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

Twenty-six years ago today Pan American World Airways flight 103 was destroyed by a terrorist act over Lockerbie, Scotland. The story was posted in the Pan Am Series last year on the 25th anniversary. It is re-posted today with additional material toward the end of the posting.

JPB Transportation

“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…

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Pan Am Series – Part XLIII: Flying to the USSR – 3

Москва Часть третья

RESUMING SERVICE TO MOSCOW

After suspending service to Moscow in 1978, Pan American World Airways resumed operations in 1986 under a new bilateral agreement with the USSR signed in January of that year. Negotiations between the US and the USSR had been ongoing prior to the signing and were most difficult due to the shooting down of a Korean airliner by a Soviet interceptor. Eventually the two parties came to an agreement with Pan American getting four flights per week (Aeroflot got two) between New York and Moscow, the right to serve Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) on the same route and a street-level office in the International Trade Building in Moscow. The agreement also gave Pan American First Freedom (overfly) rights over Soviet territory on flights between Europe and the Indian Subcontinent and also provided a revenue balancing feature whereby upon reaching a 12,000 passenger threshold, Pan American, Aeroflot or both would pay each other $350 per passenger exceeding that threshold.

Х.Мирка, А.Хартман и О.Смирнов

 In the presence of the US Ambassador to the USSR, Arthur Hartman (center) and Deputy Minister of Civil Aviation of the USSR Oleg Smirnov (right), Hans Mirka (left) cuts a red tape after the resumption of air links between the USSR and the USA at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Aiport on 29 April 1986. (Photo Boris Babanov RIA Novosti)
 

The route was operated by flight 74 with Boeing 747 equipment between New York and Frankfurt and a Boeing 727-200 between Moscow and Leningrad. The return was operated by flight 65, originating in Leningrad. The service, illustrated below from the October 1986 timetable, was operated twice a week.

 1986 - Oct0003     1986 - Oct0004     1986 - Oct0005

pan_am_19861

 

  727 Clipper Invincible Moscow

Boeing 727-235 N4745 Clipper Invincible at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport having arrived on Pan American’s first flight from Frankfurt am Main 29 April 1986. (Photo Boris Babanov RIA Novosti)

727 Moscow

Boeing 727-200 at Moscow, 1987. (Photo Daniel Frohriep-Ichihara)

THE BOEING 747 NONSTOP SERVICE

Pan American continued this service until a major breakthrough in 1988: the inauguration of non-stop service between New York and Moscow with the Boeing 747.  According to James Yenckel in an article in The Washington Post, the new service was an unusual arrangement whereby both Pan American and Aeroflot offered non-stop Boeing 747 service using Pan American metal operated by a Pan American flight crew and were able to sell up to half the passenger and cargo space each, charging fares at their own rates. Each flight would also carry up to three Aeroflot flight attendants to assist Soviet passengers who could not speak English.

The service was hailed by an Aeroflot official as a “friendship air bridge” and came about as a result of the then improving business climate between the US and the USSR. The new nonstop service did not replace the existing narrow-body service that also included the stop in Leningrad.

On 14 May 1988 Clipper Moscow Express a Boeing 747-121 (N733PA) departed New York in the late afternoon and arrived during the morning hours the next day at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

1988 - April -0001   1988 - April 0003   1988 - April -0002

The April 1988 time table listing the new Moscow service effective 14 May 1988.

747 Clipper Moscow Express arr Moscow

747 Clipper Moscow Express arr Moscow crew

Clipper Moscow Express arrives at Moscow (top) and the flight crew poses after the historic flight (bottom). (Photos from miniaviamodel.ru)

pan3   Ticket office Leningrad Arthur Rindner photo

Pan American promoted the service with advertisements like the above (left). (Image from miniaviamodel.ru) In addition, a ticket office was up and running in Leningrad (right). (Courtesy of Arthur Rindner).

The Boeing 747 was popular with plane spotters in Moscow, as illustrated by the pictures from the website miniaviamodel.ru.

747 Clipper Neptune's Favorite 1991   747 Clipper Fairwind

747 Clipper Pride of the Sea Moscow   747 Clipper Gem of the Ocean

Clockwise from top left: Clipper Neptune’s Favorite, Clipper Fairwind, Clipper Pride of the Sea and Clipper Gem of the Ocean.

The cabin crew also enjoyed the flights (from miniaviamodel.ru):

Crew-1   Crew-2

Crew-3   Crew-4

 

PROMOTING THE 747 OPERATION: A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION

Elizabeth Hlinko Margulies was working in Pan American’s Public Relations Department and was involved with the initial promotion of the nonstop 747 service. She wrote about her experiences in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history through the Words of its People.  Below is an excerpt from her story, “Glasnost Comes to Pan Am”:

“In 1988, Pan Am and Aeroflot joined forces on a partnership in which the two airlines jointly marketed and operated nonstop  Boeing 747 flights between New York and Moscow.  The Pan Am planes were staffed by Pan Am pilots and cabin crews, while Aeroflot placed flight attendants on board to serve as interpreters and provide branding for Aeroflot.  To promote the service, my job was to help organize a media tour of key cities in the United States.

