Rooftop Dakota

Written by Henry M. Holden

It was not a good evening to fly. December 19, 1946, was a cold, snowy evening at Northolt Airport, London, when Railway Air Service’s G‑AGZA, c/n 12455, DC‑3 service to Glasgow Airport on behalf of Scottish Airways, taxied into position for take-off. It had a total of four crew and one passenger on board.

The snow storm had closed the airport to incoming traffic, and outbound traffic was subject to long delays. The plane had been waiting for more than an hour for clearance. The aircraft had been de-iced since it was a cold, snowy evening which had delayed the departure. While the Dakota was waiting the temperature dropped and snow began falling which froze on the wings. When G‑AGZA received clearance, the pilot ran the engines up to 45.5 inches of manifold pressure and 2,500 RPM.

Time to go! He released the brakes and the airplane lumbered down the runway, but the old warhorse did not want to make the trip. As the plane gathered speed air rushed over its wings, but the tail did not rise. Both pilots looked at each other, and at the instruments. Then, the tail began its slow, lethargic rise. The pilots relaxed. For a moment, they thought there was a problem.

The old Gooney Bird was having trouble getting off the ground. There was too much ice on her wings. She should not be flying but the pilot didn’t listen to her subtle signals. Eighty‑four knots and the pilot pulled back gently on the yoke. The Gooney Bird struggled to get off the ground, its Pratt & Whitney engines clawing at the air. She could remember this happening before, but in a war, when she was RAF Dakota KG240. Although struggling, she would fly again, even though the laws of aerodynamics said it was impossible.

Her wheels left the icy runway and she could feel them tucking away inside her. That helped a little, but not enough. Her propellers were biting at the air, hardly giving her 50 feet of altitude. She was just barely flying.

Suddenly there were houses in front of her and more ice on her wings. Her nose came up a little, but it was too late. The ice on the wings disturbed the air flow, which resulted in the aircraft not gaining any lift. It was however too late to abort take-off so the crew was forced to try to get the aircraft to climb. She hit the roof of the first house with a sickening, scraping noise, but her forward motion continued. She tore the roofs from three more houses before coming to rest. Metal and wood groaned under her weight. Then, there was silence.

People came rushing out of their homes. In the distance a baby was crying. The Gooney Bird had nested on top of the last house. Its wing tips were missing but the nose and tail remained undamaged. There were no injuries on the ground, only a frightened baby in its crib, looking up through tear‑filled eyes, at the belly of the plane. The four crew members and one passenger walked away from the plane, but instead of in Scotland, their destination, just minutes away from their point of departure.

It was quickly determined that the cause of the crash was the snow which had frozen to the aircraft’s wings while G-AGZA was waiting to take-off, resulting in the aircraft not gaining any lift and making an emergency landing on the roof of 46 Angus Drive. The house was subsequently nicknamed “Dakota Rest.”

The pilot was also assigned a cause factor for failing to abort take-off after noticing it had been snowing and his aircraft being covered in snow. The crash landing on the houses earned the Captain the nickname “Rooftop Johnson.”

The Dakota involved made its first flight in 1944 as Douglas C-47A 42-92633 military transport of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) and had Douglas serial number 12455. It was transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as KG420. KG420 was registered to Railway Air Services as a Dakota III in March 1946, with the British registration G-AGZA, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp engines.

Copyright Henry M. Holden, 1997, 2013, 2019

For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3″


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The Last Scheduled DC-3 Service on Planet Earth

Written by Henry M. Holden

To get a ride on the last scheduled DC-3 airline service on planet Earth, you must travel to Yellowknife Airport, located at 62 degrees, 26 minutes, 32 seconds North by 114 degrees, 23 minutes, 51 seconds West. That will put you just 318 miles south of the Arctic Circle.

The DC-3s are operated by locally-based Buffalo Airways which also operates other scheduled passenger, charter passenger, charter Cargo, fire-fighting and fuel services. Buffalo Airways’ main base is at Yellowknife Airport (CYZF) with two other bases at Hay River Airport (CYHY) and Red Deer Regional Airport (CYQF) in the Canadian Northwest Territories.

Yellowknife (the name comes from the hunting knives forged from the naturally occurring copper used by the local Dene people), is the only city and the capital of the Northwest Territories and has a population of approximately 19,000. The second largest town in the Northwest Territories is Hay River, With a population of approximately 3,600. The total population of the Northwest Territories is about 45,000 in an area that is double the size of the state of Texas.

The challenge in this land is getting around the Canadian north, which can often be a hit-and-miss affair, especially in winter, The emptiness of this vast, featureless land, coupled with unpredictable and often ferocious weather conditions that have swallowed pilots, passengers and their aircraft whole, never to be seen or heard from again, is always a worrisome factor. One pilot disappeared on a routine winter flight in 1964. His remains and those of his passengers were only discovered in 2003, almost 40 years later.

Traveling at 170 miles per hour, Buffalo Airways’ DC-3s can haul 7,000 pounds of freight or 28 passengers to destinations throughout the Canadian North. About one half of its passengers are repeat customers.

Buffalo Airways has been operating its legendary DC-3 aircraft with their trademark green livery since 1970. Most of Buffalo Airways’ warbird airliners date back to WWII and include 13 DC-3s, a couple of DC-4s, and Curtiss C-46s, two Lockheed Electras (the company’s only two turboprops,) and two Canadair CL—25 fire bombers.

Today it is the only airline in the world to fly, a seven day a week, scheduled DC-3 services between Yellowknife and the Hay River Airports. The flight takes approximately 45 minutes.

This DC-3 registered as C-GPNR was C/N 12222 Skytrain USAAF in 1942 and diverted to the World War II Lend Lease Plan and re-designated Dakota Mk III and carried registration KG602. The aircraft took part in the Normandy Invasion in the 575 Squadron RAF, based in Broadwell, UK. (Henry M. Holden)

According to Mickey McBryan, the current general manager and son of the legendary Buffalo Joe McBryan, the founder, and current president of Buffalo Airways, the name came from one of Joe’s first flying jobs, counting buffalo. Mickey says his father made the first flight to Hay River around 1970 and has since made the flight over 7,500 times. Buffalo Airways has been the subject of the popular Canadian reality television series, Ice Pilots NWT a 13-episode real life documentary series about an unorthodox airline in the Canadian North.

Yellowknife-based Buffalo Airways flies WWII-era propeller ‘planes — big old aircraft built by “Rosie the Riveter” that have remained virtually unchanged over the years. Rookie pilots defy bone-chilling temperatures to fly cargo and passengers through blizzards, breakdowns, and transatlantic journeys. It is an impossible job in a merciless place.

Yellowknife is one of the best places in the world from which to view the “Northern Lights” (Author’s collection)

Every pilot starts at the bottom — as a “rampie.” They work the ramp in minus 10 degrees Celsius, and if they have what it takes, they will eventually sit in the right seat of a DC-3, and sometime in the future they will move to the left seat.

The climate demands courage, character and mental toughness. The pilots of Buffalo Airways have those traits, if they don’t, they leave. Mc Bryan says they have about a 95 percent pilot turnover rate.

The real meat and potatoes of the Buffalo Airways business is the freight. Three DC-3s are reserved for passenger service, and the others for freight. Depending on the load, they may use a DC-3 or a DC-4.

The trip in a DC-3 in Canada’s North West Territory is one filled with moving rivers of ice called glacier’s that are hundreds of miles long. These glaciers present jagged ice which is impossible to land on without destroying the aircraft. (Henry M. Holden)

Grocery stores and other merchants depend on Buffalo Airways to get supplies to them all year long, and winter is the biggest challenge.

They have hauled everything from dogsleds and dogs to the Stanley Cup, ice hockey’s top prize. The challenge has been and always will be the weather. In winter, temperatures can go to -40 degree, Celsius and winds can gust to 40 mph, and there is a lot of snow

Each spring, the mile-long ice bridge over the Mackenzie River breaks up and flows out to the Beauford Sea, severing the only “road” leading from southern Canada to Yellowknife. For more than four weeks, and another month each autumn, the city of Yellowknife remains cut  off from the rest of the world. The only access to the city and its outlining settlements during those periods is by air and Buffalo Airways.

The pilots and passengers of Buffalo Airways may not think much about the fact that they are travelling in a virtual time machine .Its designers had no idea it would out last all of them, and it is still going 75 years later.

The area does not have permanent roads, and the only way people can be resupplied in winter is by Buffalo Airways. At some point during the winter, Yellowknife is literally cut off from civilization. The pilots of Buffalo Airways’ job is to bring food, fuel, medicines and freight from civilization to remote, isolated settlements around the Arctic Circle.

Reprinted with permission from World Airnews October 2010


Since publication of this piece in 2010, the ensuing years brought challenges to the company. On 30 November 2015, Transport Canada suspended Buffalo Airway’s Air Operator Certificate, citing the airline’s poor safety record. This prohibited Buffalo Airways from operating commercial air services, until it could prove that it can meet all safety regulations on a consistent basis. Service was maintained using chartered aircraft. On 12 January 2016, the license was reinstated. On 1 April 2019, on their website under Air Charters it said, “All scheduled passenger service has been temporarily postponed until further notice. Sorry for any inconvenience.”

