Air California

Air California

Following my nearly ten years of hopping between various airlines my closet was now filling up with underused uniforms. During this period I’d gained some great flying experience to various corners of the globe and decided it was now time to commit to a long-range employment strategy. Fortunately, in 1978, the Airline Deregulation Act came into being.

A few friends from my original class at ONA had found jobs at an interstate airline in California. I was alerted to the fact that the airline was planning to expand beyond the states borders, and would soon be in need of experienced pilots. My good friends sent me an application and helped arrange for an interview with the Director of Operations and Chief Pilot. To these friends I remain, even today, eternally grateful.

Air California hired me to be in their next pilot training class. I was back in New York where I had just finished my tour with Rosenbaum Aviation when the telegram arrived. It read, “Please confirm your attendance for Boeing 737 pilot training class commencing on May 29, 1978.” My new wife and I were ecstatic, we would be moving to Santa Ana in sunny Southern California.

What followed was ten years of full bliss. I became part of a group of employees so dedicated to the success of the airline it is almost beyond description. We were part of a gleeful competition with fellow intrastate airline PSA which was based not far away in San Diego.

The flying was rigorous, we could have as many as eight to ten take offs and landings in a single day shuttling between various destinations within the state. The strategy had an expeditious nature to it, with a challenge to still provide good service to our passengers. We prided ourselves on that. Whatever we could do to beat PSA at its game we tried and in most cases succeeded.

When the economy faltered slightly our management came up with ten minute turnarounds to better utilize our fleet of aircraft. Ten minutes, block in to block out, involved deplaning passengers through the front exit while cabin cleaners boarded through the back cleaning seats and seatbacks as passengers made their way out. Ten minutes later we were taxiing out for departure.

Within a very short while the airline deregulation act took hold. No longer did the CAB (Civil Aeronautics Board) control airline routes and pricing. It faded into what was referred as its sunset and the industry became a free for all. Air California grabbed a new image and emerged as AirCal and began major expansions in out of state destinations; like Reno, Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle, and even Chicago O’Hare.

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What we needed were more airplanes, more employees, which meant more pilots and the big change for me personally, more Captains. In less than two years I became a Captain again. I would remain in the left seat for the remainder of my flying career. Twenty-five years as a Captain, in a thirty-two year career, is almost virtually unheard of in the industry. I chalk it up to luck and the classic cliché; “being at the right place at the right time.”

I would never experience again the fun I had flying for this little airline. It had personality and style and a dedication of its employees that went beyond typical brand loyalties. Who would have guessed after a major industry shakeout, which had a lot to do with deregulation, some of the major airlines would no longer exist so soon afterwards. Pan Am and Eastern come to mind.

One that remained was American Airlines and in 1987 it chose to acquire our little home grown airline. Life changed again. The opportunity to fly long range wide body aircraft presented itself and I took advantage.

I would soon be flying the oceanic corridors across the North Atlantic again; Paris, London, Milan, Zurich, Stockholm, and Frankfurt, destinations where I took advantage of the layovers by visiting their Art Museums which were to me national treasures. I especially liked Paris. Later I would fly the Pacific enjoying the long haul to Tokyo. Having spent so much time in the finest of art museums one could imagine reignited my artistic interests and I began again educating myself in the craft. All thanks to American Airlines.

It was shortly before American took hold of my flying career that I discovered I had been adopted as a child. A situation I was totally unaware of; I was forty-five years old. That realization set in motion the fervor to find my biological parents. It didn’t take me long.

Enter the Artist

Enter the Artist,

another journey

1973

Enter the Artist: At this point in my flying career I wasn’t making much progress with my attempt at completing my Famous Artists Course, a correspondence effort with the school in Westport, Connecticut. Lesson 10 is as far as I ever made it. The desire however never faltered and would haunt me for many years to come and I did not understand my pursuit or purpose. Our family had migrated from the Bay Area out to Vacaville primarily because our flying schedules required us to originate from both Navy Alameda and McClellan AFB, near Sacramento. The city located in the mid valley was halfway between them and was also near Travis AFB.

