airline!”. Little did anyone know that six months later, Pan Am would have no transAtlantic routes except for a 3-times weekly Miami-Paris flight.

1980 timetable -0001-c   1980 timetable -0002

Spring/Summer 1980 Timetable

1983 timetable -0001-c   1983 timetable -0003   1983 timetable -0002-c

April 24, 1983 Timetable

Boeing 747SP (photo by John Wegg, Airways Magazine)

Boeing 747SP (photo by John Wegg, Airways Magazine)

  1986 timetable -0001-c   1986 timetable -0002

October 1986 Timetable

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow

Clipper Pride of the Ocean at London Heathrow

 1991 timetable -0001-c   1991 timetable -0002

May 1991 Timetable

Clipper Belle of the Sky at London Heathrow

Clipper Belle of the Sky at London Heathrow

It is not unreasonable to believe that Flight 100 was Pan Am’s premier passenger flight. Although Pan Am had several lucrative routes in its system, it is fair to say that the New York-London route was the most important. Not only was it Pan Am’s most prestigious route, it could arguably be called its Signature Route. Pan Am put its best foot forward with equipment, in-flight service and scheduling. Nothing was overlooked and as a result, it attracted the passengers who demanded that type of service. According to Carla Marshall, a former Pan Am Purser, “it certainly was our most popular businessman’s flight (few women then).  Always top executives of major companies, both American and European. Nelson Doubleday was a frequent traveler, as was IBM Chairman Thomas Watson. Also NATO General Alexander Haig was often on the 707 flights as was Elizabeth Taylor.”

For Bronwen Roberts, a young flight attendant (then Stewardess) for Pan Am, a very special passenger on Flight 100 was one of the highlights of her 31 year career with Pan Am.

Below is an excerpt from her story about this special passenger in the book, Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

“When I was hired by Pan Am in February 1958, one of 11 from 5,000 applicants, I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined the exciting life I would lead and the fascinating people I would encounter during my 31 year career.

“In the 1960’s Pan Am was the airline of choice for the rich and famous.  Among the celebrities I had on board were the legendary Charles Lindbergh, films stars Robert Taylor, Warren Beatty, Susan Hayward, Sophia Loren and her husband Carlo Ponti,  Audrey Hepburn and her husband Mel Ferrer.

“However my most memorable flight occurred early in my career. As a child I had been subjected to the terror of air raids over Britain during World War Two and I remember listening to the inspiring speeches given over the radio by our then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. How could I possibly have known then that on April 14th.1961 I would be serving the great man on a Pan Am Clipper flight.  To my everlasting gratitude and indeed to my amazement I was selected to serve Sir Winston on flight 100 from New York along with another British flight attendant, Valerie Wilton, and American purser, Mickey Deangelis.

 “The flight was uneventful and very pleasant with cocktail service followed by a leisurely lunch, with the regular President Special menu consisting of Hors D’oeuvres, including caviar, Terrapin or cream of mushroom soup; entrees, including Lobster Thermidor, Filet of Sole, Himalayan Partridge Sweetbread Financieres, stuffed Rock Cornish game hen, double lamb chops or  Prime Rib of beef, choice of vegetables, salad; and a selection of continental cheeses, desserts and fresh fruit items.   Colmans mustard and horseradish, Stilton cheese, imported teas and crumpets were added.

“After the excitement of the arrival I was taken to be interviewed by the British press and that is how my parents learned in the following morning newspapers that their daughter had had the privilege and honour of serving one of their heroes, something neither I nor they could have ever imagined so many years earlier.”

From the flight deck, Flight 100 was just a regular flight, according to former Pan Am Captain John Marshall, “from the flight deck perspective Clipper 100 was pretty much like any other, except that the scheduling showed us arriving at the hotel downtown around 9 PM, with just time enough to change and get to the pub before last call.  We usually operated flight 101 back the following day departing LHR at 1100.  A very civilized schedule, which is why most of us liked it.”

Because of the attractive scheduling, the most senior and experienced pilots were likely in the cockpit. Thus Flight 100 not only provided the best in the cabin, but in the flight deck as well.

It is fair to say that Pan Am’s Flight 100 set the standard for the ultimate in first class travel. Over the years Pan Am had multiple daily flights between New York and London, but Flight 100 was singled out as the way to travel between the two cities. At that level, the only real competition was the Concorde.

Today, notwithstanding the multiple US cities that have non-stop service to London, New York is still the major departure city from the US to London. Indeed, between New York Kennedy Airport and Newark Airport, there are upwards of 25 daily flights between the two cities. However, credit has to be given to Pan Am for setting the high standards that today’s carriers strive for in that market. Pan Am may be gone, but its not forgotten.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

Two Iconic American Institutions

747 Dashing Wave at Ariz    080-ssusstoltenberg-4_3_rx512_c680x510

The Pan Am Series – Part IX: The Ditching of Flight 6

The Ditching of Pan American World Airways Flight 6

On 16 October 1956, Pan American World Airways flight 6 (sometimes referred to as flight 943) with 24 passengers and seven crew ditched in the Pacific Ocean after two of its four engines failed. The aircraft, Clipper Sovereign of the Skies, a Boeing 377 bearing the registration N90943 (hence the flight 943 designation), was operating the last sector of an around-the-world flight and had departed Honolulu the previous evening.

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser - Clipper Southern Cross

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

According to the April 1956 and July 1956 timetables (the only two available for this article), flight 6 was part of Pan Am’s round-the-world service operating on Thursdays and Fridays as flights 70/6 (all-Tourist Class) and 100/6 (all-First Class) and on Fridays as 64/6 (combined First and Tourist). Flights 64 and 70 were operated with DC-7B or DC-7C equipment and flight 100 was operated with a Boeing 377 Super Stratocruiser. Flights 70 and 100 operated from New York to London where flight 6 took over with DC-6B equipment offering “Sleeperette” service. Flight 64 operated from New York to Beirut via Shannon (April 1956 only), Paris and Rome. In Beirut, the trip connected with flight 6 from London with a stop in Frankfurt. From Beirut flight 6 continued to Karachi, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Tokyo, where the equipment was changed to a Boeing 377 “Strato” Clipper. The flight then continued to Wake Island and Honolulu before terminating in San Francisco.

