Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Another Blast From The Past

What do you do when the weather is nice and the airplane you normally fly on your day off is out of annual?  What if, to your wife's dismay, you don't feel like hanging the Christmas lights on the tree in the front yard?  You could go down to the hangar and start taking the airplane apart.  But it's three weeks before Christmas, and both mechanics that normally work on the airplane have said they need to check with their wives before committing to do the inspection---so it's probably better to just leave everything buttoned up.  Experience has shown that even in organized hangars, unattached airplane parts can vanish into thin air.  Why did I think a box of old tail wheel parts would be a good place to store that carb heat muff?  That brings us back to the Christmas lights. . .

That was last week's dilemma.

My choice was to surf the Internet---starting with the Lockheed Constellation page on Facebook.  Did you know the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung is restoring a Lockheed L-1649A Super Starliner back to flying condition?  In Auburn, Maine, of all places. (And you thought Facebook was only good for political rants, and pictures of yesterday's chili dog.)  The flight deck is getting a face lift as well; with flat panel displays---apparently the Honeywell avionics suite designed for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules fits nicely in the Super Star's panel.  Don't you know that FAA Form 337 is going to be a doozie!  Leave it to the Germans to put a glass cockpit in a sixty year old airliner.  I know "purists" will think this is blasphemy, and if we were talking about a run of the mill DC-3, I would probably agree, but the Starliner was the last of the exotic piston engine airliners---this is cool!

Image:  Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftumg

Deutsche Lufthansa:  "We don't need no stinkn' steam gauge cockpit!"

If you haven't clicked on the link in the second paragraph (and I encourage you to do so) you probably want to know who, or what, is Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung.  Simply put, it is a Foundation that was set up by Lufthansa in 1986 to operate a restored 1936 Junkers Ju-52/3m to mark the occasion of the airline's 60th Anniversary.  It's Mission Statement reads:  Our aim is to keep alive for posterity the knowledge and technology of historic aviation.  The Foundation currently operates a 1940 Messerschmitt Me 108 B-1 Taifun, a 1959 Dornier Do 27 B-3, and the JU-52 that was purchased from Author/Aviator, Martin Caidin, in 1984.

October 1974:

"This is like deja vu all over again."
- Yogi Berra

The note on the back of this old photograph reads:  Cannon Aircraft - Junkers Tri-Motor built in 1935. (Off by a year.)  Cannon bought it in Missouri, had plans for it.  Big Money!  In January 1975 a strong wind picked it up and slammed it into a tree (some damage to the tailplane.)  They got rid of it.

Cannon Aircraft was one of four FBO's located at Douglas Municipal Airport, in Charlotte, North Carolina in the mid 1970's.  That's me next to the left main gear tire.  I was in the 10th grade.  My best friend, and fellow student pilot, Joe Mullis, took the photo.  The camera used was a cheep little Agfa Instamatic.  As I recall, it was good for about 20 photos.  Image quality was hit or miss---the shutter mechanism was stiff, so it was hard to hold the camera still.  You never knew what you would get until after the film was developed.  These were a miss, obviously.  I remember the cockpit shots were completely out of focus.

Joe and I "logged" a bunch time in the old Ju-52, mostly at night.  After the FBO had closed for the evening we would sneak across the ramp, hop inside, and make airplane noise for hours---and dream!  The rumor was it had originally come from somewhere down in South America.  It sat there on the ramp for quite a while, and then in January 1975 a strong wind blew it into a tree on the edge of the ramp.  The result was a big dent in the side of the fuselage just aft of the left entry door.  It sat there for a few more months. Then one day when I arrived for a flying lesson, it was gone.  A line boy told me it was repaired with corrugated metal "liberated" from one of the hangar walls.  "Some writer-pilot bought it."

That writer-pilot was Martin Caidin, and he would eventually write about his adventures restoring and flying the Ju-52 in a book titled The Saga Of Iron Annie, published in 1979.

Eight Years Later:  

I'm a new hire co-pilot at Thurston Aviation, Inc., in Charlotte, North Carolina.  At one of the bi-weekly Jeppesen revision bull sessions---in those days there was no such thing as an aircraft librarian, the job fell to the junior pilots---one of the guys mentioned that he had seen a Junkers Ju-52 at an airshow in Titusville, Florida when he was in college.  I don't know what triggered the subject; possibly an approach plate revision for the aforementioned airport.  I offered the only Ju-52 I knew of, was Martin Caidin's Iron Annie; and then went on to explain how Joe Mullis and I had climbed all over that airplane when we were in high school.  Our dispatcher, having heard the conversation from the outer office, stuck his head in the room and said:  "You know the Boss flew that airplane. He's mentioned in the book."  "Really?"  "Yes; you should ask him about it sometime."

The Boss was Frank Thompson, the Director of Operations at Thurston Aviation.  Frank had been the Chief Pilot at Cannon Aircraft when I was in high school.  Now our dispatcher was known for telling a tale, or two---especially when he thought he could sucker one of the new guys.  Since I had not read the book, I had no way of knowing---and not wanting to be the butt of a joke, never asked.  I worked for Frank for just under two years.  During that time he never mentioned flying the Ju-52.  I always assumed the dispatcher was pulling my leg---until last week.

". . . another capable gentleman . . ."

After perusing the Ju-52 timeline on the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung web page, I decided thirty-two years was long enough.  It was time to see if Frank Thompson really had flown Iron Annie.  I logged on to and ordered a copy of Martin Caidin's book.  It arrived last week.  Quickly, I checked the index.  There it was: Thompson, Frank, 131.

". . . and then there was Cape Girardo and the auction block and--as best we can determine, a sales price of thirty-six thousand dollars put the big tri-motor into the hands of Don Anklin, of Charlotte, North Carolina, whose company was known as Cannon Aircraft.  Give the man credit.  He took his shot.  He bought the iron monster and had it flown from Cape Girardo to Charlotte.  Sometime in September of 1974, it is shown in the less-than-bulging aircraft log of N130LW that a man by the name of Bob Evans flew the Ju-52 from Charleston to Salisbury to Lexington, all in North Carolina, and on the day following, with another capable gentleman by the name of Frank Thompson, returned the ancient and wheezing giant to her berth in Charlotte."

Martin Caidin died in 1997.  His adventures flying the Ju-52 are well documented.  Frank Thompson passed away in 2008.  I never asked him about his.  Brother Barbeau will tell you there's a moral to this story.

Frank Thompson flew it in.  Joe Mullis and I dreamed of flying it out.

Image:  Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung

This is how she looks today.  I think a vacation in Germany may be in order. . .