“This was the type of history-making project that, as a recent college graduate working in the Public Relations department, I both relished and found surprising.   I use the term “surprising” because unlike my Mom who began working for Pan Am during its magnificent rise, I knew that I was working for an airline that was rapidly on its final descent and we were all holding on for dear life. * * *

“When I was first given the assignment to coordinate this project, I was gently ‘warned’ by some of our Eastern European experts that my life would likely be gone over with a fine tooth comb and that I shouldn’t be surprised if I noticed government type agents following me.  I would, after all, be hosting possible Communists in the U.S.  To this day I have no idea if that was a real warning or paranoia from colleagues, but since I didn’t have anything to hide the idea never really bothered me.  In those days, I didn’t know if satellite media tours even existed, or if they did, I’m sure they were too costly to consider for promotional projects like this, so ours was a good old fashioned, pound the pavement series of in-person TV and radio interviews in various cities.  A Pan Am flight attendant and an Aeroflot flight attendant were chosen to represent the partnership.  The Aeroflot flight attendant was accompanied by her ‘escort’…a marketing executive from Aeroflot in Moscow, and I was the Pan Am organizer. 

“The tour itself was a success, generating substantial media coverage for the partnership.  I would like to think that the friendship between the two flight attendants from different worlds came across loud and clear during the interviews.  I’d also like to think that their camaraderie helped to convince people to travel to the U.S.S.R. on this Pan Am-Aeroflot joint venture. 

“The story could end here…a successful U.S. media tour, good media coverage…but it doesn’t.  In the new era of open discussion and free dissemination of news and information, Aeroflot informed us that they wanted to host a similar media tour of the Soviet Union.  For me, this truly was an experience of a lifetime.  * * *

“Imagine my surprise when during the first press conference in Moscow, the reporters turned to me and asked questions like, ‘how much money do you make?’ and ‘are you married?’  I truly was not prepared for these questions, or for having my photo and interview appear in Russian newspapers.  But, after all, this was still the early stages of a new freedom for the Russian people, so looking back now I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at some of the questions.

“The rest of the trip was both remarkable and eye opening.  I remember being in a hotel room in Moscow with the Pan Am flight attendant as we discussed how much we would like to find some fresh flowers to cheer up the room.  We went out for a walk, looking for flowers only to find vases with fresh flowers in our rooms when we returned.  It certainly felt like Big Brother was watching! 

“Another memory that’s etched into my brain is when the Aeroflot marketing executive slipped me a couple of dollars and asked me to go into one of the hard currency stores to buy film so she could take photos of us on the trip.  Apparently it was illegal for Russians to have hard currency or even go into a hard currency store.  Truly eye opening.

” * * *I can say is that I was extremely grateful for the fact that Pan Am operated those joint venture flights…especially the flight that carried me back to New York after my amazing Russian experience.”

Pan American continued operating the non-stop service as well as the 727 service to Moscow and Leningrad until November 1991 when Delta took over Pan American’s European operations.

THE 1990 US-USSR BILATERAL AGREEMENT

During 1990, negotiations between the US and the USSR resulted in a new bilateral air services agreement that opened new destinations at both ends and including both transpacific and transatlantic services. The new destinations included Anchorage, San Francisco, Chicago and Miami in the US and on the USSR side, the Ukrainian city of Kiev, Magadan and Khabarovsk in the Soviet Far East, Tbilisi in Soviet Georgia and Riga in Latvia.

The new agreement also provided that, after 1 April 1991, up to four additional US passenger airlines and up to two all-cargo airlines would be authorized to fly to the Soviet Union, and also provided that the USSR expand Aeroflot’s schedule or establish new airlines to compete with Aeroflot on the US routes.

PAN AMERICAN: THE “CHOSEN INSTRUMENT”

If there was any route in Pan American’s history that could be designated as a “Chosen Instrument” route, the US-USSR could be that route. Pan American was the selected airline because it was recognized as the primary US-flag carrier as exemplified by the USSR’s aviation officials making the initial contact directly with Juan Trippe. After reporting the contact to the US State Department and the Civil Aeronautics Board, Trippe was authorized to negotiate with the Soviets on key issues on an air services agreement between the two countries. However, it can be reasonably concluded that in the end, political considerations were the basis for the final agreement between the two countries and both Pan American and Aeroflot were instruments of those considerations, and therefore instruments of both countries’ foreign policy, hence, the “Chosen Instrument”.

For Pan American, a private enterprise as opposed to the state-owned Aeroflot, the operation was a money loser and the competition was not on a level playing field. Quite simply, Pan American could not sell tickets in the USSR. Under the Airline Deregulation Act, there was a provision for airlines to receive a subsidy for operating into small markets, known as the “essential air services” subsidy. Unfortunately, there was no similar provision for a US flag carrier operating at an economic disadvantage in an international market at the government’s bidding. Pan American was never subsidized and eventually suspended the losing operation but did so when US-USSR relations were souring. It was not until relations began to improve between the two countries in the late 1980s, did the service resume in 1986, crowned with the 747 non-stop service in 1988.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

Pan Am Series – Part XL: Round-the-World Flight

Pan American’s Round-the-World Services

48-First RTW

John T. McCoy’s painting of Clipper America arriving at San Francisco, completing the first commercial airline round-the-world flight, 29 June 1947.

 Setting the Stage

With the Fifth Freedom rights granted by Britain in the Bermuda Agreement of 1946, the United States obtained the authority for its international air carriers to pick up passengers in Britain (and in British colonies such as India and Hong Kong) to beyond points in Europe and Asia. What this meant was that Pan American would be able to launch a “round-the-world” service.