Captain John Marshall, who flew Pan Am Clippers for many years, wrote about flight 6 (flight 943) in an article that appeared in Airways Magazine.  Below are excerpts from his article:

“It was a gentler time.  A journey aboard a modern airliner, especially a trans-oceanic one, was an incredibly romantic adventure, and the passengers preparing to board Pan American’s flight 943 (flight 6) from Honolulu to San Francisco on that balmy October evening in 1956 were excited.  Purser Pat Reynolds stood at the top of the stairs at Honolulu Airport and greeted the 24 boarding passengers that were going to be in her charge for the next ten hours. Their chariot that night was a Boeing 377, at the time the largest airliner in the sky. She was powered by four huge Pratt & Whitney 4360 engines and pulled by Hamilton Standard propellers.

The Stratocruiser was the state-of-the-art airline transport; there was no more luxurious airliner anywhere. She had recently arrived from the Orient and around the world, and was finally headed back to her home base at San Francisco. Her flight crew that night consisted of veteran Pan Am skipper Dick Ogg, First Officer George Lee Haaker, Navigator Dick Brown, and Flight Engineer Frank Garcia.

“The passengers were a mixed bag. There were the Gordons, a young couple traveling with their two tow-headed twin girls, barely three years old, a French physician and two middle-aged California ladies traveling alone. Businessmen, holiday vacationers, young marrieds, they were typical of those that flew across oceans in 1956. What was not typical was the adventure that was to befall the crew and passengers of the Sovereign of the Skies during the next few hours.

“At 26 minutes past eight o’clock, Honolulu time, the big Boeing lifted from the runway at Honolulu Airport. Captain Ogg pointed her bulbous nose out past Diamond Head and into the darkening eastern sky, and took up a heading for California. The flight plan called for a flight of 8 hours and 54 minutes, leveling off initially at 13,000 feet, and then, just prior to the equal time point, climbing to 21,000 for the remainder of the trip. The big Pratts rumbled their song as they settled down into the cruise portion of the flight. The weather was good and the air smooth. Dick Brown would have no problems locating his favorite stars to navigate by on this evening. Flight Engineer Garcia carefully leaned the engines and set the spark advance, keeping close track of the fuel they were burning. In the cabin Pat Reynolds and her colleagues, Mary Ellen Daniel and Katherine Araki set about serving a light supper to the passengers. Soon the lights were dimmed and the passengers settled in for the night. Pillows and blankets appeared, and they slept.

“Flight 943 (flight 6) cruised into the night at 13,000 feet until close to the midpoint of their Pacific crossing, when their clearance to the final level, 21,000 feet, was approved by ATC. Garcia set the engines at climb power, and she climbed easily upward to the new level. In a few moments they leveled off, and the crew once more allowed the aircraft to increase speed, settling into the routine for the final pull to San Francisco. Stewardess Mary Ellen Daniel had just stepped onto the flight deck to take coffee orders from the crew. Lee Haaker, who was doing the flying, had just called for cruise power, and Frank Garcia began easing the throttles back from the climb setting.

“Suddenly, in an instant, the placid atmosphere of the flight deck was shattered, and everything changed. The soothing beat of the engines was interrupted by a shrill high-pitched whine; the airplane lurched, Mary Ellen staggered, and almost fell. The propeller noise increased quickly, and First Officer Lee Haaker, who was flying the airplane, felt the controls vibrate. A quick glance at the engine instruments told the crew the bad news:  the prop on the number 1 engine was running away. Haaker saw that the RPM was rapidly approaching the upper limit; it was over 2900 on the gauge, and he quickly pushed the feathering button to bring it under control. At the same time he slowed the huge Boeing and lowered 30 degrees of flaps. This was the ‘book’ solution to the problem; at the lower speed the propeller would be easier to control. Frank Garcia, meanwhile, pulled the mixture to cutoff to shut off the fuel to the number 1 engine, and pulled back the throttles on the other three to help slow the airplane. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to help. The needle on the number 1 tachometer hit the upper limit of the gauge and stayed there. They had a true runaway.

“Captain Ogg had been sitting at the navigator’s station, and he quickly regained the left seat. He had some rapid decisions to make.  His first action was to make a radio transmission to Ocean Station Vessel ‘November’, a Coast Guard cutter named Ponchartrain, that was permanently stationed midway between Hawaii and the mainland. She was there to provide navigational assistance as well as to render whatever other help might be required by an airplane flying over that loneliest stretch of the Pacific. Incredibly, flight 943 (flight 6) was less than 40 miles from the ship, and Ogg motioned to Haaker to pick up the bearing to the cutter.

“An uncontrollable runaway prop presented a considerable problem. Unlike a damaged engine which could be stopped and the propeller feathered into a minimum drag configuration, a runaway acted like a flat plate disk out there in the slipstream, creating terrible drag.  Ogg knew that if they were unsuccessful in controlling the number 1 prop, they could well be faced with the ultimate horror of ocean flying: a ditching at sea.

“The aircraft had been in a slow descent as they headed toward the Ponchartrain, the crew trying several times to unsuccessfully feather the uncooperative prop on the number 1 engine. Ogg finally told Garcia to cut off the oil to the engine in hopes that it would eventually seize, stopping the prop.  A few minutes later there was a momentary decrease in the prop speed, followed by a heavy thud, and an increase again in the RPM.  They had been successful in freezing the engine, but now the prop was just windmilling in the airstream.

“At 5,000 feet they added power to level off, and received another surprise, one that effectively sealed the fate of the unlucky Stratocruiser. The number 4, the outboard engine on the opposite wing, was not responding; it would only run at about half power. The vital signs were all pretty close to normal, it just wouldn’t produce the power. The crew discovered that they could keep the airplane in the air with rated power on the inboards, and partial power on number 4.  They also found that if they slowed to 140 knots the problem prop out there on number 1 was just barely controllable at the upper limit of the tach, but 140 was about twenty knots below efficient two engine cruise speed.

