Long before American Airlines dominated the South American market out of Miami there was an airline called Panagra. This company was formed by Pan American airways, and the Grace shipping company, and was established to compete with SCADTA which was German owned. I have written about Panagra before but what I want to do today is take you back to the days when the South American routes were brand new and talk about the challenges the aircrews faced.
Panagra merged with Braniff International, Braniff then sold the routes to Eastern Airlines, and American Airlines acquired the routes from Eastern. American Airlines is still the dominant US carrier in South America but the airline who started it all was Panagra.
Now let’s move on with our story…….Enjoy.
In April 1942, I was hired by Pan American-Grace Airways as a co-pilot to be based in Lima, Peru. I had turned 21 the previous November and was the proud possessor of a Commercial License, an Instrument Rating and a Multi-engine Type Rating (Lockheed 10-A) courtesy of the Civilian Pilot Training Program, sponsored by Colby College and run by Airways, Inc. of Waterville, Maine, and the Flight Officers Program conducted by Northeast Airlines at the East Boston Airport and at Burlington, Vermont.
The Flight Officers program was designed to train co-pilots for the Pan-American Africa-Orient operation, which was a supply line to support the Burma campaign of World War II. When this operation was terminated as such, many of the pilots became ATC (Air Transport Command Officers).
The manner in which Pan American-Grace (Panagra) got permission to hire 6 of us from this training program is unknown to me. Bob Disher, then Operations Manager of the airline, came to Boston and interviewed Cecil Richardson (Rich), Bill Dripps, Dick Witt, Joe Betty, Al Kopp, me and others who had indicated an interest in the job. The aforementioned all became employees of Panagra. Rich really was the one to talk me into accepting the Panagra offer.
Rich was from Toledo, Ohio was, and is, a couple of years older than I. He had served in the Army in Panama as a diesel engine specialist for a year or two. He convinced me that Lima, Peru was the place to go – and so I went. After completing the Flight Officers Course, which started out in East Boston but got shifted to Burlington, Vermont, I went back home to Waterville for a couple of weeks and left for Peru at the end of April. Rich had finished up at Burlington a week or two before I, took a short leave at Toledo and beat me to Lima by about three weeks.
It took me a couple of days to get from Waterville to Miami, Florida by train. Once in Miami, I was given a room in the Columbus Hotel on Biscayne Boulevard where I waited for 5 days or so for my passport to arrive from DC. The Hotel Tivoli in the Canal Zone of Panama, where Panagra employees usually stayed had no room so I was deposited by a Grace employee in a hotel in down town Panama. I say “hotel” advisedly. There was more traffic in and out of that establishment after 10 p.m. than there was in all of the daylight hours.
After 4 days or so in Panama, there was space available for me on a Panagra DC3 bound for Lima via Cali, Colombia; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Talara and Chiclayo, Peru and finally, Lima. The plane was captained by Frank Havelick (who later served as the Panagra Chief Pilot for more than 25 years) and Tiny Meyer (6″2 and about 200 lbs. By the time I got to Lima about the middle of May, this country boy from Waterville, Maine had added to his education. For one thing, I became a “ShortSnorter” as a result of crossing the Equator in Ecuador. On payment of a dollar to each Captain Havelick and Tiny Meyer, they signed me in on the dollar bill that I provided. (I still carry it with me and have the signature of friends and then Vice President H. A. Wallace, who later was a passenger on a plane which I copiloted) on my bill.
My first quarters in Lima was a room at the Bolivar Hotel which fronted on the Plaza San Martin in downtown Lima. The Bolivar was then the only “good” hotel in Lima. It had a large tearoom off of the main lobby (known as the snakepit) and an English type bar where they served a green beer (made by the Backus Brewery) and some lightning in a glass called a PISCO SOUR. Meals were served in what to me seemed to be a very formal dining room and the dress code demanded a suit and tie. Dinner, in the European style, was soup, salad, fish course, a meat entree and desert. Waiters, all male, were dressed in formal attire. Wow!
After a few days at the Bolivar, I moved to Miraflores and the Pension White. I had no idea what a pension was but found that Mrs. White, an English lady, had what amounted to a large private home where she provided room and board for lonesome strangers. Meals were served in a small dining room, the food was wholesome but strange to me and the bed was short on one end for my 6’4″ (I later found out that most beds made in Peru were something less than six feet in length). But what do you want for $20 a week (I think that was about the amount)?
