Departed Wings – Presidential Airways (XV)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1985-1989
Washington-Dulles, D.C.

Hoping to establish a discount airline market from a Washington-Dulles base, former PEOPLExpress executive Harold J. “Hap” Paretti, founded Presidential Airways on March 20, 1985. The new airline was to be full-service with low fares providing jet service from Washington-Dulles to cities in the South and New England. With the challenge in securing at least $2 million in start-up capital and leasing several ex-Lufthansa Boeing 737-200, Presidential Airways took to the skies on October 10, 1985.

Presidential Airways first Boeing 737-200 N301XV “George Washington” seen deplaning passengers at Washington-Dulles International Airport in November 1985.

Initial service was centered on a Dulles “hub” with flights to Boston, Cincinnati, Hartford, Indianapolis, and Miami. Within a few months, United Airlines, itself having a large presence at Washington-Dulles announced a major East Coast expansion in direct competition with Presidential. The airline prevailed and continued to acquire additional Boeing 737s and expand its route structure whereby the summer of 1986, the airline was flying to eighteen destinations including Montréal, Canada.

By 1986, Presidential Airways was flying to seven cities in Florida, including Fort Lauderdale International Airport, where N323XV “John Tyler” a Boeing 737-214 taxis outbound for takeoff.

In June 1986, Presidential placed an order for five British Aerospace BAe 146 aircraft, with the intent of using the new plane on smaller, secondary cities not economical for the Boeing 737. The year 1986 also saw the introduction of “commuter” service, when Presidential purchased Colgan Airways to provide feeder services from Dulles under the banner “Presidential Express.” At its peak, during the fall of 1986, Presidential Airways was flying thirteen Boeing 737s and nine BAe 146s to nineteen cities with almost 300 weekly flights.

Still struggling with intense competition Presidential signed an agreement with Continental Airlines to become that carriers “Jet Express” feeder at Dulles in January 1987.

A British Aerospace BAe 146-200, N402XV “James Buchanan” taxis at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport in February 1987.

The Continental agreement lasted less than a year, with the airline again resuming operations under its own name, before making an agreement with United Airlines in 1988 to flying connecting service. Still under intense competition and suffering financially, Presidential Airways filed for bankruptcy on October 26, 1989, and operations eventually ceased on December 4, 1989.

A small fleet of British Aerospace BAe J-31 Jetstreams provided feeder services for the airline. This example, N104XV sits on the ramp at Washington-Dulles International Airport in April 1988.

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The Vickers VC-10: Swift, Silent, Serene

Written by Emma Rasmussen

BOAC Vickers VC10 on finals into Heathrow – April 1974 – http://www.airliners.net/photo/BOAC/Vickers-VC10-Srs1101/1412500/L/  Richard Vandervord (from Airliners.net via WikiCommons)

The airline industry of quieter engines, carbon fiber, advanced computers, and glass cockpits is a far cry from the industry that followed the Second World War. Instead, the airline industry consisted of piston-driven airliners, chrome fuselages, iconic cheatlines, and a whole lot of smoke. Enjoying economic superiority and unscathed infrastructure, the United States dominated this bygone aviation industry with the innovations that directly resulted from the war. However, the United States was not alone in recalibrating its focus on civilian aviation with newfound technology. Despite being on the mend from a tumultuous war, Britain was investing heavily in its civilian aviation sector and had successfully developed the first ever jet airliner. The sleek design of the De Havilland DH106 Comet and its quieter, more comfortable passenger experience became an attractive distinction from the noisy propellor aircraft of the era. British Overseas Airways Corporation (B.O.A.C) was keenly interested in introducing the aircraft to its fleet, and did so in 1954 with a voyage between London and Johannesburg.

Her Majesty’s pioneering aircraft, and the national prestige it attracted, was short-lived, much to the misfortune of De Havilland. Numerous hull-losses from structural failure and a flawed wing profile marred the image of Britain’s aviation industry, and the Comet subsequently lost public confidence. After design modifications to the aircraft, it quietly continued service for over a decade. Unfortunately, the British jetliner market never fully recovered as the world’s airlines opted for the American Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8. Aviation’s so-called “jet age” came into its own shortly thereafter, with the Americans once again dominating. The British aviation industry, now largely privatized, continued to develop future jet airliners in hopes of finding their own success.

