Chicago’s Midway Airport, originally named “Chicago Municipal Airport,” opened in 1927 at Cicero Avenue between 55th and 63rd Streets, about nine miles from the center of downtown Chicago. The site was owned by the Chicago Board of Education through a 19th-century federal government land grant that allocated one square mile of every 365 for a school. So, at the time the City of Chicago acquired use of the site in 1926, it was one square mile in size, with only a small grammar school in one corner, and the rest was devoted to growing onions. Because of housing development outside the perimeter of the field, Midway Airport today remains on that same one square mile (plus only a small extension with a few structures).
By the end of 1927, six airlines operated from Chicago Municipal Airport, including predecessor airlines of Braniff, Chicago and Southern, Eastern, Northwest, TWA, and United, and in the mid-1930s American joined them. Amazingly, by 1932 Chicago Municipal claimed the title of “busiest airport in the world,” and it remained so until 1961 when airlines moved to the new suburban Chicago O’Hare Airport.
Postcards of Chicago Municipal Airport through the years
The Boeing 247 entered service in March 1933, immediately becoming the most modern aircraft at the time, with all-metal construction and much higher speed. United Air Lines received the first production models and placed 30 in service by June 1933. Chicago Municipal became a major hub in United’s coast-to-coast east-west service.
The Boeing 247 remained the top airliner for only a very short time. By mid-1934 Douglas Aircraft introduced the DC-2 which was superior to the 247. TWA was the first to operate the DC-2, and other airlines serving Chicago soon followed.
Following the end of World War II in 1945, Chicago Municipal Airport became busier than ever. To cope with the high volume of passengers, it opened a new larger terminal in 1947-1948, with distinctive rounded upper floors in the center, including the noted “Cloud Room” restaurant.
In June 1949 the Chicago City Council changed the airport’s name to “Midway Airport” in honor of World War II’s Battle of Midway in the Pacific Ocean.
By 1950 fifteen scheduled airlines, as well as several nonscheduled ones, served Midway Airport. By 1952 passenger volume reached 5 milliion, and passenger numbers peaked at 10 million in 1959. Continuing throughout the 1950s and until 1961, Midway remained a beehive of activity on its one square mile – the busiest airport in the world.
By the late 1950s, some foreign airlines started flying into Midway Airport, including Air France, Lufthansa, and Brazil’s REAL. Soon the airport was renamed “Midway International Airport.”
Meanwhile, the burgeoning number of daily flights and passengers at Midway in the 1950s, the increased use of larger, four-engine aircraft, and the lack of room for expansion, compelled the City of Chicago to develop another airport, which became O’Hare, to handle future air traffic as well as the new generation of pure jet aircraft arriving in 1959 and thereafter. Expansive O’Hare Airport, 31 miles from Midway, opened in 1955. By 1961 almost all the major airlines consolidated their Chicago operations at O’Hare, in July 1962 United was the last to move, and O’Hare took off on its path to becoming America’s busiest airport. Midway became a shadow of its former self, with only a little over 400,000 passengers being handled during all of 1963.
By the late 1970s, O’Hare Airport began experiencing its own growing pains and air traffic congestion. With the passage of the U.S. airline deregulation act of 1978, low-cost carriers developed. They found it difficult to get slots to operate at O’Hare, but noticed that Midway was largely empty, much closer to downtown Chicago, able to accommodate smaller, two-engine jets, and available. A startup airline, named Midway Airlines, launched operations in 1979 with Douglas DC-9 jets and made Midway Airport its home base. This was the beginning of Midway Airport’s revival.
ATA, based in Indianapolis, IN, opened a hub at Chicago Midway in 1992. It set up “ATA Connection,” operated by its subsidiary Chicago Express Airlines, based at Midway, to provide commuter service from Chicago Midway to surrounding Midwest cities using Saab 340B aircraft.
Most significantly, Southwest Airlines started serving Midway Airport in 1985 and became, by far, its leading air carrier. By 2001 Southwest was operating 121 daily flights to Chicago Midway.
In 1997, with air traffic at Midway rapidly increasing, the City of Chicago announced the Midway Terminal Development Program, and a new, modern terminal was opened in March 2001. I have not seen any postcards showing this new terminal at Chicago Midway; if you know of any, please let me know.
The 21st Century
Over 10 million passengers utilized Midway Airport each year from 2014 to 2019, marking a return to its prior peak year of 10 million passengers in 1959. As of May 2022, 10 airlines were serving Chicago Midway. Southwest is by far the largest airline at Midway, operating 73 of 123 routes. The other airlines presently serving Midway, in order of activity, are Frontier, Delta, Volaris, United, Sun Country, Allegiant, J-Air, Tradewind Aviation, and Kalitta Charters.
All postcards shown are in the author’s collection except as noted. I estimate their rarity as follows:
Rare: the American Airlines card in black and white;
Uncommon: the United B247 and DC-3, and TWA DC-3, cards in black and white; and the cards showing a Delta DC-3, Ozark DC-3, Lockheed Super G Constellation with fuel truck, and Chicago Express/ATA Connection Saab 340.
The rest of the postcards are fairly common.
A new set of 12 postcards related to O’Hare and Midway Airports, issued by Airliners International 2022 ORD and published by jjpostcards.com, will be available at Airliners International’s 2022 show and convention described at the end of this article.
For collectors interested in aviation trading cards, 60 airports in the U.S. and Canada that are members of the Airports Council International—North America, have been periodically issuing airport trading cards as part of a North American Airport Collectors Series. The cards are 2-1/2” x 3-1/2” in size (about 6 x 9 cm.). Ken Bateman advised me that one of these airports issuing such trading cards in recent years is Midway Airport.
Lynch, Christopher. Chicago’s Midway Airport. Lake Claremont Press, 2002.
Author(s). “Title of Article.” Title of Periodical, Day Month Year, pages.
Lee, Chris. “Midway.” Airways Magazine, September 2018, pp. 32-43.
I hope to see you at Airliners International™ 2022 Chicago, June 23-25, 2022, at the Hilton Rosemont/Chicago O’Hare Hotel. This is the world’s largest airline history and airline collectibles show and convention, with over 200 vendor tables for buying, selling, and swapping airline memorabilia (including, of course, airline postcards), seminars, the annual meeting of the World Airline Historical Society, annual banquet, tours and more. The show. will have available a new set of 12 postcards published by jjpostcards.com related to Midway and O’Hare Airports.
It wasn’t until 1987 that I would actually get to fly on the Fairchild Hiller FH-227 having been obsessed with this aircraft since before I entered Kindergarten in 1972. It was first introduced to me serving our local airport of Rock Falls, IL (SQI) by Ozark Air Lines. Afraid of it at first because of its screaming-loud Rolls-Royce Dart engines, it soon became my favorite airplane of all time.
On September 25, 1987, I took a 25-minute flight from Moline, IL (MLI) to Burlington, IA (BRL) and back. The outbound flight was Continental Express/Britt flight 4723, scheduled to depart at 12:35 PM arriving at 1:00 PM. The aircraft that day was N378NE, the same plane that graced the skies over Rock Falls six years earlier while operating a charter flight for Britt. N378NE was originally delivered on November 2, 1966, to Northeast Airlines where it flew until Northeast merged with Delta in 1972. N378NE was one of only two FH-227Cs that Delta actually used in regular service before selling all of the former Northeast FH-227s to Air New England in early 1975.
Back at Moline with my ticket in hand, I walked across the ramp to climb the airstair door. I was giddy with excitement! As I entered the aircraft I noticed the interior was just the same as it appeared in the Air New England article written by my friend Rand Peck, that I had read many years earlier in an issue of Airline Quarterly magazine. There were no overhead bins; only racks for coats, hats or small carry-on items. Another curious thing was the seat numbers started with seat row number One in the rear of the plane, getting higher in number going forward, up to row number Twelve. I had my tape recorder with me and I took my seat: 10A, by the propeller on the left-hand side of the aircraft.
Since I was the only person getting on the plane in Moline, Sheri, our flight attendant, came directly over to give me a personal safety briefing. She didn’t announce who our pilots were. I guess I should have asked but, I was just too excited!
I had actually flown on my first Fokker F.27 flight a year previously with Chicago Air Lines to and from Moline to Chicago Midway Airport (MDW). Engine startup was much the same on the FH-227 as it was the F.27; the only noticeable difference was the 227 was a lot louder. However, the real difference came at takeoff time. While the newer Fokker F.27 had been quieter, almost a muffled sound, the FH-227C was very loud. The typical staccato sound emitted by the pointed props was clearly heard in the FH-227. The F.27 was much quieter with its square-tipped props. I like loud, so I was happy.
After we landed in Burlington, the Britt agents allowed me to do a little walk-around photoshoot of this big ol’ bird that I had just flown on. I only wish we had digital cameras back then because I would have hammered that plane with pictures. Enjoy the shots of my walk around of N378NE.