At the time, with World War II ended, the U.S. international air transportation system was taking on a whole new complexion. Prior to the war, Pan American Airways was the de facto U.S. flag international air carrier. This was achieved largely by Juan Trippe’s ability to (1) win Foreign Air Mail contracts and (2) negotiate landing concessions with countries of interest. This worked very well in Latin America because for all intents and purposes, Pan American’s activities in the region were in line with the U.S. desire to keep the Germans from establishing any presence there.

With the end of the war, however, as a result of their support to the war effort, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded the likes of TWA, Northwest, United and American Export (AOA, later acquired by Pan American) international routes, much to the chagrin of Pan American.  Juan Trippe had fought tooth-and-nail to be the designated U.S. flag international carrier (the “Chosen Instrument”), but was thwarted along the way by politicians and his competition. This story and its political intrigue is covered in detail in The Chosen Instrument, by Marylin Bender and Selig Alschul and An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley.

Nevertheless, Pan American had the beyond authority as granted in the Bermuda Agreement and on 17 June 1947, Juan Trippe departed on the inauguration of Pan American Airways’ round-the-world service, the first for a scheduled commercial airline.

The aircraft used was a Lockheed Constellation model 749, Clipper America, powered by four 2.200-horsepower Wright engines, with a cruising speed of 260 miles per hour and a pressurization system that permitted flying at altitudes between 18,000-20,000 feet.

Clipper America departed from New York’s LaGuardia airport and stopped in Gander, Shannon, London, Istanbul, Dhahran, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Shanghai, Tokyo, Guam, Wake Island, Midway, Honolulu, San Francisco and Chicago, arriving back in New York on 30 June. The journey entailed 22,170 miles. Not having domestic authority, the flight between San Francisco and New York was a “ferry-flight” and thereafter all of Pan American’s round-the-world flights departed from one coast of the U.S. and terminated on the other.

The round-the-world service was a fixture in Pan American’s timetables from then on, until the final round-the-world flight in October, 1982. During this time, the iconic round-the-world flights 1 and 2 represented the summit of Pan American’s power and glory.

Pan American’s Round-the-World Schedules

Below are descriptions of Pan American’s round-the-world service from selected timetables over the years. While a variety of flight numbers operated on the route, flights 1 and 2 were a constant and are focused on here.

Initially the Constellation and the DC-4 were employed in the round-the-world service, as shown in the June 1948 timetable. On the eastbound flight 2, the Constellation operated from New York to Calcutta and handed over to the DC-4 to continue the route to San Francisco. In the timetable, flight 2 departed New York on Saturday and arrived in Calcutta the following Tuesday, with stops in Gander, London, Brussels, Istanbul, Damascus, Karachi and Delhi. Flight 2 continued its journey to San Francisco, departing Wednesday evening and arriving in San Francisco on Thursday with stops Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo, Wake Island and Honolulu. The flight gained a day crossing the International Date Line between Wake Island and Honolulu. The DC-4 from Calcutta featured “Sleeperette Service”, specially reclining seats with “curtained privacy”.

1948 RTW

Constellation-1     DC-4

Constellation (left, source unknown) and DC-4 (right, PAA postcard).

By 1952, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (“Strato Clipper”) was deployed into the service as illustrated in the April 1952 timetable. The westbound flight 1, a Strato Clipper, departed San Francisco on Tuesdays and Thursdays, arriving at Manila on Thursdays and Sundays with stops in Honolulu, Wake Island and Guam. The flight lost Wednesday when crossing the International Date Line. From Honolulu, “Sleeperette Service” was offered. Flight 1 changed gauge at Manila to a DC-4, leaving on Fridays and Mondays for Hong Kong, where a Constellation took over on Mondays for London via Bangkok, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi, Basra, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Brussels. The flight arrived in London on Wednesday morning where flight 1 was paired with flight 101 for New York with a Strato Clipper. There were optional fuel stops in Shannon or Gander on this segment.

1952 RTW    Boeing 377-n

“Strato Clipper” (right, PAA photograph).

By 1954, the Constellation was no longer operating this route and the DC-6B had been introduced, offering “Rainbow” tourist service in addition to the “President” first class service. On the eastbound route, flight 2 was paired with flight 70, a DC-6B offering “Rainbow” service and flight 100, a Strato Clipper offering “President” service, on the New York-London segment. Although the service was offered five days a week, flight two only operated on Mondays. From London, a DC-6B took over and offered both “Rainbow” and “President” service, departing on Tuesday and arriving in Hong Kong on Thursday, with stops in Düsseldorf, Istanbul, Beirut, Karachi, Rangoon and Bangkok. From Hong Kong, flight 2 continued to Tokyo where it laid over until Saturday morning when a Strato Clipper continued the flight to Los Angeles via Wake Island and Honolulu. In addition, from Hong Kong on Thursdays, a DC-4, flight 6, operated to Manila, where a Strato Clipper continued to San Francisco via Guam, Wake Island and Honolulu.

1954 RTW    DC-6B

DC-6B (right, PAA photograph).

