[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]
Upon being released from the Air Force in the latter part of 1952, I went back to the non-scheduled airline where I had been working before the Air Force had called me back for the Korean fiasco. I was soon flying passenger runs in C-46s in the northeastern part of the U.S. I never liked being or flying in that part of the country in the winter, with its slush and its heated buildings, but it was a way to earn a living. As military movements picked up, we started flying uniformed personnel across the country into airports near military bases or to shipping points such as Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego. These runs were not very profitable for the company.
During one memorable trip from the west coast to the east, I had to make a refueling stop at Billings, Mont. After refueling, we lined up on a runway of marginal length, but it was adequate. The airport had a very high elevation, and the far end of the runway dropped precipitously off the plateau into a valley. My copilot for this run was very green; this was his first trip in a C-46 or in airline work. Even with a full load of troops, we accelerated very well, but at the moment we were expecting to lift off, our acceleration suddenly stopped. Instruments were all in the green, all controls were set properly, flaps were OK, no backfire rang out, and the engines sounded fine. I had to do the checking myself, as the copilot just smiled when I asked him to check out the controls and instruments. The end was coming up pretty fast on the runway. It was too late to stop the aircraft, and we hadn't gained enough speed to lift off. I pulled back on the wheel gently; the plane lifted up a bit, so I slammed her down on the last 20 feet of runway and bounced her over the end of the cliff. We went down into the valley below, picking up speed as we descended. As we closed with the bare ground, we got lift from the ground effect (air compresses between the ground and the wing, giving extra lift [sic]). As I dodged trees and power lines, I wondered how to get enough altitude to allow me to investigate why the left engine -- which still wasn't backfiring or running rough -- was low on horsepower. Also, I was worried about getting up high enough to reach the airport on the plateau, which was by now above and behind us. I thought maybe I could ride the ground effect as the valley sloped upward, but that would be dicey. A check of the cylinder head temperature (CHT) on the right engine showed it in the normal range for full power, but the left engine CHT was dropping below normal.
About this time, a deadheading captain came to the cockpit from his seat among the passengers, and in an instant moved the left-engine mixture control from "auto rich" and leaned it down manually. The engine roared to life. The linkage to the mixture control was slack, and instead of being in "automatic rich," where an aneroid control would have (correctly) leaned out the carburetor to account for the high elevation of the airport, the linkage had slipped, allowing the carburetor to go into "emergency rich," thus drowning the cylinders in gasoline. It would not have mattered much if the airport had been near sea level, but at this elevation, such an error could have been deadly. The captain had noticed the defect on a previous flight while climbing from sea level to altitude, but he hadn't reported it or written it up in the logbook. I didn't know if I wanted to thank him for his help or give him hell for not writing it up. (Most likely, I did both.) The chief pilot was subsequently advised to give the copilots more training and to be more selective on hiring. As clearly as if it were yesterday, I remember the copilot's silly look as I bounced the plane off the end of the runway and over the edge of the cliff. He seemed to be thinking, "Do we always do it this way?" Some time after that incident, he stopped flying and became a successful car salesman.
Another incident that occurred later the same year made me wonder if I might be losing my sixth sense about flying. On a flight from Miami to the airport at North Philadelphia, we were to drop off some of the passengers, and then proceed to Newark with the remainder of the load. It was supposed to be good weather and had a promising forecast. But as we approached North Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morning, a sudden fog socked in the airport, and the visibility plunged below the minimum required for landing. I had to pull up and proceed to Newark. But before I arrived, visibility went below the minimum there, too. Yes, LaGuardia was still open, but by the time I arrived there -- you guessed it -- that airport, too, was socked in by fog. Teterboro airport was not good, either. I was quickly running out of options; all the airports in the area had closed down. It was as if a giant curtain of fog had unexpectedly fallen over the area.
I checked back with Newark Approach Control by VHF to question the meteorologist if there were any breaks in the local weather and that Moesly could use a little improvement in the ceiling and visibility. The weather office was located in the airport terminal building where I had shared coffee with meteorologists many times as well as other pilots while checking weather maps and teletypes. Shortly, Approach called to say there was a temporary break in the weather and I was cleared to make an instrument approach. By the time we had taxied to the terminal, a new weather report was made to close the airport to further traffic. I picked up some coffee and doughnuts and headed for the weather office to show my appreciation.
Weather was a major debacle for airline travel that year in the Northeast. We were lucky it happened to us in the days when air traffic was still relatively light in the early hours of the morning, as we did not have very sophisticated instrument landing systems in those days.
Business had not been going well for the company. Paychecks were late, and the company began cutting down on crew expenses. A group of pilots casually approached me and voiced the opinion that we should have better working conditions. One of the captains in particular was a very smooth operator, and a very good salesman, and I agreed with what he was telling me. We should be getting added allowance for on-the-road expenses, he said, plus more advance notice on our scheduled flights, adequate planning for vacation time, and so on. Nothing to get excited about or riled up about, I thought. This group of pilots had arranged a meeting with the company president to discuss the situation. The smooth talker asked me to present the program and speak up for the group, saying the owners had known me for a long time and respected my opinions. Sure, I should have picked up on what was going on, but I did not. I guess I am pretty foolish in human relations, as I tend to concentrate on getting the job done and don't always pay enough attention to the human element.
At the meeting, I very casually started speaking up about what the other pilots and I had discussed. I raised the point in a very friendly manner, mentioning it as something to think about and work out on civil terms. As I finished, the president roared, "Is this your idea, Carl? Is this your uprising?" I replied, "No, this is something the group wants to discuss and get some consideration on these items." He yelled back, "Who else wants to talk about these items?" Not a soul stood up. No one spoke up. As I stood there, I realized how I had been used. I felt like a damn fool! I realized these people did not have very much courage; no one had the guts to share the heat I was taking at their behest.
