Pan Am Series – Part XLII: Flying to the USSR – 2

Москва – часть вторая

In the previous posting, the story of how Pan American World Airways began operations to the Soviet Union were detailed from the early negotiations to the first flight on 15 July 1968. For the next ten years, Pan American operated at least a weekly flight between New York and Moscow using Boeing 707 equipment. In 1978, the service was suspended largely due to commercial reasons.

Initially, Pan American’s Moscow service was operated by flight 44 eastbound and flight 45 westbound, with Boeing 707 equipment. In the September 1969 timetable, the service was twice a week, flight 44 operating on Mondays and Fridays, and the return flight 45 on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The route included a stop in Copenhagen, although no local traffic was permitted between that city and Moscow. This service is illustrated below:

1969 - Sep -cover   1969 - Sep -0001   1969 - Sep -0002

By October, 1971, the service was changed to flights 102 (eastbound) and 103 (westbound), with a stopover in London. This was a once a week rotation, with the eastbound flight departing New York on Friday and the westbound from Moscow on Sunday. No local traffic was permitted between London and Moscow. The flights were operated with Boeing 707 equipment.

1971 - Oct cover   1971 - Oct

This service continued through October 1973, although the timetable did not indicate any restrictions on local traffic between London and Moscow.

1973 - Oct cover   1973 - Oct

By 1975, the original flights 44/45 returned to the schedule, with a once weekly service between New York and Moscow, eastbound on Saturday and westbound on Sunday with Boeing 707 equipment. The stopover in Copenhagen was re-instated and there was no indication that there were restrictions on local traffic in the December 1975 timetable. Flights 44/45 also made a New York-Copenhagen-Warsaw rotation on Sundays and Thursdays, returning on  Mondays and Fridays with Boeing 707 equipment.

1975 - Dec cover   1975 - Dec

By August 1978, the last year of operations between New York and Moscow, the service was operated by flight 66 eastbound and flight 67 westbound, using Boeing 747 equipment between New York and Frankfurt and Boeing 727 equipment between Frankfurt and Moscow. The rotation operated twice a week, Mondays and Fridays eastbound and Wednesdays and Sundays westbound. There appeared to be no restrictions on local traffic between Frankfurt and Moscow.

During this ten year period, the US and the USSR. signed an agreement on joint cooperation in the field of transportation calling for exchanges of information in areas that included the safety and efficiency of civil aviation. As a result of the pact, FAA officials and their Soviet counterparts held meetings on a variety of technical subjects. The agreement was one of a series signed by officials during a summit meeting between President Nixon and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The last of these agreements, signed on 23 June 1973, provided for an expansion of direct airline flights between the two countries. Previously, Pan American and Aeroflot had each been allowed two round-trip flights per week between New York and Moscow. The two airlines were now permitted up to three flights per week, and Pan Am received authorization to land at Leningrad, and Aeroflot at Washington. The new authority was never inaugurated on a scheduled basis.

In 1978, Pan American discontinued operations in the USSR as part of a cutback on its European flights. The load factors were low and this was largely attributed to its inability to gain market share. Quite simply, Soviet citizens could not buy Pan Am tickets. In order to obtain their papers to travel abroad, Soviet citizens were required to hold Aeroflot tickets. In addition, Aeroflot would undersell Western airlines to earn hard currency.

After Pan American discontinued operations, Aeroflot continued its Moscow-New York service. However, under President Carter, Aeroflot service was reduced to two flights per week, effective January 13, 1980, as part of a response to Soviet military actions in Afghanistan.

George Hambleton was closely involved in the inauguration of Pan American’s service to Moscow. In the previous posting, he related is experiences related to the first flight. He also spent time on the ground in Moscow involved with the protocol on the commercial side of the operation. Below are his recollections, taken from his story in the book  Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

“The first New York-Moscow flights made one stop on the way – Montreal for Aeroflot and Copenhagen for Pan Am.  Shortly before Pan Am’s first scheduled flight, another Pan American 707 “protocol” flight, with Government officials and VIP guests took off.  I remember suggesting to New York that the person with the most impact possible to be invited as an inaugural guest would be Jacqueline Onassis.  Secretly, the Russians loved John F. Kennedy.  He had stood up to Khrushchev and made him back down!  Jackie Onassis would have been a sensation.

 “Pan Am’s initial weekly flights were 10 hours 50 minutes eastbound – 11 hours 45 minutes westbound.  First class fares were $584 one way, and $1,109 round trip.  Economy fares were $384 one way off season — $429 during the summer peak.