One such result of their venture was the Vickers VC-10, a handsome airliner that was the visual epitome of 1960s optimism. Unexpectedly birthed from the Vickers Valiant, a high-altitude bomber and member of the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) “V Force,” the VC-10 began its life on paper as a potential tanker, military transport, and airliner. B.O.A.C heavily invested in the program, seeking an aircraft that could serve higher, hotter, and shorter airfields for their eastern routes. The development of the VC-10 was effectively an extension of the cancelled VC-7 project, which had been in progress during the 1950s. While the VC-10 was an entirely new aircraft, much of the technology used for the VC-7 was allocated towards the alternative project.

Vickers-Armstrongs Limited undertook the VC-10 in earnest upon learning of De Havilland’s proposal to update its ill-fated Comet. Additionally, Handley Page had offered to develop an airliner based on their RAF “V Force” contribution, the Victor. Amid mounting pressures, the Vickers VC-10 prevailed over the competing propositions, as it was the only firm willing to launch the airliner privately. In 1962 the VC-10 was rolled out of the Weybridge factory in Surrey, which then went on to endure two months of ground and taxi tests, and finally made the first flight.

The final design of the VC-10 featured a swept-wing with ample surface area, a T-shaped empennage, and four rear-mounted engines in a quad layout. The T-tail provided additional lift to aid the present design’s abilities, although it increased the aircraft’s risk for deep stalls. Vicker’s concept was unique, as only two other aircraft had a similar engine configuration. The Soviet Ilyushin IL-62 was slightly larger and more widely exported, but was plagued with safety implications. Lockheed had also developed an aircraft known as the JetStar business jet with this engine configuration. Though seemingly relegated to history and largely forgotten to the rest of the world, the VC-10 became a British icon and a favorite of the RAF.

Vicker’s choice of engine placement enabled a quieter cabin, and the powerful Rolls Royce Conways satisfied the higher, hotter, and shorter airfield requirements. B.O.A.C had previously lost faith in the British aviation industry due to the countless delays surrounding the Bristol Britannia and the bad press after several fatal Comet accidents. Naturally, they were reluctant to trust the VC-10. Amazingly, B.O.A.C was impressed with the design and placed an order for 35 aircraft with options for 20 additional aircraft. Airlines from developing nations such as East African Airways and Ghana Airways saw the benefit of having the VC-10 in their fleets, thus placing their orders shortly thereafter.

Entering service with B.O.A.C by the mid-1960s, the VC-10 attained higher load factors than its American competitors, the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8. As a result, the aircraft earned a positive reputation with B.O.A.C. Additionally, the engine performance and overall design significantly increased the aircraft’s range and speed. The passenger cabin was defined by a six abreast seating layout and divided by a single aisle. Depending on the variant, the aircraft could accommodate a 100-150 passenger payload. While most argue that the fastest subsonic airliner was likely the American Convair 880/990, the VC-10 is famous for holding the world record for fastest subsonic transatlantic crossing ever. In 1979, a British Airways VC-10 departed New York for Glasgow-Prestwick, arriving in 5 hours and 1 minute. Only the supersonic Concorde crossed the Atlantic faster. Shea Oakley, an expert aviation historian and Executive Director Emeritus of the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame, had his first ever flight on the VC-10. “The VC-10 sparked my lifelong passion for commercial flight” Shea expressed with a tinge of nostalgia.

The airliner’s success within the confines of Britain called for several variants, one of which being the Super VC-10. The aircraft became popular in B.O.A.C advertisements and was ostensibly not unlike the standard VC-10. However, the Super VC-10 had an updated wing, stretched fuselage, and an updated power plant. The Super VC-10 was in passenger service well into the 1980s, later undertaking RAF roles such as aerial refueling. B.O.A.C opened routes to South America utilizing the VC-10, though British Airways would become the successor to B.O.A.C and shut down these routes during the 1973 oil crisis. Unfortunately, the aircraft failed to break out of the apparent “British bubble,” not including a few orders from the African airlines. Nevertheless, it was a popular aircraft to fly for both the average passenger and crew member. Tony Yule, an airline veteran of 46 years and former VC-10 pilot for the RAF and B.O.A.C says as much. “It was a lovely, lovely aircraft to fly. So smooth, so quiet for the passengers. It was magic, it handled like a dream” said Tony. “If I hadn’t flown Concorde in the 80s and 90s, I would have said the most iconic aeroplane was the VC-10.”

During the 1970s, the RAF leased a single VC-10 to Rolls Royce as an engine test bed. Rolls Royce was seeking a platform to experiment with their latest engine, the RB.211. This engine was later used on more notable airliners, such as the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and Boeing 757. There had been some consideration regarding the possibility of re-engining the VC-10. Instead of four Conway engines, the VC-10 would be updated with two RB.211 engines. The idea did not leave paper, and the aircraft was returned to the RAF. The airlines also considered hush-kitting the Conways as noise regulations evolved, but the costs were too high to justify the modifications.