As business got worse for the company, I thought of leaving, but then the company leased a DC-4 and checked over the pilots to crew it. Because of my war experience in that type of four-engine aircraft, and my civilian license to fly it, I was selected, and I started making flights into the Caribbean, plus passenger runs to Cleveland. I was not very happy with the pay schedule, and the company was holding back on part of our paychecks and expense accounts for a few months. Most of the other pilots had been laid off, and I was sensing a repeat of previous experiences. As I was about to demand that they pay me in full, the company declared bankruptcy. I had never heard of employees collecting any money from a company that went bankrupt, at least not in the airline business, and this company was no different. The sharks get whatever there is to get. In this case, the government got stuck for quite a bit in unpaid taxes. Looking over those who were owed money on the bankruptcy papers, I noticed that the president and owners, plus the accountant, had all been collecting their salaries. That really ticked me off. I had been collecting cash and checks from agents and, upon arrival in Miami, turning it over to the accountant. If I had known what was going to happen, I could have kept the amount due to me from the cash. Once again, I had looked out for the company instead of myself.
Looking for Options
Meanwhile, Jeanne had been working on getting a real estate license and was dabbling in the market. I had wondered about starting a business in aviation or boating. While I was growing up, I had built several small boats and a 32-foot, good-looking, fast, express cruiser under my father's guidance. My older brother provided the mechanical knowledge and engine installation. My father had operated one of the first boatyards in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and also a large mill. Perhaps, I thought, it would be wise to think about the boatyard business. Even then, Miami was a busy place for the marine industry, and besides, the aviation field was not doing very well.
If you are going into a business, you should know something about it, and the best way to gain that knowledge is to work in the business. A look in the newspaper turned up a wanted ad for shipwrights. Soon, I was at work at a busy yard on the south bank of the Miami River, on my hands and knees, redecking a tugboat with three-inch strip planking, with three experienced carpenters and the boss/owner standing watch over us. It was hot, with no breeze and no shade, and my body began to sweat and ache. I had been sitting in cockpits and at desks -- living the good life, in other words -- and now I was paying for it. At the end of the first week, I was a few pounds lighter, and by the end of the second week, I could move about only with some muscular pain. Come the third week, it was still hard work, but I was keeping my ears open and asking a few business questions. The salesman who gathered in the customers and jobs liked to talk, frequently telling me how tough the competition was for profitable contracts. Every week, I found a pay raise in my envelope. Not bad. The fourth week, I was hammering away on the deck alongside a carpenter, and he said, "Slow down -- you're making the rest of us look bad!" By what I had heard, I was learning that this boatyard work was a tough business unless you had the right customers and workforce, plus a good facility in the right location.
Around this time, Jeanne received a phone call for me, asking that I contact a pilot friend who used to work for me. Yes, he said when I called him, he was doing fine, working for a local outfit that had a lot of aircraft for lease and had other interests in aviation. Would I give the operations manager a call? This local company wanted to set up an airline using DC-4s. After talking to the operations manager and the Miami branch manager for a couple of hours, I accepted an employment offer to fly as captain for the company.
Jeanne had been busy looking for waterfront property for us to purchase that could be zoned for an in/out marina. We were not giving up on starting our own business, but until we were ready to do so, this company seemed like a worthwhile opportunity for employment.
After the physical exercise at the boatyard, I was feeling very fit and full of energy. I assisted in getting the operations manuals approved and checked out a DC-4 the company had purchased from United Airlines. I was soon asked to become chief pilot. I hesitated because I knew it would eat up all my free time and would give me problems to take home to solve. Eventually, after some discussion, I accepted under the conditions that I would approve all the pilots, captains, and copilots; flight attendants would report to a chief stewardess that I approved; and I would have the authority to dismiss any flight personnel at my discretion. I wanted to have a good quality crew to build a good operation, and I believed the owners of the business wanted the same.
The pilots I chose were all first class in their qualifications and experience. They were also first-class people. Among them was an American who had been chief pilot for a large Mexican airline and also an instructor pilot for Pan Am. I also chose another American who had been flight operations manager for a very large Argentinean airline -- a very cerebral type of fellow and a meticulous pilot. Another of our pilots had a lot of experience as a Pan Am instructor on DC-4s; he loved to lead me down the garden path until he had a bet about some nebulous part on a DC-4. A $5 win from me would give him such a laugh at my expense that a bystander might have thought he had won a thousand dollars. (Later in life, he would operate a good-size airline in Africa for American interests, a job in which his sense of humor must surely have served him well.)
The owner of the company was a resident of Ft. Wayne, Ind., who had previously leased a large hangar on that city's modern airport for aircraft maintenance plus several old Army buildings for storing aircraft parts. There were several aircraft and some maintenance personnel there. It was suggested we do our pilot training in Fort Wayne to avoid Miami's heavy air traffic. Our stewardesses were to get training in a DC-4, and the flight engineer was to get his rating from the government. A FAA maintenance inspector was going with us from Miami so he could study our program. The trip from Miami to Ft. Wayne was a training trip for everyone on board.
The first night in Ft. Wayne, I shared my room with a pilot named Hank, an old friend whose flying days had paralleled mine for many years. In the morning, Hank asked if he could be relieved from flying for a couple of days, as he ached all over and felt he had the flu. The hotel doctor had paid him a visit and rolled a few pills into him. The strong, accelerated, transition training went very well. A couple more days and we were through with it, except for Hank, who remained bedridden.
One evening Jack, the FAA representative we had brought with us to Fort Wayne, said, "Carl, I can catch a flight out of Chicago in a couple of hours if you could fly me there, and I could be back in Miami tonight." "Jack," I told him, "all the pilots have been sent to the hotel. I know you are not a pilot, and the only thing we have ready to go is the DC-4." "Well, I could sit in the copilot's seat for you, Carl." With that, I cranked up the four engines, flew to Midway Airport, put the FAA agent out at the terminal, and took off for a return flight to Ft. Wayne. Everything becomes legal if it's to the benefit of the right people.
Being the only person on board, it was safe enough, except that I had to stretch a little to reach some of the controls the copilot normally operated on a four-engine aircraft. But the flight was a little lonesome.
We were all ready to return to Miami. Hank had still not recovered from his illness and had not checked out in the DC-4. When we arrived in Miami, his wife did not answer the phone, so one of the crew members drove him home. A neighbor advised him his wife was in the hospital with polio. It turned out that she was almost completely paralyzed; no one in Miami had ever survived such a severe case of the disease. Hank was diagnosed with a mild case and a weakened leg. The couple's young daughter was untouched. It was a strange case of selective injury. Fate was being the hunter and selecting his victims.
