Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Pleasant Memories During a Troubled Time (When memories are all you have)

Written by Lester Anderson

[All photography from Wikimedia Commons.]

I live about three minutes from touchdown at Newark Airport for a few approaches landing to the south. I know this because I follow the overhead aircraft on my phone with Flightradar24.  I enjoy seeing from what airport the aircraft was arriving, the type aircraft and its altitude and speed at that moment.  Since the virtual shutdown of air travel due to the COVID-19 virus I see almost no traffic overhead. A large percent of what I do see are freight carriers (UPS and FedEx both have major hubs at EWR) since passenger flights are rare the freight is much more likely to be on one of those carriers with their expanded schedules.

But I love flying (as a passenger, I am not a pilot). So, what is there to do? My solution is to think of the “good times” of travel in the past.  Besides the actual flights, a lot of my memories concern the airports from which I departed and at which I arrived.

I once attended to a dinner where one of the guests had just been “retired” from a position with a large bank. She said she had no regrets about being “reorganized out” because the bank gave her the opportunity to travel the world, stay at the best hotels, and eat at the finest restaurants.  In my case, I thank all my former employers for giving me an opportunity to enjoy my (over one and one half million miles) of business travel by taking the flights I wanted, with my careful watch (and working with corporate travel) to cost the company no more that standard routings would cost the firm. If I had to watch any travel expense, for me it was the hotel or restaurants, which I would gladly do to get the airplanes and airports I wanted.

I write these musings with the hope that while you may not have memories of these specific airports, they this will allow you to think back on your own enjoyable experiences in travel.   Some memories go back to the 1960’s, my high school days, but most are in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s.

The East:

I grew up near Newark airport and was a frequent visitor. In those days there was only one terminal, and flight announcements were not posted on a board – they were announced over a PA system.  Being curious, I looked around (and probably asked someone) and found the “closet” in which the woman (it was usually a woman’s voice) sat in front of a microphone announcing what gate a Braniff or Eastern flight was departing from, and the cities to which the flight would travel. Electronic displays today are probably more efficient, but there was something really nice about a real person giving you the instructions on how to start your trip.

Newark has grown.  I remember when there were working terminals A and B, with Terminal C mostly built, but not yet occupied, and the tarmac was not even finished—grass grew under the gate areas awaiting an airline to occupy it and need the gates.  When that happened and PEOPLExpress leased it, a lot of the existing terminal was torn down to build a much larger terminal facility as Terminal C.

In Washington DC, I recall visiting when they first opened the first Metro line to Washington National (now Reagan) and looking at the airport from the elevated train platform.  I realize it may not have been efficient, but the old DCA terminal was a beautiful building that brought me back to an era before my own time, where air travel was something that was very special.  The other DC area airport was Dulles where the mobile lounge was the way you left the terminal to either go directly to an aircraft or to go to another concourse. I never had the travel experience where the mobile lounge brought me directly to the airplane, but I used it as the way to get to a midfield concourse where my United gate was located.

On one business trip I remember landing in Cleveland in what I would consider an almost white out condition.  The snow covered the tarmac, and everything was white.  We landed safely (and with complete faith in the crew), and when I was met by the business associates, and trudged thru snow to the cab, I was told not to worry—it is only “lake effect snow”.  In New York such a snow event would have shut – or at least slowed down – much of the city. But everyone (including the taxi driver) took it all in stride and did not allow the lake effect snow to slow us down.

The South:

With the hub and spoke airline route system, if you went anywhere in the south, odds are you were going to change planes in Atlanta.  I did a lot of flying on Eastern, and they had two concourses, and there was a walkway (you walked under the aircraft gate and taxi area) to the next concourse. From what I read, while it has been closed off, they never filled it in so if ever needed in the future it can be reopened. A pleasant aircraft memory was at Eastern, for a period of time, DC9’s and 727’s would not use a tug to back out of the gate, but a power pushback using the aircraft’s engines.  I am sure it was used elsewhere but I remember it often at ATL. The airport’s five concourses were connected with an underground subway system that for the early years (at least a dozen) had a computer voice announcing what concourse you just arrived at and the next one coming up. The voice was a computer voice that was reminiscent of the science fiction movies of the 50’s and 60’s.  Fortunately, a more normal voice system was later installed.

