Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Northeast Airlines Reunion

Thanks to AIRWAY's editor John Wegg for the photo above. Note Mackey, on the side of the car door and a fire extinguisher in position for radial engine starts. Mackey, formed in 1946 merged with Eastern Airlines in 1967 and flew primarily from Florida to the Bahama's and the Turk's & Caicos Islands. Their fleet included DC-3's, DC-6's and Convairs.

January 1980. Dad's retirement flight in a 727 as we were inbound to BOS for his last landing on runway 27. I rode in the jumpseat. This 727 was the first "stretched," or 200 series three-holer delivered to the airlines and NEA in particular in 1967.

As many of you know, my Dad flew for BOS based Northeast Airlines from 1946 through 1980, during the "golden age" of American Air Transport. I can practically recite the 1957 seniority list with names that included; Anderson, Bean, Mudge, Lord and Chaves. I wanted desperately to fill a slot on the NEA seniority list, but was too young when they merged with Delta in 1972. I interviewed with Delta in 1978 while flying with BOS based Air New England, but when they discovered that I was "Red's boy," I was done. DAL employed a nepotism policy in those days.

My father flew what may have been Northeast Airlines last flight. He departed BOS in a Northeast DC-9 on September 30 and and landed in Miami just after midnight on October 1, 1972 in a Delta DC-9. September 30 was the last day of operation for 39 year-old NEA as it officially merged into DAL the next day. NEA was the launch customer for the stretched or -200 series 727, in fact DAL had no 727's in its inventory at the time of the merger.

Three NEA DC-3's on the ramp in Montpelier, VT (MPV)

Montipelier, 160 miles north of BOS just south of the Green Mountain Range, was an outlying station and it was abnormal to have three 3's here at one time. This picture was given to me by retired NEA/DAL captain Dick Barnes, who holds the distinction of flying Northeast Airlines last DC-3 flight. Dick Greene was his copilot and Helen Chase was the stewardess on this historic flight from Nantucket (ACK) to LaGuardia in December 1966. There are no longer any NEA pilots flying with DAL.

Kent Greenough and Randy Luce manned this station for NEA then and later ran it for Air New England. I was fortunate to have known them and acquired much of my NEA memorabilia from them. I lived in Stowe, VT and commuted to BOS from here as well as flying Twin Otter flights in/out. Every time I came home from a trip, another piece of NEA history would be sitting inside my trusty Land Cruiser awaiting my arrival. It was like Christmas in July sponsored by these two generous fellows.

A Northeast DC-3 on the ramp in Lewiston, Maine (LEW)
Constructed in 1942 for the US Army Air Force.

You may have read my story in AIRWAYS concerning Lufthansa and their restoring a Lockheed Constellation in Maine. If you did, the hangar that we enjoyed their festivities in, is located directly in front of the nose of this DC-3... only 50 years later!

This picture was on display in the LEW passenger waiting area for many years, when our ANE station manager Suzy ???? acquired it for me in 1975. Just to clarify, I made a copy of it and returned it later!

An Air New England DC-3 overhead Nantucket. (ACK)

I never flew for NEA, but was lucky enough to be hired at HYA based, later BOS based Air New England in 1974. This was a company promo picture of one of our six DC-3's over Nantucket in either 1973 or '74. Our demise followed in October 1981 and employment later at Orion and Republic Airlines was attained through ANE friends already there. Ward Dunning secured me a sideways (727 FE) seat at Orion and Wes Lundquist, Bob Finnigan, Owen Hickey, Dan Hallinan and others somehow convinced Karen Dompier to hire me at Republic a year later. Republic merged with Northwest Airlines in 1986 and Northwest with Delta Airlines only recently. It's funny how life unfolds isn't it?

My father, sometime in the mid 1950's, dual qualified as a DC-3 and Convair 240 captain and on his retirement flight in 1980.

Aging Eagles

Not only do I love seeing my Dad's contemporaries at Captain Bill Grady's NEA reunions in June and October in Plymouth, NH, but more and more Air New England pilots are showing up too. From left to right: Wes, hired with me at ANE in 1974 and instrumental in getting me hired at Republic in 1985. Today he's an A-330 captain at Delta. Alec recently retired from USAirways and has just written a book. Rand. Christine was an FH-227 Stew who married Hook, one of ANE's most beloved pilots who went on to fly at Continental. Sadly he died of cancer a couple of years ago. Gary went to People Express and retired a few years ago as a 767 captain at Continental. Jack, who also went to Republic, retired a few years ago off the 747-400 at Northwest. Howard was a training captain and Chief Pilot at ANE. Tom, like Wes, migrated to North Central just before ANE went under and is a 757 captain at Delta today. Tom's wife Sidney (not pictured) another ANE alumnus is a DAL A-330 captain today. Eddie, another 1974 ANE classmate, went to Allegheny Airlines in 1978 and is the VP of Flight Operations at USAirways today. This picture represents just a small sampling of the 175 ANE pilots whose friendship I still enjoy today.