 “Aeroflot’s inaugural ‘protocol’ flight was led by the Deputy Minister of Civil Aviation.  The Russians had taken our inaugural guests to the Bolshoi in Moscow, so we felt obligated to reciprocate.  Finding forty seats to the ballet in New York was not easy.  We arranged for dinner at a very nice restaurant near the Lincoln Center.  The restaurant had made a major effort to look old fashioned – bare brick walls, with gas lights protruding from the walls.  When the Russian Deputy Minister saw the gas lights, he said, ‘In Moscow we have electricity!’

 “Pan Am’s operation, very efficiently led by Airport Manager, Walter Nelson, at Sheremetyevo, had a much greater impact than its relatively low initial schedules would have indicated.  An analysis of the flights to Moscow by themselves could show a money losing “National Interest” route, but if incremental trans-Atlantic traffic, connecting over other gateways, was added, the Moscow operation was quite successful.  Most connecting passengers would not have called Pan Am if we had not been serving Moscow.

 “In spite of constant ‘stealing’ of our passengers by rank and file Aeroflot employees, we managed to generate more Moscow originating trans-Atlantic traffic than other western airlines.  Aeroflot would not help pending passengers until the long exit and entry visa processes were completed.  The wife of the US Consul came to work for Pan Am, giving us access to visa applications.  We were able to help Russian passengers early in the visa process.  Many of them had prepaid tickets, paid for by relatives in the U.S.

“All tickets had to be issued by Aeroflot’s Moscow reservations office.  It was called the Central International Agency – until I pointed out that was ‘CIA’  They changed the name!

* * *

“No advertising signs were permitted on the outside of buildings in Moscow in those days.  Our corner office on the second floor of the turn of the century Metropol Hotel had two huge bay windows.  We ordered two large signs (white squares, with huge Pan Am blue balls, some seven or eight feet across), and mounted them on the inside of the large bay windows, directly across a square from the Bolshoi Ballet, in the center of Moscow.  With no other advertising signs, and, particularly, no other American signs, in the center of the city, this caused quite a stir. 

“Moscow city officials were bemused, but chagrined.  We were not advertising on the outside of the building in violation of their regulations, and they empathized with this ‘manipulation of the system.’  ‘We see what you’re doing!’ Moscow bureaucrats did not know much about New York.  We assured them, if they let us keep our signs, we’d make sure that Vladimir Samaroukov, Aeroflot’s manager in New York, would be permitted to put up Aeroflot signs there!  We waited a month or so before turning on the lighted Pan Am signs.  By then it was clear to all that an American Company was firmly ensconced in the heart of Moscow – unheard of until that time.  To help cement the arrangement, we may have asked the bureaucrats to help us distribute a few boxes of Pan Am calendars.

***

“As a symbol of confidence, Pan Am had a custom of bringing the entire Board of Directors, with the wives or husbands, on the same airplane for board meetings at different locations around the world.  The Board decided to come to Moscow.  Preparations were exhaustive.  We even had my good wife, Janet, do a survey of ladies’ rooms in areas we planned to take the Board.  Intourist was helpful, but, as the Russians say, the reason Napoleon failed in Russia was because his plans were made by Intourist!

“We arranged a private meeting between Minister Loginov and Juan Trippe.  I was privileged to attend.  Although nothing had yet leaked to the press, Mr. Trippe confided to Marshal Loginov that Pan Am had decided not to go forward with supersonic operations, but, instead, to develop widebody aircraft.  Loginov was stunned.  Aeroflot and the Russians had clearly put all their emphasis into developing their version of the supersonic Concorde.  Suddenly, they feared being left behind by the airlines of the world following Pan Am with wide-bodies.

“In spite of continuing tight controls of the Breshnev era – small cracks in the Kremlin walls – (hardly noticeable at the time) – were beginning to appear.  Alya Andersen, wife of New York Times bureau chief, Ray Andersen, worked in the Pan Am office.  She said quietly one day that her father, who lived in Ryazan, a closed area south of Moscow, had devoted his life to this great cause, communism, which he thought was the answer to everything.  In his late forties, he began to realize it was not working – it was all a big mistake.  Alya said he was totally frustrated – he was afraid to discuss it with anybody – but felt he had wasted his life.  There must have been millions of others like him, waiting for glasnost and perestroika, which did not come until Gorbachov, a couple of decades later.”