While living in Solano County, I discovered a junior college that had a commercial art course that could be attended at night a few days a week. I enrolled. It is here that I met Ray and Donnie Salmon who became lifelong friends. They both taught the classes. Donnie was a freelance book illustrator and Ray was a published cartoonist and former trumpet player. They both shepherded me through a couple of years of commercial art training and then later sent me on to the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.

During this period of time the airline industry became somewhat unstable. It began with the Arab Oil Embargo in October of 1973, which created the crisis that limited our nations energy supplies severely. All of this the direct result of Egypt and Syria attacking Israel on Yom Kippur, a war in which the US came to Israel’s aid by providing them arms. This era, from 1973 on, seems to me the beginning of a world awareness of the polarization in the region that remains today very complicated.

Competition for the Air Force Logair and the Navy Quick Trans contracts increased significantly and ONA chose not to compete for as many routes. The decision was made to sell their Electra aircraft fleet and to increase the DC-8 numbers plus adding 3 DC-10’s. I ended up transitioning to the right seat of the DC-8 passenger operation based in New York, and I chose to commute from California.

There were several incidents that contributed to the strategic long term plans of the airline. The first was the loss of one of our DC-9 aircraft in an accident that never should have happened. Little did I know that almost one year after I finished initial flight training in my first jet aircraft that the very same airframe would be laying on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, just thirty-five miles short of St. Croix, where it remains today.

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ALM 980

The flights Captain was a check airman (an instructor pilot), whom I’d had my own experience with a year earlier, was well known among fellow pilots to prefer flying the aircraft below performance capable altitudes. He liked to fly low using long range cruise airspeeds and unfortunately, it is also where fuel is exhausted more readily. One needs to keep in mind that this era of jet airliners was fairly young. Most older airline pilots, although well experienced, had graduated into swept wing jets from a totally different era.

The jet aircraft was a different animal, unlike the piston aircraft with straight wings, it had the capability to fly high and fast. The aircraft range (its distance capability) was determined by how high you could get it to climb. The limiting factor was the limitation on wing stall speeds (when the wing no longer is creating lift or stops flying). There are two of those: referred to as the low speed stall, and the high speed stall. As you climb higher the two speeds merge into what was ominously called the “coffin corner,” but the moniker really had no merit. The most efficient altitude for fuel burn rate was in an envelope where there was only a ten knot spread between the low and high speed stall of the wing. It isn’t at all scary if you have been doing it for twenty years. Without this long term background it is easy to understand why some early jet pilots were a bit wary. The Captain of Flight 980, the ONA flight I am referring to, was perhaps one of those. But, he was also known, by his own admission, as the Cherub-Faced-Assassin. He seemed to take pleasure in flunking his pilot victims. Plus, he operated the aircraft as a one man band preferring to do everything himself. CRM (Crew Resource Management), was still a few decades away which was made necessary, within the industry, by pilots such as himself.

My personal experience with the Captain of Flight 980 occurred during my initial qualification training with ONA. After my sessions with another flight instructor, I was given over to the cherub-faced-one for a final check-ride. I flunked! But, I have to give him some credit, he was correct in doing so. I learned a very valuable lesson that day. My problem, like so many that come from a pure piston, straight wing background, was my response during takeoff after an engine failure. During the unspooling of the engine, using a simulated engine failure technique (done by retarding the engine throttle to idle), you try to keep the airplane on the center line of the runway using only rudder controlled directional input. My mistake, besides using the rudder, was unconsciously applying a little control wheel steering which deflected the ailerons (and possibly flight spoilers) on the wing. This can be disastrous. A deflected spoiler can affect a wings lift, which they are designed to do, but it’s not something you want happening during a very critical time when trying to become airborne. The assassin, rightfully so, said he was sending me back to Moose, my original instructor pilot. I have to admit I was a bit teary eyed as I found my way back to a seat in the cabin, thinking I may have flunked out completely while the next guy in line jumped into the co-pilot seat for his date with the check captain. It was, in retrospect, a very valuable lesson for someone who had never flown a jet.

