[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]
Jenks had done a very good job on the executive aircraft (see Chap. 10, Part 1), proving he was a very talented man. A few days later, he had a meeting with Al and Ray and thereafter did not appear at work. Thomas, the individual I had difficulty with, took over as head of the shop. This lasted a very short time and then he no longer appeared at work. A couple of days later, Al asked me to step into his office and wanted to know if I would take over the shop and run it. I told him I would do it on a temporary basis until he could find someone better qualified than myself in maintenance work. Ray was to bring in the work to keep the shop busy. A salesman was hired to help him. The first thing I did was to ask Jim, an extremely competent foreman, to call our workforce together, and I talked to them for about 30 minutes. Next I had an understanding with Jim, where his job started and ended so we could work together efficiently and in harmony. Jim was a great professional, and an easy man to work with in aviation maintenance. I placed the majority of the burden on his back. Jenks had been a real perfectionist and nitpicker, and had lost sight of the overall picture at times. Under those conditions, morale among the workers had dropped and there was no energetic or vigorous effort put forth by them. It was a challenge for me to turn it around.
After a couple of weeks, Al stepped in my office and said, "I do not know what you have done here, but everyone in the shop is really hustling." That was a real compliment, coming from Al.
One of our jobs was to modify a DC-3 for use by a domestic airline in Japan. Being a small country, their passengers were mostly commuters. This allowed us to do away with the baggage compartment on the main deck and replace it with seats. Small people allowed the use of smaller seats closer together. From a normal load of 21 passengers in the U.S., it went to 30. A much better profit picture was now possible. The rest of the aircraft was overhauled with newly overhauled engines, new electronics and a new interior. We painted the rising sun on it as requested. The name of the airline gave us a little trouble to paint along the length of the fuselage. We had to hire a Japanese girl to lay out the graphic lettering in Japanese. We contracted to deliver the plane to Tokyo, so I sold them an extra set of DC-3 fuel tanks and agreed to deliver the tanks for free. I needed the tanks to carry the extra fuel needed to cross the Pacific Ocean. We mounted the fuel tanks in the main cabin and plumbed them into the main system.
Local testing showed everything working fine, but to test the long-range tanks, I elected to fly Miami to Oakland, Calif., non-stop. No problems. Strong headwind forecasts delayed our departure to Honolulu. The celestial navigator I had hired in California for the trip was pretty nervous. Two others had turned down the trip when they heard it was a DC-3. Frank, of the Burnelli group, was the copilot. On the third day of waiting, as a hunch, I asked the navigator to check the winds at 1500 feet and the surface. "The winds are OK, but nobody flies that low." "We are," I said. "Let's go." We filed a flight plan and leveled off at 1500 feet with the RPM a little on the low side for the manifold pressure. We were being stingy on the fuel. We were doing well until about half way when my radio would not reach San Francisco Traffic Control, nor Honolulu, to give them our position report. I listened to a jet overhead and asked if he would relay my position, etc. "Sure, be glad to." I gave it to him. "You mean 15,000 feet and come again on that ground speed of 130 knots?" I assured him it was 1500 feet and 130 knots. "Wow, what are you flying?" Two hours later, for another position report with another jet, it was pretty much the same thing. Only this time, it was, "Who do you think you are, Lindberg? Hey, we are staying at such and such hotel on the beach. We meet in the bar at 7:00 p.m., hope you will join us."
Honolulu had changed from a wartime hustle and bustle to a peacetime tourist environment. Our flight time from California to Honolulu was 14 hours and 55 minutes. I thought back many years during WWII with a different and faster type of aircraft and a strong tailwind; I was told I had set a new course record from Honolulu to California. This time, Customs had a little difficulty accepting the fact that we had flown in from the U.S. with the DC-3. All had gone well on the crossing and the navigator seemed to know what he was doing. The next leg, though, he would have to find Wake Island, just a small speck in a big ocean. They had a powerful radio beacon to help us if visibility was poor. This was the island of a very fierce battle with the Japs, as to who would posses it. Midway Island would be more of a direct route to Tokyo for us, but I would not be able to get fuel there, nor permission to land.