Between the two flights, my time in Burlington was spent hanging out at the airport and exploring. I made quick friends with one of the Britt agents named Gary Freitag. We had a nice conversation about Britt and my interest in the airline and especially the Fairchilds. All too soon it was time to climb back aboard for my return to Moline.
Our return flight was Continental Express/Britt flight 4756. It was scheduled to depart at 3:15 PM and arrive back in Moline at 3:40 PM, where it would then return to Chicago.
As I boarded the airplane I would again be welcomed by Flight Attendant Sheri, along with Captain Wiles and First Officer Munson as our pilots. On this leg back up to Moline, I took a more central spot under the wing (Seat 7A) to get a different sound, which indeed it was. The sound wasn’t as “proppy,” as I coined the term. The row of seats was even with the center of the engine nacelle, providing an excellent vantage to hear the characteristic in-flight whine of the Rolls-Royce Dart engines and to watch the main gear cycle up and down. That whine really becomes more pronounced after takeoff when the pilot reduces engine RPM by opening up the props to take a bigger bite of the air. The approach for landing is interesting, to say the least. It’s almost a “dive bomber” approach, especially on short final. Altogether, it’s a different ride than in a low wing plane because it feels like the plane is hanging on the wings instead of sitting on the wing.
After my arrival back in Moline, I quickly headed back outside with enough time to record audio of N378NE starting up and taxiing out for its departure back to Chicago.
It was a great little adventure that I would repeat a month later on October 27, 1987, but next time on Britt Fairchild F.27, N386BA.
World War Two confirmed the United States (US) as the leader of world civil aviation. The war, which started in Europe and lasted the longest there, caused the European players to lose the dominant position they had gained in the pioneer years of the 1920s and 1930s. In the United States, civil aviation could develop fairly uninterrupted. The Douglas DC-3 became the norm in air travel from 1936 onwards and throughout the war years. It solidified the dominant position that the United States, by now, had reached in civil aviation not only in terms of technology and traffic volume but, also in terms of safety regulatory standards. A position that it has kept ever since.
In the first part of this series, we saw the very first signs of what we now know as cabin safety. An improvement in exit marking and lighting was made in response to the 1943 Trammel accident, but there was also the issue of the exit handles not being apparent to passengers. Coming back to the question about the first safety card in the US, it was brought to my attention that two airlines introduced specific printed instructions to passengers. Presumably, they were inspired by Trammel.
United Airlines added to its flight information folder an item on the location of the control of the ‘auxiliary exits’ in their DC-3s.
TWA went a step further and added in its “Welcome aboard” folder detailed cabin diagrams of the three DC-3 versions in their fleet indicating exits and equipment. I reproduce the model 277 which has the cabin door at the RH rear side. Instructions for operating the three auxiliary exits are given below the diagram. No instructions were given for opening the main door, however.
While not being true safety cards, these two publications can certainly be seen as forerunners.
Ditching Safety Leaflets
Proper leaflets dedicated entirely to passenger safety followed in the year immediately after the end of the war. Their subject invariably was passenger preparation for ditching. I am aware of leaflets first issued by Pan American World Airways (PAWA), American Overseas Airlines (AOA) and BOAC in 1946, Air France in 1947, SAS and United Airlines in 1948 and TWA and Panagra in 1949. More airlines would follow in the 1950s, as we will see later. Here are some front pages. AOA was the international arm of American Airlines. It flew to Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and West Germany. The three languages (English, Dutch and Swedish) represent these countries, except for Germany. It may well be that the volume of German passengers in those years was too low to merit the extra translation. AOA was bought by PAWA in 1950. PAWA’s leaflet shown is the 1947 issue.
SAS called their ditching leaflets ‘Safety at Sea’ so as to alliterate with their own name.
What caused this surge of safety leaflets and why were they all about ditching? The answer is threefold.
Still fresh in contemporary minds was a notable water accident that occurred just before the war. On its way from New York to Bermuda on January 21, 1939, an Imperial Airways Short Empire flying boat named Cavalier had to make a forced landing halfway along its oceanic journey. It broke up upon impact and sank shortly after. All 13 occupants had survived the impact, but three drowned. The flying boat had no life rafts on board and, for that matter, neither did it have seat belts. The only life-saving equipment on board was 22 ‘seat-type’ and six ‘crew-type’ ‘rubber life belts’ (life vests). Of these 28 life vests only eight were used, four of each. The survivors clung to them for 10 hours in the water, which was moderately warm, before rescue came. The British Air Ministry Inspector of Accidents made a list of recommendations for safety improvements on flying boats, including life rafts as standard equipment and instructing passengers on the fastening of seat belts on take-off and landings, the pointing out of emergency exits and how to fasten life-belts. It was noted that ‘an illustrated notice showing how life-belts should be put on was displayed in each cabin of the flying boat. This, I assume was a fixed message similar to those carried on ferry boats.
Press summary of Report of the Investigation of the Accident to the Imperial Airways aircraft G-ADUU (Cavalier) on January 21, 1939, Office of the Air Attaché British Embassy, Washington D.C., March 25, 1939.
During the war considerable experience had been gained with transoceanic flying, albeit with military transport aircraft. In about 1 per 1,000 crossings they had to make a water landing on the ocean, which became known as a ‘ditching’. The survivability rate was about 30%. This experience, together with that of Cavalier, may well have inspired the US Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to issue a regulation for increasing the chances of surviving a ditching:
‘The crew of aircraft used in overwater flights shall be drilled periodically in “abandon ship” procedures. Passengers shall be acquainted with the location of emergency exits, with emergency equipment provided for individual use, and with the procedure to be followed in the case of an emergency landing on the water.’
This regulation, which was part of a whole set of new regulations, applied from September 1945 but only to U.S. carriers flying ‘outside the continental limits of the United States.’ At the time, they were only PAWA, AOA and TWA. In 1947 they were joined by United Airlines which started to fly to Hawaii and Northwest Airlines which connected the US with Japan and China.
Human Factors in Air Transport Design, Ross A. McFarland, 1946, p. 534
U.S. Civil Air Regulations, 41.507 Use of emergency equipment, effective September 1, 1945
Thirdly, the Search and Rescue (SAR) division of the then still provisional International Civil Aviation Organization issued in December 1946 recommendations for the briefing of passengers: before take-off, on the use of safety belts and the location of emergency exits; after take-off, on life jackets and other emergency equipment. In the case of an in-flight emergency, passengers should be further briefed in anticipation of an impact that, more likely than not, would be on water.
Thus, the focus of the new requirement and recommendations for briefing passengers was on overwater flights and an emergency landing on water. There was no equivalent requirement for an emergency landing on land. Why not? To answer that question, we have to study accidents of the time. They typically occurred during the cruise portion of a flight. Even in the cases where the aircraft remained controllable, impact landings on land tended to be fatal to all. The 1943 Trammel case had been an exception, but only partial, with two survivors out of 20 occupants. The Cavalier accident and the military services however had demonstrated that a ditching could be well survivable.
So, now that the war was over and commercial air transport was to grow in size and span oceans, a ditching was recognized as the principal survivable accident scenario. They were therefore prone to regulatory support. The form chosen was to mandate that airlines ‘acquaint with’ or brief passengers about ditching procedures. Nowhere were leaflets or booklets mandated, but airlines found they served the purpose.
A Closer Look
Studying these instructions and keeping in mind current practices, a number of differences in tone and directions stand out. The key message was that of aviation being safe, the crew having been thoroughly trained and always in control in which its authority was never to be questioned (see PAWA illustrations above and below).
A ditching, it was believed at the time, would not come sudden but announced, with plenty of time to prepare for it. On the part of passengers, that meant loosening the tie, removing sharp objects, taking off spectacles and high-heeled shoes, putting on warm clothes and then a life vest, sit tightly strapped in and, when so ordered, brace for impact. There was no common opinion on what to do with seatbacks: some airlines said upright, others said recline as much as possible. For some airlines, the brace position for forward row passengers was to sit on the floor with the back against a bulkhead (see illustration Air France 1953).
Opening exits, if even mentioned at all, was to be left to the crew. The American airlines typically added a layout of the aircraft with exit and raft locations, while in Europe this was less common. PAWA included a detailed graph of the life raft and the survival pack contents on their leaflets (see illustration below).
PAWA and BOAC issued new versions of their safety leaflets almost every year. United, TWA and Northwest, on the other hand, stuck to their original designs for at least a decade, only changing them to match fleet updates. For the other airlines, changes were more random.
BOAC’s 1946 folder explained life jackets and rafts, called ‘dinghies,’ but did not have a layout of the aircraft, nor any explanation about where the exits were or how they opened. Yet, seat belts were explained. Contrary to the Americans, who only advised the use of seat belts in preparation for an emergency landing, BOAC advised that the seat belts ‘should be fastened when the aircraft is taxiing, taking off or landing’. Clearly, that stemmed from the Cavalier accident recommendations.
The addition of taxiing is particularly noteworthy as that was many decades ahead of becoming common practice in the rest of the world, except that SAS also had this in their safety instructions.
For aircraft not equipped with pressurized cabins, oxygen masks were explained by BOAC.