I made this short video from clips taken at the October NEA reunion to show some of the eclectic airplanes that these folks arrive in. There are many others, including Bob Trinque's restored Beech-18 and a plethora of little tail draggers.

My Dad and me at his home in Amherst, NH on the morning of his last flight.

I rode jumpseat during this flight. At the time, Delta had a no jumpseat policy; it took him months to achieve approval for this. Jim Baker was the BOS Chief Pilot then, had flown as a DC-6B Flight Engineer for my Dad years earlier and helped expedite this request. My mother and sister were in first class as we all enjoyed the trip up the east coast from sunny Tampa to an inclement Boston.

The sun had set on a cold, dark January evening as he flew radar vectors over the old Boston Light established in 1716 and the historic Outer Harbor. General Washington assumed command of the Continental Army here in 1775 during the "Siege of Boston" and ran the British out with Colonel Knox's captured cannon just off our left on Dorchester Heights. USS Constitution, America's oldest commissioned warship, better known as Old Ironsides, as well as the Old North Church, Bunker Hill and Fort Independence are there too; reminding us of a time before jet air travel.

Out of 12,000 feet and slowing to 250 knots, he disconnected the autopilot to enjoy the feel of Jack Steiner's fabulous design one last time. With inboard and outboard ailerons, assisted by flight spoilers and a rudder load limiter, this is an amazingly responsive jet. He called for "engine anti-ice, flaps 2, then 5 and finally flaps 15" as we slowed and maneuvered for a left base to runway 27 at the old East Boston Airfield. Buffeted by a moderate wind from the east and shrouded in snow squalls, made visible by our landing lights, the gear came down and the flaps reached 30 degrees as we passed 1,500 feet inbound from the outer marker.

Dimly visible now through dark and snow, moisture streaming back over our heated windscreen, we sighted the runway end identifier lights. The end to his accident free, 25,000 hour, 34 year career was in sight, but I couldn't help but wonder how many times he'd enjoyed this scene since his first experience here in 1946 aboard a DC-3. Go ahead, ask any professional pilot which phase of flight he or she enjoys most. Without hesitating, they'll confirm that breaking out at minimums in a hand flown ILS approach is just plain fun! The lower and windier the better. With a little crosswind control tonight, Dad will roll on the upwind mains, bleed speed and fly the downwind mains and the nosewheel to the runway, extend the spoilers and gently pull his "dependable" JT-8's into reverse and lightly apply the brakes.

At the gate in BOS after his last flight with Captain Stafford Short. In the center is retired Captain Ron Pach who was the Flight Engineer on this flight and the FO was retired Captain Bob Hobbs.

The satisfaction of delivering 150 fellow humans home in adverse conditions, professionally, safely and smoothly, is immensely gratifying. But it doesn't end there. When I see a young mother struggling in the jetway with a stroller I think of my niece, or an older couple overwhelmed by it all my parents come to mind. It takes but a moment of my time to choose to help out and offer a hand. What would my father have done? What would he have expected from me? I really don't need to ask myself these questions... I know! Most aviators love this craft. Many pilots don't however and it surfaces in their skills and attitudes toward other crew members and passengers.

Just in case you may have been wondering, these two photos (above/below) will give you a feel of what its like to fly a visual approach to runway 27 at BOS. The shot above, much as it might have appeared in 1946 was taken from within Air New England DC-3, "Triple Six" in 1975. The shot below was taken on final to the same runway from a B-757. As usual, thanks very much for following along, I hope that you've enjoyed flying on my Dad's last flight and meeting some of my ANE pals.


Right on the VASI

Sunday, October 4, 2009

HNL to LAX and my first visit to the Delta gates

On the ramp in Honolulu at gate 11, preparing to leave for LAX. Something new tonight though. When we arrive tomorrow morning at 0630, we'll taxi over to the south complex and park at the Delta gates. This scene occurred about a month ago, as the march towards consolidation continues. With nearly half our airplanes repainted, NWA is fading into history. In today's Minneapolis Business Journal (10/07/09) there's an article concerning the sale of NWA's World Headquarters in Eagan, MN. To employees it was known as "Building A," among other names that you might imagine.

We departed off runway 8R, flew the MKK4 departure, climbed past 10,000 foot Haleakala on Maui hidden in darkness and fog, entered the Pacific track system at CLUTS and settled in for a five hour, 22 minute, 2,200 nautical mile flight to North America. I've mentioned this several times in the past, but the Hawaiian islands are the worlds most remote archipelago in the world largest ocean. Finding this little needle in a haystack today is easy with Flight Management Computers, but navigating here from the mainland in the late 1930's and '40's in flying boats required a herculean effort and nerves of steel. What we'll fly in four and a half hours tonight, took as many as 18 hours in a state of the art, lumbering, Boeing 314. Nearly 70 years later, we're still spanning this ocean in yet another (not quite so lumbering) Boeing.

We've exited our track just west of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, as we observe this mornings sun rise over the San Gabriel mountains east of Los Angeles. Beautiful isn't it?