By the 1980s, British Airways and the African airlines were phasing out their VC-10s in favor of other emerging airliners. The RAF purchased the retiring aircraft from the airlines, and retrofitted them to become aerial tankers or military transports. Like B.O.A.C, the RAF was attracted to the VC-10’s performance and had been operating them since the 1960s. The VC-10 would go on to serve in several missions. During the First Gulf War, several VC-10 tankers were stationed in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. The VC-10 participated in enforcing no-fly zones while airstrikes were being carried out over Iraq in 1998. After the September 11th attacks in 2001, the VC-10 spent the remainder of its flying career in Afghanistan. In 2013, the RAF retired their VC-10 fleet in favor of modern aerial tankers and military transports.

Like many other British airliners from the early jet age, the VC-10 is often regarded as “underrated,” and unfortunately “left in the dust” by its American counterparts. In Britain, the VC-10 is considered a piece of aviation heritage, with several on display at local air museums. At Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, a VC-10 is maintained and in taxiable  condition. A second VC-10, the last ever to fly, is a static display. A vestige of an antiquated era, the VC-10 remains symbolic of mid-century optimism, innovation, and excellence. The VC-10 leaves behind a legacy of speedy flights, quietude and comfort, and a lustrous reflection of 1960s aeronautical design.

Notice: This article was originally published in Horizons, online student paper of Embry Riddle- Prescott

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“The Wings of Man” at Walt Disney World

Written by Shea Oakley

Many visitors to the early days of Orlando’s Walt Disney World in the 1970s and 80s may remember a Tomorrowland ride called “If You Had Wings.” Like many of the attractions of that era, it was sponsored by a major American company, and this was no exception. If You Had Wings was a showcase for Eastern Air Lines, the “Official Airline of Walt Disney World from the park’s opening in 1971 through 1987.

If You Had Wings opened to the public in June 1972 and immediately became one of the most popular rides in the Magic Kingdom. Aside from the merits of the ride itself, its popularity was helped because it was one of the few free rides at the park in an era when visitors had to buy separate ticket books to access many of the park’s other attractions. If You Had Wings also had ice-cold air conditioning, a welcome respite from Central Florida’s often oppressive heat.

Since Disney World buffs rival airline history enthusiasts in terms of fervency and knowledge, there is still a fair amount of information about the ride available online today. Click here for a link to one of several home-movie films of the experience available on YouTube.

As someone who rode the attraction countless times from early boyhood through my teenage years and later became a commercial aviation historian, the connection for me between Eastern and the ride was notable in a number of ways.

Little changed throughout the 15-year existence of If You Had Wings. By the waning days of both the attraction and the airline in the late 1980s, it had become a time capsule of sorts, preserving the spirit of Eastern from the height of that airline’s early-70s “Wings of Man period.” The very name of the attraction reflects the long-used and famous advertising slogan in which Eastern promised a “commitment to a very old ideal. That flight should be as natural and comfortable as man first dreamed it to be. That man should be as home in the sky as he is on land.” Gender-inclusive this statement was not. Then again, when “The Wings of Man” was introduced in 1969, not much was.

A certain soaring and somewhat esoteric element of bird-like flight to colorful destinations was present in the sights and sounds of the entire experience. The stirring theme music used at the time in Eastern’s advertising was heard both in the airport lobby-style entrance as well as at the ride’s end. The attraction also heavily showcased the “The New Wings of the Wings of Man,” the Lockheed L-1011. Eastern was the launch customer for the L-1011, as well as several other historic airliners, and had put the tri-jet into service in April 1972, just two months before the ride opened. The L-1011 was marketed by Eastern as the “Whisperliner,” and its imagery was ubiquitous in If You Had Wings. Mock flight announcements for “Whisperliner Service” played as “passengers” waited in line to board their omnimover pods at the ride’s start.

The pods first passed through a globe with a large display model of the L-1011. Shortly thereafter, riders saw projected graphics of the Whisperliner in profile changing into what appeared to be seagulls. These animated birds reappeared from time to time throughout the eight-minute ride to provide visual continuity. At the ride’s end, much larger and more detailed images of Eastern L-1011’s appeared as the participants were told by a deep, yet reassuring voice, “You do have wings, you can do all these things, you can widen your world (a sub-slogan being used by the airline in 1972.) Eastern…we will be your wings.” The narration throughout was accompanied by a catchy Disney-created song called “If You Had Wings.”