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Departed Wings: Altair Airlines (AK)

Written by Jon Jamieson

                                  1966-1982                               Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Altair Airlines was established as a commuter carrier based at Philadelphia airport and started operations on November 4, 1966. Early service connected Philadelphia with Scranton, Harrisburg, and Allentown using the nine-passenger Beech Queenair aircraft. The name Altair, was curious and was derived from the bright star “Altairus” located in the constellation “Aquila” or Eagle for which the airlines logo was created.

One of the Beech 99s caught departing the ramp for another regional flight in 1971.

By 1970, Altair had expanded operations across to adjoining states, was serving twelve cities, and had acquired the Beech 99 turboprop. At times, facing competition from rival Allegheny Commuter in many of its markets, Altair was able to maintain profitability and service. With the watchful eye of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), a new 32-seat limit was placed on commuter aircraft in 1972. Altair, in an effort to increase loads, looked to the French designed Nord 262 turboprop, with a capacity of twenty-seven seats to meet the CAB recommendation.

The French built Nord 262 served Altair through the late 1970s and is seen taxiing at Washington National Airport in 1981.

The first Nord 262 was delivered in 1975 and was used with the Beech 99s to continue flying over 100,000 passengers yearly. On the heels of deregulation in 1978, many airlines realized an opportunity to enter new markets and Altair was no exception. The airline placed an order for ten of the 74-seat Fokker F-28 jets with plans of route extension to Florida and the Eastern Seaboard.

The Fokker F-28 allowed Altair to expand to further markets including Florida. Parked on the ramp at Tampa International Airport in 1982, is N504.

The first F-28 “Starjet” service started on October 15, 1980 and routes expanded as far south as Tampa and Sarasota, Florida. After only a year in service and on the heels of the PATCO strike in 1981, Altair started to suffer financially. An attempt was made to establish a hub-and-spoke system from Philadelphia and Altair purchased three Douglas DC-9s from Air Canada for the service. Although the airline had become “pure-jet” by mid-1981, continuing financial loses as well as fierce completion with both Piedmont and USAir at Philadelphia, forced the privately held Altair into a downward spiral. With over $34 million in losses, the airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on November 9, 1982 and suspended all operations.

Still painted in the airlines colors, the Douglas DC-9 only saw service for a few months and is parked awaiting disposition at Philadelphia International Airport in early 1983.

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Interesting Images from the Past

Written by Lester Anderson


On August 18 1962 two wonderful things occurred. One was Peter Paul and Mary released their first hit If I had a hammer (although I had nothing to do with that).  The other was my flight from Idlewild to Idlewild. It was on TWA and was called a “Flightseeing Tour”.  The cost was $5.00 and it was 45 minute flight around the New York Metropolitan area on a Boeing 720B.  In my case it was N795TW.  I recall there were multiple flights, but I remember my friends and I had the first one in the morning.

For those of us at a window it was a great photo opportunity but also since there were 2 other people in the row, you did not hog the window since most people on the airplane were just interesting in looking outside.  We were not one of the very few first on the plane who got to sit in the first rows (First class), but we got some great seats just behind the wing.   This is picture I took then had enlarged to 8×10 and had it on my bedroom wall for a few years.  As you can see it was a shot of a cloverleaf highway interchange, but we have so many in our area it could have been NY or NJ or Connecticut. I had wondered why part of the photo seemed blurred until I realized that the blur was because I was shooting thru the exhaust of the jet engine.

Newark Airport Spotting

In the mid 1970s there were two bridges that went from Route 1 on the west to the Port of Elizabeth on the east.  The wonderful thing about this for us “spotters” was that only one bridge was finished.  For reasons I have never found, the northern most bridge ended once it went over the NJ Turnpike.  No access to the port.  But the great thing was you could get on the bridge from the east and park.  And why was this wonderful?  You were just under the final approach to runway 4 at Newark Airport.  I found this and took a of great pictures and by the time I went back to the bridge for another photo session, was closed off (maybe to finish construction).    It was not just me on the bridge.  At least a dozen cars and trucks where there.  Workmen having their lunch while watching the landings.  Others just standing outside their cars observing this magnificent view. And a few of us snapping pictures.   Two regrets I have—as I was driving down to the airport, I head on the news that the president had just landed at Newark, so I missed seeing and photographing Air Force One by about 20 minutes.  The other was my ignorance of film.  I normally shot high speed color (400 speed) negatives.  I now understand more about grain and clarity of photographs, and wish I had a finer grain film since I was shooting in daylight and could have easily shot with a slower film. But in those days my  largest view of the photos was a 8×10 print, and unless you looked with a magnifying glass, you did not really see that much grain.  Here are a few of the shots of that day.

A sad note–today, you cannot take pictures without getting in trouble – even from the parking lots at the NY airports.  And I am sure today someone taking a photo at a time the President’s plane was landing would cause a major alarm to ring somewhere in the security system.

Delta in First

In 1976 I was teaching and volunteered to attend a teacher’s convention in Miami.  Since my aunt and uncle lived in Winter Haven Florida, I went down early to visit them, and probably more interesting, visit Kennedy Space Center.   Since I had an allowance for flight cost, I decided that I wanted to take some pictures from the front of the wing of a four engine jet.  At that time Delta flew DC-8s and I was able to book a flight with a connection in ATL that gave me a First Class seat ATL-MCO.  (As a side note, MCO – Orlando -has that code because the airport was originally McCoy Air Force Base.  And in 1976 there were still a number of military planes there and not nearly as many civilian airplanes coming into a fairly small terminal.

I called Delta to make the reservation once I had researched what I wanted in flights and hoped for in fares.  (Back in those days you actually called the airline and spoke to a company reservations agent).  I don’t recall if there was seat selection, but I did say I wanted to try to make sure I got a window because  of the photos I wanted to take.  I remember being asked if I was a professional photographer and I honestly replied no (even though I did have a MA in Media).  I do wonder if I might have gotten a few extra benefits if I had said yes.

These photos are nothing specifically of significance, but they were enjoyable to take and look at over the years.  My wife has always said of my vacation photos, that at least 50% of the pictures were of the exterior of the planes we flew on, or the wings as we were flying.  And (while I would disagree) she would say that a wing was a wing and why did I need to take a photo of each one.  But I did.

Apollo 18 Saturn V

As you can see from the VAB photo, it was the bicentennial with that logo on the building as well as the flag.  The visit was very enjoyable for many reasons.  The company contracted to provide the bus tours of the Kennedy Space Center was TWA, and the busses were so marked, so I can validly claim I was on a TWA bus.  I have many photos of the early space efforts, but the most impressive thing was what was promoted as the only $110,000,000 (110 Million Dollar) museum exhibit.  A real Saturn V launch vehicle.  When the then planned and scheduled Apollo 18 and 19 flights were cancelled, they had the launch rockets built and delivered.  At Kennedy Space Center, they put it on display, on the ground, so you could get a really close up view of the magnificent machine.  And take detailed pictures that the average aviation/space enthusiast could only have dreamed of in those days of the past where we all viewed every launch with excitement.

You had to stand back to get the “tail–on” photo of the 5 first stage engines, since each engine had a diameter of 12.2 feet.  Looking at the photo I am surprised I was able to get back far enough.  The rest of the rocket was just as interesting.  Looking at the plumbing and control wiring on the second and third stages gave me an amazement of the engineer designing something that complex and designing it to survive the rigors of take off and operation in the vacuum of space.

The Saturn V was moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad by a mobile launch platform that transported the rocket and the launch tower.  It moved at 2 miles per hour, each tread weighed a ton, and the muffler (and there were 2) was the size of a Ford Pinto (a popular car at the time).   As I type this, I have just seen the IMAX film Apollo 11 and there is a scene where the Apollo 11 Saturn V is Seen (and heard)  being moved by this mobile launch platform.

Today at Kennedy Space Center. the Saturn V is today in its own building suspended about 30 feet above the visitors.  It is magnificent to look at.  But I really appreciate the ability to look and photograph it close up back in 1976.  As a side note, when they put out the display, to see all the components the “rings” that closed the spaces between the stages were not there.  On my visit 2 years ago, I asked about it since they are not part of the current display and the guides said that no one know what happed to those pieces. There is another Saturn V at the Houston Space Center.  I have not had the honor of visiting that but I think it would be interesting to compare the two exhibits today.


And since all good things must come to an end, I did leave Winter Haven to go to the convention in Miami.  And to keep everything in the transportation loop universal, here is a photo of the Amtrak train that took me from Winter Haven to Miami.

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BOAC and How It All Began for Me

Written by Shea Oakley


On June 15th, 1968 my parents boarded a BOAC Super VC-10 for a trip from Kennedy International to Bermuda. I was with them, and four months old at the time. The aircraft registration was G-ASGJ, the same airplane that appears briefly in this old commercial (along with the bulkhead-mounted BOAC bassinet in which they kept me throughout the two-hour flight to “BDA”)

You might be wondering how I know the exact ship which was involved in jetting us to that charming British isle nearly 50 years ago. The answer comes in the form of a little tan package offered to my father on board the flight. Inside it was a small set of metal wings, a description of the Super VC-10 and, most important of all, a slim 4 X 6 inch hard cover booklet. It was Navy Blue with gold lettering on the cover which read “BOAC JUNIOR JET CLUB LOG BOOK.” My dad filled out our contact information on the inside of that cover under my name and handed it to the stewardess. She then conveyed it to the “flight deck” (the VC-10 was far too regal an aircraft to describe that area as a “cockpit”) where the captain filled in a horizontal line of 6 small boxes describing details of the flight. In the 7th box he signed his name.

