Today is Part Two of seven in the series on Panagra. If you missed Part One Click HERE.
It was in 1929 that a small 200 horsepower Fairchild monoplane blazed the first sky-trail along the west coast of the continent, flying the 560 mile stretch between Lima and Talara with three passengers aboard and the pilot.
In May of the following year, Panagra introduced airmail to the western part of South America. With this beginning, Panagra quickly spread its wings. Bi-motored Sikorskys and tri-motored Fords were soon flying a 4,425 mile route from Balboa to Santiago and over to Buenos Aires. Communications equipment and auxiliary ground stations were introduced as quickly as science could make them available. High altitude flying gradually neared perfection.
In 1937, the inauguration of Panagra’s so-called “Diagonal” route, linking LaPaz and Buenos Aires directly, raised the airline’s total route mileage to 5,685. In 1940-41 Panagra’s “transcontinental” route to Corumba, Brazil (which later was extended to Campo Grande, Brazil) connecting Panair do Brazil’s flight from the east coast, brought this vast network to a total of 8,800 miles.
In 1936, Panagra and certain other airlines had underwritten the planning and production of the new DC-4. These planes, a number of which Panagra had on order even then, were used throughout WWII as military transports of troops and material, achieving an unparalleled record of service. In August 1946, almost a year to the day after victory over Japan, these giant DC-4s, new and greatly improved, were added to Panagra’s growing fleet.
Next came the DC-6s and, in May 1947, the first of five of this newest fleet made its maiden voyage down the west coast of South America. The DC-6 could carry 52 passengers and had a cruising speed of well over 300 miles and hour. Every time one of these big birds took to the air another record was smashed by Panagra, pushing her far in the lead of all other commercial airlines operating at the time.
The flight from Miami to Balboa, a distance of 1,166 miles, was made in 4 hours and 15 minutes; from Lima to Santiago, a distance of 1,530 miles, in 4 hours and 31 minutes; from Santiago to Buenos Aires, a distance of 755 miles, in 2 hours and 9 minutes and a total of 7,344 miles from Santa Monica, California, to Miami, to Balboa, to Guayaquil, to Lima, to Santiago and finally to Buenos Aires, in only 23 hours and 20 minutes.
On Friday, July 18, 1947, Panagra’s first scheduled inaugural flight of the new DC-6 service completed the 5,078 mile run from Miami to Buenos Aires in 18 hours and 10 minutes flying time (20 hours and 25 minutes elapsed time) and delivered the Miami Herald newspaper to Lima and Buenos Aires the same day it was published, constituting what, at that time, was believed to be the fastest and farthest newspaper delivery in history. More than 500 copies of the specially prepared edition of the Miami Herald rolled off the presses in Miami less than an hour before flight time. They were delivered in Balboa 4 1/2 hours later; in Lima 11 hours later; in Santiago 17 hours later and in Buenos Aires 20 hours later.
Mr. Harold Roig, President of Panagra, was on board with his wife and daughter and recalled that the first passenger and mail service by Panagra and Pan American between Miami and Buenos Aires, in October 1929, took nine days!
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, many of the those pilots became ATC (Air Transport Command Officers).
Bob Disher, then Operations Manager for Panagra 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, from Toledo, Ohio was 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 flight from Miami to Panama on Pan Am was punctuated by a stop in Kingston, Jamaica. As we debarked the plane, we were met by two Jamaican waiters bearing the coolest, best tasting rum punches I ever had. Strange what one remembers!
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 downtown 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 four days or so in Panama, there was space available for me on a Panagra DC-3 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, my education had been enhanced. For one thing, I became a “Short-Snorter” 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 co-piloted.
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.
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.
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. We rented a small home on the Malecon in Miraflores, a suburb about 7 miles southeast of downtown Lima. A Panagra flight radio operator, George Porter, joined in this venture. The three of us hired a Peruvian woman to serve as housekeeper, cook and keeper of the keys.
The house we rented was furnished but this did not include a refrigerator, which was known but not generally provided in rental homes. This meant that the maid had to go shopping every day for the groceries we needed. As was the custom, however, she bought just enough of the non perishables (salt, pepper, sugar, etc.) each day also.
In the meantime, we were being indoctrinated into the Lima lifestyle and attended groundschool at the airline’s headquarters at Limatambo – Lima’s airport for commercial operations. 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 was the first U.S. World War I Ace.)
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 DC-2’s and about 10 DC-3’s and 3-A’s plus a Wasp Jr. powered gull winged Stinson Reliant (used as an instrument trainer) and a Fairchild F1 once used by Panagra in commercial operations (a time builder for those copilots who needed same).
Maintenance ground school was conducted by Señior 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 G-103-A engine could and could not do, extolled the virtues of the Pratt & Whitney S1C3G’s that powered the newer of the DC-3s that Panagra operated.
While all of us hired as co-pilots 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 let-down 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 let-ups 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 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 B-24s, 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 DC-2s were used in great part as training aircraft. An ATR and type rating obtained in a DC-2 was also valid in a DC-3. The predecessor of the DC-3, our DC-2s were set up to carry 14 passengers. There were many improvements in the DC-3 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 DC-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 summers day, the check pilot and our reserve captain trainee climbed aboard the DC-2 parked on the pad in front of the terminal. There must have been a least a dozen co-pilot 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, 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 had 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, 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 DC-2, some in Stinson and the balance in a DC-3A. My first scheduled passenger flight was with Captain “Fearless” Freddie Long from Arequipa, Peru to Santiago, Chile as a Class “C” Co-pilot.