Over the years, few changes were made to the attraction. The L-1011 model was eventually replaced with one of a Boeing 757, another aircraft that Eastern was the launch customer for. Then, in 1987, new owner Frank Lorenzo pulled the plug on Eastern’s “official airline” relationship with Disney, as part of his wholesale gutting of Eastern while he pillaged its assets. However by this point, the “Wings of Man” ad campaign and the optimistic idealism behind it had already been gone for nearly a decade. The slogan was replaced by “We Have to Earn Our Wings Every Day,” in 1978, and then by several other more forgettable ones until the great airline ceased to exist in early 1991.

The ride captured the spirit of a special time in the history of a special company, one I flew often during my formative years as an “avgeek.” That particular era in Eastern’s history has long captured my imagination . In a very physical sense, as long as I could hop on If You Had Wings, it was a spirit I could viscerally experience and re-experience. I miss both the ride and, more importantly, the airline it represented.

Top image by Dada1960 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.
Originally published on NYCaviation.com

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The World’s Last Martin 202 Lives… in New Jersey!

Written by Shea Oakley

One of the few remaining vestiges of the golden age of piston powered air transport in the New York area can be found in the outside display yard of a small air museum in Teterboro, New Jersey. The collection of the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of NJ contains a Martin 202A, a short-to-medium range twin-propeller airliner produced just after World War II. The Museum’s 202A is unique in that of the 48 produced, this is the last remaining example of the type.

Martin 202A serial number 14074 was built in 1950 at the company’s factory in Baltimore, Maryland and delivered to Trans World Airlines (TWA) with the registration N93204. The legendary carrier ordered the unpressurized 202s as a stop-gap aircraft until Martin could deliver their larger and pressurized 404 model. The original 202 suffered from metal fatigue problems involving its wing spar almost immediately after entering service, leading to it being temporarily grounded and modified into the 202A with a strengthened airframe. The final 13 airplanes off the line were built straight to the 202A standard, including N93204. The modified 202A was only offered for a short time, as the 404 would soon be ready, resulting in the short 48-frame production run of all 202 variants. TWA leased 12 from the manufacturer and used N93204 for most of the 1950s and into the 1960s. The airplane would have flown routes for TWA such as LaGuardia-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Chicago-Kansas City.

N93204 then went to regional carrier Allegheny Airlines who flew it for several years in the 1960s. Allegheny’s service in the New York area included  routes like Newark-Atlantic City-Wildwood-Salisbury-Washington and Newark-Wilkes Barre-Bradford (PA)-Jamestown (NY)-Erie-Detroit. The 1950s and 60s saw rapid development in airliners, and Allegheny soon retired the obsolete type, despite being less than 20 years old at that point.

The airplane is believed to have been stored at Wildwood Airport in Southern New Jersey for about 15 years starting in the late 1960s and ending with the museum’s acquisition of the airframe in the early 1980s. A few years later, the museum opened the airliner’s 35-seat cabin to the public. Since that time, tens of thousands of museum visitors, many of them children, have had a chance to get a feel for what it might have been like to fly out of nearby Newark Airport in a classic “propliner” nearly 70 years ago.

During the past three years, a nearly complete cabin restoration has been completed on N93204, and the museum expects to have a cockpit restoration finished in the spring of 2018. The next step is to repaint an exterior that has borne the brunt of a four-season climate and the Meadowlands region’s sub-optimal air quality since it was last refinished in generic white paint over three decades ago. A somewhat happy consequence of the extreme wear on the current finish is that the previously covered-up Allegheny “Speed-Wedge” logo on the vertical stabilizer is becoming visible again.

The estimated cost to do a complete strip and repaint in full period Allegheny colors, taking environmental regulatory costs into account, has been estimated at $60,000. The museum hopes to be able to accomplish this in stages over a period of years as this is quite a large sum for a relatively small institution. In the meantime, the public will be able to fully enjoy the inside of one very rare and special airliner residing at historic Teterboro Airport.

(Article first published on NYCaviation.com)

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Departed Wings ~ Muse Air (MC)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1980-1985 || Dallas, Texas

In the few years after deregulation, many airlines were started to serve a niche market and take advantage of the new, un-regulated environment. One such airline was Muse Air, which took the name of its founder, former Southwest Airlines President, Lamar Muse. Hoping to capitalize on a new “class” of service, Muse Air was officially formed on October 27, 1980, and within a few months $34 million in start-up capital had been generated.

Muse Air started service with two leased McDonnell Douglas MD-80s while awaiting delivery of their own. Seen taxiing at Dallas-Love Field in July 1981, is N10029, a McDonnell Douglas MD-81.

