A Pilot's History: Chap. 10 -- Aircraft Conversion, Part 1

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[AVweb's reprint of A Pilot's History began with Chapter 1.]


In Florida, I had "the sun early in the morning and the moon at night" for a couple of days before the phone started to ring. You can ignore it for a few days, but soon someone will buzz your house in a plane or send someone with a car to drag you to the airport to, once again, ride the winged monsters. With a lot of DC-3s in our inventory, Al wanted to lease them out or convert them to executive airplanes. Jenks, a very talented individual, was brought into the company to set up a conversion shop. A large building was leased with plenty of ramp space on the northwest part of the airport and talented people with fine machinery began to work on transport aircraft. Besides the routine maintenance, a DC-3 was converted to an executive interior as an off-the-shelf model. Ray sold some DC-3s to Bahama Airways with the provision I would give transition instruction to their pilots in Nassau, which consisted basically of training on the aircraft systems and a current checkride. I believe British Overseas Airway Corporation (BOAC) owned the company or controlled it, for there were ex-BOAC pilots involved. It was good to be in the tropics again with good company. In Miami, a Mr. Davis had purchased an off-the-shelf, executive DC-3 and traded in a new twin Beech that he had never flown in. A pilot from New York thought the company he flew for could use it. As usual, I was asked to fly it to New York for a demonstration to company officers. With about four well-dressed executives, we flew over the city for a while. I was listening to their chatter. A couple of them were worried about safety in a small plane. The sale was in question. Looking down, they felt the skyscrapers reaching up for them. Their fears had to be subdued. I shut off one engine, feathered the prop and watched them stiffen up until they realized we were not going to fall out of the sky and that it was comfortable flying on one engine. No strain on anyone but me until both engines were turning again. The papers were signed in their office. The price I was able to negotiate was closer to the asking price than our bottom figure. There was one hitch in the negotiations when the secretary came in and said there was a phone call I had to answer. It turned out to be Jeanne. There was a house on two acres in South Miami she had to buy that afternoon. I was really teed off. Couldn't it wait until I saw it? No. Well, buy it! Then the business continued.

Lifting Body

Burnelli CBY-3

In aviation, there are always a lot of odd things that pop up and use up one's time. There was a possible cargo line to set up between abattoirs in Argentina to haul beef across the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile. And then there was a PBY operation from American Samoa to the Tahiti for passengers; this was before there was an airport at Tahiti, but we could land in the harbor. Mr. Burnelli, an Italian aeronautical designer and a business associate who was well connected in Washington, approached us and an old pilot that had flown our ambassador to Russia during WWII as described in the book Mission to Moscow. They flew a full-scale, one-off aircraft to Miami to show us. They wanted to go into production with this new "lifting-body design." It resembled a flying wing in some respect, with twin booms supporting the empennage. The engines nacelles forward of the wings were in line with the booms. Outboard of the booms, the wings were tapered and stubby. The central cargo or passenger area was a high-camber wing airfoil. This machine was an interesting conception and about the capacity of a DC-3. For several days, Mr. Burnelli showed me all the advantages of the aircraft. Al believed he had a source of investment money that would support its manufacture if it were a feasible, breakthrough design. The more I studied it and the blueprints, the more puzzled I became. First, it would have to be a lot larger. The design lent itself to the "bigger the better" concept. Aircraft for the future would have to be pressurized. It is a lot easier to pressurize a round tube such as the DC-6 than a wing shape. Tricycle gear would be an advantage instead of a tail dragger. Also, passenger's view of the passing terrain would be restricted. It would be a whole new ballgame. Would this strange design of an aircraft pass the Transport-category flight-test requirements? Would we be gaining any efficiency? Would there be any additional disadvantages showing up? To answer some of these questions, it was agreed I would test-fly it to see if it would meet the requirements for a transport aircraft. The plane was loaded with sand bags and the runway marked with flags for distance to give an idea of its runway requirements. I ordered a couple of parachutes. That morning, before going to work, I kissed my wife not once but twice. Frank, the pilot who came with Burnelli, took down my notes. The air-ground cushion helped to raise the tail on take-off. She was a little heavy on the controls. Over the Everglades I went through a lot of the test requirements. At altitude I started a stall straight ahead. Something funny here. A climbing-turn stall, power on, I was a little uneasy and I noticed Frank starting to sweat. The next, stall to the left with power on. Oh no! I felt I was getting into trouble, maybe flip over on its back and there was no easy way out of this machine. Realizing this was just a rudimentary familiarity test, I backed off from being aggressive in this maneuver. I did not find any great advantages over a conventional aircraft in this design and the takeoff rolls appeared about average. I discussed some of the results I had with Mr. Burnelli. He told me the prototype I was flying was built in Canada and the attachment of the outer stub-wing to boom and the lifting body was off from his drawings by 1-1/2 degrees. This could have affected the stall characteristics. That was nice to know. I had not seen enough advantages in the design to warrant pursuing the matter.

