Welcome to my Aviation Background Biography. Although it is indeed my bio, I believe you, the reader, will discover some interesting aviation history, trivia, and a few old aviation photos. Most of the photos included here are "thumbnails" - click on them for an enlargement.

          To complete my aviation background, I suggest you also read my Model Aviation Biography; it roughly parallels the one you are about to read. Also, please look at the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie Tribute.


                                                            Circa 1939

          I would have to say my first real interest in aviation was shortly after my family moved to Miami. War was looming on the horizon and Pan Am had contracted to build numerous airports for the US government throughout the Caribbean and down the East coast of South America. The purpose was to facilitate ferrying airplanes to Europe via the South American routes to Africa and beyond. These airports were stepping stones, so to speak, as very few airplanes of the day had trans oceanic range capabilities. These airports were to be built under Pan Am's Airport Development Program, or ADP.

          My father had accepted the position of project manager for several of these airports, his first being constructed at Port Au Prince, Haiti. My Mother and I stayed in Miami while he completed this project. Frequently, she and I would visit Dinner Key to watch the early Clippers come and go. I guess I was hooked on aviation at an early age, just as war broke out. 

          Bear with me as I attempt to build a foundation from some family history and tie it into what would later prove to be my early introduction to the wonderful world of aviation.

          Dad's next assignment was to build another airport near Ciudad Trujillo (now Santo Domingo) in the Dominican Republic. The family was able to accompany him to this assignment, and we lived there for about a year. I had my first ride on one of Pan Am's Clippers - an S-43 as I recall.


          Most of the aircraft operations were classified, but when they had the official opening of the airport, we were allowed access and took some of 

these photos of aircraft in transit.  What is
most interesting is that all of these aircraft coming through had little livery and were mostly painted in dull olive drab only.  If you look carefully, you can see that the 'numbers' on the P-40's nose were there in chalk only.

          When this project was over, we returned to Miami while Dad waited for his next assignment - the one that damn near killed him! He was to build his next airport near Cayenne, French Guyana. This basically involved carving the airport out of the jungle! These photos 

show Dad and his assistant at Dinner Key as they prepared to depart in early1942; that's his plane being positioned prior to loading. The large twin fins give it away as a Sikorsky S-42.

          Dad kept quite a scrapbook of this jungle adventure, but we really did not get much timely news of his activities because of mail censorship requirements. They actually lived in thatched roof housing and their main source of drinking liquid was coconut water! The work force consisted mainly of criminals called "Liberias" who had served time at Devil's Island and were 'free' - but could never leave and return to France. Some had leprosy, just to complete this not so pretty picture!

          To say things were crude is the understatement of all time! Here is a photo of Juan Trippe's Electra being refueled from 50 gallon drums during an inspection trip.

          Sabotage was abundant, as evident by two heavily damaged trucks.

          Snakes and mosquitoes were equally abundant; the latter being the cause of Dad's near

death episode and the reason he left French Guyana. He flew back to Miami and was diagnosed with several different strains of Malaria Fever. At the time, the only remedy was quinine - no antibiotic miracle drugs back in 1943. A suggestion from an old country Doctor had us moving to Atlantic City. His Doctor suggested that Dad 'freeze' the Malaria by taking a job working outside all the following winter. He returned to his former trade as a steam shovel operator and worked outside on the pier at Atlantic City one whole winter. Whatever the reason, he never had another Malaria attack. As the war ended, another aviation episode was about to start, the one that really turned me into an airplane nut. I had spent enough time looking at WWII movies; I wanted to associate with the real thing!

          The company Dad worked for, Duffy Construction, had acquired a large contract to manage the Cleveland Bomber Plant as it demilitarized and became a disposal center for the War Assets Administration. He once again put on his Project Manager's hat and we found ourselves in Cleveland. You know what happened in post-war Cleveland - Air racing was about to resume! 