Hank was taken off flight duty until he regained strength in his leg, and then we were able to use him locally on DC-3s. Jeanne was able to assist his wife at meal times occasionally to relieve Hank from domestic duties. We continued to be close friends for many years.
The military contracts we were under consisted of hauling troops here and there. Having no set pattern to the routes we had to fly made it difficult to have planes and crews where we needed them and when. Often, logistics required us to have multiple crews on board. We had subscribed to Link Training courses for instrument flight training of pilots in Miami, and also to correspondence courses for the required ground school for pilots. We won the award for the best on-time record, with a 98-percent on-time rate for our military contracts. In a meeting with our owner, one pilot said it was because I was on top of the operation and I nagged the pilots to maintain strict schedules.
This was all taking a toll on my family life. Not only was I keeping the flights going, but there were also the normal office demands, plus oddball jobs that the owner would pass down to me. There did not seem to be enough hours in a day to stay on top of airline operations, shuttling crews around, maintenance schedules on the aircraft, test hops, and line checking the flight crews. Line checks consisted of riding in the jump seat and watching the coordination of the crew on their cross-country flights and among the Caribbean Islands. We also had aircraft on charters to oil companies and steel companies, plus individual charters to monitor. Furthermore, we also leased aircraft to other airlines. Fortunately, some of these were long-term "dry" leases, for which we furnished only the aircraft, but it still took time to look over each aircraft prior to leasing.
I had hired an operations assistant, but he was so useful that Al, the owner of company, started using my assistant for his work. I was spending a lot of time on trips out of town and losing touch with my son, daughter, and wife. I enjoyed my work, but I was missing the normal joys of family life. I knew something would have to change. It normally does in aviation -- and usually, rather quickly.
Al, the owner of the company, was a very shrewd businessman who kept his focus on the profitability of everything the company undertook to do. His younger brother, Ray, was the Miami branch manager. Ray was a born salesman -- a good-looking man with a ready smile and a pleasant, outgoing personality. The difference between the brothers was like night and day. They complemented each other very well. Both had been pilots in WWII, an experience that afforded them a basic comprehension in operating an aviation company.
Al had moved his family to Miami, and we saw a lot of him. He was visualizing the end of the military contract work as the Korean situation moderated. We bid on contracts, but there was less profit in them as time went on. We had to bid against the railroads on a seat-per-mile basis. If the military had taken into consideration the loss of manpower time in transportation between traveling by rail versus traveling by air, we would have made out fine ... but no such luck. Loss time for manpower did not seem to count with the military. We bought no more DC-4s.
Eventually, our pilots were called into a meeting, in which their vast experience in different areas of aviation would be explored and tapped to make some serious decisions. The question was, where do we go from here? We had to find a more profitable niche in the aviation field than flying the military personnel across country. The Korean War was settling down. We had an option on 10 DC-4s to purchase from a major airline, but there was no place we could put them to work. Jet aircraft were replacing the piston-engine planes. No one could come up with a satisfactory plan. We knew the operation for the military would soon close down.
There were no feasible answers for the company's airline operation. The aircraft leasing fleet of about 30 DC-3s was doing well. Our parts manager was doing great. Buying and selling of aircraft was going well, but it would have to be carefully watched.
Call of the North
One day Ray asked me to step into his office and said, "Carl, I would like you to meet our friends from Rimouski, Canada. They want to start an airline [where had I heard that one before?] to service the DEW line." I soon found out this was to be a chain of radar bases every 40 miles across northern Canada above the Arctic Circle. This would give the U.S. an extra few minutes of warning if Russian bombers were to come across the Arctic regions. This was during the height of the Cold War with the Soviets, so Uncle Sam was paying for the surveying, establishment and operation of bases on Canadian soil.
These Canadian friends of Ray's were well qualified in aviation and operated Quebecair, the only scheduled airline in Canada besides Air Canada, which was government owned. In the group were the owner, Mr. Brilliante; the chief pilot, Paul; and the head of maintenance, Luis.
One of them said to me, "We understand you are an Arctic expert." I took it that Ray had talked about my Greenland experience. Why? I felt that something was cooking -- and I was in the pot. To rectify any misconceptions, I replied, "I am not an expert, but I do know what to expect."
Ray continued, explaining that the DEW line needed some aviation help and that these people were thinking of buying our DC-4 and putting it to work. "If they do," he went on, "they will need some help in training their pilots. Canada has never had a DC-4 under its flag. Also, they could use help setting up a maintenance program and training their mechanics. Will you handle that for them?" I told him that if I could get willing support from everyone, I saw no reason why not. He got me off to another office and informed me that I would be working for both companies and collecting two salaries. "We want to start our own airline in Canada for the DEW line, so keep that in mind."
I told him I would need a flight engineer for training the Canadians. When he asked who, I suggested a capable young man on our payroll who had bonded to me in a curious series of events some time back. A well-known Washington aviation attorney, acting as his own pilot, had crashed a private Lockheed Loadstar shortly after takeoff from the Miami airport, following the loss of one engine. The worst part was that he had killed not only himself and his crew, but also people on the ground in an industrial part of town. A big media event with pictures was the result. I had been asked to test-hop a similar plane that the mechanics had been working on a short time later. The young man whom I now wanted as my flight engineer had been asked to fly as copilot, and away we went. Shortly after the wheels left the ground, I lost an engine and feathered the prop, but there was no fire, no serious problem. My copilot was shaken up, the previous accident surely in mind, as we continued around the field on one engine, landed, and had our tug tow us back to the shop. It was all in a days work. We had been in the same type of plane and experienced the same problem as the plane that crashed. After that flight, he had unbound faith in me -- probably more than I did. Upon my requesting this man as the flight engineer, Ray said, "Well, then, we will close the deal, load the plane tonight, and take off for Mont Joli at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. Carl, perhaps you would like to leave now to pack up." That was a real bummer! Where do you find Arctic clothing in Miami in an hour's time? A war surplus store outfitted me with some WWII sheepskin jackets, pants, boots, and a cap. But then came the next dilemma: How would I tell my wife and family that in 12 hours I would be leaving for Canada and the Arctic for an unknown length of time? It was not easy on any of us.