Our original flight plan included the VTU6 (Ventura6) Arrival, but we're leading the Pacific inbounds and have been cleared directly to EXERT, "keep your speed up" for an ILS to runway 6R. If I were in my Cub (which is no longer mine by the way) I'd look at that sucker hole just ahead as my portal to Nirvana... or at least to LA! The San Gabriel's, just ahead, loom larger now, as does my bed at the Wilshire Grand Hotel downtown. Which reminds me... I'd like to thank the management of the Wilshire Grand. They offer us 50% off in all of their restaurants and free Internet! I've enjoyed wonderful meals at Cardini Ristorante and City Grill at more than reasonable prices. Thanks!

View from our cockpit towards the LAX tower and Encounter Restaurant as our ground crew prepares to tow us into the gate.

We'd landed on 6R, turned off and taxied west on Echo, south on Sierra and east on Bravo towards C8, in search of gate 54A. This is all new territory for us as we contacted the Delta Ramp tower. "Cleared into the alley and look for your tow in crew" we heard as we saw a tug and several men approach our airplane.

Tow in gate! What's this all about? Just kidding... I'd read the bulletin and was prepared for the event. The alleyways in this complex are considerably more narrow than I'm accustomed to and to prevent damage and injury to equipment and personnel with jet blast, Delta will tow us into the gate. I've experienced this several times now, they're always in position waiting for us and there is no delay.

A closer inspection of Encounter reveals that it is still under going renovation, but is open to the public. A couple of years ago I wandered into the restaurant before heading to the hotel one evening to explore this highly unusual building. While taking a few low light interior pictures, I met the Chef, introduced myself and explained that I planned to write a story for Airways Magazine. He personally guided me through his restaurant suggesting angles for pictures and asking patrons to remain still while I shot. "Ladies and gentlemen, the captain needs to take a few pictures... let's help him out," he announced. And they did. That was easy!

In fact, here's the chef and one of the interior shots that I took that night. I wrote that story and it appeared in the August 2006 issue of Airways Magazine. Thanks very much to the folks at Encounter and at Airways for publishing it.

Very Jetsonesque, it's well worth your time to visit Encounters if you're transitioning through LAX.

A view of a Frontier Airbus as we continue towards the gate. Frontier has just emerged from bankruptcy and has been purchased by Republic Airways. You may remember the bidding war that raged between Southwest and Republic for control of this Denver based airline. Republic is a holding company that owns several smaller airlines, such as Chautauqua and Shuttle America.

In a related story, management at Milwaukee based Midwest Airlines announced recently, that it plans to return its fleet of B-717's and outsource all of its flying to Republic Airways. Actually, as of July 31, Midwest is a wholly owned subsidiary of Republic. The result of this decision? All of Midwest's flight crews, pilots and flight attendants, who contributed to the success of this small airline will be laid off and Republic will fly these routes with 76 passenger Embraer 170's. I wonder if they'll spare the chocolate chip cookies from the unemployment line? Midway has laid off some 1,800 employees this year. I understand economics, but its a sad state of affairs when those who built the airline are jettisoned, while an outsourced group takes over. I find it very difficult to believe that the high level of quality that Midwest once achieved will now prevail. The Frontier pilots are between a rock and a hard place. The seniority deal offered by Southwest was poor, but how will life aloft unfold with Republic Airways?

When will we as a pilot group learn to avoid eating our young? I may be wrong, but my understanding is that Southwest planned to simply staple the Frontier pilots to the bottom of their list. If I'm incorrect about this I apologize, but this is what I've learned from some involved in these negotiations. If this was a tactic to avoid a merger I get it. But if not, I don't. I've managed to survive two mergers; one very ugly and the other, at least to this point, very amiable. I prefer the second scenario! In both cases my airline was acquired, not because I'm such a nice guy, but because the Board of Directors at the surviving carrier thought it made good business sense. Or because they thought they would personally benefit. None the less, the employee groups are simply pawns, maneuvering for position in the grand scheme of things.

Well, we're almost to the gate and we'll head downtown to the Grand Wilshire where I can finally turn in and get some sleep. But after a few hours I'll get up, turn on my computer and start writing. Why? Because I enjoy it, but also because I'm trying to earn independence from my airline, have a back up plan to which I can fall back should I become outsourced. If you've read my Ask the Captain column on my website, you know that I'm a strong believer in "the backup plan."

Airline flying is a wonderful job, it's worked out well for me. But it's at the whim of the deal makers in the smoke filled back rooms and when it goes away, I don't want to be caught flatfooted. According to 121 FAR's we can't take off without a backup plan, ie. an alternate, either an arrival or departure alternate based on present or forecasted weather. Perhaps we should guide our lives by this tenet too, the forecast is ominous.

Here's a funny parody with regard to outsourcing and crew scheduling that I hope you enjoy. Unfortunately it's taking on an all to realistic look though.

NWA's rapidly diminishing fleet of reliable Douglas DC-9's

But before you leave, hold on for just a minute. I want to tell you about a DC-9 that I once flew. N962N, a DC-9-31, built originally for North Central Airlines in 1969. Oh my gosh, that was forty years ago! For greater, more interesting details click here to learn what Perry Van Veen can tell you about this marvelous airplane.