On to Tokyo
The leg to Wake Island went very well and I was glad to see an island that I had missed in World War II. The following leg to Tokyo went well but weather at Tokyo was wet and overcast, depriving us of a good view of the city. We were whisked through Customs by an escort. I was surprised to be met by a delegation of people at the terminal. They were representatives of the airline plus many from DBK, a worldwide import-export company. We were bowed to, introduced to and spoken to individually by the members of the delegation. In Miami I had been asked if I would prefer a western-style hotel or a Japanese. I had requested a Japanese. My crew was sent to the Imperial Hotel, designed originally by Frank Lloyd Wright. I was taken by limo to a garden spot with a large, low, rambling building of breathtaking beauty. Before the war, it was the Emperor's country estate, now a small hotel. I did not believe just a lot of money would get anyone a room here.
I slept Japanese style on the floor in a beautiful suite. Being very exhausted, I had slept like the proverbial brick. On wakening, I was very hungry and ordered breakfast in my room and decided to soak in a hot tub of water to loosen up a few sore muscles. Relaxing with my eyes closed, I thought I heard a Japanese voice calling. There she was, looking down on me in the tub. I did notice the tray she was carrying. "No! Not here, in other room." "OK." She was soon back in by the tub to bring me a cup of tea. I guess she had not seen a nude westerner before or perhaps in Japan it did not make any difference.
It took about three days for the airline personnel to inspect the plane to see if it met the specifications of the contract. I had been requested to stay over until the inspection was completed. The next day I was met with a limousine and an escort and taken to the DBK building, where I was told 6000 people shuffled papers, and in another building there were another 2000 workers for DBK. On the top floor we met Man Number 1. He had no secretary and would answer his own phone. You can easily recognize the pecking order by who bowed the least, and the lower echelon bows a lot and the lowest. From there we proceeded to a conference room with about 16 chairs around it. Each one of the chairs was taken up by an expert of some component of the aircraft, except the one I sat in. At the head of the table was sitting a man I had met when I had arrived in Tokyo. He was a well-poised individual who was the son of a pre-war prime minister and a contender in the Olympics for sailing. Later -- in a different setting, with his fine English -- we could, and did, discuss planes and sailing.
I was sitting in the hot seat and every individual around me was a specialist in a single system on the aircraft. They asked "why" and "what" we did to the system. Each one had his turn at me and was armed with the inspection report from their inspectors. All went very well until the radio engineer got his turn. Why didn't we modify a radio like he had specified. I had looked into it and found out that, if we had done so, it would have meant the radio could not be certified as airworthy. If I spoke on this point, he would have lost face in front of his peers and co-workers. To have done so, I would have injured my standing as well. I more or less evaded the question and kept everyone happy.
They saw that thereafter I was occupied every day, inspecting dormant aircraft factories with acres of machinery waiting for work. I had been asked to see what aircraft and boat-building facilities were available for lease. I became friends with several of the DBK men. One was Jimmie, a professor in aeronautical design and engineering at the University of Tokyo before the war. He had also designed the successor to the Zero fighters. Only about a dozen got built before the war was over. Another friend was a bomber pilot in WWII in the Burma area. The most unusual was a kamikaze pilot. He told me about being called to his captain's office when he was in pilot training. The captain said, "You are given two weeks vacation to visit your home. You have volunteered to become a kamikaze pilot. Here is the proof of it, a picture of you as a hero in your local newspaper. Hurry, for they will hold celebrations and a farewell party for you." The pilot went home for the farewell party and then was sent to the southern part of Japan. He was given an old training plane loaded with explosives to fly to Okinawa and crash it into an enemy target. They had a problem, though, for they did not have gas for the plane. His plane was parked under trees alongside a country road that was to be the runway. He was hoping they would not bring any gasoline, when the war ended. He was a lucky pilot.
The Japanese effort to protect the home islands was a desperate battle to prevent the allies from using Okinawa as a staging area for the invasion of Japan proper. Over 3000 Kamikaze pilots were used for this sacrifice. Training for some started at the age of 14 to become a pilot.
I think Jimmie showed me every little out-of-way neighborhood bar in the back alleys of Tokyo. All the little bar girls would sparkle and light up with a "Hello Jimmie," and girl bartenders would invariably say, "Jimmy, your wife wants you to call her." Sometimes someone would say to him, "She will raise her voice to you." Jimmie was a tall, gangling, skinny fellow, ugly as could be and everybody loved him. Fifteen years earlier, I could never have imagined the two of us wandering down the back alleys of Tokyo with our arms supporting each other. In one bar with a private room, a party was going on. Soon we were invited into this boisterous group of men, obviously men of substance. Everyone had to put on a skit or some form of entertainment to keep things lively. As is the custom in Japan, when introduced to someone, you give him your business card. Mine had been printed up the first day in Tokyo with English on one side and Japanese on the other. I was nudged into telling them about my flight to Tokyo. Most of them wanted me to visit them at their office. The next day, I pulled their cards out of my pocket and asked one of DBK's men, "Who are these people?" "Oh! Oh! He number one man in number one steel company. This man number one in stainless steel, this man number one in big bank ..." and so it went. Mostly steel-related men who took in a lone American pilot they would have hung or shot 15 years earlier. It made me think.
