The Pan Am Series – Part II: The Boeing 314 Flying Boat

Boeing 314 - Flying Boat

Boeing 314 – Flying Boat

The Boeing 314 was a long-range flying boat produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. One of the largest aircraft of the time, its massive wingspan enabled it to achieve the range necessary for flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Twelve ships, designated Clippers, were built for Pan Am.

Pan Am’s Clippers were built for “one-class” luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of transoceanic flights. With a cruise speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) Pan Am’s scheduled flight between San Francisco and Honolulu was 19 hours.  The passenger seats were convertible into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation.  In addition there was a lounge and dining area with galleys crewed by top chefs.  White-coated stewards served multi-course meals during the trip.

Flight Deck

Flight Deck

Passengers Dining

Passengers Dining

The Boeing 314 inaugurated Pan Am’s trans-Atlantic service and on 20 May 1939, was first to operate mail service with the Yankee Clipper from New York to Marseilles, France via Horta, Azores and Lisbon, Portugal.   The Yankee Clipper also inaugurated mail service between New York and Southampton, England about a month later.  Trans-Atlantic passenger service was inaugurated on 29 June 1939 with the Dixie Clipper between New York and Marseilles, via Horta and Lisbon.

The aircraft played an important role in World War II and completed two history-making f;lights:

In January, 1942, the Pacific Clipper, commanded by Captain Robert Ford, completed the first flight around the world. Originating in San Francisco, the flight was required to return to the United States on a westward course due to military action after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  From Honolulu, the flight eventually arrived in New York after stopping in Canton, Suva (Fiji), Noumea, Auckland, Gladstone, Port Darwin, Surabaya, Trincomalee (Ceylon), Karachi, Bahrain, Leopoldville, Natal and Port of Spain.

On 11 January 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew on the Dixie Clipper to the Casablanca Conference, becoming the first American president to fly on a commercial airliner while in office.  The route was Miami-Trinidad-Belem, Brazil-Bathurst, Gambia and then by army transport to Casablanca.  The return trip by the Clipper originated in Bathurst and stopped in Natal, Brazil and Trinidad, arriving in Miami 30 January 1943.

At Anchor in San Francisco

At Anchor in San Francisco

Captain Bill Nash, a retired Pan Am pilot, joined the airline in 1942 and spent his first years in the flight deck of the Boeing 314.  Below is a story he wrote about his experiences flying this aircraft.  It appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, published by BlueWaterPress.

The words of Captain Nash:

“When I joined Pan Am in 1942, one of the first phrases that I learned was “flying by the seat of your pants” – an old adage used to describe proper flying techniques. Before high-altitude jets flew commercially, we had to fly through wide storms rather than over them.  To do so, we developed a seat of the pants technique – literally- whereby our bottoms were being bumped, rather than slipping or sliding.

“Today, we have the sophistication and luxury of jetliners to fly over many of those boiling storm masses, cabin pressurization for oxygen supply, and radar to show us the dangerous storm cells, enabling us to fly around the violent depictions shown on the weather radar screen.

“When crossing an ocean in a Pan Am flying boat such as the Boeing-314, we navigated celestially using an octant.  Every Pan Am pilot was required to learn two methods of star computations to lay a position on the chart. On a Boeing-314 we had a glass hatch atop the cabin through which we could “shoot stars”.  When the sky was partly cloud-covered, we plotted whatever navigational stars we could see.  If the sky was overcast we could not use our octants.

“In the daylight we could see wind streaks on the surface of the sea, shiny lines running 90 degrees to the waves.  If we had cloud cover below as well as above, we would navigate by dead-reckoning, using the wind we thought we had.  If clear below and we passed a ship we could see, we could compare our position with theirs.

“Approaching a coast, such as much of the Atlantic shoreline, which could be a mass jungle, while receiving poor or no radio signals, we aimed at the shore off-coast 30 degrees left or right – wherever we considered the destination most likely to be.  When we arrived at the coast we then followed the shore to our destination.  If we had flown straight at the destination and saw nothing, we would not have known which way to follow the coast.

“During a typical 11-12 hour flight, we usually took turns resting every 4 hours in our crew bunks.  The props turned at 1,600 RPM’s and they vibrated violently.  Consequently, it took some time to fall asleep.

