My Catalina Story

By Arthur Smit-Roeters

What it was like to fly on board a Catalina in the early 1950s in Indonesia

Recently, a good friend presented me with a fantastic book: 80 Years, A Tribute to the PBY Catalina, authored by Hans Wiesman. Some of my flying time in the 1950s with the national airline of Indonesia, Garuda Indonesian Airways (GIA), was being in the air as a steward on a PBY-5A Catalina amphibian flying boat, a period of pioneering. I remember being accepted for training after passing some tests and I was ready to make my first trip after about three weeks of classes. One of my first flights was on board a Catalina flying boat, an ex-WWII long-range patrol seaplane converted into one carrying 16 passengers. Long-forgotten images pop up in my mind.

The front office or cockpit was not my realm. Before today’s glass cockpits became the norm, in my days they had “steam gauges.” I flew on board a “steam gauge” airplane. A somewhat condescending term used to indicate a plane is equipped with old-fashioned and almost obsolete instruments. The electronic Flight Management System now commonplace had not appeared in anybody’s dream. The pilots were it. Navigation was by dead-reckoning and a simple Radio Direction Finder (RDF) was an essential piece of equipment. Yes, it was all manual labor. For me, 88 years old in 2018, it’s unbelievable how things have changed.

What a Garuda amphibian PBY-5A looked like inside

My workspace, located between the cargo area in the tail and cockpit, consisted of two cramped compartments, each holding eight passengers. The wheel wells were located between them. One had to stoop through three hatches to get to the front passenger compartment from the cargo area where my rudimentary pantry was located. I could almost lean on the cargo in my back when I was facing the portside located pantry in front of me. I had to stoop through another hatch, the fourth one, to get to the pilots.  

Each passenger had access to a life preserver. There were no emergency exits. An inflatable life raft was not part of the inventory. The lavatory was just a bucket covered by a seat and located in the tail section. Space was very limited and one could not stand straight up.

The only thing I didn’t like during my flying time was the smell of even an empty airsickness bag that was made of asphalt tar-impregnated paper. The smell induced the user to have a quicker barf time. Since the plane was not pressurized, we could not fly over the weather. Turbulence made this bag a popular item for an airsick passenger.

The inside of the plane was a bare-bones affair. Only the two cabins had a fuselage covering, the rest of the plane inside was just aluminum skin painted chromate green. There were no reading lights or airvents over the non-adjustable passenger seats. No night flights were scheduled, but there were delayed flights with arrival times past sundown. A sunken aisle divided each eight-passenger compartment along the keel into four seats on either side. Passengers faced each other. When two people sitting opposite each other wanted to stretch their legs they had to first figure out where to place their feet.

My guests had to board via a door with a high threshold where the port-side gun position was located in the war years. Thus, stairs with a lot of steps had to be rolled up to the side for entry or a bobbing launch when on water. After the first obstacle, the passenger had to crawl through the hatches in the bulkheads to get to the front cabin. There were no overhead bins and suitcases of all sizes had to stay in the cargo area, the space where once the two gun positions (blisters) were formerly located. Carry-ons as we know them today didn’t exist.

Getting aloft

Prior to getting aloft, I had to make sure everybody was strapped in. The sounds and sights of a Catalina flying boat takeoff from the water were always spectacular.

Before the start of an engine, one could hear the groaning and clanking valves as the propeller was rotated through nine or more blades with the ignition “off” to clear accumulated oil out of the bottom cylinders of the double-row, 14-cylinder engine. Then with ignition “on” the engine burped a few times before a smooth sound indicated all was going well.

After taking in the floating anchor and when the aircraft was lined up, takeoff power was applied and with the increasing speed, foam started to blow past the windows. The plane was about ready to leave the water when we could hear a sound like skimming over a gravel road under our keel, announcing the aircraft was hitting the top of the waves. With the two engines close overhead and no sound isolation, it was very noisy inside, but the auditory sensation of healthy engines was always music in my ears.


