Today is Part Four of seven in the series on Panagra.If you missed Part Three Click HERE.
I learned to fly with Curtiss Wright Flying Service in Toledo, Ohio and Gross Isle, Michigan. I got my license August 1, 1930 at the ripe age of 16. The three years immediately preceding my joining Panagra were spent as coordinator of Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) and the War Training Service (WTS) at the University of Toledo.
Four of my students, (Hosmer Compton, Cecil Richardson, Wayne Martin and Len Griffin) were recruited by Panagra as soon as they completed the program. In 1943 the program was changed into an equalization program. I stayed just long enough to close out the paper work and bundle up the uniforms we had, then joined Panagra arriving in Lima in July 1943.
My first passenger flight was as copilot with Tommy Grimm from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile. This was Tommy’s first flight as Captain on a passenger plane. We were flying a second section in a DC-3 with the smaller Wright engines. The regular plane, a DC-3A, was being flown by Bill Chamberlin. Everything went smoothly until departure from Mendoza, Argentina for the crossing of the Andes. The weather report was for good weather except for strong westerly winds.
Chamberlin took off first and radioed back there was some turbulence and severe downdrafts approaching the mountains. He advised that we climb as high as possible before attempting a crossing of the first ridge. We took off and climbed to at least 2,000’ above the minimum altitude and approached the ridge. Very shortly we lost all 2,000’ feet and then some. We circled back, climbed some more and tried it again with no better success. Having flown gliders and secondary sail planes, I suggested that we hold to the right hand edge of the valley where the wind would provide some dynamic lift. Tommy concurred and we eased over to the right where we encountered extreme turbulence and an upset. It was from this that I learned that until I had more experience while flying as a copilot, I’d keep my mouth shut.
I remember flying with Warren B. Smith (Regional Chief Pilot based in Santiago). After takeoff out of Santiago, he would open his side window about a quarter of an inch and let the roar of the wind fill the cockpit. He then would sit there reading his mail and feeding the envelopes and any other unwanted material slowly out through the slot letting the wind become his own personalized shredder.
I was a copilot for Herb Schultz going into Panama. The airport closed due to weather, an unusual occurrence for Panama and we had to deviate to Turbo, Colombia. Unfortunately, there were 17 training planes that were being ferried to Lima, Peru with their crews that had landed there prior to our arrival. Two Pan American DC-3’s were also there with their passenger loads resulting in a very crowded airport. When we arrived everyone ahead of us had eaten. (Eating facilities at Turbo were very limited.) We and our passengers had to wait until the station manager sent a dugout canoe to the mainland for staple goods and a live pig. We then waited for the pig to be slaughtered and cooked for our supper.
Most of the passengers slept in the airplane. The rest of us slept on the station floor or anywhere else we could find. The next morning, when we got ready to leave, the station manager showed me that the only edible item left to eat at the station was a half bottle of ketchup.
Bob Disher (Panagra’s Operation Manager) gave me my ATR (Airline Transport Rating) in a DC-2 on November 8, 1945. (This was the last transport rating given in a DC-2.) A few days later then Chief Pilot McCleskey called me into his office for a lecture on the Panagra Captain’s code of ethics. In it he stressed very strongly that all Panagra Captains were considered equal and gave us an example. “If you are flying as a second section and the lead plane finds the weather conditions such that he found it advisable to return or deviate to an alternate, the second section pilot should abide by his decision and do likewise.”
The following day I was assigned my first solo trip on a C-47 freighter from Lima to Balboa. Everything proceeded with no problems until we got to Cali, Colombia. Our departure from Cali was sandwiched between two DC-3A passenger flights, the first of which was flown by Captain McCleskey. We took off ten minutes after McCleskey had departed. McCleskey reported he was holding between eight and ten thousand feet looking a for an opening through the ridge. As he went by each of the passes, he radioed back that that pass was closed. To stay out of his way, we went on oxygen and climbed to 12,000 feet.
After a short time, we found an opening and it looked all clear on the other side of the ridge. We climbed up another 500 feet to make sure and could see all the way up the peninsula. We went through. Shortly after we got outside McCleskey radioed that all passes were closed and he was returning to Cali for an overnight. We were on the other side but couldn’t see a whole lot of sense in turning around to find the hole again so continued on to Panama. Naturally, I was a little anxious as to what McCleskey would say the next time I encountered him.