By 1956, the Super Stratocruiser and the DC-7B were operating in the round-the-world service. In the April 1956 timetable, eastbound flight 2 from New York was paired with flights 100, 102 and 64. Flights 100 and 102 were Super Stratocruisers departing on Sundays for London with the latter stopping in Boston and Shannon. Both flights arrived in London on Monday and connected to flight 2, a DC-6B, which departed on Tuesday for Tokyo via Frankfurt, Istanbul, Beirut (receiving traffic from flight 64), Karachi, Rangoon, Bangkok and Hong Kong.  At Tokyo, a Strato Clipper took over for the remainder of the trip to Seattle with stops in Wake Island, Honolulu and Portland. Flight 64 was a DC-7B that operated from New York to Beirut where it connected with flight 2. The intermediate stops were Shannon, Paris and Rome. In this timetable, Pan American offered a daily round-the-world service with different flight numbers. With the exception of the service described above, the eastbound flights all terminated in San Francisco.

RTW 1956

377-3 RA Scholefield   DC-7B-n2

 Super Stratocruiser (left, credit R.A. Scholefield Collection) and DC-7B (right, PAA photograph).

 By 1959, the DC-7C and the Boeing 707-121 were seen in the round-the-world service. In the April 1959 timetable, westbound flight 1 operated on Saturdays with a DC-7C from San Francisco to Tokyo with stops in Honolulu and Wake Island. Flight 805, also a DC-7C, operated on Saturdays from Los Angeles to Honolulu, where it connected to flight 1. “Sleeperette Service” was available on both segments. Flight 1 arrived in Tokyo on Monday where a Strato Clipper took over for the segment to Hong Kong where the flight was handed over to a DC-6B. This aircraft continued to London with stops in Bangkok, Calcutta, Karachi, Beirut, Istanbul, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf. From London a DC-7C took over for the trip to New York, with stops in Shannon and Boston. In Beirut, flight 1 also connected to flight 115, a service to New York via Rome and Paris. From Beirut a DC-6B operated to Rome. From Rome, a Boeing 707-121 operated to Paris and then on to New York.

1959 RTW

DC-7C at IDL Allan Van Wickler    707-121 IDL Bob Proctor

DC-7C (left, photo by Allan Van Wickler) and Boeing 707-121 (right, photo by Jon Proctor) at New York.

By 1966, the Boeing 707 and DC-8 were operating a daily all-jet round-the-world service. On Sundays, flight 2 departed New York in the evening and arrived in San Francisco on Tuesday via London, Frankfurt, Vienna, Istanbul, Beirut, Baghdad, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Honolulu. Other stops on the route, depending on the day operated, included Belgrade, Ankara, Tehran, New Delhi, Rangoon and Saigon. By 1971, the Boeing 747 operated flights 1 and 2, between New York and Los Angeles with stops in Honolulu, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bangkok and, depending on the day, New Delhi, Karachi, Tehran or Beirut, and then Istanbul, Frankfurt and London. After the merger with National Airlines, flights 1 and 2 continued in round-the world service between New York and Los Angeles with 747s, with stops in Tokyo and Hong Kong, and, depending on the day, Bangkok, Delhi, Bombay, Karachi or Bahrain, and then Frankfurt and London. The service also added Las Vegas to the route with a change of gauge to a 727 for the flight from/to Los Angeles.

1966 RTW   1971-72 RTW

1981 RTW

707-321 at LAX Bob Proctor    DC-8 at LAX Bob Proctor

747 at LAX Bob Proctor

Boeing 707-321 at New York (top left), DC-8-32 at Los Angeles (top right), Boeing 747-121 at Los Angeles (bottom). Photographs by Jon Proctor.

By the end of 1982, Pan American’s iconic round-the-world service was history. Although flights 1 and 2 continued to operate, the service was between New York and London and onward to points on the European continent. With the sale of Pan American’s London Heathrow route to United Airlines, flights 1 and 2 were removed from the timetable.

The last round-the-world flight departed Los Angeles on 27 October 1982. Merle Richmond, who worked in public relations for Pan American, and his two children were passengers on that flight. His memories of that flight, featured in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People are excerpted below:

 “They say when French writer Jules Verne wrote Around the World in 80 Days in 1873 it was during a financially difficult time for the classic adventure novelist.  Compared to Pan Am’s travails, it was no sweat.   He couldn’t have been as financially bad off as Pan Am was over a hundred years later when the airline decided to end its historic Round-the-World Flights One and Two.  But whether it was Verne’s novel, which I had read many years earlier, or   perhaps  Nellie Bly’s 1889 epic 72-day tale which she wrote for her newspaper, the New York World, I was awed by their feat and saw the last Pan Am RTW flights as my final opportunity.

“So it was on a fall evening in 1982 during dinner with my family that I announced that I was going to fly around the world that coming weekend, leaving October  27, 1982, and listened as my 14-year- old daughter Diana quickly asked if she could join me, followed later by  my 12-year old son Dwight.  Not sure that they understood the magnitude of the undertaking, I explained that the curtailing of Pan  Am’s Flights 1 and 2, which had been operating since June 17, 1947, represented surrendering what many considered the most symbolic aspect of the airline.  No other airline in the world had previously ever even attempted to make round-the-world service commercially viable. And we would be on the last flight!

“Not only we would be on the final flight, departing Los Angeles that Friday at noon, I told Diana and Dwight that if anybody in recent history had boarded Flight 1 and remained with the plane for the entire duration of the flight until it landed at JFK in New York on Sunday afternoon, I and others I queried, were unaware of such a back-breaking marathon.

“With the advent of jet service in 1958 with the Boeing 707, Pan Am switched departure city of Flight 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Thus the route of the flight would be Los Angeles-Tokyo-Hong Kong-Bangkok- Bombay-Dubai-Istanbul-Frankfurt-London-New York on a Boeing 747.