“During World War II on trans-oceanic flights, Pan Am crews had to learn how to decipher coded messages.  At departure we received an envelope which was not to be opened until we were aloft containing the keys to the codes which were valid for only a certain number of hours and then changed.

“The Boeing-314 crew consisted of a captain, first officer, second officer, third officer, fourth officer, first and second flight engineers and one Morse Code radio-operator plus varying number of flight personnel.  Four or more male stewards were aboard, depending on the aircraft’s configuration.  The work on board was considered too strenuous for stewardesses.  Hefty, large-capacity life rafts had to be handled and there were ponderous bunks to be prepared for sleeping.

“The entire aircraft was First Class, and our flying boats often carried kings, queens, presidents and potentates.  We were instructed to be pleasant with them if they addressed us, but not to seek out conversation.  President Juan Trippe wanted us to be able to converse intelligently by keeping up with current events, and having a good knowledge of history and sensitive political issues.

“Passengers enjoyed delicious meals that were prepared onboard and served in a 14-place dining room with black walnut tables in a silver and blue décor.  The food was elegantly served in courses by stewards in white jackets, on pale blue table cloths with matching monogrammed napkins and china.  Wine was always served and dinner was topped off with fancy desserts, fruits and cheeses, and a cordial of crème de menthe.  Sometimes there was a captain’s table.  After dinner, the dining room was converted into a lounge where some passengers chose to relax while others went to their cabins to sleep.

“The Boeing-314’s were retired from Pan Am’s service in 1946, after World War II.  Not one survived, and only a few parts exist in museums which to me, is very sad. Clare Booth Luce, a playwright, United States Congresswoman and Ambassador to Italy, returned to the US aboard a flight on the Boeing-314 and said “Years from now, we will look back upon Pan American’s flying boats as the most glamorous, romantic air travel in the world”.

“To me, experiencing this phase of early commercial aviation was one of the best times of my life.  Having had the opportunity to be part of a Boeing 314 crew was an outstanding adventure for a young man, and I still recall it well at age 94, and thrill to the memories of that great aircraft and the exciting era of world history, all made possible by my years with Pan Am.”

Bill Brenton Nash was a Pilot with Pan American from 17 August 1942 to 1 June 1977.  He lived with his wife Eva in Southwest Florida for many years, and passed away on 13 March 2019 at the age of 101.

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 I: The Book

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles International Airport circa 1969

I am launching a new series of postings about Pan American World Airways to be called “The Pan Am Series”.  My aim is to share the memories of this iconic airline that played such an important role in the development of civil aviation.  Pan Am’s first revenue flight was a Fokker F-VII between Key West and Havana on 28 October 1927.  The last revenue flights were a 747 from New York Kennedy to São Paulo, Brazil on 3 December 1991 and a 727 from New York to Barbados on 4 December 1991.  Pan Am officially ceased operations at 9:00 a.m., 4 December 1991.  The 747 crew was resting in São Paulo awaiting their return flight that evening when the news broke.  The captain of the 727 received the news upon arrival in Barbados. Both their stories will be published in future postings.

I have been a fan of Pan Am all my life, starting as a boy when I watched a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser arrive at its gate at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) after a flight from the Far East with my grandfather on board.

Pan Am's Boeing 377 - the Stratocruiser

Pan Am’s Boeing 377 – the Stratocruiser

My father did a lot of international travel as well and we would meet him at LAX when he arrived on DC-6Bs of Pan Am from South America.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the "Super 6", Clipper Midnight Sun.

Pan American World Airways DC-6B, the “Super 6”, Clipper Midnight Sun.

During our childhoods growing up in Los Angeles, our parents often took my sisters and me to LAX to visit the terminals and watch airplanes land over Sepulveda Boulevard.   During that time I developed an interest in collecting airline brochures, timetables and baggage tags.  For some reason, I developed a keen interest in the baggage tags and amassed a large collection over the years.  I leaned heavily in Pan Am’s favor because I thought it was the “best airline” and because the baggage tags were more colorful than other airlines.  I also liked the Pan Am timetables because the route map seemingly covered every corner of the globe!