Post-War Cleveland
Circa 1946 ~ 1949


          We had been in Cleveland for about a year and aviation had surrounded the whole family! Not only was I getting greatly involved with aero modeling, but my Father had ties to the military aviation community through contacts as he managed the old Bomber Plant. My Mother had been invited to join the woman’s division of the National Aeronautic Association. Commercial aviation was expanding rapidly; American Airlines was sponsoring a model club to which I belonged; Eastern Air Lines was sponsoring model contests. Even Pan Am, who had no domestic passenger routes, had a major operation in Cleveland revolving around the start of Clipper Cargo (Air freight had been non-existent until then.) The Cleveland Press had a full time Aviation Editor, Chuck Tracy, who wrote several columns a week.

          A few of my friends and I always had the catbird seats for those great Cleveland Air Races. We were allowed to view them from the roof of the Bomber Plant. That location gave us a full 360-degree view of the racecourse. We also had access to the hanger and ramp area. Can you imaging what an impression seeing all those great airplanes and their pilots made on us teen-agers?

          Just think what it was like to meet and shake hands with the likes of Cook Cleland, Tex Johnston, Steve Whitman, and Tony LeVier! Add meeting Jacqueline Cochran and Bill Odom along side their "Beguine" P-51. How many can boast of having the privilege of viewing the original Aero-Car and Betty Skelton's "Little Stinker"?

          These photos are just a sampling of those wondrous ramp sightings. 

          Even as we were flying models at the old Brookpark Road flying field, we saw some of the many bailouts and crashes that occurred as testing and qualifying time trials took place. That's me standing on the P-38 that had crashed in some nearby railroad marshalling yards.

          Unfortunately, the crash of "Beguine" into a house in nearby Berea caused the demise of the Cleveland Air Races, but not before I had touched a military JET - a P-80! Remember, this was the late 1940's. The die was cast.

          The next few years as I finished Lakewood High School were less involved in aviation and more in modeling, although our school did offer a science class in aeronautics that I loved. 

          My first job was working at a hobby shop after school and weekends. As things happen, though, I somehow managed to discover motor scooters, cars, and girls, but not before my first real airplane ride where I actually touched the controls! I think it was a Stinson; all I remember is that it was big - perhaps the "Flying Station Wagon." Oh yes, I also received a ride in a helicopter which did not impress me at all - noisy, scary, and rough. I can recall seeing one of those early almost 3-D spectacular movies that showed a cockpit view from a Navy Panther jet landing on a carrier. That convinced me that I wanted no part of 'postage stamp' landings! No sir, not for me! 



College days Circa 1952 ~ 1956

          We all had plans - mine was to be an Aeronautical Engineer. I started in the College of Engineering at OSU, but I soon discovered that I really did not care for all the pointy-head stuff that went along with learning disciplines.

          Simultaneously, my roommate, Ed Spellacy, who remains a good friend today, discovered that ROTC was mandatory. We both opted for Air Force ROTC. Somewhere along the way, I switched my major from Engineering to Business.

          We were most fortunate in that we had a wonderful USAF advisor, Major John Bradley. He instilled in us a true sense of pride in the military, and in the process, Ed and I transformed ourselves into two of the most "Gung-Ho" ROTC cadets you could find!

          The Air Force flew us on a several field trips during those years. One was a C-54 flight to McGuire AFB, NJ for a weekend in New York City. Another was an extended journey utilizing a C-124 "Loadmaster" that had us going to Hamilton AFB near San Francisco, on to Carswell AFB near Fort Worth, and then to Williams AFB, Arizona before returning to Lockbourne AFB outside of Columbus. While at Carswell, we got a tour of an operational B-36 and of a captured Mig. Both were impressive.

          The summer of 1955 was our time to attend ROTC Summer Camp; we had orders sending us to Brian AFB, Texas. Here we got our pre-active duty qualifying flight physicals and finally got a ride in a T-33. What a ball! You can imagine the (slightly embellished) stories we all had of our heroics in a real jet. Heck, man, we were "Jet Pilots" - if only for a day!

          Graduation from OSU took place in the spring of 1956, concurrent with being commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.