At this time, I had little if any understanding of Spanish as I had only been exposed to French as a foreign language in High School and College. Rich, who had picked up some Spanish during his stay in Panama negotiated the rental of a house where we would share expenses so we could move out of the pension and have a little more freedom.
Panagra had a hangar, where maintenance on their aircraft was performed and where some offices for personnel were located, another small building which housed the radio operators (communications then were all conducted in Morse code except when you were within range of an airport when radio voice communications were effective), the link trainer and the Chief Pilot’s office. A lot of Panagra’s affairs were conducted in the offices of W. R. Grace & Co., which were located in their bank building in downtown Lima.
Pan American Grace Airways, Inc. was owned by W. R. Grace & Co. and Pan American Airways 50/50 but our chief operations officer in Lima was Tom Kirkland, a Vice President of Panagra. Our operations manager was Bob Disher. Andrew Shea was President of Panagra but lived in New York. Another VP named Doug Campbell was also on the W. R. Grace and Panagra management team. (Doug, I believe, was a World War I ace.) Panagra was formed in 1929 by Grace and Pan Am to provide service from Panama south to, eventually, Santiago, Chile and over the Andes to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Mendoza and Cordoba. Pan Am operated from Miami to Panama and then down the East coast of South America to Buenos Aires via Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil and Uruguay.
When I arrived in Lima, I was placed on the seniority list as the 35th pilot then employed by the airline. Not a very big operation! A listing of Panagra aircraft shows that they had 3 DC2’s and about 10 DC3’s and 3A’s plus a Wasp Jr. powered gull winged Stinson Reliant (used as an instrument trainer) and a Fairchild 71 once used by Panagra in commercial operations (a time builder for those copilots who needed same). Maintenance ground school was conducted by Sr. Skinner in a small area adjacent to the hangar. I can’t for the life of me remember his given name but we always called him “Skinner”.
Skinner was a Peruvian who had been educated in the maintenance field in the U.S. He led us through the intricacies of the Stromberg carburetor, taught us what the Wright G103A engine could and and could not do, extolled the virtues of the Pratt & Whitney S1C3G’s that powered the newer of the DC3’s that Panagra operated. While all of us hired as copilots had instrument ratings when we arrived in Lima, our ratings had been obtained on the radio ranges then in use in the USA. In South America, when you made a letdown in instrument conditions, you did so using a direction finder (DF) or an ADF (Automatic DF). We learned to orient ourselves by use of the ADF, determine distance from the station and make letdowns and letups on the approved radials. We also learned how to use oral nulls for navigating and making instrument approaches in the event the automatic direction finder failed. In making an instrument approach, two overheads of the let down radio facility were required to make sure a false signal was not being received.
Panagra also hired temporary reserve captains for their operation. This was a period of expansion for the airline and most of their new hires did not have enough time to qualify for an Airline Transport Rating, which was required before one could fly as Captain of a passenger carrying U.S. certificated airline. These reserve captains were mostly old-timers (some were at least 35 years old) who had been instructors or otherwise employed or trained as pilots.
New copilot prospects, such as I, spent a lot of time at Limatambo (our operations center) attending ground school, waiting for a chance to fly, getting our mail and generally hobnobbing with the rest of the gang. A lot of time was spent sitting on the fence overlooking the airport watching arrivals and departures and training flight activity.
Limatambo had no paved runways at this time but was just a big unpaved field about a third of a mile wide and probably a little over a mile long. The only paved areas were concrete run up pads at the northern and southern extremities of the field and there was also a concrete pad in front of the terminal building on which was located the control tower and in which was located a restaurant and offices of the Aduana (customs). During those portions of the day that there were no expected arrivals or departures of passenger flights, the concrete pad in front of the terminal was used as a departure point for training flights. Those of us sitting on the rail watching these flights, knew when to move to avoid the dust and blowing debris stirred up by the propellers of departing aircraft.
One of the prospective reserve captain candidates delighted in telling all of the neophytes what a great pilot he was, how he had flown B24s, etc., etc. The day in question, we all knew he was going out for one of his first indoctrination flights with a check pilot.