“It wasn’t long before the crew sighted the Ponchartrain, it was a bright clear night and visibility was good. Some quick calculations revealed what they already knew to be true. With only two good engines trying to pull their reluctant brethren as well as sixty-five tons of airplane, they only had fuel for 750 miles.  It was over 1,000 miles to the nearest dry land, be it San Francisco or Hawaii. There was a finality to it now; they were committed to a landing in the Pacific. In a way, however, they were incredibly lucky. There was fuel enough to loiter over the cutter until sunup, when they would be able to accomplish the ditching in full daylight. Also they wouldn’t have to wait long to be rescued; their rescuers were already alerted and waiting, 5,000 feet below. They set up a large orbit over the Ponchartrain and awaited the morning.

“Dick Ogg and Frank Garcia turned the controls over to Lee Haaker and went aft to see to the preparations in the cabin. Pat Reynolds and her crew had already gone through the aisle and briefed their charges; Ogg and Haaker wanted to be sure that everyone knew how to handle the over-wing exits and the escape lines. Ogg later remarked on how calm everyone was, it was almost becoming a non-event. One concern that the captain had was the placement of the passengers in seats over the wings; he was afraid that when they struck the water the spinning prop on number 1 would dig into the sea, spin the aircraft around and break the tail off.

“When he returned to the flight deck Ogg had time to really think about the landing he was about to make; the last landing that the Sovereign of the Skies would ever make. It was difficult to imagine that everything that they looked at and touched in the spacious cockpit would soon be at the bottom of the sea. The book said to land the airplane parallel to the major swells and across the secondary swell. Ocean pilots often mused about how one would ever accomplish such a thing at night, or in a storm-tossed sea. Dick Ogg and his crew were lucky; it would be daylight, and the sea below was glass calm. He would fly her down as slow as possible, with the gear up and full flaps, and the nose slightly raised so that the huge flaps took the brunt of the initial impact.

“Soon the sky paled in the east, and the sharpening horizon took on more definition. Below were the comforting lights of the Ponchartrain. It was a beautiful morning, just right for a ditching, Ogg thought. He made one last orbit and picked up the PA mike. ‘There is absolutely nothing to worry about,’ he said. ‘Things couldn’t be better.  I’ll give you a ten minute warning, and then at one minute to touchdown I’ll tell you, this is it.’”

At 0540 Captain Ogg notified Pontchartrain that he was preparing to ditch. The cutter laid out a foam path for a best ditch heading of 315 degrees to help the captain to judge height above the water. After a dry run the plane touched down at 0615, at 90 knots with full flaps and landing gear retracted, in sight of the Pontchartrain at 30°01.5’N. 140°09’W. One wing hit a swell, causing the plane to rotate, damaging the nose section and breaking off the tail.

From Captain Marshall’s article:

“Frank Garcia remembers:  ‘At touchdown I didn’t feel the initial contact of the wing flaps as Dick and Lee did on the control columns…I saw the water spray over the windshield then felt a force pulling me into the seat and noticed the first officer’s control column going back and forth. After that I saw nothing but water covering the windshield, and as soon as it started to recede I knew we were OK. After opening the cockpit door I got a shock when all I saw at the back of the aircraft was the Pacific Ocean.'”

All 31 on board survived the ditching. Three life rafts were deployed by the crew and passengers that had been previously assigned to help. One raft failed to inflate properly, but rescue boats from the cutter were able to promptly transfer the passengers from that raft. All were rescued by the Coast Guard before the last pieces of wreckage sank at 6:35 a.m.

From Captain Marshall:

“The rest of the saga was an anticlimax.  The flight deck crew quickly abandoned the cockpit and went aft to assist the passengers.  The stewardesses had already opened the emergency exits, and the orderly egress had already begun.  The only raft that was unusable was the one launched from the main cabin door that got trapped between the tail and the fuselage.  It was a remarkable feat of airmanship and skill that Dick Ogg was able to accomplish a water landing in the open sea with a large airliner, not only with no loss of life, but without serious injury.  Only five passengers were injured, and they only slightly.  The airplane floated for twenty minutes; plenty of time to get the 31 occupants to safety.  In fact even the dry and bureaucratic Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), the body responsible for aircraft accident investigation in 1956, stated in their official report of the accident,  ‘The Board highly commends the crew members for their ability in recognizing the malfunctions and taking correct emergency actions consistent with known procedures.'”

At the end of Captain Marshall’s story, there was an interesting sidelight: When the cutter was en-route to San Francisco, Frank Garcia was told by a senior chief petty officer on board that Pan Am “was going to have his [behind] because the airplane had been dispatched with enough fuel to make it from the most critical point of the flight to go ahead or return with two engines out.  Of course we could have made it, if we’d been able to feather both of them.”

Many thanks for Captain John Marshall for his contribution to this story.  He has written a large number of stories covering his career with Pan Am, many having appeared in Airliners Magazine. He also contributed a story, “Desert Storm”, describing his involvement in the airlift supporting Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War, to Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.  This book contains 71 stories written by people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history.

To learn more about the history of this pioneering airline, click on the title below for preview of

Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition

This book is available on eBay .

Another excellent book is Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, which was published to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Pan Am’s founding. It contains more than 80 stories written by former Pan Am employees and international media friends who had personal experience with many of Pan Am’s key events during its history. It is the perfect companion to Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline Second Edition and can be purchased on Amazon.

Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, which is available on Amazon.

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

Below is an US Coast Guard film about the ditching of Pan Am flight 6:

New Book of Golf Sayings – With Art

Every year with the arrival of Fall comes for many the end of the golf season (except in Florida, when it begins). For those who have put away their golf clubs, staying connected with the game they love becomes difficult as the days get shorter and the weather colder. There are remedies to this problem, however:  First is the Golf Channel with its comprehensive lineup of interview and golf news shows, lessons and clinics, tournaments from around the world and the Big Break. Then there are the many golf magazines that include articles like “Add 20 yards to your Drive”, “Making the Perfect Bump and Run” or “Never Three Putt Again”. And, of course, are the hundreds of “how to” books and memoirs by the great professional players of yesterday and today. As to the latter, it is not surprising that many golfers have a good number of these books stacked nicely in their library for reading by the fireside during a cold winter evening. This leads to another aspect of golf that makes it unique from other sports: Its relationship with the arts.