Circa 1957 ~ 1958

          My orders to active duty had us (I was married by this time) reporting in to January 1957 to Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX, for Pre-Flight training.

          After three months of Air Force Indoctrination, I was finally on my way to Primary Flight School! The Air Force was still using civilian contract schools for primary, with my assignment being to Spence Air Base, Moultrie, GA. Spence was under contract to the military by the Hawthorne School of Aviation, which was run by Beverly "Bevo" Howard. Bevo was a  world-class aerobatic pilot. He hangared his Bucker BU-133 on base between air show appearances and competitions, but he always managed to make sure that every Cadet and Student Officer going through pilot training at Spence had the privilege of witnessing a private air show put on by him and his incredibly agile Jungmeister. (See R/C Models section) Incidentally, Bevo's Bucker BU-133 Jungmeister now hangs at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

          Each civilian instructor had four students. My instructor, Mr. Gus Sermos, was a former Navy Corsair pilot - a little rough and gruff, but could he fly an airplane! That's me knelling on the lower right.

          We started out flying the Beech T-34A. One of those things you never forget is the day you soloed. Mine, coming after 13 hours of dual, came as a total surprise. Gus had me out on a routine flight, but he was giving me everything he could think of and more - and he was using select language that only an ex-Navy gob could! In other words, he was chewing my butt! He almost had me in tears when he said take us back to the home field. Not another word had been said on the way back, but my mind was thinking "pink slip" or "washout" - not pretty thoughts! As soon as I landed and had cleared the active runway, he finally spoke. He instructed me to taxi to an unused taxiway and set the brakes. He then started telling me that I was "such a lousy pilot that he was scared to fly with me, and that he was getting out!" With that, he took his parachute and headset, secured the aft cockpit, and told me to go fly - SOLO! A few trip around the pattern, a couple of touch-and-go landings, followed by a full stop, and it was over, except for the dunk in the pool. I later found out this was his standard procedure.

           Another one of the tricks Gus used was on the 'Dollar Ride" (first flight in a new airplane) in the T-28. Now this was a BIG airplane, and he was "supposed" to demonstrate the airplane; of course he didn't. All he said was "Be careful of the torque on takeoff - you got it." No sweat! I'm a pilot! Actually, all went well until he asked me to give him a power-off stall. No sweat once again, it went by the book. He then built my ego a bit by telling me I was a pretty good pilot (aka "suckering me in"). Next, he asked me to give him a power-on stall. Again, by the numbers - adding more right rudder and more, pulling back on the stick - just like the book, and whamo! I found myself in the wildest snap-roll-wild spin you could imagine! I heard him say in the intercom "Well, Lieutenant, recover." We did - back to straight and level in silence. Finally, he said "Lieutenant, do we both agree that more pilot training is in order?" Swallowing a large bite of Humble Pie, I replied "Yes Sir." Somehow or another, Gus managed to to make it all the way through the rest of our training; next stop: Jets! 

          Within the next year, the Air Force had gone to all jet training and all military instructors; civilian contract schools  were history. I later heard that Mr. Sermos had gone back to crop-dusting and had suffered a fatal accident. R.I.P. Gus; you were a great instructor.

          Next stop in the pilot training pipeline: Vance AFB, Enid OK. USAF Class 58-K was the first class to train there in T-33's; up until our class arrived, Basic flight training had been done in B-25's. For the first time, we were in a totally military environment. Standards were raised and everything got tougher as the Air Force honed and sharpened us into pilots.

          "Red Dog Lead" was Captain Bill Pachura, Because of our class having a very high attrition rate; I ended up being his only student. We had a grinding schedule consisting of a half day ground school and a half day flying. This schedule combined with a harsh Oklahoma winter made this six-month period very grueling, but I survived! 

          Just about a year (and two hundred forty nine flight hours) had past since that first T-34 flight before those of us remaining in USAF Pilot Training Class 58 Kilo won the Silver Wings of an Air Force Pilot. We had made it!

