I look up at the birds with envy,
they look back and mock me.
With nearly 1.7 million miles flown with Douglas & Mc Donnell/Douglas, it would be difficult to describe each mile and what pleasure they offered, and in some cases, not too pleasant of memories. Each takeoff and landing was an experience. To soar over the land, through and around clouds, offered a new scenerio of the country and the world and an unforgettable view.
I never missed the opportunity to get a window seat; however, many times it was unavailable, An empty seat next to me was a bonus. Talking to a person next to me was not a pleasure which I seeked. Maybe that came from having to talk when I was on the ground. There was something about separating yourself from the earth and the daily things which required your time, a desired separation. Some flights became very long in Pacific and Asia and required landing to rejuvinate, but it was not long before the desire to fly again came over you.
Not learning to personally fly an airplane was a disappointment. To be able to conquer the sky without someone else piloting the aircraft would have been icing on the cake, but not to be. I have sat in in the cockpit on a few flights and it does offer the best seat in the house; but you do have to pay attention, at least once in awhile. What I describe here is a brief review of sitting by the window at altitudes of 25,000 to 40,000 feet.
My first trip for the Douglas Company was to St Louis, Missouri. This was in 1960 when I was an Aerodynamist on the C-133 Cargo Aircraft for the Air Force. My mission was to visit Scott Air Force Base and review the Performance Book with the Operational officers for the aircraft. The aircraft was a Lockheed Constellation, the only and last four-engine propellor aircraft that I was to fly other than a few DC-3 flights for the duration of my flying experience. The rest of my trips were all on Jet aircraft. I entered traveling just as the Jet Age was beginning. The most memorable part of this trip to St. Louis was the accidental use of salt when I wanted sugar. Explaining that to the stewardess only convinced her I was a neophyte when it came to flying. This was to change as I entered Marketing and began with a trip to the Middle East.
The attraction from the air as we approached Lisbon, the first European city that I saw, were the red roofs and the age of the city. It made it seem as if I had come to a completely different world, which I had. I wanted to get off the airplane to visit the city, but we were on our way to Geneva, which required flying over the lush verdant green of France. The green was extremely deep - something not associated with Southern California. The overnight in Geneva - Geneva with its fountain in the lake and the city of Swiss beauty and cleanliness. Not much time to enjoy Geneva on this leg, but on the return from the Middle East, I was able to spend two days. Walt Rosenow, who was in the Geneva office at the time, showed me some of the sights with the little time that I had. I wanted to bring Barbara back there someday, but we never made it.
On to Beirut, Lebanon - passing down the coast of Italy, again wanting to make a detour, but alas onward. The beauty of the blue Mediterranean Sea, not long enough to fully appreciate Italy from 30,000 ft. An evening in Beirut, a full coarse Lebanese dinner, hosted by our Mid-East Agent. Totally exhausted, I was unable to appreciate the meal; I am a finicky eater anyway. The starkness of the desert was evident on our flight to Jedda, Saudi Arabia, the playground of ìLaurence of Arabiaî with miles and miles of brown, so similar to the American Desert which I will cross many times on future trips. The trip, thus far, had been of excellent weather, but warm upon arrival in each of the cities of the Mid-East, as it was July.
On one of the segments, Jerusalem to Amman, Jordan, we were in a 50-passenger Turbo Prop aircraft that was completely full and seemed over-crowded - a short flight that seemed to take forever. On landing, everyone jumped out of their seats to grab their overhead bags and coats; we were still some distance from the gate. The Minister of Aviation for Royal Jordanian Airlines, who had escorted us to Jerusalem for a tour, had to express himself quite strongly to get everyone to sit down while the aircraft taxied to the gate.
The only thing I remember about the trip to Tehran from Beirut at night, was how wonderful it felt. Having been in the Middle East for two weeks and in four different cities, when we sat in our First Class seat on Pan Am, it felt like we had gone to heaven. This was a late night flight and there was little to do but relax.
My first flight to Hawaii was in October 1964, to be followed by nearly 70 more flights to the pearly Islands over the next 22 years. Literally, these flights were the least interesting of all flights. From 35,000 feet, water looks the same for as many miles as you look at it. John Burton taught me to play cribbage on the first several flights we took during the Aloha campaign. This was early in the development of tourism by air and the airplanes were half full. Only Pan Am and United served the market. Then later, as additional carriers entered the market and fares to the Islands decreased, the aircraft became full and the airplanes became larger; first, the Stretch DC-8, then 747ís, adding to the cattle car syndrome. This exemplified itself on a return trip from the Pacific and Asia area. Returning from New Guinea to L.A., via Hawaii, found me on a fully loaded United DC-10 with me in the middle of the five abreast middle section, a memorable miserable flight.