On arrival in Panama, I wrote a note to McCleskey explaining exactly what happened and why we had continued, gave it to the station manager for delivery to Mac when he arrived. I also asked for an early departure so we would be out of the way before McCleskey arrived to delay the encounter as long as possible.
I spent the next few days in Lima anxiously awaiting, and fearing, my call to McCleskey’s office. One never came. About a week later, I met Bob Disher in the administration building. He had my letter in his hand. He asked if I had written it and I had to own up that I had. His only response was, “Oh, hell, that’s the breaks of the game, forget it”.
On the last leg of a scheduled flight into Quito, we found all passes to the south into Quito closed. We proceeded further north and got in the Guaillabamba Pass under low clouds. Our approach to the airport was through a light drizzle. Upon approaching the ramp, we noticed that the DC-2 was also on the ramp and being readied for departure. When we got out of the airplane Russ Hoyt, the Station Manager, contacted me and said that we had an immediate departure to Ipiales at government request. We told him it was impractical to make the trip under the deteriorating weather conditions and furthermore, at 4 p.m., there wouldn’t be enough time to get up to Ipiales and back before sunset. He agreed and in that case said that the camioneta (station wagon) would pick us (captain, copilot and flight radio officer) up very early the next morning so we could depart at sunrise.
We were picked up on schedule and while eating breakfast at the airport, a well-dressed Ecuadorian gentleman came in and introduced himself as an agent for the President of Ecuador. He presented his documents, which were very official looking, gold seal and red ribbons, and said our instructions were to board the airplane at the ramp, make our inspections, and run up the engines and then taxi to the north end of the field where our passengers would be loaded.
We did as requested. At the north end of the field there was a semi-circle of soldiers in full battle regalia with rifles and fixed bayonets. In the center of the circle was a closed van. Two policemen opened the doors of the van and six very bedraggled, but well dressed, gentlemen exited. They were very scared and on seeing the soldiers probably thought it was a firing squad. The six were loaded into the airplane along with two of the soldiers, who had trouble with their rifles and bayonets in the small cabin of the DC-2.
The weather was good and we arrived in Ipiales with no problem. Only the station manager was at the airport as there were no scheduled flights at that hour. We told the manager what the problem was and that we had six passengers that he was supposed to hold. He said he was sorry but he had no indication of what was going on and as a result had no guards to keep the men in custody. To complicate matters, the Ecuadorian border was just off the south end of the runway. The manager asked if he could keep the two Ecuadorian soldiers as guards and as we had no objections, we left them there.
On our arrival back in Quito, the same official Ecuadorian gentleman approached me and said, “Now you will do the same procedure but this time you go to Talara, Peru”. Again the same semi-circle of soldiers and enclosed van but this time four gentlemen were boarded. On arrival in Talara, the proper authorities had been notified and they had facilities for holding the refugees. It seemed there had been an aborted revolution in Ecuador and these ten gentlemen were the leaders but due to their popularity the government was afraid to keep them in Ecuador.
On the flight back to Quito from Talara, the radio operator received a message instructing me to contact the tower in Guayaquil when in range. On doing so, O’Rourke, the station manager, said he had a message from the Chief Pilot in Lima. The message read that my family and I should be ready to depart Quito for the United States on the first flight, which happened to be the next morning. After a furious night of packing and sorting our belongings, we did make the flight the following morning which was the start of a very pleasant three month vacation in the United States. (Ed note: We cannot confirm this but it is thought that Panagra had Captain Schultz and his family leave Ecuador after this incident purely for the safety of the Schultz family even though what he had done was at the order of the Ecuadorian authorities.)
In Quito we had a problem. Some of the minor officials liked to show their importance by arriving in a cloud of dust just as the plane was about to leave the ramp. The plane would then have to be delayed long enough to complete their documentation and load them. As a result, the schedule for the whole day was jeopardized.