Moving Planes

There were some small, twin-engine, high-wing transports coming up in a war surplus sale. Only about a dozen had ever been built. Admiral Byrd, famous as a cold-weather explorer, had used them in a cold-weather operation in Alaska. Frank introduced me to him in Washington's Mayflower Hotel. He was very guarded about what he would say about the plane's performance. I could not fault him, my being unknown to him and being in Washington, D.C., a good place to watch what you say. We did not bid on the dozen aircraft. Al had bid on some C-82 flying boxcars in Ogden, Utah. These planes were the smaller predecessors to the C-119 that I had flown during the Korean War. I was not a stranger to the C-82, for I had a wing of C-82s participate with us on maneuvers. They had a lot of problems, according to pilots and crew chiefs. On takeoff runs or on landing, sometimes the nose wheel would set up a shimmy so strong the pilots knees would get beaten black and blue against the control column. A very unusual malady for a plane. I was asked to move the C-82s Al had bought to Sebring, Fla. They had been sitting in storage and neglected far too long. Like a lady, I suspected they needed some tender care before you could take them out. I got off an airliner in Salt Lake City to find no available rental cars. A taxi volunteered a contract price to Ogden and the driver threw in his knowledge of a roadside steakhouse for the price of a steak dinner and a beer. The planes looked OK with the desert sand on them. I wondered if they would look more beautiful flying through the air if I was standing on the ground. A few mechanics cranked up the engines, squirted oil around to make it look like they had checked everything. I was thinking of my wife and kids and told Miami they would have to take out a short-term life insurance policy on me for $200,000 for them. I hired a local co-pilot. He must have been down on his luck, to take the job. Much to our surprise, we got to Sebring with no problems with the first plane. Sebring was a deserted WWII training field with hangars, buildings and all deserted, except for our company. Weeds were growing through cracks in the runway and the famous, annual, worldwide, 24-hour, auto endurance race was run here for the sport cars. That's when they mowed the runway. As long as I was going out to Ogden to supervise another crew to fly a C-82 to Sebring, I figured I might as well fly a DC-3 up to Ft. Wayne where it was needed. And then catch an airline westbound. Why not? It was one way of getting out of Sebring. In Ft. Wayne, things were the same. When you get off the plane, you turn down the corners of your mouth and frown so you will be like everyone else there. We were tired after putting the DC-3 to bed and walked over to the terminal. I bought tickets for two for Salt Lake City on United Air Lines. We had a three-hour wait. About 30 minutes before loading, the ticket agent said I was wanted on the phone. "Carl, could you stay in Ft. Wayne and get our crew of mechanics to do so and so"? I asked the co-pilot if he wanted to fly home on United or go to the hotel with me. He elected to fly home. I would call him the following day with a schedule. My hotel phone rang a few hours later: "This is United Air Lines, is this Mr. Moesly? Did you buy a ticket for [the co-pilot]?" "Yes," I replied. "Do you know if he has a family?" Whoa. I asked, "What's happening?" "We cannot tell you." I told the person on the other end of the phone, "You want information, you will have to give out with some facts. We are both pilots." There was a hesitation, then the voice spoke: "Well, sir, the flight you and he were booked on has not made the last two radio contacts and the plane will be out of fuel in 30 minutes." "Please call me back when you know something." The plane hit a mountain west of Denver. Everyone was lost. It was very difficult writing a letter of condolence to the co-pilot's family. It reminded me once again that Fate is the hunter. A phone call had postponed Fate's appointment with me. The planes were moved to Sebring and I received a little comfort in knowing I had some extra life insurance. With aircraft that have been neglected and sitting for years, you never knew what might go wrong.