The DC2s were used in great part as training aircraft. An ATR and type rating obtained in a DC2 was also valid in a DC3. The predecessor of the DC3, our DC2s were set up to carry 14 passengers. There were many improvements in the DC3 that the 2 didn’t have. For one thing, the throttle linkage on a 2 left something to be desired. An equal application of throttle for the left and right engine did not necessarily mean you would get equal amounts of thrust from each of the two engines. Unequal amounts of thrust can create a problem for the unwary.
Another item of difference was the braking system. Energy for the braking system on the 2 was provided by a handle on the upper left-hand portion of the instrument panel that would provide pressure on the brake shoes as the pilot pulled the handle out with his left hand. Equal pressure was applied to both brakes when the rudder pedals were in the neutral position and differential pressure was applied to that wheel when the rudder pedal was depressed out of the neutral position.
Shortly after high noon without a breath of wind on a clear summer’s day, the check pilot and our reserve captain trainee climbed aboard the DC2 parked on the pad in front of the terminal. There must have been a least a dozen copilot trainees sitting on the wall facing the pad to watch the operation. We could see the trainee seated in the left seat. After what was a fairly lengthy briefing, the engines were started, chocks removed by the ground crew and a stately departure from the pad was made.
Very shortly after having left the pad, a right turn was started, there was a burst of power, the dust started blowing, and another burst of power and the plane disappeared into the now vertically rising cloud of dust. When the dust thinned enough for us to see, we knew that about a 360 degree ground loop at been in progress. The engines, quiet for the past few moments, surged again and this time a left ground loop ensued partially hidden in the storm of dust. Engines quieted again, this time for several minutes. Another application of power and another ground loop. This time there were only idling engines observed for some period of time when the plane taxied back to the pad and engines were shut down by the check pilot who was now in the left seat.
To the best of my knowledge, the only other time the poor guy who did all of this flew a Panagra plane was as a passenger on his way back to the U.S.A. According to my log book, from May 22 to July 12, 1942, I flew 5 hours and 31 minutes in training flights, some in a DC2, some in Stinson and the balance in a DC3A My first flight was with Captain “Fearless” Freddy Long from Arequipa, Peru to Santiago, Chile as a Class “C” Copilot. I have no record or recollection as to how I got from Lima to Arequipa.
So what’s a Class “C” Copilot? Another name devised for us was hydraulic engineer. We raised the gear handle which actuated a hydraulic system which raised the gear. We lowered the flaps which were hydraulically powered and on command, of course, lowered the landing gear. Otherwise we were there to observe how our mentor flew an airliner. A Class “C” Copilot made no takeoffs or landings while carrying passengers unless you had a very daring PIC (Pilot in Command) who had more confidence in you than did the Chief Pilot’s office. Position reports were relayed to Lima by a radio operator seated directly behind the captain.
After a respectable time as a Class “C” Copilot and with additional training, you could be upgraded to a Class “B” Copilot. This meant that you could make takeoffs and landings at the discretion of the Captain. Further training and acquisition of experience, Class “A” status could be obtained. Again at the discretion of the Captain, you now could fly from the left seat with the Captain acting as copilot. My second trip as a neophyte pilot was to the Bolivian jungle with Frank Achilles. The purpose of the trip was to deliver radio and other equipment to newly opened airstrips on the Bolivian circuit, places like Corumba, Santa Cruz and Robore. It also gave me an insight at what a DC3A could do at altitude both enroute and at airports. La Paz, Boliviar, one of our stops, was a dirt strip at 13,400 feet above sea level. It currently has a 13,000 foot paved runway and I believe it must have been about 9,000 feet long on my first arrival.
On our return from Santa Cruz to Lima we had to cross the Andes westbound. The weather west of Santa Cruz was not good so we started climbing. We had to go to at least 15,000 feet to clear the terrain in good weather and normal passage over the alto plano (the high relatively flat lands of the Andes) was at 17,000 feet. We got to 17,000 feet and still couldn’t get over the weather (instrument flying was a NO NO in this location at this time). Granted the DC3A was not heavily loaded we had but one company employee plus the crew on board but we eventually got up to 22,000 feet where we topped out the weather and proceeded on to Lima.
