[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]
In California it was nice to meet my wife and to see -- for the first time -- my young son, even though he yelled when he saw me, a stranger to his eyes. There was also a German shepherd pup named "Rebel." How did he get that name? The story comes from a time I took out of the Philippines a young soldier who was very badly hurt. He had been on a reconnaissance mission in the jungle with his squad. They dug in for the night and slept in their foxholes. He woke up with a Jap sitting on top of him trying to stab him with a bayonet. He pulled the Jap tight to him and the only way to stay alive was to hold a grenade against the Jap's back until it went off. He was the only one found alive in his squad, having been hidden under the bloody body of the Jap. Cuts were on one side of his neck and head from the knife, and his left forearm was missing. He had bloody bandages on the stump ... it was the cost of holding a grenade while it went off. After he told me his story, I asked him his name. He looked up from his stretcher and said, "Captain, I would like you to call me Rebel, like my friends do." I thought of that as an honor. I wanted to remember that encounter, and so the German shepherd became known as Rebel. I wondered how many people would have had the courage to do what that young soldier had done?
To get released from the Army, you had to have a certain number of points, and medals counted for high points. In our outfit, you had to ask for them. The Army had logged over 1000 hours of combat time on my records, so I asked if they could use 800 of them for an air medal. No problem ... that was overkill in combat hours for an air medal. Since then I have heard about one pilot getting 29 air medals in about eight months flying, but that was in Vietnam.
Becoming a Civilian
I took out time to borrow a C-54 for a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA - predecessor to FAA) flight-check while in California and received an Air Transport rating for my civilian pilot's license. I thought the gesture of being able to use of a C-54 was a mighty nice gift from Uncle Sam.
With a sheet of paper saying I was a civilian once again, I was free to pile my family in our car with the dog and everything else I owned. Little did I know I would be back in uniform for the Korean conflict and my son would serve in the Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Returning to Fort Lauderdale was out. Miami was the aviation hub for South Florida and the U.S. hub for South and Central American countries. Aviation was where our future would begin.
We were invited to use the extra bedroom in Jeanne's parent's house while she became reacquainted with them and they with their grandson. We bought an almost-new wooden house with one bedroom and bath in an area we liked, on one acre of land, for $6700. To us, that was a lot of money at the time. Being south of Miami in a quiet neighborhood and the good smells of pinewoods was a little bit of heaven.
Caribbean Air Transport
Jeanne's father introduced me to a businessman who was starting a non-scheduled airline to run between Miami and New York to catch the heavy backlog of passengers. Caribbean Air Transport had three DC-3s and enough captains but needed co-pilots that could become captains when more aircraft were brought online. The aircraft and operation was superior to the scheduled airlines that serviced the same run and we charged twice as much per seat. I had been flying for Caribbean Air Transport for about three months when we landed after a flight from New York and were met by our chief pilot. He handed us an envelope with pink slips. The aircraft had been sold. The owner knew, better than we did, that startup airlines with surplus military transports would proliferate in Miami to about 30 to 40 airlines. But without a guaranteed route structure or subsidized mail pay, they would soon compete for a diminishing number of passengers. Without franchised routes and mail subsidies, the banks would not participate in loans and the going would be very, very tough.
I had belief in competition and the growth of aviation. I had seen its growth when our designers and engineers had been put to work without financial constraints. I drastically underestimated the political power of franchising particular airlines, setting their subsidy rates with mail pay and setting ticket prices. The politicians and labor unions loved the set up. I did not believe this could exist in face of common economic sense in a capitalistic country. How wrong I was. It was not until my commercial flying days were over, decades later, that the airlines were partially de-regulated. Think what a ticket would cost today if there were no deregulation. Some of the old carriers are still operating with their costs twice that of the new carriers.
Prior to the start of WWII, the airlines in the U.S. had a total of about 425 transport aircraft, each having 21 seats or less. They could not operate without subsidy. It would take larger aircraft and more seats to bring down the fares, and also getting the mass public to travel by air by educating them to the safety and ease of economical air travel.