The airline selected the new McDonnell Douglas MD-80 as its aircraft of choice with leather seating for 159-passengers and Stage III noise compliance. Wearing a stylized signature script along the fuselage of its new MD-80s, Muse Air officially launched service on July 15, 1981, from a Dallas-Love Field base to Houston-Hobby Airport. Unique and controversial at the time, Muse Air was the first U.S. airline to institute a “No-Smoking” policy on all of its flights.

Prior to delivery, one of Muse Air’s new MD-82s was used by McDonnell Douglas on a world-wide sales tour. Taxiing for takeoff at Long Beach Airport in November 1982, is N934MC “Friendship 82.”

Over the next year, Muse Air expanded operations beyond Texas, starting service to both Los Angeles and Tulsa. During 1983, Muse Air acquired the smaller Douglas DC-9-50 for intra-Texas services to San Antonio, Lubbock, and Austin. The airline struggled with main competitor Southwest Airlines for routes, gate space, and fares resulting in mounting losses that Lamer Muse stepped down in 1984, replaced by his son Michael.

Proudly displaying its “signature” logo, N933MC, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, departs San Jose Airport in December 1984.

Although new cities were added such as the high-tech City of San Jose, the airline continued to struggle with finances brought on by fare wars with both Southwest and Continental Airlines. By early 1985, with continued management changes and finances in the “red,” the airline sought offers for possible purchase. During this time, the airline continued to expand adding passenger service to points in Florida and Oklahoma.

Awaiting takeoff clearance on Runway 25 at Las Vegas-McCarren Airport in February 1986, is N670MC, a Douglas DC-9-51.

In March 1985, Southwest Airlines offered $60 million for the purchase of Muse Air, much to the dismay of both Continental Airlines and America West Airlines. With approval from both the Justice Department and Department of Transportation (DOT), Muse Air became a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest Airline under the new name Transtar Airlines on June 27, 1985.

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An Ode to the Observation Decks at JFK

                                         (Photo by Mel Lawrence, Shea Oakley collection)

You might notice the silhouetted figures of several individuals on the roof of the building above and behind the photo of this Pan Am DC-8-33 taken in the 1960’s. They are members of the public enjoying what was once the largest observation deck at JFK International Airport. It encompassed all of the International Arrivals Building (IAB) and its East and West Wing, including piers, for over a decade after the terminal’s opening in 1957.

While the IAB roof was perhaps the most impressive of the Idlewild/Kennedy observation decks it was by no means the only one. In those pre-terrorism days both the Eastern Terminal (on the site of the current Terminal 1) and, later, the BOAC Unit Terminal (the current Terminal 7) had open-air decks. There was also an enclosed viewing area just beneath the cab of the original control tower. This was open to the public until the early 1970s (the author remembers visiting it while a young Port Authority volunteer intern in the mid 1980s. At the time it still had identification photos and descriptions of airliners in use circa 1960 mounted under glass.)

By the 1970s, all that remained of the original IAB deck was a small section in what was called the “center of the U” in the central part of the building across from the control tower. It too was finally closed in the 1980s.

One other excellent place for public observation of JFK flight operations existed after 1973; the rooftop parking lot of the Pan Am “Worldport” terminal, which was the now-demolished Terminal 3. From here there were excellent views all around of takeoffs on the long “Bay Runway” (13R-31L), ramp action at the Pan Am terminal itself, and then the West Wing of the IAB and the Northwest/Delta terminal (now T-2) on either side. As security concerns mounted at Pan Am during the second half of the 1980s, a large fence with panels eliminated the view from the Worldport roof almost entirely.

Today, there is an open-air section of the new Delta Terminal 4 extension, but it is located post-security and open to Delta Sky Club members only. In a sad sign of the times, no dedicated viewing areas remain at John F. Kennedy International, though the developer’s plans for the upcoming TWA Hotel at Terminal 5 include mention of a 10,000 square foot public observation deck.

Article previously published on NYCaviation.com

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Electra Memories

Written by Shea Oakley

Eastern Air Lines was the launch customer and first operator of the Lockheed L-188 Electra prop-jet. They also were the U.S. domestic trunk carrier that flew them for the longest period, from 1959-77. The latter part of that time corresponded with my childhood.

Growing up in Northern New Jersey in the 1970’s often meant a trip to JFK airport in order for my family to catch a flight to our favored vacation spot of Sarasota, Florida. Newark Airport was under-served at the time and riding the most convenient non-stops often required the long ride to Queens. This invariably meant passing LaGuardia Airport on the Grand Central Expressway. As a very young airliner enthusiast the best part of that drive was seeing one or more EAL Electra’s parked on a ramp on the Southeast side of LGA. At the time they were still being used as back-up aircraft for Eastern’s famed “Air-Shuttle” service to Boston and Washington. I can still remember the distinctive silhouette of those airplanes, especially combined with the airline’s two-tone “Caribbean” and “Ionosphere” blue stripes sweeping up the vertical stabilizer.