Another memorable flight was one of my first trips over the Andes from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina via Mendoza and Cordoba, Argentina. This trip was with Captain Warren B. Smith who had been based in Santiago for many years and eventually made more than 1,500 crossings of the Andes. He was awarded a military order (of the Condor, I think) by the Chilean government for his exploits.
Santiago was about 1,600 feet above sea level and to cross the Andes via the pass just south of Cerro Aconcagua (over 23,000 feet high), it was necessary to attain about 14,000 feet as we overflew the statue known as the “Christ of the Andes”, which marked the border between Chile and Argentina. Then we wended our way down a canyon to the city of Mendoza which was on the East Side of the Andes.
One of the duties of a copilot was to measure the fuel load before departure and to check the remaining fuel on arrival. The DC3 had two main and two auxiliary tanks. The main tank’s maximum capacity was 208 gallons each and the aux tanks carried 201 gallons each. Measuring was done with a stick calibrated to show the gallonage. Usually it was not necessary to carry fuel in the aux tanks on the SantiagoBA run as the distances between stops was not far. I dutifully measured the fuel outbound and inbound at each of the stations enroute to BA. After arrival at Moron, the airport then serving Buenos Aires, we were taken by station wagon to the nearest railway station where we boarded a train for the ride into the city for our overnight at the Continental Hotel.
The next morning, after boarding the station wagon which met us at the railway station, Captain Smith told me not to bother measuring the right hand auxiliary tank on the way back to Santiago. I did as I was told. On arrival in Santiago, with the aid of one of the ground crew, we were measuring the fuel on board when he opened the right hand aux tank and showed me that it was full of gas. I thought that I must have messed up someplace on the way and went to tell the Captain of this find. When I blurted out our discovery, Warren B. said “Don’t think anything about it, Sonny, that’s just a little automobile gas for my Buick that I picked up in BA.” Our route maps were strip maps made up by our engineering department (Oh how I wish I had kept copies!) with the various airports located on same, a line drawn on the map with the magnetic headings noted, the coast line sketched in and an occasional indication that there were mountains located along the route. There were no realistic geographic details.
Each new crew member kept his own little notebook in which to enter details of each landing strip, the times and headings between checkpoints, radio frequencies of the ground facilities, geographic details noted or brought to our attention by the PIC while enroute. I guess that the CPO (Chief Pilot’s Office) decided that with all of this to do, you wouldn’t have time to land the plane also. And all of this made one feel like a ‘pionero del aire’. Copilots were only allowed to log 50% of the time flown. There was a time when 100% credit could be taken but I think that was when you became a Class “A” Copilot. Or was it when we soloed or got a type rating in the equipment (we’ll get to this later)?
Panagra also had another neat little custom which was inherited, I think, from Pan Am. Each station was equipped with a chrome plated bell of about 8 inches in diameter. On departure, when 1 bell was rung, the crew boarded the airplane, 2 bells signaled the boarding of the passengers, 3 bells indicated it was time to start engines. And how about this! On arrival a pilot member of the crew got off the plane before any of the passengers were allowed out. (Sometimes the PIC would have the copilot make the long trip down the cabin with the passengers staring at him, especially if the PIC had bounced the landing.)
In October of 1942, Rich and I were both posted to Quito, Ecuador where we were to copilot on the Ecuadorian circuit. Panagra, the only passenger airline operating in Ecuador at that time, served Quito, Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Manta, Cuenca, Salinas and Loja. Our base was at Quito and service was provided daily to Guayaquil and several times a week to the other cities. There were two crews based in Quito. Captains Howard Caldwell and Thadeus Luther Henry Young both lived in Quito with their growing families. Rich and I were the copilots from October 1942 to April 1943, when we were assigned back to the Lima base. John and Bill Protich were our radio operators at the Quito base.
Quito is located just south of the equator (hence the name Ecuador) at an elevation of 9,200 feet above sea level. Mountains rise up to about the fifteen thousand foot level to the west of Quito including Mount Pichincha on which a battle was fought during the revolt against Spanish rule in the 19th century. To the east, after a small rise in elevation, there is a valley several hundreds of feet lower than Quito but this valley does not occupy a whole lot of space before there are snow capped mountains in the nineteen thousand foot range. This also holds true for the areas north and south of Quito.