Jimmie told me he and his colleges dreamed of living in a western-style house, drinking Scotch whiskey, having a Chinese cook and a Japanese wife. (Sorry, girls.) After eating in sumptuous Chinese restaurants in Tokyo, I could agree about the Chinese cook. I was told the businesspeople were not paid very much but they had very generous expense accounts, something to do with taxation. Business entertainment was lavish and I was a beneficiary.
One morning I was driven to a formal acceptance of the aircraft by the airline at the airport. Probably 40 important people were in attendance, grouped before a decorated DC-3 that I easily recognized. Several well-dressed dignitaries gave quiet, but impressive, speeches before the group. Unexpectedly, I was led before the group and the leader said a few sentences in Japanese and bowed to me and the others acknowledged my presence. It became obvious I should say something. I did not know how touchy the war was with this group. It happened. It was over. I would not avoid it. I mentioned we had been two great people divided by a war. The interpretation to Japanese gave me time to choose my words. We both suffered a great amount. Now it was time to rebuild our nations with each other's help and friendship. This aircraft and my being here was testimony to us living together in harmony. I had a feeling I said the right words when many came to me and made a short bow.
There came a time to leave, my delivery of the aircraft was completed, I had given my sales pitch but, most importantly, I tried to reach a rapport with this very different culture. Not just in a business way, but in very human-to-human touch. In a way, it was also my closure with World War II.
I had booked a flight on Pan Am out of Tokyo and was escorted to the airport by more than a half-dozen Japanese to see me off. With very solemn voices, they bid me farewell and hoped I would return. Do not speak of inscrutable Japanese to me, for two of them had tears on their cheeks. Perhaps it was their personal closure with the war.
It was to be a long, overnight trip to Honolulu. The seats were not too comfortable. I spoke briefly with the senior stewardess about flying after the lights were dimmed and the other passengers were settled in. This was a double-deck Boeing, with a lounge and bar on the lower deck. After the cocktail hour, a chain blocking off the spiral stairway to the lounge had been put up. She suggested that I go below and sleep on the sofa, and if I felt like a nightcap, to help myself. During the night, I felt someone spread a blanket over me. I call that first-class service.
In immigration, in those days before computers, they tried to get you to talk a little bit to pick up a foreign accent or something contrary to (or an additive to) your passport or declarations. On arriving in Honolulu, I was asked what I was doing in Japan, I replied I was a pilot and was riding back as a passenger. He mentioned there had been a small, old plane going to Japan a few weeks ago and wondered if they ever got there. I did not enlighten him, but wondered if immigration had a code and knew I was the pilot. It also made me realize how much aviation was changing. About 15 years ago, during WWII, I had flown a cargo version (C-47) of the DC-3 from California to Australia and it was not considered unusual nor did it attract attention.
I was in Miami doing the usual, routine work at the airport. On weekends I was getting some landscaping done around the home Jeanne had purchased in South Miami, while I was in New York City. She had not mentioned the condition of the two acres of tropical planting just waiting for me to put in some sweat equity. We did find time to do some boating, diving and camping out with the 27-foot cabin boat I had previously built. The great boating waters of Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys were close to our new location. We did a lot of diving in those waters and offshore reefs. Usually we kept about 20 to 30 Florida lobster and some fish fillets in our freezer for a backyard cook-out with friends and neighbors.
With the children in nearby schools, Jeanne had time to do some work in real estate. She also worked with public relations to start up the Seaquarium on Biscayne Key. Being an ex-competitive and marathon swimmer, she was soon in the water with the catch boat for filling the tanks with its inhabitants. The sharks brought in were comatose and water had to flow through their gills to revive them. This was done in waist-deep water and walking while holding them by their fins or hugging them until they became active and swam by themselves in a special tank. She taught Arthur Godfrey, Steve Allen and others to scuba dive and ended up on their national television shows as the sole presence with them on the screen and in conversation, sometimes in a solo performance in underwater scenes. It paid very good pocket money and lots of bathing suits from manufacturers and designers. Looking good in a bathing suit did not hurt. In teaching Wernher Von Braun to scuba dive, she had to get help to answer this rocket scientist's inquisitive technical questions concerning the breathing apparatus.