An entry in our class yearbook 
summed it up -

Glad to see you made it. 
Was it damn fool luck or 
did you know what you 
were doing?

          Prior to graduation, we were allowed to chose the next step in our USAF careers based on what pilot slots were available. I did not care to go to MATS with its lumbering cargo and troop haulers. Nor did I wish to go to TAC with its fighters; I had heard that with fighters, even before you takeoff, you faced three emergencies:

            ·        You are already down to single-engine performance.
            ·        You are at minimum fuel.
            ·        You have a fire in the fuselage.

          At the same time, SAC was the all-powerful arm of the military, having acquired Elite Status under the command General Curtis LeMay. I made my decision. 


Circa 1958 ~ 1966

          After a brief run through the SAC Survival School near Reno NV at Stead AFB, I entered B-47 advanced training At McConnell AFB, Wichita KS. Here we learned the aircraft inside and out as well as the weapons (nukes) we would be carrying (and hopefully never delivering). 

          The next few years were wonderful ones. I was fortunate having been assigned to Hunter AFB just outside Savannah, GA. We were flying the B-47-E. Even with the hardships of constant "SAC Alert" duties and overseas deployment operations called "Reflex" to such places as North Africa, Spain, and the UK, we still had enough free time to enjoy our personal lives - and Savannah was a great city!

          Crews were shuffled around quite often: at one time or another I had been assigned to the 373rd and 425th Bomb Squadrons of the 308th Bomb Wing and the 96th and 429th Bomb Squadrons of the 2D Bomb Wing, and then to the SAC Standardization Unit - all of these assignments at Hunter!

          Even during those days of the "Cold War" we only had two very serious 'situations' that called for higher alert status. One was the Berlin Crisis in 1961. President JFK had called for 50% of the SAC Bomber Fleet be placed on alert. The second event was in 1962; that being the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were placed on "Defcon One" - the highest alert status;. All of our B-47's and KC-97 tankers were dispersed to widely scattered non-SAC bases; my crew and two others were deployed to Charleston AFB. This is the only time we actually wore 'launch codes' in sealed plastic pouches around our necks and carried loaded side arms - and the closest time in my career we ever came to war.

          The B-47 "Stratojet" was almost fighter-like in her speed (440 knots at SL) and low-level capabilities. With the use of in-flight refueling, her range was limitless. At one point, SAC experimented with toss bombing with the B-47, using an Immelman-like maneuver. 

          Goodbyes to the B-47: SAC was starting the process of replacing the fleet of B-47's (1,600 E models) and replacing them with the larger B-52's that Boeing had been developing. As SAC reduced the number of bases it needed to fulfill its motto of "Peace is our Profession" Hunter AFB was selected to be transferred to the US Army. It remains Hunter Army Air Base today. I received orders to Castle AFB CA, where I would transition to B-52's.

          Class dates at Castle were hard to come by, so I transferred to my new station at Griffiss AFB, Rome NY, assigned to the 668th Bomb Squadron, 416th Bomb Wing. This unit was part of the "Mighty" 8th" Air Force, as had been Hunter AFB.

          In March of '63, after a few months in NY, I went to Merced to transition to the generic B-52 aircraft, and then spent an additional few weeks learning the nuisances of the B-52-G model; the 'G' had the short tail.

          What an aircraft this was! 488,000 pounds of Boeing engineering; eight P & W engines (ten if you were carrying the "Hound Dog" missiles under the wings); a crew of six. On hot summer days where takeoff performance was limited, you used water injection - 10,000 pounds of it used in three minutes! Incidentally, when I checked out as Aircraft Commander, I was awarded the Certificate personally by General John Ryan, CINSAC, a most proud moment.

          The 416th kept seven bombers and eight tankers (KC-135's) on alert at all times. During a scramble, the entire fleet of fifteen aircraft was expected to (and proved time after time) get all 88 engines started and have the last aircraft on rolling down the runway in under than fifteen minutes! Takeoff intervals of only a scant fifteen seconds were used. What a sight this was to those on the ground. 