Dothan Alabama was my first trip to Alabama (I was working for Sony and we had a videotape manufacturing plant there).  It was a small airport with only a few flights a day.  The policeman in charge locked the terminal between flights, and if you arrived early, there was a couch to sit on outside the door until he unlocked it and you could enter the terminal.  This was an early business flight of mine. Republic Airlines had a special fare that for $30 more you could upgrade to First Class. Corporate travel said if I reduced my expense report by $30 they would ticket me. Done deal! (Always good to be friends with Corporate Travel).

DFW was a favorite airport because of a hotel.  There was a Hyatt and it was in the middle of the airport itself.  You could ask at check in for a room that looked over the runway and if you didn’t mind a little (not a lot) of noise, it was great for those of us who loved planes.  I would bring my aircraft band radio and could tune in to listen to the tower while I was watching the planes.  And DFW was busy so you had a lot of action to watch and listen to during the stay.  And while it was not the cheapest area hotel, it was reasonable and it was worth it because you never had to worry about getting to the airport for your 6 AM flight home.

The Grand Hyatt at DFW Terminal D

Orlando (with the IATA code MCO because the airport started out as McCoy Air Force Base) in its early days was nothing like the complex it is today.  It was a smaller facility right next to the “Bee Line Expressway”.  The thing I remember most was that although you had to walk to the baggage claim area, which was manual (no luggage carousels), when you arrived your luggage was waiting for you.  I don’t know if the ground crew was far more efficient, or if the walk took longer than I remember.

New Orleans was an interesting airport.  It had the New Orleans “Mardi Gras” look because the first time I was there it was afternoon of that Mardi Gras Tuesday. I remember calling my office (using a pay phone and telephone credit card) to say I was at the airport and was told very forcefully to make sure I got on the plane (it was the last flight out that day).  Corporate travel (with whom I always made friends at every job), told the department secretary to tell me that if I missed the plane, the closest hotel room they could find was over 100 miles away – so make sure I got on the plane.

The Midwest:

In Chicago there are two airports.  O’Hare was the big one and the one into which I mostly flew.   I did use United a lot, and they had two concourses connected by an underground walkway.  I remember it was an almost psychedelic experience because it was lit by a ceiling full of multi-color neon lights, and there was an ethereal, almost science fiction alien music being played as you walked (actually you did not walk, it was a moving walkway). Midway was a smaller airport (with lots of history) and was just being brought back into mainline service.  O’Hare was further out and Midway was in the middle of the city, but I recall the taxi rides were similar in cost and time to the office.

Denver Stapleton was an older airport being replaced by a much larger new one (DIA) much further out.  Like any major construction projects there were delays after delays in completion. When it finally opened I booked a business trip to the west coast with a Denver connection that had a three hour time interval between flights.  I was able to visit all the terminals and see the new airport that day and continue my journey arriving maybe an hour after I would have if I booked the normal flights. I often changed planes at DIA and was amazed that even in the snow (enough snow that I would think it would shut down or greatly delay NY airports) things went on as if it was bright and sunny out.  My flights that I was sure would be delayed due to snow went out on time.

The West:

When you land in Las Vegas you are greeted with a large open area by the gates that has a large bank of slot machines, and people (at all times of day) playing the slots.  I must admit I am not a gambler, and all of my visits were due to visiting trade shows.  The biggest ones were Comdex (a computer trade show) and CES (Consumer Electronics).  In both cases (in those trade shows heydays) there were over 100,000 attendees and hotel space was at a premium.  So were cabs.  When you wheeled your checked luggage (or your carry-on) to the taxi loading area, there was a queue of hundreds of people waiting for a cab. It was very efficient because when you finally got to the front of the line the dispatcher had about 20-30 “slots” they would assign you one.  The cabs would then come up and load whoever was waiting in the slots (for trade shows it was usually one person unless colleagues going to the same hotel wanted to share a cab).  Considering the crowds, it was a very efficient system and it normally took you only about 30 minutes to get into a cab. They told us the city imported hundreds of cabs and drivers during the times of these shows.

LAX (Los Angeles) was the major airport for the area. Landing there you often could see aircraft landing on parallel runways as you were landing.  The thing I remember most of the airport was the restaurant (Currently called Encounter) that is the space age shaped icon that is the main symbol of the airport in most all photos.  When I was visiting it had a very Star Trek motif.  Besides a nice meal (overlooking the airport) while visiting, I also used the restaurant as a meeting place to interview potential employees.  You never had to explain twice where you were meeting them.