At the airport, I heard from the Japanese they would like to have another aircraft like the one I had delivered, as soon as possible. It was put in the works and on completion I would deliver it and try to sell another one to them. This time Al asked if I would like to take his son, J.K., with me as copilot. Of course, being boss, he could have said, "Take him," but he didn't. J.K. was about 16 years of age and had learned to fly under his tutorage a few years before. I did ask Al to instruct him this was not a joyride, it was a business trip, and he would be under the scrutiny of the Japanese, being the company owner's son. I never had any reason to regret my decision. Before departure, I asked Al if I could bring him anything from Japan. It was a fabulous shopping area. "Bring me back lots of money," was his only request. He was always serious and very focused. Once in a meeting he told me to expect an outside incoming phone call for him in about 15 minutes. "One of my horses is running at the Hialeah Race Track today." "Al, how is it you are not there to cheer him around the track?" I asked. "It's a business with me and I don't want my emotions to interfere with business."
It was a long trip once again to Oakland from Miami. The long-range tank system in the main cabin, when close to two-thirds empty, sucked air, making it impossible to use all the fuel. We only had to switch over to our main tanks for this run, but would need all of it over the Pacific. On the final approach for the runway at Oakland, I felt a little slowing of the plane, and a yaw to the left with the tachometer showing zero rpm. I looked out at the left engine and it was stopped, the prop not turning. This is very unusual. Normally, if an engine quits running because of lack of fuel or something broken, a 100-mph wind will have the propeller rotate the engine. We just continued our last few hundred feet of descent, letting the Tower know we were on single engine and would prefer not to have a reason to go around. We would also need a tow bar and a tug to get off the runway. After the tug towed us to a service hangar, I tried to rotate the prop but it was locked solid. The reduction gear had jammed. Most aircraft piston engines have the greatest failure rate the first 50 hours after overhaul. That should tell us something.
I asked Miami to have the engine overhaul shop airfreight an engine as a replacement. We soon had it installed and running. The mechanics could not find the reason for the long-range tank system to suck air. We did several test flights over a few days before we found a valve in the system was defective, allowing air to be sucked into the system. With the same navigator as before on the trip to Tokyo, this voyage was uneventful. We did not stay there very long nor was our project under the same scrutiny.
On the way back, I stopped over in Honolulu and talked to Aloha Airlines about buying some DC-3s. They promised to visit us in Miami to inspect our planes. They did so in the next few weeks and bought one DC-3. They had plenty of pilots to fly it to the islands. No delivery trip meant no surfboarding for me.
Which Way the Future?
The future of many planes and our company, too, depended upon the decisions made by the airlines of foreign countries. Would they go from the DC-3 directly to jets, or would they take the in-between step and go to the DC-7s or Constellations? If they chose the latter, then we could relieve the U.S. major airlines of those types of aircrafts, and lease or sell them to the foreign airlines. But then our concern would be what would those countries do with their DC-3s? Planes were not like real estate. If Australia has a surplus of DC-3s on the market, it would rapidly depress the market all around the world, and impact the value of the stock we had! However, if the foreign airlines went the other way and chose to go with jets, then we would have to do the same. It became obvious this was something we needed to find out. I took on the task of writing to airlines around the world to find these answers. Assisting me was a wonderful secretary that was fluent in many languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, German and could get by easily with a dictionary in Russian and several other languages.
In the meantime, the Japanese phoned Al and ordered a third aircraft from us. They wanted it to be the same as the previous two. With things having slowed down and not enough work to keep the conversion shop busy, it had been closed down. This meant we would have to sub out the work for the new conversion of the DC-3 for the Japanese. I wrote a set of specifications for the aircraft, which comprised of a stack of typewritten pages, one-inch thick. This was taken to a large aircraft-overhaul shop that happened to be not very busy at the time. There was also the added advantage that the man in charge had worked with Jim and myself, and had faith in what we told him.
Having already converted two DC-3s for the Japanese, we could tell him the number of man-hours on each system, the total cost of the job and offered him the same contract price it had cost us. And of course, we would inspect everything before they closed the inspection plates.