Ever since the first ball was stricken somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, the game of golf has lent itself to the arts, both literary and visual. Books have been written about golf. Many a notable quote has been made by the famous and infamous about golf. The words of golfers and non-golfers alike about golf can lend credence to the notion that “golf is the microcosm of life”. And this could lead to spirited debate. But its not only words. The beauty of the golf course, with its surroundings created by nature, lends itself to visual presentation, and many a painting or photograph has featured the quiet solitude of a fairway or the lonely golfer agonizing over a shot.

Unfortunately, however, while the literature of golf is well represented, not so much with the visual arts. Until now.

Bradford G.Wheler has just added a new book to his BookCollaborative.com “Wit & Wisdom Series” with Golf Sayings:  wit and wisdom of a good walk spoiled just published by BookCollaborative.com.

golf-sayings-cover

This new book brings together both the literary and visual sides of the arts as they relate to the game of golf. From the BookCollaborative.com website:

“GOLF SAYINGS: wit & wisdom of a good walk spoiled is an exciting and vibrant collection of golf art and text designed to celebrate golf and the people that love the game.

“This golf art book showcases artwork along with quotations about golf that covers topics including sportsmanship, golf humor, the pros, Scotland, and even presidential golf. This collaborative publication has two goals in mind: first, to honor and highlight the great game of golf though text and artwork, and secondly, to showcase the talents of new and emerging artists who focus on creating golf art.”

Author Wheler achieves these two goals with great success.  First, the quotes selected were carefully chosen and skillfully presented within the book’s ten chapters.  From the first quote in chapter one, “That’s Golf”, Wheler kicks off with one of the most famous of all golf quotes, “Golf is a good walk spoiled” by Mark Twain. It gets better. And as the reader becomes immersed in the words he or she can pause and admire the artwork that appears on nearly every page of each chapter.

The second chapter entertains the reader with quotes from professional golfers followed by a chapter on golf humor, always a favorite. Chapter four, “Winning & Losing” ends with an interesting quote from Dave Williams,”If you want to beat someone out on the golf course,just get him mad.” Chapters five and six deal with the two biggest elements of the game, Sportsmanship and Frustration, with the latter something experienced by nearly all golfers during every round they play. The artwork in these chapters compliment and cleverly illustrate the sayings quoted.

Chapters seven and eight deal with things close to the heart of golf:  Scotland and Presidential.  Every golfer knows the home of golf is Scotland and a trip to St Andrews is prominent on the bucket list of any golfer. The illustrations capture the essence of St Andrews.  Presidential golf is uniquely American.  The relationship between golf and the President probably had its genesis with Dwight Eisenhower, who was often seen on television. But probably most famous was President Gerald Ford, whose misadventures made headlines. His quote in chapter eight summed it up: “I know I’m getting better at golf because I’m hitting fewer spectators. Either that, or fewer people are watching me play.”

Chapters nine and ten ends the book with quotes from four of the greatest golfers, Hogan, Jones, Nelson and Snead in chapter nine and finally “The Back Nine” in chapter ten. For many golfers, even one good shot on the back nine is enough to bring one back to golf, inspite of the horrible front nine.

The sayings in Wheler’s book are classic.  So, too, is the artwork.

One of the goals of Wheler’s series of books is the promotion of the visual arts.  In his earlier books this was a prominent feature.  In Golf Sayings, it continues with relish.

Among selected artists whose works are featured in “GOLF SAYINGS”  are Christine LaGrow from Southern California who’s captivating landscapes add so much to the book, and Lesley Giles an artist from England who has “walked inside the ropes” with top golfers including Tiger Woods.

Christine got her inspiration from living in the Lake Tahoe area and the Napa Valley wine country of California.

Lesley is primarily a landscape painter inspired by solitary places and isolated objects. She was encouraged in golf art by her husband (an avid golfer) who could see a potential for her to make paintings of golf courses, which, to her, are very strange but tantalizing landscapes! Her work appears throughout the book, including paintings of Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, as well as famous golf courses such as Augusta National and St Andrews.

Below are two examples of Lesley’s work appearing in the book:

W.LGiles.Augusta.ClubHouse(wat-11x14ins)     W.Scot.StAndrewsSwilcan(wat-8x10ins)LGiles

This book is a valuable addition to the golf literature and will fit well in any golfer’s library. The artwork included is an extra treat that is a unique and welcome feature. Enjoy!

The book is now available and Lesley is offering exclusive signed copies here.

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part Four: What Could Have Been

Snow Leopard "blocking" at Delhi

Snow Leopard “blocking” at Delhi

The Story of Snow Leopard from the beginning was the story of a revolutionary idea that should have been hugely successful. Unfortunately the fates would not allow that and countless hours of devotion to a noble project went to waste. If there is blame, it is not worth dwelling on.  Everyone wanted the right outcome.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Nevertheless, the London staff, pilots and cabin crew worked their mightiest to make this project work, using initiative and self-sacrifice to get over what eventually became an insurmountable problem.

Once the regular schedule was established and operating, the flights still presented a challenge to everyone involved and it goes without saying they were up to it.  The Pan Am culture in which the pilots and flight attendants grew up lent itself to innovation and decisiveness in dealing with the everyday issues they confronted while operating Snow Leopard.  A case in point is the first trip of Captain Sherman Carr, who encountered his share of challenges during his first trip as Pilot-in-Command on Snow Leopard.

Flying Snow Leopard to Delhi and Back

Captain Carr, who flew the acceptance flight, arrived in London for his first revenue trip and met with the rest of the flight crews at his hotel who briefed him on the operation.  He also learned that the flights for the next two months were full, “which was a relief to me as I was anxious for my new employers to succeed”.  That evening, he reported with his crew to London’s Heathrow Airport for his trip to Delhi with a short stop in Dushanbe. While completing pre-flight, which included verifying the flight plan, the weather, the fuel load, the passenger load, weight and balance and reviewing the current Notice to Airmen, he learned that the flight was being handled by United Airlines Dispatch in Chicago.