Eventually, our family went on a trip to South America, and we flew on Pan Am!  I remember that day in 1957.  We flew from Los Angeles to Guatemala on a DC-6B, Flight 515.   That was the beginning of my traveling on many more Pan Am flights over the next decades, including on some its most prestigious routes.

As I grew up, I studied the history of Pan Am, and learned a lot of geography from the route maps and flight schedules in its timetables.  I even learned about time zones and the 24-hour clock!   As a college student, I managed to work Pan Am into my studies as an International Relations major, focusing on the international airline system and international politics.  Later, I went to law school to become an airline lawyer.

I continued collecting and over a period of 50 years, managed to keep much of the material, supplemented by purchases from similar collectors on eBay.

Recently, while teaching in the College of Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, I often mentioned Pan Am, but to my surprise most of my students were not familiar with the aviation pioneer.  At the same time, I was in the process of preserving my Pan Am collection by scanning the brochures, timetables and tags and putting them into a digital “scrapbook”.  It dawned on me that it would be a nice idea to use the digital scrapbook to create a book about Pan Am’s history through images of the material I had scanned and use it to tell the Pan Am story to students and those who were not around during Pan Am’s glory years.  Thus was born my book, Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline, now in its Second Edition.

front-and-back

 

From the Preface to the Second Edition:

In the first edition of this book, published in 2011, I set out to list the “firsts”, along with significant events, of the life of Pan American World Airways, and present them in chronological order divided into six sections representing key eras: (1) Beginnings (1927-1939); (2) The War Years (1940-1945); (3) The Piston Era (1946-1957); (4) The Jet Age (1958-1969); (5) Top of the World – Boeing 747 (1970-1979); and (6) End of an American Icon (1980-1991). The firsts and significant events were listed at the beginning of each section followed by illustrations from that era, including covers of annual reports, covers of timetables (along with a page of flight schedules and route map), baggage strap tags, safety information cards and pictures of aircraft.

This formula is largely preserved in this Second Edition, which features more images of aircraft and enhanced images of timetable pages and maps. Covers of annual reports are still included but the safety information cards have been removed.

A major addition to this edition, however, are narratives on certain pieces of Pan American’s history. These were originally published as posts in my blog, “The Pan Am Series”, in jpbtransconsulting.com. The narratives I selected to include in this book cover the development and launch of key aircraft operated by Pan American and key routes the airline operated from its beginnings to the end. The routes featured include Latin America, the first trans-Pacific flight, crossing the Atlantic and Pan American’s famous round-the-world service operated by flights 1 and 2. The narratives are populated with images illustrating the story being told.

As written in the preface to the first edition of this book, probably no airline in the history of aviation has attracted more attention and has been more written about than Pan American World Airways, for decades the symbol of airline superiority world-wide. This is the airline that pioneered air navigation and communications. It introduced international and over-ocean flights. It set the standard for in-flight service and brought air travel to the masses through the introduction of “Tourist” class. It brought the industry into the jet age and eventually the era of the wide-body jet. To thousands of Americans living and working overseas, Pan American meant home. Pan American served the United States and never failed to answer the call of the country. For many, Pan American was the symbol of the United States around the world.

Pan American shut down on 4 December 1991. However, the legacy lives on and the airline still has influence in the industry as recently exemplified by Emirates Airline’s highlighting Pan American’s in-flight meal service as the standard for theirs. And, as is pointed out in the narrative on the “Nautical Airline”, the pilot-in-command is still known as the “Captain”.

The people of Pan American World Airways and its friends and fans have a unique loyalty to their airline that has manifested itself through the social media as well as at numerous gatherings around the world. This loyalty continues even though the company has been gone for over twenty years. Recently, an additional group of “loyalists” have emerged, and they are the children and grandchildren of those who worked for the airline in the past decades. They, too, want to preserve the rich history of the once great airline.

Since the publication of the first edition of this book, numerous books have been published, many by former Pan Amers sharing their experiences with the rest of the world. One book, which I, along with Pan American’s former Vice President for Corporate Communications Jeff Kriendler put together, Pan Am – Personal Tributes to a Global Aviation Pioneer, can be considered the seminal book about the airline. Its purpose is to preserve the legacy of an aviation giant. This second edition is aimed to complement that book and fulfills my goal in keeping the Pan American story alive.