Everything worked out very well on the sub-contract work even though Al cross-examined me on every detail of the transaction, especially the money part. Having been as successful as it was, it showed what two people could accomplish when they are honest and respect each other. I was told if I ever wanted to switch jobs, I should talk to them.
The letter responses our office was getting back from the foreign countries regarding their future direction in aircraft were too vague to interpret their intentions. I felt it was time to talk to these airline people, one on one. Since we had a plane to deliver, why not fly east across the Atlantic to Japan? This way we could visit some of the foreign companies along the way.
Fresh navigational charts were ordered from Washington, permission was granted to cross certain countries and the insurance company was advised of our intended route. I also updated my health card with additional shots. Before leaving, I asked Al if there was anything I could bring him from the Orient. His answer was the same as before: "Yes, bring me money and information."
To The East
With the additional ferry tanks filled and briefcases full of contacts, Ray and I left Miami and headed for our first stop, Saint Johns, Newfoundland. The Atlantic being a small puddle in comparison to the Pacific, we didn't need a navigator and arrived without any unusual events. After a good night's sleep at the local hotel, we headed for the briefing room early the next morning. A volcano was erupting in the Azores islands, our next stop. I thought that could be a very interesting sight to see!
Climbing aboard our plane and looking over the runway, Saint Johns was socked in solid fog and forecasted to remain the same for a long time. If we got off the ground and had a malfunction, we would not be able to circle back and land. The runway headed out to sea with mountains on each side. But, if the engine malfunctioned before takeoff, the runway was long enough for me to stop. Ray, a devout Catholic, reached under his shirt, pulled out a Saint Christopher's medal and hung it around my neck. I think it made him feel better, but it didn't lift the fog. I later returned the medal to him.
All went well on the flight and I was able to estimate our wind drift from the sea's surface. Near our destination, a good ADF bearing gave credence to our flight course. Off in the distance, we spotted a huge plume of black smoke coming from the sea. Suspecting it to be a volcanic island being born, we started letting down to cross over it at 1000 feet. I wanted to get a good look into the crater. The wind was blowing the smoke to one side. Ray said, "Carl, it might not be a good idea to fly over it if it blows." I heeded his advice and, as I altered course slightly, there was an explosion. I watched a rock hurled above our altitude the size of a truck and many smaller pieces. As we circled the crater, we could see it was a top of a mountain rising from the great depths of the sea. It was like a cup with the lip broken in one place, allowing the sea to rush in with a burst of white water into the bottomless crater. Then would come a blast of steam followed by another eruption to add to the forming of this mountain in the sea. There was a Portuguese vessel cruising around it waiting to plant their flag and take possession of it.
The Azores were Portuguese and all the islands were of volcano origin. Beautiful and spectacular scenery was common to the group. After landing in Azores, immigration decided since we were not tourists we could not tour the island. Being listed only on the crew manifest, we should stay at the hotel until ready to leave. This is contrary to rules of most countries, but it was not to prevent us from seeing a great part of the island. In the morning we took off after having been told not to fly over any part of Portugal on our way to Madrid. We altered course south toward Gibraltar, avoiding Portugal, and flew in from the southern coast of Spain to the interior where Madrid is located. Flying low over the countryside, we took in a panoramic view where most of the countryside is parched by the lack of water and its red soil the color of Georgia mud.
The small airport terminal at Madrid was not very busy. We had a letter of introduction from the president of TWA to assist us in any way we requested at all their stations around the world. We had done a lot of business with them by selling and buying their surplus aircraft. With a lot of oil leaking out of these newly overhauled engines, I wanted them checked over. The manager of maintenance said he could have the work performed by TWA during regular work hours or perhaps on Saturday, the mechanics would do it on their time and it would not cost as much. I knew that if the work was officially done by TWA (with the reluctance of this man) it would be done ship-shod and costly. On Saturday, they went to work energetically, on their own time and it was very expensive and not done well.
We talked to the head of the Spanish airline and came away with the thought they would proceed direct to jets. But looking at their shabby operation and infrastructure, I was wondering if they had any idea of what the cost would be. The countryside we had flown over did not appear to be prosperous enough to raise the money.
That evening we enjoyed a dinner of fine paella and Spanish wine along with a brilliant flamenco performance in an underground, brick-lined environment. Having completed our business, we took a taxi on the long road to the airport. I noticed there were armed soldiers every hundred yards. They were a short distance back from the road on each side. These guards continued for miles to the airport, which was surrounded with troops. Franco, Spain's fascist dictator, was departing about the same time as we were taking off for Rome.