Puerto Rican Challenges
Shortly after Caribbean Air Transport folded its operation, I met with the president of another company, a Puerto Rican businessman, who wanted to start an airline for running a schedule between Puerto Rico, Miami and New York City and possibly to South America. It was to be the flag carrier for Puerto Rico. I was hired immediately and helped the president hire a few additional American pilots in Miami to get the airline started. It was agreed captains would be paid $600 a month and, in 90 days, receive an increase to $800 a month. The DC-3 aircraft had been purchased and would carry 21 passengers. These were acceptable for our planned routes and considering we were just staring up. Puerto Ricans had been starved of supplies and transportation during the war. There were plenty of passengers in Puerto Rico wanting to see the bright lights of Miami and New York City. There were other Caribbean Islands also waiting to be serviced, including Cuba, Central and South America.
After 90 days of a very successful operation, we expected to receive our $200 raise. No such luck. I asked about it and was told, "Startup expenses have been very high; perhaps in the future there will be a raise." I called the pilots together for a talk and for their cooperation. I also made a lot of phone calls to the general pilot community. I had another meeting with the president to ask for the raise that had been promised. Again his reply was negative, so I told him the pilots would not fly after such-and-such flights landed. This way, no passengers would be left stranded, but there would be no future plane flights until our disagreement was settled. I tried to see to it no one got angry or misbehaved inappropriately and no one was embarrassed. The company tried to hire other pilots, but was turned away. After almost a week, the president called me and said it would be nice to have the planes fly again and that he was wrong to break a promise.
Within the next few days, I was called into the president's office. I was expecting a reprimand or perhaps an expulsion, for I had been the pilots' spokesman. To my surprise he offered me the job of chief pilot. Knowing a little bit of the explosive temper of some Latins and how they are not always understanding or able to stay focused on the main issues of running an airline, I itemized the conditions I would expect the airline to support. The major issue was to give me complete control over the pilots, their hiring, firing, promotions and scheduling. Another issue was maintenance. It could be done either in Miami or San Juan, but overseen by a qualified American. Pilots would be based in Miami and provided with suitable hotels or quarters while out of Miami and a decent meal and transportation allowance.
The president acquiesced to my demands and said he liked the way I had handled the pilots' strike and wanted me to work directly with him. He had set up a counter space in the terminals at Miami and San Juan. He and a local attorney negotiated the lease of a maintenance hanger from the airport authority in Miami. We also took over the maintenance company occupying it and 80 mechanics. This turned out to be a bad piece of business. They had not protected the company from inheriting bad debts and liens.
We were also having a lot of aircraft generator failures. I put out a no-go item if either generator was inoperative before take-off in Miami. I had cleared this with maintenance. Our planes used the 12-volt systems instead of the newer 24-volt and consequently were not as reliable. We stocked materials in Miami and had trained mechanics that understood the system.
I was in Newark trying to get counter space in the Newark airport terminal from the Mayor. If his attorney handled the application, the transaction was guaranteed. Unfortunately, the price had too much gravy thrown in. I waited at the Newark terminal for our incoming plane as I was scheduled to fly it back to Miami. Upon greeting the inbound captain, he told me one generator was inoperative and had been out on landing in Miami. When he refused to accept the aircraft without repairs, the Operations Manager ordered him to take off for the flight. Fortunately, everything had gone well during the flight. The passengers were now loaded and there wasn't any chance of getting the inoperative generator fixed. We took off for Miami conserving as much electric power as possible. It was a nighttime flight.
We were just about over Daytona (about 270 miles north of Miami) when our one and only generator ceased to function. All that we had left was the electrical power remaining in our batteries. Although we closed off all the electrical drains we could, the batteries gave out before reaching Miami. The passengers were asleep and the cabin crew used flashlights. We didn't have any navigational lights, no radios, no instrument lights. Thank goodness the engines worked off magneto ignition and the landing gear and brakes worked off engine-driven hydraulic pumps.
Arriving over Miami, I carefully picked a spot between the aircraft traffic, landed the aircraft and had reached the ramp before the tower spotted us in the darkness. I shortly met with the Operations Manager. To say that we had "words with each other" would be an understatement. To his misfortune, he called me a few fancy names that I objected to physically. Deeming it appropriate, I handed in my resignation the next day to the president. He looked at my letter, said, "I have heard all about the incident. You know I am a pilot and understand the factors involved. I have fired the Operations Manager. Will you take his place?" I thanked him for his confidence and worked hard to put all the bits and pieces together to make it function as an airline in my new position, as head of Flight Operations. I had recently reached the ripe old age of 25. To appear older, I tried to grow a mustache, as most of the pilots were considerably older than I. The mustache was a dismal failure.