The Canadians had a lot of shopping to do and we didn't get airborne until the evening hours had arrived. With Paul, the chief pilot, riding as copilot, we headed to Mont Joli on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River. I found Paul to be a sharp, well-experienced pilot and interested in everything about him. After an all night flight, I saw the airport at Mont Joli was adequate for our purpose and the town was the same. Stepping off the aircraft, I found television cameras focused on our group. Mr. Brilliante owned not only the airline, but also the TV station and the newspaper. They were all in French. We were deep into the heart of French Canada. Everyone spoke French, while a few spoke broken English. After flying all night, I spent the day surveying the facilities and squeezing in instructions on how to load the aircraft.
I got to the hotel quarters they had reserved for me to quickly dump my bags and grab a meal. About this time I was asked to come to the airport, for I would need a Canadian pilot's license. At the airport, I was escorted to a British WWII plane standing by with one of their pilots to fly me to Montreal. I was told an inspector would be waiting for me at midnight in his office. The flight was not uncomfortable but I could not sleep. There were too many things to think about. Upon landing I was escorted to a government office. A congenial air inspector briefed me on the test. It would be the same as the Canadian airline pilots take. I was allowed six hours to complete it. I knew my problem would be staying awake. Sitting in a small office by myself, a relay of teacups kept appearing. After three hours without checking it over, I turned the test papers in to the inspector's amazement. He graded it, gave me some oral questions for a couple of hours and wrote out Canadian License #3 for the DEW line operation. The pilot whisked me back to Mont Joli.
With the plane re-fueled and loaded, and a quick look at charts and weather, we took off due north for Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island. With a French captain, who spoke little English, my flight engineer and Ray were along with us, as well as Paul, the Chief Pilot. With four pilots on board, I had an opportunity to study alternate airports, the terrain, minimum altitudes, radio beacons and all the stuff a pilot should know before taking off. The heater went inoperative for heating the cockpit and the main cabin. The electric hot cup made hot soup for me. After setting it down on the control pedestal, it instantly froze to it. My sheepskins from Florida were coming apart. The frozen St. Lawrence and the tree line were a long way behind us as we shivered our way north over a thousand miles to Baffin Island. The aircraft had been used mostly in the U.S. and in the warm, moist air of Florida. The moisture in the instruments was freezing, some of them froze up and some micro switches did not function.
Arriving in Frobisher Bay, I saw a settlement of insulated tents and Quonset huts with a nice, long, frozen runway. Men happily met us to unload the cargo. They were very well bundled up in Arctic clothing. A hot quick meal in the mess hut and we were on our return trip. When we prepared to shut down our engines at low temperatures, we diluted our engine oil with gasoline by holding down switches, to prevent the oil from freezing and seizing up the engine. Once started, the engine oil heats up and evaporates the gasoline. Even with these precautions at extremely low temperatures, we would often have to start the engines every one to two hours to be able to start them again. Our batteries did not put out much juice at very low temperatures.
In Mont Joli, the engineering officer very ingeniously installed an onboard power generator unit to boost our starting capacity and it allowed us to run a heater while on the ground with the main engines shut down. The demand for cargo was so great we kept the DC-4 running night and day. We were the only DC-4 in Canada. The Quebecair pilots I was flying with started out as bush pilots flying single-engine planes on wheels, skis or floats and finally to twin-engine aircraft including DC-3s on skis. They were very savvy pilots for cold-weather operation and flying in this type of country and I learned a lot from them.
Due to the need for keeping the DC-4 in the air, I never got to a bed for 16 days, sleeping in the pilot's seat while the copilot/student flew. While on the ground, I held classes for pilots. I spoke in English, which some understood and there was also an interpreter. I also represented Quebecair in trying to raise the allowable engine times between overhaul from 800 hours to 1200 hours with the Department of Transport. I failed. I flew the DOT inspector that had given me my Canadian pilot permit in Montreal to Frobisher Bay to familiarize him with the DC-4. Then we did a few landings and take-offs at Mont Joli. Now he was qualified to give me or other pilots a check ride. He became a man whose company I enjoyed.
I knew I couldn't keep up the schedule I was working. We had to stop flying cargo long enough to give some pilots local transition. I prevailed on the chief pilot and it worked out very well, checking him out. But he had his own work and could not relieve me. Next he gave me his senior captain, an older pilot who did not speak English, with these words of warning: "He is a very good pilot but 'set in his ways', a difficult man."
He was very cold and tried to take command as soon as he joined me at the aircraft. I stopped him every time he tried. With him under the hood flying instruments, I really tried to make him sweat. On a traffic pattern, I wanted a downwind leg, a base leg and a straight-in final approach. He said, "This is the way we do it." I only guessed that is what he said, because it was said in French, as he pushed the nose down on the downwind leg and swooped towards the end of the runway. I cut his left, outboard engine and -- with the wing down in a turn and preoccupied with shutting down an engine -- he was too low to line up with the runway. He was forced to go around on three engines. The next approach he did as I wanted. The next takeoff I cut off two engines (simulated) and let him know we had a 400-foot ceiling through the translating pilot sitting on the jump seat. He did a commendable job of getting it on the runway but it was not easy for him. He found out a four-engine aircraft needs a little more maneuvering room than a DC-3.
Shortly thereafter, on his first command flight, I heard he was coming from the Arctic on three engines and he successfully completed the flight. Later at a gathering of company personnel, he approached me carrying two drinks, one of which he handed to me. There was an awkward silence as we toasted each other. Then he told me about his three-engine trip from an outpost in the Arctic, in broken English. (He had been holding out on me in his linguistic ability.) An engine would not start. He imagined being stuck there for weeks. Reading the operations manual with his copilot (in English), he realized a three-engine takeoff was possible. He thought back on his training flight with one and two engines out and knew he could do it. We shared another round of drinks and knew we were friends. More important in this business, we respected each other.