My friend, a fellow new-hire classmate, was the co-pilot on the ill-fated flight 980 that day, in May of 1970. I have heard the full story from his side of the cockpit. It was a very unusual assortment of circumstances that all came together at once, and for all concerned a sad day, especially the twenty-three people that lost their lives. Neither the captain nor the co-pilot ever flew for another airline again. Even today, in my opinion, the co-pilot was not treated fairly and given a raw deal. The captain took the bait not of his own making and decided it would be safe to continue instead of diverting. My guess, seven out of ten pilots in his position would have done the same. Unfortunately, he suffered the consequences of being pilot in command; that would be called responsibility.

It was twenty-five years later that I met up again with Harry, my fellow classmate from 1969 ONA. We crossed paths at the American Airlines Flight Academy in the late 1990’s. I was there for recurrent training, a semi-annual requirement for all line captains at US Government Certified Air Carriers. He was there doing a training regimen and was currently employed as a ground school instructor at the FedEx training center in Memphis. We made a date to have lunch the next afternoon to catch up on our lives since ONA.

I’d flown in and out of dark clouds and sparkling sunshine during the intervening period since I last saw Harry, some twenty-five years earlier, and I related to him the many airlines I’d flown for since. During this later portion of my aviation career I was heavy into my art and I shared this with him. Harry then mentioned the aviation art located at Simuflite which was located nearby and asked if I would like to go have a look after our lunch. I agreed.

Simuflite, now CAE Simuflite, is the world’s largest trainer of corporate pilots and crews. Each year they sponsor an aviation art contest called the “Horizons of Flight, Aviation Art Exhibition & Competition.” It was here that Harry introduced me to my next endeavor. I loved the art I saw and recognized some artists I was familiar with that enjoyed national recognition. I thought to myself then… “I can do this,” and so I did. All thanks go to Harry.

I was by then a signature-member of “The Pastel Society of America” whose annual show was held at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in New York. Considering the aviation art genre that Harry had introduced me to, I created a pastel painting of a “Curtiss JN-4” aircraft, commonly referred to as the Jenny. The title of the painting I called “Oh Jenny, Jenny.” It was accepted into their show and to my surprise won an award. I was off to the races.

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The Epilogue to this short story is; that just a few short years after my encounter with my former friend Harry, the ill-fated copilot on flight 980 in 1970, was my first participation in the CAE Simuflite, 2002 “Horizons of Flight, Aviation Art Exhibition & Competition. It was a painting titled “Westbound, Direct Tucumcari” an image of an American Airlines MD-80.

The painting won “Best of Show.” Again, thanks to my friend Harry Evans.

The Airline Years

The Airline years:

From the beginning

Let’s just begin with “I can’t believe what has just happened.” I have just been hired by an airline to fly a jet aircraft. I have a new life, a new wife and a brand new baby son. What part of cloud nine should I be requesting.

Euphoria has taken hold and to be standing on the training grounds of a real live airline was way beyond description, or my expectation in this period of my life, I had just turned twenty-eight years old. I began training on January 6th of 1969 at ONA’s Training Center, located at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, just off Rockaway Boulevard. We, a class of twelve pilots from all walks of the aviation industry, will be subjected to an orientation period, followed by aircraft systems training, and in an adjoining classroom sat a mockup of the DC-9 cockpit. It was called a Cockpit Procedures Trainer. A period of time would be dedicated in it to learn where all of the switches and controls were located within the cockpit. We will then be expected to go from this trainer, directly to flight training in the actual aircraft, skipping the usual flight simulator.