Italy and Greece ... and War
As we continued our flight east over the Mediterranean Sea to Rome, we were grateful our flights had been uneventful thus far. After landing in Rome and doing what we needed to service and secure the plane, we headed for the city. Ray and I stood on a busy corner laughing as we saw moms and pops on tiny scooters dart in and out of the traffic of mini cars. It was seldom we saw a normal-size car that Americans are used to.
Ray took off for Germany and France while I visited the Italian airline people. The answers to my questions were about the same as in Spain. As Ray had not called or arrived, I took a train to wander around Naples for a day. I was worried about getting our plane delivered to the Japanese in time. When Ray finally returned, we tried Alfredo's restaurant and the flamboyant master tossed the hot, buttered noodles for us. The next night was at a restaurant sitting on one of Rome's Seven Hills. It had previously been a private home that Mussolini had given to his mistress. I sat there and enjoyed the view of the city and imagined Italy's dictator had also enjoyed it. I seem to remember the mistress came to a bad ending as well as Mussolini.
We continued our run to Athens. I was getting cables from Japan, saying, "We could use the plane, please hurry." We made the usual inquiries at the airlines in Athens and received the word they would go to jet aircraft. While in Greece, I received a cable from the insurance company. Due to military activities in the area, my insurance for the plane was cancelled for Egypt and Syria. English newspapers were reporting heightened tensions and possible war. Egypt was having war maneuvers. Syria was mobilizing her troops. If we went over Israel, we would not be allowed to land in any Muslim country nor do business with them. This made it tough finding a plausible route to India.
After contemplating our very few options, I decided to fly over Syria without insurance. When I was in Rome, I was required to file a request for routing over Syria at a given date, time and altitude into the country and leaving the country. Syria required I do this a given number of days ahead of time. They had replied, giving me a four-hour window to pass over their borders, my departure date from Athens and time would be geared to this window. The briefing at the airport in Athens, where I filed my flight plan, was basically non-existent because the man only spoke Greek. Our departure time was right on schedule.
About 150 miles east of Syria is the Island of Cyprus. We needed to pass over the politically divided island that had been under almost constant guerilla warfare for many years. I carefully scrutinized my new charts for the use of permissible corridors to fly over the island. About halfway across, Ray said, "Hey, we have visitors. At least they are friendly, they are waving to us!" as he looked out his side windows. I moved over to look out his window to see a British jet fighter flying formation off our right wing. He had his wing flaps down and was having a hard time staying in the air, going so slowly. I looked aft and a little bit higher was his wingman, right where he should be to protect the leader. "Hell, Ray, he is not friendly, he is waving us to land!" I quickly called the Tower and said I didn't wish to land because of my time limit at the Syrian border. He calmly stated, "They are told that you are to land or to shoot you down." Knowing I would leak blood if shot, I pushed the nose down in a descending turn and got landing instructions.
The jets followed me down until they saw I had landed, pulled off the runway and come to a hard stand. Promptly a load of soldiers rode up in a jeep, dressed in combat uniforms, helmets and weapons. In a business-like manner they surrounded the plane and made sure we were under their control. I had forgotten temporarily the plane was painted with a red rising sun and Japanese lettering down the side. I'm sure that confused them as to our nationality.
We were formally escorted under armed guard through a barrier of barbed wire and sand bags, and down into a dugout lined with sandbags and a few British officers. They were on a wartime footing. I had been flying outside the corridor, a very proper British officer notified me. This was their reason for forcing me down. "Not according to my charts." "Ah! Those charts have an outdated area for the corridor. Did they not brief you in Athens?" "Yes, but it was in Greek and we don't speak Greek," I said. Everything was said and done politely while our passports, briefcases and the plane were being searched. The rising sun and script down the fuselage had them in a quandary. One of the soldiers brought into the dugout a copy of the Miami Herald I had picked up in my driveway the day I left. Things began to change for us as they began to make sense of what we had told them. The Greeks and the Turks had been fighting non-stop while the British were chosen by the United Nations to keep them separated. The night before, a DC-3 was seen dropping guns on Cyprus. We were the immediate suspects. Once they realized we were not the culprits, they shook our hands, had our passports stamped and signed and away we went.