Rich and I met a Henry Wade and we three rented a house which included a houseboy named Ramon. Henry was ostensibly a newspaper reporter for “International Press”. Henry never confirmed our suspicions that he was an undercover FBI type but he wore the same gabardine suit and topcoat that seemed to serve as a uniform for this group, at least in South America. He also had a close liaison with another ‘gringo’ who was supposed to be the agent for a lumber company in the States.
Henry was a ‘good ole boy’ from Sweetwater, Texas. At least that is the name that I recall. He eventually became the District Attorney in Dallas County, Texas The house that we rented was enclosed by a wall, had a small office type room just off the entryway, a living room (with fireplace),a bathroom, a dining room and a kitchen, which was the domain of our male cook. The second floor had three bedrooms and a bath.
Henry, being the first occupant of the house, occupied what was the master bedroom. There was one other fair sized bedroom with a double bed and a smaller room with something about the size of a canvas cot for a bed. A flip of the coin and I won the smaller room and bed. Rich, about 5’8 got the double bed. I learned to sleep on short beds in South America by placing a pillow on a chair placed at the foot of the bed to handle my 6’4 overhang.
There was no lack of social life on our days off. (Even the working days were not too bad as we usually departed about eight in the morning and got back by two in the afternoon, weather permitting.) There was an “American” school that employed three young women from the U.S. as teachers. (Mary Coburn, Frances Franklin and Flora Rowe) We used to go out with them and with Ecuadorian girls, dancing, horseback riding, picnics, etc.
In 1945 when I was flying as PIC in Ecuador, I landed in Manta shortly after there had been an airplane accident. The Ecuadorian government had instituted a civilian pilot training program and used Manta airport for this purpose. Facts, as related to me by our airport manager were that graduation exercises had been conducted for the latest class that day. The Minister of Aviation had come to the festivities and after graduation was over, had been invited to take a ride in their Piper type training plane. The course instructor took off over the dike, made a low left turn and spun into the ground about 150 yards from our terminal station. Our station manager ran to airplane as fast as he could but when he got there someone had beat him to it and cut off the ring finger, for the ring that had been there, of the dead occupant. One of the parties lived and we took him to Guayaquil for treatment which I later heard was unsuccessful.
Although I flew with both of the PIC’s based in Quito, most of the time was with Ty Young. Ty had been a Navy Mustang which I understand was a non-commissioned pilot. He later worked for United Airlines and came to Panagra sometime prior to my arrival. At any rate, he had had a lot more experience than I. (When I went to work for Panagra, I had logged a total of 246 hours and 45 minutes.)
All of the airports that we had at that time south of Panama were grass or dirt strips no paved runways, as we know them today. Ty was great at short field landings as was evidenced by the fact that he took great pleasure in toppling the board marking the northern extremity of the Guayaquil airstrip by brushing it with the landing gear.
Radio facilities throughout South America were minimal. Most of our navigation, except for instrument letdowns and letups, was of the visual and dead reckoning type. As noted earlier, the charts didn’t provide too much in the way of geographical detail so the only way we could know how high our enroute obstructions were was to fly in close proximity and measure them. We memorized times and distances, radio frequencies, airport elevations, airport lengths, aircraft limitations, mountain heights, etc. We were given quite a lot of latitude as to route of flight as long as you got to where you were scheduled to be on time. There were few, if any, other aircraft other than our own operating in the same sectors we were. And we were kept advised of their location by our onboard radio operators.
Our airport managers were supposed to keep us advised of the whereabouts of aircraft in our route of travel. We did not do a whole lot of enroute instrument flying but on one occasion when flying with Ty Young, there was a bunch of high stratus over the Ecuadorian flat lands north of Guayaquil. We had been in contact with Guayaquil and had not been advised of any traffic. It was early in the morning and there wasn’t any Panagra traffic to be expected as seldom did the northbound flight from Lima to Panama leave Guayaquil much before 11 a.m.
We were on solid instruments when we heard a radio transmission reporting a position that we were about to report. On query to Guayaquil, we found that a nonscheduled Panagra freighter had overnighted in Guayaquil and was in fact at or near our position at approximately the same altitude (we had started our letdown from our initial altitude of 11 thousand feet and the freighter was reporting that same altitude). I looked over at Ty who had an expression on his face I had not seen before. There was not much cockpit conversation for the balance of the trip into Guayaquil.