In the 1947 BOAC folder exits were mentioned for the first time, but not depicted. It said, “there are ample emergency exits on all Speedbirds which will be pointed out to you by a member of the crew before take-off.” Also added was a single text line about desert packs ‘containing rations and water’ being carried, as well as ‘very comprehensive First-Aid Packs.’ The portion about the oxygen mask now cautioned ‘please don’t confuse this with a gas mask. It does not have to fit tight.’ With the war still fresh in people’s minds, passengers apparently had made this comparison when reading the earlier version.
The summum bonum of 1950s luxury flying was the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. To give an impression of how cabin diagrams were rendered in safety leaflets, here are five of them, by as many different airlines, so you can compare. BOAC chose to only show the aircraft from outside, with the exits marked with arrows. Conversely Northwest did not point out any exit, but only emergency equipment, using an engineering drawing of the cabin. Yet, on a closer look, the escape ropes gave a hint as to where exits were, at least for those not over the wings. Over-wing exits needed no ropes. The other three airlines also used cabin plans, all in their own fashion, showing both the exits and emergency equipment. They were oriented with the front of the aircraft at the top, matching the compass of a forward-facing passenger. All Stratocruisers had the lower lobe lounge, but only one airline, PAWA, marked its exits, plus that of the storage area ahead of the wings. There are many other interesting features in these layouts such as the spacious, gender-specific washrooms. They are clearly identified in the AOA layout and can also be recognized in the United and Northwest samples.
Cozy Rafts and Duck Landings
The texts in the safety leaflets were light-hearted so as not to put off passengers by emphasizing the dangers of flying. Phrases were used like:
‘life vests are fashionable in emergency landings. Yours is bright yellow and quite handsomely tailored’
‘Brace for impact – careful the order is not embrace!’
Similarly, entertaining cartoons were used, often showing a life raft as a cozy place to be. Here is a collection. Click on each image to enlarge.
Other airlines preferred the analogy to ducks. Shown are Northwest, 1952, and Hawaiian, 1963.
So, with all the focus on ditching, did they indeed occur, and were life rafts lifesavers? The first recorded use of a life raft, ironically, was not on water, but in a desert, giving shade and shelter. That was following the crash on June 18, 1947 of Clipper Eclipse, a PAWA Lockheed Constellation, in Syria. Star Trek aficionados will likely know this accident. Its creator, Eugene Roddenberry, was the third officer and took a leading role as the two pilots were killed upon impact. In this crash, out of 37 occupants, 22 survived and were rescued.
The first reported ditching was in 1949. Until about 1963, on average one ditching occurred per year, worldwide, making the 1950s the ditching decade. In all cases, it involved piston-engine airliners. Other than as initially predicted and thus advertised in the safety instructions, most were sudden with no time for preparation. On the positive side, many were close to shore rather than mid-ocean, facilitating quick rescue. The survival rate was high; in some cases even 100%.
A new accident scenario
But another accident scenario quickly overtook that of the ditching in terms of numbers and survivability issues and, thus, the need for cabin safety measures. That scenario is the survivable accident involving a fire, at or near an airport.
It first happened three weeks before the Syrian crash, on May 29, 1947. United Airlines flight 521, a DC-4, failed to lift off at New York-La Guardia. It crossed the airport perimeter and half bounced, half flew until it came to rest 800 ft beyond the runway. It caught fire immediately and many occupants perished as they were unable to escape. In a congressional hearing in February 1950, it was testified that ‘passengers were seen by witnesses drumming on the inside of cabin windows, burning to death.’ The formal accident investigation by the CAB did not go into any of the survivability issues. Its report, issued after many preventive measures had been taken, concluded that ‘all action that it seems sensible to take has already been taken’. In hindsight, this was quite a cynical comment, as no cabin safety measure had been taken at all, let alone even considered. It needed a second accident before the CAB realized that their focus should not only be on preventing accidents to happen in the first place, but also when they do occur, on survivability issues. In their report on the January 21, 1948, Eastern Constellation crash at Boston they said that ‘this accident forcibly points to the necessity for the development of more suitable passenger evacuation facilities’. In that accident, some passengers survived but, had to jump a distance of more than 15 feet from the airplane to the ground.
Hearings before a subcommittee of the (U.S. Congress House) committee on interstate and foreign commerce, February 14, 1950.
Many similar accidents would follow and in numbers and dramatic impact soon eclipsed the forced ditchings. From two different angles, scientists recognized this serious trend and started tests to collect data to understand the mechanisms of fire spread and airliner evacuation respectively. The Medical Division of the Office of Aviation Safety of the US Civil Aeronautics Administration (now FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute) organized evacuation studies and live tests in 1951 and 1952, jointly with the George Washington University, the US Air Force and three airlines: American Airlines, PAWA and TWA. This gave insight into the limitations imposed by exit sizes, sill-to-ground distance and descent assist means as well as human performance and interaction during evacuations. A new regulatory formula was drafted for prescribing exit numbers, sizes and locations which in essence is still in use today.
In the same period, NACA (now NASA) conducted full-scale tests in which self-propelled Curtiss C-46 and Fairchild C-82 aircraft sped along a monorail into concrete obstacles to study fuel fire ignition and propagation patterns and their effect on survival time for occupants.
Although the two scientific programs were done in isolation from each other, their results were merged and ripened the idea of a maximum evacuation time. Even before that, already in December 1951, the CAB had proposed a 90-second evacuation time limit but, this met with resistance from operators. The scientific evidence, aggravated by many more accidents, was needed to overcome that. Eventually, more than one and a half-decade later, a firm evacuation demonstration time limit was introduced, with conditions tighter than those proposed in 1951. More about this in a later part.
The airlines did not pick up the new accident trend as quickly. Rather, over the decade more airlines issued ditching safety instructions. In North America, these were Braniff, Canadian Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines and Trans-Canada Airlines. In Europe, Iberia (Spain), LAI (Italy), KLM (Netherlands), Olympic Airways (Greece), Sabena (Belgium) and TAI (France). In the rest of the world such major airlines as Avianca (Colombia), Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong), Civil Air Transport (Taiwan), JAL (Japan) and TACA (El Salvador) educated their passengers on ditching preparations.
Three front pages of typical 1950s ditching leaflets are reproduced: Iberia, Eastern Air Lines and KLM.
There was one airline that did recognize at an early stage the land evacuation scenario as serious and dedicated a safety leaflet to it. Not surprisingly, this was United Airlines, the airline of the 1947 La Guardia accident. Its president since 1934, William Patterson was known to care about the happiness and welfare of others and, like others, must have been deeply touched by that accident. From a 1981 biography: ‘Concern for safety had always been a major deterrent to airline travel, and improved safety was one of “Pat” Patterson’s major goals. During his 36 years with United, he personally inspected close to 70 percent of United’s accidents in order to obtain a personal feel for the extent of loss and the hardships brought upon the persons involved.’
When the ‘coach’ class was introduced in 1952 under strict CAB regulations, this meant lower fares, which would reduce revenue. To compensate for that, aircraft passenger capacities had to be increased. US airlines were happy to do so, but one: United Airlines. Patterson used the ‘evacuation card’ (no pun intended) to try and reverse this trend which in his view was unsafe. He staged, with the help of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory of Buffalo, New York, a series of full-scale evacuations of a 66-seat DC-4 (the normal seating on a United DC-4 was 44, so a 50% increase). Passengers were offered a scenic ride over Niagara Falls, then land back at Buffalo where a surprise evacuation was ordered. In one case, the aircraft actually did develop a major engine problem and reportedly landed at Syracuse! The results he would then use to try and convince the CAB that increasing capacities would be hazardous. This plan did not work out,. Yet, possibly as a follow-on to those tests, United Airlines introduced in early 1953 a safety folder specific to the land evacuation scenario for its domestic, non-overwaterDC-4s and DC-6s. This leaflet, in style and appearance, was completely different from the ditching leaflet used for the overwater fleet. It was called ‘the egress’ and issued in both a yellow as well as a blue version. A later revision (c. 1956) is also known. Note that the main doors are equipped with an escape chute but others only have a rope.
William A. Patterson of United Airlines, Richard E. Hattwick, Journal of Behavioral Economics, Volume 10, Issue 2, Winter 1981.
transcript of Emergency Evacuation Technical Conference, Seattle, September 6, 1985, Volume IV, p. 622.
Regulation of Air Coach Service Standards, Stanley Berge, Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Volume 20, Issue 1, 1953.
Chutes replace ropes
Towards the end of the decade airlines did add safety instructions for emergency landings on land in addition to, or instead of, those on water. At the same time, passengers were no longer briefed to wait for the crew to open exits, they were instructed how to open them themselves (see Sabena illustration below), or how to deploy and use escape chutes.
The chutes needed to be held taut by two ‘able bodied persons’ who had to jump down first. Still, they formed an improvement over the escape ropes and Jacob’s ladders that were the only descent assist means a few years before. A glance at the instructions for attaching floor straps to ensure that the chute would work will tell you that this would not be easy, especially for novices under stressful conditions. Yet, that was the state-of-the-art in 1957. Self-supporting, inflatable escape slides were about to be invented.