          This type of SAC alert was similar to that used in B-47's, except more and more of it. The Cold War was still real and the threat of ICBM attacks caused SAC to respond by going to "Airborne Alert." A classified number of B-52's, all of them carrying thermo-nuclear weapons were in the air twenty-four hours a day. Responsibility for these missions rotated from Wing to Wing. The 668th flew two types of these missions. One was called "Chrome Dome" where we flew almost due North to the vicinity of our Early Warning Installation located at Thule AB, Greenland. Once there we orbited for the next 16 hours remaining within VHF radio range. We were refueled once heading North; our second tanker was from Alaska and rendezvoused with us over the frozen northern no man's land. On the way back to Griffiss, we had to cross paths with our replacement or else we would use his tanker to top off once again and return to Thule for another session of orbits! SAC had a 100% efficiency rate. 

          Our second airborne alert mission was named "Hard Hat" - this time we left New York, flew through the Straights of Gibraltar, cruised the perimeter of the Mediterranean several times, and returned to NY. This time our tankers came from Spain. 

          Both of these missions were nominally scheduled to be 24-hour flights. SAC was generous in that we were authorized to carry a third pilot to act as relief. He didn't even have to be B-52 qualified; quite often being a KC-135 co-pilot wanting to build time! My longest flight logged was 25 hours and thirty minutes! 

          One has to remember that these missions and alerts were all staged from a base in way upstate NY where weather was truly a factor! Griffiss had 184" of snow each winter I was there and real, not wind chill, temperatures reached as low as minus thirty-five degrees! Below certain temperatures, if we had not had a practice alert where we moved or taxied the airplanes, we would have to go to the aircraft, have a tug hocked up, and rotate the tires at least once each 24 hours. Otherwise, the tires would take a 'flat' set shape and literally tear the airplane apart during a subsequent takeoff. 

          Not all of "Life with SAC" was serious and "By the book' - stories and anecdotes from those days on and off alert with SAC could fill a book, but that's for another time. Besides, they are best told in person over an adult beverage.

          As SAC demanded more and more from its crew members, while giving less and less in return, family life suffered and morale declined. At the same time, a major transition was taking place elsewhere. The civilian airline industry was converting to all-jet operations and was looking for qualified multi-engine jet qualified pilots.

         SAC made it as difficult as possible for pilots to interview with the airlines, refusing to loan out military Form 5's (Official AF Flight Logs). SAC personnel were to report the names of any officer who even so much as made a request for information pertaining to resignation. Leave time had been cut into small blocks in an attempt to prevent extended trips to interview the airlines.

          No problem for the troops! We found a WATS line to the AF Safety Office that kept duplicate Form 5's; that office was run by civilians who were more than happy to assist us and provide duplicates. SAC Personnel was bypassed by visiting Base Personnel. We had a super-secret file cabinet within our nuclear weapons office within the Alert Facility which contained all the employment forms, union contracts, information on domicile bases, interview contacts and locations, and which airlines provided passes to get there! Within a year (1966), as I recall, SAC had lost 35% of its pilots from the bomber and tanker squadrons of the 416th Bomb Wing to the airlines, including me. 

          The route to the airlines was somewhat complicated; I interviewed Braniff out in Texas, Eastern in Miami, American at LaGuardia in NY, and then TWA, United, and Pan Am over at JFK. These interviews, usually with the Chief Pilot and his staff, included some written exams and physicals. When they were finished, I had class dates with all seven airlines mentioned.

          It was interesting that all had some very positive points, such as domiciles, pay scale during and after probation, crew positions, and equipment. My decision to accept Pan Am's proffer was based on the simple fact that I was to fly as a Pilot/Flight Engineer right out of training on the Boeing 727 and be based in Miami. I departed the Air Force on December 10th, 1966 - with 2,800 hours in my log book and just a month short of ten years service.

          As an addendum to the B-52 story, here are some statistics to think about: The first B-52 was manufactured in 1955; the versions still flying now in Y2K were manufactured starting in 1961. There were 744 of them produced. Boeing currently predicts that the B-52 is capable of flying through the year 2037; that will make those planes 76 years old! I recently read that a third-generation pilot in the same family recently checked out as Aircraft Commander.