We were in the last part of our time frame when we passed over the Syrian coastline. I asked Ray to report our crossing three minutes late in case someone was looking for us. I was hoping we were not on radar and I boosted up the power to get across this land that was on war alert and where we did not have insurance. While I was over Syria, a radio call from them asked why I had stopped in Cyprus. "The British wanted to show their authority," was my answer. I certainly did not wish to appear friendly to the Brits when talking to the Syrians. I bent the throttles a little bit more to get across the country. We did not report the exit boundary with Iraq until we were three minutes beyond it.
No Flying Carpets
We passed by Baghdad and, according to our early school stories, we were supposed to see flying carpets. No magical things appeared. We landed for the night in Basra, Iraq, and -- with a premonition that something else might happen -- we decided to have the plane ready to fly. We had it serviced before going to the hotel.
In the morning, walking through the small modern terminal, Ray picked up a newspaper in English. On the front page, a column by Associated Press stated we had been forced down in Cyprus and it was declared an international incident, with the "who, why and where" details. Later, I learned some enterprising reporter picked up my name and had called Jeanne in the night. "What can you tell me about your husband being forced down in Cyprus by fighters?" She had remained calm with the reporter, but inside was very upset hearing the news, wondering if it was true, and whether I was OK.
We had no trouble getting out of Basra and continued our flight over the Persian Gulf of Oman on the way to Karachi. We diverted ourselves to fly over a long camel caravan and flew low to get a good look. I don't think the camels were used to airplanes, as some broke from their formation. Ray told me what Arabs did to infidels they captured. Thereafter, we stayed away from the caravans. We landed and spent the night in Karachi. It was not a friendly spot for us -- even the camels spit at us! I remember having flown westward from California during WWII across the Pacific Ocean and India to Karachi. Today I had closed the great circle by flying eastward.
The way to New Delhi was over the desolate Great Indian Desert. We had been flying low and acting as sightseers for the last couple of days, but here we went to work. What was the India national airline going to do? Straight to jets? "Yes." The DC-3's they owned? "They are to be sold on the open market, about 150 of them." That was enough to flood the world market!
We marveled at the hotel and city of New Delhi, a lot cleaner and better than I expected. Our journey took us over the world-famous Taj Mahal, which is a beautiful building in white marble with a long reflecting pool. We circled it a few times before proceeding to Calcutta to land at Dum Dum airport in Bangladesh. There, Customs enumerated every item on the plane and our person. To our surprise, our glasses, pens, rings, and wristwatches were carefully listed. If the items were not with us on departure, we would have to pay an import tax. This was a very petty nuisance. I was happy to land here in good weather. I could remember too well, during the war, holding as instructed by Traffic Control in heavy clouds over Calcutta, only to see an unknown plane cut across our path, in the soup, so close he covered the expanse of our windshield. I could never understand how we missed him. Fate had been on my side.
Going into the city, we saw charcoal fires on the sidewalks where people were doing their cooking. With so many fires, a haze hung throughout the city. A large number of bodies lay sleeping on the sidewalks, covered in rags. We did not leave our hotel, rated as the best in Calcutta, but not very nice. We ate dinner at the hotel thinking it would be the most sanitary place. We did as airline crews do in doubtful sanitary conditions, drinking only bottled water, no vegetables or greens unless they were cooked. Pilots order different entries to lesson the chance of both getting ill. I had dreaded coming back to Calcutta for I remembered it from the war years, but had convinced myself after the passing of years it would be better. It was not.
In the morning we continued our flight, heading for Rangoon, Burma. We had barely leveled off at cruising altitude when one or the other of us would use the "Blue Room." It was pretty bad most of the day. After checking into the hotel and a good night's sleep, I tried to contact the general with whom I had corresponded regarding their aircraft requirements. He was not available and we were told we should not leave the hotel. It turned out he was in exile and we were not allowed to leave the country. We were under house arrest. I immediately called the American Consul and explained the situation. I was asking for help. He suggested he and his wife join us for dinner at the hotel. It was nice meeting them and over coffee he explained the people had just recently kicked out the Brits and were feeling their freedom. It made them feel good to kick around members of a large and powerful nation. He suggested we just ride with the punches. I got very undiplomatic with the wimp. It was not the wisest thing to do, but I was upset that the U.S. representative would allow this to happen and approve of it! We had an abrupt parting of ways. For the next two days, we were allowed to go out to the airport for take off, but then suddenly we were told we could not go. They had big smiles on their faces. The third morning while taxing out, I heard them call me on the radio, so I fumbled with the radio on-off switch. I said, "You are coming in garbled. Understand we are cleared for take-off." There was no traffic or movement at the airport, so we took off and continued with our radio farce. We did not follow the exact route I had filed on my flight plan, but went a somewhat zigzag route to the north. After leaving sight of the airport we drifted down low over the hills to avoid being picked up by radar. I did not wish to have any more trouble with these people. As we passed over North Vietnam, we came over the crest of a mountain ridge and found ourselves looking down on an airport where there was none on my chart. There were two long rows of jet fighter planes. They did not look to be American, nor did the airport layout. We continued on our way, undisturbed.