Orders to Streamline
The stockholders in San Juan kept a lot of pressure on the president to cut costs and they controlled our flow of passengers through our ticket agencies. They would hold up flights to add a passenger or two. With more and more non-scheduled airlines getting into the San Juan to New York run, I was glad filling the aircraft with passengers was someone else's job. We usually had full loads going northbound and in some seasons almost empty southbound. The agencies would book charters to other Caribbean Islands, Cuba and South America, but it did not amount to much. Agents in New York were known to book a planeload to San Juan for as little as $10 a passenger. It only helped to pay for the fuel, which was about 13-cents a gallon in those days.
The president wanted to employ more Puerto Rican mechanics and helpers in Miami, which worked out fine with our older mechanics. They worked hard and for good reason. I know one of them reported having 19 children on his pay data sheet. We had to confirm that figure and, as I recall, there was more than one wife involved in the production number, but they were his dependents. Then the president was on my back to hire Puerto Rican pilots. I knew this could cause problems as time went on because, as the next step, he would want them checked out as captains. I would require them to have good experience and be well-qualified. I looked at a couple of pilots but they did not have enough of the right experience and their temperament was not right for airline work. I reminded the president of our verbal agreement that I would approve all pilots. I guess the stockholders were putting pressure on him, for when I was out of Miami, he inserted a pilot into the cockpit. He asked the captain of a flight to Newark to give this new co-pilot as much instruction and as many landings as possible.
Arriving at Newark, there were some repairs made that required a test flight and a layover. The captain allowed his new co-pilot to do the walk-around, engine start-up, taxi out and take off. Unfortunately, the external elevator lock had been left on. The co-pilot had not checked to see if the flight controls were free before take-off. The captain had not noticed if they were free nor had he observed the co-pilot move the yoke for and aft. They were lucky on take off. The balance of the aircraft was such that it climbed out at a normal attitude. However, they quickly discovered the elevator was locked. The captain was mentally sharp and had thousands of hours to his credit. He found out that, by adding power or reducing it, he could pretty well control the altitude of the aircraft. He also had some control when using the trim tabs as elevators, by using the elevator trim control in the reverse direction.
The landing gear was up at this point. The area around the airport was heavily populated with buildings. He dipped and bobbed around the traffic pattern, putting on power and taking it off to adjust his altitude. I think he had to hold his breath when banking the aircraft to make a turn, for the wings would lose part of their lift. He decided not to lower his landing gear, for it would dramatically change the aircraft's trim. Hitting the airport was a masterful piece of work, and flattening out his approach as he hit the ground was a case of good timing and skillful flying. The aircraft came to rest on its belly in the grass with only the props and some belly skin damaged.
The best part of this activity was there were no injuries, little damage to the aircraft, no buildings knocked down, no legal activities and -- better yet -- I never saw the co-pilot again. I still had to settle with the captain and the president.
Standing Up for the Captain
I was really angry with the president for going around me to place his particular choice of a pilot in the cockpit. He had broken his trust with me. Instead, he could have demanded that I install the man as a co-pilot and I would have given him local training and deemed him fit or unfit for duty. If suitable for duty, then possibly with myself on a passenger flight or with some other captain with definite instructions, we would check out the pilot as a co-pilot for flights with passengers. The captain had done a poor job of instructing the pilot or controlling him. This really upset me, as the pilot was a close personal friend, an excellent, experienced pilot. To pull such a dumb negligent act was out of character.
When I came face-to-face with the president, he wanted me to fire Johnnie (the pilot). I asked the president to share some of the blame himself. He had broken his agreement with me. It had resulted in an accident. Only a piece of masterful flying by Johnnie had averted a loss of life, both of the crew and -- had there been a crash in a crowded area -- on the ground. Could he imagine the legal battles and the loss of the airline? The aircraft was jacked up, and after minor repairs done, it was flying again.
With his head hanging low, the president nodded and asked me to handle the captain. Johnnie and I later met each other as troubled friends and not as boss and employee. I knew that was the proper approach. Johnnie offered to leave the company, but I told him that was not necessary. I would write a letter to him, a strong reprimand and he should take off a month without pay. And then the healing aspect took place as he talked about the incident and I extracted all the information I could about where things went wrong and how things went right.