Company orientation involved learning the ONA company history and meeting some of the key personnel, while at the same time receiving our ID cards, which also established our seniority number in accordance with our birthdays. I was one of the younger hired so would be placed near the bottom of the seniority list. ALPA, the Airline Pilots Association, represented our pilot group at ONA. A pilot union was something new to me and we would be on probation for one year, which allowed the company to pay us a minimum wage of $700 dollars a month, plus a per-diem.

During orientation we were introduced to the Chief Pilot of the New York domicile for the DC-9 operation there. As a group we were taken to his office, he was a very busy man, and I was prompted to ask him what time it was. He responded by unzipping his fly and pulling out a pocket watch. This was one hilarious move on his part and it turns out he was a very hilarious pilot to fly with.

Of the dozen of us beginning training, three were retired military, two were former airline pilots who were rated and had previously flown the DC-9. Six had worked for commuter airlines and then there was me. I was the sole general aviation, corporate pilot candidate, without an ounce of turbine experience, how was I to fare. Only nine of the twelve survived the training to become line pilots which, thankfully, included me. And, it wasn’t an easy transition. Thanks go to my flight instructor, known as Moose Adams; who coached me through and taught me how to fly a jet. I will be forever indebted to this kind and gentle man. Yet another Navy transport pilot, much the same as Bill Holbrook did at Kelley, came to my rescue.

After training ended our group went three different directions, a few stayed in New York and the rest of us were divided between Oklahoma City and Dayton Ohio. We would be flying freighters in support of the US Air Force at Tinker AFB, located in Oklahoma, and Wright-Patterson Field at Dayton. ONA had signed a military contract to fly Logair, a scheduled military cargo network that covered all of their bases in the country. I was fortunate to get assigned to Tinker AFB, near Oklahoma City, which wasn’t all that far from Little Rock, where my wife and infant son were staying with her parents while I finished training. ONA operated both its Electra’s and DC-9 aircraft on the military circuits.

Where was I when? I baked my first cake when our son Ronnie celebrated his first Birthday living in a Delwood City apartment; where just a month earlier we witnessed Neil Armstrong do his moonwalk after landing the lunar module Eagle there on its surface. Cast in the same light, it is also the period when our little one began walking on earth. For obvious reasons there are some things you can never forget.

On the road again

Our stay in Oklahoma didn’t last long. Our airline had picked up another military contract for their DC-9 fleet. This time it was for the Navy’s Quick-Trans Cargo operation. Much the same as the Air Forces Logair network, this was the Navy version. We would transfer to Navy Alameda, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, our newest crew domicile. So we packed up and headed west… it was “California or Bust,” we had ten days to get there and settle in. We would remain in California for the remainder of my career with ONA, which would be another seven years.

There were approximately 15 aircraft, both DC-9 and Lockheed Electras, devoted to cargo operations covering the commercial and military markets. Auto Air, at Detroit’s Willow Run Airport, was a freight forwarder for the auto industry shipping massive amounts of car parts overnight to various factories around the country. It was a lucrative contract but you never knew where your next destination might be, as the shipping was responsive to the industry’s needs. Most of this flying was done at night and when showing up at the airport you had no idea where you might be the next morning.

As a supplemental airline, often referred to as a Non-Sked, the majority of revenue for the airline came from its international passenger service. ITC’s (Inclusive Tour Charters) provided the bulk of flying for the airlines New York Base. With a fleet of Douglas DC-8s the airline flew group charters to destinations all over Europe. With its increase in business more aircraft were added to the fleet, including new DC-10’s. This in turn necessitated an increase in pilot hiring. This by no stretch of one’s imagination made me a Captain prospect, in just a few years’ time, much earlier than I would have expected. Therefore at the ripe old age of thirty years I became an Electra captain. Life is good.

Now securely settled on the west coast I began commuting to my new crew domicile at Dayton, Ohio and the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. From there I would fly the Logair routes and on occasion fly out of Willow Run on the Auto Air contract. One of my favorite destinations was from Detroit to Mexico City. That trip required a fuel stop at Houston before heading south of the border.