It finally got to the point that something had to be done. Colonel Flores Guerra, who was in charge of operations in Ecuador, and station manager Russ Hoyt got together and decided that ten minutes before scheduled departure the books would be closed and any arrivals after that time would not be loaded. That evening Russ told me of the new regulation and I had the first flight out the following morning. We left the ramp on schedule and got to the end of the field when the tower called saying that two passengers had just arrived and that if we would hold at the end of the field they would send them out in the camioneta (station wagon). I told them I was sorry but the new regulations said we would not carry any passengers arriving after the books were closed and we then took off.
When we arrived back in Quito, Russ Hoyt asked if I knew who we had left behind. I said, “No”. He told me it was the President’s son and his wife. A few days later on a morning flight from Quito to Guayaquil, I went back through the cabin after we had cleared the mountains to see how the passengers were doing. There in the middle of the cabin in a single seat was President Arosamena. He spoke excellent English and I knew him quite well from many other flights he had taken with Panagra. I tried to slide by but he pulled at my sleeve and I bent down to see what he had in mind. He said his son and daughter-in-law had been left behind a few days before and he wanted to know if I was the pilot of that plane. I had to admit I was. His only response was, “Thanks! They needed that”.
On one of my familiarization flights over the altiplano of Bolivia with Wayne Martin, on arrival in Santa Cruz, we were advised that Hank Berger was down in San Ignacio with a bad engine. We had to take the mechanic, Jan, from Santa Cruz to San Ignacio so the plane could be repaired. We arrived late in the afternoon and had to spend the night there with the other plane and its crew. There were no accommodations so hammocks were slung across posts in what would be the waiting room of the small station. It worked well for all of us except Hank Berger. He was too big and too heavy for the hammock which would sag down to the point where his hind end was on the floor. As a result he had to get up about every 30 minutes throughout the night to retie the hammock.
Whenever we would arrive in Concepcion, Bolivia we were always met by the missionaries, Hammon and Pencil, and their families. Their youngsters were always eager to receive the Chiclets we had. On one occasion, Pencil brought two savages, that they had managed to make contact with, out to see this “big bird” that they’d been shooting at with their bows and arrows. Fortunately Pencil stopped at the edge of the clearing and dressed the two Indians in pants and shirts. The two savages had their teeth filed and Pencil said that they were from a tribe that had been cannibalistic.
The chief had a beautiful headdress. The front was vertical, about 9 or 10 inches high, and covered with ocelot skin. The hat sloped towards the back from there and was covered with bright bird feathers. He also had a pigtail wrapped with a rope made from vines.
They looked the airplanes over thoroughly and Pencil took them inside to see what it looked like, which they apparently approved as they smiled a lot. When they got out, the chief took the rope from around his pigtail, laid it on the ground and measured the airplane, nose to tail, wing tip to wing tip. The missionary explained that this rope was the basis for measurement for the tribe and with this the chief would be able to go back and tell the other members of the clan just how big that “bird” was.
On a flight from Arica to Antofagasta, Chile in a DC-3 with a new copilot on his first passenger flight we counted Jack Mata from the Panagra sales department among the passengers. About mid-point on the trip, I had a call of nature and had to go to the head. Naturally it was at this point that the right engine began to backfire. I hurried to the cockpit as fast as decency would permit and found that the copilot had done an excellent job of shutting the engine down and feathering the propeller of the inoperative engine. There was nothing more for me to do except review the check list making sure everything was in order. Upon arrival in Antofagasta, Jack Mata asked me what this new procedure was that Panagra had inaugurated. It seems that after shutting down the engine, our fast thinking Argentine purser, in order to relieve the minds of the passengers, announced that this was a normal procedure used by Panagra to save fuel.
Overnights in Antofagasta, Chile were spent in the W. R. Grace guest house where all four crew members were bedded down in the same room. Three of the members stayed awake all night listening to Captain Warren B. Smith snore and wondering if he would, hoping and praying he would, take another breath.
On a flight from Campo Grande, Brazil to Santa Cruz, Bolivia in a DC-3 we had a plane load of soccer players. It was an early morning departure under beautiful weather conditions; no wind, clear sky and perfectly smooth air. We were about 45 minutes out when the purser came to the cockpit and asked me to come to the cabin as there was a sight I might enjoy seeing. What I saw was the entire soccer team trying to talk to each other while they had “sick sacks” covering their mouths. It seems someone had told them that the proper procedure when flying is to get air sick.