How were the safety leaflets circulated? The pre-war practice of issuing flight information packets (‘kits’) to passengers with a host of promotional material was continued well into the 1950s. In a pocketed folder were stacked such items as postcards, route maps, timetables, suggestion forms, stationary, destination brochures and even small dictionaries. Somewhere inconspicuously hidden in between was the safety folder. All was for the passenger to keep as a souvenir. No ‘do not remove from aircraft’ caveats yet. That would come later, as we will see in a future edition of this series. But before that we will look in the next edition what the beginning of the jet age meant for safety cards.
Illustrations reproduced from author’s collection, except for United and TWA 1943 and United ‘s ‘The Egress.’
The Nord 262 was an early turboprop regional airliner built in France.
It traces its origins to the single-engine, eight-passenger Max Holste MH-1521M Broussard light utility transport flown by a handful of civil operators and the French Army and Air Force that was subsequently developed into the larger M-250 Super Broussard. Powered by two 600-hp Pratt and Whitney R-1340 piston Wasp engines, it accommodated between 17 and 23 passengers.
Although it proceeded no further, it served as the prototype for the even more ambitious MH-260, which introduced a 4.7-foot fuselage stretch and turbine powerplants—in this case, two 986-hp Turbomeca Bastan IV turboprops. First taking to the air on January 29, 1960, it seated up to 30 passengers. While it was the most capable of all the previous variants, it lacked pressurization—a deficiency remedied with the MH-262.
Because of the November 23 agreement for state-owned Nord Aviation to assume responsibility for the program, the aircraft was re-designated Nord 262, although 10 original MH-260s (Nord 260s) were produced, the first of which first flew on January 29, 1962. Two European commuter carriers—France’s Air Inter and Norway’s Wideroe Flyveselskap—operated them on a provisional basis, but they were replaced by the definitive Nord 262 production variant, whose most notable variation was the replacement of its original, square-section fuselage with a circular one that facilitated a 26-passenger, three-abreast capacity with an offset aisle.
Powered by two 1,080-hp Bastan VIB2 turboprops, it first flew in prototype form on December 24, 1962. The first production example, featuring a dorsal fin for increased vertical axis stability, took to the sky two years later, on July 8, 1964, and was awarded its French type certification eight days later.
The first four aircraft, perhaps confusingly, were designated Nord 262Bs, while all others, which incorporated minor improvements, were known as Nord 262As.
With a 63.3-foot overall length and elliptical passenger windows, they featured a high-mounted, straight wing with a 71.10-foot span and 592-square-foot area, and a conventional tail. The single-wheel main undercarriage units retracted upward into lower fuselage side fairings. The maximum takeoff weight was 23,370 pounds and cruise speed was 235 mph. Payload-to-fuel ratios took its range from 605 miles with the former to 1,095 miles with the latter.
Air Inter, which ultimately operated six, inaugurated the type into service on the Paris-Quimper route on July 24, 1964.
The coveted goal of any foreign aircraft manufacturer was penetrating the US market and Nord Aviation succeeded in doing so when Lake Central Airlines ordered a dozen 262s and inaugurated the first into service in May of 1965.
After Lake Central’s takeover by Allegheny Airlines three years later, it wore its colors and, still later, those of Allegheny Commuter. The milestone indicated two important factors—namely, that the US lacked its own commuter aircraft counterpart and that its reliable service saw its operation for a considerable interval.
According to USAir’s (which Allegheny became) March 2, 1982 system timetable, “USAir and Allegheny Commuter—a great team to go with. Service to over 120 cities in the US and Canada.
“All flights C500 through C1999 are operated by independent contractors under an agreement with USAir approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board,” it continued. “These flights are operated by Beech 99, de Havilland Twin Otter, de Havilland Dash-7, Nord 262, M-298, Shorts 330, CASA-212, and Swearingen Metro equipment.
“USAir’s big jet fleet serves over 70 cities throughout its expanding network. Allegheny Commuter’s modern jet-props serve over 50 mid-size cities quickly and economically. From Allegheny Commuter’s mid-size cities, you get convenient schedules to and from USAir’s major cities.”
Although its Nord 262s were in a three-abreast configuration, the right-side seat pairs consisted of a single unit with two seatbelts and pitch was minimal, leaving one passenger to exclaim, as she impressed her knees into the unit in front of her, “This is called ‘wear a plane!”
One flight attendant served the then-standard beverages and peanut packets from a tiny galley and there were copies of USAir’s in-flight magazine in all seat pockets.
The type was instrumental in providing feed to USAir’s Pittsburgh and Philadelphia hubs from small, ill-equipped airports with low demand, but nevertheless provided connections to the carrier’s jet route system with a single ticket and through-checked baggage.
Although 67 Nord 262As were ultimately produced, their lack of Pratt and Whitney PT6 turboprop engines inhibited further sales. This was remedied when Frakes Aviation converted nine of Allegheny’s aircraft with 1,180-hp, five-bladed propeller PT6A-45s and introduced improved systems, resulting in the Mohawk 298. The Mohawk name was to reflect the remembrance of Allegheny’s merger with Mohawk Airlines. The 298 designation was in deference to the Federal Air Regulation (CAB Part 298) under which they operated. The new M-298 also included the installation of a Solar APU installed in the starboard main landing gear sponson. First flying on January 7, 1975, the upgraded version was certified on October 19, 1976, and entered Allegheny Service the following April. Nine of these Nord 262s converted to the Mohawk 298 standard were operated by Allegheny Airlines on routes too small for their shrinking fleet of Convair 580s but requiring something larger than Beech 99 or Twin Otter equipment. So a new Allegheny “Metro Express” operation was placed in service in certain selected cities. The M-298s continued in operation until one of the nine aircraft was involved in an accident. Subsequently, the remaining eight aircraft were sold to two of the Allegheny Commuter carriers, Middletown, Pa. based Pennsylvania Commuter Airlines and North Philadelphia, Pa. based Ransome Airlines.
Two other variants were built—the 262C or Fregate, with four-bladed, 1,145-hp Bastan VII turboprops and a two-foot, 3.75-inch fuselage stretch that first flew in July of 1968; and its military 262D counterpart, 18 of which were operated by the French Armee de l’Air.
Aside from Allegheny, Allegheny Commuter, and Lake Central, the type was operated by Altair, Swift Aire, Golden Gate, Pompano Airways to name a few as well as Pocono and Ransome Airlines (the latter two comprising part of the Allegheny Commuter Consortium) in the US; and Alisarda, Cimber Air, Dan-Air, Delta Air Transport, Linjeflyg, Rhein Air, and Tempelhof Airways in Europe.
A total of 110 Nord 262s of all versions were produced.
December 15, 2009 was the last flight of the last TriStar off the production line. Number 250 of 250. It was to be an unceremonious and woefully ungracious end to the life of this significant airplane. A ferry from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to what would ultimately prove to be its final resting place in Ras al Khaimah, UAE. Un-pressurized. Landing gear mechanically pinned in the down position. We were directed to take the airplane there ostensibly for storage until its D check could be accomplished, at the completion of which it would be returned to service. But those of us on the crew . . . well, we had all seen Big Guy’s lips move before. We knew the truth.
It began life as manufacturer’s serial number 193G-1250. Originally bound for the Royal Flight division of the government of Algeria, it was instead bought by Saudi Royal Flight. It was registered as HZ-HM5 during its years of service flying the Saudi Royal family, but with the purchase by my company, it was re-registered as N389LS. One of only two TriStars to come out of the factory in VIP configuration, its place in the production line was not the only thing that made the airplane unique.
My lifelong affair with the TriStar began the summer that I was 14 on a family trip to Indianapolis, home of my mother’s sister and her husband. A few times a year we would pack up the family car and make the two-hour trek to see Uncle Ed and Aunt Winnie. My dad and my Uncle Ed were very close not only in their familial relationship but in age, disposition, and history. Both were simple country boys who grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression. Together they would talk, with my Uncle Ed perpetually tending to his omnipresent pipe, occasionally fascinating me by blowing smoke rings. They would laugh and remember, talking about things understood only by those who share that common background. Through the windowpane of my childhood eyes, Indianapolis was a huge city, and during our drives from my small southwestern Indiana hometown of Washington, those eyes would only grow wider as I saw the landscape change from the rolling hills, rural farms, and small towns of southern Indiana to the highways, traffic, and skyscrapers of the big city.