“And so on Friday, October 28, 1982, with Capt. Carl Wallace in the left hand seat, we joined the world of Verne and Bly.  * * * For Diana and Dwight, the RTW trip was an unparalleled emotional and educational experience.   

48- kids and clipper    48-On board

“Some two full days after takeoff in Los Angeles we landed in New York on a brilliant sunny fall day.  We had made it in one piece after 56-hours of flying. We had eaten the best airline food in the world (more breakfasts than dinners when you fly west to east). . .  [a]nd yes, Diana and Dwight even did some of the homework they brought with them.

“Altogether, 18,647 miles in 39 hours and 30 min. of actual flying time.  And who knows how many steaks!!!! Worth every bite!”

 

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

 

 

Pan Am Series – Part XXXVI: Press Charters

White House Press Charters

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Sacred_Cow_airplane    Independence_aircraft    800px-Lockheed_VC-121E_Super_Constellation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Dinner!’ she replied without hesitation.

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

PAA and AF1

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

68-Press Plane Crew

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

The excerpts above of Bill Frisbie and Nancy Scully are from two of 71 stories in Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

           

 

 

Pan Am Series – Part XXXIII: Saigon

Pan American’s Presence in Saigon

Part 1

On 24 April 1975, Clipper Unity, a Boeing 747, departed Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon with 463 passengers on board, ending an over twenty year Pan American World Airways presence that started with two weekly scheduled DC-4 passenger rotations in the mid-1950’s, growing to daily 707/747 scheduled passenger operations in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, along with extensive cargo operations in support of the U.S. military, was eventually reduced to two rotations a week in the mid 1970’s and finally ended just before the  fall of South Vietnam in 1975. This is the first of three stories about Pan American’s presence.

sai-gon53-giaoduc.net.vn

The Airport

Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut International Airport had its origins in the early 1930s, when the French colonial government constructed a small airport with unpaved runways near the village of Tan Son Nhut. By mid-1956, with U.S. aid, a 7,200-foot (2,190 m) runway had been built and the airfield became Saigon’s and South Vietnam’s principal international gateway.  Between 1968 and 1974, the airport was the major base for military operations during the Vietnam War and was one of the busiest military airbases in the world.

Tsn-1962   SGN-1

camp-airport1-550   main_gate_1

Pan American’s Operations in Saigon

Saigon as a Pan American city first appeared in its timetable maps in the late 1940’s, but was not listed in the flight schedules or shown in the “List of Principal Offices”. In the May, 1950 timetable, a route to/from Saigon was identified as “services authorized but not operating”. In the January and April 1952 timetables, Saigon was not even on the route map. By the June 1954 timetable, two weekly rotations were being offered between Manila-Saigon-Singapore with DC-4 equipment.  The flights linked at Manila with Pan American’s San Francisco service  Below is the map from a 1948 timetable and the Pacific services in the 1954 timetable:

Map 1948

1954 Pacific Skeds

In the September 1957 timetable, the Manila-Saigon-Singapore service was increased to three rotations weekly with DC-6B equipment. These flights linked to Pan American’s to San Francisco and Los Angeles services at Manila. In the April 1959 timetable, the service was increased to five rotations weekly with both DC-6B and Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. By the September 1961 timetable, two weekly rotations were offered on the Honolulu-Guam-Manila-Saigon-Singapore-Djakarta route with Boeing 707’s or DC-8’s. In addition the eastbound round-the-world flight number 2 made a weekly stop.

Timetable pages -0001   Timetable pages -0002

Timetable pages -0003

 

In the April 1965 timetable, three weekly rotations were offered between Honolulu and Saigon (with both intermediate and beyond points) as well as the weekly eastbound round-the-world flight 2.  All-cargo freighters were shown operating three rotations weekly in the timetable as well. By the September 1966 timetable, the passenger operations were up to four rotations weekly plus the once-a-week eastbound round-the-world flight. The all-cargo service was shown as a daily operation, although some all-cargo flights required a minimum revenue load to be “flag-stopped” . By the September 1969 timetable, the number of rotations was increased to five and with extensive cargo operations.

Timetable pages -0004

Timetable pages -0005    Timetable pages -0006

 In the January 1971, Pan American offered a daily rotation with Boeing 707 aircraft as well as daily all-cargo services. By late 1973, Pan American severely reduced its Saigon service to a twice weekly rotation and three weekly all-cargo operations. After April 1975, there was no Pan American presence in Saigon.

Timetable pages -0007   Timetable pages -0008

Clipper Unity (Photo Eduard Marmet)

Clipper Unity (Photo Eduard Marmet)

The End of the Pan American Era in Saigon

Al Topping was Pan American’s last Station Manager at Saigon and organized the airline’s last ever departure from Ton Son Nhut Airport. His story was captured in a made-for-TV movie, Last Flight Out, starring James Earl Jones as Topping and Richard Crenna as Clipper Unity’s pilot Dan Hood. Topping’s story also appears in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People. Below is an excerpt:

“[In] November of 1972, I was in charge of the Pan Am operation in South Vietnam.  * * * Saigon was very hot, very humid, very noisy, and due to the tens of thousands of motor bikes (the primary means of transportation) the air was polluted.  The international arrivals area at [Saigon’s] airport had dirt floors and no air conditioning. Downtown was a bustling crowded city with a variety of shops, restaurants, an open / active black market, street money changers, prostitutes and beggars roaming the streets holding babies—many of them scared  and crippled by napalm.