As seen from the aircraft’s window the jungle below looked like an endless and dense cauliflower field with an occasional bare patch where natives had slash burned the area and planted their corn or cassava. The soil looked yellowish. It certainly was not loam. Over the years hardwood trees were able to survive and thrive with the help of the monsoon rains with precipitation of 120-145 inches a year in the lowlands. A downed airplane would disappear in the dense jungle foliage. It seemed all the water in rivers had a brownish color and crocodiles were ever-present.

With an average cruising speed of 108 knots, and being in the air for many hours, it was difficult to get out of one’s seat for some leg stretching, but some people did.  The distance between Jakarta and Singapore is about 550+ miles. With a cruise speed of 108 knots per hour, the flight, with a stop in Billiton (Belitung), and a Singkep sea landing, made the flight an all-day affair. Logging 100 hours of flight time per month in PBY-5As, C-47s/DC-3s, and Convair 240/340s was almost normal for me.

Tasks on board

Once in the air, I doled out cold lemonade drinks, first to the cockpit crew since they were at their stations to do their checks long before the pax boarded. Then I went around with reading material including various magazines and newspapers. Safety cards? Are you kidding? On the Singapore flights, I had to help passengers with deciphering and filling out their customs and health forms printed in English. Inflight meals were very simple. No alcohol was served.

Flight impressions

I still remember landing on the river where the Dutch Bruynzeel lumber company had their sawmills at Sampit, a jungle outpost. The slow-moving river water had a brownish color due to suspended sawdust, tree saps, and rotting leaves. The employees were always happy to see the Catalina since we brought with us one or two tall wooden reinforced boxes filled with movie reels for their entertainment during the coming week.

Although a ground crew in their boat made sure that the landing surface was clear of obstacles, we always made a pass over the site, looking for submerged logs. We had no problems getting back in the air, but I remember there was a bend in the river at the end of the takeoff run. The tree-lined jungle river was wide enough for maneuvering when checking the magnetos of each 1200-horsepower P&W R-1830 before departing. It was great to look up at the tall trees on both sides of the “water runway” at the start and then feel how slowly but surely the big 104-foot span barn-door wing (it was not equipped with flaps) lifted us over the trees at a leisurely speed of 75 to 80 knots indicated air speed (KIAS) and then continued at a leisurely cruise speed of about 108 knots or about 124 mph.

All landings on smooth water were power landings. One time the captain allowed me up front to witness a stall landing, normally used when the waves were choppy. The airplane’s nose was up high and the rudder pedals were useless. The Dutch ex-Navy WWII cockpit crewmembers were excellent pilots and sailors.

I made many flights to Kallang Airport (Singapore), via Billiton (Belitung) Island and Singkep Bay where passengers were transported to and from the plane by a motor launch. On days when the sea had light swells, it was awkward to transfer some passengers between the up-and-down movements of the Catalina and the launch.  It took some time for the landlubbers to deplane or board.

 While waiting for the Singapore-bound passengers it became unbearably hot inside the plane. The crew, in various stages of undress, moved to the top of the wing. At one time the board engineer had to relieve himself and went to the end of the portside wing that had its wing float in the water. A devilish crewmember suggested that the rest of us run towards starboard at the “right” time and see if we could flip the engineer off the wing tip. Running towards the high starboard end, the portside float lost its suction, and the engineer, wearing only his briefs, lost his balance and tumbled into the sea. The few seagulls looking for handouts could not stand his loud and unhappy cursing and left.

Another time on short final to the steel-matted Billiton strip in bad weather, one of the engines acted up and the propeller had to be feathered. After circling the area at what seemed just above treetop level, the pilots spotted the strip, and then the remaining engine called it quits! The PBY became a big glider, which took up valuable runway space and thus overran the airstrip. No power meant losing hydraulic pressure in the lines and no brakes. We didn’t have to disembark in the mud since a truck picked us up. There was a light drizzle and our miserable bunch was taken to the terminal, a simple bamboo structure with a palm frond roof.

In the early 1950s, all countries along the western Pacific Ocean rim were still in the process of recovering from the devastation caused by the Japanese war machine. I remember many items were exorbitantly expensive if you could find them. This included nylon stockings, parachute nylon, yardage of nylon, yardage of silk, cigarettes like Lucky Strike and Chesterfield, Johnnie Walker Red or Black Label Scotch whiskey, oranges and apples imported from Europe, etc.