From Captain Carr:

“I reported to the aircraft with my crew and was greeted warmly by the Tajik Air Station Manager and his wife. I briefed the flight service team about our flight time (6 1/2 hours to Dushanbe; 2 1/2 hours to Delhi) and conducted a review of emergency procedures. I checked with catering and baggage handling to ensure things were progressing for an on time departure. All was well. So far.

“The cockpit of a 747 is on the top deck making it difficult to observe the loading progress. So one relies on clues such as all doors closing but one, or the tug getting ready for push-back. As our departure time neared, these things weren’t happening. I could see through the window into the boarding area and saw a huddle of ground personnel talking on cell phones. I contacted flight-ops by radio and found that the United Airlines Dispatch Center had not sent the final weight and balance figures. I said: ‘So what. We have the figures here, we can finish it.’ ‘That’s not the way we do it’, said the United London ops man. We waited at the gate 45 minutes until someone in Chicago sent us our final weight and balance based on the numbers we sent them. I said ‘hmmnnn’ and made a couple of notes.”

The flight was finally cleared and took off for Dushanbe.  For Captain Carr, it was “great to be flying again”.  The route took Snow Leopard over Belgium, Germany, and Czechoslovakia and across the former Soviet Union.  In the flight deck, the pilots were busy with position reports, weather updates and programming the way-points on the route into the Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) on the aircraft.  This system directs the flight as it moves along its route.  Connected to autopilot, it makes piloting the flight effortless.  Except in the former Soviet Union.

From Captain Carr:

“The airways in the USSR were established when airplanes flew about 100 mph with reporting points very close together and in zig zag courses that were established by radio beacons installed along winding roads or rivers that were only accessible by mule or boat. The result was that we found ourselves barely able to stay ahead of the aircraft progress while loading the many way points. We asked the Russian ground controllers if we could fly a straighter route and report every hundred miles or so but this was 1993 and they were still very strict about enforcing their old ways.

The flight, however, made good progress and was on its way for an on-time arrival.  Then there was a problem:  Fluid loss in one of the hydraulic systems that required an alternative procedure to lower the landing gear and made the nose wheel steering inoperative.  This was “no big whoop” to Captain Carr.  These were things pilots were trained to deal with.  The landing in Dushanbe was routine and Captain Carr requested a tug to tow the aircraft to the gate.

From Captain Carr:

“’What tug?’ the tower responded. It turns out there was no tug at Dushanbe capable of moving a 747. The book says you can’t taxi a 747 without the # 1 hydraulic system which is the one we lost, but, as an old Navy Pilot used to a carrier aircraft that didn’t have nose wheel steering anyway, we just went back to basics. Using differential brakes and forward thrust on one side and idle reverse on the other we swung right around and taxied up to the terminal. ‘Kharasho’ (‘no problem’). The Dushanbe passengers deplaned and we asked everyone else to stay on board while we examined the situation.”

After examining the landing gear, the source of the leak was identified and capped.  Repairs would be done in Delhi. The crew determined that the aircraft could continue to Delhi with the landing gear locked down adding about 45 minutes to the flight plan, arriving in Delhi a little late. Communications in Dushanbe, however, was quite primitive, and after several unsuccessful attempts by the operations office to contact London and Chicago, Captain Carr finally reached Chicago by HF frequency from the aircraft.  He explained the situation and got his first taste of United Corporate Culture.

From Captain Carr:

“‘You can’t do that,’ said the United dispatcher in Chicago. ‘We don’t have any such procedure for gear down flights with passengers.’ I explained we had such procedures and that our operating certificate was based on using Pan Am manuals, flight procedures and techniques and the manuals permitted safe operation with the gear down. We had been doing it since the introduction of the first 747. I asked him: ‘Don’t you realize that every flight operates with the gear down at the beginning and end? We were just going to have it down longer.’ He said he didn’t care, he had checked with his bosses and if we attempted to fly with the gear down, they would repossess the aircraft. I had to give the bad news to the local Tajik Air people and two managers from London who were with us. We had to come up with plan B”.

The next problem for Captain Carr was dealing with the passengers still on board going to Delhi. There were no hotels available to put them up overnight. Also, the aircraft heating and electricity was being powered by an on-board auxiliary power unit (APU) that used up fuel and there was no fuel available in Dushanbe. If the APU was kept running, there would not be enough fuel for the flight to Delhi. In addition, the airport was closing and airport personnel were going home.

From Captain Carr:

“The local Tajik Air managers came up with the idea of using one of their Tupolev 154s, which could carry our passengers but not their luggage. The Tupolev crew was called to the airport, their airplane readied, and I was told all we had to do was transfer our passengers to the other aircraft. I learned that wasn’t going to be so easy.

“In London, the BBC had been reporting on the theft of airline baggage. Most of the passengers were Indian Nationals, many of whom carrying as many VCRs, portable TVs and other small appliances as their luggage would bear. When I told them that they would be continuing to Delhi on the Tupolev, but could not take their luggage, there was a near riot. A few began wagging their fingers in my face. I asked the Hindi speaking members of our crew to translate for me so there would be no misunderstanding. I explained there were no hotel rooms, that we had to shut down our aircraft and if they tried to stay, they would freeze to death. I told them we had made arrangements to get them to their destination and their luggage would be arriving the next morning. Their response was underwhelming. To emphasize our security arrangements, I had our guards come aboard the airplane and hold their Kalishnikov machine guns over their heads to show our passengers that their luggage would be well protected. These were not ordinary airport security guards but members of the élite Russian Spetsnaz. I was very glad to see them providing security. And having them behind me to back up my promise to protect the passengers luggage worked very well. Also, no one else wagged a finger in my face.

The Tupolev was brought along side and the passengers began filing from one aircraft to the other in the dark.  Once the transfer was complete I went to the Tupolev to meet the cockpit crew and wish our passengers a bon voyage. I introduced myself to the Captain and his crew. We chatted a bit and their Captain smiled and said: ‘Don’t worry Captain, we’ll take good care of your passengers and crew.’ I was grateful for his recognizing my concern and addressing it. I was very impressed. I thanked him, and went though the cabin thanking all the passengers for their cooperation. I also thanked all our flight service team for all their hard work during a difficult time. They were terrific.”