Johnnie went on in aviation as a well-known airline pilot accumulating more than 33,000 flying hours, becoming an internationally known racing pilot by winning the Thompson Trophy race in a P-51. It was later modified to set a national speed record for propeller driven aircraft. I sweated those races with him, for I was his alternate pilot. We had the help of an exceptional aeronautical engineer by the name of J.D. Crane. He had dropped out of high school to help feed his family when his father died. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps. In later years he lectured at a major university on aeronautics and was, at the time, a V.P. of Maintenance and Engineering of a major airline. A very knowledgeable, competent man, I learned a lot from J.D. by working with him on modifying the P-51.
As a non-scheduled airline, we were taking some of the cream away from the major carriers and they were retaliating politically, and in any other way they could. During a charter flight when I was flying into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, they even had the radio beacon and tower communications cut off when I called in for let-down and landing instructions. The ceiling was pretty good so we just let down over the sea and worked our way back to the airport. The baggage handlers were not allowed to unload the baggage so the crew did the work and the passengers laughingly thumbed their noses at the baggage boys. I believe the government owned the airport but Pan Am managed it. They did soak us a very heavy landing fee.
The stockholders were not making the financial returns they were expecting. The future did not look bright for the passenger-load factor to increase and they had lost confidence in their leader and president. However, I believe the major reason they reached agreement to close down the airline was that they had not realized the amount of effort, time and money it would take to establish a new airline. Also, for this type of work, I think they had the wrong temperament. I remember riding with five of them through the center of old San Juan late at night, too fast, with too many bottles of rum, when the driver pulled a 38-caliber pistol from the glove compartment, stuck it out the window and fired five or six times. I did not think their decision wrong to close down operations. Now, at the age of 25, I had gone through four years of WWII, from its beginning to its end, and worked for two defunct airlines.
Start Your Own Airline!
Johnnie was out of work as well as I, so we leased a Lockheed 12 aircraft and flew a few charters from Miami to New York. The ticket agents were glad to give us their passenger overflows from the major airlines. We did this while trying to figure out what to do next.
In the year 1947 we still believed the government would have to do something about the air-transportation business. Why should the politicians and labor unions have control of these companies? Why should the flying public pay more, a lot more, for a seat? If the government would unshackle the route structures and mail subsidies along with the ticket prices, the banks would work with the airline companies as they do with other industrial and service companies. We were thinking about 30 years ahead of our time on deregulation and did not know it. Today there is good airline service, even to small towns. The new carriers are giving better service and eating up the fat cats with their high costs per seat mile. And the safety record has never been better.
Another Poorly Run Airline
I was still an optimist about the airline industry, so I took a job as captain with another company that was a family operation doing pretty much the same type of flying. I had not heard anything good about them, but it was a job. All I had to do was change uniforms. It was not long before I realized it was not a good operation. The flights from San Juan to New York had a refueling stop in Miami. If there was a delay in departure from Miami for maintenance, plane change or weather in New York, the passengers were never given food chips for use at the restaurants or any sort of accommodations. If a passenger became too vocal, he would be taken into the private office and intimidated by one of the brothers who weighed about 230 pounds and considered himself to be a tough SOB.
I was getting very disgusted with the company. I took a flight to Newark and had put in almost eight hours flying time. About the time I got to the hotel for my required 16 hours of rest (CAA regulation), the president was on the phone telling me to come out to the airport to dead-head back to Miami on a company plane that had just landed at Newark. When I arrived at the airport, the president said, "Get on the plane, it's all ready to go with the passengers loaded." I looked for an empty seat. There was none. He pointed to the cockpit and then to the left seat. He took the co-pilot seat. I protested, as I would be exceeding my flight-time allowance. He replied the passengers were loaded and a flight plan had been filed with my name on it to Lumberton, N.C. for a refueling stop. I thought of the passengers and the SOB who had put me in this position. I considered getting out of the airplane and leaving everybody stranded. Then I thought there had to be a better way to do this. I cranked up the engines and we got underway.
