Monday, September 30, 2013

A Hard Landing for Pan Am's Flying Saucer

Sunrise behind the sunset of JFK Terminal 3.

Last week I had my first view of the demolition of the old Pan Am Worldport at JFK.  Big D closed up shop at Terminal 3 on May 23, 2013.  International operations began the following day from newly expanded Terminal 4.  Domestic operations will, for the most part, continue from Terminal 2.  The final departure from Terminal 3 was Flight 268 to Tel Aviv.  On board the Boeing 747-400 were 345 passengers, three pilots, and a giant flock of flight attendants.  Just how many?  I'm not quite sure.  The 747 is way above my pay grade; so flight attendant staffing numbers are a little fuzzy.  The law requires one flight attendant for every fifty passenger seats installed on the airplane.  I don't know the configuration of Big D's 747s; but I do know that with the increased emphasis on customer service, there is little chance Flight 268 was dispatched with a "minimum staffing" flight attendant crew.  Like I said earlier; the 747 is way above my pay grade. . .

The flying saucer shaped UTB (Unit Terminal Building---Pan Am was full of acronyms) opened for passenger service at what was then New York International - Idlewild Field on May 24, 1960.  The building was designed so that aircraft could be "nosed in" beneath the roof, theoretically protecting passengers from the elements as they boarded and deplaned via elevated walkways (open gangplanks) that were connected to the terminal lobby.  In the early 70s the UTB became the Pan Am Worldport when the terminal was expanded to accommodate Boeing 747s.  New York City cab drivers quickly dubbed the triangular addition "the Horseshoe," due to the shape of the departure level roadway.  The nickname stuck.  For the next forty years layover flight crews were advised the hotel pick up location was "in the Horseshoe."

My first "working" visit to JFK was in 1983 with Thurston Aviation.  I was a co-pilot on a Cessna Citation.  Talk about being a fish out of water!  I remember standing in the Port Authority fuel shack with my Chief Pilot, RC Furr, watching the conga line waiting to depart Runway 13 Right---747s; L-1011s; DC-10s; and the occasional 727; as far as the eye could see!  RC turned to me and said:  "This might take a while."  To the fuel clerk, he said:  "Go ahead and top it off." 
My first visit to the Pan Am Worldport was in the summer of 1985.  I was flying a King Air 200 for NCNB Corporation.  The "Boss" was jet-setting in from London on the Concord!  We were there to bring him home to Charlotte.  We were early---by at least two hours; and hungry.  The guys at the Port Authority FBO suggested we try the Pan Am employee cafeteria (affectionately called the Blue Fly by the Pan Am locals) at the south end of the Horseshoe.  So while the Chairman of NCNB Corporation was winging his way across the Atlantic Ocean at Mach one-point-something; his pilots were dining with the employees of the World's Most Experienced Airline.  Five years later I would dine at the Blue Fly on a regular basis.

Pan American Boeing 707 by John T. McCoy

Viewing the skeleton of the Flying Saucer reminded me of a painting by aviation artist John T. McCoy.  In 1962 Pan Am commissioned McCoy to produce a series of paintings commemorating the Historic First Flights of Pan American Clippers.  Charles Lindbergh consulted on the project.  In the painting depicting Pan American's first scheduled jet passenger service from New York to Paris on October 26, 1958, the future Pan Am Worldport is visible on the left hand side of the image.

When Big D announced they were planning a massive expansion at JFK, I was curious as to what they had in mind for Terminal 3.  Jet Blue saved the old TWA building when they renovated Terminal 5.  Would Delta save the flying saucer?  How much would that cost?  When it was announced the Worldport would be leveled, preservation groups and former employees of Pan Am were up in arms.  Calls went out:   "Save the Pan Am Worldport!"  

My feelings are mixed.  The romantic in me thinks it would make a great museum; maybe part of the Delta Flight Museum.  The practical side of me---the side that used the building for over eighteen years; sixteen wearing a Delta uniform, and two years and two months wearing a Pan Am uniform---thinks the building is a lost cause.  It was never very user friendly; especially the annex.  And the roof has leaked for fifty years!  Ceiling tiles were constantly falling inside the building.  Outside too!  At one point Big D was spending $40 million a year on the facilities at JFK.  $40 million!  If $40 million isn't enough to fix a leaky roof; what is?