I grew up wanting to be a pilot. Honestly, I don’t really know how that all got started. While growing up most kids go through the stages of wanting to be a policeman, a fireman, or a baseball player. Not so with me. I never went through any of those phases. Nobody in my family ever had anything to do with airplanes. No relatives or close family friends were pilots or were in the military, no one I knew was an airplane mechanic or any of the sort. I just know that I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I read books about airplanes, drew pictures of airplanes, and built model airplanes. When I was about 6 years-old mom and dad bought a red plastic toy DC-8 from the local Murphy’s store on Main Street in my hometown. It was my very first toy airplane. I have that toy airplane to this day. It figures prominently in my curio cabinet at home, along with my original student pilot logbook, a whiskey compass from a TriStar, a Litton LTN-211 Omega CDU, and other treasured memorabilia significant to my career. Although it is quite a bit worse for the wear, with lots of scratches, scrapes, and even a missing engine nacelle, all accumulated by a small child playing with it almost incessantly, it is among my most precious possessions.
On every trip we took to Indianapolis my parents would treat me to a stop at the Indianapolis airport. This was long before “Indianapolis International” existed. At that point in history, it was named Weir Cook Airport. There was a small airport park at the corner of High School Road and Pierson Drive. The park was nothing spectacular, just a couple of picnic tables, a few maple trees, and a small parking lot oriented so you could watch the airplanes land. The approach end of the runway was right across the street from the airport park, separated from the airport park by only Pierson Drive and a security fence. When landing, the airplanes would seem so close it looked like you could hit one with a rock. I would watch with fascination as the 727s, DC-9s and 737s would come across “the fence” for landing.
Back on the ramp in Riyadh, we were preparing for the ferry to Ras al Khaimah. It was really troubling me that the airplane’s last flight was going to suffer the humiliation of being flown all the way with the landing gear pinned down. We had to fly it unpressurized; there was no real way around this requirement. But to fly it on its last flight without retracting the gear was unconscionable in my mind. The main reason for these requirements was that the airplane was out of date on just about every maintenance inspection that was due. Engines, landing gear, everything was out of date. The benefactor of meticulous maintenance by Saudi Royal Flight, it was obvious that the airplane was mechanically sound, and it had just been ferried from Jeddah to Riyadh a few months earlier with zero issues. But rules are rules and given its out-of-inspection status these were the requirements we had to meet. I talked with Steve and Mike, my close friends who were the other two members of the cockpit crew. They shared my sentiment that this was no way to ferry this airplane. We came up with an alternate plan.
I told the maintenance crew preparing the airplane for the ferry that I didn’t want the gear pinned down.
The Saudi maintenance supervisor frowned. “Captain, that is part of the ferry permit procedure. The gear is out of inspection. We are required to pin the gear for the ferry flight.”
Implementing our plan with as stern of a face as I could muster, I said that I understood, but my concern was safety of flight. Given that the engines were out of inspection status, I wanted to be able to retract the gear after takeoff in the event we had an engine failure. In such an event, being able to retract the gear would be critical to the airplane’s performance. With all the drama I could summon for my performance, I told them that I’d hate to have to explain why a former Saudi Royal Flight airplane was a smoking hole in the Saudi desert only because the Captain was prevented from retracting the landing gear after an engine failure because of a paperwork requirement. I knew good and well that an engine failure wouldn’t result in such a catastrophic event, but I thought the theater might add a sense of urgency and credibility to my request. I proposed to him that we would leave the gear extended for the flight unless we had an engine failure, but I wanted the ability to retract the gear if it was necessary. Pinning the landing gear would make that option impossible.
“Captain, I must check with my manager.” My Saudi friend then scurried off, disappearing into the hangar and up the stairs.
The summer of my 14th year we were at the little airport park when I saw my first TriStar. When it first came into view on the approach, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it was bigger than any other airplane we normally see. It turned out to be an Eastern L-1011, and when it came into full view, I thought it was the most beautiful airplane I’d ever seen. The sun gleamed off its polished aluminum livery. The center engine was stylishly molded into the fuselage. Unlike the DC-10, whose number two engine sat up in the middle of the vertical stabilizer giving it the appearance of being a clumsy afterthought, the TriStar’s number 2 engine conversely gave the airplane a sleek, elegant, aerodynamic profile. The word “Whisperliner” was painted on the side. On the approach it looked as if the nose was pitched up higher than other airplanes, giving it the aura of nobility and pride, a look no other airplane I saw had. I was mesmerized. It was love at first sight. From that moment on I was completely enamored with the airplane. I knew right then and there what airplane I wanted to fly. I stopped drawing pictures of 747s and started drawing pictures of TriStars.
Over the next months I would write to the Lockheed factory and ask for pictures of the airplane. As an adult looking back, I can envision a secretary in an office reading a handwritten letter from a teenage boy asking for pictures of the airplane. I like to think that secretary had a smile on her face as she placed some pictures in an envelope and put them in the mail to this kid from Indiana.
That same summer I had my first flying lesson in a Piper Colt. Oftentimes, as adults reflecting on our childhood, we’re apt to remember times when we can honestly say that under the same circumstances, we’re not sure if we’d have done the same thing our parents did. Such was the case with my starting flying lessons. I had read in the regulations that you could solo a glider at the age of 14. Upon encountering this revelation, I marched my 14-year-old self into the living room where my dad was sitting, showed him the reg, and announced I wanted to start flying lessons. In my now-adult brain, I think I would’ve responded to that declaration with something like, “Well son, let’s wait until you’re a little bit older. If you’re still interested, then we’ll see.” A perfectly logical and doubtless-typical-parental response to a young teenager asking to start something that ambitious, not to mention expensive, at such a tender age. However, that’s not what my dad said. He looked at the book with the reg in it, looked back at me, and said, “Let’s go to the airport this Saturday and see what we have to do.” With that pronouncement from my dad my flying career started.
On my first lesson, the airplane wasn’t 100 feet in the air before I knew that I had discovered how I wanted to spend my life. It was so much better than it was in my imagination. In the following years, I soloed and received my Private Pilot’s certificate before I graduated from high school. All that time the letters to Lockheed continued, the L-1011 pictures and drawings kept coming, and I never forgot the TriStar that I saw in Indianapolis that day. But as I matured and started to learn more about the realities of how aviation works, I came to realize that it wasn’t as simple as showing up at an airline that flies the TriStar and saying, “I want to fly the L-1011.” Before anything else happens, you have to be hired by an airline that flies the airplane. And to get hired by that airline you must have mountains of experience. Then, once you manage to get hired at said airline you must reach the seniority level that allows you to hold that particular airplane. I came to realize that the TriStar was much further away than it seemed that day at the little airport park. I frowned at the thought that I would never get to fly the airplane I dreamed about.
Onward and upward. The years went by. Gathering my ratings, flight-instructing throughout college building experience, I managed to eventually be hired by a local commuter airline. But as time went by more reality began to set in. I had been flying the Fairchild FH-227/F-27 for a few years, which was a Part 121 airplane, but I didn’t have a significant amount of jet time, nor did I have military flying experience. At that specific point in airline history, both were virtually requirements to get a job flying for a major airline.
The calendar had now advanced to 1987. It was 13 years hence from my first TriStar encounter at the little airport park. The TriStar had been in service for 15 years. Production of the TriStar ceased three years earlier and the clock was ticking on its service life. Technology was changing. Just two years before the FAA approved 120-minute ETOPS operations and was now considering allowing 180-minute ETOPS. Translated to English that means routes that were once the exclusive domain of 3- and 4-engine airplanes could now be flown by airplanes with only two engines. TWA, one of the airlines that operated my beloved TriStar, had recently spent millions bringing their B-767-200 fleet up to 120-minute ETOPS standards because of the fuel savings vs. the TriStar on a transatlantic flight. The tea leaves weren’t hard to read. Even if I got hired by an airline today it would be many years before I held the seniority that would allow me to fly the airplane. That realization, and the gravity behind it, saddened me.
“Captain, my manager says he will approve the gear pins being left out, but you must agree to leave the gear extended unless an engine failure or other emergency occurs.”
“I will agree to that, no problem” (trust me…heh heh), I said making a concerted effort to conceal the elation that desperately wanted to appear on my face. The stage was set. There wasn’t going to be any gear down ferry for this airplane’s final flight. The requirement to fly the airplane unpressurized was a different story, not something we could worm our way around based on a technicality. We had to file a flight plan that would reveal our requested cruise altitude, and a copy of the flight plan had to be provided to the Saudi civil aviation authorities as part of the ferry permit. Even if we were to ask ATC to climb to a higher altitude after takeoff the authorities would know about it, and we might later have some explaining to do. One typically doesn’t request an “emergency climb” to altitude. So, we were stuck with flying unpressurized. But the indignity of a stiff-legged ferry flight was now, unbeknownst to our Saudi hosts or anyone but those of us on the crew, history.
The time came to depart. There existed a paradox, an incongruity in my emotions on this flight. It was quite a thrill for me to be flying the last TriStar ever built, but at the same time, that excitement was wholly deflated by the fact that unless Big Guy’s lips weren’t moving in their usual fashion it was very, very likely this would be the airplane’s final flight. The engines were started one by one. The sounds, the sensations now so very familiar to me after my years flying the airplane, were all present as the airplane performed exactly as it was designed to during the engine start. The familiar growl of the Rolls-Royce engines as they accelerated after ignition, the starter valves closing at 46% N3 RPM, the sound of the air rushing into the cockpit as the packs were turned on . . . all was as it was supposed to be.