My father had no way of knowing it at the time, but by taking that package on an early summer day in 1968 he was launching his son’s lifelong love affair with commercial aviation.

Once I was old enough to hand my little log book to the flight attendant myself I was often invited up to the cockpit of whatever airliner we happened to be flying to present it to the captain personally. You might imagine what that meant to young boy. I was hooked very early on (as attested by a Polaroid I still have showing me at 22 months old holding a friction-powered toy Eastern 727 model high above our pantry floor.)

I went through four of those BOAC, and later British Airways, log books through age 16 and then shifted to a generic passenger log book when I felt I was no longer a “junior” anything. I still maintain one in fact. This means I have logged virtually every commercial flight I’ve been on in the past half-century. These books are probably my most cherished physical possessions. I don’t mind admitting that I keep them in a fireproof box at home.

Today I am a trained aviation manager and the director of an aviation museum. I’m deeply involved in the airline/airliner enthusiast community as well. Commercial flight, and everything it encompasses, has become both a passion and a vocation for me. I literally thank God that my dad (who passed away in 2005) thought the Junior Jet Club might be something neat in which to involve his infant son.

In my life since that day, at least as far as aviation goes, it has made all the difference.

(First published on

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Pleasant Memories ~ Flight Segment 2

Written by Lester Anderson

Am I getting old?

I think of my years of travel often, and with great enjoyment.  It sobers me to realize that virtually every airplane I flew on during my business flying career has most probably been sent to the aircraft graveyard to be scrapped.  Many great memories now in the recycle stream.

By Richard Silagi

I sat next to who?

America West was a relatively new airline and when they started their frequent flyer program, so of course I joined.  Just after I got my card, I had a business trip that took me to Phoenix and back. On the way back I was on the red-eye.  Waiting in the gate area, they are calling for volunteers because they need the seats.  Then they call my name.  At the podium I was told I was being upgraded to First.   I thanked them but asked why me since I don’t fly America West that much. They said I as the only one in Economy in their frequent flyer program so they would reward me.  I boarded and was in the window seat in the last row of First.  There was someone next to me, and during the flight the cabin staff were offering him drinks and amenities.  Since I was an upgrade not a full fare First I thought little of it (plus at 11:00 I don’t want a lot).  As we started to land, a few more cabin crew came by and asked for (and got) autographs.  I have no idea who this gentleman was (my guess a singer that I did not know), but he certainly made an impression on the flight crew.  I remember I did not want him to think I was ignoring him, so I just wished him a great day, and he said thank you and that was it.

With my travel volume I got my share of normal upgrades to First where the famous almost always fly.  And at the airport, celebrities are often given access to the Airline clubs.  I saw Phyllis Diller in the Eastern Ionosphere club in Newark, and Cher in the United club in Newark. I am sure there were celebrities on the flights that I did not know who they were, but two I remember were Dr. Joyce Brothers who sat in the seat in front of me on one flight (and was both beautiful and very petite) and on another flight James Doohan sat diagonally across.  My personal rule was never to bother anyone famous I saw, but after I landed in LA, Mr. Doohan was met by someone from “the studio” and had him wait for the car. I broke my rule and just thanked him for giving me and his fans such enjoyment as he played Scotty in Star Trek. He smiled and said Thank You.


Today any meal on an airplane is something special (or at least unusual).  Back in the day, both First and Economy got meals. On transcontinental United flights that involved a hot breakfast about 40 minutes after takeoff, and a box lunch an hour before landing. The service carts were well designed with a heated plate that went under the hot meal dish on each tray.  I found that no matter how they served eggs, they never survived well.  A better bet was the pancakes rolled around apple pie filling. Unfortunately eggs were on 80% of the flights, pancakes or something else was 20%.

My favorite snack of all times was on Eastern.  They had a Disposable clear plastic tray and Saran wrapped an apple; a packet of cheddar cheese, packets of crackers, and a knife (plastic) and napkin.  The apple was always crisp, and the amount of food was perfect for a mid-afternoon snack. And at the end of the meal, they did collect (and recycle) the plastic trays.

When the airlines tried to save a little on flights like Newark to Florida they would give a box of cereal, a container of 2 milk and a banana to each passenger.  That was better than a lot of the meals I am sure cost the airlines much more money.

National Air and Space Museum Archives

The Flying Nosh

In the lucrative NYC-DCA market (where the one-hour flight could often cost $300) New York Air had a “flying Nosh” service where they promoted the service by giving you a fabric bag with a bagel, a packet of cream cheese, and a small container of jelly.  The bags were great because you could keep them.  My children used them as lunch bags for a while.  The other thing about NY Air was they had MD-80s in their fleet.  Entering the MD-80 through the main cabin door you could easily see and read (because the line moved slowly) the metal plate which gave the serial number of the aircraft, and the manufacture date.  I recall most of those on which I flew were in the 1983 vintage.

And they did compete with the Eastern Air-Shuttle of guaranteed seat fame. So they booked multiple plane loads on the same flight.  And when you were at the gate area, they would call your flight and say if you have the grey boarding pass go to this gate, if you have the red boarding pass, go to this gate.  This system worked very smoothly (at least every time I experienced it).

By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA – Denver International Airport

Denver International Airport

In the 1990’s Denver had a massive building program to replace Stapleton Airport with DIA, Denver International Airport.  If you travelled on United or Continental, you were often changing planes in Denver as it was a major hub.  Stapleton was showing its age and there was (especially in the business traveling public) an excitement of a new and more passenger friendly terminal in a major hub. Like any program there was a lot of publicity and promised made and fact sheets about the new terminal left in the airline clubs and the gate areas. We saw artist conceptions and early photographs of the “circus tent” roof structures of the main terminal.  Originally scheduled to open in the fall of 1993, there was delay after delay.  We frequent travelers joked that DIA stood for “Done in August” but August came and went and we were still at Stapleton.  When it finally opened in February 1995, it was grand.  Because I controlled my own flights when traveling, my first trip after it opened, I scheduled a 3 ½ hour layover between flights and I went through the entire Airport. And I will say it was worth the wait.

A PDF of the souvenir opening booklet is available at  If your search for it is not successful, google inside dia souvenir guide and it will link you to download the PDF.

How to Manage your Business Flights

My first job after teaching was ideal for someone with a love for commercial aviation.  My cubicle was right outside of the corporate travel office (and of course I made friends with the staff to the point where they showed me some of the workings of the Sabre reservation system), and I showed them (because we subscribed to the Lockheed database online services), the OAG online database.  Both systems would give you flight data and seat availability for each fare class (I remember Sabre would tell you up to 7 seats available, and I recall OAG only told you if 4 were available.  And of course you could search for the best fares.  Corporate travel was run by a travel agency, and Phil (my key contact) told me that I could see virtually anything he could see on his Sabre terminal on my desktop computer and the OAG database.  And he concluded that travel agents were dinosaurs.

The key to getting any corporate travel department to like you was making their job easy.  Go in with a set of flights have space on them and a fare basis that was close to the least expensive ones.  Once you established you knew what you were talking about and you were able to prove it, I never had a problem with getting flights I wanted. This gave me the ability to fly the airplanes I liked and the airlines I liked – or when feeling adventurous, flying new ones I had not experienced before. And I was successful in doing that in every company for which I worked thereafter.

I only wish I had done as well in booking of hotels.


I have one claim to fame (very minor to everyone else).  While I was still teaching I worked part time for a computer programming company.  I programmed and consulted on the earliest microcomputers (Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore Pet).  This was about 3 years before IBM released the first PC.

Boeing Computer Services (a computer division of Boeing Airplane Company) wanted to learn about these new microcomputers and what they could do (they typically worked with large mainframe computers). I got the assignment and gave a half day lecture/discussion of these new small computers.  For weeks thereafter (and even to this day when I think of it) I float on air thinking that I had information that was of interest to the Boeing Company and they paid my employer to have me share it with them.

Interesting Airplane Information

I am not a pilot, nor am I an airplane mechanic.  I never went to formal school to learn about airplanes.  I read as many books and magazines about the airplanes I could find.

But a lot of my best information comes from a source most people do not use.

For example, did you know that:

The Lockheed Constellation had its emergency life rafts stored in the wings, so in case of a water landing they would pop out.  This was both fast and removed requirement of pushing rafts out doors or windows.

The 727 has pitot tube sensors to gauge the airspeed of the aircraft on the tail assembly.  This information is used to control how much force is needed by the pilots on the cockpit flight controls for the tail surfaces.

Facts like these as well as a wealth of information about how airplanes work (and sometimes don’t) area found in the US Government published Aircraft Accident Reports.  In the 30’s it was the Department of Commerce. In the 40’s thru the 60’s it was the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board), and now the NTSB.  The government reports are not grim stories of crashes (as some books are), but are scientific, methodical studies of what happened and why and how to prevent it from ever happening again. And they were a great educational resource on how airplanes were designed, assembled, and maintained.