In 2005 the Pan Am Historical Foundation donated thirteen McCoy watercolor images to the San Francisco Airport Museum.  The exhibit, Famous Firsts: The John T. McCoy Pan Am Watercolors, opened in October 2005.


The demo continues. . .  November 19, 2013.


Mounds of dirt where the Flying Saucer used to stand.  In the background the Annex slowly disappears. . .  April 12, 1014.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On The Way To Triple Tree

Saturday September 7, 2013, 8:45 AM.

Photo by Colin Baker

Eight miles north of Unity, South Carolina, 2,500 MSL, or there about. . .

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Triple Tree Invasion

Saturday morning the Jellystoners invaded Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina.

The fleet was airborne by 0815 EDT.  Joe and Colin Baker in the blue and silver Luscombe freighter; Brother Barbeau and Yours Truly in the red and ivory Hatz.  Colin and I were Designated Photographers on this leg.  (Sorry, Colin's photos have not been cleared by the censors.)

Forty-five minutes later we were over the initial approach fix on the Triple Tree Fly-In Arrival---the giant Wal-Mart Distribution Center (AKA Wally World) eight miles south of the airfield.  Five minutes later we were touching down on Runway 3 at Triple Tree Aerodrome.  Seven thousand feet of the smoothest, dew covered, golf course style turf to ever grace a runway---and Brother Barbeau's landing was superb!  In his dreams, Charles Lindbergh never had such a landing!  For the rest of the day, everywhere I went, all I heard was:  "Did you see the guy in the Hatz?  Man he was smooth!"  Wait; it gets better!
The Triple Tree ground crew gave Brother Baker a VIP parking space!  Front row; abeam the touchdown zone---the perfect location for viewing Cessna 172 wheel barrel landings.  The sign said:  THIS PARKING SPACE RESERVED FOR JOE BAKER, TAIL WHEEL ZEN MASTER.

Gary and I were allowed to park on the front row too!  Maybe because of the landing.  More likely because we arrived with the Zen Master.  Whatever the reason, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.  When my feet touched the ground I was King of the Aerodrome---my captain could whip Charles Lindbergh in a golf course grass landing contest, and my flight instructor was so well thought of, they gave him a front row seat to the Cessna 172 Three Point Landing Championship!

Our feel-good feeling was short lived.  The Howards arrived and did what DGA's do---steal all the thunder.  This 1944 DGA-15 had a nice Bill Tinkler Luscombe inspired paint job!*

Ron Alexander flew in from Williamson, Georgia.

His landing was almost as nice as Gary's.

So he got a front row parking spot too!
The turnout this year was better than expected.  The number that I heard bouncing around was 370 airplanes on Friday. . .
Almost 500 on Saturday!  This area was full by 1100.
There were a bunch of Swifts.  Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Pick Freeman, was there with his 1946 GC-1B.  It was parked next to this checkered-tail beauty.
The folks in Wilsonville were out of town when Gary and I stopped by.  According to the data card, Jim's 1936 Cabin Waco will go 116.2 MPH, flat out!  That's pretty zippy.  And it doesn't need a Luscombe to carry all the luggage. . .
Mark Accomazzo was there with his son in the Great Lakes.  They were parked way out on the northeast fairway.  Man was that a hike!
We were advised to eat early, before the soup kitchen ran out of food.  The Great Lakes crew brought their own grub.
While Joe was chewing the fat with the guys at the lunch table, young Colin was messing around with the iPhone.  His message read:  "Don't put me on the blog."
At first glance it looks like a late model Fleet.  Well, sort of. . .
As it turns out, it was a FLAGLOR HIGH TOW.  A homebuilt; and in my opinion, the coolest machine at the fly-in!  Sorry Gary, Joe, Jim, Mark, Pick, Henry, Deb; this is my new favorite airplane---at least until Mark lets me fly the Great Lakes.
Truly a work of art!
Eddie Price, the Chief Pilot at Pond Branch Airfield, flew in on Friday.  He sent this picture of Brother Baker with fellow Luscombe owners Henry and Deb McFarland---part of Front Porch Gang from Canton, Georgia.  Tons of Luscombe wisdom in this shot!  Henry flies a beautiful rag wing 8A.  Deb flies a polished 8E that she calls, Lester.  Deb is a Master Wordsmith at General Aviation News.
Henry's Rag Wing 8A.
I'm pretty sure the hubcap is not going to fall off. . .
Pat Hartness, the Big Kahuna at Triple Tree Aerodrome, and Deb McFarland.
Some other cool stuff:
WWII Control Tower.
Hangar patio overlooking the lake on the northwest side of the airfield.
The Triple Tree Airway Beacon!
Something for Les Kanna to consider. . .
And now the unusual:
It was sitting on a boat trailer, so we'll call it an air boat.  How does that saying go?  "If it's ugly, it's British.  If it's weird, it's French.  If it's ugly AND weird, it's Russian!"  Pulled by a Hummer with Georgia tags. . .
Eventually it was time to leave. . .
Jellystoners---waiting on the fuel truck.
Seven gallons, please. . .
Triple Tree Departure Procedure for Runway 3:  Climb straight ahead (but not over the house at the end of the runway) until reaching 2000 feet, then turn right and follow the power lines back to Jellystone Air Park.  So easy; even an airline pilot can do it!
* * * * *
The Tinkler Luscombe, May 6, 2010, Aiken, South Carolina.  Sharon & Bill Tinkler, Joe Baker, and Eddie Price.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Unity Airfield Hangar Project