My wife Lee accompanied me on one of my “diagonal” trips (Lima to Buenos Aires via Bolivia and Salta, Argentina) so she could see Buenos Aires over the long layover there. We packed two suitcases, one small one with clothes for both of us during our overnight in Salta. The larger one had clothes for the Buenos Aires layover. Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, we had some minor mechanical problems with the aircraft and I stayed out on the ramp to talk to the mechanics. In the meantime, the passengers had cleared customs and the crew was inside and when I arrived it was evident the inspectors were looking for something. The flight radio operator and copilot had their suitcases completely unpacked and the inspector was even going through their dop kits. They took the purser into a side room and went so far as to strip search him. I expected that I would have to go through a similar procedure. However, when I opened my suitcase, on the top tray the first thing to be seen was Lee’s dress. The inspector looked at it, looked at me, winked, closed the suitcase and told me to get out.
With the advent of larger aircraft and the closing down of local services by Panagra augmented by the restrictions on cabin visits by the cockpit crew, stories of interest such as those above greatly diminished.
The following are true and unembellished.
When I was working in Limatambo as an apprentice Station Manager in the 50’s, flight 333 arrived from the north in the early morning hours of a typically cold and foggy Lima morning. I was at the foot of the ladder greeting the flight with one of the Station clerks, as was customary. The first passenger who deplaned after the hostess was an elderly lady who looked around and rubbing her hands said ” chilly here isn’t it”— to which the Station clerk standing beside me replied “No lady, this is Lima, Peru.
On another occasion, again working a morning shift, we were advised by RCLIM (who controlled the air space Lima south) that the southbound flight (which was scheduled via La Paz Bolivia (LPB) had been oversold by Panama and that because of weight restrictions we were going to have to offload intransit passengers. I picked a likely candidate (he was old and looked peaceful) and I approached him with the standard offer of paying for his hotel and meals and even sightseeing in Lima. He looked at me and said” Please accompany me to the aircraft so I can get my personal effects”
We boarded the plane and I was congratulating myself on my great powers of persuasion, when the passenger sat down in his seat and strapped himself in with his seat belt. I asked him what was going on and he replied: ” Young man, I suggest you bring in some of your mechanics with lots of screwdrivers and wrenches because the only way you are going to get me off this plane is by removing the seat and carrying me out”. Needless to say, some other poor soul got offloaded that day and this guy continued on his journey.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia was connecting from flight 701 to the La Paz bound DC-3. He was traveling with his family and a highly recommended VIP dog. We had received several VIP message from the north requesting an escort for the group and a special request that the dog be walked, fed and watered during the brief Lima connection. These connections were always hectic with all kinds of problems on the ground and we were always short of hands, so we asked one of the reliable CORPAC baggage handlers to handle this. We did not know it at the time but the dog got away from the CORPAC handler and took off across the tarmac and was never seen again. The CORPAC guy fearing for his job did the next best thing and picked up a stray mutt that was around, shoved him into the cage and sent him on his way to LPB. Let me tell you that when the flight got to LPB the ‘you know what’ really hit the fan. We had every big wig in New York and Miami all over us for days. The details eventually came out through CORPAC and their investigation of the incident. I will never forget the heat we felt as a result of this.
I was station manager in Limatambo in the late 50’s just before being transferred to Ezeiza. We had hired a new Apprentice Station Manager and he had been placed under me at Limatambo. His name was Tom Shannon, from Brooklyn or the Bronx, and he was a smart alec with a good sense of humor. I put him in the Air Cargo section to work with old man Bernansconi as part of this training. One day, Ted Pelikan (a Pan Am rep) called Air Cargo to inquire about a shipment and identified himself by saying “This is Ted Pelikan from PAN AM”. Tom took the call and answered “Yeah! Yeah! And this is Joe Penguin from Panagra. What can I do for you?”
Take care, enjoy the day, and join me tomorrow when we continue our series on Panagra.
September 17, 2021