Just some Cut-Flowers here!

One subsequent trip on a commercial contract involved a trip from Miami to Bogota, Colombia, carrying Motorola TV cabinets. We were live freight going down and scheduled to ferry back to Miami empty. The long trip, made longer because of an inoperative pressurization system, would also require a fuel stop at Barranquilla on the gulf coast. After a long night navigating through the mountains using non-directional beacons, instead of the usual VOR’s because of our low altitude, we arrived safely at Bogota the next morning; elevation 8,360 feet above sea level.

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After a good sleep and an evening in the city, we happily made our way out to the airport the next morning for our return ferry flight back to Miami. We were happy to be in more familiar territory especially after passing the many military tanks parked on street corners that were manned by machine-gun toting soldiers. While fueling and preparing a flight plan to be filed, I was approached by a gentleman in uniform, also with a machine gun, who posed an interesting question. In broken English he says, “Captain, you take flowers Miami yes?” Of course I had no authority to approve such a request. My reply would be the obvious… “I’m sorry, but no, we can’t do that.” The man looks me in the eye and repeats, “Captain, you take flowers Miami yes?” Again I repeat, “I’m sorry, no.” The gentleman with the gun then turns and walks away.

So now we are ready to depart and climb aboard and while the flight engineer pulls up the ladder and closes the big cargo door, we call for a start cart. Because we don’t have an APU (an Auxiliary Power Unit) we will need the start cart to provide a pneumatic source of air to rotate the turbine engines. We have four of them, but we only need to start one and can then provide the air ourselves to start the others; a simple, normal, turbine operation.

After several minutes, say about fifteen, we have not seen a cart heading our way and we call again for the cart. Finally, we get a reply, “Sorry, no cart for you today.” Naturally we ask why no cart today? An instant reply comes back to us in the form of, “You take flowers Miami yes?” Well, they for sure have us now; the handwriting is on the wall, we are going to take flowers to Miami, Yes.

What I wasn’t sure of was, what else might be in with the fresh-cut flowers. It was well known there were many drug smuggling operations from South America and especially out of regions in Colombia. We had no way of knowing until U.S. Customs gave us the once over when we arrived back in Miami. After a couple of hours of loading boxes of flowers an air start cart mysteriously appeared beside our aircraft so we cranked and were on our way. Our bill of lading showed “Cut Flowers” and thankfully, according to the inspection team in Miami, that is all they found. But, on second thought, it could easily have been an inside job. In the ever growing trade and even today, it’s going on somewhere.

November 55 King Sugar

November 55 King Sugar

Kelly-Springfield Tire Company

Cumberland, Maryland calling:

My decision to move on from Holiday Inns flying was motivated primarily by our family necessity, I didn’t want to be away from home as much, because my new wife and I were expecting a child in late summer. I had recently, using my GI Bill benefits, acquired an Airline Transport Pilot rating and so began in earnest our hunt for a serious job. Hopefully, one that provided for a young family’s needs and the potential for long term employment. So, once more, Mr. Luck knocked on our door.

I answered a classified ad in an aviation magazine, much the same as they remain today; it could have been either Flying or the AOPA Pilot. “Pilot Wanted”, is how the ad began; Commercial, Instrument, Multi-engine ratings… ATP preferred. Major Benefits – Contact Tom.

I contacted Tom. Tom was the owner of a pilot employment agency in Cumberland, Maryland. He was also a pilot working for the same company that was in need of another pilot; that being the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company. They arranged to fly me from Little Rock to Washington D.C’s National Airport, where they would pick me up to fly with them back to Cumberland, where I would be interviewed.