I had been on the go, night and day, for a little over two months. Ray called from Miami, saying that he would fly up from Miami with a company pilot in a DC-3 and it would take us back to Miami. I was to collect the money from Quebecair for the DC-4 and for the parts and spare engines. We had shown them what could be done. In today's currency, I had shown a net profit of close to $350,000 U.S. in 16 days. Plus, Al had sold the aircraft at twice what he had paid for it, and the spare engines we sold netted a 25-percent profit. In a visit to the Quebecair office, I picked up a certified check worth about $2 million (today's currency) from the comptroller and slipped it in my coat pocket. The comptroller was very pleased to give me the check and told me I had helped the company very much to make money and expand its capability. Down the hallway I met the owner of the airline. He told me our company was charging too much for the airplane, engines, etc. He would pay for it only when we reduced our invoice, then he would give me a check. I smiled and left after telling him what a fine company he owned, with the check nestled quietly in my pocket.
Ray arrived and we took off for New York City. We had a limousine meet us, as Ray and I would spend a day in the city and fly the plane to Miami the next day. The pilot was sent on to Ft. Wayne by airline. When we arrived at the hotel, Ray asked me to pay the limo driver. I had been using Canadian currency and spent it in Canada, leaving me cashless. He was cashless, as usual. There we were, in New York City, broke for cash, and only a $2 million certified check in my coat pocket. The limo driver was getting upset. (This was before credit cards.) Ray talked the hotel cashier out of a cash advance. We ate well that night in the hotel. We had a big check and a private airplane to fly to Miami, but only a couple of bucks in our pocket.
Meanwhile, In the Arctic
An outpost in the Arctic, a few hundred miles from Frobisher, needed to be established. There was no runway but the snow was deep. A DC-3 on skis was dispatched and accomplished the job. Meanwhile a strong blizzard set in as they took off. A DC-3 flying with skis hanging down is not very fast. This time of year, they only had a few hours of daylight. They flew out their ETA for Frobisher, but could not raise the homing beacon. In the snow and darkness, they kept flying their course. When the fuel was about to run out, the captain, an old hand at bush flying said, "We will set it down now." He did not know where they were except it was probably over very rough terrain. There were no other choices.
They slowed way down as they approached the earth, flying in darkness with blinding snow. As the skis touched snow, they saw a large, black rock pass under the left wing. The landing lights were of limited help in the blowing snow. They were lucky to have landed with a strong headwind and had no accidents.
The two pilots and the mechanic looked at each other silently. The mechanic reached into his bag and brought out an almost full bottle of booze. He took a healthy swallow or two and handed the bottle to the pilots. When it got back to him, it was empty. Later, he really complained to me about the pilots taking all the whisky.
They were well prepared with emergency goods, a stove and sleeping bags. When it got light, they saw they were in a depression and the only spot without rocks for a landing. The auxiliary gasoline generator allowed them to keep the batteries charged, and the radio and the all-important heater working. They could communicate occasionally, but did not know where to tell a rescue party to find them.
The blizzard lasted over a week. The plane was down and no one knew where. They could only communicate with Frobisher or Mont Joli. Radio bearings were taken from Goose Bay, Labrador and two Greenland bases. The bearings showed varying positions, ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to Greenland and Labrador. When the blizzard blew out, search planes could not locate them. In Mont Joli, their families and friends were distraught when the calculations dictated that their food had run out and fuel for the generator was about to dry up. A plane on a routine supply mission was seen to fly overhead and radio communications were established. Drums of fuel were dropped in the snow and a tricky takeoff occurred. It was said the valley they landed on was the only landing area within a hundred miles and strewn with large boulders. By the number of miles they had flown and the number of hours, it was computed they had experienced over an 80-knot headwind. They were very lucky.
Back to the Frozen North
On my return to Canada, I was given a flight to Coral Harbor, to an icy runway located on an island in the northern part of the Hudson Bay with a load of heavy cargo. It was bitter cold, with the temperature 50 degrees below zero and a 38-knot wind blowing. Fortunately, my pilot friends had all donated Arctic clothing to me and I had been able to purchase Arctic-type undergarments and mittens. The unloading took longer than normal, for we had to stop working every hour to crank up the engines to keep them from freezing up. Upon the completion of the unloading, we found the number 3 engine was frozen. We borrowed a portable, gasoline-powered heater that piped a lot of hot air to a nacelle we draped with a canvas cover. It took a while to rig up this contraption. I -- and the pilot I was checking -- were both miserably cold standing on the ice in the wind. He looked across at me and pointed to my cheeks, which were partially obscured by the fur-lined parka I was wearing. Later he told me they were white and appeared to be frozen. It took some time to thaw out and caused a lot of pain. We did finally get the engine warm enough to start and took off for Mont Joli.
We hit a lot of instrument weather and then had a solid undercast for the next 450 miles. Rather than head directly for Mont Joli, I had picked a heading for the nearest radio beacon to establish our position. Being so close to the magnetic pole, the standard cockpit compass danced around for 360 degrees if you tapped it or encountered a little turbulence. We relied heavily on a gyro-stabilized compass located in the wing and having a repeater in the cockpit. A positive identification of a landmark was always a relief. This time we flew 450 miles with no ground contact. When the weather cleared, I found we were 150 miles off course. No problem, as we had plenty of fuel, but I wondered why we were off course that much.
A few days later I flew the same course in good, clear weather. I tracked the shoreline of Hudson Bay to find my compass was more than 30 degrees off the correct heading. There was a notice on the chart for "local magnetic disturbances." The notices were usually insignificant variations due to mineral deposits or magnet fluctuation over a small area. In this part of the world, you live and learn, or you have a short life.
Just because I was busy and preoccupied did not mean I was not observant to my environment. The polar bears we saw looked more yellow than white; sometimes we had the opportunity to fly down low and could almost stare them in the face. We saw plenty of seals, but it was the walruses with their huge size and great tusks that made imposing figures. There was a mixture of whales, some like I had never seen before. The white ones were spectacular against the dark waters. Some of the mountains were as sharp and black as a Rockwell Kent painting of the Arctic. The clean air was something to marvel at and to rejoice with each lung full. The sun could shine on you one moment and a blizzard embrace you the next.
The rare and strange creature of the Arctic was for me the musk ox. With his short length, shaggy growth of hair and a short neck, he was a wonder to behold. They would often form a circle, shoulder to shoulder, with horns and head pointed out. How they survived in this bleak, cold environment was a mystery to me. And every time I saw a polar bear dive off an ice floe in the clear, cold water, I would shudder.