Circa 1966 ~ 1991

          "The World's Most Experienced" - That was the legend that greeted me as I reported to the Chief Flight Engineer, Latin America Division in December of 1966. The MIA base was located in a hangar on the original site of Pan American Field on NW 36th Street. 

          After a brief Pan Am indoctrination, I started training on the Boeing 727. Back then; each crewmember really learned the nuts and bolts of an airplane. Not only what to do is a warning light came on, but what caused the light to illuminate such as a temperature or pressure, but exactly what temp or press! What had caused the condition? How to bypass it? Correct it? Troubleshoot it? This was still true to a point even in 1991; I believe Pan Am flight crewmembers were the best trained in the airline industry. 

          Flight Engineer training took 3 months before I received my FAA certificate, and then I went on the line with a Check Airman before being released to Crew Scheduling for assignment to routine line operations. 


    Those first years with Pan Am on the 727 were mostly spent flying the Latin routes; mostly Central America and North Coast South America. We also flew quite a few Caribbean trips to and from JFK and MIA to most all of those islands. The 727 was limited to about four-hour trips. At this time, Pan Am did not have any domestic routes.

          The 727 operations had the least seniority; the cockpit crews, as well as the flight attendants, were the youngest that Pan Am had. Because of this, it was a fun operation. I bid off the 727 after close to 4,800 hours and started in Boeing 707 school. 

          In a sense, transitioning to the 707 was a step backwards in technology, but it was a wonderfully reliable aircraft. Recall that it was N707PA that really opened up the jet age for commercial aviation. This painting depicts the departure of the inaugural jet flight from JFK to Paris. It opened new worlds to me. Still MIA based, we were using this equipment for all of deep South America.

          Concerning reliability, I have to boast that Pan Am had the best across-the-board relation between Flight Crews. Maintenance, and the Chief Pilot's Office. The Captain's decisions were never disputed on line. Not once in twenty-five years was I ever forced to accept an airplane that I thought needed repairs before departure, even going back to when I was just a very junior Flight Engineer. It wasn't this way with some airlines.

          The entire industry fell on hard times in the mid-70's; I was furloughed for part of a year in 1976. When I was recalled, it was to the JFK (New York) base - the Atlantic Division of Pan Am. We also had a Pacific Division and an Internal German Operation; I never flew with the later two.

          Another new world opened up for me. Not only did I become familiar with mainstream Europe, but we also had a major Charter operation that took us virtually all over the world and the USA. Name a major city in Europe and chances are I have been there. It was wonderful! At every station we visited, someone had been there before and knew the best places to eat, the best deals in shopping, and the best tours to take. 

          Among the charters that I flew were some of the Press Charters that accompanied then President Jimmy Carter during his reelection campaign. Pan Am always flew the press for all the presidential trips. These photos were taken on one trip through Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. At Cleveland, Air Force One and our 707 were parked in a secure area on the same ramp in front of the old Bomber Plant discussed earlier during the Cleveland Air Race era. Déjà vu! My son and I were treated to a tour aboard Air Force One during the stopover in Columbus. A most impressive aircraft, and this was when it was still a 707!

          Somewhere along the way, I transferred back to MIA and went into the Training Department where I did flight simulator training and administered annual checks, having been 'anointed' and designated as a Check Airman by the FAA. I served in this position as dual qualified in both the 727 and 707. 

          The 747 fleet was expanding and the 707 and 727 fleet was being eliminated. 707 Log Book: 2,100 hours. I accepted a Flight Engineer slot on the 747, JFK based. This introduced me to the dreaded "C" word - Commute! Yes, commuting from MIA to JFK for each and every trip. Although it normally was not too difficult, commuting got quite testy when bad weather became a factor. I couldn't wait to get back to Miami!