Bill Holbrook, the company Chief Pilot, a former Navy veteran of WW II and his co-pilot, met me on the appointed date and time at the D.C. airport. They appeared in another handsome airplane that I would be eager to fly. The Lockheed Lodestar (L-18), was a converted former airliner whose type had also been used in the military during the war. The aircraft, N55KS (November Five-Five King Sugar), was old for its day but looked brand new to me. It was a bigger airplane than I had ever flown. Originally designed as a bomber prior to World War II, its type served in Europe as both a transport and bomber. N55KS specifically began its war service in New Zealand in 1943, and afterwards, entered service as an airliner with Union Airways in 1945. It eventually ended up with New Zealand National Airways in 1947. In the early fifties the aircraft was ferried to the US and purchased by the Kelly-Springfield Tire Company becoming N55K.

The Kelly-Springfield Tire Company, founded in 1894 by Edwin Kelly, in Springfield, Ohio, was acquired by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 1935, and continued operating as a subsidiary. During the interview I was introduced to the nicest group of people I was ever to meet, which included the company chairman. Then later, experiencing it myself, I discovered all the employees at Kelly were treated as family. But then, unfortunately there was Tom, he would be different.

Following the interview I was offered the job. How could they resist, I had eager and earnest written all over my face. After I returned to Little Rock, we, a very brave pregnant wife and myself, packed up our belongings in a U-Haul and towed everything we owned to Cumberland, Maryland. We didn’t suspect it then but we wouldn’t be there very long.

The nature of the flying at Kelly was focused on bringing sales and marketing people in and out of its home office. There were two aircraft (both Lockheed Lodestars), that ran shuttle flights, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. One would leave Cumberland in the early morning making a round robin trip that included stops at then Washington National Airport(now Reagan National), and on to Baltimore and occasionally include Philadelphia, returning back to Cumberland by late morning. The afternoon shuttles would go to Pittsburgh and Akron, the home of its mother company Goodyear, then returning to Cumberland by early evening. Home every night and I really liked that idea a lot.

The Goodyear flight department, based in Akron, also sported their Blimp Operation which has become, and remains, a national icon at sporting events all over the country. The Kelly and Goodyear flight operations were closely related, as they also flew the Lodestars. Additionally they flew a business jet, a North American Sabreliner and a Grumman Gulfstream I, a turboprop. I was fortunate to conveniently hitch a ride in one of the blimps one day, during one of our shuttle flights into Akron; something I would never have imagined happening in my lifetime. As we were landing, I had visions of the Hindenburg’s fateful arrival at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, in 1937, which didn’t turn out so well.

I learned later that none other than American Airlines (my future employer), had contracted to fly the arriving passengers from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Newark to join up with their connecting flights.

Bill Holbrook, World Record

Bill Holbrook, my chief pilot at Kelly, was a very warm and exceedingly pleasant man to fly with. He would also later become the world record holder for distance flown in a glider. That event would take place on May 5, 1973, long after I had departed for what I thought were sunnier skies. Bill, in his Libelle sailplane, did an “out and return” from the Cumberland Airport(CBE), a distance of 783 miles, flying as far north as Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, to as far south as Hansonville, Virginia. The Knobley Mountain Range, lying to the west, provided the initial lift necessary to send him on his way. Bill would add many more trophy’s to his collection of gliding achievements during his lifetime. I was always proud to have worked for him during the early era of my career in aviation.

Flying in and out of the mountainous region surrounding Cumberland, provided some hair-raising experiences. Practices and procedures followed by one pilot in particular, I would find uncomfortable and unacceptable. Most airports surrounded by mountains don’t have what are categorized as precision approaches to their runways. In other words, having an instrument glide path to guide you to the end of the runway you are to land on. Non-precision approaches are the norm, which don’t allow a descent to altitudes that might involve an aircraft coming into contact with the terrain. Which, could be hazardous to ones long term life expectancy.

Turning the page

The hair-raising flight that helped turn the page for me occurred with, none other than, pilot Tom. At the end of a late morning shuttle flight on a return leg from Pittsburg back to Cumberland, with the weather marginal, it was customary to radio ahead to the hangar to get a read on the local weather. One of the mechanics, or a pilot if they were there, would answer and run outside and have a look. He would then advise how high he thought the cloud-bases were, often referred to in aviation terms as the ceiling. It is that distance from the airport elevation (ground level) to the bottom of the cloud layer which allows an aircraft, once beneath, to navigate to the airport for landing. It is what you do in a non-precision approach.