Quick Trip to Arizona

C-82 "Packet"

On a warm, sunny day in a Florida winter, Ray rushed into my office. "Come quick, get in the car with Connie, you have to catch Eastern Airlines. They are holding the plane for you. Call me when you can." On the way to the terminal, the secretary said, "You are going to Chicago first and then I don't know." At the terminal door, an EAL ticket agent met us and rushed me through the terminal, through the gate to a plane with the two off-side engines running and me running up the loading stand and the stewardess closing the door behind me. All the passengers looked at me: A guy in a sport shirt, sport coat, no briefcase, no baggage, and no tickets certainly does not look like someone to hold up the departure of an airline with a load of passengers. The stewardess sat me down in the only vacant seat with a "Who the hell are you?" look. No one but me knew we bought a lot of their surplus airplanes. An hour or so into the flight, the wide-eyed stewardess said, "Mr. Moesly, the captain received a radio message. Your baggage will arrive in Chicago one hour behind us on EAL flight so and so. The captain wishes to know if you care to send any radio messages?" It was nice to see such a puzzled look on a competent girl's face. Chicago had light snow as I stepped off the plane in my sport jacket and no baggage, trying to look nonchalant among the passengers with overcoats. "Ray, what the hell is going on?" "Carl, we screwed up. A sealed bid has to be in on some C-82s at nine o'clock in the morning at Davis Monathon Airbase in Tucson, Arizona. We want you to bid on the C-82s items numbered such and such. We are figuring out how much to bid now. We will wire out to you by bank-wire the required deposit. Call us back later when you get to Tucson and we can tell you what bank and how much. By the way, you are booked on flight such and such to Tucson from Chicago in about two hours." I claimed my bag from the flight that was booked solid but had room for my bag. Jeanne had done a good job. When I came out of the restroom, I did not feel out of place and caught the flight to Tucson, arriving in the wee hours of the morning. How do you get a bid sheet filled in and a certified deposit check attached by 9 a.m.? The banks do not open before that time. By getting to the bank early, I talked the guard in letting me talk to a bank officer and explained the situation. I had chartered a taxi for the morning to run me to the bidding desk at Davis Monathan Field and got a bid list that described a good number of C-82s by condition, serial number, engine hours, etc. Calling Ray, I found out what aircraft he wanted to bid and how much. They had picked out the planes to buy with lowest engine hours. In my opinion, it was the wrong way to go. The engines would have to be reworked in all probability. The serial number constituted the key to modifications on the newer aircraft, a very important issue. Also, I looked at about 50 people ready to turn in bids; some were from Miami. I recognized our bids were too low. The bank wire would not cover a higher bid. Less aircraft, higher bids were the answer. By phoning Miami, I got the go ahead to do it my way for bid prices and selection of aircraft. The local bank had not received the money. Would they please run a tracer on it from both ends? Yes, sorry the money had gone to the wrong bank. Time was running out. There was no time left for driving to the bank and then to the bidding officer. The bids were to close at 10 o'clock; at 11 o'clock, a short distance away, they were to be opened in the base theater. It was 9:55 when I turned in my bid with no check, explained my situation with the bidding officer that the bank would call him as soon as the money came in. Perhaps they could open my bid last to give the bank time to find the money. I got no answer. Another bidder stopped by to the desk to turn in his bid. His bid was stamped with the time recorder. The recorder registered three minutes after the hour and was thrown out by the deskman. The bidder raised hell because his watch still had two minutes to go. He had no luck. I sat in the theater and watched the bids being opened and listened to the moans and groans with a few hurrahs. Most bids were below the price I had bid. I had selected the best aircraft. The aircraft that we bought would be flown again. Theirs would be dismantled for parts and the rest junked at scrap-metal prices. Engines would be taken apart and only the cylinders used or perhaps the crankshafts by part specialists, others may specialize in electronics or instrumentation salvaging. There was a lot of tension as names and numbers were called out. Finally, near the end of the bid opening, a man approached the person on the stage announcing the bids. I hoped the banker had called. Our bid was read last. We outbid the others for the aircraft we wanted without leaving much money on the table. I made a quick trip to the bank for the check and to thank the vice president. Upon delivery of the check to the bidding officer, it completed my purchase of the aircraft. I thought it was then time for breakfast.