One of the more memorable flights to Hawaii was from Dallas to Honolulu - a nine hour flight on the "Big Orange" Braniff 747. The aircraft was about two-thirds full which made it comfortable. I was able to find a quiet spot, so I thought, with empty seats on either side of me. Soon it was apparent that this group on the airplane were starting their enjoyment from the moment the wheels left the ground; actually, I believe they started in the airport. These were a group of sales people from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas who represented ìMonroe Shock Absorbers, and they were out to fly as high as they could on this trip to Hawaii. First the shoes came off, so they felt at home. One woman tried to open the Exit door, with its mammoth arm, thinking it was the lavatory. She did not know where she was. She just got mad because it would not open and went looking for another door. The airplane was drained dry of alcohol with still three hours to go in the flight. It is a good thing they could not get to the fuel tanks, or they would have drank them dry. At one point, I told the stewardess that I had to go hide somewhere; she agreed, but where? As it turned out they were staying at the same hotel as I was in Honolulu. They had become civilized back on the ground - people tend to do this: I believe it's lack of o oxygen at higher altitudes.
Flying out of Los Angeles (LAX) airport was an advantage. The airport was at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and provided an excellent launch pad. Take-offs were simple, out over the ocean. If going to Hawaii or beyond, the aircraft went straight ahead, west. For flights east, the aircraft made a slow turn to the left, coming around the Palo Verde Peninsula and over Long Beach; in fact, nearly over our home in Huntington Harbour. When going north, a right turn was made, with a climb out over Malibu. Landing at LAX was as simple, with weather rarely to be of concern. Only when the Santana Winds blew and approach was made over the water, in lieu of the city, was their a difference in approach patterns. Landing over the city on a clear night is difficult to describe miles and miles of lights, sparkling like jewels. I have never seen a sight to contrast with an approach into Los Angeles on a clear night.
The only take-offs of remembrance were a Northwest 727-200, fully loaded, with the least powerful engines on this aircraft. Temperatures were rising to a 102 degrees, and my knowing that it would not be long before passengers were going to have to be let off before it could depart for Minneapolis. It was warm and uncomfortable in the aircraft. We did take-off, and when I talked to the Flight Operations people at Northwest Airlines, they indicated that one more degree rise in temperature and they would have had to scrub the flight. The takeoff for the fourteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was always at max take-off gross weight. Sitting over the main landing gear, you could feel the cracks and pebbles on the runway as the aircraft started its take-off roll. After a long take-off roll, you could feel it begin to lighten up, then rotation and lift-off. Being nighttime, you could only guess the remaining runway, but each time it was an adventure.
The only similar take-off, with even greater cheek pucker applied, was on a Philippine Airline flight out of Honolulu, going to Manila. It was also at night, and believe me, I know he had nothing left when he lifted off the runway. A real sweat was developed during this take-off. Philippine Airlines had recently run a DC-10 off the end of the same runway. I remember when we started our decent into Manila; It was a Sunday morning and the pilot offered a prayer. I hope he does not plan all his flights this way.
Back to LAX. When your departure clears Long Beach and you are heading to the lower portion of the U.S., you start a direct path towards Phoenix. After Phoenix, you have several choices available - Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta or Miami. These were not my choices because other cities did not interest me, but this is where the airlines are. Phoenix was one hour from Los Angeles, and the only flight of consequence was a Delta Arlines-L1011 heading for Dallas when we were forced to land in Phoenix due to a bomb threat. After three hours, we were on our way again, after the dogs sniffed through all the luggage.
After you fly over Phoenix, the next city to be seen from the window is El Paso, Texas, where I never landed, but it was a major checkpoint on the way to all other parts of the South. The amazing part of El Paso, which gave it a distinct personality, was its stark contrast with Juarez, across the border in Mexico - paved streets versus dirt and very obvious from 30,000 feet. From El Paso, my early destinations were Dallas, Braniff and Central Airlines; and Houston with Trans Texas. The further you went towards these cities the ground began to change from brown to green and dry empty sky began to fill with clouds. During one of these early flights, as I was enjoying the scenery below, I was startled by a B-52 Bomber clearing our aircraft 300 feet below us, crossing our path. This one you do not forget too easily.