One night in July of 1977 I almost had a chance to fly one of those back-up Electra’s. My dad and I were on the way home from a whale-watching trip to Nova Scotia. At Logan it looked like the DC-9-30 we were going to ride to LaGuardia was not going to be able to accommodate the load of passengers at the gate and the possibility of rolling over an Electra parked on a nearby hardstand was discussed. Gazing at the old airplane out the terminal window My nine year-old heart wanted to be on that L-188 so badly I could taste it! Alas we were all accommodated on the ‘Nine in the end and Eastern retired their last Electra only a little less than 4 months later, on October 31st, 1977.

So near and yet so far!

Note: Article first published on NYCaviation.com.

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Charred Seats and Cow Pies: The Day a Flamingo Ran with the Bulls

By Russell Goutierez

Unscheduled landings are surprisingly common in the airline industry. Typically, some unforeseen event or condition causes a brief stop, after which the flight continues to the intended destination. Such was also the case for Captain Lionel “Steve” Stephan and his four passengers, if in a very memorable fashion – so memorable that he started his incident report by writing, “Oh boy, did I get the devil scared out of me today.”

Captain Stephan graduated from the Embry-Riddle Flying School in 1928. He flew for the Embry-Riddle Company, which then was based in Cincinnati, and for the Aviation Corporation (AVCO) after the two companies merged in 1929.



Captain Lionel “Steve” Stephan and his 1928 Embry-Riddle diploma. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Archives)

On November 8, 1930, Captain Stephan – just 21 years old at the time – was the pilot and sole crew member aboard NC656E, a Metal Aircraft Corporation Flamingo G-2. Powered by a 410-hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine, the Flamingo carried a pilot and seven passengers and operated on Contract Air Mail Route 24 (CAM-24), which was awarded to Embry-Riddle in 1927 and remained with AVCO following the merger. CAM-24 linked Cincinnati and Chicago by way of Indianapolis.

Circa Autumn 1929. Note schedule at top left and delightful details like “CAM 24” in cover logo (it was Embry-Riddle’s only route) and “USE AIR MAIL” in bottom stripe (mail, not passengers, kept carriers solvent then). The USD 35.00 one-way fare equals about USD 540.00 in 2019, and included free airport transportation and 25 lbs. of luggage, with excess charged at 25 cents a pound. (Björn Larsson’s collection at www.timetableimages.com)

Pics inside the timetable included the Flamingo “air liner,” its “luxuriously furnished, tastefully appointed interior,” and the “control room.” The two “ultra-comfortably upholstered seats” forward are the ones that lost their hind legs to the fire. (Björn Larsson’s collection at www.timetableimages.com)

Workers load mail onto an Embry-Riddle Company Flamingo serving CAM-24 in February, 1929. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Archives)

The excitement began shortly after the intermediate stop at Indianapolis. Mechanics had recently installed a more effective heater in the seven-passenger Flamingo, and the passengers enjoyed the warmth on the climb out of Cincinnati’s chilly Lunken Field. But the sun was up after departure from Indy and the cabin got stuffy, so someone closed the heater vent in the floor.

As the plane cruised at 4,000 feet about five miles east of Rensselaer, Indiana, a passenger opened the cockpit door and said four words no one in an airplane ever wants to hear: “We are on fire!”

Captain Stephan looked back and saw flames erupting around the floor duct. He gave the passenger a pyrene fire extinguisher, cautioning him not to use it unless absolutely necessary because of the bitter fumes it produced. The pilot then turned his attention to landing. Fortunately, he had flown in the area before and knew of a large pasture near the town.

Captain Stephan’s report stated that just a hundred feet above the ground, “…this guy cut loose with the extinguisher and the fumes were terrible, but I was able to open a window in time to level out and land.” As the plane rolled to a stop, Captain Stephan exited and raced around to the boarding door to find a hasty evacuation was already underway. Three passengers were out, but the fourth – the wife of another AVCO captain – was reluctant to disembark. Steers were grazing in the pasture and she feared stepping in, well, something unpleasant. Captain Stephan coaxed her out and got to work dousing the still-smoldering fire.