Making my approach for a landing at Lumberton, N.C., I noticed a twin-engine, light aircraft -- I believed it to be a Beech -- landing ahead of me. We were both parked in front of the small terminal and, out of the cockpit window, I could see the government markings on the aircraft. It had just arrived from Washington, D.C. While the passengers were being fed at the airport's restaurant, the plane was being refueled. A couple of men joined me in the airplane. They introduced themselves as CAA agents from Washington, D.C. They asked about flight plans, pilot license, and how many hours I had flown in the last 24. I was completely honest with them about how much flying I had done and did not try to incriminate anyone else. They pointed out they would file a flying violation against me for flying more than eight hours without rest, which I acknowledged. I asked, "Would my flying the rest of the way to Miami be continuation of that violation?" "No, it would be a second violation after a warning." That did not sound too good. I pointed out there was no other way to get these passengers to Miami. I was sorry I had to break the rules but I had compassion for my passengers and a commitment to them. We shook hands and I loaded up the passengers and took off.
There was no conversation in the cockpit on the way to Miami. The president disappeared as soon as possible after landing and there was another CAA agent waiting to talk to me about my flying time in the last 24 hours. As he was leaving, he stated I would be hearing from them. I told him I understood and would be visiting the CAA office the next day to see what could be worked out.
Meet the Feds ... and the Toughs
The CAA office in Miami was large, as befitted the area. It was an aviation hub with its multitude of airlines, not only of U.S. origin, but Central and South America as well. When I walked in, I asked to see a safety agent that I knew when I had been working to organize a company. I did not have to tell him why I was there; the word had already gotten around. I asked him if I could talk to the head manager of the office, who was a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board. (The Board made the laws and the CAA enforced the laws.)
First off, I told them I was guilty as hell of a rule violation. Getting that issue out of the way, I pointed out that, by only harassing and fining the pilots, they were not getting to the root of the problem. They had to see to it the companies set the proper standards and if they did not, the companies would have to be punished. I pointed out they had licensed the companies to operate as airlines and some of them with their practices should be shut down or cleaned up. There should not be any room for companies that were not an asset to the aviation community. They questioned me at length about some basic issues. They pointed out there were no rules at that time for a company to be controlled, but there were plenty of rules governing the flight crews and means of enforcing them. I pointed out that punishing flight crews had not been very effective in curbing serious violations. I asked, "Did you notice the president of the company was my co-pilot?" I never heard any more about my violations, which was really unusual. The pressure started being placed on the companies to fly right and, much later, the president and owner/officers of this outfit were fined and prohibited from ever operating an aviation company again.
Meanwhile, I was called to take another flight to New York. For my return flight the next day, I met the inbound pilot and asked if the plane was OK. He said sure, but the second vacuum gage had not been placed in the system to conform with the rules. The one in the panel was just a dummy. Knowing we had another captain in New York, I called the Miami office and told them I was leaving the company as of now. I deadheaded back to Miami and called the office for the president and asked for my final paycheck. "Sure, come down to the office now and pick it up." When I got to the office, I was told they were down in the maintenance shop. I drove to the shop with some trepidation and thinking maybe I should have a friend or two with me. I shrugged off that thought with, "They would not dare do any rough stuff with me ... besides, I can handle myself."
With that in mind, I opened the rear door and stepped inside the small building. When the smaller of the two brothers moved behind me and latched the door with the other brother on the other side of the room, I knew I was in trouble. I moved over casually to put my back against a workbench. I was not going to go down very easy. I said calmly, "I believe it's best for us to part company. I have come down to collect my final paycheck." The president replied in a very threatening manner, "We don't think we owe anything to you in the way of a paycheck. Now we don't want you to put out any loose talk about our company." This made me think they had heard about my visit to the CAA office. Meanwhile, I had picked up a heavy wrench off the workbench and was holding it in front of me, toying with it. "Well, then we don't have anything to talk about," I replied and moved towards the door while still facing them. I slid the bolt and backed out the door while still facing them and then dropped the wrench. I guess they knew I could have done some damage physically or legally.
I was so relieved to be finally done with those people. Their reputation and mode of operation was not needed in aviation or anywhere else. I sang and whistled all the way home, which I do horribly. My brother told me once that I sang like a frog with a man in his throat.