A Young George Hambleton at Moscow with a Pan American 707

A young George Hambleton at Moscow with a Pan American 707

Once the flights were started, there was a requirement for Russian-speaking flight attendants (then, stewardesses). Ilona Duncan, a flight attendant from that era, was one who was sent to Moscow for a four week course in Russian. Not only did she learn Russian, but also about the Soviet society at the time. Her story also appears in the book Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People, excerpted below:

“The afternoon of January 12, 1971, as the Pan Am Clipper flight 44 makes its final approach to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, I glance down at snow-covered fields framed by dark lifeless bushes and trees.  Here and there I can make out a house forlorn in the vast wintry Russian landscape exuding the melancholic mood of the Russian soul so often described in the works of Tolstoy and Pushkin.  Tired from an all-night flight starting in New York via Copenhagen, a sense of excitement drives away my feeling of drowsiness.  I am one of 31 Pan American stewardesses, who signed up for a Russian language course in Moscow.  To alleviate the shortage of Russian speaking cabin personnel since Pan Am started operating flights to the Soviet Union in 1968, Pan American arranged this 4-week program at minimal cost of hotel and meal expenses to us, while we agreed to an unpaid leave-of-absence.  Within our group of eleven nationalities, (French, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Israeli, Yugoslavian, Argentinean, Honduran, Uruguayan, Dutch and American,) I am one of the few with a background of studying Russian at Hunter College, in the hope of eventually adding it to the other four languages (French, Italian, Dutch and German) I am qualified to speak on board.  Federal Air Regulations required at least one person to be able to communicate in the language spoken at the destination country of every flight.

“We arrive at the Hotel National in time for dinner, served from 6:30-7:30 p.m.  A babushka (grandmother) who occupies a desk on every floor hands me the room key and, as we observe from then on, notes down every one of our movements, an outcome of the ongoing Cold War.  My room, which I share with my Swedish friend, consists of two single beds separated by a table.  Heavy curtains hide the view from the window.  A single light bulb dangles from the high ceiling and gives off enough light to reveal the cracks in the lime green walls.  When I go to take a long bath, I discover no stop in the tub, and a shower head is non-existent.

* * * 

“Our daily schedule allows for little idle time, starting with breakfast between 9 and 9:45, lessons at the department for foreign students at Moscow State University from 10 to 1, followed by lunch from 1:30-2:30, and excursions on most afternoons.  Bus transportation is provided by Moscow’s Intourist Office.  Every second day drivers are exchanged for fear we might become too friendly with them.

“We attend a fashion show where we get an authentic taste of life in the Soviet Union, where Russian models present lackluster and unappealing outfits.  We visit Moscow’s Wedding Palace to witness a line-up of grooms in dark suits and brides in frilly white dresses ready to take their vows.  We sleep in bunk beds on a night train for a weekend in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and wonder what is so important to hide from our view, that the windows had been boarded shut.  

* * *

“Although interchange with Russians is strongly discouraged, we attract the curiosity of young people.  Among the drab colors worn by everyone in Moscow we stand out in our fashionable attire .

* * * 

“Others want to practice their foreign languages with us. After meeting students at a café, I suggest: ‘Why don’t we all go to my hotel and sit in the lobby?’

“The minute we climb the stairs to the main hall, two men emerge, grab the young students by their arms, shouting in Russian: ‘Rusky nyet’ (No Russians).

“’All we want to do is talk,’ I plead.

“’No Russians allowed in this hotel.’

“One afternoon, my roommate and I walk up to the roof-top terrace on the 23rd floor of the Russia Hotel for a postcard view of Saint Basil‘s Cathedral and Red Square.  Raising my camera for a photo, a male voice screams from behind: ‘Stop, or you will be arrested.’  In a frenzy we make a run for a lady’s room where I quickly remove the film before a uniformed man enters. Terrified we endure a tirade of reprimands. Finding my camera empty he lets us go.  I had forgotten that we are never to take photos from high places. 

* * *

“Despite some anxious moments, the highlights of our stay are the cultural events. Every evening we occupy the best seats at one of the theaters or concert halls. During intermission at the Bolshoi or Kremlin Theatre we savor dishes of mushrooms in cream sauce or ice-cream topped with loganberries.  Never again will I see a performance rising to the level of perfection and beauty as at the Bolshoi Theater. 

“On our last day of school we receive a certificate of attendance.  Our teacher has tried her utmost to drill some basic Russian into our brains. But without prior knowledge most of the students have trouble understanding her and reading the alphabet.  Back in New York, a few months later, I become qualified as Russian speaker on Pan Am flights thrilled to return to Moscow.”

16B-IlonaatAeroflotFlightAcademy-1   16B-IlonaatAeroflotFlightAcademy-2

Ilona Duncan at the Aeroflot Flight Academy

In the next posting, Pan American re-instates its Moscow service in 1986 and introduces a 747 nonstop rotation 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

 

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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