Hold For the Train

C-82s Loading

My next problem was to get the aircraft to Sebring, Fla. Davis Monahan airport had the aircraft parked in the desert. Just lots of sand without electric service, no water, no shed, no engine stands, nothing to help inspect or repair the aircraft. If you took off on the runway, you were not allowed to return. I located an aircraft repair facility at the municipal airport, a distance of a few miles across the desert. With my rental car, I located a trail that wound between the two airports that an "old timer" that hunted the area suggested using. Each airport had a stout fence that would have to be put down and up to let the aircraft into the desert, then across the transcontinental railroad's twin tracks, which required the presence of a railroad maintenance crew. I also needed five tow bars and towing tractors. We manufactured three tow bars and borrowed two. I was able to rent three farm tractors and one caterpillar tractor. I found I had used up the available supply of tractors, so I rented a big road grader. With some organizing, the fences came down, the tow vehicles were hooked up to the planes and we started our meandering parade across the desert. The railroad crew stopped us to allow a long transcontinental train to pass in front of us. I'm sure it was quite a sight seeing these monstrous planes following tractors and a road grader on a sand trail through the sagebrush and crossing two sets of railroad tracks! The planes were fixed up in the following weeks, and serviced enough for the ferry trips to Sebring. I had a few more C-82s to take out of mothballs in San Antonio. We had a couple of our mechanics from Miami drive in to get them in an airworthy condition. After about 10 days I called in some pilots to ferry them to Sebring. Being the last one to take off, with our maintenance equipment on board and one mechanic as co-pilot, I soon found out one main landing gear would not retract. According to my ferry permit, I was not allowed to land at the airport we had departed, so I continued to Sebring. I was not sure the gear would stay down if I landed or if the other one would go down when needed. It would be better to crash in Sebring than in San Antonio. It was a slow, tiresome flight to Sebring with the landing gear hanging down and night fell before I got to the airport. Fortunately I had plenty of fuel. I had called Jeanne with my ETA before leaving San Antonio and asked her to drive to Sebring to pick me up. There were no lights on the field and it was difficult to locate the weed-covered runways. Then I saw car headlights blinking on and off. Jeanne had remembered my story about using cars with headlights to position the runway! The gear did lock down. I was grateful for not having to contend with additional problems especially where there were no tower communications, no emergency gear, nor fire trucks or emergency personnel. No other nearby airport would welcome a crash landing. It was nice to park the plane, get in the car and leave the driving to Jeanne.

Playing with C-82s

There was a bad accident with one of our C-82s. An employee wanted to move to Sebring to handle the large supply of aircraft parts and inventory we had stored in leased buildings. He was to generally keep an eye on the aircraft we had stored at the airport. Being a young fellow, one day he felt like going for a joyride in a C-82. Some how he had learned to start the engines. It is presumed he did not know how to activate the brakes. Having thousands of horsepower available, he started taxiing wildly around the abandoned runways and taxiways. According to a witness, he was going very fast, tried to make a turn, and swung wide and collided with a parked C-82s wing with his cockpit. It demolished the cockpit and him. What a senseless loss of life. It also demolished two aircrafts. Involving these C-82s at Sebring, two men had lost their lives. Once again, Fate had been the hunter. I could not seem to get away from the C-82s testing my fortitude. We had one in Ft. Wayne to move to Sebring. We also had a salesman/pilot there. He was OK for routine DC-3 flying but basically a salesman. He was asked to go with me as co-pilot on the C-82. He was very nervous about stepping aboard. About the time we got to Jacksonville, the right engine began to backfire. At every "pop" he was ready to jump out and wanted us to land immediately. I felt we could nurse it to Sebring by just backing off the power. It would still give an occasional backfire to turn him a shade whiter. There was no problem getting in to Sebring on one engine throttled back, but I heard he quit flying after that. We had a man from Brazil show up in our office that was interested in buying C-82s. He also was a European racecar fanatic who collected and drove a Mercedes Gull Wing model and a Ferrari. He wanted to see the C-82s and the Sebring 24-hour endurance race at the same time. I flew him to Sebring to watch some of the race and to inspect the C-82s in a DC-3. We watched the race, inspected the C-82s, and were ready to call it a day. On leaving there, we used one side of the runway and the racecars were using the other side. Both the car and plane were going in the same direction. On takeoff, I was just lifting off and a red Ferrari passed me by going under my right wing. The show-off! So I stayed down on the deck, got my wheels up and overtook him. A plane racing against a red Ferrari ... what a photo that would have made!