Arriving at Hong Kong and after landing, we were ordered by the control tower to pay the airport commander a visit. Upon entering the office, we saw a large, husky officer in a neat British uniform behind a large desk. He said "Hi fellows, how you doing? Perhaps you should read this," and handed me a long wire printed on yellow paper. It was a hot, angry message from Burma instructing this officer to hang me, mutilate my body and a multitude of other forms of punishment. We told the commander the circumstances briefly and waited to hear what he would do next. "Well, it sounds like you are a couple of interesting fellows. You are staying at the International Hotel? I will join you at the bar at eight for a few drinks." It was great to get that kind of response.
We visited the Flying Tigers airline and a Chinese airline to determine their future requirements. We had to be satisfied with a difficult-to-decipher conversation. It was not encouraging for our business. We did some shopping in this paradise for shoppers. I ordered some furniture to be made and shipped back to the U.S. for me. Ray ordered business suits and was measured in the hotel room, fitted, and they were delivered within 48 hours.
The trip to Japan was uneventful. After landing, we met with the usual delegation, meeting Ray for the first time. I noticed a certain lack of enthusiasm on their part. I put it down to our delay in getting the aircraft to them. Ray, not understanding the Japanese culture, inadvertently offended them. We got a cold shoulder and no more aircraft sales. Our business being concluded, we flew back to Miami with a wealth of information.
Home to Close Shop
In a meeting with Al, we laid our findings and our thoughts out to him. He arranged it so it was done individually and privately, being ever the astute businessman. Of course, Ray and I had discussed our findings and bounced our conclusions off one another while on the trip. But I do not recall projecting an analysis of the company's future course of action.
The question after the briefing of the facts of our conversations with airlines around the world was, "What do we do now?" I was pretty blunt: sell, dispose, get rid of our piston-driven transport aircraft and aircraft parts quickly. Next, get educated on jet aircraft and the business parameters. "If you wish to stay in aviation, arrange to get one hell of lot of investment capital and plan on long-term commitments. This could not be a hit-and-run operation."
I knew I had just cut my own throat, but to have said anything else would have been disloyal. I knew Al had been using his in-depth knowledge of aviation for success, in short commitments that skimmed the cream off the different sectors of aviation. I doubted he could or would raise the huge amount of necessary capital for jets. It was not his nature. I guessed aviation would never be the same. Bankers and investors would control aviation, not aviators. Steps were then taken to reduce inventory and reduce company personnel. I was soon about the only pilot left. I was also being asked by Mr. Davis to fly him to Pittsburgh or New York or sometimes to the Bahamas or to meet someone in Florida, like the future governor. The trips north always were during bad weather, when his personally employed captain was ill. I did not mind, for I liked doing instrument flying to keep up my practice. One day, while talking with Mr. Davis, he said, "If you are every unemployed, give me a call." I filed that in my memory bank.
Al started asking me about different parts of Florida, knowing I was a Florida native. He wanted to know which parts I liked, which ones I did not and why, and what was the real-estate potential in the different areas. Shortly I was told flying would come to an end and was asked if I would like to stay on in real estate work. I did not think so.
There was a shortage of secretaries and I had to dig information out of the files for myself. I ran across a life insurance policy made out at the time of my flying C-82s and requesting for my wife to be a beneficiary on the policy. Trouble was, my wife was not to benefit -- the company was the beneficiary. I resigned, as the company no longer needed my services and was for all practical purposes closed down.
[Continued with Chapter 11.]
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The mystery of this flight's disappearance isn't deepening; it went over the edge on the first day. But the 24-hour news cycle's frantic rehashing of fact, non-facts and rumors make it impossible to sit and wait patiently. That's what investigators have to do. More