After spending the night at a hotel in Dushanbe, Captain Carr and his crew returned to Dushanbe Airport to find a “pile of papers that truly impressed me” and that “United in Chicago. . .had come to the conclusion” that he was right and released the aircraft for a ferry flight to Delhi with gear down.

From Captain Carr:

“We boarded the airplane and took off. It was a beautiful day and even with the gear down the SP climbed easily to cross the Hindu Kush and surrounding peaks that rose to about 24,000 feet. We were enjoying the scenery as we cruised at 29,000 feet entering Pakistan. We made our position report to the Pakistan air controller who asked us to confirm our country of registration. No one could believe that Tajikistan had a 747. He asked us for our overflight permit number. Before take-off we had received our en-route clearance but no one had said anything about an overflight permit number. I hadn’t heard of this before and in my years of flying with Pan Am, had never been asked for one. The three of us in the cockpit began searching through the paper work. I began reading the controller numbers we found but they were not the number he wanted. He sounded very unhappy and eventually his supervisor radioed: ‘Tajik Air 801, you have entered Pakistani airspace illegally and are directed to land at Lahore Airport immediately.’ I explained that we were a ferry flight because of a mechanical difficulty and that it would be dangerous to divert and could not comply. He said: ‘You must land immediately.’ I again explained that I am using my authority as Captain for the safety of my aircraft and crew to proceed.  We only had about 5 more minutes until we were out of Pakistan Airspace. I pushed the throttles up as much as I dared and we kept looking out both sides and hoped that if they scrambled fighters, that they would at least do one fly-by before shooting at us. We reached the Indian/Pakistan border and I thanked the Pakistan air controller for his ‘cooperation’.

“We landed at Delhi and taxied to the gate where I could see the smiling passengers looking out the big windows as they waited to get their luggage. Entering the terminal, I spoke with our Senior Purser and mentioned again how glad I was to have thought of the idea of having the Spetsnaz show off their weapons to assure the passengers that their belongings would be well protected. She said: ‘Oh no Captain. They didn’t get off the plane because they thought your were protecting their luggage. They got off because they thought you were going to shoot them.’ I had wondered why the passengers moved so quickly out of my way as I walked down the ramp.”

Pamir Mountains as seen from Snow Leopard.

Captain Carr and his crew stayed in Delhi for a three day layover, during which Snow Leopard made a London-Karachi rotation through Dushanbe.  When Snow Leopard returned to Delhi, he and his crew would take it back to London. At Delhi Airport, he learned that the weather in Dushanbe was “iffy”, adding the requirement of planning a fuel load so that they would be light enough to land in Dushanbe yet have enough to make it to London if they had to bypass Tajikistan. This was resolved by using a “re-dispatch” flight plan that provided for a fuel stop at an alternative airport if necessary.

From Captain Carr:

“We took off on schedule with a full load of passengers, fortunately none bound for Tajikistan, because as we approached Dushanbe, we learned that it was snowing heavily and the runway could not be cleared. We were then informed that we had to deviate north of Azerbaijan due to ‘military activities’. All I could think of was, ‘uh-oh, there goes our fuel and our on-time arrival in London’. The distance from Delhi to London is normally not a problem for a 747SP, but, because we had to limit the amount of fuel we could carry, we had the minimum amount to make it to London and now had to worry about using up our reserves. However, our calculations indicated that we would still have the proper amount of reserve fuel.

“As we progressed west, the weather reports for London kept getting worse.  We were advised by Maastricht Control,(Netherlands), that there were delays for aircraft inbound to Heathrow. We had now been airborne for almost nine hours and were getting close to the minimum fuel that would let us safely proceed to our alternate airport. We were told to enter the holding pattern at Lamborne, less than 20 miles from London’s Heathrow Airport. I knew it could take up to an hour or more to cover those last 20 miles. We were flying in ovals on a specific flight path at a specific altitude separated by 1000 feet from the aircraft above and below.  We were still at 16,000 feet and since the approach normally is not begun until we have worked our way down through the “stack” to 8,000 feet I knew we were going to be doing this for a while and it was quite possible that we would reach our “bingo” fuel, the minimum amount left for us to proceed to our alternate airport. I excused myself and went aft for a stretch and briefed the senior purser that we might have to divert to Stansted Airport.

“When I returned to the cockpit I was glad to see we had worked our way down to 12,000 feet. We had also been in continuous contact with our Flight Ops to check on Stansted weather. It was okay and the winds were favorable to get there. Nevertheless, I had to tell London Control that we could only make two more turns in the pattern and would then have to divert. At the very last moment, we had worked our way down and were cleared for an approach. The weather had gotten worse and we were faced with zero ceiling and zero visibility, called a ‘zero-zero landing’.

“A 747 can make zero-zero landing if the aircraft and airport are properly equipped, which they were. We committed to making a zero-zero landing, requiring an instrument approach. The aircraft flies where you want it to go with just a caress of the controls. For this landing I decided to make a ‘coupled approach’, on the auto pilot. Even though the autopilot is flying the airplane, the pilot still must follow all the instruments as though flying manually and keep hands on the controls to override just in case. I let the autopilot make the actual touch down and apply the brakes.

“One strange thing about a zero-zero landing is that after you land is when it gets dicey. The trick is to slow the aircraft and keep it on the runway that still can’t be seen. Fortunately, on the runway are ‘center line lights’ embedded in the concrete. But though they are very bright, in low visibility, one can only see a couple at a time and the trick is to run over them with the nose wheel.  Otherwise, if one loses sight of the lights, there is no way to tell if the aircraft is to the right or left, other than instinct, until it runs off the runway.

“Once the aircraft was slow enough, we used the “lead-in lights” to our gate. Following the green lights embedded in the taxi ways and stopping when they turn red is all there is to it. Just before the last red stop light, we saw the bricks of the terminal. We had arrived.”

Dushanbe Airport

The flight attendants also had interesting experiences.  Vince Rossi recalls making “care” packages from the inbound catering overages for the pilots laying over in Dushanbe.  The flight attendants would also set up a buffet for the ground staff and soldiers there.   It was a big event whenever Snow Leopard arrived at Dushanbe.  According to Rossi, “in spite of the bitter winter cold, there were often people watching from the terminal and nearby the airport”.