We received very little notice of a weather system moving into our area, for they moved from the North and West, where there were no weather stations, and this was years before weather satellites. We were often caught unaware by cold fronts, strong winds and blizzards. The chief engineer for Quebecair was a resourceful man. He knew there were two engine changes coming up on the DC-4 and no hanger large enough to accommodate it and protect his mechanics from the cold. The DC-3 hangers were too small and too busy. He assembled steel scaffolding as used by builders, bolted them together and hung huge, heavy tarpaulins to enclose the DC-4 nose, wing and engine sections. Steel cables with anchors in the ground kept it from blowing away. Diesel heaters from outside pumped in heat and a generator provided lights. This allowed the mechanics to work in a protected area.
Other Americans were coming north to haul goods for the DEW line. The Canadians were to have priority on transportation and the Americans were crowding them on Canadian soil.
Survey Team Support
I flew from Mont Joli to Frobisher Bay and then to Cumberland Bay, a deep bay a couple hundred miles north of Frosbisher that empties into Davis Straits and has a few glaciers. There was a survey team there living in tents that needed supplies. The sea ice was reported to be 70-inches thick. I only needed about 65 inches of sea ice to hold up the DC-4. Fresh water ice is tougher and I could make do with 55 inches on the lakes.
We landed next to the shoreline about 200 yards out. We had tall, sharp-edge, black mountains looking down on us. These mountains were the tail end of a rugged mountain range that was as steep-walled as any mountains in the world. A few tents were scattered along the shore. I was looking at the tidal crack and the difference between the height of the shore ice and the sea ice while a small caterpillar tractor towed our cargo on a sled to the shoreline. Noticing some seal holes in the ice while I was chatting with the workforce, I asked if they would expedite unloading the cargo on the ice so I could return to my base. The flight and landing at Frobisher was routine, but during the night a radio message was received from Cumberland Bay. The ice in the bay had gone out to sea. All the cargo was saved but the yellow caterpillar tractor had gone to sea on an ice floe. Sure hope some sea captain sees it and gives up drinking!
Landing on a lake on a still, very cold day above the Arctic circle, we unloaded cargo quickly. The head honcho asked if I had a rifle for him. When I handed it to him, he asked, "How about the cartridges?" There were none. The cussing was done very skillfully and I was made to realize the wolf pack was getting too bold and a polar bear had been showing himself next to his tent. That was bad enough, but the previous day a caterpillar tractor had left a lake camp 20 miles away to travel over the stream ice connecting the two lakes. He had not arrived. I promised to search for him.
To taxi out for take-off, I had to use more power than normal because my tires were frozen to the ice. It tore out small hunks of rubber. There was no sign of the tractor by my air search. At a survey camp, I was asked if I could take back to Frobisher a man who had cut off a finger the previous day. When he was led to where I could see his hand, there was a tight tourniquet around his forearm, and below that the arm looked purple. His buddy proudly said, "He bled real bad before I put a tourniquet on his arm yesterday. Since then it has not bled a drop." If you do not loosen a tourniquet to allow blood to flow occasionally, gangrene will set in pretty fast. I was saddened to realize he would probably lose his arm below the tourniquet from lack of blood circulation.
The USAF had sent three C-24s -- huge cargo planes -- to carry some oversize loads to the Arctic. Day after day they sat on the ramp waiting to get flyable weather according to their instructions. I was moving more cargo with the smaller DC-4 than they were with three C-124s. They did not understand positioning your aircraft when the weather was down over the destination so you would be in a place to take advantage of a momentary break. Of course, for us, things got a little awkward at times. I had to land at Goose Bay, Labrador, to wait it out a few hours of bad weather. Once at a primitive runway of a lumber camp on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River, I waited out a fog bank over Mont Joli. It was a place one would not expect to see a four-engine aircraft.
The payments for the air shipments were about four times the rates we would get in the U.S. A mechanic -- or an engineer, as the Canadians would call him -- was paid about three times as much as normal. Al had an option to purchase 10 DC-4s from Eastern Airlines to put them to work on the DEW line. Other U.S. small-time airlines were coming into the operation with C-46s but a DC-4 could do a better job. There were some losses of aircraft. A Canadian outfit was trying to use a WWII Lancaster bomber but could not keep it in the air.
I heard there was to be a meeting of heads of the airline people involved in the DEW line, but only for Canadians. I prevailed on the Quebecair executives to include me in the Montreal meeting. In the meeting I received several suspicious looks and halfway expected to be requested to leave. Quietly sitting as a consultant to Quebecair, I listened to how and when the Canadians would force the Americans out of the airlift business in Canada. This was disturbing news.
The DEW line was subcontracted to General Electric by the U.S. government and, in turn, sublet to a company to handle the airlift. U.S. money paid for all of it. I knew the old ex-pilot who controlled the airlift part in Mont Joli. He could add nothing to my knowledge of future operations. He handed me a red stick almost two feet long. "What is it?" "Well, boy, it's a dried up walrus penis." By being able to laugh about it, plus a bottle of scotch, I soon had the name of the GE executive in New York City who controlled the logistics of the DEW line.
In New York City, I called his secretary, as I had promised in a wire from the DEW line, to request an appointment. "Come up as soon as you can." The receptionist held me before a closed door on a floor that was high enough to give some people a nosebleed. A secretary appeared and led me through an acre of desks, bleached-out typists and piles of papers, to a corner office. A very friendly but frustrated man wanted to know what it really was like in the Arctic and all about our problems. I tried to find out if the Canadians could throw us out when it was U.S. money paying for it. "It's their country," was an answer I had to respect. We talked for a couple of hours. He was evasive as to how long Americans would have to work in Canada. I felt sorry for a man who controlled a vast, marvelous operation that set up radar sites all across the Canadian Arctic and had no first-hand idea of his accomplishment. He wanted to go north, but was locked in his office and had to survive on second-hand reports.