A few crewmembers thought they could make a quick buck, but since nobody was a professional smuggler, things didn’t turn out well. The customs people were smarter than the would-be smugglers.

I remember on a return trip from Singapore somebody was going to make a lot of money by illicitly importing a shipment of 144 cartons of Chesterfield cigarettes. The customs officials in Billiton got word about the attempt and the crew was warned about it while in flight. The response was quick and the big package was pushed out of the plane through the ventral gun hatch below in the tail. Some fishermen may have found lots of cigarettes, manna from Heaven, in their fishing nets,

Billiton customs always came on board to check for suspected contraband from Singapore. On a flight before me, they hit the jackpot. The Catalina had a wooden floor and when the law man picked up a loose string, he unknowingly untied a knot. A bundle of nylon burst out from under the floor. There was no owner who claimed this expensive shipment.

The crew always pulled jokes on each other. When the captain’s billfold, including passport and customs/health papers, landed on the floor under his seat, the front office staff decided to pull a good one on him. After landing in Singapore the Garuda representative was motioned to come up to the door. It was explained to him that after he received the captain’s belongings, he should move to a spot on the ramp below the portside cockpit window and then later get the attention of the man in the left seat. Then he would innocently explain that a plane before him had delivered his credentials. Our pilot in command was sweating bullets while he was crawling all over the cockpit to find his papers but was mighty happy that he got them back. Not having papers at an international airport meant problems galore. He was a good sport, but the rest of the crew knew revenge would be sweet.

I also remember flights from Jakarta to Pontianak via Billiton and landing on the wide Kapuas River in Borneo (Kalimantan). Once we were coming in (on the way to Pontianak) below treetop level to chase crocodiles sunning on mud banks alongside the river back into the water. It was no surprise to pull up and fly over a cargo ship that appeared in front of us. I was part of a crew on many Catalina flights to Balikpapan (a town dominated by a big oil refinery and oil tanks) routed via Banjarmasin (a major trading center). I had to give up my seat on the short ±75 mile flight from Balikpapan to Samarinda due to heavy passenger demand. There was room for only 16 people, eight per compartment. There was one compartment in front of the landing gear and one behind it. I had to stoop through hatches from the galley area to the cockpit with drinks and food. Those were the days. All the PBY pilots were easygoing and came from the Dutch Navy after WWII, which made them different from cockpit personnel manning other types of planes. 

I accompanied President Sukarno on a charter trip through the Lesser Sunda Islands on board the Catalina “Enu.” On a second trip with the president, he addressed me by my first name. Wow, what an honor. The “Djoronga” was the second plane accompanying us on this trip. During one of the flights a crew member, I think it was our wireless operator, with a good Leica 35mm camera (extremely expensive in those days) took some unique shots of the other PBY flying in close formation below us, through the opened gun hatch below in the tail.  See attached photo.

The Garuda Indonesian Airways Catalinas were all phased out in the mid-1950s.

Memories, just memories.

An in-flight shot of Garuda Indonesian Airways (GIA) PBY-5A Catalina, PK-CPD circa 1952.
Photo courtesy of the Arthur Smit-Roeters Collection.
Art’s Garuda Employment Letter, August 24, 1955.

Article last revised on December 18, 2018.

Mr. Smit-Roeters Flew West on February 11, 2023. You can read his obituary by following this link.

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American Trans Air,ATA

My last and best mission as an Account Representative for American Trans Air

By Phil Brooks

October, 1987

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.

The well-traveled 727 in the story, photographed by the author at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) in October 1990.
The well-traveled 727 in the story, photographed by the author at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) in October 1990.

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!

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airlines,Jetstream,Sierra Expressway,Sierra West Airlines,Sierra West Express

The Expressway

By David Birkley

Sierra West Airlines was founded by Dan Brumlik and Scott Bekemeyer as a commuter airline that would compete with congested Northern California’s highways and existing carriers with a focus on low fares and frequent service. Utilizing Oakland International Airport as a hub offered easy connections to other airlines like Shuttle by United, Southwest, and others.

