As a new hire First Officer at Delta Air Lines the conversation usually went something like this:
Captain: "Were you Air Force or Navy?" (In 1997 almost 80% of the new hire pilots at Big D had some type of military experience.)
Me: "Bankrupt airlines."
Captain: "Which ones?"
Me: "All of them!"
Captain: "Seriously?" (In disbelief.)
Me: "Eastern Airlines; Pan American World Airways; Private Jet Expeditions; Spirit Airlines; American Trans Air; and Air South---one strike, two furloughs, and two bankruptcies."
Captain: "That's quite a wing collection."
And they all have a story. . .
Eastern Airlines, 1985 - 1989
It was November 1985. The New Hire Coordinator said: "Ladies and Gentlemen, sit back, relax, you've got it made." Three months later Frank Lorenzo and the boys from Texas Air Corporation rode into Miami, and the shine on the Great Silver Fleet began to fade. . .
The dings in the enamel on the upper portion of the hat emblem happened within a month of finishing IOE (Initial Operating Experience) as a Boeing 727 Flight Engineer. I was conducting the exterior preflight on an airplane parked at the main terminal at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The wind was howling out of the northwest. My hat departed the instant I tilted my head back to inspect the horizontal stabilizer---a rookie mistake. I eventually caught up with my wayward chapeau three hangars down range. Of course there were several "almost got-its" along the way---cheap entertainment for the folks waiting to depart on Runway 31!
Pan American World Airways, 1989 - 1991
Four months in to the IAM strike at Eastern Airlines I received interview letters from TWA, Aspen Airways, and Pan American World Airways. Not the most desirable (financially stable) airlines to work for---but four months of carrying picket signs convinced me to take the first job offer that came along. I joined the World's Most Experienced Airline on August 21, 1989. Five weeks later I was qualified as a Airbus A300 Flight Engineer, and donned the white hat that Pan Am crews liked to joke, "Makes you look like a Central American dictator."
It did not take long to figure out that Pan Am was a dysfunctional company. When I reported for duty in New York, the Chief Pilot's secretary informed me I would be doing my IOE in Miami. When I asked for a set of wings and a hat emblem for my uniform, she said: "You'll get that stuff in Miami." When I reported for duty in Miami, the Chief Pilot's secretary said: "You'll get that stuff in New York."
My lack of uniform hardware became an issue about half way through IOE. We were changing airplanes in Miami. The captain I was flying with said: "Son; you look like an ice cream salesman! Where is your hat emblem?" When I explained the situation, he said: "This is embarrassing; come with me!" Five minutes later we were standing in the Chief Pilot's Office and the old Clipper Skipper was raising all kinds of hell! "I don't care where he's based, give the kid his hardware!" It's true what they say; good guys wear white hats!
A hat left unattended in the pilot lounge was sure to invite trouble. An unobservant pilot, or flight engineer, could walk around for days with an upside down hat emblem! I made it a habit to check my hat emblem's orientation each time I donned my cover. My good friend, and fellow flight engineer, Dan Linden, was a bit of a non-conformist, and not very fond of hats. We crossed paths one afternoon in the flying saucer shaped terminal building at JFK. He seemed to be irritated about something. When I asked what was bothering him, he replied: "I just got my butt chewed out by some old Clipper Skipper." "Seriously?" "Yeah, for not wearing my hat." I smiled. "We knew that was going to happen! What did you do?" "I pulled my hat out of my bag and put it on." "Did that make him feel better?" "Not really." I feigned concern. "Why not?" "Because my hat emblem was upside down!" "And he didn't think it was funny?" Dan smiled. "He was not amused."
The Ex Eastern crowd in front of the crash pad at 135-02 87th Avenue, Richmond Hill, New York. Left to right: Billy Brice (front), Jack Hudspeth, Yours Truly, JD Anderson (future brother in law), and Dan Linden (wearing a hat, how ironic.) We were furloughed on October 28, 1991. Billy, Jack, and I would eventually find employment at Private Jet Expeditions, a small charter airline headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. JD found employment at American Trans Air. Dan was hired at Sun Country Airlines. He joined JD at American Trans Air a year, or so, later.
Private Jet Expeditions, 1992 - 1995
This is one ugly set of wings!
The hat emblem is even uglier!
I enjoyed my time at Private Jet. I was hired as a 727 Flight Engineer. Four months later I upgraded to First Officer. Less than a year later I was a Captain on the McDonnell Douglas MD-83. Fifteen months later the paychecks bounced!
Spirit Airlines, 1995 - 1996
In 1995 Spirit Airlines announced plans to fly from Detroit City Airport, to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC., utilizing four DC-9-20's acquired from Scandinavian Airlines. The planned expansion would generate ten or twelve new captain positions that, because of minimum flight time requirements, could not be filled from within the airline's first officer corps. Jack Hudspeth and I, along with eight other pilots from various wannabe airlines, were hired to fill this need. The plan hit a snag when Spirit was unable to negotiate reasonably priced gate space in the proposed new markets. City Airport never materialized. I bumped back to First Officer in January 1996.
In February I received an offer to interview for a pilot position at American Trans Air. I had submitted a resume after Private Jet ceased operations. ATA had 50 airplanes (L-1011's, 757's and 727's) and 750 pilots; Spirit Airlines had 10 airplanes (DC-9's) and 75 pilots. At the time it seemed like a good move.
American Trans Air, 1996
It was not. I was hired in March; furloughed in October. Cool wings and hat emblem, though. Somewhat British in appearance.
Air South, 1996 - 1997
Another wannabe airline. . . One of the universal truths about wannabe airlines: If you show up for work on time, can pass a check ride, and don't cause too many headaches; you will usually find employment. Another truth about the wannabes: Rarely do they last!
Big D! October 1997
My seventh airline! Twelve years; one strike; two furloughs; and two bankruptcies! Was it exhausting? My wife says it was. In hindsight, would I have done anything different? Probably not.
Oh, but there's more! Hardware, that is. . .
Delta through the years:
From my collection:
A reproduction of the first wing issued by Delta Air Service.
Second Officer wings from the 40's & 50's.
First Officer wings from 1997.
Frown face First Officer wings from the Leo Mullen days.
My Captain wings from 2006.
From Brother Hogan's collection:
As you can see, Brother Hogan has quite a collection! He also has hardware from eight other airlines: Mall Airways; Clinton Aero; Brockway Air; Metro Airlines Northeast; America West Airlines; Midway (III) Airlines; North American Airlines; and MaxJet. For the record, he was in class at JetBlue when Big D called. Now that WAS exhausting!
Two great legends! Brother Mark Hogan, veteran airline pilot, and Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron, the REAL Home Run King.
And now a few from Brother Baker's collection:
Mesa Airlines (top) and Freedom Airlines.
Grandpa Ray Baker's Curtiss-Wright lapel pin.
Odds and Ends:
"New Vintage" United Airlines wings, complements of my good friend, United Airlines Captain Duncan "EG" Flett.
The EG's Hat Rack, Petaluma, California.
Here's one from Corporate Aviation:
S. C. Johnson & Son wings, complements of Sikorsky S-38 Pilot/Aviation Artist, Tom Kalina. This is one cool set of wings!
Jack Hudspeth retired from Spirit Airlines in 2005. This picture was taken on the occasion of his last flight into Fort Lauderdale International Airport on September 30, 2005.