Brief Diversion Out of Aviation
About this time, we sold the house we owned in South Miami and moved into a new subdivision closer to the airport with a lot of other war veterans. Building supplies were rationed out to builders with priorities and Veterans' homes rated pretty high on the priority list. When Jeanne and I settled in our new home with construction going on across the street, the building supervisor used to stop in for morning coffee or an afternoon beer. I really think he used to come mainly to see Jeanne, hoping I was not home. He complained about running behind schedule because of a shortage of carpenters. His eyes passed over a couple of pieces of furniture I had built and asked a couple of questions, such as whether I had any carpenter tools? When I answered I did, he asked, "How about going to work for me?" I would have to join the carpenter's union and he would put me to work as a finish carpenter. That sounded pretty good to me: work regular hours across the street, get the physical exercise I needed, receive some mental relaxation and get paid for it. At the union hall I was asked about my experience in construction work and had to read out a blueprint or two. Fortunately, I had worked for my father on construction work in the summer and attended night school on construction techniques. So instead of having to take an apprentice rating, I qualified as a finish carpenter.
I was asked to attend a union meeting one evening that was important. I sat through the introduction of notables and self-serving speeches and how they were going to open up new construction jobs through politicians to withdraw the veteran's priority benefits on building materials. That is when I got up and walked out. It caused some disturbance. There were some other veterans in the group, so nothing was said or done. I had aching muscles and enjoyed my work immensely for about a month when word came that a new company was starting an airline. "My God, not again!" was Jeanne's reply, or words to that effect.
Finally, a Real Airline
I had to explain it was PIA, a scheduled airline and the flag carrier for Peru. The man that had instigated it had run the Berlin Airlift, to break the Russian stranglehold on Germany. General George would be president. Financial backing would be from Canadian investors; the aircraft would be DC-4s. The runs would be from Santiago (Chile), Lima (Peru), Panama, Havana, Miami, Washington (D.C.), New York and Montreal. Pilots would be based in Lima. The pay sounded good and would be in American dollars, an important consideration. The only bad part was I had to start out as first officer or co-pilot. The company had already hired the captains. There would be a second officer who was a pilot but would perform the duties of a navigator and flight engineer. They were planning for a quick expansion.
Jeanne and I discussed our move to Lima and decided living there would be a nice change in our routine, with PIA having a route through Miami provided us with a link and travel opportunities to Florida. By the time we were to depart to Lima, we had rented out our house, packed up our clothes and packed up all of Jeanne's necessities for home making in about 10 GI footlockers. Our son was about two years old when we arrived in Lima in October of 1947. Our German shepherd "Rebel" was a little bit of a problem on our flight. He was allowed to ride on the flight deck in his cage, but when he was let out of it, he took over the co-pilot's seat! We were riding as passengers when the co-pilot came back to ask Jeanne, "Will you come to the flight deck and make your dog give me back my seat?"
The co-pilot and captain agreed that Customs would really give us a lot of trouble in Lima with the dog and it would be costly in bribes. They had a better idea. Arriving at Lima Tambu Airport, the crew departed first from the aircraft to clear through Customs. When the offloading passengers had congested the Customs areas, Jeanne led Rebel into the area and released him. The co-pilot in the street area whistled for him. The dog tore between the lines of passengers, jumped over baggage inspection counters, past immigration onto the sidewalk, picked up his favorite dog biscuit from the co-pilot and was shoved into a taxi that took off with the co-pilot and Rebel.
Meanwhile, there was confusion and shouting of "Donde es el perro?" in the Customs area. Jeanne and I "knew nothing."
Live Like Millionaires
We lived in a small hotel in the suburbs while Jeanne did some house hunting with the help of company employees. After a couple of weeks we rented the home of a Peruvian general. It was situated in very nice suburban area, not far from the sea, surrounded with a 10-foot cement wall and an iron grillwork gate. It had 15 rooms plus 5 baths and separate servant quarters. There was a tile patio, large enough for Jeanne and I to bat tennis balls. The dining room table seated 12 in majestic splendor. In some rooms there were lined velvet drapes from floor to ceiling.
This magnificent home was all at a rental cost of what we were renting our two-bedroom house in Florida. The combined salary of the cook and maid was equivalent to US$12 per month. The gardener, who trimmed our 10-foot tall red geraniums, and was a sometimes butler, was a little extra. The tennis club was very up-scale place that Jeanne enjoyed and also the surfing club, which had great surf, was even better than Waikiki. Taxis were cheap with gasoline 7 cents a gallon and drivers earned almost nothing. It was really a change in lifestyle for us, living like multi-millionaires.