Approaching Cumberland, and well into our descent for landing, we could see ahead the ridges of the mountains peeking through the layer of fog that swamped the valleys between them. Though it has been forty-eight years, I vaguely recall there being an NDB (non-directional-beacon) approach into runway 23 which is to the southwest. The beacon itself, the ground station, was located north and east of the airport. In the aircraft, the navigation instrument used for this approach is an ADF (Automatic Direction Finder), that when tuned to the correct frequency points towards the NDB on the ground. Shooting an ADF approach is one of the more difficult tasks one faces as a pilot. Let alone doing it into mountainous terrain. It’s the time when you really pay attention and earn your keep as a commercial pilot. By today’s standards of GPS this, and GPS that, the NDB approach was, and remains today, a primitive endeavor.

We were descending into a non-radar environment, with no control tower at the airport. Once the enroute air traffic controller cleared you for the approach, you were on your own. The weather report from the guys in the hangar, on their guess at the cloud bases that morning, wasn’t exactly comforting to me. Shooting the approach, when you suspect you aren’t going to see anything was doubly troubling. My Captain, the pilot in command, this would be Tom, seemed anxious and I was aware of his tensely chewing on his unlit cigar, of which he was always very fond. As we continued to descend, and approaching the final approach fix, the aircraft was configured for landing; flaps and landing gear were extended. The friction lock on the throttles was loosened to allow for their easier movement, prop controls were pushed to high RPM and the mixture controls were now on full rich. So down we go.

There is no decision height (DH) on non-precision approaches, where upon reaching with no runway in sight, you fly away. There is instead a minimum descent altitude where once level you continue flying along until time runs out. The time element is calculated ahead of time by estimating the aircraft ground speed. If the number is based on 90 mph that equates to a mile and a half a minute, or, if it is 120 mph it is two miles a minute. If the distance from the final approach fix is one mile at 90 mph you allow 45 seconds to the missed approach point referred to as the MAP.

The field elevation at Cumberland is 775 feet above sea level. As we descend into the cloud I could see the many towers on the ridge-lines to the northwest and southwest, some reaching as high as three or four thousand feet. There were more than twenty of them. Because it has been so many years I’m guessing today our MDA, or minimum descent altitude, would have been in the area of 1500 feet and the time to missed approach at a little over a minute beyond the final approach fix. I’m also going to guess the minimum safe altitude is in the vicinity of five thousand feet within the twenty-five miles surrounding the Cumberland airport.

We have descended now to our published minimum altitude, cruising along, looking out for the airport ahead and have just run the limit of our timed approach. There was no airport, only fog. At this point I say to Tom, in the form of a question, “Missed Approach Tom?” Captain Tom doesn’t reply and I glance at him and watch as he continues gnawing on his cigar. I then look at the altimeter and become alarmingly aghast as I see we are continuing our descent. We are now just a few hundred feet above the airport elevation and Tom hasn’t said a word. What does one do at this point? I feel trapped and somewhat terrified. Busting minimums is not something I am accustomed to doing, nor has Tom let me in on his plan. Fortunately, within a few seconds, we break out of the clouds and dead ahead sits the runway. I got the feeling that Tom has done this before, I just wished he had let me in on his plan. At least then I might have had a vote.

Afterwards, I let Tom know how unhappy I was with his procedure. He was a gruff character to begin with, and my questioning his piloting decision didn’t sooth him to any new degree. Tom and I didn’t get along well after that event. I was to learn later, what goes around comes around and continuing with bad habits have a way of biting you in the butt.