By Jon Proctor

San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives [Public domain]

I started being interested when a United DC8 and TWA Constellation crashed over New York in 1960 (I was 13).  I had lived on Staten Island not far from where the TWA crashed, and my great aunt lived in Brooklyn not far from where the United crashed. My parents (probably rightly) would not allow me to go and try to see the sites, but there were a lot of newspaper pictures. I was interested in how they could figure out what happened from this mess of wreckage.

In those days you needed to write to the CAB and ask them to mail you a copy.  And they did find and mail me about 275 of them over the years I was in high school and college.  Now historic and current reports are available as PDFs online for download (most Wikipedia entries about a crash link to the AAR in the footnotes).

The science of accident investigation has truly advanced in the 90 years of reports that I have read (my earliest was a 1936 crash of a Transcontinental and Western DC-2).  They have gone from typed, mimeographed pages to PDFs that are almost books, many with color photos or illustrations where needed.

And if anyone were to ever be concerned about flying being safe, todays’ reports confirm that many things must go wrong all at once for an accident to happen.

Lester Anderson

I hope you enjoyed my flights down memory lane as much as I did.  I am sort of out of things to say, but if Shea has any ideas on future articles to which I can make a positive contribution, you may hear from me again.

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Pleasant Memories ~ Flight Segment 1

Written by Lester Anderson

Over the years, I have flown 1.7 Million miles as a passenger (I state this both by my rough estimate and the fact that major airlines do keep and disclose these statistics to their frequent flyers). Fortunately I have no “horror stories” in that time. I have had my share of missed approaches; a few emergency landings being greeted by airport fire/rescue trucks; cancelled flights; missed connections; and trays full of both good meals and absolutely terrible meals served on board.

Shea Oakley asked me to write two articles, for Captain’s Log, and I thought the most appropriate thing I could do, considering the title of these articles, is to relate some experiences I had traveling those miles over 50+ years. I do not represent them to be significant (or even typical) but they are all memories that bring me back to a pleasant past.

The Changes in Air Travel

Air travel has certainly changed in these years. Probably the most notable thing that everyone experiences is that in the 1980’s and 1990’s the load factors were typically in the 70%-75% range. Not as good for the airlines as today’s almost fully booked airplanes, but more pleasant for the passengers—you often had an empty seat next to you. As a business traveler, I used to book a late flight returning home, knowing that if I was done early with my meeting, I could go to the airport and stand by for an earlier flight (at no additional cost), and usually get on the aircraft, and get a window seat. When American Airlines first introduced its frequent flyer program, they promoted that, as a frequent flyer, if you booked a window or aisle, they would put a hold on the center seat, and only use it if needed. The seating chart on the screen showed an asterisk in that seat indicating it was not occupied but only assigned if needed.

I was also a proponent of airline clubs. I lucked out early on with a membership in the Eastern Ionosphere club. I signed up for a $25 one-year membership. A few months later I was offered a 5-year membership for an additional $100 (which I took), and a few months later, I was offered and took a lifetime membership for an additional $250. Best investment I ever made because it then evolved into a lifetime membership in Continental’s President’s Club and now I am a lifetime member of the United Club. And this all started when I was a teacher and only flew once or twice a year to visit relatives in Orlando, Florida. When I left teaching and went to the corporate world, that membership became vastly more valuable. I also paid yearly fees to join Delta’s Sky Club, and before the merger I was a paid United Red Carpet Club member. Yes, the quiet surroundings and lounge chairs, and the often-free liquor were benefits, but the main reason—whenever you had a problem, the airline club helped. If a flight was cancelled or you needed to change a flight, you go into the club and there is no (or a short) line. And if you travel often, and they recognize you (and they did) you might even be treated into an upgrade (this was before the days when the computer automatically assigned them).

I was once on a Friday afternoon flight from Atlanta to Newark. Forecast was for snow to start in the late afternoon in the NY area. My 2:00 pulled back from the gate, and maybe we got 20 feet, when the aircraft stopped, and the pilot came on the intercom to give us the bad news that Newark closed due to snow. We all went back out to be reticketed. I was about 4th in line and they were trying to get people to the northeast. Hartford was open but was anticipated to close very soon. Same thing for Boston. I got to the front of the line and said “book me to Orlando” ( I have relatives there). They told me that was the opposite direction. I said, “but it’s not snowing there” and I got a round of applause from the rest of the line. And in those days interline ticketing was normal. Delta booked me on an Eastern L-1011 to Orlando on a flight leaving within the hour and an “open ticket” back to Newark when things cleared up (Sunday). Today, I am afraid I might be waiting in Atlanta for a few days just to find a flight with an open seat.

Be kind to your fellow passengers

I love to fly, and I am not ashamed to tell anyone that. But not everyone is, and sometimes my seatmate was not happy being on an airplane.

In the late 1970’s I was on a National DC-10 coming home from Florida. The DC-10 was a great airplane, and like all widebody planes it was “different” from the single aisle airplanes in that the cabin was divided into smaller sections. Reading up on everything I could find about airplanes, I learned that the cabin dividing walls were attached to the floor and would “float” on the ceiling so that as the aircraft cabin twisted (a normal situation in aircraft design) you might see the top of the walls move independently of the ceiling.

This flight was a very bumpy one. I would not call it severe turbulence, but enough that all meal service and walking around the cabin was stopped. The woman next to me (maybe my mother’s age) was afraid of flying. As we were bouncing around, she was upset, and I was talking to her explaining that is was nothing to be afraid of, that airplanes were built for this, that the captain was on the radio to see what altitudes had less turbulence, and that as soon as the captain could find smoother air I was sure he would get us a better ride. While I am talking to her calmly and trying to minimize her fear, I am watching the airplane twist and seeing the wall cabin barriers move what looked like 6 inches each way from their parked location on the ceiling. That excited me that I was actually seeing this, but I could obviously not say anything or even make reference to my excitement in seeing this engineering marvel as I was trying to calm down my seatmate.

In the late 1980’s I was on a United 747, upper cabin (my favorite place to be on a flight). I was traveling on business and sat next to someone a dozen years younger than I was. He was deathly afraid of flying. He had just started a job with one of the big-eight accounting firms as a consultant, would be traveling a great deal, and was very concerned. I took most of the rest of the flight trying to first explain the wonders of air travel and why he should not be afraid, and then explaining some tips I know from co-workers who didn’t like flying as to how to minimize their fear. On a 747 walking around is easy (especially in First) so a couple of times I told him that we should walk down to the lower deck First cabin to “stretch our legs”. He was concerned about long taxi times, and I gave him the simple trick of booking an early flight out. We went over the usual things they tell you (drink lots of water, little coffee, and almost no liquor) and to stay in shape for business meetings when you land. It was a coast to coast flight, so we spoke on and off for over 4 hours. At the end of the flight he thanked me and said he felt much more equipped to perform the duties of his new job—at least the part about flying to the client’s location.

I was on a US Air flight (I think from Charlotte) and we were on the airplane because of a weather delay in Newark. It was a few hours and because we could be given clearance to take off at any time, passengers could remain on the aircraft or go out to the gate are but were asked to stay close by. There was a passenger seated next to me who kept complaining about US Air and the delay. I finally suggested that if US Air could control the weather, they could make a lot more money doing that instead of sending people around the country in aluminum tubes. (By the way, he later got off and either found another flight or decided not to go, because he did not come back). Later the pilot came back to chat. Since it was a few hours delay (and I know about crew schedule times), I asked the odds of our taking off tonight. He said that the crew had plenty of time and that was not a concern. He was honest in saying that US Air would certainly like to get us to Newark as ticketed, but they were probably even more interested in getting the aircraft there for the early morning flights.

I travel much less now, and being retired, never for business. Add to that the hub/spoke system of airline scheduling and connecting no longer has to be “the only way” to get there. But in those days, when flights were delayed, one of the things I felt good about, both from the airline personnel who announced it, and from fellow passengers who allowed it, was the announcement that a number of travelers had close connections and if you were not in that situation, please let them exit first to make those connections. Both on the flights where I needed to rush out to connect and on flights where I waited because I was not in a rush I saw probably the best example of human teamwork and kindness to other fellow travelers anyone could experience.


Traveling on business I did my share of international travel. I went to the places many people go, Paris (truly the most beautiful city), London (a lot smaller than you think or expect), Melbourne Australia (a place that prides itself on being the most like the US—and if only it were closer I would go back) and of course Canada (which was easy because passport control and customs were on the Canada airport side, so on return you just got off the airplane).

Probably the most memorable trip was a Pan Am 747 from Kennedy to Moscow for a trade show my company was conducting there in 1991. The flight was great (I was on the upper deck) and efficient. Moscow was an interesting place. In those days (early 1990s) you only went to places where you could spend hard currency (not Rubles). I saw a lot (we all took a little time to be tourists) and the things I remember:

Children are the same all over the world. They will play and climb over monuments or memorial cannons in parks.

Young men are, too. I saw many soldiers in uniforms at the end of the day carrying one rose or a small bunch of roses to their wives or girlfriends.