Some of us are fortunate enough during our careers to encounter what I think Ernest K. Gann may have called a “Fate is the Hunter” moment. Sometimes things happen serendipitously that you couldn’t have gotten to work out no matter the level of planning or preparation. One of those moments occurred for me at an Italian restaurant in Pittsburgh while doing simulator training for new hires on the FH-227. My close friend Gene Freeman had been hired by American Trans Air the previous fall. Gene had been flying the BAC-111 for our regional airline. Doubtlessly the most brilliant individual I’ve ever known personally, Gene was an accomplished pilot. He encouraged me to apply to American Trans Air, which of course I did. It was no small incentive for me to do so given that American Trans Air operated TriStars, having acquired nine of them from Delta Air Lines in 1986. I applied but received not even an acknowledgment that my application was delivered. Very little jet time, no military experience. It was no surprise to me.
It was my tradition to take new hires out to dinner at this wonderful little Italian place the evening prior to commencing our simulator training. Always consisting of only the three of us that would be present in the simulator, this was more of a team-building exercise than anything. Additionally, it was a chance to calm the nerves of what were usually young pilots embarking on their first encounter with Part 121 airline training. We would sit and talk, discuss the upcoming sim training and how it would be conducted. What the expectations were, etc. It can be quite stressful on a young person experiencing their first training of this type. My goal was to get the trainees to relax so they had a better chance of succeeding.
As providence would have it, seated at the table next to us there was an older gentleman with two younger fellows. After a period of time, the older gentleman leaned over and said he’d been hearing some of our conversation and asked if we were pilots? I said yes, we are. He then asked who we flew for and what airplane were we flying? I answered his query, and his reply surprised me. He said, “I’m the Director of Training for American Trans Air and we’re here doing 727 sim training.” Responding in a way that is quite uncharacteristic for me, from whence it came I don’t know to this day, I blurted out, “Is that right? I sent an application in to you guys, and you didn’t even respond to me.”
After realizing how that probably came across to him, I was shocked at the tone of insolence I had probably just conveyed. He responded by telling me to come to the 727 simulator the next day after our training period was finished. He said, “we’ll put you in the 727 sim and see if you can fly.”
The simulator flight went great, and I was offered an interview at American Trans Air. I dared hope that the TriStar was in reach. American Trans Air had just bought the airplanes not even two years previously. They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But my Ernest Gann moment had not yet fully played out. At the completion of my American Trans Air interview, I was told that the company had a full complement of 727 pilots, but they were short on L-1011 crews. I would be hired as an L-1011 copilot!
The elation, the ecstasy I felt at that moment is beyond my poor power to articulate. The dreams of a 14-year-old boy had just come true. The letters to and pictures from Lockheed all those years ago didn’t seem silly anymore. I wished I could talk to the kind secretary who sent them to me all those years ago, but I didn’t even know her name. I know not whom to credit for my inconceivable gift of good fortune. God, prayer, fate, destiny, or maybe just plain ol’ blind, dumb, stupid luck…perhaps a combination of all of them . . . I’m not really sure. The only thing I can say for certain is that dreams do come true, because at that moment mine did. No one will ever convince me otherwise. The first person I called to tell was my mother. My father unfortunately had passed away a couple of years previous, but no one would understand the depth of what this meant to me more than my parents.
We lifted off the ground at Riyadh bound for Ras al Khaimah. Our “evil plan” for the landing gear was to leave it extended until we were certain we were no longer under the observation of the control tower at Riyadh and certainly out of view of the maintenance facility we left from. After that . . . up came the landing gear. The airplane was now clean and flying like she was meant to fly, although just at a much lower altitude. We cruised at 9,000 feet to avoid the necessity of wearing oxygen masks. We looked at each other and laughed, all self-satisfied with our landing gear coup.
As we proceeded along with the flight, we came to appreciate that we were cruising at such a low altitude. For one, thing we were slow, restricted to 250 knots indicated below 10,000 feet. Between the speed and our low cruise altitude, we enjoyed a view of the Saudi desert that we would’ve never had on a normal flight. The dunes of the desert were clearly visible, spotted with the occasional camel herd which we could easily see. We avoided Qatari airspace to the south and set our course just off the UAE coast flying over the waters of the Persian Gulf. We could see the oil rigs clearly. It was an amazing sight that few people get to experience. Ras al Khaimah sits very near the tip of the horn of the Saudi peninsula that defines the Strait of Hormuz. We could see the oil tankers. Our low cruise altitude and the crystal-clear desert weather provided us a vista that we otherwise would have never been able to witness.
The Ras al Khaimah runway was now in sight. The excitement of the sights we enjoyed during our flight is now completely overcome by the finality of the landing. The closest I can come to describing my feelings were that sense of sadness and regret that one feels when they are taking their beloved pet to the vet to be euthanized. While we know the purpose of our journey, our cherished pet knows nothing of it. Our pet merely trusts us to take it somewhere it is supposed to be. The throttles came back for what would be the very last time. There was a little anxiety as we lowered the gear. If it failed to extend then we were “busted”, and our plan exposed. But as it had done for the last 20+ years the airplane did what it was supposed to do. The flaps were extended, and I sat the TriStar down on the Ras al Khaimah runway as gently as I could. We taxied to the ramp very slowly, wanting to extend the flight for as long as we possibly could. We shut the airplane down, ran our securing checklists and the crew exited the airplane. I was the last one off of the airplane as I wanted to take a few pictures of the interior before deplaning. As I walked out of the cockpit I said aloud, as if the airplane could hear, “I’m sorry. I wish there were something I could do. I really do.” I took a couple of pictures of the airplane’s data plate as I exited the left forward entrance door.
Thus ended the last flight of the last TriStar. When we arrived at the hotel and I got to my room I was overwhelmed emotionally. I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you I didn’t shed a tear.
The TriStar and I had some incredible adventuresduring our time together, both prior to this flight and many afterwards. I flew the airplane on six continents. It took me to the Pyramids of Egypt, to the wonder and history of Europe, to the rain forests of South America, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and to see the ancient wonders of the Orient. Wake Island, Fiji, Pago Pago and other Pacific Island paradises. It saw my mother riding with me in the cockpit jumpseat from Washington Dulles to Indianapolis. It allowed me to fly with some of my heroes like Bill Weaver, Jeff Fowler, Don Moor, Bob Taylor and Rodney Boone. I was part of launching a rocket off the bottom of the airplane from 39,000 feet. Through the TriStar I met friends that I would have for life. Steve and Mike, my fellow crewmembers on the last flight of the last TriStar are still close friends with whom I have regular contact. It saw me as the TriStar Fleet Manager for American Trans Air for a bit over five years, a position and period which I look back upon as my proudest achievement in aviation. Along with my dear friend Gene Freeman and the dedicated, professional crews flying the TriStar we achieved a level of success with the airplane that our upper management not only disdained but frankly could simply not understand. Together Gene and I flew the airplane near the North Pole, reaching a latitude of 87 degrees north. No one else except the RAF has done so with the TriStar. I did things and went to places riding safely on the back of my magic TriStar carpet that was far beyond the wildest dreams and imagination of a teenage Indiana country boy.
Professionally I credit the airplane with evolving me into the pilot I became. Every professional pilot must pass through what I call a seasoning, a period where our skills, habits and attitudes are tempered in the crucible of experience and honed to a fine edge. The TriStar was a wonderful teacher to me in that respect. In the TriStar I learned to manage a widebody aircraft, learned to prioritize tasks and developed leadership skills. Today, even after flying marvelous airplanes such as the 747-400, I’m awed by the foresight the men and women who designed the TriStar possessed. Like the mobile phone and tablet devices we use today, its systems walk that fine line between being deeply complex yet not complicated in the operational arena. It gave me a deeper understanding of how airplanes work and how they fly and the difference between those two. There isa plethora of what one would consider small things in the airplane that someone obviously devoted a lot of time thinking about during design and development. Boeing’s magnificent 747-400, with its glass cockpit, FMS and two-pilot technology, is at its best merely a faint copy of the TriStar.
The pragmatists, the engineers, the skeptics who don’t believe an airplane can have a personality, will tell you that it’s impossible for a mechanical device such as an airplane to have a character or an essence. But they just don’t understand. I know of more than one poetic pilot who waxes lyrically about the soul of his airplane, anthropomorphizing the tons of aluminum, wire, cable and glass that make up his machine. But in the case of the TriStar, specifically in the case of the TriStar and me, there’s no doubt that in my mind the skeptics are dead wrong. I have a connection to the airplane that is rarely duplicated in my interactions with sentient beings. The airplane is a part of me, as surely as my hand or foot is. I’ve flown some wonderful airplanes during my career but none of them even come close to the TriStar. It does, and will always, define my career in aviation.
I was 25 years old, working for American Trans Air (ATA) at their headquarters in Indianapolis, IN as an Account Representative in the Sales Department, mostly on the phone, but occasionally traveling to observe U.S. operations with my charter customers-a dream job for this airline enthusiast!