Whirly Birds

B-17 for Aerial Survey

Things did calm down for me after all the C-82 activity, but only for a short time. Al bought three helicopters from Canada with a lot of spare parts. Ray was to start flights from Miami Airport to Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale for outgoing and incoming airline passengers. He hired a good, commercial, helicopter pilot, but problems kept popping up: no heliports, too many restrictions and noise-abatement problems. They were also costly to keep in the air due to high maintenance requirements. I found out these were the last of 13 helicopters the Canadian company had used for surveying power lines and pipelines plus chartering. The discrepancy between the 13 and two years later only three remaining, I was told, was due to accidents. It did not sound like a very healthy operation to me. I checked the performance graphs in the manuals. It looked like you would come down like a dead duck if things and gadgets broke in first 50 to 300 feet of altitude with no forward speed. Ray was soon giving up his ferrying of airline passengers by helicopters when he found out that Chicago and NYC helicopters operations were 80-percent subsidized by the government and losing money. The government was intending to cut off the subsidy. Al stood on top of his desk in a meeting to emphasize his point by waving his arms madly and shouting. With the helicopters, what where we going to do? This was so out of character for the unemotional, straight-faced Al, I had to chuckle. I am sure he did not appreciate that attitude. There were only real-estate agents and their customers to fly around and Santa Claus once a year, that was our sole response. Al had been badgering me to get checked out on the choppers as a pilot for a long time. I always found a good excuse of being too busy. One day my desk was clean. Not being able to sit still for very long, I called the FAA agent that gave checkrides on helicopter pilots for the government. He had volunteered to check me out anytime I felt like it. Hell, he just liked to fly to get away from his desk. He would be right over. The mechanic rolled out the chopper and we two desk escapees climbed aboard. "Carl, now you use this thing-a-ma-jig to lift her up and this twist revs up the engine and doing this will make it go forward. Being between buildings, we'll go straight up and then over the runway." Well, we got up about five feet or more, the engine blew up and we did not settle on the ground, we gave it a hell of a good thump! The mechanic rolled it back in the shop. We sold one in Panama and two in Australia. I never learned to fly a helicopter. A letter came across my desk signed Mr. Jones complaining about a flight on one of our planes and not getting any service. No offer of coffee or even a glass of water. He was cold the whole trip, etc. He would never fly with us again! My curiosity aroused, the secretary brought in the flight records. It was a charter flight from Jamaica to fly a casket and a dead man to Miami. You guessed it; Mr. Jones was the man in the casket. One of our pilots with a sense of humor got me again. We were getting rid of some of our surplus parts and aircraft. One item was a B-17 that was sold to a high-altitude survey outfit in Toronto. They would replace the four engines, overhaul it completely and equip it with electronics and aerial cameras. It was a good plane for this task, with its long range and high-altitude engines. It could be sent to India to take photos for mapping purposes, tax assessments or perhaps crop successes or disaster zones. If the job was done in a few days, they could move on to Australia or wherever it was needed. However, this particular plane had not flown for years. The turbo-superchargers had been removed from all four engines, taking away a lot of its horsepower and altitude capabilities. There were a few instruments left in the panel and no radios, and I had to deliver it to Canada. The FAA issued a ferry permit but I could not get a test-flight permit. After take off, if there were any