Fresh fruit and tomatoes (technically a fruit but you know what I mean) at every meal—even in November.

And in my limited experience no one in Moscow knew how to make a good cup of coffee (but the tea was plentiful and good).

There are no “lines” at the airport. It is a mad dash of pushing. It took me 2 ½ hours to get into the gate area and be able to board the return flight with just 20 minutes to spare.

Because you don’t drink the tap water (or even brush teeth with it), everyone uses bottled water in Moscow, but even that safer water tasted salty. I think Pan Am gave everyone large tumblers of water when they sat down and asked for a drink from the flight attendants.

Lester Anderson

If you have enjoyed my ramblings, this article will continue in the near future. There will be more random experiences I remember fondly, and one of the ways I got to learn some fascinating facts about different airplanes.

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Looking Back

By Henry M. Holden

The 20-year period between the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II has been called the “Golden Age of Aviation.” During this time, airplanes morphed from slow, wood and fabric-covered biplanes to fast, stream-lined, all-metal monoplanes.

Civilian aviation grew, and many dramatic aerial feats took place. Barnstormers and wing walkers captivated the public with daring feats that often cost many their lives.

There were great expectations that dirigibles would encourage transatlantic passenger service. The Empire State Building, completed in 1931, had a dirigible mast for the ships to dock. And dirigibles did encourage passenger service until the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 killed 36 passengers, and the dirigible business.

The Hindenburg over Manhattan, New York on May 6, 1937, before its demise later that day. (Author’s collection)

It was during this period of aviation growth, that the “plane that changed the world,” the Douglas DC-3 appeared on the scene.

Prior to the DC-3, cross-country travelers would fly in a Ford Tri-Motor during daylight hours, then switch to trains for overnight transport. (Photo Henry M. Holden)

In 1934, the year before the introduction of the DC-3, a flight from New York City to Los Angeles was a grueling ordeal, typically requiring at least 25 hours, at least two changes of airplanes, and as many as 15 stops. Now, a single plane, the DC-3, could cross the country, usually stopping only three times to refuel and pick up passengers and mail.

The year was 1939. It was a cold January afternoon at New Jersey’s Newark Airport. A gleaming polished aluminum American Airlines DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) sat ready for departure, bound for Los Angeles’ Glendale Airport, in California.

Newark was the only major airline terminal for the entire New York metropolitan area. Ground had been broken for another airport at North Beach, in Queens, New York, and it was due to open in October as LaGuardia Airport.

The 1939 World’s Fair would soon open, in Flushing, Queens, and we were expecting a major influx of tourist to the metropolitan area. LaGuardia would make it convenient for tourist to see the Fair, landing them about three miles from the center of the Fair.

A United Air Lines promotional brochure (TOP) displaying the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and the Trylon and Perisphere the symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, N.Y. American Airlines advertising a trip to San Francisco on a DC-3 ((author’s collection)

The sky was cold and clear, but there were war clouds on the horizon. Hitler had reoccupied the Rhineland in defiance of the Locarno Pact, and there had been open intimidation between England and Germany. We knew it would not be long before we were involved in another war.

For Americans, life was getting better. We felt a gradual easing of the Depression, as more of us were working, albeit in defense related industries.

Rib roasts were selling for 31 cents a pound, and The New York Times was still two cents if I remember correctly.

The rich and famous, and business men could avoid an exhausting one-week coast-to-coast rail trip by booking passage on one of American Airlines’ new DSTs, the first model in the rapidly-becoming-famous DC-3 series.

The DC-3 was introduced into American Airlines service about six months after the Douglas company rolled it out on December 17, 1935. It was the first airplane that could make money flying people and not depend on the mail subsidy.

The DST/DC-3 was an instant success, pushing the noisy and dangerous Ford Tri-Motors quickly to the sidelines

I was on board American Airlines “Mercury Service” Flight 401, Flagship Texas. This flight is part of American Airlines “Flagship Fleet,” named because each new DC-3 proudly carried the name of one of the 48 states in the union. Upon landing, the copilot would “strike the colors,” as the aircraft taxied into the terminal. The flag, bearing the eagle insignia of American Airlines would always snap sharply in the wind above the copilot’s window.

We departed Newark at 5:10 pm and were scheduled to touch down at 8:50 am the next morning in Los Angeles’ Glendale Airport (baring disagreement from Mother Nature)

The same trip by rail took several days, so if you were in a hurry to conduct business, the plane made more sense. Coming east, however seem much longer when we had to push our watches ahead three hours.

The DC-3 was fast for its day. Its cruise speed was 207mph (333km/h) It had super-charged 1,200-horsepower twin engines, cantilevered metal wings, retractable landing gear and steam heat.

The flight was fully booked with 14 passengers, me being one of them.

This was American Airlines Flagship Texas. It was the first DST off the assembly line. NC14988, c/n1494 had two Wright Cyclone SGR-1820 engines. It was sold to the War Department on July 21, 1942. Its Civil Aeronautics Administration registration was cancelled, and it was given USAAF serial number 42-43619. It crashed at Knobnoster, MO October 15, 1942. (author’s collection)

The DST was the height of luxury. Fourteen plush seats in four main compartments could be folded in pairs to form seven berths, while seven more folded down from the cabin ceiling. The plane could accommodate fourteen overnight passengers or up to twenty-one for shorter daytime flights. By rearranging the seating the airlines were later able to increase the capacity to 28 people.

The passenger door was at the rear of the airplane and once aboard each of us had to walk up the aisle. Since the airplane had a tail wheel, we had to walk up an incline of about 30-degrees.

I watched from my seat as the captain did his inspection of the tires and movable wing surfaces. Later, when I asked him, he said he was inspecting tires for wear, and the flaps and ailerons for smoothness of motion.

When the captain came back on board, the stewardess as they were called in those days, closed the door and checked to make sure everyone was buckled up. In those days as part of their job, they were required to be registered nurses.

Suddenly, the propeller on the right side of the airplane started to turn a few revolutions before it went through belching thick white smoke and was spinning at such a rate that one could not count the blades.

A minute later the propeller on my side started that slow lethargic few turns before it belched thick white smoke and was whirling at a dizzying rate.

Then we began a slow, bumpy ride down the taxiway, turned and came to a stop.

The stewardess made a quick walk up the aisle checking that all were still buckled in. She took her seat and spoke something into the telephone hand set she was holding.

Suddenly the roar of the engines became very pronounced. The plane began to vibrate and the noise level increased. One could feel the inherent power of the engines. It was like a race horse straining at the gate to be freed to run the race. About thirty- seconds later the plane suddenly lurched and began to roll forward, picking up speed.

About halfway down the runway, the back of the airplane lifted and was level. The airplane left the ground so smoothly that none of us in the cabin realized what had happened until we saw the lights from the field rushing away behind us and the city lights below winking through the darkness ahead of us.

One hour after takeoff, the DST was drumming south westward in a valiant but futile attempt to catch the setting sun. Ten thousand feet below us the land was wrapped in the covers of darkness with only the electric fires of civilization rolling beneath us sustaining the reality of motion.

Once airborne, we were served cocktails, but then it was complements of the captain, who said so over the public address system. That was followed by dinner choices of sirloin steak, Long Island duckling, or lamb chops, served on Syracuse China with Reed & Barton silverware and real linen napkins. It was like eating in a high-class restaurant.

During the meal service the captain would send back his written flying report to be passed among his guests, as he called us. Most of us did not understand the technical details of the report but we sure appreciated being informed of our progress and what was ahead of us. In those days flying was still mysterious and for some scary.

We had polished off dinner by the time we over-flew Norfolk, Virginia, and were enjoying desert of ice cream and coffee, and the Sun had yielded to an evening sky of deep purple.

The captain announced that we would be stopping to refuel and pick up the mail in Nashville, Tennessee. When we landed the captain made the landing, in the new style rather than the three-pointer which may frighten some of his passengers. Another crew would take the Flagship Texas, and its sleeping cargo on to Dallas, the next stop.

The DC-3’s primary—and romantic—accomplishment, is that it captured America’s imagination. The journey became the destination. And with good reason: Passengers aboard the plane entered a protected world unbelievable to today’s stressed air traveler. The DC-3 married reliability with performance and comfort as no other airplane before, revolutionizing air travel and finally making airlines profitable.

Transcontinental sleeper flights featured curtained berths with goose-down comforters and feather mattresses. There were also separate albeit small restrooms for men and women

It was a fifteen-hour and 40-minute flight, but when you subtracted the three hours’ time difference it wasn’t a bad trip in those days. Many of us thought that this air liner would revolutionize airplane travel and go down in aviation history as one of the finest air liners ever built.

For the two movie stars on this flight who had paid an additional $160 over the standard round-trip fare of $264, (equivalent to about $3,800 today) they had the privilege of occupying a private compartment known as the “Sky room,” or “Honeymoon Hut,” where they are regularly comforted by the enthusiastic attentions of the stewardess.

Luxury came to air travel with the DST. The DST had seven upper and seven lower sleeping berths, with a full down mattress. The upper berths folded into the ceiling when not in use. This photo shows one upper and lower berth. Note the double window below and the single slot window above to prevent claustrophobia. (United Airlines)

The captain came out of his office as he called it and walked the comfortably wide aisle of the passenger cabin, pleased to answer any questions his guests might have. I like the idea of being called a guest.