Headquarters and HUB operations were to be located at the Oakland International Airport. Sierra West Express chose the reliable 19 passenger British Aerospace Jetstream 3200s with plans to serve 12 cities in Northern California and Southern Oregon with a predicted start date of May 1995. Seven beautifully painted J3200s with updated interiors joined the small airline. Aircraft and support came from British Aerospace and JSX Capital of Sterling, VA. 

The airline received its certificate on August 11, 1995, as Sierra Expressway. With much fanfare, service began on August 18 from Oakland to Eureka/Arcata, Monterey, Sacramento, CA, and to Medford, OR. Service to Redding, CA started in October.  Monterey was dropped in December and new service to South Lake Tahoe was started.

Photo Courtesy: Author’s Collection

The airline attempted to follow the success of ValuJet and Southwest Airlines by offering ticketless, no interline or baggage agreements, and peak and off-peak pricing structure. Low-cost walk-up fares were offered with few restrictions. You could purchase a roundtrip ticket Oakland-Medford for $218 which was less than one-third of the competing airlines. The airline offered two fares Off-Peak (6:00A-8:00A and 7:00P-12:00A) and Peak (8:00A-7:00P).

Once at the airport, one could expect friendly and enthusiastic service at check-in. When complete you were given a heavy thick plastic boarding pass with a story on it why you should be flying. No seat selection was offered onboard. Each out-station staff included a station manager and a small staff of ticket and ramp agents. Stations were also crew bases with three captains and three first officers. The airline employed over 250 personnel in December 1995: pilots, mechanics, and airport staff plus, administration.  

Item Courtesy: Author’s Collection

However, after the brief expansion in late 1995 and a slow reduction in service in early 1996 the airline continued to lose money and load factors hovered around 30%. As hard as the management team tried with enthusiasm, low fares and promotions were not enough.  The airline never achieved its predicted load factors of 50%, and other unforeseen expenses had eaten away at the airline’s operating capital. No choice was left but to close the doors on Friday, February 16, 1996.

Item courtesy: Author’s Collection

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Farmingdale New York’s Republic Airport and a Short History of Cosmopolitan Airlines

Written by Robert G. Waldvogel

Cosmopolitan Airlines Convair 440 Wiki Commons

Little-known and most likely long-forgotten is Cosmopolitan Airlines, a carrier which had briefly operated from Farmingdale, Long Island’s, Republic Airport. Republic was not originally intended for passenger-carrying commercial operations. The facility ultimately fielded sporadic scheduled and charter service in its century of existence.

“The Industrial Revolution and airplane manufacture came to Farmingdale during World War I when Lawrence Sperry and Sydney Breese established their pioneering factories in the community,” according to Ken Neubeck and Leroy E. Douglas in Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale.  “They were drawn by the presence of two branches of the Long Island Railroad…the nearby Route 24, which brought auto and truck traffic to and from the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge in Manhattan; the level outwash plain, which provided land for flying fields; and the proximity to skilled workers.”    

Although the airport was progressively transformed from its original “Fairchild Flying Field” into the present Republic Airport, and is considered the third-busiest New York State facility in terms of aircraft movements, it was for the most part the location of military and civil manufacturers. These included the Fairchild Aviation Corporation, the American Airplane and Engine Corporation, Grumman, Seversky, Ranger, Republic, Fairchild-Hiller, Fairchild Republic, and EDO, to name only a few.

In 1966, a year after its ownership was transferred from Fairchild Hiller to Farmingdale Corporation, the airport was officially designated a general aviation facility, fielding its first landing of a twin-engine Beechcraft, operated by Ramey Air Service from Islip, on December 7.  In order to transform it into a gateway by facilitating airline connections at the three major New York airports, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracted with Air Spur to provide this feeder service four years later, assessing $12 one-way fares.

Republic Airport’s central Long Island location also poised it to be the site of other limited service to key business and leisure destinations within neighboring states.