In the days before 9/11 security restrictions on terminal airside access I would also use meeting rooms at the Ionosphere Club (Eastern), President’s Club (Continental) or the Red Carpet Club (United) as a great places for potential employee interviews.  I could fly into an airport, do 2 or 3 interviews, then fly back and never leave the airport.  The cost for renting the meeting room was less than a taxi ride into the city.

SNA—John Wayne Airport was a nice alternative to LAX if you were going South of Los Angles.  It was a convenient terminal (before it started growing, car rental was a convenient elevator trip down to a basement level.)  My favorite memory was takeoffs.  SNA is the middle of a highly populated area so there was a noise abatement takeoff requirement.  The pilot would rev up the engines with the brakes on,  release the brakes and you barrel down the runway, to a very steep take off, then the pilot dramatically reduced power and you quietly flew at a couple of thousand feet for a few minutes until you got over the ocean where the pilot could increase engine power to resume the take off and start to accelerate and climb.

Long Beach was a cute little airport that looked like a movie set from the 1940’s.  But it worked very well (at least going to a hub for a connection, not a trans-con flight) and the thing I remember was it was maybe a 5 minute walk from the gate to outside the terminal and the car rentals were right in front of you in the parking lot.

Going to the Bay Area you had a choice of SFO, Oakland or San Jose.  But SFO was by far the busiest. Before they built the consolidated car rental terminal, you took a bus that brought you to the various car lots.  It also brought visitors to a Hilton hotel on the airport grounds, and I remember one bus ride where passengers just boarding the bus said they had to go to the hotel, but the driver had to tell them that hotel had been torn down a few months before. He suggested they should go back in the terminal and call their travel agent to find out where their reservation was now going to be honored. My memory of Oakland was an early business trip where I had a business meeting in Oakland that ran long. I mentioned I may not make my SFO flight since that was an hour away.  They said “give me your ticket and let us check” and 10 minutes later they had me rebooked (making the same hub connection back to Newark) from Oakland—a 10 minute drive from their office. San Jose Airport had a special memory. I was waiting at the gate on a flight delay. By chance (to kill time) I called a former boss to congratulate him because he had started a new job with a new company.  Over the phone he offered me a job—which I did accept the next day!

Honolulu and the Hawaiian Islands I first visited with my wife on vacation.  We had a 9 day, 3 island “Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays with American Express” package. I remember we did as much packing and airport travel as we did sightseeing, but Hawaii is beautiful.  In those days (1982) you showed up at the Hawaiian Airlines counter, and were given a seat on the next available flight (they ran at least every hour).  Your luggage went on the next plane out (not necessarily yours) because I recall landing at each island, and all the luggage was already on the tarmac awaiting the tourists to pick them up and go to the car rental counters. One thing I recall is we had travel vouchers not airline tickets and turned them in for every flight (as we did for car rentals and hotels).

International:

Orly in Paris and Gatwick in London were, at the times I traveled, secondary airports and as such were not very crowded.  Since my only need for the airport was the airplane and the taxi, that was no problem.  I am sorry I do not have more memories of the airports themselves.

Luton Airport is about an hour outside of London and was the airport nearest to the office of a company for which I worked. I flew from Luton to Hanover Germany on a charter for a trade show.  The thing I remember most what that at Luton there was no permanent signage for each airline.  Large video screens would light up at each gate with the airline logo and name and the flight number.  It seemed like a nice way for an airport to more efficiently use gate space and not leave gates unused for hours at time.

I visited Melbourne flying Continental DC-10’s.  The 20+ hour trip  started in LAX, we flew to Honolulu, deplaned (although it was after midnight the President’s club was open) then re-boarded (a different aircraft but same flight number) to Auckland New Zealand, where we deplaned (but did not go out of arrival security) then re-boarded to go to Melbourne. (Nice pick up of miles as well as a lot of fun). The return (because I think Continental only had one or two flights a day), you had a location to wait near the gate area, then they brought out pedestals and signs, and in about 10 minutes had a very professional looking check in and gate set up. The return home flights had the same routing in reverse order.

I was able to visit Moscow managing our company’s sponsored trade show. I did fulfill a longtime ambition of departing from the famous JFK Pan Am Worldport terminal. This was 1990 and a very strange and exciting time to visit the USSR. (I was there the week Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize).  Arriving at Sheremetyevo Airport you went into a room the size of phone booth to show your passport and visa to a uniformed guard thru a window.  On the return journey I got to the airport three hours early.  Which was good because there was no such thing as a line.  Everyone was pushing in a group to get thru security (which I was told was less for checking for guns than for people trying to smuggle out artifacts). I made it thru with maybe only 25 minutes before my Pan Am flight. I saw a Duty Free shop and wanted to get two bottles of Stolichnaya Vodka to bring home. I got them, and brought them on the 747 (upper deck on a 747-100 on Pan Am had chair side storage bins).  I then carefully  carried the glass bottles thru the NYC Pan Am Worldport and thru customs and brought them home.  Just to find out how much I saved, the next day I went to the local liquor store – the identical bottles, bottled in USSR, were 50 cents cheaper in NJ!.  So much for Duty Free Shops.