“As for the war, there were signs of it everywhere. A tank guarded the entrance to the airport, and heavily armed troops guarded every government building.  The most telling of all were the sounds of war.  Every night one could hear muffled booms of shelling off in the distance. Nevertheless the war was supposedly winding down and peace talks were on-going in Paris.  A peace agreement was finally reached and by June of 1973 the last American combat troops departed Vietnam.  The 10,000 day war was finally over.  So we thought.  Optimism was in the air.  The government began promoting tourism and encouraging foreign investments.  Back in Washington, DC the United States Congress voted to virtually terminate all military aid to Vietnam.   The South Vietnamese were now on their own.

“Approximately 18 months passed and the political landscape of South Vietnam began to dramatically change. Huge chunks of South Vietnam were taken over by advancing North Vietnamese troops. Cities, provinces and villages were falling with hardly a shot being fired. It was becoming obvious to me that North Vietnam had Saigon in its cross-hairs. In early April 1975, panic was in the air.

“Various American companies began sending some of their employees to places like Hong Kong and Singapore.  As the situation deteriorated I convinced Pan Am to commit to evacuating all of our local staff and their immediate families.  But it was up to me to come up with a plan for the actual evacuation, a workable plan that would not endanger lives.  It was only later that I realized I was embarking on a decision-making process I would never forget.

“Tension and suspense engulfed us as evacuation plans were being made. There were some surprises. When I asked our personnel manager for a listing of all 61 employees and their immediate family members, I was presented with a list of over 700 names. In the Asian culture, the immediate family is the extended family. Now what, I wondered?  For the first time, I saw the enormity of the situation. Lives were at stake. I held some emotional, gut-wrenching meetings with our department heads.  It was necessary to review again and again the company commitment of evacuating our employees and their ‘immediate families’.  It was extremely difficult to convince them of the differences in interpretations of an immediate family.  In the end they would have to make the final decision as to who goes and who stays.  So it was now a matter of freedom for some and unknown consequences for others.  Once the decisions were made I  had a list of 315 employees and their family members.  One more major challenge was lurking.

“Although the government of South Vietnam was rapidly deteriorating, they were still in charge. A Vietnamese citizen could not leave the country without proper documentation.  Under normal circumstances it may take two to three months for Vietnamese to obtain a passport and visa.  However, we had little time left.  We needed those documents in a matter of days.  In the past, I had witnessed hundreds of orphans being expeditiously evacuated to the U.S. for adoption.    I soon realized that this may be our only way out.

“Our personnel manager spent countless hours at the Office of the Ministry of Interior to obtain the required documentation for adoption.  My staff prepared these stacks of legal documents for my signature that would also permit our Vietnamese employees to leave the country.  In effect, the documents I signed said I was adopting more than 300 people, that I would be responsible for their well-being in the United States.  It worked!

“The situation in Saigon was now in panic mode.  In order to avoid further chaos the final date and time of Pan Am’s LAST FLIGHT OUT was kept secret until the night before.  It was to be Thursday April 24, 1975.  Most of our employees and their families spent the night in the back rooms of our downtown ticket office.  Three buses brought them to the airport that morning.  At the airport checkpoint armed troops boarded the buses to check the documentation.  The tension in the air on those buses defied description.

“The aircraft was Clipper Unity N653PA, a Boeing 747.  After cramming 463 souls on board into a cabin configured with 375 seats, the LAST FLIGHT OUT lifted off the runway on the designated date.  Many of the passengers doubled up in one seat.  Others stood in the aisles, sat on the floor or found space in the lavatories.

Clipper Unity at Saigon on the day of the LAST FLIGHT OUT (Al Topping)

Clipper Unity at Saigon on the day of the LAST FLIGHT OUT (Al Topping)

 

“The flight’s departure, however, had not been assured. Shortly beforehand, the Federal Aviation Administration had banned U.S. commercial flights into Saigon. It was not until high-level U.S. officials had designated our flight as a U.S. government charter that the jumbo jet could fly into Saigon to take us out.  When Capt.  Bob Berg finally received take-off clearance and we began our take-off roll, my heart was pounding like a bass drum. The tension was overwhelming until we cleared the coastline and I could see the fleet of American warships in the South China Sea below us. At that point I said, thank God we made it.”

Pan American’s involvement in Saigon extended beyond its scheduled passenger and cargo operations. In the next two postings will be stories about how the people of Pan American went out of their way to help their fellow human beings in desperate and difficult circumstances.

For additional information about Pan American World Airways:

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

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

For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon

Also available in a Kindle Edition

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

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

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

Pan Am Series – Part XXXII: Technical Assistance Like No Other – 2

Technical Assistance for Tajik Air – 1993

Part Two

Pan Am’s spirit is alive in a unique Technical Assistance Project

Acceptance and Inaugural Flights of Tajik Air’s Boeing 747SP

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.  The Boeing 747SP 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.

N149UA-2   747SP at DYU-1

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 crew-members 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 speed-brake handle comes up as it automatically reacts to a micro-switch 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.”

Snow Leopard-1a-comp

Gunilla Crawford, having arrived in London to handle flight service, also had a look at the 747SP 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.