Comments about the first edition of the book:

From Captain Bill Nash, who flew for Pan Am August 1942 – June 1977

“As a Pan Am pilot for 35 years (34 yrs as Captain) I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and the way you did it with items familiar to me, such as varied baggage strap tags, articles, routes, schedules, annual reports, progressive aircraft photos (external and internal), lists of Pan Am “firsts”, and operation advances.”

From Captain Bob Gandt, who flew for Pan Am 1965-1991 and author, Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am

“Jamie Baldwin has given us a treasure trove of Pan Am lore. Here is something for everyone — a concise history of the pioneering airline, a rich potpourri of Pan Am memorabilia, and, best of all, a nostalgic journey back to an age when the mighty Pan American ruled the skies.”

From Susanne (Strickland) Malm, Flight Attendant, 1968-1978

“…a carefully constructed timeline of Pan Am’s incredible record of firsts and aviation achievements… chock full of rare and nostalgic collector’s memorabilia… a veritable time capsule into which any reader may be gently transported…back to a time when flying was gracious, glamorous and eagerly anticipated by passengers and crew alike!”

From Pete Runnette, President, Pan Am Historical Foundation

“…a fine chronology of Pan Am’s pioneering history, with wonderful pictures to match – valuable to student or aviation aficionado alike, and browsing will bring back fond memories for employees or passengers, of air travel Pan Am style…”

From Carol and Fred Tomlinson, Pan Am Staff

“We would like to thank you for doing a marvelous job on the book, and for portraying Pan Am as the great airline that it was!  We are all extremely proud of its history and professionalism, and your book brought back many happy memories!”

From Barry Humphreys, Chairman, British Air Transport Association and former Director, Virgin Atlantic Airways

“No history of international aviation can be complete without including the amazing story of Pan American Airways. Pan Am was without doubt the industry’s leader for several decades; more than just another airline. Jamie Baldwin’s fascinating collection of photographs and chronology captures the story of Pan Am brilliantly, from the early days, thru the glory years to the sad end. It is a story well worth telling.”

To learn more about this book and 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.

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

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part Two: Crew Training and Acceptance Flight

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

Part Two:  Crew Training and Acceptance Flight.

Crew Training

The next step in getting Snow Leopard into operation was getting a crew together to fly the Boeing 747SP.  Because of the aircraft selection and their availability, it was decided to hire former pilots of Pan American World Airways.  The decision was perfectly logical in that Pan Am pilots had many hours of experience in the 747SP – some had actually flown the aircraft when it was with Pan Am – had experience operating in the geographic area of the intended operation, and had the savvy and know-how in dealing with unexpected circumstances or conditions that would be inherent in such an operation.

Captain Sherman Carr, a very experienced Pan Am pilot was one who received a call from a former colleague about an opportunity to be “an aviation pioneer again”.  According to Captain Carr, the offer was to operate a new 747 service for the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Tajikistan.  He was told the route to be flown and that the pay would be minimal but with generous per diem and off-time.  After some research he made his decision.  He learned that Tajikistan

“. . .is magnificently beautiful with a major fertile valley with a mild climate that grows cotton  surrounded by majestic peaks rising 18 to 20 thousand feet and populated by their national symbol, the snow leopard. I also learned that (the capital) Dushanbe is on the old “Silk Road” route used by Marco Polo when he brought back to Italy, the secrets of making spaghetti from China. The neighboring cities of Tashkent and Samarkand conjured up images of wondrous bazaars and really old world treasures of the Mongol Empire and kabobs made from Yak. I was hooked. Like the line from the Clint Eastwood movie: “do you feel lucky?” I did. I called back and signed up”

It was the same for all the pilots who received “the call”.  A chance to be an aviation pioneer was too great an opportunity to turn down.

Once the group was assembled, refresher training was arranged at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Miami, Florida.  The pilots were former Pan Amers and most were over 60 years of age.  While that would present a problem in the United States, it did not for Tajikistan.  And as is well known, pilots over the age of 60 have a near zero accident rate.