problems, I would have to land somewhere else. The mechanic did what he could to service the plane and checked out the engines. "Not much horsepower without the turbo" was his response. Jeff, the same mechanic that had done such a good job for me in Canada, was asked to be my co-pilot. I don't demand someone to fly in planes with this many problems ... I ask if they would like to go. He had a lot of faith and a good sense of adventure. We taxied out after giving the control tower a phone call from the office alerting them to the fact we may or may not have radio communications, but would watch for a green light. Sure enough, our temporary radio did not work, but the green light from the tower did work. With the throttles bent forward, we had about 26 inches of manifold pressure, giving us only about two thirds of our normal horsepower. But it felt good to be in an old warbird after not being in a B-17 for over 12 years. The question was, would she fly? After a long run, she lifted off like an elderly lady should, with grace and stately beauty. Did I just imagine that a lot of old pilots saw her and with a small smile think of the by-gone days? All went well until over northern Georgia, when number-one-engine's cylinder-temperature gage began to climb slowly. We watched the oil pressure begin to drop. I watched our altitude closely over Tennessee and waited to see if we would clear the last ridge of the Appalachian Mountains before shutting down the engine and feathering the prop. We almost skimmed our belly clearing the mountains. With the throttles bent forward on the other three engines, only a miserable amount of horsepower was available. We managed to hold a fair altitude over the lower terrain and changed our destination from Toledo to Ft. Wayne. We had no electronics, so I was navigating the old way with map and railroad tracks. The old, iron compass (R.R.) came in handy. We were not too far out of Ft. Wayne when a second engine began to show a CHT rise. We were just barely able to reach the runway before we had to shut it down. To get to our hangar, I had to taxi by the terminal where two airliners were parked. I had no tower communication. As I passed by the terminal, my brakes failed, so I gunned the engine on the terminal side and headed for the snow-covered ground. It had rained before snowing and the ground was pure mud beneath the snow. The mud substituted for brakes. Keeping the power on, I plowed two large furrows and was able to get near a taxi strip so the pullout tractor I would need would not get stuck. The airport manager called me at our hanger office to raise hell about plowing his nice, flat ground. I asked if he preferred that I run into the airliners and burn down his terminal after losing my brakes. That shut him up, but he still sent the company a bill for smoothing out the ground. The electric hydraulic pump that supplied the brake pressure was fixed. The oil tank of about 18 gallons on the first failed engine was found to be empty and the other engine was almost empty of oil. Engines sitting idle for years rust their cylinder walls and will burn excessive oil. The next day we wandered up to Toledo. It was extremely cold. A piece of the clear plastic nose where the bombardier normally sits broke, allowing a cold blast of air of well over 100 miles an hour to blow in through the holes in the instrument panel from missing gages and on to my freezing body. We were both glad to land at our destination and turn the lady over to the new owner and head back to the tropics. I was getting a lot of flack from a strong-willed office and business manager, who had been with the owners before I was with the company. Our paths or fields of operation did not cross frequently but when they did, one secretary said she could feel the room temperature drop 10 degrees. At first it was not a matter of personality, but every time my back was exposed to him I could hear a friend say, "Just a minute, Carl, I will pull the knife out of your back." It was beginning to affect my work and I had to avoid him every chance I could.