There were other interesting aspects of operating through Dushanbe Airport.  Capitalism flourished!  At the time of the Snow Leopard operation, ground handling was handled by individual “small businesses”, each performing a single function.  Thus the baggage handling was a “small business” and the worker was paid directly for his services. This was also the case for the passenger stairs, blocking, fueling, cleaning the aircraft and other air-side activities.  One interesting observation was the snow removal operation as described by former Pan Am Purser Gunilla Crawford:

“It was becoming cold and one of our concerns was the lack of de-icing equipment. We were the biggest plane they had ever seen in Dushanbe, and all they had was a three rung ladder and a mop!!!!  We questioned the contents of the bucket, and decided it was probably Vodka.  The wings they could reach from the left and right “3” doors inside the plane, but the tail was another issue. It was just way too high.”

Soon, a cherry-picker appeared to take care of the tail, and it, too, was a small business that was paid directly for its services.

Snowbound Dushanbe Airport

Layovers in Exotic Places

One of the attractions of working for an international airline is the opportunity to visit countries all over the world and explore them during layovers.  Layovers are necessary to ensure flight crew members are not “timed out” and are well rested for their next segment.

In the case of Tajik Air, most layovers were in Delhi, where the hotels were plentiful and there were places to visit. Except, of course, when there is a major holiday and the hotels are fully booked.  This happened to Gunilla Crawford and her crew:

“We got to Delhi and decided to go to a hotel in the airport area, but every hotel was full. We agreed that we had indeed a hotel at the airport ourselves, our plane. 9 bathrooms, 3 galleys and plenty of seats, [and] in First Class the seats reclined pretty flat. For three days we stayed, parked in this cargo area, ordered food, walked on the tarmac for exercise and read books. “

Dushanbe was not considered a layover city, but there were times that a layover was necessary due to operational circumstances.  For the most part, due to the political situation in Tajikistan, the flight attendants kindly declined the opportunity to sample Dushanbe.  The pilots, however, did.  Captain Carr’s first layover was the over-nighter, caused by the landing gear problem.  This was his first experience in a former Soviet Republic.

From Captain Carr:

“We watched the Tupolev taxi out and take off, secured our plane, set our departure for about 10 a.m. the next morning, waved goodbye to the guards and got on our bus to the hotel. As tired as I was, I was now looking forward to actually being in Dushanbe. Some of the Spetsnaz came with us on the bus and explained that we would be traveling after curfew and the roads were not necessarily free of problems. Problems? I didn’t ask what problems. I was cool. Speaking of cool, the bus was very similar to an American school bus circa 1950 and if it was +10 F outside the bus, it was -10 inside. We finally made it to the hotel and I was greatly relieved to see that it looked very nice. This was my first USSR hotel. We were greeted by a giant fellow in a caftan of sorts wearing a beautifully decorated hat that was a cross between a fez and a skull-cap. I didn’t know whether to bow to him or shake his hand but he resolved this by taking our luggage. He was the combination bell man , guard and lobby bouncer. We were told the hotel was full but they would make some rooms available for us. I have never liked giving up my passport at a hotel desk but even though we were crew-members and accompanied by the Tajik Air Dushanbe Station Manager, we were told: ‘no passport, no room.’ I gave up my passport. I asked if we could get something to eat. ‘Breakfast’ was the answer. ‘Now?’ I asked, ‘Morning. No food now.’ We received keys to our rooms and proceeded up in an elevator to our floor. I mentioned that the hotel looked nice from the outside. My first impression was that it may have also looked nice on the inside but I wasn’t absolutely sure because it was so dark.”

The next time Captain Carr visited Dushanbe, he had a chance to have a better view of Dushanbe.  This was a city that was affected by the then ongoing civil war and things were quite unstable.  The country was struggling and its economy was to say the least, precarious.

From Captain Carr:

“My next layover in Dushanbe gave me another jolt of realism. We made arrangements with the Station Manager to take a tour of the Dushanbe area. He was able to provide the same bus that took us to and from the hotel. We drove through some areas with some very grand government buildings with surprisingly attractive architecture. We stopped at a beautiful park with some magnificent statuary. It didn’t take us too long to realize though that something was wrong. No people on the streets. No cars on the roads. The only other humans we saw on our drive were local policemen who stopped our bus, asked for our identification, and extracted a small ‘toll’ for passing through their section of road. I don’t believe they received much else in the way of pay. We headed back to the area of our hotel and stopped at a ‘super market.’ It was quite a large store, larger than most in the U.S. but dramatically different. The shelves were all bare except for one corner of the store where a man dispensed potatoes into burlap bags with a shovel. This was the government store. We did finally find a ‘people’s market’ with fresh vegetables and other marketable foods and goods. We were able to buy some tasty snacks and food to carry us through the evening curfew. I also made my one big purchase of a local item that is my one souvenir of my Tajikistan experience.

“On flights, we were all wearing our old Pan Am uniforms without the Pan Am insignia or hats. I thought it would be nice to have a hat with an emblem indicative of Tajikistan. I found the perfect thing on a peddlers cart. It was a pin-on gold medallion of a beautifully crafted snow leopard. I happily purchased it, stuck it on my beret, and it was my contribution to uniform design and a personal trademark thereafter. I took a little kidding at first but then all the other crew-members wanted one as well.

“The next day, the Engineer, First Officer and I decided to walk over to explore another hotel that we had noticed not too far away. The hotel seemed very attractive from the outside. The lobby was very dark and deserted but after we rang a little bell on the main desk, a clerk eventually appeared. I asked if we could look around and see their rooms. ‘Da’. He pointed to a doorway with a flight of stairs. We went up and came to what appeared to be an airport style security check point with a walk-through metal detector and guards with Kalishnikov machine guns. After we got through we ran into a fellow on the upper landing that seemed to be an American. He asked if he could help us and I explained that we were looking for a better hotel and were hoping to see what the rooms were like here. He said: ‘Sure.’ He told us his name was Stan and we followed him into what appeared to be a suite of 10 or 12 rooms that had its own pantry and kitchen. He invited us to the suite’s lounge and offered chips, dip, and sodas.  We explained that we were the crew for the new Tajik airline’s 747. As we were sitting in the lounge, I finally noticed a big emblem on the wall that read ‘U.S. Embassy’. I asked,’Is this the U. S. Embassy?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you work here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘I’m the Ambassador.’ Stan, the Ambassador, and his charming wife entertained us for the next hour or so as we swapped stories and local intelligence. I asked him about the information I had gotten about local war lords and border positions. He confirmed most of it. The border fighting that was supposedly 150 miles away was now only 80 miles from the city. He explained that he kept a C-130 Hercules airplane on standby 24 hours a day in case it became necessary to evacuate the embassy staff. 