Houston was not my favorite city. This may seem harsh, but heat and humidity combined together are not my favorite form of climate. Miami was similar, but my trips to Houston were many in the summertime. During this early campaign at Trans Texas, I came home with the flu three times. Only Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, could compete with Houstons weather and capability to give me the flu. The most frightening take-off occurred out of Houston. We taxied from the gate to the end of the runway in an Eastern Airline, Boeing 727. One could see that a storm was over the airport, and everywhere you looked lightning was striking the ground. I was hoping he would take this thing back to the gate until the storm had past. Not to be, every thing seemed okay until we reached the clouds which was not too high, and the airplane jolted violently. The galleys opened up and dishes came flying out. To say the least, it scared me to death. I still feel that was the closest I came to being thrown out of the sky.
The weather in and around the hot humid cities always left you apprehensive to the possibility of storms. The incident, coming out of Houston, was by far the most tense, but you always felt a little queezy descending into this type of weather. However, when you decend through these clouds it is a beautiful sight. Barbara was with me on a flight from Miami to Atlanta in which we never saw the ground and weaved our way through thunderstorms from start to finish. She still talks of this today - a pucker flight. Approaching El Paso during certain portions of the year left you thinking there must be a better way to fly. Storms start at the Mexican border and extend Northward. With the use of radar, the pilot can usually find a smooth way through, at least I found it so. There is little else to worry about in Texas, no mountains in sight at the major cities, so you just watch the weather.
I took the family to Miami for a vacation as Barbaras brother was living there. The children were about 8 and 10 years of age and were enjoying the trip. On the return trip to California, we stopped in Dallas to do some business with Braniff. Our children were enjoying the flight, as this was their first trip by airplane. The segment between Miami and Dallas proved to be very interesting. We were on a Braniff DC-8-62 which was finishing up a trip from South America. This is where Braniff has its DC-8 fleet operating. Someone forgot to tell the pilot he was in the U. S. and not operating in South America among all those mountains. The approach to many of the cities in Latin America are surrounded by mountains and require very steep decents. As we approached Dallas, we could see forever; it was so clear and not a mountain in sight. The Captain put the aircraft in a steep Latin American descent, scaring everybody including the stewardesses. The galleys opened up and dishes flew everywhere, I was getting use to this. My children asked if we were going to crash, I was guessing we were not, but it was difficult to say no. I think the Captain owed the passengers a warning, then maybe we could have enjoyed the experience of the Latin American approach.
Los Angeles to Minneapolis was one of my major city pairs, equaling the number of flights to Dallas. Once the aircraft had set its destination for Minneapolis, it needed to cross over Las Vegas and Denver. Denver was a city in which I paid visits to Frontier Airline, and because of its high altitude (5,200 feet) provided some of the longer take-off ground rolls, especially on a warm day. After take-off, you were usually given a bumpy ride until you reached a sufficient altitude above the mountains, when going west. When going east, which I only did once, is going downhill all the way.
This trip to Minneapolis provided some of the most beautiful scenery - first, the high desert, then leading to canyon country which led to the Rockies. After Denver, it became flat but not uninteresting as farm lands and moguls appeared giving us the flat land of Nebraska, crossing the Missouri River then descending into the Twin City area. There was a stark contrast of winter and summer highlighting the rivers as they ran deep and dark, accentuated by snow. In the summer, some of the largest hammerhead thunderstorms loomed ahead and passing them, as on glass, always amazed me. Leaving Minneapolis in a snowstorm, climbing smoothly through them to pop out the top on a flat smooth surface, with the sun shining so brightly that you flinch at the severity of the glare these were the smoothest of flights.
The best flying on this route was a 6:30 p.m.departure from LAX. This was a 747 with 400 seats on a scheduled run back to Minneapolis for maintenance after it had been flying around the Pacific and Asia area. This was a scheduled passenger flight. The greatest number of passengers that were counted on this flight, on an average, were 30. To say the least, privacy was obtained. One night on this flight, the stewardess came by to ask if I had brought some golf clubs on board, and I said, "no." Another bomb threat, and no one claimed the golf clubs found on the aircraft. You could read the fear in some of the stewardesses faces, but did the airline land in Denver and bring the dogs on board. No, on to Minneapolis where they parked us out in the boondogs, unloaded us and drove us to the gate. I should have claimed the golf clubs; mine were not doing me any good.