The kapok insulation between the wooden floor and metal fuselage had ignited because there was nowhere for heat to go when the floor vent was closed. Captain Stephan removed the insulation and soaked the entire area with pyrene, then gathered everyone for some collaborative decision-making.

“After a thorough inspection to see that the fire had not gone beyond this area,” he wrote, “I had the passengers look it over and we all decided it was OK to go on to Chicago.” The admirably courageous customers clambered aboard, all sitting toward the tail as some of the legs had burned off the two first-row seats.

By now a curious crowd had gathered to see what was going on. Captain Stephan enlisted their help in shepherding the bulls over to one corner of the field and soon the Flamingo was on its way.

NC656E, the Metal Aircraft Corporation Flamingo G-2 flown by Captain Stephan on November 8, 1930, wearing Universal Air Services markings in this undated photo. (Dan Shumaker | www.shu-aero.com)

One can only imagine how terrified the passengers were, and we know how the aftermath would play out today in the news and social media, but things were much different in 1930. In fact, the Flamingo wasn’t even taken out of service. Rather incredibly, a mechanic patched the floor in Chicago, disconnected the heater, declared the ship airworthy, and the return trip departed for Cincinnati just an hour behind schedule!

AVCO eventually became part of what is today American Airlines, and AA later honored Captain Stephan with its Distinguished Service Award (DSA) for his handling of the inflight emergency. He also helped organize the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and his witness testimony aided the investigation into the ghastly 1956 midair collision between a TWA Constellation and a United DC-7 over the Grand Canyon. He retired in 1968 following a remarkable career that began in the open cockpit of a WACO biplane and concluded over 40 years and 35,000 flight hours later in the left seat of a Boeing 707.

Captain Lionel “Steve” Stephan, extraordinary pilot and aviation pioneer, died in 2003 at the age of 94.

Captain Lionel “Steve” Stephan (left) at a 1985 Embry-Riddle reunion. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Archives)

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Mohawk Airline’s Gaslight Service

Written by Henry M. Holden

Mohawk Airlines was a regional passenger airline operating in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, from the mid-1940s until its acquisition by Allegheny Airlines in 1972. At its height, it employed over 2,200 personnel and pioneered several aspects of regional airline operations, including being the first airline in the United States to hire an African American flight attendant in 1958. The airline was based at Ithaca Municipal Airport near Ithaca, New York until 1958, when it moved to Oneida County Airport in upstate New York.

DC-3 – 357 N409 D (C/N 3277) airborne over New York City. Note the gaslight on the tail. (Henry M. Holden Collection)

Like most local trunk carriers in 1960, Mohawk Airlines still had 11 DC-3s in their fleet. They planned to retire their DC-3 service by the end of 1961 and replace the venerable machine with Convair 240s. They decided their last two DC-3s could serve a dual role. They could spend their last days in an old fashioned, sentimental way, and fill some gaps in Mohawk’s east-west route between Buffalo and Boston.

A Stewardess dressed in Gay Nineties costumes, with sequins and ostrich feathers served five-cent cigars, free beer, cheese, and pretzels. (Henry M. Holden Collection)

Mohawk was an example of the wide-spread growth of airlines encouraged by the reliable DC-3. Richard C. DuPont’s All American Airways first started in May 1939 as a feeder airline on six routes from Ohio to New York. DuPont started All American with 11 silver, yellow and green refitted DC-3s. In its first month of operation, they flew 809 passengers. Because the airline’s schedule allowed for only two-minute station stops at the airports, Douglas equipped the DC-3s with what was, at the time, a unique fold- down door with built-in steps. When All American expanded its routes and became Allegheny in 1953, the airline had expanded its fleet to 13 DC-3 aircraft, each with 24 seats and equipped with carry-on baggage racks to streamline passenger service. By 1956, Allegheny was serving over 50 communities in eight states with a fleet of DC-3s in green and white livery sporting a red wordmark stripe.

The company continued to expand, and in 1968 Allegheny merged with Lake Central. The acquisition of this airline gave Allegheny access to cities on the Great Lakes and a gateway to the mid-west. Lake Central also had its beginning with the now famous and well- used DC-3. Famed and flamboyant Roscoe Turner started Turner Airlines, Inc. in November 1949 with four DC-3s. By December 1960, Turner Airlines, now Lake Central, had grown to 15 DC-3s painted in red, white and blue. When people began to talk about replacing the DC-3, Lake Central went so far as to study the possibility of putting the DC-3 back into production. They dropped the idea when they discovered it would be too costly.

