Pan Am Series – Part XXVIII: Clipper Cargo – 2

Cargo Flights

45-747F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was big news to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Computer pic

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

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

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Pan Am Series – Part XXVII: Clipper Cargo

Pan American’s All-Cargo Service

Pan American World Airways has always been associated with passenger service, however what is often overlooked is the fact that Pan American was a leader in air cargo and was, in fact, a pioneer in all-cargo flight operations.

The history of Pan American’s all-cargo operations can go as far back as early World War II, when, in 1942, the airline operated international airline service with all-cargo aircraft using DC-4s (Army C-54/Navy R5D) and Coronados (PB2Y). The total cargo carried from 1941 through 1943 rose exponentially from 14,792,441 pounds in 1941 to 84, 545,010 pounds in 1943. In addition, Pan American’s 1943 Annual Report announced:

“The first scheduled all-cargo service was inaugurated . . . between North and South  America. This service to Brazil has provided rapid transit for both war materials and commercial cargoes. Sikorsky Clippers stripped of 2,500 pounds of luxury passenger equipment ns capable of carrying four tons of cargo, are used.”

The Coronado (R5D) (1943 Annual Report)

The Coronado (PB2Y) (1943 Annual Report)

By 1945, Pan American was, according to the annual report of that year, offering “the first commercial transatlantic all-freight service. Regularly scheduled all-cargo Clippers [were] operated by Pan American on several routes.” DC-4s (former Army C-54s) operated on these routes. In 1948, the all-cargo fleet received an influx of ten Curtis C-46 Commandos (the Army C-55) that operated primarily in the Caribbean, although some ventured as far south as Brazil and Argentina. The 1948 annual report noted that Pan American has “[s]ixteen special all-cargo Clippers [to] supplement cargo capacity of the passenger Clippers.”

Curtis C-46 Commando (Ed Coates Collection)

Curtis C-46 Commando (Ed Coates Collection)

Below is illustrated a 1948 advertisement for Clipper Cargo and a page from the 1948 Annual Report showing cargo loading operations on Pan American’s two all-cargo-type aircraft, the DC-4 and C-46. A caption on this page notes that it is cheaper to ship a private aircraft than to fly it to its destination.

The the schedules of all-cargo flights did not appear in any of Pan American’s timetables issued prior to 1950 reviewed for this article. South American all-cargo flight schedules appeared in a 1950 timetable using C-46 aircraft. In a 1952 timetable, the South American flights included the DC-4 as well as the DC-6A. All-cargo flights in other parts of Pan American’s system did not appear in these two timetables.

In a 1956 timetable, transatlantic all-cargo flights were included as well as South American, with the former using DC-4 and DC-6A equipment. In a 1959 timetable, the DC-6A was used on transatlantic flights and the C-54 (DC-4) used primarily on South American routes (page not shown).

By 1961, Boeing 707 passenger jets had been introduced to Pan American’s fleet and because of this, some of the airline’s fleet of DC-7C aircraft were converted to an all-cargo configuration. According to the 1961 Annual Report:

“Conversion of 13 DC-7Cs to all-cargo configuration with 20-ton payload capacity on a transatlantic flight. Each is designed for “’AirPak’ the new cargo loading system developed by Pan American. Using pre-loaded pallets, AirPak reduces aircraft-loading time to less than an hour, provides improved services for shippers and increases utilization of aircraft.”

Utilization of the DC-7CF on transatlantic all-cargo flights were included in the 1961 timetable. The C-54 (DC-4) was deployed in South American operations. In a 1965 timetable, Boeing 707-321C jet freighters had been introduced into service, primarily on the transatlantic routes. Interestingly enough, the South American all-cargo service included not only jet freighters, but DC-7Cs and DC-6As as well. By 1966, the DC-7CFs had dropped off the timetable leaving just a couple of DC-6As on a handful of flights in South America. This marked the end of the piston all-cargo operations.

The 1960s saw a remarkable growth in Pan American’s all-cargo operations, and in the 1967 Annual Report, it was noted that “Pan Am again was the world’s leading air cargo carrier. Pan Am flew 605,500,000 cargo ton-miles, up 15.2 per cent, compared to 1966. * * * In five years, the cost to the average shipper was cut by 25.7 per cent to a new low yield of 20.5 cents per ton-mile.”