Pan Am International Flight Academy

Pan Am International Flight Academy

At the academy was a 747SP simulator and the pilots were put through a rigorous training program that brought them up to speed on changes to the aircraft, flight rules and also fined-tuned their instrument piloting skills.  At the same time, flight attendants from Tajik Air were undergoing training for the 747SP.  These flight attendants were supposedly the “cream of the crop” from Tajik Air but with experience limited to smaller aircraft such as the TU-154 (an old 3-engine aircraft that looked remarkably like at Boeing 727).

Lobby of Flight Academy (Photo by Priyamshah)

Lobby of Flight Academy (Photo by Priyamshah)

Simulator (Photo by Priyamshah)

Simulator
(Photo by Priyamshah)

While the pilots were progressing well in the refresher training, it was not the case for the flight attendants.

A former Pan Am purser, Gunilla Crawford, was working in contracts at the Pan Am Flight Academy when she received word that the Tajik Air flight attendants were to receive training on the 747SP.  Upon their arrival, she immediately discovered a serious problem:  their English speaking ability was extremely limited!  According to Purser Crawford:

“I had created a training program for the Tajik flight attendants and we started with the 747SP aircraft:  the doors, how to arm, disarm, open and close in normal and emergency mode. The first day was spent studying the manual; the second day in the mock- up; the third day back in the classroom.  But I soon realized it would take five days to learn the doors and it would take months to teach procedures.

 “Nothing I tried worked with the students, mainly because of the language barrier, and partly because of the size of the aircraft. The 747 SP had two aisles vs. the TU-154 single aisle; oxygen masks in the overhead on the747SP vs. two 5” tall oxygen tanks in the aft of the TU-154 cabin, held in place on the floor, standing up! (When we had a delay in Dushanbe, I went onboard and saw the difference.)”

A flight academy employee who spoke Russian eventually acted as an interpreter, but it became painfully clear that this group would not be able to staff a 747SP.  Although kind, interested and friendly, they were overwhelmed by the size of the 747SP.

This problem was not only a concern to Purser Crawford, but also to the pilots who were undergoing refresher training at the same time and who had observed the Tajik flight attendants first hand.  A solution to the problem was needed, and  according to Captain Carr, after meeting with aviation officials from Tajikistan who were present, it was decided to hire some “real” flight attendants from the former Pan Am.  Purser Crawford, was in contact with a group of “experienced and adventurous” former cabin crew colleagues, and very soon thereafter, a lot of familiar faces began appearing at the Pan Am Flight Academy.

Training went into full swing for all concerned and soon it was finished.  For the cabin crew, it was decided that two or three experienced Pan Am flight attendants would be assigned to each flight.  The remaining cabin crew positions would be filled by the Tajik Air flight attendants as “trainees”.  The goal, under the supervision and direction of the Pan Am crew, was the Tajik crew to become qualified to “staff and run” a 747SP flight.

However, there was one more thing:  Teamwork

From Captain Carr:

Being on a flight crew is a wonderful thing. It is a team effort. Pan Am had always encouraged working as a team. That teamwork was designed to save lives. Although the duties of the cabin staff are the care and feeding of passengers, their real job is to save lives in an emergency. They operate the emergency equipment and are trained to get people out of the aircraft as quickly as possible.  Good communication is essential. As a pilot, I have always appreciated and respected the job the flight attendants do and made sure they knew it”.

 In observing the training of the Tajik flight attendants, good communication was non-existent.  To alleviate this problem, Captain Carr suggested the Tajiks should see more of America other than their hotel and the flight academy and invited them and his fellow pilots to a luncheon at his home.  During the luncheon he made a very important observation:

“[At] almost any cookout in America, guests would pitch in to help with the food and drinks and have a party. Not so with the Tajiks. It became apparent that the concept of initiative did not exist in their culture. They would smile and do anything we asked of them but took no initiative. In an airplane emergency, this can be deadly so we proceeded to see what we could do about it. This was the first chance the pilots and cabin staff had the opportunity to talk in an informal setting. We encouraged them to help themselves and to pass things along to their fellow crewmembers.