NC28340, c/n 3277, “Air Chief Mohican.” (Henry M. Holden Collection)

In October 10, 1960, Mohawk introduced its “Gaslight Service.” To make the planes more appealing, Mohawk dressed up the interior to resemble a Victorian setting. They added red velvet curtains with gold tassels, Currier and Ives prints, and carriage lamps. Stewardesses dressed in Gay Nineties costumes, with sequins and ostrich feathers served five-cent cigars, free beer, cheese, and pretzels.

NC28340 C/N 3277 “City of Atlanta” was delivered new to Delta in November 1940. It served them until sale to Mohawk in April 1953. (Henry M. Holden Collection)

At first, Mohawk allowed only men on the “Gaslight Service” because the airline felt, “Women would find the atmosphere cloudy because of the five-cent cigars and free beer.” They stressed that women and children were, of course, welcomed aboard all Mohawk’s other flights.

Mohawk claimed they didn’t lose any women passengers because when the Gaslight flights were scheduled, businessmen filled the seats. But the women disagreed and charged discrimination. Mohawk bowed to their objections and boxed off a “family parlor” in the front of the plane.

The men retained the Gay Nineties “club car” where they drank their beer and puffed on smelly cigars.

Someone raised the question about the future of the trusty DC-3s, when their year was up with Mohawk. The airline said, “We’ll sell them, and they’ll undoubtedly go on flying for a hundred years more.”

More than 23,000 passengers flew the “Gaslight Service” downing 31,700 cans of beer, smoking 17,600 cigars, and consuming a ton of pretzels and a half ton of cheese.

Mohawk’s “Gas Light Service” area of operation covered the northeastern part of New York in the 1960s: The State of NY, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and even sometimes on the other side of the Canadian border. The airports in which they operated are the following (non-exhaustive list): La Guardia, Boston-Logan, Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, .etc. Its area of operation was throughout the Northeast with the Mohawk River, a tributary of the Hudson River in the former territories of Native Americans, Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, and Mohawks.

In 1962, N409D was sold to Houston Aviation Products Corp, Houston, TX. On 22July 1969 it was withdrawn from service and lost in the dustbin of aviation history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Another 727!

Written by Shea Oakley

As a child growing up in the 1970’s, our family lived in Northern New Jersey and often vacationed in Sarasota, Florida. This meant we had exactly two airline options if we wanted to fly directly into Sarasota/Bradenton Airport (SRQ) and avoid the much longer drive from Tampa International (TPA) to the North. Those options were Eastern and National.

In both case the equipment we flew was almost invariably the same no matter which of the three major NY area airports from which we departed: the Boeing 727. Very occasionally Eastern had a DC-9-31 on the route but the 727, in either -100 or -200 configuration, was the mainstay. As a budding airline enthusiast this felt almost intolerable. “A 727? Again?” was a question my dad got used to hearing, and often.

My “any other airplane but a 727” envy was most palpable when we chose to fly out of Kennedy International Airport. In those days the way you drove to your departure Unit Terminal Building (UTB) was via a sort of interior perimeter road that took you by every one of them until you reached your particular airline. Now this wasn’t much of a problem for me when we flew Eastern. Approaching the airport on the Van Wyck Expressway (which by the way, was (and still is) an oxymoron traffic wise) the EAL terminal was the first one you encountered. What really hurt was when we were heading South on National. Getting to the old “Sundrome” building meant driving by, among others, the Pan Am “Worldport” and the TWA “Flight Center.” I can remember looking at the 747’s and 707’s of Pan Am and the 747’s and L-1011’s of TWA parked on their gates wistfully wishing that we were jetting off to London or Los Angeles on one of these giants instead of getting ready to ride a 727 again. (Editor’s note: for a similar experience, ride the shuttle bus when the JFK Airtrain isn’t running. While the airport has changed a lot, the views between T1 and T4 are quite similar.)

Times do change however and so do perceptions. What at 8 years old was a “boring” airplane ride on Boeing’s “Three-Holer” has become, at 51, a precious memory from a time when life was simple and good and my family was together. Today, perched on a shelf in the office in the museum at which I work, are two highly detailed 1:200 scale models of 727-200s in the colors of, yes, Eastern and National respectively. That’s right, the two airline/airplane combinations that felt like a curse when I was a young kid are now among my most favorite. As for the carriers themselves I’d have to say that Eastern and National are today on the top of my list, as far as affection. As an adult I have become an avid airline memorabilia collector and much of my collection revolves around these two airlines and their operations during the 1970’s.

Yes, perceptions do change under the influence of wonderful adult memories of childhood. What I wouldn’t give today to leave from one of those now demolished terminals I so well remember on an EAL or NAL 727, destination Sarasota, just one more time.

Originally posted on NYCaviation.com

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