One of the first scheduled attempts was made by Republic-based Cosmopolitan Airlines, an FAR Part 121 supplemental air carrier that inaugurated service with a single 44-passenger, former Finnair Convair CV-340 and two 52-passenger, ex-Swissair Convair CV-440 Metropolitans. Both of these types were in four-abreast configuration, and flights began to Albany, Boston, and Atlantic City from its own Cosmopolitan Sky Center in 1978. 

An unusual ad advised potential passengers to “Fly to Atlantic City for only $19.95 net.  Here’s how it works: Pay $44.95 for a round-trip flight ticket to Atlantic City, including ground transportation to and from the Claridge Hotel and Casino.  Upon arrival at the Claridge, you’ll receive $20.00 in food and beverage credits good at any restaurant except the London Pavilion.  You will also receive a $5.00 flight credit good for your next fight to the Claridge on Cosmopolitan Airlines.”

The airline’s 1983 schedule for the 36-minute flight to Atlantic City’s no-longer existent Bader Field included the following:

Hand-written paper tickets, issued to each passenger and listing the routing as “FRG-ACY-FRG,” stated: “Flight coupon valid only on the Cosmopolitan flight listed on the unshaded portion hereof.”

Same-day returns potentially provided for nine hours in Atlantic City.  Although these flights were popular, they hardly generated a profit. Cosmopolitan Airlines was forced to discontinue its operations at the end of 1983. Just prior to the shut-down the carrier had been in the process of expanding public charter service to Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.

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The History of Northeastern International Airways

Written by Robert G. Waldvogel

Its four-year reign was brief and tumultuous, with a high point representing what could have steadily been if ambitions had not exceeded expenses.  Yet, perhaps this carrier’s greatest legacy is that it sparked one of Long Island MacArthur Airport’s major development cycles, attracting passengers and, ultimately, other carriers, putting the fledging airfield, which had continually striven for identity and purpose, on the map.  The airline had the globe-suggesting name of Northeastern International Airways with the unlikely two-letter code of “QS,” although it never stretched further than the West Coast.  Its founder was Stephen L. Quinto and his intended goal was to place his footprint on Long Island MacArthur Airport.

One of the airfield’s long-term goals, as revealed by market studies, was the establishment of nonstop Long Island-Florida service to facilitate travel for those wishing to visit their sunshine state- retired parents, and to tap into the tourist trade seeking winter warmth.  Airline deregulation, along with Quinto, made both possible.

Northeastern International Airlines DC-8-62, N162CA, at Ft. Lauderdale FL, 1984 1223, Marvin G Goldman Photo

Leasing a former Evergreen International DC-8-50, registered N800EV, and operating it in a single-class, 185-passenger configuration, he inaugurated Long Island MacArthur (Islip)-Ft. Lauderdale service on February 11, 1982, charging low, unrestricted fares.  As an intercontinental aircraft, its relatively low fuel uplift, combined with a full passenger and baggage complement, enabled it to use 5,186-foot Runway 33-Left, from which it climbed out over Lake Ronkonkoma and departed Long Island over its South Shore. Complementary soft drinks and snack baskets of peanuts, cheese and crackers, sandwiches, and fresh fruit were served in the cabin.  Checked baggage was included in the fare.

The initial schedule entailed four weekly rotations to Ft. Lauderdale and one to Orlando, although a second aircraft, registered N801EV, made increased frequencies and destinations possible.

In Northeastern’s first year of operations, the airline carried more than 150,000 passengers and ended the period on a high note by transporting a monthly record of 32,075 in December, a figure attributed to weather-caused, Florida-bound flight cancellations at the major New York airports, and the subsequent bus transfer of stranded flyers to Islip.

Quinto attributed his carrier’s initial success to the trusted and proven concepts of service quality and low, unrestricted fares, along with filling a market gap that had been hungry for years.  For this reason, Northeastern adopted the slogan of “A lot of airline for a little money” and, because it served its hometown base of MacArthur, the company eliminated the commute to either JFK or La Guardia for eastern Nassau and Suffolk County residents, telling them “We’re one step closer to home.”