 “We also started to find out why they didn’t talk to each other. They were all from Tajikistan but some were from various mountain tribes that were at odds with each other. Others were Russian, or Iranian or Tajik valley people. Apparently they had been chosen not because of their good English or flying experience but because they were related to government officials.  This was also meant to be a representative group of the Tajik population. While I thought this was a very democratic move, I later learned this diversity was meant to make it less likely that a jealous faction would [cause problems with the operation].

 “The lunch went very well and the English phrases, “more beer”, “more vodka” were pronounced much better. I also made arrangements to charter a water taxi for a cruise to see the Bahia Mar Yachting Center and also homes along the waterway.  [At the end of the tour] and before returning to Miami, the Tajiks stopped by our home to thank us. Much to my relief they were now all smiling and talking to each other and acting like a flight crew. That lunch was one of the best investments I ever made.

With the training finished and the Tajiks fresh from their team-building experience, everyone began leaving Miami for London to start the operation.  Captain Carr was asked to make the “acceptance flight” of Snow Leopard.  He accepted.

Acceptance Flight

The acceptance flight is a critical part of the delivery process of an aircraft to an airline.  Once the aircraft is accepted and delivered, anything that is discovered wrong with the aircraft becomes the responsibility of the airline.  Inspections and the acceptance flight should ensure that this does not happen.  Snow Leopard was flown to London by a United Airlines supervisory pilot and crew.  Upon arrival, Captain Carr and his crew met the aircraft and began the task of inspecting the aircraft and its logs and maintenance records and carrying out the acceptance flight.  The aircraft looked great with a fresh paint job with Tajik Air livery.  Once everything was signed off, and the walk-around inspection complete, the aircraft was pronounced airworthy and Captain Carr and his crew boarded the aircraft to begin the flight.

However, once on board, there was a surprise awaiting them:  The aircraft was full of people!  Normally such a flight involves the necessary minimum crew members.  Not this one.  The press was on board, as were Tajik Air officials, the Minister of Aviation of Tajikistan and management staff.  In fact station personnel and baggage handlers were also on board!

From Captain Carr:

“[I had] a quiet conversation with the [Minister of Aviation] to make sure that carrying all these people on a test flight was okay. I learned that wonderful Russian phrase: ‘kharasho’ (‘no problem’).  Since he was the law for our Tajikistan operating certificate, it was like getting the word directly from God. 

“I climbed into my seat in the cockpit. The United pilot looked really nervous and seemed a few shades deeper red than normal. He indicated his concern about all these people on board, and I said ‘kharasho’, took the clip board from him and signed as Pilot in Command. He looked relieved. I reminded him that United was still responsible for any maintenance items until I signed the aircraft acceptance form.  The flight went smoothly, the aircraft was perfect and everyone enjoyed the tour of the English countryside as we put the airplane through its paces. We returned to Heathrow and I made my first landing in a real 747 in about a year and a half. As we came in on final approach, I realized that we had almost all the top brass aboard, the new crewmembers and a whole planeload of people who had never been on a 747 before. 

“If you’re are flying a 747 correctly, on speed and according to ‘the book’, it normally makes a very nice landing. Once in a while, when conditions are just right and you are very lucky, the touch down is so smooth that you don’t realize you are on the ground until the speedbrake handle comes up as it automatically reacts to a microswitch on the landing gear as the wheels touch ground. This was one of those landings. 

“It is a Russian custom to applaud after a landing. But I didn’t think this applause was for landing, rather giving thanks to be alive.   However, during the flight we kept the door open for the bigwigs to view the cockpit and after landing I heard the cheers and applause from behind. Winning an Oscar for an actor couldn’t feel any better than how that landing and applause felt to me.  As we all left the aircraft my new bosses kept congratulating me as though I was the greatest pilot in the world. What could I say?  I just smiled and secretly thanked Boeing.”

Gunilla Crawford, having arrived in London to handle flight service, also had a look at Snow Leopard prior to delivery:

“The day came when we were to see the plane for the first time. It was a rainy overcast day, but there she was as beautiful as ever, sitting on the wet tarmac. We inspected the galleys, the equipment  and planned the last details, now that a few months of training and planning  had come together and the real adventure was to begin. “Starving” for flying since the demise of Pan Am . . .we were all raring to go, as this would be the “real” thing………..or so we thought.”