In a conference in Miami, Al decided not to purchase the 10 DC-4s after receiving the information I had to give. It was decided to purchase two PBYs (ex-Navy amphibians) for when the ice was too thin to land on but we could land on the water. In the spring, supplies had to be airdropped in the snow or in the water. A boat had to be available to bring drums of fuel to the lakeshores. There was about 20-percent loss on split drums from DC-3 drops. The PBYs would be used when the ice went out, to land in the water. They were long-range aircraft, carried a very heavy cargo load and could deliver and pick up people.
I went to Seattle to pick up a PBY we were having rebuilt. I was to test fly it and get checked out on water landings and takeoffs. The instructor was an ex-Navy pilot. He coached me into a water landing that bounced me high enough to run a ship under the plane. I think it must have been his first time on the water in an amphibian. It was not until I disregarded his technique that water landings became a pleasant thing to do. The second PBY was bought in Los Angeles. Our test hop and acceptance flight was done at Lake Powell. On landing in the lake, we were soon surrounded by pleasure boats. We anchored and had lunch with them. It was odd flying these amphibians across all the land in the U.S. We did use the wheels on airstrips. The PBYs were soon sold to Canadian operators and put to good use.
Quebecair was into operating the DC-4 and we were operating DC-3s under Trans-International's name in Canada. We had hired a chief pilot to look after things.
My shuttling from Miami to Mont Joli and the Arctic was not entirely uneventful. Ray wanted to go to Mont Joli to see what the market was for aircraft and engines. Instead of taking a DC-3, we had an Aero Commander available. It's a nice comfortable, six-person, twin engine, fairly fast plane. We got pretty close to New York and the weather had started to deteriorate. We had refueled on the way north, but the plane was without deicer equipment. We got as far as Lake Champlain when black, lowering clouds encouraged me to backtrack. Ray spotted a windsock next to a road north of Ticonderoga in open farmland. Trouble was, there were no buildings, everything covered with deep snow, and a hazy, undefined runway. We were in big farm country! I did not think it was a good idea to land there. I thought the snow was too deep for our plane to have prop clearance. But then again it might be OK.
It was a very short landing roll, with the aircraft's belly touching the snow. I was wondering how we would take off in this deep snow tomorrow. Ray had the bags out and was heading for the road, wading through deep snow. We only had one barbwire fence to clamber over and under. The farmer that stopped to give us a ride to Ticonderoga was not too suspicious of two men in suits with suitcases standing in the middle of a snow-covered country road begging for a ride. That is, after we pointed out the airplane.
The following day, after a very pleasant stay in a country inn, I walked through the snow, judging the take-off distance on the runway. The take-off was no problem, nothing to it. But it helps if you are a little bit insane.
On another trip to check on things in the Arctic, I was to fly up a load of cargo with plenty of empty space. Driving from my home in Miami to the airport, there was a tree nursery. I bought several coconut palms that stood about seven feet tall in their pots and loaded them in my airplane. Arriving in Mont Joli, I gave several to my friends but saved one for the mess hall at Frobisher Bay. It really caused a great stir with the workmen. Everyone wanted to touch and caress it.
Several years later, at my home in South Miami, I received a letter from the wife of a Hudson Bay Trading Post manager, near Frobisher. "I have seen and admired the palm tree in the Frobisher mess hall. It has been touched so much only the trunk and stems are left, but I would love to have it for my own. I asked the mess manager if I could have it. He said it belonged to you. If you would release it, I could have it. I would so much like to have it." Of course I wrote back and wondered about how my name was remembered and my address. I guess it shows the power of even a dead tree, hundreds of miles above the timberline.
There were several other items that caught my attention in this unique part of Canada. The priest had more power than the mayor of Mont Joli. The people had to get the priest's permission to hold a public celebration and various other activities. Very few people spoke English. I could not buy any English newspapers, books or magazines; even the radio and television stations were all in French. A lot of the people that lived there have never been more than 100 miles from home, perfectly happy to stay in their village. Down the road a short piece was an old Scottish village where everyone spoke with a Scots brogue. I've been told there were other villages of different nationalities that also stay close to home and keep their traditional cultures.
In winter there was a lot of snowfall, a reported 140 inches -- that's almost 12 feet! Where there were snow drifts, it was deeper. On some of the houses, only the chimney showed above the snow and I saw some structural damage, such as broken-down porch roofs. Florida was never like this.
Nature is a Funny Thing
I got a lot of questions from the Canadian pilots about flying in thunderstorms. They are not to be found in the Arctic and I did not find icing to be a problem while flying in the Arctic, either. It's too cold and the air is dry. I never got tired of watching the northern lights, especially when flying in the depth of winter when I was the only one awake in a dark cockpit. It is a sight to see when the heavens light up. Sometimes Saint Elmo's fire races around the props or dances across the wings. I was thinking we were doing all of this construction of radar stations across the Arctic so we can have only a few more minutes of notice before an enemy missile can strike us. The Russians had recently been allies of the U.S. during WWII. It makes you wonder if mankind will ever get intelligent enough to avoid wars.
Nature is a funny thing. A few hundred miles north of the St. Lawrence River there is an airstrip where pilots tell me the clods of dirt next to the runway can be welded together with a blowtorch. It is 80-percent iron. A railroad was being built from the St. Lawrence River north over the hills, bogs and tundra at an exorbitant cost to transport the ore to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River to be dumped in ore boats.
A group of DC-3s in the fleet was not on lease or working, so Al and Ray decided to send a few to Canada to work. I could not see it being profitable unless they were sold to someone else. One broke down at Frobisher Bay airstrip. I guess it was better than being on lake ice north of there, waiting for the ice to melt. Our mechanic reported metal bits in the oil-sump screen, a sure sign some engine part failing. Making a trip to Frobisher and an examination of the engine, I sent a wire to Miami for another engine. Meanwhile, for morale purposes, I stayed in Frobisher to help the mechanic and pilot set up the engine change. The aircraft was moved to the far side of the airport, in the boondocks, so the mechanic could build a make-shift shed of crates, boards and tarpaulins big enough for two engines, the engine stands and three people to work on them.
The bad engine was removed from the plane and placed on the stand in the hut and the good engine came in by air and was also placed on a stand in the hut. I could have shot our man in Miami for sending up an engine without any accessories attached. We had to dismantle all the parts, such as starters, generator, carburetor, etc., from the old engine to the new engine, hoping we had all the nuts and bolds and gaskets to do the job.