I hope these memories either brought a smile to your face or brought back similar memories of travel experiences you had in the past.

I must admit I was not into photographing airports (and especially on business trips since there were no such things as cell phone cameras) so other than a few photos from the Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey collection, I have no photos to share.  Looking on the web for public domain or royalty free photos did find some of the airports, but the images are from today, not the terminals of thirty or more years ago.  But hopefully you have some images in your own memory that will serve you in remembering.

All photography from From Wikimedia Commons.

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Passing Through History with Flying Colors

Written by Emma Rasmussen

Douglas DC-8-62 of Braniff International painted in Alexander’s design at Miami Airport in August 1975

In an age of endless white airline liveries (often referred to as “Eurowhite” schemes), the vibrantly colored liveries of decades past offer a louder and far-less subdued glance at airline marketing. Forgotten airlines such as AirCal and Pacific Southwest Airlines sported bright pinks,purples, yellows, and oranges in their cheat-lines throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Today,airlines tip their hats to fans of nostalgia by painting individual aircraft in their fleets to replicate
these retro schemes. However, few current liveries can compare to the vivid ones that preceded them.

Prior to the Eurowhite liveries that dominate the airline industry today, these brilliant schemes were extremely popular. Braniff International Airways, based out of Dallas Love Field Airport was hardly an exception. In 1965, Braniff introduced their “jelly bean” liveries, an array of solid-fuselage schemes that ranged from yellow to lavender, turquoise, green, blue, orange and several more. Eight years after the “End of the Plain Plane” campaign that saw this complete overhaul of the airline’s fleet, lounges, and uniforms, avant-garde artist Alexander Calder was asked to design three visually-adventurous schemes for Braniff.

Alexander Calder was an artist best known for his “mobiles,” kinetic sculptures. Alternatively, he produced paintings and miniatures. In the early 1970s, Braniff was celebrating twenty-five years of travel to South America and desired a scheme to reflect this. Alexander Calder was approached by Gordon and Shortt Advertising Agency, and was enticed by the thought of his artwork flying around the world on the largest canvas— an airliner. Calder’s first aircraft was a Douglas DC-8-62, which was painted in strictly primary colors and dubbed “With Flying Colors.” His debut livery is his most famous and appeared at the 1975 Paris Air Show.

After his success with the Douglas DC-8, Calder designed another livery for Braniff. In 1976, the United States was celebrating its 200th year, which prompted the airline to request another celebratory livery. Calder painted an abstract version of the American flag, which was transposed onto a Boeing 727-200. This second and final work of Calder’s was dubbed “Flying Colors of the United States.” On both of his aircraft, Calder’s signature is proudly displayed instead of typical Braniff branding.

        Braniff Boeing 727 Alex Calder (N408BN) at San Francisco (1976) Bill Larkins

Later in 1976, Alexander Calder died and ultimately put an end to the “Flying Colors” series of airline schemes. “The Spirit of Mexico” was to be his third and final work, but his passing caused the project to be scrapped. A second 727 never received this livery. In 1982, negatively affected by the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, Braniff International Airways ceased operations. This once highly-profitable and fast-growing US airline filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, leaving dozens of “jelly bean” airliners stranded and a colorful career behind

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

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Departed Wings – Presidential Airways (XV)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1985-1989
Washington-Dulles, D.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Vickers VC-10: Swift, Silent, Serene

Written by Emma Rasmussen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Wings of Man” at Walt Disney World

Written by Shea Oakley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Shea Oakley

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Article first published on NYCaviation.com)

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Departed Wings ~ Muse Air (MC)

Written by Jon Jamieson

1980-1985 || Dallas, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Ode to the Observation Decks at JFK

                                         (Photo by Mel Lawrence, Shea Oakley collection)

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

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

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

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

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

Article previously published on NYCaviation.com

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Electra Memories

Written by Shea Oakley

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

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

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

So near and yet so far!

Note: Article first published on NYCaviation.com.

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

By Russell Goutierez

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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