It was now time to get ready for operations.   Ticket sales and crew scheduling were at the top of the agenda. This and stories about some memorable flights by Snow Leopard will be coming in Part Three of the Story of Snow Leopard.

End of Part Two

The Story of Snow Leopard – Part One: The Aircraft and the Operation

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Snow Leopard:  a moderately large cat native to the mountain ranges of Central Asia, mainly in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan (photograph by Steve Winter)

Part One:  The Aircraft and the Operation

The Aircraft

This is the story about an aircraft named Snow Leopard, which was a Boeing 747SP that was leased by Tajik Air, the national airline of the Republic of Tajikistan, then a newly independent former Soviet Republic located in Central Asia. The aircraft was operated exclusively on the international routes of Tajik Air and gave that airline a presence in London, UK, Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan.  The operation was controlled and managed by a management company in London, Tajik Air Limited.  This is what made this operation unique.  What also made it unique was that Snow Leopard was crewed by former pilots and flight attendants of Pan American World Airways, the former great airline that ceased operations in December, 1991.

The operation started with Snow Leopard’s departure from London for Dushanbe, Tajikistan in December 1993.  It ended in February 1994 when the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, the aircraft’s owner and lessor. What happened during these three months are stories of adventure, bravery, comedy, intrigue, loyalty and teamwork.  And they will be told in the following posts by those who were there, the pilots, flight attendants and the London management staff.

As background, the Boeing 747SP is a modified version of the Boeing 747 which was designed for ultra-long-range flights. The “SP” stands for “Special Performance”.  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 permits longer range and increased speed relative to other 747 configurations.

Known during development as the short-body 747SB, the 747SP was designed to meet a 1973 joint request from Pan Am and Iran Air, who were looking for a high-capacity airliner with sufficient range to cover Pan Am’s New York–Middle Eastern routes and Iran Air’s planned Tehran–New York route. The aircraft also was intended to provide Boeing with a mid-size wide-body airliner to compete with the DC-10 and L-1011.

The 747SP first entered service with Pan Am in 1976. The aircraft was later acquired by VIP and government customers, but sales did not meet the expected 200 units, and production ultimately totaled 45 aircraft.

While in service, the 747SP set several aeronautical performance records, including three record-setting round-the-world flights, two operated by Pan Am and the third by United.

From Captain Sherman Carr, one of the former Pan Am pilots who flew Snow Leopard:

 “The airplane that was to be used for this operation was a Boeing 747SP.  * * *  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. For Dushanbe, surrounded by mountains in all directions, it was the perfect choice due to its ability to climb quickly, safely and be on its way in a timely manner and still carry about 260 people with an extended first class.”

Snow Leopard, Manufacturer’s Serial Number 21649, Serial 373 was first delivered to Pan American World Airways on May 11, 1979 registered as N540PA and named Clipper White Falcon.  It was renamed Clipper Flying Arrow on August 1, 1979 and later renamed Clipper Star of the Union on January 1, 1980. One year later, on January 1, 1981, the aircraft became China Clipper.

On February 12, 1986, as part of Pan Am’s sale of its Pacific Routes, N540PA was acquired by United Airlines.  The registration was changed to N149UA on June 1, 1986.  It was under this registration that the aircraft operated for Tajik Air, pictured below:

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard

After the aircraft was repossessed by United Airlines, it was bought by the Brunei Government and re-registered as V8-JBB.  It was then bought by the Government of Bahrain on December 24, 1998 and registered as A9C-HMH (below, left).  Today Snow Leopard is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, registered as VQ-BMS (below, right, photo by Wong Chi Lam). She is still in operation.

747SP Bahrain Royal Flight     747SP VQ-BMS-Las-Vegas-Sands-Corporation

The Operation

Starting a new service in any market requires a great deal of research and planning.  There must be a suitable aircraft.  Government approvals must be in place.  Airport access, slots (if required), ground handling services and airport facilities (check-in desks, etc) must be obtained.  On the commercial side, the new service needs to be marketed, publicized and tickets sold.  Other details include setting up the ticket and operations offices, arranging catering, publishing an In-Flight magazine and printing safety information cards, timetables, paper tickets, baggage tickets, promotional materials and stationary.