I asked him how he can find his way in the dark. He explained that there were several ways to keep from getting lost. One was the radio direction finder, a radio beacon system that sent out pre-recorded Morse Code signal that told him where he was on course.

Then there were the beacon towers left over from the airmail days that pulsed a light. In the daylight some of the towns and cities had painted the name of the city on the roofs of some buildings, also a left-over from the airmail days.

This is another United Airlines photo showing presumably a married couple in the sleeper berths. (United Airlines)

Later we would all retire to very comfortable berths, designed to the standards of the Pullman sleepers on the railroads. The captain would later walk the same now darkened aisle making sure everything was buttoned down properly.

By then we were all asleep, wrapped in warm cocoons of goose-down comforters nestled snugly on feather mattresses, behind individually curtained upper and lower sleeper berths. This night it was clear, and the two pilots had easily followed the long winking airway lights westward.

This United Airlines photo shows the stewardess (now flight attendant) serving breakfast in bed to the occupant of the upper berth. She is the same person in the previous photograph but in the lower berth. (United Airlines)

We bumped along a bit after departing Dallas, in the wake of a passing thunder storm, but most passengers weren’t bothered by the mild turbulence.

On this Eastern Airlines DST the upper sleeper berth windows are obvious. This is NC25650, c/n 2225, Ship 351 of the Eastern fleet. Delivered to EAL in February 1940 and was impressed into military service as a C-49F 42-56616 for the USAAF in May 1942. It was returned to Eastern in July 1944. (author’s collection)

Oh, I have been on flights where everyone was so sick, we thought we’d die, but this was not one of them. Once airborne out of Phoenix, the stewardess would waken those still asleep and for each of us, serve a hot breakfast. This trip it was fresh coffee, juice and a choice of wild rice pancakes with blueberry syrup or a Julienne of Ham Omelet. She would then tidy up the cabin for our on-time arrival in Glendale Airport.

When we deplaned, we would be refreshed after a long night’s sleep and ready for a new day, more than can be said for today’s jet-lagged and cranky passengers who endure a flight over the same geography.

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Henry Ford’s Tin Goose Lays a Golden Egg

Written by Henry M. Holden

Today, when we fly commercially we think of aircraft in terms of a name and number, for example, Boeing 747, or Airbus A380. Nowhere in an airport or on the airplanes will we see the name, Ford.

Scenic Airlines operated two Ford Tri-Motors flying tourists over the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon for more than 65 years. (Henry M. Holden)

Over 90 years ago a man had a vision. He foresaw the day when people would be transported on a commercial airline network spanning the United States, and the world in a safe, comfortable, and reliable way. His name was Henry Ford.

Ford took the airplane, considered by most people at the time to be a noisy and dangerous machine, and transformed it into a successful commercial product. His product was radically different. His all-metal airplane design called the Ford Tri-Motor, affectionately called the “Tin Goose,” would lay a golden egg. The Ford Tri-Motor was the seed that spawned commercial aviation in the United States.

The early production line for the Ford Tri-Motor was duplicated from Ford’s assemble line. (author’s collection)

The story of the Ford Tri-Motor begins with William Bushnell Stout, who during World War I, worked for the Packard Motor Car Company, as the chief engineer of their aircraft division.

As the war ended, Stout designed an airplane for army called the “Batwing.” It was the first American-built internally-braced cantilever-wing monoplane. It also had the first plywood veneer used as an airplane skin in the United States. By the time it flew, the war had ended, and the army had lost interest.

The Ford’s instrument panel was basic with no redundancy. (Henry M. Holden)

With so basic an instrument panel the oil temperature and pressure gauges were mounted on the engine strut and easily seen from the cockpit. (Henry M. Holden)

The Batwing drew the attention of the navy who commissioned Stout to build an all-metal twin-engine torpedo bomber. It crashed during a test flight, and never went into production.

Unique financing

After this failure, Stout turned to the commercial market for financing of a new design. He sent letters to 100 Detroit industrialists, including Henry Ford, asking for $1,000 from each. He received about 65 responses. Stout raised $20,000, including $1,000 each from Edsel and Henry Ford.

Stout’s AS-1 The Air Sedan first flew on February 17, 1923, and its performance was poor. Stout wanted to build a larger airplane with a more powerful engine. (author’s collection)

Now with enough funds, Stout incorporated the Stout Metal Airplane Company on November 6, 1922, “to develop and manufacture aircraft.” Stout’s first design was a four-passenger monoplane made of metal and powered by an OX-5 engine. He called it the Air Sedan (AS-1).  The Air Sedan first flew on February 17, 1923, and its performance was poor. On the test flight it was obvious the plane lacked power. Stout “found” a Hispano Suizza engine, and with this new engine, the plane flew satisfactorily. When Ford heard of Stout’s experiments he began to consider the possibilities for commercial aviation.

In a conversation Stout had with Henry Ford, Stout told Ford that he wanted to build something more powerful than the Air Sedan, one that could carry 10 people (two crew and eight passengers) or the equivalent in cargo, have a high wing and use of 420 hp. Liberty engine.


Stout’s next design was the 2-AT “Air Pullman,” which first flew on April 23, 1924. It was a single engine high wing monoplane built entirely of corrugated duralumin. Stout’s idea to build an airplane completely out of metal was radical. The U.S. Airplanes were being built of fabric stretched over wood or metal frames.

Stout had named his airplane “Maiden Detroit” to promote civic interest in his venture. When it was used for freight it was called the “Air Truck” and was the first Stout plane to have the Ford emblem on its fuselage.

One of Stout’s 2-ATs at work carrying mail for Florida Airways. Note the open cockpit and thick wing root. (author’s collection)

In December 1924, the U.S. Post Office bought “Maiden Detroit” to carry airmail. This gave Stout’s company the financial boost it needed. By March 1925, his “Maiden Dearborn,” was ready for tests.

On April 13, 1925, “Maiden Dearborn” left Detroit for Chicago. It was the first flight of the Ford Air Transport Service, inaugurated by Ford to carry auto parts, company mail, and executives to his Chicago plant. Soon 2-AT “Maiden Dearborn II” was placed in service on this line. On July 31, 1925, Ford bought Stout’s company, and it became the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Co. By December 1925, Stout had manufactured 11 single-engine 2-ATs, and five were used by the Ford Air Transport Service.

On August 25, 1925, Ford announced his entry into the commercial aviation field. “The Ford Motor Company,” he said, “means to prove whether commercial flying can be done safely and profitably.”

Ford Air Reliability Tours

Ford tried to convince the public that flying in a Ford plane was the right thing to do. In August 1925, he established the Ford Air Reliability Tours, covering thirteen cities and 1,900 miles. The event was open to all aircraft manufacturers and it attracted Europe’s best-known aviation figure, Dutch-born, Anthony Fokker. For the race, Fokker converted his newest transport, a single engine F.VII, to a tri-motor.

There is speculation that a glimpse at the plans for Ford’s Tri-Motor prompted him to do this. The modified Fokker dominated the race coming in first, followed three minutes later by the Ford entry, a single engine “Air Sedan.” Both Ford and Fokker profited enormously from the publicity. The publicity Fokker received was enough to launch his airplanes on a successful career in America.

Birth of the Tri-Motor

Not completely satisfied with the 2-AT, Ford directed Stout to build a larger airplane with three engines. Stout took the basic layout of the 2-AT and mounted a Wright Whirlwind air-cooled radial engine under each wing, and a third in the nose. The nose was rounded with windows to give forward vision for the passengers. The pilot’s open cockpit was placed above the cabin, and wing which gave the pilot poor landing visibility.

The 3-AT presented a hideous appearance and was labeled a “monstrosity,” by observers. The test pilot, R. W. “Shorty” Schroeder, almost crashed it on landing. His report to Ford and that of another test pilot convinced Ford he had a “lemon.” Ford was angry, and his friendship with Stout dissolved.

The 3-AT presented a hideous appearance and was labeled a “monstrosity,” by observers. Ford believed he had a “Lemon” on his hands and was angry. His friendship with Stout soon dissolved. (author’s collection)

A mysterious factory fire the night of January 17, 1926, destroyed the 3-AT and Stout’s earlier designs. Stout was sent on a speaking tour to promote aviation, and a new group was formed to design a new tri-motor.

The plate that appears on every Tri-Motor implies that Stout designed the airplane. (Henry M. Holden)

For years, Stout was credited with having designed the Ford Tri-Motor, although he never made that claim himself. The original 4-AT design was the result of the ideas of several men, and none claimed exclusive credit for it. Tom Towle, an assistant to Stout figured prominently in the design. Towle was directed to lay out the design and others were brought in to assist him. Towle took the general layout of the 2-AT as the basis for the 4-AT design.

The 4-AT was a vast improvement over the 3-AT. On June 11, 1926, it made its first flight. The test pilot reported that the plane’s performance was perfect.