We were in a regular morning meeting, going over that weekend’s upcoming charter flights. One of the Managers, who specialized in military charters, mentioned he would not be supervising that weekend’s U.S. Army Rangers charter from Pope Air Force Base, NC, to Aviano NATO Base, in Italy, due to Halloween plans. I didn’t have anything going on, so I volunteered to work it.
That was approved, and on October 30 I was sent on a USAir DC-9-31 to Cleveland, OH (CLE), where I would meet the crew and aircraft, a 727-22 (N284AT, formerly with United Airlines), and ride its ferry flight to Pope (POB). Since it was a weekend, I also volunteered to ride it over to Italy, rest with the crew, and then ride the ferry flight back to Indianapolis. This was actually cheaper for the company than the airline ticket cost from nearby Fayetteville, NC (FAY) to Indianapolis. It would be almost 20 years before I would log FAY, but this was a lot more fun! I was on a salary, so they didn’t incur any expense with me working on my days off. I think I ate all my meals on the plane.
Arriving at CLE, I walked out to the ticket counter area and met with our Ground Handler, who drove me out to the aircraft. The Boeing was parked remotely; this was my first time boarding an airliner away from a terminal, which was of course fun for me.
Fate intervened on approach to Pope, as we were advised that the airfield was closed. We diverted to nearby Raleigh (RDU), my first visit to that airport, where I would visit at least 100 times more in the early 2000s, when I was visiting my girlfriend, later fiancee, later wife, Pam! We parked at an Eastern Airlines gate, and I went inside (to a payphone!) to call Pope Base Operations to see how long the delay would be. I was told that a C-130 transport aircraft had blown tires, which had to be changed on the runway, and they were about ready to re-open. I passed that on to ATA Flight Dispatch. We launched on the recovery flight shortly thereafter. This was my first airliner diversion to an unplanned destination (I’d had an over-flight of an airport due to weather ten years earlier); my total now is 14 out of more than 6,500 flights, every one a good story!
We arrived at POB in the dark and commenced loading 65 Rangers and their equipment. I had a truckload of young soldiers to load the bellies, so it went quickly. The Rangers’ parachutes were loaded as “seat baggage” in the rear of the cabin, which had 129 seats (single class). Their weapons were in the cabin, but I was told that the firing pins had been removed.
We departed with no further delay on our two-stop mission to Italy, making fuel stops at Gander, Newfoundland (YQX) and Shannon, Ireland (SNN), without deplaning. All the airports on this trip were new to me. After attempting to sleep in a cabin seat, I moved to a cockpit jumpseat once we made landfall on the other side of the Atlantic. I observed that all our passengers were sleeping soundly-one of them had told me that they were happy to not have to parachute out, for a change! I enjoyed listening to ATC transmissions on a headset.
Our arrival was in the late afternoon at Aviano (AVB) and we were billeted at the Hotel Villa Ottoboni, in the nearest town of Pordenone. I still have (yes, I got permission to take it) a little plastic tray from the bar there, that one would put their payment on, and I use it every day to store my change!
I was exhausted and went right to sleep, getting up just in time to head back to the airport, but I remember the flight attendants went out on the town-impressive! They would sleep on the trip back, but I didn’t want to miss anything! I don’t remember anything special about the departure, as it was still dark outside.
We made an uneventful fuel stop at Shannon; but, at Gander, the crew decided they wanted to eat something other than the provided catering. I volunteered to purchase everyone’s Fish and Chips meals for lunch. I have no passport stamp for my visit, so don’t believe that I officially entered Canada-probably just used the snack bar in the Transit Lounge. We were the only international arrival at the time.
Finally returning to our IND base, the Customs Officer met us in the jet bridge and cleared us right there-I felt like a VIP!
Captain Baker wrote up a nice review of my participation, recommending that this be done more often. Alas, a week later, the company found themselves in a financial crisis and needed to cut costs immediately. I was furloughed on November 9, but within a few days, was hired at USAir as a part-time Customer Service Agent at IND. I don’t think I would have ever left ATA if they hadn’t laid me off; that was a great place to work for a young airline enthusiast who didn’t need to make much money!
Sun Country began operations in January 1983 as a charter airline with a single 727-200. Its inaugral flight was Sioux Falls, SD to Las Vegas, NV. Many of the employees were former Braniff employees which shutdown in 1982. Sun Country expanded its charter business with additional 727s and added DC-10s in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, Sun Country was the third-largest charter airline in the US.
Following the 9/11 attacks, Sun Country shut down and filed for bankruptcy in December 2001. The airline re-emerged and began scheduled operations. Ownership would change hands numerous times and included an FBI investigation for financial fraud. Their business model evolved into a ULCC model and remains heavily leisure-focused. In 2020, the airline operated its first all-cargo flight for Amazon under the Prime Air banner. Today, the airline operates scheduled, charter, and cargo services. According to the airline’s website, they operate only 737 jets: 34 passenger aircraft and 12 freighters.
The Shorts Skyvan, a light freight transport, and the 330 and 360 commuter airliners that were based upon it, were rugged and reliable aircraft, the latter facilitating the growth of then-developing regional carrier route structures.
Based upon an amalgamation of two conceptually similar designs, the HDM.106 and the HDM.107 that Short Brothers of Belfast, Northern Ireland, purchased from F. G. Miles in 1958, the eventual Skyvan used the foundation laid by both for a utility and small cargo aircraft, whose development commenced the following year. It was initially designated the PD.36.
Stubby and short, it was hardly the sleekest airframe in the sky, but its features were necessary for its intended missions, including twin engines; a high-mounted, straight wing with an aspect ratio of 11; a box-resembling fuselage with slab sides and an internal, 6.6-square-foot cross-section; an aft loading ramp operable in flight; dual vertical tails; and a fixed tricycle undercarriage.
Powered by two 390-bhp Continental GTSIO-520 piston engines, the Skyvan 1 first flew in prototype form on January 17, 1963. Underpowered, it was retrofitted with 520-shp Turbomeca Astazou II turboprops, once again taking to the skies ten months later, on October 2, in whose guise it was provisionally known as the SC7/10 Skyvan 1A.
Yet a second powerplant change, this time to the even more capable 637-shp Astazou X, coupled with minor wing modifications and a lowered tailplane, resulted in the March 1965 variant, the Skyvan 1A series 2, for which Aer Alpi of Italy became the launch customer, placing an order for two aircraft.
The definitive production version, fitted with 730-shp Astazou XIH-1 engines, introduced several modifications, among them a more streamlined nose, larger, rectangular passenger windows to replace the original round ones, a single nose wheel, and with the ninth production airframe, a 31-inch cabin length increase, for a new, 18.7-foot total. Finally, a fuel capacity increase, from 175 to 225 Imperial gallons carried in four wing tanks.
High-elevation and –temperature airfield operations necessitated an even more capable version. Introducing 755-shp Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-201A turboprops, which drove three-bladed Hartzell propellers, and an increased 300-Imperial gallon fuel capacity, the resultant SC7 Skyvan 3, employing the now modified Mk 2 prototype, first flew on December 15, 1967.
With a 40.1-foot overall length and a 64.1-foot wingspan, it offered a 4,600pound payload, 12,500-pound gross weight, and 654-mile range with its maximum fuel and a 3,000-pound payload.
Because the flat ceiling and vertical walls of its boxy cabin provided considerable volume within a relatively small area, it offered flexible accommodation, from the previously quoted 4,600 pounds of cargo–comprised, if necessary, of small vehicles–to 12 stretchers and up to 22 single-class passengers. A convertible variant accepted palletized freight, with provision for its lightweight, slimline seats to be folded against the sidewalls.
Incorporating these features was the succeeding Skyvan 3M military version, which also introduced nose-installed weather radar, a roller-equipped loading system, and accommodation for 12 stretchers, 19 paratroopers, or up to 22 standard troops. More importantly, it offered increased maximum payload and takeoff weights of 5,000 and 13,500 pounds respectively.
The Austrian Air Force, the first to order the type, took delivery of its two examples on September 12, 1969.
A third-level or commuter airline variant, the Skyliner, incorporated passenger features, including a low-entry door on the aft, port side and a modernized cabin with individual air vent and reading light units, a small galley, and a lavatory.
Development of the passenger-configured Skyvan and Skyliner, undertaken to produce an inexpensive, unpressurized commuter airliner, resulted in several fundamental modifications that introduced higher capacities and sleeker lines.
A 12.5-foot forward fuselage stretch, for instance, coupled with a more pointed nose, afforded a 30-passenger capacity in a three-abreast, one-two, arrangement at a 30-inch seat pitch, complete with molded sidewalls and enclosed overhead storage compartments. A 9.9-foot insertion in the braced, high-mounted, supercritical wing took the span to 74.8 feet and its area to 453 square feet.
Power was provided by two Pratt and Whitney PT6A-45 turboprops, turning five-bladed propellers, while the tricycle undercarriage was retractable for the first time.