Nearly ten years after our incident, Tom was involved in an aircraft accident at the Cumberland Airport in a Kelly airplane. Fortunately, there were no injuries to the eight passengers aboard. The aircraft, an MU2, suffered substantial damage. At the time of the accident there were low ceilings in the area, the visibility, restricted by snow was less than 2 miles. The NTSB lists the probable cause of the hard landing as: “Aircraft not aligned with the runways intended landing area, improper level off, and failure to initiate a go-around.” The aircraft, a small turboprop, ended up in a snow bank. The winds were listed as calm.

I was to continue working for Kelly through the end of the year in 1968. We were happy living in the area and loved our neighbors. Our apartment was on a hilltop overlooking the North fork of the Potomac River. We were settling in for the long haul and so I signed up once again with the Famous Artist Course in Westport, Connecticut; my second attempt. And why did I suffer this continuous urge to also be an artist, it would take another generation before I was to discover the why of that.

A blessed event occurred on August 23rd of 1968; our son Ronnie Jr. was born in Cumberland. Doctor Leland Ransom, a self-described glider pilot himself, of the soon to be Cumberland Soaring Group, delivered our prize possession.

Yet another Big Surprise

Sometime in early November, of the same year, I received a letter from a friend that had attended, along with me, the same Electra Flight Engineer Course at American Flyers in Ardmore, Oklahoma. His name was Bill Sieg. He went on to inform me that Overseas National Airways was hiring both pilots and flight engineers for their Lockheed Electra cargo operation. Without hesitation I sent them a request for an application and received one back in a few weeks. I hadn’t decided that I wanted to leave Kelly just yet, I still had major issues with Tom, but I was able to work around them. Bill Holbrook made it worthwhile, but I sent in the application anyhow.

Within a week or so I received a telegram informing me I have an interview scheduled at the ONA Headquarters, at the JFK Airport in New York, during the second week in December and to please confirm your attendance. They outlined my interview would involve taking a written Stanine exam, a medical, a psychiatric exam, and to expect a lie detector test. Whoa I thought, am I ready for this, so I showed up anyhow.

Their forewarning was correct; I experienced all of the above as it applied to the exam process. I returned home to Cumberland slightly disillusioned, because the number of pilots appearing for interviews that day owned flying experience that far outweighed mine. There were former military pilots, furloughed pilots from other airlines and active pilots from local feeder carriers. I didn’t expect to hear back from ONA other than a thank you for attending and we’ll be in touch when we have something. This was a standard reply for most all airlines. I had a drawer full of them. Well, maybe not a drawer full, but I had a few.

Shortly before my 28th birthday, which is the 15th of December, I received a telegram asking me if I could start ground school training on January 6th, 1969 at the ONA Training Center in New York. But, here is the biggest surprise of all; I was to be trained not to fly the Lockheed Electra, but to fly the Douglas DC-9, a pure jet. I had never flown a jet aircraft in my life. Where had I gone wrong?

1969_ona

It was a difficult decision to leave Kelly because I liked my boss so well. What I find most interesting is when Bill, asked me, if I had a recommendation for someone to take my place. I informed him I knew of one such person that he might like. His name was John David Bingham, my friend, former roommate and fellow pilot at Arkansas Aviation, in Little Rock. Much the same as he did for me Bill arranged for his interview and David got the job. I am proud to say David stayed with Kelly for the remainder of his flying career and became the new Bill Holbrook, Kelly’s next Chief Pilot. David always had an eye for a good deal. He retired and still lives in the area nearby Cumberland. He and his wife Helen, settled in West Virginia on the other side of the river, where they watch Nascar racing, morning, noon and night.

My wife, with our new baby, moved back to Arkansas to live with her mother while I went to training in New York.

The next thirty-two years of my career involved flying for airlines of one sort or another, until finally settling in with American Airlines where I was forcibly retired at mandatory age sixty. I call this period “My Long Range Cruise” era. But, I also maintained a dream I would one day finish my “Famous Artists Course,” which I never did. I did though get as far as Lesson 10.