As most of you know, I have an affinity for old hangars.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe because I like old airplanes; and old airplanes belong in old hangars.  Several weeks ago Les Kanna let it slip that he would like to have "UNITY" painted on the roof of the old hangar that sits across the runway from his house at Unity Airfield.  Thinking out loud, I suggested a vintage style logo for the tin roof hangar.  Brother Baker overheard the conversation.  Several days later I began to receive text messages with concept drawings for the Unity Airfield Hangar Project.

This is the drawing that Joe eventually sent to Les.  Inspiration for the design are the old Curtiss and Coca-Cola logos from the 20's and 30's.  I think it captures the spirit of vintage aviation perfectly.  Les has given the project a green light, so the next order of business is to engineer a stencil that can be used to apply the outline to the roof of the hangar.  Brother Barbeau and the crew at The UPS Store are working out the details on that part of the project.  Hopefully everything will be ready for a hangar roof painting party in early October, after temperatures have cooled.

The successful outcome of any endeavor begins with planning.  So with that in mind, the first meeting of the Unity Airfield Zoning Commission was held last Friday.  In attendance were Brother Baker and Richard Danz in 43 Bravo; Pick Freeman in his 1946 Globe GC-1B Swift; Yours Truly in Brother Barbeau's Hatz Biplane; and Ed Lee on a mini bike.  Noticeably absent; our good friend Les Kanna.  Apparently we forgot to inform Les of the meeting.  Oh well; the meeting wasn't that important anyway.  The objective was the journey. . .

Pick Freeman---perfecting the art of flight at minimum controllable airspeed---off the right wing of 43 Bravo.

Brother Baker and I parked next to Les' shop, in the sun. . .

Captain Freeman picked a shady spot on the opposite side of the runway.

Truly a shady character!
Another view of the "project" site.  In addition to the UNITY logo on the roof, I believe the Southwest wall would be perfect for a CHEW MAIL POUCH TOBACCO or SEE ROCK CITY mural.  Maybe both!  A LUSCOMBE logo above the hangar door is not a bad idea either.
The hayfield that currently occupies the "proposed" future Casa la Cottom home site was being cut while we were there.  Rumor has it my bride may have to arm wrestle Benny Zimmer for the high ground next to the wind sock. . .
After the meeting Pick was the first to depart.

 Pick Freeman Air Shows, Inc.
Brother Baker and I swapped airplanes for the flight back to Jellystone Air Park.  We felt that Richard deserved the full Jellystone Experience. . .
Especially the trade mark Baker Pull-Up!
Richard Danz in the front seat of the Hatz.  I'm glad I won't be around when Kris Baker realizes Joe used his fancy new iPhone to take this picture---out in the wind!  Brother Baker has a history of losing stuff in the Hatz. . .