I was quickly issued a Peruvian Airline license. I think it was about number 80. PIA had given pilots refresher courses even in meteorology. I think this was about my sixth schooling in weather classes. Celestial classes were also given as well as private lessons in Spanish.
Old Dog with Good Tricks
On my flights to Santiago, I was teamed with an old, gray-haired, airline contract-pilot that was thinking of retiring, a very astute individual with a hairline temper. From the beginning, we liked and respected each other too much to have any differences of opinion that would cause any ripples in our relationship. He kept things to himself until he learned to trust me in the cockpit and as an individual. Then it became, "Carl, can you even up the throttles in their proper place? Are the props set right?" Finally, the difficult things started happening: "Carl, is that the runway? Maybe you had better line it up." It was simply a matter of diminished eyesight. After a couple of trips, he would give me takeoffs, landings and instrument landings. I tried to do things to save him any embarrassment.
He really amazed me on one trip to Panama from Lima. We normally had good, strong voice communications with Lima operations. This time in thunderstorms, we lost voice contact just when we needed an OK for a change in altitude. I tried different stations when Lima came back on c.w. (in code). He listened to the dot-dashes and said, "Can you reply in code, Carl?" I had to answer in the negative. He got out of his seat, reached into his briefcase and brought out a code sender. Not just a simple sender, but a spring-loaded bug that only an accomplished commercial radio operator would have used. And those operators were a dying breed. He plugged in at the navigator's table and made the bug start to sing with its dots and dashes. As I watched the rhythm of his hand, I heard the tempo get faster and faster as the two artists tested each other. I saw a small smile creep across his face. He called over to me, "They want me to slow down." I later asked him where he had picked up his skill in code. He had finished school, took a job with the railroad and became a radio operator. All messages among the railroad stations were sent in code and he enjoyed it.
On-Board Radar Navigation
The west coast of South America was an interesting coastline, extending for 4000 nautical miles from steaming tropics to the frozen South. Most of it was desert country. In Lima, it had not rained for over 20 years. Water came from the mountains, which shut off the rain for the Western side. The mountains made the trade winds drop the rain on the eastern side. The Andes are so steep and tall (over 22,000 feet). There were no roads to the eastern side in Peru. Even though the timber was only 500 miles away from Lima, it would be shipped 3000 miles down the Amazon River, through the Panama Canal, and back down to Lima, a total of about 7000 miles. It was easier to get timber from Canada or Washington and Oregon!
PIA had some of the first radar installed on their planes for airline service. When flying from Lima to Santiago, Chile, we could follow the coastline on the radar at night or in instrument weather. If I did not have radar, and it was night, or when on instruments, we'd have to fly many miles to the west of the coastline to keep from unexpectedly being blown into the Andes by extremely high winds that occurred frequently on this route. Without radar we would also have to rely on celestial navigation, and hope we were not flying in the soup in order to make a turning point for the coast to pick up the weak radio beacon at Santiago.
When flying off the coast of Peru on a clear day near sunrise or close to sunset, we could see the streams of guano birds coming from the coastal islands heading out to sea to fish and in the evening returning. These black bands of birds could be a quarter mile wide and stretching out of sight. Millions of seabirds would deposit their waste on the arid islands to become a very valuable and good fertilizer. It was mined and controlled by the Peruvian government. Finding a historic deposit of guano on the mainland was treated like it was a gold mine by the news media in Peru.
Six months out of the year, during their winter months, the people of Lima never saw the sun. The fog would drift in toward the land from over the cold Humboldt Current. It made for a lot of instrument landings at Lima and also at Santiago. There were two radio beacons at different distances from the end of the runway, but in perfect alignment and of different frequencies. By tuning in a beacon on each of our twin radio direction finders and knowing what altitude to cross each beacon, it was like being on a glide slope and being aligned with the runway.
Several miles off the coast of Chile, I would sometimes see a few square miles of red seawater. I never knew what caused it until many years later we began to hear about the red tide off Florida, which was microscopic sea life that turned the water red and killed all fish and sea life. We were advised it also happens off Chile and Peru.
