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


  1. Thanks Rand, A great post. I have a question. As your dad started his AL career in 1946, did he fly in WWII? If so, what did he fly? If not, how hard was it for him to compete with the multitude of ex-military pilots in the market at the time?. Thanks again.

  2. Capt Schmoe,
    Yes, he was a WWII AAF pilot and flew B-25's. He was in the states when the war ended, discharged at Fort Devins in Massachusetts and jumped on Northeast very quickly. He also remained in the Mass Air National Guard flying C-47's for a short period of time.

  3. Very much enjoyed the history lesson. I was invited to the October get together but was working elsewhere. Looks like I missed a nice show though I see one of the birds regularly at SFM.
    I always enjoy your writing Rand - glad you didn't give it up!

  4. Thanks Rand.
    The changes your pop has seen.

  5. What a great read! Thanks Rand. Gives us a great insight into the pilots of past eras. My parents were both in the industry in England in the late 50's, and having heard their stories, makes yours about your Dad all the better reading!

  6. RIP Mackey! My family flew Mackey International Airlines from Ft. Lauderdale to Marsh Harbor in 1977, with a stop at Miami. It was quite a day... the "airline" didn't have a serviceable plane available, we waited all day for a replacement, then were in danger of getting out too late in the day to make the landing at Marsh Harbor which had no lights at the time. Lots of angry shouting and threats among the large hot sticky group of waiting passengers-to-be. Calls to Eastern resulted in denial of any association with Mackey... The DC-6 we flew on was really something else... lot's of oil streaks and loose rivets. We heard that a couple of weeks after our return, one of their 6's landing gear did a shopping cart wheel manuever on landing and they ran off the runway at MH. Reportedly the crew walked away and was never heard from again.

    Classic vacation story from my youth that will go down in history in the family memoirs...

    Thanks for stirring up that memory Rand!

    Tim G in MN

  7. wonderful post and great photos! Stafford Short was a contemporary and friend of my dad's - I'll make sure my mom sees your latest entry...
    Carol H

  8. Incredible post! Two generations with such amazing lives and strong, admirable characters. Thank you, as always, for a great and enjoyable read and for taking us along with you.

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  10. Hey Cap... always a pleasure to read. As Ellen said... I cannot imagine many cases of two generations sharing a passion for flying.

    How are you doing with the merger? I was thinking if you have already flown planes with DL colors...

    And how about your transit to 767? Ok... guess I have many questions. In fact I would like to know your thoughts about the NW320 that missed MSP... its truly hard to imagine what really happened.

    I'm looking forward for the latest edition of Airways to have a look at your report. Take care...

    Best regards from Mexico...

  11. Rand... hello again. Just curious:

    How did you become a writer for Airways? As you know I also like to write and analyze... so I was just thinking aloud ;)

  12. Hi Rand!
    I hope the impending ban on "Personal Electronics" on the flight deck won't include cameras. Hate to lose that element of your stories!

    Tim G in MN

  13. My dad Charles Kriete loved Northeast and all the great people within! Capt Short, or "Shorty" as dad called him sat me in the jump seat for the first time, and many years later just before he retired, Jim Baker put my son in the right seat of a 727 on the Logan flight line. All the memories of all the wonderful people in the Northeast family will be with me forever!
    Larry Kriete

  14. The pretties sight I've ever seen is the approach lights at any airport when you break out at 200 feet. The rabbit takes you home.
    Here's a good one Capt. Bob Ward actually let me taxi a DC-6 out to the runway sitting on his lap as a kid once. He said "Treat her like you would your own sister"! He was amazing

  15. Nice blog > my dad Jim Crawford worked for NEA out of Boston & MIA from 1957 thru the merger and until his retirement in 1995 as G.M. of Quality Control at the Atlanta Jet Base > he was with TWA out of NYC prior to joining NEA > Jim Crawford Jr. >

  16. I am looking for a series of Northeast Airlines commercials from the 1960s that featured sportscaster Jim Dooley inviting everyone to "Come on Down!" to Florida on a Northeast plane. If anyone knows where I can find one, I'd sure appreciate it. BTW, I was a tanker navigator at the New Hampshire Air National Guard in the 80s and 90s and as I recall some of our Delta pilots were ex-Northeast.

  17. I really enjoyed your post Rand. Our dads who flew for Northeast were a rare breed. My dad let my brother and I sit in the jump seats on his last trip, a Delta L1011 from San Juan to Atlanta. I'll never forget him, that trip, and all the fond memories of Northeast Airlines. Where is Mike's DC-3 these days?

    1. I believe that it is parked in Hampton NH and photos might be on
      Larry Kriete

    2. Check this out and see if it is the right one.
      USA Northeast

      Mason Airfield,NH (NH76)- 13oct09

      Douglas DC-3 N33623

  18. I enjoyed your story.......the stretch 727 - we beat National Airlines in flying it commercially! I was one of the flight attendants on that flight from MIA-JFK - Captain Clark Willard was in the left seat.....he was Chief Pilot at that time in MIA!

  19. My wife, Cecelia (Taylor) Chatt flew for Northeast in the 1950s. I have an old photo from a Miami FL newspaper of her next to a NEA plane and a shipment of carnations from Worcester airport to florida for new years celebration, i do not know if it was 1957 or 2958.Would you know? Cecile passed last year. rod chatt