New Kind of Brass

Pristine DC-3

We had a call to provide an executive aircraft for a short lease to the world's largest corporation. It was a foreign oil corporation with its American executive branch headquartered in New York City. After arriving in LaGuardia Airport and the aircraft being inspected by a couple of scrutinizing executives, I was taken to the corporate offices with a high elevation in the concrete jungle. The papers were signed and then a big issue came up: The man I was to fly to Montreal the next day was a scotch drinker. Did I have his brand on board? Asking what brand, I found I could answer, "Yes." The bigger problem was that not one of the executives could remember what brand of bottled water he used as a mix. Big turmoil. Someone had to call his butler in Montreal and the correct brand would be placed on board in the morning. I was notified that, in case of an aircraft mechanical delay, there would be two airlines booked for Montreal at time intervals for him to board. If bad weather threatened, a private railroad car would be standing by for the trip. The delegation seeing over the departure would handle the transfers. After listening to this, I felt I was probably flying God to Montreal. It was enough to shake up my confidence. I was informed he was not God, but the highest-paid executive in New York City. The next morning I welcomed him and his wife on board and I was introduced to his wife, which he would do twice more that day. He obviously was carrying a heavy mental load. It was a nice ride to Montreal, were he had a home. A local aviation enthusiast invited me to an aviation club for a few drinks and dinner. It was a very nice, formal, British-style of club. A very simple pilot's seat was enshrined on one wall behind glass. The "Red Baron" had occupied it when a Canadian shot him down in WWI. I had to tell him I knew the victor's sister, who had recounted the story to me. She was a secretary at Quebecair when I was working the DEW ine. My host was skeptical of my story, but it was true. We took off in a couple of days with only the boss on board for Washington, D.C. En route, I asked when he might want to leave Washington. He replied, "At 2:00 p.m., I have an appointment with the Dutch Ambassador, at 4:00 p.m., your Secretary of Treasury, and at 6:00 p.m., your Secretary of State. We should leave for New York at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow." At 7:00 p.m. that night, the Secretary of State announced on national TV we would open the Suez Canal. That was one hell of a schedule for one man. He took great pride in showing me a gift he received the previous night at a ceremony, a Parker shotgun with matching barrels in a nice case. It represented a gorgeous precise, piece of workmanship by a world-renowned company. I wonder if he ever had time to enjoy a hunt with the gun. The following day I was asked to take the boss of an oil company's English subsidiary to Miami. This was done without any fuss or muss. En route, I spent some time talking with him. He seemed to enjoy getting his mind off of business to relax. Oil executives on this international level seem to be in the ulcer business, with the Middle-East turmoil. The company was the largest in the world by employee count. We had an off-the-shelf, executive DC-3 for sale and the Chrysler Corporation wanted to take a look at it in Detroit. This aircraft had a very light interior, designed to look good in the tropics. Detroit is not the tropics. Checking the weather, the next day was to be a dark, rainy day in Detroit. Not a good day to show the plane. The following day was to be bright and sunny, a good day to be there. We arranged to show it on the bright sunny day. Arriving in Detroit, I picked a spot where it stood out fine against the blue sky with its modern, exterior paint scheme. The co-pilot laid out a run of red carpet for the visitors. We had high-level Chrysler engineers look it over and ask a few questions and a few other executives also did the same. I was finding out Chrysler had no private aircraft. The men had to use airlines or charter flights to get around for company business. That was contrary to most large corporations that had mobile executives. GM at that time had 23 aircraft in their fleet. Chrysler's chief stylist liked what he saw but, to put his imprint on it, suggested one of the trim lines went nowhere and I was to have it extended. He was right; I had to concur. On greeting all the executives, I was always asked, "What do you drive?" At first, I said, "Airplanes." They wanted to know the car make. I admitted to driving a competitor's make and then added, "I do not make enough money for a good car." That always drew a chuckle. The senior vice president liked what he saw. He asked me to stay with him as we drove around and he pointed out the special features he had on his custom car, like special woven cloth for the interior. He explained the Chairman was not aviation-minded, hence no airplanes. He and the younger executives were pushing to get a few planes. Of course, we were willing to help him out. On the walls in their headquarters, I had to stop and admire some of the magnificent, original, WWII paintings displaying their products in action in the air and on the ground. We concluded our transaction and the aircraft would be taken care of at a future date in Miami. This V.P., an exponent of aviation, was flying out of San Diego a year later on United when there was a mid-air collision. No one survived on his plane. Once again, fate was taking its toll.

Country Boy Hobnobs with Alcoa

DC-3 with Executive Interior for Arthur Vining Davis (Click here for larger version - 180 KB)