For Tajik Air, however, there was one very important requirement missing: an operating base in London and sufficient infrastructure to crew and maintain a Boeing 747SP aircraft.  That presented a huge problem as the civil aviation structure of Tajkistan was completely inexperienced in intercontinental operations.  In fact, Tajik Air was created by the breaking-up of the Soviet Union and the then national carrier Aeroflot’s leaving of some old Russian-built aircraft (mostly TU-154s) for use by Tajik Air as the new national air carrier of Tajikistan.  Setting up a London base would seem impossible to achieve given the limited resources of Tajikistan.  However, through the foresight and creativeness of a few airline experts in London, the requirement was met.

To establish the necessary infrastructure so that Tajik Air could operate flights to/from London, a third-party UK management company, Tajik Air Limited, was formed.  Its purpose was to operate international flights on behalf of Tajik Air.  The company would obtain and maintain the aircraft and crew, organize the marketing and selling of the flights and essentially operate the flights.  This would be accomplished using Tajikistan’s Air Operator’s Certificate and Tajik Air’s call-sign and airline code.   Tajikistan committed to funding the new service and also obtaining the required government permissions for the operation.

How would this operation be viable and profitable?  The route of primary interest to Tajik Air was the London (Heathrow) (“LHR”)-Dushanbe (“DYU”) sector.  Operating that sector as an Origin-Destination route presented problems in that there was little, if any, traffic between the two points.  The question was how to fill an aircraft with 260 seats?  The answer:  Offer service between LHR and points beyond DYU.  This was to be accomplished using rights under the Sixth Freedom of the Air.

The Freedoms of the Air, established by the Chicago Conference of 1944, are a set of commercial aviation rights granting a country’s airlines the privilege of entering and landing in another country’s airspace.  The table below illustrates these Freedoms of the Air:

airfreedom

In the case of Tajik Air, the Third and Fourth Freedoms were the operative.  The former gives the “Home” (Tajikistan) country the rights to carry commercial traffic (passengers/cargo/mail, etc) to another country; the latter gives the “Home” country the rights to carry commercial traffic from that other country to home.  These rights are generally agreed-to between the “Home” country and the other country in the form of a Bilateral Agreement or an Air Services Agreement.  By using Third and Fourth Freedom rights, a Sixth Freedom operation can be created.  It is similar to a hub operation with the home country being in the middle of the operation between two different countries.

For Tajik Air, the beyond points selected were Delhi, India (“DEL”) and Karachi, Pakistan (“KHI”) due to the large number of Indians and Pakistanis living in the UK.  The schedule would work like this:  Tajik Air departs from LHR with a planeload of passengers on a Fourth Freedom flight to DYU.  Upon arrival in DYU, those few passengers destined for DYU disembark and the rest stay on board.  The flight then departs DYU with a new flight number on a Third Freedom flight for DEL or KHI.  Upon turning around in DEL/KHI, with a new planeload of passengers, the flight becomes a Fourth Freedom to DYU and from DYU, with another flight number, Third Freedom to LHR.  By operating this schedule, Tajik Air could fill the seats of Snow Leopard, and compete in a highly competitive market by offering good service with low fares.  In order to operate this schedule, Bilateral or Air Services agreements were required for scheduled traffic between Tajikistan and India/Pakistan in addition to the UK.

The published timetable shown below illustrates this operation.  Baggage tags are also shown.

Timetable Front     Timetable Inside

Baggage Tags

As outlined above, there were other details necessary for the operation.  For the aircraft, copies of the In-Flight magazine and emergency information cards were printed and are illustrated below:

Inflight Magazine0001     Inflight Magazine0002

Inflight Magazine0003     Inflight Magazine0004

Emergency Card0001comp     Emergency Card0001comp

Additionally, as part of the pre-launch publicity, an article was put in a magazine for business travelers about the new service:

LHR Mag-0001     LHR Mag-0002

For ticket sales, an office was set up in Kensington, London and a general sales agent was appointed in Karachi and Delhi.  In addition a large poster was printed for display at the ticketing offices with an image of Snow Leopard in the air:

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

The next steps in the launch of Tajik Air’s new service to London involved recruiting and training flight crews and taking delivery of the aircraft.  This will be coming in Part Two of the Story of Snow Leopard.

End of Part One