Launched after receipt of UK government financial aid on May 23, 1973, the aircraft, initially designated the SD3-30, first flew in prototype form on August 22 of the following year. A second one first flew on July 8, 1975 and the first production example took to the skies five months later, on December 15.
Although launch orders were placed by US-based Command Airways and Canada-based Time Air, the latter, in fact, was the first to inaugurate the type into service on August 24, 1976.
Succeeding the baseline Shorts 330-100, the 330-200, announced in 1981, offered 1,020-shp PT6A-45R engines, whose power increased to 1,198-shp when the “r”—for “reserve”—was used. With a 7,500-pound payload and a 22,900-pound gross weight, this variant carried 3,840 pounds of fuel, but, like all others in the Skyvan/Skyliner/330 series, it suffered from speed deficiencies, only cruising at between 180 and 200 mph.
Aside from US launch customer, Command Airways, other US regional operators included Golden West Airlines, Mississippi Valley Airlines and Metro Airlines. These three carriers, Henson Aviation, Suburban and Chautauqua Airlines all operated under the Allegheny Commuter banner. Lastly, not to be left out was Burlington, Vermont based Air North.
Aer Lingus and Olympic were major European operators of the type.
A military version, the C-23A Sherpa, featured an aft loading ramp. Some Shorts 360 aircraft were converted to become C-23A Sherpas.
Production, which ceased in 1992, totaled 136 examples of all variants.
The Shorts 360, the definitive development of the Skyvan and the 3-30, introduced a three-foot forward fuselage plug for a new 70.6-foot length, a redesigned aft portion with a tapered profile, a swept, single vertical tail, two additional seat rows for a 36-passenger total, uprated, 1,194-shp PT6A-65R engines, a 25,700-pound maximum takeoff weight and higher cruise speeds, of up to 243 mph.
Suburban Airlines, operating under the Allegheny Commuter consortium, placed the launch order with aircraft N360SA, seen in the photo below.
First flying in prototype form on June 1, 1981 and certified on September 3 of the following year, it entered service two months later.
Advanced versions, introduced in 1985 and 1987, featured higher rated engines and six-bladed propellers before production, totaling 165 aircraft, ended in 1991.
Being a Private Pilot and Aircraft Dispatcher for several decades, I’ve always been interested in various aspects of aerial navigation. In the mid-1990s, with GPS navigation on the horizon, I decided it was time to document the “brick and mortar” navaids. My favorite is the VOR station- that stands for very high frequency, omni-directional range.
These short-range navigation facilities exist worldwide, and were developed by the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration in the late 1930s, and perfected during WWII. These beacons transmit a signal in 360 directions (radials) over a VHF frequency, in the range of 108-117.95 MHz. Pilots tune in that frequency and the receiver in the aircraft directs them to fly to or from that VOR. It also allows them to identify and intercept certain radials, for en-route navigation (on so-called Victor Airways below 18,000 feet above mean sea level, or on Jet Routes, above Flight Level 180) as well as instrument approach procedures. The intersection of two radials, from two different VORs, can also allow one to determine their present position.
I concentrate on those in the United States, so this article will focus on those maintained by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the successor to the CAA. There are other aviation navaids, but VORs are large, easily identifiable structures, so they caught my eye first.
VORs basically come in two versions, one that looks sort of like a big bowling pin, and another, the Doppler variety, which is typically elevated above the surrounding terrain, when nearby structures might affect the signal, which is usable in “line of sight” only. Some are classified as VORTACs, because they have the military’s TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation) system built-in, which provides similar information. There are also VOR-DMEs, which provide distance to the station. More detailed information can be found on wikipedia.com. They can be identified in flight by the Morse code of their identifier, aurally broadcast on the same frequency.
Here is an example of the Doppler VOR:
The technology, the world standard for more than 50 years, is still in use, but GPS (also known as GNSS-Global Navigation Satellite System) now dominates aerial navigation. The FAA is decommissioning most VORs over the next few years, but keeping what they call a Minimum Operational Network (MON), to provide basic conventional navigation service for operators to use if GNSS becomes unavailable.
The MON is intended to provide signal reception starting at above 5,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) over the continental United States, giving pilots the ability to navigate to a MON airport within 100 nautical miles and conduct an Instrument Approach without the use of GPS. This is planned to consist of 590 VORs, out of the almost 1,000 that existed in 2016, when de-commissioning began. So my hobby will continue for the indefinite future! While GPS is wonderful, it is vulnerable to some extent, and certainly has none of the “romance” or physical presence of the VOR system. Perhaps when the last VOR is de-commissioned, that will be my time to retire!
I appreciate both the history of the VOR system, because it was such an improvement over earlier systems of navigation, and, as a student of geography. My favorite VOR is the one nearest to my home, Brickyard (identifier: VHP), near Indianapolis, IN. I have dragged my wife Pam, even when we were dating, to a number of VORs, and she has a favorite too-Dove Creek (DVC) in southwest Colorado.
The first VOR in the U.S. was located at the Indianapolis municipal airport, now Indianapolis International (IND). This was the location of the CAA’s Technical Center at the time. Indianapolis VOR was moved about 7 miles northwest of the airport at some point, and the name was later changed from Indianapolis (IND) to Brickyard (a nickname for the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway) in the 1990s, to avoid confusion between the VOR and the airport, since they were no longer co-located.
They are mostly named for nearby towns or cities, but sometimes after people. They also have three-letter codes, like airports. Some unusual names are Crazy Woman (CZI) in Wyoming, and Gipper (GIJ) near South Bend, IN and Notre Dame University.
Here is an example of what a VOR/DME looks like on the St. Louis Aeronautical Sectional Aeronautical Chart showing the Samsville VOR:
Some are hard to find from the ground, because they are located on ridges or mountaintops, to provide an unobstructed signal. Others are easy, located right on airports. Their locations can be viewed on charts accessible via www.skyvector.com. In the “old days” before smartphones, I went on a few “wild goose chases” where I was unable to locate a VOR from ground level, much to the frustration of my wife! The Google Maps website (maps.google.com) has made it a lot easier to find them in advance of a search. Some come up in a location search, but for others you must enter the latitude and longitude (available from www.airnav.com).
When taking pictures of VORs, it’s important to stay on public property or get permission from the landowner. I’ve met some nice people this way, but it sometimes takes a bit of explanation as to why I am interested! I like that some people, even landowners, who receive payment for the use of their land, don’t know what those “bowling pins” are for.
I am a member of the Airline Dispatchers Federation (www.Dispatcher.org) and post a photo every month of a VOR, with clues as to its identity, for people to guess. Check it out, you don’t need to be a Dispatcher to play! The website can also be used to learn about the Dispatch profession, which I love.
Pictures of VORs from Captain’s Log readers around the world would be appreciated!
This article is dedicated to my wife, Pam, for putting up with many “VOR hunts,” and also to retired FAA technician Bill “Guido” Hyler, who has answered many of my VOR questions over the years.
As I was preparing my last article for the Captain’s Log, I was struck by the number of airlines in Central America which had connections with Pan American World Airways. The nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties saw the somewhat rapid and often chaotic development of air services in Central and South America. This area of the globe needed to move mail, people and cargo from many point As to many point Bs. The new opportunities were explored by local entrepreneurs and others from around the world. United States, German, French and Italian entities tried and failed or in some cases succeeded in establishing airlines in South America.
One name, Juan Terry Trippe, and one airline, Pan American World Airways feature prominently in this developing industry. PAA and Trippe, with the help of Charles Lindbergh, developed air routes along the east coast of the continent using both land and seaplanes. As new services were started, they went to these experts for technical and financial assistance. In other cases, such as the takeover of NYRBA by Panair do Brasil, the experts took over the competition. The old sports saying “You can’t tell the players without the program” holds true if one wants to try to follow the development of South American airlines. The best program would be Airlines of Latin America since 1919 by R.E.G Davies with more information about Pan American itself in Gene Banning’s Airlines of Pan American Since 1927.
Many of the insignia in my collection look as if PAA had a lot to do with the creation and/or operation of these South American carriers. In some cases this is true, but in others, the only connection is the similarity of insignia. Did the latter carriers just like the look of the PAA brass, or did they want the customers to assume a closer connection? We might never know.
I have also included several carriers which did not have any connection, but I found their insignia interesting.
Aero Peru, Aerolineas Argentinas, APSA, Area, C.A.U.S.A., Cruziero do Sul and NAB were independent, having no PAA connection. AVENSA was developed with PAA holding a 30 percent stake in the company. The PAA share of AVIANCA was 64 percent at its inception. Panair do Brasil was pretty much a Pan American Airways operation after the U.S. Post Office awarded it all of NYRBA’s mail contracts.
NAB, Navigasao Aerea Brasileira adopted the Pan American style wing for its pilot uniform.
Area, Aerovias Ecuatoriana, C. A. had an interesting connection with Pan American besides sharing the design of the cap badge. Area operated two Boeing 307 Stratoliners which had originally been operated by Pan American World Airways. An interesting “factoid” if ever there was one.