Ray had asked me to go with him to make a sales pitch to Mr. Arthur Vining Davis in downtown Miami. Mr. Davis was ex-chairman of Alcoa, owned 22 industrial corporations in Dade County (Miami area) and 12 percent of the land in the county, and was a real powerhouse in shopping centers and housing developments in Florida. Ray explained there was a "need to modify his executive DC-3 that we maintained at our facility." I was to fill in with conversation when I could to give Ray time to think. We had worked together before and when Ray got a little bit carried away with his salesmanship, I would unobtrusively calm him down and fill in with engineering or operational data. Mr. Davis was a small man physically with a big voice and carried a big stick. How long would it take and what would be the cost to speed up his plane and install larger windows so he could see outside? "Thirty days." "I could not do without it that long." Ray, being the superb salesman said, "Sir, we could build you up another plane to your specifications and that would allow you continuous use of your present plane." "All right, work out the details and present them to me." I was impressed with his quick, clean, decision-making ability. I guessed it partly comes with having a lot of money. Jenks and Ray picked a DC-3 out of the fleet and then got in touch with Davis' pilot and interior decorator. A set of illustrations with materials, color schemes, and exterior paint pattern was worked up by the company's full time artist and the Davis' interior decorator. We had a full-time aeronautical engineer on the payroll who, by subcontracting engineering firms, brought in drawings and kits for wheel-well doors and a change in engine nacelles that added about 20 mph to the cruising speed. We had our plastic shop build forms for large, four-foot long bubble windows that we formed in our ovens with the aid of vacuum pumps. Special aluminum chair-frames that would swivel and lay back were purchased and turned over to our upholstery shop with the interior decorator's instructions. The metal worker was let loose on the stainless-steel galley counter and cabinets. There was a sleeping area with privacy curtains and a sofa that made into a bed by pushing a button. The pilot approved about every electronic gadget you could imagine, including a newly developed autopilot and radar for planes. I took up the job of designing a modern cockpit with the help of a full-scale mock-up. Cockpit windows were enlarged, all cockpit controls were shaped to represent their function, new types of instrumentation and their lighting were properly located. In the passenger cabin, the interior trim was black walnut with attention to weight control by using a laminate of veneer and balsa wood. Honeycomb aluminum-sandwich panels were used for the same reason for bulkheads and the floor. Several new methods of sound insulation and absorption were used for a quiet interior. A nice, lightweight, gabardine cloth was used on the overhead. I would have loved having a suit made from it. Many other items were developed to build one of the finest executive aircraft in the world. As the aircraft was being finished up, I learned Mr. Davis was flying to a Bahamas island. He owned 50 miles of its 100-mile length and all its facilities, such as a resort, airport, electric plant, water supply, golf course, small town, marina, etc. I had a test to do on the newly completed aircraft and managed to have it coincide with the craft carrying Mr. Davis. I got behind him and, with a higher altitude, gained enough speed in a slight dive to swoop past about a wing span away. I did the same thing once again, but with one engine feathered so he could see it would fly on one engine. Once again I did a fly-by to let him know it was OK and the engine was running again. Just a bit of sales demonstration work. I did hear his comment from his personal secretary. He had said, "I hope the captain does not break it before I get to ride in it." A few days later I got a call from Davis' private secretary and home manager that wielded an enormous amount of influence with him and his affairs. She asked if I would fly him to Pittsburgh on the new aircraft's virgin flight. His personal items such as lunch and medicines would be brought out to the plane. Their captain would not be going, but Pete the co-pilot would go in that capacity, if it were OK with me. Pete was a good pilot and had worked with me in the past with one of the airlines. I politely made sure that he knew who was in command. I do not believe in divided commands and responsibilities. I cleared my commitment with my boss as being good business for him. The flight went very well, with the owner enjoying the large, panoramic view next to his very adjustable seat. He also enjoyed the small instrument panel giving airspeed, altitude and temperature and the faster speed of this plane. He walked into the cockpit and asked if I was happy with the aircraft, and then he acknowledged it was pretty nice. His inquiry about a band-aid on my finger brought out the fact I had hit the wrong nail while working on my boat. He replied, "I have a boat," paused, "and it draws 17 feet of water. The only place I can go in it is the middle of the ocean." When I asked how long was she, the answer was, "It's 167 feet and she needs a standing crew of 17 men, although when we go to sea, they need more people." Then I really felt once again the difference in assets between this remarkable man and myself when he asked, "How big is your boat?" I muttered it was only 27 feet. Then we started talking about different woods. He announced that in Alcoa's conference room there was wide and long boards of Brazilian rosewood, the widest and longest to be found. He said I should go to the Alcoa building and have the president of the company show me the conference room and I was to let him know about what I thought of it. All the time, I was thinking, "Yeah, this country boy is going to ask the president of Alcoa to act as a guide. Yeah." The next day I did visit his secretary and explained my dilemma. She had a very nice smile as she showed me around. Pittsburgh had its normal, foggy, smoggy, industrial atmosphere, making an instrument approach necessary. Everything went very smoothly. It was only later I started connecting the absence of the normal captain with the bad weather. [Continued with Chapter 10, Part 2]
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