          Pan Am next acquired the Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star and I was able to get back to MIA by transferring to it. The 1011 was a high tech airplane, but it really didn't suit Pan Am's needs. It was a 'Cadillac' compared to the older generation of Boeing 'Fords.' I had one month of flying the Pacific while on the L-1011, but most of the time I flew domestic and European trips. Log Book shows 2,000 hours in the L-1011.

          As Pan Am went through one crisis after another, including massive financial hemorrhaging after the purchase of National Air Lines, all of her employee groups were called upon for ever so many give-backs or concessions. I lucked out and in 1985 I got part of one 10% cut returned! 


          Chairman Ed Acker decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the China Clipper. A lottery selected one employee from each group to accompany this historic flight; I won the Cockpit Crew lotto! 


    The flight initiated from San Francisco using the original Sailing Orders and carrying the original U.S. Mail pouch. First stop was Honolulu, where the first of commemorate plaques was placed at the harbor at Pearl City. A lavish reception and dinner awaited us at the Royal Hawaii Hilton. This treatment was to be the norm through this journey - Superior to First Class!

          Special commemorative postal stamps were issued and cancelled during each stop of the trip; everyone on board received a collector's set.



          The following day took us from Honolulu to Midway Island, where we were acquainted with their famous "Gooney Birds." At that time, we were the only 747 to have landed there, and I believe we were the last!

          Leaving Midway, we landed next at Wake Island for additional ceremonies. Our "Class Picture" was taken there.

          The next leg of this 'most ambitious' day was to Guam, again recreating the ceremonies that greeted the original China Clipper in 1935. 

          My father had saved one of the collector's cards from Wings cigarettes back in the late 30's or early 40's. It featured one of Pan Am's Clippers. 

           Off again on the last leg to Manila, where we spent three lavish days, including a formal state dinner hosted by Imelda Marcos. What a journey! We returned via Tokyo and New York.

          Back on the Boeing 747 - the Queen of the skies! She had many names, "The Whale", "Jumbo", "Fred" - call her what you may, she was impressive; not only to the cockpit crews, but to the passengers as well. Once again, as it was with the 707, Pan Am had ushered in the era of the wide-body aircraft in 1970. As I returned to fly her in based out of MIA, I would stay with her except for a brief interruption caused by seniority that took me to the Airbus A-300. 

          I flew the A-300 out of MIA and mostly to Central America once again, just as I had started! Just a personal opinion, but I really did not care for the Airbus. I bid off it as soon as possible, having logged only 300 hours. I would return to, and stay with the 747, based at Miami for the remainder of my, and Pan Am's career.


          Pan Am's fleet of 747's were a part of the government's CARF program; that's the Civil Air Reserve Fleet. 

          Pan Am was the first to be called upon when Operation Desert Shield was initiated. The CRAF program required that our airplanes be converted to MIL Specs and available to serve the military on 72-hour's notice. 

          We were called on to transport troops to the Gulf as the buildup began, and continued throughout the war, and then brought them home. Other airlines were also called up; most responded in kind. A few airlines had crew staffing problems in that some of their pilots and flight attendants refused to fly into the 'danger zone' without receiving hazardous pay, company paid insurance, and other perks. Pan Am did not even have to ask its crews to fly these trips; our crews gladly volunteered. Not one flight crewmember was ever assigned a trip against his will. 

          The military, working with Pan Am’s Liaison personnel, set up advanced staging areas and classified routes into and out of Saudi Arabia. Troops were picked up from numerous bases in the US, transported to Europe, and then to the Gulf region. Pan Am staged out of Rome. Our friends at TWA staged out of Cairo. The map shows the route we took which came across the Mediterranean, West of Cairo, across the Red Sea, over Dhahran, and then finally turning north to land at a remote base named Al Jabayl. This base was about halfway between Dhahran and where all those oil field fires were set. 

          It's appropriate to state at this time that Pan Am carried more US troops in and out of the Gulf War than the entire Military Airlift Command (MAC) and the other airlines combined. I take great pride in this fact!