With the acceptance flight completed and the aircraft ready to start operations, management and staff got into full gear. Tickets were sold, crews scheduled and plans were made for launch activities.  At the London Headquarters on Kensington High Street, tickets sales in both the Delhi, India and Karachi, Pakistan markets was brisk and flights sold out very quickly. However, ticket sales in the Dushanbe market was slow due to very little western business activity in the country, and what little passenger traffic there was, was largely government in nature. Thus, selling seats in the beyond markets was necessary.  As described in Part One, this “Sixth Freedom” operation enabled a profit on what would have been money losing flights.  In fact, over 90-95% of the booked passengers were booked on flights to Delhi or Karachi.  Deeply discounted advance purchase excursion tickets offered through local travel agents in the ethnic neighborhoods of London resulted in a huge response.

The Kensington High Street Headquarters served as both a ticket office and operations base with constant activity, day and night. This was punctuated with welcome and frequent visits by the Pan Am and Tajik flight crews.

McMillan House-1 Cyrus and Eni    McMillan House-3

McMillan House-2

 

While ticket sales and preparations for the inaugural flight were progressing, Gunilla Crawford and her team of flight attendants set about to organize crew scheduling and rotations.  This was no easy task!

Cabin crew scheduling was a challenge for Gunilla.  With no computers available, some creativity was required:

From Gunilla Crawford:

“We went across the street from the hotel to a gas station and bought four dinosaur-shaped erasers in four different colors.  Each dinosaur represented a crew.   And each crew consisted of two ex-Pan Am flight attendants and the rest Tajik.  On a large poster board we plotted the four destinations, London, Dushanbe, Karachi and New Delhi.  By moving the dinosaurs between the destinations we made sure nobody was scheduled from London, when in fact the crew member was in New Delhi!”

Cabin Crew Sked-2

 

When Gunilla arrived in London, she was in for a surprise.  In addition to heading up the cabin crew, there was another responsibility as well:  Catering.  She handled that in pure Pan Am fashion.

“We made appointments with Catering at Heathrow airport, we picked china for the First Class Service, silver ware, serving dishes, baskets and linens. The ‘old’ Pan Am training came back in force and we would do the service in the name of that classic carrier.” 

The food service to be offered was superb.

In First Class departing London, “Royal Doulton Service” included during the drinks service a choice of Hot Canapes including Chicken Kebab, Mushroom Cream Vol-au-Vent, Spring Roll, Basil Cashew Parmesan Tartlets and Asian Canapes of mixed pakoras and samosas. The Hors d’oeuvres offered a choice of Poached Salmon Medallion on Oakleaf lettuce with Diced Pepper and Cucumber Salad, or a Tomato Cup filled with Mayonnaise Lemon garnish or a Smoked Chicked Breast on Radicchio with Mandarin Orange and Cucumber or a Radish and Mixed Peppers Julienne, all with a Mixed Leaf Salad with Vinaigrette.  For the entree, the choices were Curry Prawn Jalfrezi with fresh chopped Coriander, Rack of Lamb with Herbs and Fresh Rosemary Sprigs or Chicken Shirin Polo accompanied by Basmati Rice with Zereshk or Potato Sesame Croquettes and a choice of vegetables including Broccoli au Gratin Mornay or Steamed Mixed Vegetables with Baby Sweetcorn, Turned Carrots and Mange Tout.

For desert Gateau Chocolate Roulade with Orange Zest was followed by a cheese plate that included Camembert, Port Salut, Feta, Stilton, Brie with black grapes, black and green olives and celery batons.  Ending the meal was a fresh fruit basket.

Prior to landing in Dushanbe the pre-arrival “hot breakfast was just as posh…It was like working the Pan Am Clippers again”, according to Vince Rossi one of the ex-Pan Am flight attendants.

Gunilla Feb 19   Gunilla Feb 12    Gunilla Feb 10-cropped

As the day approached for the first revenue flight from London to Dushanbe and onwards to Karachi, the crews began assembling in London to prepare. For Gunilla, it was a happy reunion with the Tajik flight attendants who greeted their ex-Pan Am counterparts with “squeals and shouts of joy”.  For the inaugural flight four ex-Pan Am were to work the flight, Robert Stewart, Tania Anderson, Linda Morehouse and Linda Oja.  In the flight deck were Captain Ed Olasz, First Officer Jim Donahue and Flight Engineer Carl Meixal.  In addition, two qualified captains were assigned to the flight.

Preparations for departure went into high gear.  Nothing was overlooked.  Everything was covered, from the accuracy of the manuals to training to CRM (crew resources management) with the Tajik flight attendants.   Anything that could possibly happen, even the unpredictable, was discussed and thoroughly prepared for.

The excitement of flying again did not escape the ex-Pan Amers who were taking part in the operation.  The 747SP’s first flight coincided almost to the date of the demise of their beloved Pan Am, some two years prior.

 

From Tania Anderson:

“I happily scribbled away in my diary, gushing about the thrill of flying with my cosmopolitan colleagues again. A few fondly remembered having flown with this particular 747SP before. Some of my co-workers had not flown since Pan Am’s demise. It had been nearly two years to the day that I had been on my last flight, a White House Press Charter, when we learned that we were bankrupt for good. Now as we gathered in the lobby of our London hotel for the first flight to Dushanbe, we all noted the sad anniversary coupled with the excitement of exploring a new airline together.”

At 2215 hrs on the date of the inaugural flight, Tajik Air’s Boeing 747SP, designated flight 7J801, departed London Heathrow for Dushanbe. The spirit on board was one of joy and happiness.