This Ford, 4-AT-10, C-1077 was the tenth off the assembly line and is the oldest flying Ford. (Henry M. Holden)

Although designed primarily for passenger use, the Tri-Motor could be adapted for hauling cargo, since its seats could be removed.
The Ford Tri-motor resembled the Fokker F.VII tri-motor, but unlike the Fokker, the Ford was all-metal, allowing Ford to claim it was “the safest airliner around.” Its fuselage and wings followed a design pioneered by Hugo Junkers during World War I and used post war in a series of airliners some of which were exported to the U.S.

Constructed of aluminum alloy, which was corrugated for added stiffness, the corrugations resulted in drag, and reduced its overall performance. So similar were the designs that Junkers sued, and won when Ford tried to export an aircraft to Europe. In 1930, Ford counter sued and lost a second time, with the court finding that Ford had infringed upon Junkers’ patents.

Unsafe in any tri-motor

Although the Ford and Fokker airplanes dominated the commercial aviation network of the late 1920s, they had serious deficiencies, and lacked the basic creature comforts. The airplane would still have to demonstrate that it was relatively safe, reliable and comfortable. This would not be easy for the Fords and Fokkers.

The Eastern Air Transport passengers are dressed for what appears to be a cold winter clothing. Note an EAT employee in shirt sleeves. (author’s collection)

There were accidents where the wings separated from the wooden planes in flight. If a Ford had an engine failure on take-off, the resulting vibrations, and the poor airflow over the corrugated skin, would sometimes cause the plane to stall. Engineers had their work cut out for them if they were to solve the technical problems that plagued the early aircraft.

The popularity of Ford’s plane stemmed from its appearance. It had no wires or struts, and its metal skin had corrugations running span-wise. Aluminum was stronger than wood, and Ford tried to convince the public his planes were safe and comfortable. An advertisement for the Ford Tri-Motor said, “Your comfort is given the same consideration as has been given structural strength. The fuselage is enclosed and plenty of windows allow good visibility and ventilation. Exhaust manifolds throw the sound away from the fuselage and padding of the compartment further muffles it. Conversation is carried on with ease. Large upholstered chairs assure riding ease for twelve passengers.”

The Bell Telephone Laboratories Ford Tri-Motor is bristling with antennae. The laboratories made significant inroads to improving air to ground communications. (author’s collection)

The interior of the Bell Telephone Laboratories Tri-Motor, seen here flying over the ocean. Making an antenna test at the test bench is F.S. Bernhard. (author’s collection)

This was at best a benign overstatement and in no way resembled reality. While the advertisement spoke of comfort and safety, the cabin was not heated and the sound level inside a Ford was 117 decibels, which could permanently damage a person’s hearing.
Copilots handed out packs of chewing gum, cotton, and ampoules of ammonia. The gum was to equalize the pressure on the passenger’s ears, the cotton blocked out some of the noise, and the ammonia was to relieve air sickness. Air sickness was so common on the southwestern flights of Transcontinental Air Transport that someone suggested putting pictures of the Grand Canyon on the bottom of the air sick cups, so no one would miss the view.

When passengers arrived at their destination, they got off the Tri-Motor physically and psychologically exhausted. Their bones ached, their nervous systems were a jumble of skinny wires all sounding different notes, and their heads pounded from the constant propeller noise.

One of the last surviving Ford Tr-Motors, NC8407 is still earning revenue (as of 2018) at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI. (Henry M. Holden)

One hundred ninety-nine 4-AT and 5-AT Ford Tri-Motors were built. The army, navy and Marines each used the Ford. The deepening economic depression, and the appearance of new and faster types forced the Ford Tri-Motor out to grass. The Ford would prompt William Boeing to come up with something better, the Boeing 247.

We see the author here in 1982 at Herndon Airport in Orlando. This Ford N7584 4-AT was destroyed in hurricane Andrew in1992. (Henry M. Holden)

Henry M. Holden is the author of “The Fabulous Ford Tri-Motors” available on Kindle

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The Electra Enigma

Written by Henry M. Holden

The skies in the 1950s were ruled by the radial piston engine airliners like the Douglas DC-7 and the Lockheed Super Constellation. And although the long-range Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 jets were in production and soon to be enter the market, some airlines felt the need existed for a large, medium range turboprop airliner.

Lockheed began construction of this airliner in December 1955, with two firm orders on the books (one from American Airlines for 35 and the other from Eastern Airlines for 40) In all, 14 airlines U.S and international would order 170 Electras.

On December 6, 1957, the prototype Lockheed Electra flew, two weeks ahead of the initial flight of the Boeing 707.

The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area. (Author’s collection)

The airplane was the second Electra. In the 1930s Lockheed had built an earlier aircraft named the Electra, a twin-engine aircraft that was over shadowed by the Douglas DC-3.

Eastern Airlines flew the Electra, designated L-188A, on its first revenue flight on January 12, 1959, and American Airlines followed on January 23 of the same year. The L-188C, with increased fuel capacity offered greater range, and went into service later in 1959.

An early Braniff example wearing “Electra II” titles added after completion of the LEAP Program. (Author’s collection)

Behind this new airplane were four years of research and more than $50 million in developmental courses. It had gone through 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests, and everyone was sure it was the safest and best airplane ever manufactured. But nowhere in the 40,000 miles of blueprints and more than 7,000 mathematical calculations did a phenomenon called “whirl mode” appear.

The Electra looked like a regular airliner, except for the thick, 13-foot propeller blades, and the four large engine nacelles housing the General Electric/Allison 501–314 turboprop engines. The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area.

The wings look small and stubby [they were only 5 1/2 feet shorter than the fuselage]. The wide fuselage made it one of the roomiest airliners of its time. Pilots soon got used to its appearance and came to respect the airplane. The Electra had incredible reserve power. One pilot said, “it climbs like a damn fighter plane! “

The Lockheed L-188 had excellent cockpit visibility, improved safety features and it was hailed by many as “a pilots airplane.“ Many airline officials considered the Electra a better all-around airplane then the Boeing 707. According to some, the Electra had more reserve power than any transport aircraft build to date.

This shot was taken at World Chamberlin Field, Minneapolis in the winter of 1959. N122US had been delivered the previous July and was one of 18 ordered by the airline. On 17 Mar 1960, N121US, NWA’s first Electra was operating a flight from Chicago to Miami when the starboard wing separated over Tell City, Indiana, during violent thunderstorm activity.  All 63 passengers and crew were killed. (Author’s collection)

Its safety features were state-of-the-art. For example, there was a single control for an engine fire: One pull feathered the prop, shut off the fuel and oil supply, armed the chemical fire extinguisher and discharged the CO2 bottles all in one-second. On older aircraft these four functions had taken up to 10 seconds.

But the promising new airplane begin killing people. On February 5, 1959, an American Airlines Electra crashed into the East River while on final approach to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Sixty-five people were killed. Although the crash was eventually attributed to a combination of pilot error, bad weather and an unfamiliar altimeter, the crash stained the Electra’s reputation. That stain would soon spread.

The Tell City accident did account for NWA’s decision to hold off delivery of the final eight of its 18 until the modifications could be built into the new aircraft. The airline also went out and replaced the publicity shots it had had of N121US with ones showing the last of the first batch, N130US seen here. (Author’s collection)

It was September 29, 1959. Six crew members and 28 passengers, on Braniff Flight 542, from Houston to New York, were relaxing in the new Electra. It was a few minutes after 12 midnight, and a farmer in the rural town of Buffalo, Texas, had just shut off his TV. Suddenly, the sky outside his home turned an eerie yellow, and there was a continuous roar. The farmer and his wife ran out to the pasture, where they encountered small shards of aluminum raining down on them. His wife remarked it was raining.

But it wasn’t raining; it was aircraft fuel. When the farmer shown a flashlight into a tree he could see a large chunk of metal. On it were the words “Fly Braniff.“ What caused this brand-new airplane to disintegrate over Buffalo, Texas?

It was March 17, 1960, and the CAA was still piecing together the tragedy when Northwest Airlines flight 710, another Electra, bound from Minneapolis to Miami, made a routine scheduled stop at Chicago. The Electra took off bound for Miami with 56 passengers, 33 men, 23 women, one infant, and six crew. The Electra had settled into a normal flight, cruising above the cloud cover at 18,000 feet. At 1p.m. over Tell City, Indiana, something happened.

Witnesses on the ground heard tearing sounds in the sky. Several saw the thick fuselage of the Electra emerging from the clouds. The entire right wing was missing, and only a stub of the left-wing remained attached to the fuselage.

The airliner seemed to float for a while, according to some witnesses, defying the laws of gravity. But then it dipped, driving straight down, trailing white smoke and pieces of aircraft. It telescoped into a soybean field at an estimated 618 mph. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, creating a smoking hole that was 60 feet deep. There were no bodies. Rescuers found nothing at the impact site except scraps of metal that were not much larger than a spoon. But 11,000 feet away they found the left wing.

This was, beyond alarming. In a period of less than six months, two brand new Electras lost their wings and disintegrated with much loss of life. Could it have been severe clear-air turbulence (CAT) or was there something drastically wrong with these airliners? One week earlier the airframe, with only 1800 hours had undergone a major inspection. The captain, Edgar E. LaParle had 27,523 hours in his logbook. What had gone wrong?