The Good Life
Life for the flight crews was quite comfortable. In Santiago we could go to the swimming pool on the roof of our very nice hotel and, there in the warm sun, look up at the 22,000-foot, snow-capped mountain. The food in Santiago was better than anywhere in the world: beef from the Argentina; plentiful, fresh seafood; and the fruit, such as grapes, apples and peaches, were fabulous. A bottle of fine Chilean wine in a restaurant was only about 80 cents. (Of course, this was many years ago.) The passengers and crew had it very good on-board, with radar ovens. We could order up fresh cooked eggs, pancakes and other items from a hot skillet. A lot better than the old airline box lunches.
Our run to Panama allowed us to buy in the PX, including gifts for our wives in Lima. We also had nightly entertainment in Panama. Our company hotel rooms had windows that looked out across a narrow street into the windows of the building on the other side. The amazing thing is the place was a very busy "cat" house with a bar and grill on the ground floor. The girls coming into the room with a customer would go to the window, smile at us and wave before pulling down the curtain. Later the curtain would go back up. Sometimes the girls would wave, but not pull down the curtain. This was before the days of television and it broke up the boredom if you did not have a good book.
Of course, we thought we had a lifetime job. What could be better than having comfortable flight conditions with a well set-up home life; security with a scheduled airline, a flag carrier, a soft job? There were a few flaws. The airline was very costly to operate. The General did not have a lot of taxpayers paying the bills. Passengers were cost-conscious. Stockholders wanted to make money. The load factors were decreasing. I knew Braniff Air Lines would soon be coming down the west coast of South America from California using DC-6s that were faster, larger and with pressurized cabins to fly above the turbulence. I did not see how PIA could compete. We should quietly think about being out of a job.
One Last Check Flight
I had a flight check with a check pilot over Lima. The windshield was covered so I could not see out but the check pilot and the chief pilot, who decided to join us, lined the plane up on the runway. I was to take off, climb straight out with a 400-foot ceiling and 1 mile of visibility. If an engine failed, I was to simulate what I would do. I was not to actually shut the engine off and feather the prop. Simulation was the standard procedure on a check ride. I had done it many times while checking pilots that worked for me. I had no more than broken ground when the check pilot pulled back the throttle on the outboard engine. I had finished going through the lost-engine procedures when he said, "You now have a fire on the inboard engine on the same side." I pulled back the throttle on that engine and went through the motions of simulation for shutting it down and pulling the engine fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, I had to fly the plane on only two engines, closely watch the altitude reading on the altimeter while flying close to the ground, crank in rudder trim tab to offset the drag of two dead engines and relieve the strain on my leg. Oh yes, also minor things like setting the flap position and watching the airspeed so we did not stall out. At this time I noticed we had not reached 400 feet of altitude; therefore I was not in the clouds and damn sure did not wish to stay in the air if I still had fire to contend with in one engine. Landing was a must.
I wrapped it around to the downwind leg, the reciprocal heading for take off. The two pilots were arguing with each other about whether or not I had been above 400 feet and in the clouds or below the clouds when I turned back for the field. Here I am, flying the airplane, which I cannot see out, cruising at only 350 feet of altitude, at a low airspeed, worried about hitting actual buildings and some low rises of ground and having to stay supposedly within 1 mile of the field so I can line up with the runway, get my flaps and landing gear down. Being at less than 400 feet, I should be able to see 1 mile, but I was blinded by the maps taped to the windshield. My check pilot and chief pilot stopped arguing when they realized the actual dilemma and took down the maps and raised my seat so I could see out to land. The next takeoff occurred normally and I was asked to climb to altitude to simulate an instrument approach. I passed the check ride. The check ride was a lot tougher than what would normally have been given to a captain and I was wondering why the chief pilot had joined in with the check pilot. Was it to see how I would do as captain or was it an attempt to flunk me and have a reason to lower the payroll?
The rumor was the General and his staff were leaving. In a big meeting we were told we would have to take a cut in salary or we could cancel our contract. Most pilots decided to take the cut in salary. I had seen what the future would bring too many times in my past and was not optimistic that there was much of a future with this company.
About this time Johnnie called from Miami. National Airlines was hiring to replace the union pilots that had quit. Johnnie had been hired on as captain and, if I came up in a hurry, they would hold a position for me. Jeanne and I once again packed our bags.
[Continued with Chapter 7.]
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The winner is an airplane and water again but not technically a floatplane. Edgar Tello took this beauty of a Seabee testing the waters on a pond at Sugar Valley Airport in North Carolina. Nice work, Edgar.