Britt Airways,Chicago Air Lines,Fairchild Hiller,FH-227,N239MA,N378NE,Tail chasers
By Gary C. Orlando
It wasn’t until 1987 that I would actually get to fly on the Fairchild Hiller FH-227 having been obsessed with this aircraft since before I entered Kindergarten in 1972. It was first introduced to me serving our local airport of Rock Falls, IL (SQI) by Ozark Air Lines. Afraid of it at first because of its screaming-loud Rolls-Royce Dart engines, it soon became my favorite airplane of all time.
On September 25, 1987, I took a 25-minute flight from Moline, IL (MLI) to Burlington, IA (BRL) and back. The outbound flight was Continental Express/Britt flight 4723, scheduled to depart at 12:35 PM arriving at 1:00 PM. The aircraft that day was N378NE, the same plane that graced the skies over Rock Falls six years earlier while operating a charter flight for Britt. N378NE was originally delivered on November 2, 1966, to Northeast Airlines where it flew until Northeast merged with Delta in 1972. N378NE was one of only two FH-227Cs that Delta actually used in regular service before selling all of the former Northeast FH-227s to Air New England in early 1975.
Back at Moline with my ticket in hand, I walked across the ramp to climb the airstair door. I was giddy with excitement! As I entered the aircraft I noticed the interior was just the same as it appeared in the Air New England article written by my friend Rand Peck, that I had read many years earlier in an issue of Airline Quarterly magazine. There were no overhead bins; only racks for coats, hats or small carry-on items. Another curious thing was the seat numbers started with seat row number One in the rear of the plane, getting higher in number going forward, up to row number Twelve. I had my tape recorder with me and I took my seat: 10A, by the propeller on the left-hand side of the aircraft.
Since I was the only person getting on the plane in Moline, Sheri, our flight attendant, came directly over to give me a personal safety briefing. She didn’t announce who our pilots were. I guess I should have asked but, I was just too excited!
I had actually flown on my first Fokker F.27 flight a year previously with Chicago Air Lines to and from Moline to Chicago Midway Airport (MDW). Engine startup was much the same on the FH-227 as it was the F.27; the only noticeable difference was the 227 was a lot louder. However, the real difference came at takeoff time. While the newer Fokker F.27 had been quieter, almost a muffled sound, the FH-227C was very loud. The typical staccato sound emitted by the pointed props was clearly heard in the FH-227. The F.27 was much quieter with its square-tipped props. I like loud, so I was happy.
After we landed in Burlington, the Britt agents allowed me to do a little walk-around photoshoot of this big ol’ bird that I had just flown on. I only wish we had digital cameras back then because I would have hammered that plane with pictures. Enjoy the shots of my walk around of N378NE.
Between the two flights, my time in Burlington was spent hanging out at the airport and exploring. I made quick friends with one of the Britt agents named Gary Freitag. We had a nice conversation about Britt and my interest in the airline and especially the Fairchilds. All too soon it was time to climb back aboard for my return to Moline.
Our return flight was Continental Express/Britt flight 4756. It was scheduled to depart at 3:15 PM and arrive back in Moline at 3:40 PM, where it would then return to Chicago.
As I boarded the airplane I would again be welcomed by Flight Attendant Sheri, along with Captain Wiles and First Officer Munson as our pilots. On this leg back up to Moline, I took a more central spot under the wing (Seat 7A) to get a different sound, which indeed it was. The sound wasn’t as “proppy,” as I coined the term. The row of seats was even with the center of the engine nacelle, providing an excellent vantage to hear the characteristic in-flight whine of the Rolls-Royce Dart engines and to watch the main gear cycle up and down. That whine really becomes more pronounced after takeoff when the pilot reduces engine RPM by opening up the props to take a bigger bite of the air. The approach for landing is interesting, to say the least. It’s almost a “dive bomber” approach, especially on short final. Altogether, it’s a different ride than in a low wing plane because it feels like the plane is hanging on the wings instead of sitting on the wing.
After my arrival back in Moline, I quickly headed back outside with enough time to record audio of N378NE starting up and taxiing out for its departure back to Chicago.
It was a great little adventure that I would repeat a month later on October 27, 1987, but next time on Britt Fairchild F.27, N386BA.