Northeastern 727-21, Photo by Keith Armes MarvinGoldman Collection

Although its corporate headquarters was in Ft. Lauderdale, Long Island remained its operational base.  After leasing two 128-passenger former Pan Am 727-100s, which were draped in pink and blue cloud liveries, it offered seven daily departures from Islip to Ft. Lauderdale itself, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, and St. Petersburg, which was a secondary airport to Tampa.  Nonstop flights were also offered from the Connecticut airfield.

Low-fare, deregulation-sparked momentum, once initiated, could not be arrested.  The following year, which entailed the acquisition of three longer-range DC-8-62s—including N752UA from United Air Leasing, OY-KTE from Thai Airways International, and N8973U from Arrow Air, saw service to 11 destinations and the annual transport of just under 600,000 passengers.

Northeastern A-300 from WikiCommons-Photo by Uli Elch

Yet, deviating from its thus far successful strategy and ignoring the tried-and-true “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy, Northeastern elected to tackle the “big boys” at airports such as JFK and acquire widebody aircraft, ultimately operating transcontinental services.  The widebodies themselves came in the form of four Airbus A300B2s in 314-passenger single-class, eight-abreast configurations: D-AIAD from Lufthansa in January (1984), D-AIAE from Lufthansa in February, F-ODRD from Airbus Industrie in May, and F-ODRE from Airbus Financial Services, also in May.  It became the second US airline after Eastern to operate the European type.

The strategy may have elevated the low-cost carrier with Long Island roots to a big player, but its over-expansion was defeated by insufficient cash flow.  Although it had earned $64.7 million in revenues in its fiscal year ended on March 31, 1984, it recorded a $5.2 million loss.

Its non-financial statistics told another story.  By the summer, it operated 66 daily flights to 17 US destinations with a three-type, 16-strong fleet, including 727-200s from the likes of Mexicana de Aviación and VASP, and employed 1,600 personnel.

Its June 1984 system timetable encompassed Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Hartford, Islip, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Little Rock, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York-JFK, Oklahoma City, Orlando, St. Petersburg, San Diego, Tulsa, and West Palm Beach.

Yet gravity is not the only element to cause an airborne object to descend, even those with wings.  Finances equally provided—or, in this case, nullified—lift, sparking a rapid descent.  Another $4.4 million was lost during the third quarter that ended on September 30, 1984 and with it began the survival-mode strategy of eliminating aspects which could no longer be monetarily supported, including the layoff of 450 employees and the return—it was actually a repossession—of the A300 fleet.

Viewing his once rapidly rising carrier as a jigsaw puzzle, Quinto attempted to keep its picture whole without its forcibly removed pieces and replace them with what he could scrounge.  Like plugs pulled from Northeastern’s rapid rise, the lights outlining its structure blacked out.  Destinations were eliminated, reservation lines were severed, flights were cancelled, bills were not paid, and passengers were left stranded.  On January 3, 1985, the three-year, low-cost carrier fell to the same fate as Braniff, filing for Chapter 11 in a Miami Bankruptcy Court with $28 million in assets and $48 million in liabilities.

The last glimmer of hope came at the end of that same year with a $1 million loan and the lease of a single MD-82 from Alisarda, registered HB-IKL.  Yet Northeastern’s final light was doused in early 1986, drowned by liquidation, but such was not necessarily the case for the Long Island airport that had spawned it and to which its legacy was left.

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Departed Wings — Golden West Airlines (GW)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1969-1983  — Orange County, California

Wearing brand new Golden West colors, N63119 a de Havilland DHC-6-100 “Twin Otter” awaits passengers at Los Angeles International Airport in October 1969

Golden West Airlines was the result of the initial merger of three local California commuter carriers; Cable Commuter, Skymark Airlines and Aero Commuter in March 1969 and only month later with the purchase of Golden West commuter based in Van Nuys, California did the airlines take the name of the former carrier to become collectively Golden West Airlines in May 1969. With a fleet of de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters and a few Beech 99s, the new commuter was flying a route network across Southern and Central California and advertised itself as the “Largest commuter airline in the world.” Within a year however, financial difficulties arose with such a large operation, and Golden West consolidated its operations to Southern California and its popular Catalina Island service using Grumman Goose aircraft. An attempt was made to provide helicopter service with the purchase of Los Angeles Airways (LAA) but this venture became cost prohibitive and was halted in 1972.