          However, I am most proud of the troops we carried; in spite of the decimation of the military, the United States is still blessed with young men and women who are willing to lay it all on the line to protect this great country of ours and what she stands for. We had 'open cockpit' on these missions, and all of us on the flight deck were so impressed with these mostly young warriors of ours! 

          A couple of snapshots taken on one mission during Desert Storm are of interest. This one shows our 747 parked next to the "Fuel Farm" - as we refueled from the yellow bladders shown imbedded in the sand. To the right of the photo was a steady stream of Marine helicopters using 'hot-refueling' techniques (engines never shut down). They were transporting our troops to the front lines. 

          Sandbags surround (and camo nets cover) the local BX (Base exchange) where the ever-present Sergeant Bilko and company sold his "Hardrock Café Al Jabayl" T-shirts and other souvenirs to the troops and our Flight Attendants! Bilko would virtually strip our galleys of all sodas, hot meals, fresh bread, etc., and then use those items for super bargaining power. It is nice to see some things do not change from generation to generation or from war to war. Incidentally, though hard to see in the photo, all of us were required to carry gas masks at all times while on the ground there. I am on the right. 

          At the end of the war, we transported the first of the troops back home. I recall one flight from Rome to NY where I made a "Welcome home and thanks for a job well done" announcement as we crossed into U.S. territorial waters. The cheers and ovations could be heard loud and clear, even way up in the noisy cockpit. We also heard the same cheers at we made our touchdown on runway 31R at JFK. I thought they were applauding my exemplary landing, but the Flight Engineer seemed to think it was because they were back on United States soil (can you imagine?). That was a most happy and gratifying flight; one that stands out all by itself in my memory files.


          Once again, later in 1991, Pan Am had fallen on hard times; cash infusions were mandatory. Delta Air Lines made some offers dependant on more concessionary contracts with all the unions. They also wanted the rights to numerous routes and landing slots. They agreed in principal that if they got all those deals, they would invest in Pan Am. They got their union contracts, route authorizations, and landing slots. We did not get our money; DAL had reneged on their word. In my opinion, and in many others, Delta's motto changed that day to "Delta loves to LIE, and it shows." 

          It was December of 1991. I had returned from an all-night flight from Rio de Janeiro the morning of December 3, having logged my 3,432nd hour in the cockpit of the Boeing 747. My son was in town on business and had stayed with us. We turned on the noon news on December 4 and saw the headlines announcing that Pan Am had opened their offices briefly that morning, and then abruptly shut down. I looked at my son and simply told him "Welcome to my retirement." The grand old lady of aviation - the world famous "Blue Ball" - had passed on. 

          Not all was bad news; Pan Am's retirement plan and funding were intact and I was only a few years short of mandatory age 60 retirement, so I really didn't lose all that much. The saddest days ahead were viewing the padlocked and vacant hangars and actually seeing the bankruptcy auction. A part of so many lives went with each piece of equipment sold. This photo of me leaning on the court-ordered fence appeared in an article in Money Magazine discussing the ramifications of forced early retirement. Ironically, the 747 parked in the background is N723PA - "China Clipper II"

          Although not ending as I had planned, my aviation career was finished. I had no desire to continue flying with any other carrier. My retirement party was organized and held at "The Spirit"  restaurant located adjacent to Miami International Airport. This establishment is furbished entirely with Pan Am, National Air Lines, and Eastern Air Lines memorabilia. The poster, presented and signed by guests at the party, was titled "Ly's Retirement Simulator" It features a special Jepp chart, the FAA, simulated cockpit noise, crew meals on wheels, and other nuances of life in the cockpit. 

          The log book, as closed out on the poster, shows 15,524 hours as having been spent in the cockpit. Included in the miscellaneous section are some time actually logged in each of the following: a Ford Tri-Motor, a USAF C-47 Gooney Bird, B-26, and Sikorsky helicopter, a Stearman, and, oh yes, thirty minutes logged at the wheel of the Goodyear Blimp Mayflower out of Watson Island in Miami!

Thirty-four years spent in the air - what a fabulous adventure it was! 

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