Going into the 1970s, cargo growth continued. In the 1972 Annual Report, it was noted that new freighter services were introduced to South America and a South Pacific freighter began new operations providing the only service of this type between the West Coast of the united States and Australia/New Zealand. The report also noted that new cargo centers were opened at off-line stations and new cargo terminal facilities opened in Rome, Lisbon, New Delhi, Osaka and New Orleans. New services were also announced for the next year, 1973, including additional freighter between New York and Latin America, New York and Tokyo and across the Atlantic, and new service between New York and Africa. The report also noted that Pan Am “lead the free world in air cargo tonnage”.

During this period, the 707-321C was the mainstay of Pan American’s jet freighter fleet, operating throughout the world as illustrated in 1971 and 1974 timetables:

In 1977, cargo operations continued to grow, carrying more tons of freight and earning more revenue than ever before. It was also announced in the annual report of that year that Pan Am would develop a Five-Year Plan to improve cargo profits by maximizing utilization of passenger aircraft cargo space and increasing the number of 747 freighters in the fleet. The annual report also noted that Pan Am is “one of the world’s largest and most experienced air freight carriers, . .  [and] [i]ts fleet of  747 freighters  – the largest in the industry – and 707 all-cargo jets, plus the extensive cargo space of its passenger aircraft, give it unmatched capacity. Pan Am’s route system, serving 93 cities in 62 lands, literally covers the world for shippers”.

In 1978, cargo volume and revenue set new records and, according to the 1978 Annual Report, Pan Am regained its position as the “world’s number one carrier of scheduled international air cargo. By the end of 1978, the last of the 707s was retired, making  the Clipper Cargo fleet all wide-body with six 747 freighters. The fleet evolved from seventeen 707s to the six 747s over the decade and this prompted some scheduling and aircraft utilization changes to maximize the economic potential of the 747. This was done through increasing daily utilization, reducing short-haul segments and increasing available capacity.

During this period was the domestic deregulation of the cargo market. This gave Pan American domestic authority in cargo markets, giving the airline new benefits. Thus, for example, adding Chicago to a transcontinental-South Pacific routing would provide additional revenue from the New York-Chicago-San Francisco-Honolulu segments, previously unavailable to Pan American.

Going into the 1980s, Clipper Cargo remained an important part of Pan American’s operations. Freighter service was restructured to improve profitability by emphasizing high volume markets. In addition, the control of containers used on wide-body aircraft for the loading of cargo and baggage was computerized through “Pantrac”, Pan American’s world-wide cargo reservations tracking system. This increased the efficiency of tracking containers, maximizing use and reducing the need to invest in new equipment.

In addition, taking advantage of the deregulation of cargo operations in the United States and the expansion of domestic services, Pan American took the lead, according to its 1979 Annual Report, in introducing the lowest domestic container rates available. Called the “79ers”, these rates made it possible for domestic shippers to ship by air at rates comparable to “LTL” (less than truckload) truck costs. Also introduced was a service for small packages called the “Clipper Package Service”, offering either expedited airport-to-airport or desk-to-desk service at the option of the customer.

Below are timetable pages from 1977 and 1980. Note the extent of world-wide cargo operations in the former. In the latter, the all cargo flights were incorporated into the passenger schedules.

From the cargo perspective, things looked quite encouraging for Pan American at the start of the 1980s. But it was not to be. It is difficult to really explain what happened. Perhaps it was the competition from the likes of Federal Express who revolutionized small package service and eventually flexed its wings overseas. Or perhaps it was the fact that Pan American was losing money and needed cash. During that time, the airline began selling any expendable assets it had. Apparently the 747 freighters fell in that category. In any case, Pan American piece-by-piece reduced its all-cargo operation starting in 1982 when then Pan American CEO C. Edward Acker started selling off the Boeing 747 freighter fleet. The last was sold to Japan Airlines in 1983. Thus came to an end, “Clipper Cargo”.

PanAmCargo

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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