During an airline strike in my early sales career, I needed to get to New York - the last segment being from Atlanta with arrival at "one" in the morning. Having been traveling for many hours to get here, it was good to be on approach to the New York airport. As we descended closer and closer, I began to see less city lights and more haze - actually fog, then flashing lights. I, of course, seemed rather confused by all this when the airplane landed, well sort of - more likely, attempting to drive his landing gear through the runway. We were the last airplane that morning to land at New York. I wonder if they had to straighten the wings out; they must have bent a little. We walked away from it, so it must have been a good landing.
Flights heading east that split Phoenix and Minneapolis, of which there were few, flew over the Grand Canyon, clearing the Rockies at Albuquerque then over St. Louis and the Mississippi. Several stops were made in St. Louis to visit Ozark Airline and the McDonnell Douglas facility. Watching the Arch rise and F-4s doing a Viking take-off (vertical) were sensational pastimes for St Louis residents. The Pilots always wanted to give you a good view of the Grand Canyon. Only from 35,000 feet can you absorb the grandness of this canyon. The worse part is, to get a good view, you either climbed over the guy on the other side of the airplane or he climbed all over you. Sometimes I wish they would keep it a secret up there.
Trips in the Domestic Marketing Department usually averaged 1550 miles and a duration of three and a half hours - give or take a trip to New York, Miami, or Winston Salem. When I moved over as a Director in the Pacific and Asia group, my average was to increase quite dramatically - 7000 miles to Sydney, 14 hour flight; 6000 miles to Tokyo, 12 hour flight, and all flights between the major cities exceeded a cross-country flight in the U.S. The benefit for flying Pan Am were the frequent flier miles being offered. This provided me with the quick ability to include Barbara on several flights to the Pacific Area, accumulating four hundred and fifty thousand frequent travel miles within 2.5 years. The other big change, when traveling domestically, the average stay was three days, always at home on the week-ends. Internationally, the trips would last two weeks, but with the kids gone and the ability to include Barbara made the transition easier.
I described the take-off from LAX on the flight to Sydney and the hunkered down 747SP. I took only one flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, a flight length equal to LAX - Sydney. The washboard runway and the mountain pass that you had to clear, and in the daylight made for a very interesting take-off. The best part was to come on this flight. At 40,000 feet over Taiwan before decending into Hong Kong, we came across a thunderstorm with lightning striking all around us and bumping along; one does tend to hang on. Again, on a segment between Hong Kong and Port Moresby, New Guinea, we ran into severe lightning remembering, that the South Pacific is a ball of heat and humidity. To watch a storm rise over New Guinea, as your aircraft climbs to cruise altitude, is breathtaking, knowing that the people below depend on the rain from those clouds.
The most dramatic sky is here in the U.S. - in the Midwest during a night lightning storm. High above the lightning flashes which came one right after another, if not simultaneously, it looked like old war movies of artillery bombardments. Singapore to Kuala Lumpur was always a cloud covered sky; that is how they grow a jungle. On a flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, we flew down the South China Sea which paralleled Vietnam before we turned east to cross the Malaysian Peninsula. All the way down there was a dark large storm over the country as we made our way down a sparkling clear ocean, with visibility to the storm, but not beyond. When we turned towards the storm to make our approach to Kuala Lumpur, we watched in awe at the sight of the black ominus clouds. Amazingly, with radar, they were able to smoothly glide through the storm.
Still the greatest airport to fly into for pure drama was Hong Kong, It does not exist anymore, so I feel privileged that I was able to fly into this airport before it became no more, At night, you just watch as you approach a city. This was my first flight into Hong Kong not knowing what to expect. Then the apartment complexes came into view, then the aircraft made a sharp right turn aound the complex. Remember, this is a large 747, so immediately the tires are on the runway - different to say the least. Future landings were made during the daylight, and I must admit I looked forward to this approach. They were excellent pilots, and Hong Kong was a fascinating city.
My first flight to the Pacific Area was to Australia. As we approached Melbourne, it was interesting to note similarity to Southern California, even in the fact that one of the largest fires was burning much of the forest in Victoria; I felt right at home. On a subseqent trip, we attempted to land at Canberra, Australias capitol. However, due to fog, and three attempts, we ended up going back to Melbourne, and completed the trip the next day. I have to give the Australian pilots credit, as they know when to go away and come back another day.
With all these little tid bits - storms, hard landings , etc., it still was an opportunity to get away from earth for a period of time. At 1.7 million miles and an average of 450 miles per hour, it put me in the air approximately 3,778 hours. It separated me from the earth with the opportunity to fly above the birds, that continued to mock me when I was on the ground.