From Tania Anderson:

“During the flight, I quickly noted that many of the passengers, who were going onto Karachi, were much less frenetic than the ones we used to fly on Pan Am. They were elated to be going home, either for a visit or permanently, for a reasonably priced airline ticket. One passenger actually asked if he could kiss me, and I reluctantly replied, “Well, Ok, but on my cheek!” I also noted in my diary that we were flying across Russian airspace which may not sound like a big deal but to someone who grew up during the Cold War when the former USSR was our mortal enemy, it was intriguing to me.

“The multi-national crew also bonded quickly. The Tajik flight attendants loved the fact that my name was Tania. Naturally assuming that I was Russian with a name like Tania, one actually commented that I spoke good fluent English for a Russian. Some of the Tajiks were dark with olive skin and Middle Eastern looks. Most were Muslim. Others were the opposite end of the spectrum with white skin and light eyes. They were usually Russian Orthodox.

“Among the Tajik flight attendants, there were three Irenas on the flight.  Any time I said ‘Irena’, all three would whirl around simultaneously to see what I wanted.  The Tajik flight attendants  were absolutely delightful and so easy to get along with. They were also thrilled to have secured a job such as this with the opportunity to explore a bit of the world, especially London. Many of them had no transportation from their homes, so they simply walked miles to the airport to work these extraordinarily long flights. They went out of their way to tell us how their country was still in a lot of upheaval economically. In addition, Afghani insurgents were coming over the border to make trouble, and they wanted none of it. ‘Tania, we just all want peace and to be able to live our lives’, one told me.”

Cabin Crew-2a    Cabin Crew-1a

Crew-1    Cabin Crew-1

After a long flight into the night, the 747SP landed in Dushanbe.

From Tania Anderson:

“It was a cold, wintry, snowy day when we landed in Dushanbe to a zealous reception on the tarmac. After all, we were the first western aircraft to ever land in somewhat remote Tajikistan. I distinctly remember applause in the cabin upon our touchdown, but the local hoopla outside just about had me abandoning my jump-seat.

“With a dramatic back drop of steep snow-encrusted mountains, dozens of well-wishers had gathered on the tarmac in their traditional brightly-colored clothes. There was a band playing Russian instruments complete with long-nosed horns and big drums. Tajik national TV was there with their ancient equipment to record every single minute of the ceremonies and our arrival.”

DYU Reception-2

Gunilla Feb 03    Gunilla Feb 01    Gunilla Feb 02

From Tania Anderson:

“Once on the blocks, the ground people enthusiastically boarded the plane, not only to welcome us, but to ask for a quick tour of the 747SP. Descending the spiral staircase, our pilots were given handsome home-made colorful robes to wear over their uniforms. Now that the door was open, I could observe the entire scene. Our pilots were quickly ushered down the stairs and off to the terminal for a reception including some local culinary treats whose identity was left to the imagination. Later one of them told me that the Tajiks had insisted that they shoot some vodka—maybe local moonshine—to celebrate the day. A bit horrified, our pilots made certain that the officials knew we still had another leg to fly to Karachi, but the general response was like, ‘So what?’

“Linda Oja and I stayed on the plane watching everything from L-1. Then something happened I shall never forget. As Linda squealed, ‘Oh, No!’ I saw some Tajiks dragging a sheep across the tarmac towards the Snow Leopard. It struggled the entire way, right up to the staircase, just as if it knew something lousy was about to occur. As they do in many countries, they sacrificed the sheep at the bottom of our stairs, directing the blood from his neck into a bowl. In the west we christen ships and airplanes with champagne, but now we were half way around the world in a land with customs very different than our own.

“Not long afterwards, the entire crew along with the ground people gathered in front of the aircraft for a memorable photo. Each of us was festooned with garlands of deep red-colored roses. They were velvet to the touch and their fragrance was heavenly, even against the cold blast of mid-winter.

“Standing there on that frosty winter day, I felt a true sense of pride about our latest “operation.” In true Pan Am fashion, we had pulled ourselves up after the bankruptcy and were on the other side of the planet helping the struggling Tajiks with their burgeoning airline, begun with one beautiful 747SP.

“Flying on [Tajik Air’s 747SP] was another wonderful Pan Amigo adventure to add to my memoirs.”

Inaugural at DYU-1

When the flight arrived at Dushanbe that morning, Tajikistan was in the midst of an economic crisis along with a civil war.  Bread was being rationed but at the same time the country was trying to turn the page into a new chapter of their existence, emerging from the era of Soviet rule to an independent and free nation.  The arrival of this beautiful 747SP representing their national airline stoked both great pride and happiness among its citizens.

This unique “Technical Assistance”, from the beginning, was the story of a revolutionary idea that should have been hugely successful. 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.  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.

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 Boeing 747SP operation proved that it could be done, and for four short months, Tajik Air’s Boeing 747SP proudly flew the skies between London, Dushanbe and Delhi/Karachi.

N149UA-1a     N540PA-1

Tajik Air’s Boeing 747SP, 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. 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. Today the aircraft is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, registered as VQ-BMS. She is still in operation.

EVENT REMINDERS:

Aircraft Accident Workshop, 31 May 2014 in San Francisco.

Click here for info or registration.

Pan Am’s Worldwide Family Reunion

31 July – 3 August  2014

New York/Long Island City

Click here for info and registration.

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 puFor additional information about Pan American World Airways:blisher, 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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