After landing, Ty left the cockpit for the terminal and when I arrived on the scene had a ham-handed handful of the manager’s shirt and was making it abundantly clear that if this ever happened again, the manager would suffer dire consequences. How close we came to meeting the other airplane head on, I do not know but that was as close as I want to get. When dispatch services were finally instituted by Panagra, the manager involved in this incident served as a dispatcher for about 40 years.
On April 21, 1943, I arrived back in Lima which was to become my base until March of 1945 when I was temporarily based in Quito to replace a vacationing captain.
In this era, Panagra was flying equipment over terrain and under conditions that did not allow night flying. A ground fog or a maintenance delay could make it impossible to get to your destination before night arrived and schedules called for nine to ten and a half hours of flying which meant there was little leeway for delays. Therefore, some interesting unscheduled overnights One such overnight(s), was in Jaque, Panama. I had flown to Panama with By Ricards (who later resigned from Panagra and went to work for Frontier Airlines).
On the morning of January 17, 1944, we departed Panama for Lima via Cali, Guayaquil, Talara and Chiclayo. The first 90 or so miles was over water to a checkpoint called La Palma. (This was during WW II and the U.S. military made us adhere to some fairly narrowly define routings). Just as La Palma was about to be reported, one of the engines decided to quit running. Captain Ricards reported our position and said he was proceeding to Jaque, which was a U.S. Air Corps military strip 60 or so miles away that could be approached without having to fly over water on single engine.
The report of our intended landing site was sent by the radio operator to Lima who shortly thereafter asked the Captain if he could make it back to Panama. (We had a full load of passengers and had no provision for engine change in Jaque.) Captain By instructed the operator to tell Lima that “We can make it to Lima if I can keep this other engine running” but that we were proceeding to Jaque.
The arrival at Jaque was without incident. It was now a matter of getting one of our cargo airplanes to provide us with another engine and a crew to make the change. Two days later, we flew the repaired airplane back to Panama and the following day I flew back to Lima in the same airplane with Floyd Nelson who was our Chief Pilot at that time. I never had another trip with By Ricards.
Between flying regular schedules as copilot, I was receiving upgrade training which resulted in checking out as a freighter PIC October 1, 1944, welcoming our first born Paula on December 19, 1944 and getting my Air Transport Rating December 20, 1944. January 1945 and the first days of February were taken up with flying the freighter to Panama and qualifying on the Ecuadorian circuit as PIC. My first passenger flight as PIC was on February 15, 1945 northbound to Panama from Lima.
When not acting as check pilot most of my trips for the balance of 1946, and until my resignation in May of 1947, were on the Lima-Panama run— Up on Tuesday back on Thursday or Friday. On one of my return trips from Panama to Lima, I picked up Earle Stanley Gardiner and his two secretaries in Cali, Colombia. We evidently were running late (I don’t now recall the reason) because we had to overnight in Chiclayo, Peru due to the late hour. I had a chance to talk to Mr. Gardner before our arrival in Chiclayo. He asked a lot of questions about our operation and was very friendly.
On arrival in Chiclayo, our station manager was in charge of finding accommodations for the crew and passengers. The crew usually stayed in a hotel operated by a German couple. Not very fancy but cleaner than most. I suggested that Mr. Gardner and company stay at that hotel also but he seemed to be satisfied with another location set up by the manager for him, with his secretaries being housed at the crew hotel.
I was not familiar with the accommodations made for Mr. Gardner but they must have been pretty bad. About nine o’clock that night as I was getting ready for bed, there was a knock on my door and there was Earle Stanley. He wanted to know if I could make arrangements for him at our hotel. We chased down the owner, who finally came up with a room.
The next morning we took off at daybreak for Lima. Before arrival at Lima, we were advised that the airport had fogged in and that we would have to hold for a while or possibly go to our alternate at Pisco, Peru about 100 miles to the south of Lima. Limatambo’s tower (Limatambo being the name of Lima’s airport) was on top of the terminal which was a one story structure with a small tower on the roof. When we arrived over Limatambo, there was fog sure enough, but it only covered the tower and about a third of the southern portion of the airport. I could see more than two thirds of the runway which was plenty long enough for a landing with a DC3.