Meetings were held with the recently formed FAA, which was at the time headed by Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada, the legendary Air Force general, pilot, and aviation authority. The ensuing crisis was fueled by rumor and innuendo, and Quesada was on the hot seat. When he hesitated to ground the L-188 some said it was because of a former employee relationship he had with the manufacturer. Quesada’s actions and inactions would become as controversial as the L-188 itself.

Pressure to ground the airplane mounted quickly, and the flying public avoided the 96 Electras already flying (only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type). The airline experience up to a 35-percent dip in the loads on the aircraft, a catastrophic loss of revenue in an industry where a 10-percent decrease is damaging.

But the Braniff Electra had not disintegrated, and the painful reconstruction had begun. And as they pieced together the wreckage, a clue emerged. It was something alarming. Shards of what appeared to be the left wing were found some distance from the rest of the wreckage. Could this tragedy have been caused by a severe clear air turbulence (CAT)?

The public had lost faith in the Electras and the media was calling for the FAA to ground the airplane, and the sick jokes didn’t help.

“I’d like a ticket on the Electra to New York!” The passenger reportedly said to the ticket agent.

“We don’t sell Electra tickets; we sell chances,” the agent answered, according to the story. And then there was the Eastern AirLines Electra where flight attendants were reportedly wearing phony stewardess wings with the wings broken off.  Or National Airlines: “Look Ma, No Wings!” Electra service to Miami.

N5514 delivered to Eastern Air Lines on February 13, 1959 went through more than eight owners before beings scrapped in March 1979. (Author’s collection)

All tests seem to indicate the Electra was basically safe and airworthy at slow speeds. Three days after that Tell City crash, the Feds instead of grounding the Electras, ordered the Electras not to fly more than 275 knots (316 mph).slowed down to the speed of a Connie or a DC-6. The representatives from the from the Northwest accident investigation team reminded the FAA that 275 knots is the speed at which the Braniff Electra was flying when it broke up. The FAA then reduced its top speed to 225 knots (259 mph). The speed restriction was arbitrary and imposed to give the public more confidence in the airplane. But it didn’t.

It would be an economic disaster to ground the whole Electra fleet. PSA, for example at the time had only four airplanes in its fleet, all Electras. It was an admittedly risky gamble, but the FAA allowed the Electra to fly, but at a much slower speed.

Passenger still hesitated to get on these “flying cylinders of death” as some call them. The airlines tried to get around the bad publicity. Eastern advertised it’s “Golden Falcon Service” and National Airlines advertised its “Jet Powered Service.”

Meanwhile, the investigations continued. Boeing volunteered staff and simulators to Lockheed. Douglas contributed engineers and equipment. The investigation, occurring in the early 1960s, was the first serious use of computer stress analysis in the field. NASA attempted to re-create the conditions in its wind tunnel.

The Electras were flown in every possible form of turbulence. Test pilots rammed it through the Sierra Madre Mountain’s airwaves over and over again. The Electras were put through every possible flight maneuver that may cause a wing failure. Still nothing!

Only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type. (Author’s collection)

Basically, the problem was a high speed aircraft in a conventional design. The Electra’s powerplants were housed in four enormous engine nacelles protruding far forward of the straight stubby wing. It was the two outboard engines that were involved in the Electra’s destruction.

Then in May 1960, NASA announced the cause of the accident that took 97 lives. Wing vibration, or flutter, is inherent in the design and is expected. In engineering terms, there are more than 100 different types of flutter, or “modes”, in which metal can vibrate. The mode that destroyed the Electra’s wing was called a whirl mode.

Whirl mode was not new, nor was it a mysterious phenomenon. Its a form of vibration inherent in rotating machinery such as oil drills, table fans and an automobile’s driveshaft.

The theory was devastating simple. A propeller has gyroscopic tendencies. Engine turbines spin at 13,820 rpm and the propellers at 1,280 rpm. These forces are designed to stay in a smooth moving plain of rotation unless displaced by a strong external force, (just as a spinning top can be made to wobble if a finger is placed against it).

An early livery on the Department of Commerce P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

Now suppose a force drives the propeller upward. The stiffness that’s part of the nacelle’s structure promptly resists the force in a downward motion. The propeller continues to move in one direction, but the rapidly developing whirl mode is vibrating in the opposite direction. The moment such a force is applied to an engine, it starts a chain reaction. The propellers normal plane rotation is disturbed, sending inharmonious forces back to the wing. The result, if not checked, is a wobbling effect that begins to transmit its motion to a natural outlet: the wing. The wing now begins to flex and flutter, sending discordant forces back to the engine-prop package, which in turn creates more and violent vibrations, feeding the mode new energy. It took less than 30 seconds for the energy to separate the wing.

Whirl mode did occasionally develop in propeller-driven airlines. It was always encountered by the powerful stiffness of the entire package, the nacelles in the engine mounting, and the truss holding the engine to the wing. This usually isn’t a problem. But on examination of the Electras engines, investigators found that something caused the engine loosen and wobble causing a severe whirl mode.

Investigators discovered that the engine mounts weren’t strong enough to damp the whirl mode that originated in the outboard engine nacelle. The oscillation transmitted to the wing caused severe up-and-down vibration, which increased until the wings separated.

On the Braniff Electra, they discovered an over speeding prop that produced a particular sound. When a tape of the sound was played to the crash witnesses they verified the sound. Examination of the wreckage found loose and wobbly prop on the left wing’s outboard engine. The world mode caused from the over speeding prop was unchecked by the engine mount.

The lucky few who deplaned the Northwest Electra in Chicago told investigators about experiencing a “hard landing.” Tell City had reported CAT. Investigators concluded that the combination of the hard landing and the CAT weakened in the Electras outboard engine mounts. When the pilot tried to pull up and compensate for the turbulence a whirl mode followed, tearing off the already weakened wings.

Lockheed began a retrofit program called LEAP (Lockheed Electra Adaptation Program). All Electras had their wings strengthened, the engine nacelles reinforced and mount, which was ordinarily a bar, redesign to a strong “V”-shaped to withstand more stress.

Electras took to the skies with restored confidence. And then on October 3, 1960, an Eastern Airlines Electra departing Boston for New York, crashed, killing all 72 aboard. Again, a cry went up to ground Electras but this crash was different. A large number of English starlings had been ingested into the Electra’s wide engine intakes. This caused the engines to flame out. The plane lost lift stalled and fell into Boston Bay. Although this problem was serious for all airliners it wasn’t associated with the Electra’s design.

But there were more Electra crashes. On September 14, 1960, an American Airlines Electra landing at LaGuardia airport tore across the Grand Central Parkway where it came to a stop, upside down. Miraculously all aboard survived. Then on September 17, 1961, another Northwest Electra crash near Chicago, killing 37 people.

Neither crash was the result of a design or structural flaw. The first involved excessive landing speed and a skid; the second caused by an improperly placed aileron cable.

The majority of the Electras were retired from the major airlines by 1975, but Eastern Air Line’s retired the last one on November 1, 1977. Today the remaining Electras continue as services charters, sprayers and freighters.

In 1958, the U.S. Navy replaced their aging fleet Neptune anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft with the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Name for the winter constellation of the mighty hunter, the Orion was retrofitted from the Lockheed Electra.

A U.S. Navy “slick” version of the P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

The initial P-3 was modified from the third Electra airframe. While based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the aircraft was structurally different with seven feet (2.1m) less fuselage forward of the wings and military additions such as wing hard points, nose radome and a distinctive tail “stinger” for detection of submarines by magnetic anomaly detector.

The Navy still flies the P-3 Orion over the long-range landplane and the antisubmarine platform.

In June 1988, the U.S. Customs Service welcomed to first three Airborne Early Warning aircraft (AEW) into its fleet. They use it as a long-range radar detection platform to perform on the southern U.S. border, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The aircraft is a distinctive 24-foot diameter rotodome fuselage. It is coupled with an APS-138 radar system. The Customs P-3 also comes in a second variant without the dome (Slick). The dome can detect targets over land and water in an encompassing 196,250 mi.² per 360° sweep. It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

According to Robert Sterling, author of “The Electra Story” Lockheed had made the decision to close the production line March 17, 1960 – just hours before the Tell City crash. Sales had dried up because airlines decided to wait for the short haul pure jets on the drawing board. Once the BAC-111, 727 and DC-9 went into service passengers didn’t want anything to do with props.

The two publicized in-flight breakups in the first 16 months of service – Sept 1959 and March 1960 – gave the plane a similar ‘reputation’ as the Comet, the Electra was in trouble. Initially it did not sell well overseas. There was strong competition for turbo prop airliners from several manufacturers.

A U.S. Customs P-3 “dome’ This photo shows the insignia on the tail of the Department of Homeland Security, formed after September 11, 2001. (Author’s collection)

Lockheed shut down the assembly line after only 170 airframes completed with huge losses, estimated at over $50 million. Production ended in 1961, just three years after introduction.

According to the Lockheed L-188 Electra site, the Electras went on to fly for more than 29 different airlines as freight dogs, sprayers and charters for decades.

On September22, 1978, a U.S. Navy P-3B Orion msn 185-5199 registration 152757 went down because of a suspected whirl mode. It is the only military Orion lost to the phenomenon known as whirl mode.

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