In the hut we had warm air being pumped in from an outside, portable, diesel heater and a gasoline lantern for light. There was enough heat to allow us to remove our mittens or gloves for the more delicate work. The French mechanic was the boss and he knew what he was doing. These were conditions that begged for screwing up the job. I was wearing Arctic clothing and heavy, thermal boots with two pairs of heavy, wool socks. When I felt my feet getting cold, I looked down under the bad engine. The oil dripping slowly had piled up like a two-foot tall ice cream cone. The heater had run out of diesel fuel.
We and a dozen men shared an insulated, heated tent to sleep in a half mile from the work place. If you needed the latrine at night, it was 100 yards or so from the tent, with no heat. You really got cold. To urinate during the night, everyone just stepped outside the tent, and it quickly froze. The saying was, "It's not cold unless it freezes before it hits the ground."
One evening a blizzard had blown up in the dark. There was only about 20 feet of visibility and there was a strong wind. We tried to find the tent, but we got lost. By eventually finding the runway, we got a fresh start and located the tent.
In the mess hall, everything was plentiful and good. Lots of beefsteaks. In hot weather climates, people cut off the fat and push it aside. Here it was the first thing to be eaten. In the winter, Hudson Bay was frozen solid. In the summer, I only saw one ship at Frobisher. It was a cargo ship floating at anchor. A few hours later, you could have walked around it, as Frobisher Bay was dry. The tides there are about 50 feet.
Quit While You're Ahead
By this time there were a lot of planes working on the DEW line and under Arctic operating conditions. Some just did not make it nor did some of the crews. Our company knew it was only a matter of time before the Americans would be booted out of Canada. Al, with his keen foresight, closed down the operation. I was anxious to get home to my family and some warm weather, with a rum and coke, while sitting under our large almond tree. Then came one last phone call from Al: "Carl, could you stop in Atlanta on your way south? We have a B-34 Lockheed bomber sitting there. If you could get it to Tucson, we have a buyer for it." Instantly being a little suspicious of old WWII planes that have not flown for ages, I asked, "When was the last time it flew?" "We have a mechanic there who has been running the engines and should have it ready to go by the time you get there." This was one way to evade the question.
I had flown B-34s when they were younger and so was I. A low-altitude bomber built for the Brits, with large engines, it was a big brother of the Hudson bomber, which I had also flown. A short-range, but very fast aircraft. Arriving in Atlanta, I took a good look at the beast from 100 yards away. The exterior looked un-dented, but overall she looked a little decrepit, having sat too long unvisited and unloved. The mechanic cranked her up and the engines sounded OK, and the tires were properly inflated. For some reason known only to old pilots and perhaps to old aircraft, old pilots kick the tires before flight. This time I refrained from doing so ... they looked as if they would blow out if abused. There is a pilot's saying that goes, "You have to love the bird and drive the beast." I thought I might have some driving to do.
There were a few instruments in the panel and a radio. With my baggage, a few maps and a water bottle, I climbed aboard. When I called the tower for taxi instructions, a voice did answer and twice requested the type of aircraft. The B-34 and I made it out for takeoff without any tires blowing or engines falling off, and some of the instruments did work. With powerful engines, we scooted to altitude and -- low and behold! -- the old style of autopilot worked. I had surrounded my body with the maps and kept the water bottle well within my reach before takeoff, thinking I would be a constant slave of the wheel to control the beast. Contrary to reality, wives think blond bombshell stewardesses serve pilots peeled grapes and champagne. I have never found that vision to be true except in my dreams.
At 8000 feet, it should have been pretty cool, but I was beginning to feel a lot of heat. No, the plane was not on fire, and the engines looked OK. I had removed my leather jacket. The cockpit-heater control switch was turned off. Next came my shirt and trousers. The autopilot held it steady while I checked the aft cabin and the circuit breakers. The cabin heater was stuck on. We flew on in my red undershorts. I had to make a refueling stop and the old engines needed to have their oil checked. I discussed the heater problem with the airport mechanic: "Yeah, in a couple of days" he could probably find the problem. I did not need that kind of help.
In flight once again, I tried opening cockpit windows but it only brought the hot air forward to dehydrate me. I had found a piece of heavy rope onboard. If the autopilot would hold us in level flight, I would secure the main cabin entrance door with the rope, so it could not open too far and it would suck out the hot air.
I was not about to open the door without a rope to keep it from opening too far. A stewardess at one company I had worked for had complained the main door was leaking air to a deadheading pilot sitting in the passenger cabin. For some reason, he unlocked the safety latches and was sucked out when the door opened. It was at night, near Norfolk, at 8000 feet. Falling that distance would take several minutes; that was a long time to know you were definitely going to die.
Setting the autopilot nose down, I would run back to the door, secure a loop or two on the handle and, when the nose of the plane pointed up too high because of my weight transfer, I ran forward to the cockpit. A few times of doing this and then I released the door latch and it swung partially open. Ah, relief, but not enough. Looking down at myself, I wondered if the Red Baron flew in red undershorts like I was doing! I remembered that a few days before I was freezing on Arctic ice and now I was in a too-hot airplane above the desert, and I was melting. "All good things come to an end," I told myself as I taxied to the hanger in Tucson. I quickly shut down the engines and ran back to untie the rope, to fling the door wide-open to expose myself to fresh air and a vacant ramp. And, yes, I also exposed myself to four men and one woman next to the plane, very well-dressed in business suits. Their awestruck faces with open jaws were focused on me, standing in the open doorway, a dirty rope in hand, in my red undershorts and sporting a sweat-stained body. They were only the buyers. I am sure my astounding appearance caused them to hand me a check for the aircraft. I was not invited to their office or out to dinner.
The plane was probably to be stripped down and refurbished as a fast, executive aircraft at a cost multiple exceeding the original purchase price.
[Continued with Chapter 10.]
To send a note to Carl and AVweb about this story, please click on his name at the top of this page or click here. More articles, stories and fiction about the joy of aviation are found in AVweb's Skywritings section.
Michael Kussatz, of Olathe, KS, captures the essence of grass roots aviation with this image of a Luscombe just waiting to go flying at a grass strip in Kansas. Click through to see our other submissions.