We advised the ground of this fact which they seemed to question. After some discussion, someone on the ground ordered a company station wagon to make a trip on up the runway, confirming that indeed the fog only covered a small portion of it. It was finally decided that we could come in for a landing which we did with no problem. Earlier I mentioned the fact that we carried radio operators on all passenger flights. One of these was Zip Zellon. Zip has a more proper first name but I have no idea what it is.
Panagra had a commissary at each of our major bases such as Lima, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Quito and Panama. In charge of Panagra’s commissary was Mike Clavarino, an extremely dapper, excitable gentleman of Italian descent. Incidentally, the meals were all prepared and stored in large thermos jugs and were surprisingly good considering that they might be stored for hours before serving.
Shortly before the end of the fighting in Europe during WW II, on a flight to Lima from Panama, we picked up Mike Clavarino in Guayaquil. Serving as radio operator was the Zipper. Zip suggested that we get Mike up to the cockpit and that we let him wear some headphones in preparation for a newscast on short wave radio. So, Mike came to the cockpit put on the earphones and heard the news that the war was over, the allies victorious…. Mike was on cloud nine, in his own excitable way was dancing up and down in the cockpit and, I think, was already making plans to visit family in Italy now that the war was over.
What Mike didn’t know was the broadcast was the sole product of Zip Zellon. Zip could have been the voice of the BBC and his imitation of such a broadcast was flawless. I think it was this perfection that made this prank acceptable to Mike who did not really believe us when we told him of the source, that it was all a fake. We had to tell him as he was ready to get off the plane in Lima and tell the world the war was over A few months later, the war was over and Mike got his chance to visit family in his native country.
I spent a night in Antofagasta, Chile with Lana Turner. Well, we both stayed in the same W.R. Grace compound that Grace maintained for their employees. This also was a delayed trip that I flew from Lima to Santiago, Chile. We had a pleasant visit in the cockpit enroute to Antofagasta and she told us she was on her way to Buenos Aires to visit a friend.
We finally got to Santiago about mid morning of the second day and were met by a large group of her fans. After a short stay, she departed for B.A. The next time I saw her was in the movies. Our son Michael Scott was born March 28, 1947 at the British American Clinic. We were back in the State of Maine before the first of June that same year after having resigned from Panagra.
The seeds for my resignation were sown, I think, while we were in Maine on vacation in 1945. I was not unhappy with my work in South America but I had always been (still am) sort of a rolling stone and was always looking for something else. Also, I felt that eventually we would have to return to the U.S. and it seemed to me that the time chosen was the right one. The grand parents were also taken into consideration. Would I do it again if a second chance were offered? Probably.
In late 1950 and early 1951, it became evident that the urge to change was with me. While there might have been a place for me somewhere in the radio business, there didn’t seem to be much movement possible at WTVL. The manager told me that I was making as much as he was and that did not seem to bode well for the future. As a result, I decided to try to get back into the airline business. Applications were sent to National, American, United and Panagra in the month of March 1951.
Panagra responded within a matter of a week or two and subject to passing a physical, offered me a job again based in Lima, Peru. I knew that I would be starting at the bottom of the ladder, that Panagra in the past had been inhibited in its growth and development by Pan Am but rumor had it that this was all going to change. Marie agreed that going back to Lima would be a good idea so I accepted and by the middle of May 1951 was back in Lima with the family. Starting pay as a copilot was about double what I had been making in the radio business.
I had done no flying during the four years that I had been away from Panagra but requalifying was a breeze. Climbing back into a DC3 was almost like I had never left it. Ernie Hummel, of the Chief Pilot’s Office who gave me the required check, said the one ride he gave me would be all that was required once I had been subject to some ground school and instrument training. At that time I had about four thousand hours in DC3s and you can’t forget everything in four years. One of the reasons that Panagra was hiring during this period was due to the fact that they had a military contract to operate DC4s from the west coast of the U.S. to Korea. One of the pilots who bid this operation was my old friend Rich Richardson. He had recently married Peggy and before leaving Peru for the U.S. had an apartment in Barranco. He offered to let us use this apartment for our initial living quarters on our return to Peru.
That is what it was like in the early days of flying with Panagra. It was an interesting time and great experiences.
Next week we will begin a seven part series on a book written by Mike Willey who is the son of Captain Paul Wiley. Enjoy the weekend, take time to smell the roses, and keep fiends and family close……..Life is short.
August 6, 2021