The hotel where the U.S. Embassy was located.

The hotel where the U.S. Embassy was located.

“That night, the aircraft we were scheduled to fly to Karachi and back overflew Dushanbe because of bad weather. The weather stayed bad and it overflew us again on the way back to London. We were stuck here for another 48 hours. My most immediate concern was to call my wife Mary because she was going to meet me in London. Since I obviously wasn’t going to be back in London in time to meet her, I put in the two-hour-to-wait call through Moscow and was relieved when I finally got through and told her to wait two days and come on the next Tajik Air flight out of London. She would then spend one day with me in Dushanbe and we would continue together to New Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal. 

“Two things I hadn’t counted on happened. The airplane had to overfly one more time and there was a fire fight near our hotel between Russian tanks and rebels with Kalishnikovs and mortars. The rapid fire of modern machine guns is really something. The Russians were using the most modern Gatling gun type that sounded more like an air hose used to clean machine parts except instead of air, it was putting out steel projectiles at a ‘zillion’ per second. Everything was snow covered so the sounds of the skirmish were eerily muffled. The rebels would fire their Kalishnikovs, and the Russians would answer.  I called Mary and told her to stay home.”

The Last Layover

As the flights continued it was quickly becoming clear that the operation was encountering some severe financial problems and getting the flight successfully off was becoming a day-to-day affair.  In addition, there was a mechanical problem with one of the aircraft’s engines and it was taken out of service.  Eventually Snow Leopard was repossessed by United Airlines.  Gunilla Crawford and her crew were on the last rotation.  They were in Delhi when the aircraft was repossessed.

From Gunilla Crawford:

“We arrived in New Delhi on a regular flight, and checked in at the Sheraton where we stayed as Pan Am crew.  A couple of days later as we are getting ready to take the inbound flight back to London, our Captain informed us that there is a delay. I believe the message read ‘buy more beer’ or something to that effect.

“We sat by the pool and eventually it became clear that the plane had been impounded and our adventure probably over. It had lasted a little over 4 months. Our Station Manager was stuck with some  500-700 hundred passengers who had booked flights to London. He counted on the crew as pawns for money from London, as we could not leave and our crew visas would run out. We knew how to quietly go to the authorities and extend the visas without his knowledge. The Station Manager’s assistant was helpful. We did not want the hotel to know the dilemma, after all the company was to pay for our rooms. We asked Vince who was in London to fax an explanation to our situation, in Spanish, so the hotel would not find out. They didn’t and we got the information we wanted. Time to plan our ‘escape’.

The crew waiting in Delhi.

“The problem was to book a flight, we had to buy the tickets right away and not at the airport when we left. Through a friend in Miami, who was a travel agent and who made a few phone calls, we were booked on Air France to Paris with a connection to London and we were able to pay the morning of the departure. Our Captain footed the bill on his credit card!! An incredible man!  On the morning we left we all came down to the lobby, paid our incidentals and went to the airport.  We felt an urge to quickly get through security and immigration, and I remember looking around, like the others, to see if the Station Manager would come running to stop us. He didn’t, and we were back in London several hours later.”

Vince Rossi was in London at the time of the repossession of Snow Leopard.  He wanted to provide as much information as possible to the Delhi crew without compromising them given the financial situation.  He did this by sending information by fax, written in Spanish.  In addition, there were Tajik flight attendants laying over in London.  They were faced with a different problem.

From Vince Rossi:

“The Tajik crew laying over in LHR had purchased MANY frozen chickens to bring home. When it became clear we were not flying that night and it was likely we would not ever fly again, the Tajik flight attendants  approached me and expressed concern about the chickens defrosting. It is highly unlikely that the front desk manager from the Sheraton Skyline had ever received the request I was to make. I approached the front desk and asked for a substantial space in the hotel’s kitchen freezer to store quite a large number of frozen chickens. The chickens remained there frozen until the Embassy of Tajikistan arranged for transport of the Tajik crews and the frozen chickens back to Dushanbe some time later.”

Gunilla Crawford remained in London for a short while, hoping that the affair was “just a hiccup, and all would be solved in due time.”  After a few days the sad truth settled in that it was all over and “maybe it had never meant to be more than what it was.”

Who would have thought that a remote country in the former Soviet Union would have a Boeing 747 operation linking it with the West?  It actually happened – and it could have continued but for fate.  The timing was just not perfect for starting such an operation. The infrastructure within Tajikistan’s Civil Aviation Authority had not matured enough to take on the financial and political burden of a complex Sixth Freedom operation, requiring bilateral agreements not only with the United Kingdom, but with India and Pakistan as well. Thanks to the London management, the UK agreement and slots at Heathrow were secured.  Unfortunately, the negotiations to secure the agreements with India were still incomplete when the operation started and that presented barriers and resultant revenue losses. Had the start of the operation been delayed until the negotiations were completed there might have been a different result.  That will never be known.  However, the Snow Leopard operation proved that it could be done, and for four short months, Snow Leopard proudly flew the skies between London, Dushanbe and Delhi/Karachi.

The gold Snow Leopard medallion is still proudly mounted on Captain Carr’s beret.

Snow Leopard lettering

THE END

Acknowledgements:

Writing this story would not have been possible without the contributions of those Pan Am pilots and flight attendants who were so willing to share their experiences. I would like to personally thank former Pan Am Captain Sherman Carr whose story about his experiences with Snow Leopard played a major part in this story (and the operation) and also former Pan Am Pursers Gunilla Crawford and Vince Rossi. I would also like to thank Ben Daneshmand with whom  I worked in London and also for his recollections of the story he shared with me.