After the merger, Golden West flew a handful of Beech 99s acquired from Aero Commuter before returning the aircraft in 1970. Parked on the ramp at San Francisco International Airport in September 1971 is N9995, a Beechcraft B-99.

Parked on the ramp at Ontario International Airport in June 1973, is N66180, a de Havilland DHC-6-200 perfect for commuter flights between the various Los Angeles regional airports

By the mid-1970s, Golden West had established its hub of operations from Los Angeles International Airport and had hourly “shuttle” flights from both Ontario and Santa Ana-Orange County into Los Angeles-LAX. A well published mid-air collision took place on January 9, 1975 when a DHC-6 Twin Otter collided with a private Cessna 152 over Whittier, California resulting in the deaths of all parties. Although a bleak moment in the carrier’s history, passenger bookings continued to grow and Golden West took delivery of its first Shorts SH-330 “wide-bodied” aircraft in 1977 with seats for thirty and a need for a flight attendant, the first for the airline.

The introduction of the Shorts-330 in 1977 allowed Golden West to increase capacity on trunk routes. Parked at Santa Ana-Orange County Airport in April 1978 is N330GW, a Shorts SD330-100.

By 1980, Golden West was serving ten cities across Southern California including San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Ana-Orange County, Palmdale, and Santa Barbara. With the dawn of a new decade, Golden West had its sights on continued growth and longer routes and placed an order for the new de Havilland DHC-7 aircraft which its first was delivered in March 1980. The new fifty-seat, four-engined turboprop would be used on popular routes into Los Angeles-LAX as well as placed on new services to Lake Tahoe airport in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

A new “Dash 7,” N701GW a de Havilland DHC-7-102.is parked at the airlines maintenance ramp at Los Angeles International Airport in November 1980.

Just after the delivery of the new de Havilland DHC-7 airplanes, Golden West unveiled a new corporate image showcasing the warm colors of a California sunset and soon repainted their aircraft in this eye-catching livery. Things continued to shine for the airline in 1981, as flights expanded to destinations in both Central and Northern California including services to San Francisco and Sacramento, cities that had been given up during the airlines consolidation in 1971.

Lake Tahoe provided to be a popular year-round destination when service was started in 1981. Rolling out after landing at Lake Tahoe Airport in February 1981, is N702GW, a de Havilland DHC-7-102.

Awaiting takeoff clearance at San Diego-Lindbergh Field in March 1981, is N702GW, a de Havilland DHC-7-102.

By 1982, Golden West had grown to serve eleven cities across California, with a fleet of sixteen aircraft and no less than one hundred daily flights. Code share agreements with almost all the airlines operating from Los Angeles, both domestic and international, allowed seamless connections and kept the airline popular amongst passengers.

Even the Shorts got the new corporate colors as is evident on N331GW, a Shorts SD330-200, parked on the ramp at Sacramento International Airport in March 1983.

In an effort to modernize its future fleet, Golden West placed an order for three of the new de Havilland DHC-8 turboprops as well as considering the new British Aerospace BAe-146 to start jet operations. It was only a year later that Golden West started to suffer financial woes caused by the purchase of the new de Havilland DHC-7s as well as management changes that compounded the already struggling finances. There was the possibility of a minority purchase by Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) for $3 million to help get the carrier out of its mounting debt, however  this deal fell through and the airline continued to struggle until Friday, April 22, 1983 when the carrier was forced to shut down and  layoff all employees. Although there were plans to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to allow for reorganization, this failed and the airline ceased operations, setting the sun on a carrier which had brought together the outlaying airports of Southern California and brought a ray of golden light to the millions of passengers making their convenient connections into LAX.

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Departed Wings – Presidential Airways (XV)

Written by Jon Jamieson

Washington-Dulles, D.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Departed Wings ~ Muse Air (MC)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1980-1985 || Dallas, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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