So what’s a Class “C” Co-pilot? 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” Co-pilot made no take-offs 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 San Ignacio, Concepcion and Robore. It also gave me an insight at what a DC-3A could do at altitude – both enroute and at airports. La Paz, Bolivia, 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 alti plano (the high relatively flatlands 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 DC-3A 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 1,000 crossings of the Andes. He was awarded a military order 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 co-pilot was to measure the fuel load before departure and to check the remaining fuel on arrival. The DC-3 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 Santiago-BA 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 that I picked up in BA for my Buick”. Automobile gas in Santiago was at a premium in these times where Argentina apparently had more at a lesser price.
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’.
Co-pilots 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” Co-pilot. Or was it when we soloed or got a type rating in the equipment?
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 co-pilot 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 co-pilot 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 Thaddeus 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.
One of the reasons that I was posted to Ecuador was to replace Co-pilot Bob Turbyne. Bob and I had been friends in Waterville, Maine. He was a Colby graduate, which I was attending while taking flight training, and was a fellow Lambda Chi. Bob also qualified for the CPT program and after completing Primary and Secondary training, joined the Army Air Force as cadet. On receiving his commission, he was released to Panagra as a pilot.
On one of my familiarization flights before being posted to the Quito base, I had visited with Bob and had met his bride-to-be, Bolivia Cardenas. By the time that I got to Quito, Bob and his bride had left for Lima. In January of the following year, 1943, the news got out that a Panagra flight from Arequipa, Peru to Lima was missing. The news included the fact that Bob Turbyne was the co-pilot. After several days of searching, the downed airplane was located on the slope of a mountain about 11,500′ above sea level about 180 miles south of Lima. When the ground search team arrived at the site, the only survivor was “His Majesty’s Messenger” (a British courier), and he was not conscious.
I can in no way vouch for the following but I heard……His Majesty’s Messenger, the only survivor of the accident mentioned above was said to have been a passenger on a British Airways Comet Jet which exploded in mid-air over India, many years later.
The flying in Ecuador was quite fun and a challenge. Guayaquil, Manta, Esmeraldas and Salinas were sea level airports. I don’t remember Loja’s elevation but it was a few thousand feet above sea level and Cuenca was about eight thousand feet. Loja’s airport was built on the side of a hill. It was about 3,500 feet long and about 200′ higher on the east end than the west. To approach it, you flew up a river valley and when the runway came in sight, cut the power and landed. Land to the east, takeoff to the west, due to the slope.
Esmeraldas airport was built on the north side of the river. An overnight there entailed crossing the river in a canoe-like boat and bedding down in hammocks at the Grace compound. Esmeraldas provided some of the best langostinos and fish imaginable.
Fueling in these way stations was done with a hand pump out of 55 gallon steel drums and straining the fuel through a chamois cloth as a precaution against unwanted materials in the gas tank. It seemed to work, for as far as I know there never was a problem of gas contamination in the ten years that I flew out of these primative airstrips.
Manta was a coastal airport also, with a dike several feet high on its western extremity. Winds off the ocean over that dike could make things interesting. The following incident occurred a couple of years after the time frame we are in at the moment.
In 1945 when I was flying as Captain 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 proceeding down wind when he 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. 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 on-board 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 Ecuadorean flatlands 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 non-scheduled Panagra freighter had overnighted in Guayaquil and was in fact at or near our position at approximately the same altitude (we had started our let-down 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 he was extremely unhappy with his lack of performance. 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.
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. Until I got married in November of 1943, I lived on Los Naranjos in San Isidro, a suburb of Lima, with Rich, Jack McPherson and Glenn Carrol. We each had our own bedroom, a housekeeper/cook, a gardener, a houseboy, who waxed and cleaned the floors once a week, and a laundress. Berta, our cook, had a daughter who lived with her in their quarters which were built over the garage in our back yard. At that time I was making $225/month, no income taxes and my total outlay for room and board was less than $100/month.
Glenn and Jack (Jock) were, like my friend Bob Turbyne, graduates of Army Air Corps training released to Panagra. When I first knew them, they were in training for upgrade to Captain. Panagra had quite a few Air Corps graduates working for them in addition to other army and navy pilots who were in place before. Hillard Hicks, Chuck Curl, John Biller, Jack Healy, and Don McArthur all made it through the Panagra routine to PIC.
Shortly after my return to Lima from my co-pilot duties in Ecuador, I was introduced to Marie Seminary. She was from Chicago and was working in Lima as a bi-lingual secretary for a U.S. government sponsored entity. After overcoming some reluctance on her part, we developed a rapport that ended in our wedding November 20, 1943. Our wedding took place in the only non-Catholic church in Lima and was conducted in both English and Spanish as many of the attendees were Peruvian who worked with Marie in the Institute of Interamerican Affairs. Prior to the day of our wedding, we had located a fully furnished (including a piano, silverware, linens, etc.) villa in Miraflores. Knowing full well that ex roommates might have some mischief in mind, we told no one of its location until we had moved in.
Most of the time things were pretty much routine. There were unscheduled overnights in places like Guayaquil (Hotel Metropolitano owned and operated by Mr. Aboab, according to hearsay at one time a sailor in the British Navy), Chiclayo, Peru; Arequipa, Peru (in the Quinta Bates); Arica, Chile in a hotel built for General Pershing and entourage who was there to mediate a territorial dispute between Chile and Peru in the 1920’s; in Antofagasta, Chile in the Grace & Company guest house.
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 defined 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 Ricards 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.
While at Jaque, we were hosted by the Air Corps personnel including a trip down the coast in the air/sea rescue boat. During a bit of fishing, one of the pilots hooked about a ten foot shark. An attempt to dispatch same with a .45 was unsuccessful – the bullets seemed to bounce right off his skull.
The balance of the year 1944 was a busy one. In February I was co-pilot on a survey flight captained by Bob Disher and Floyd Nelson for almost 3 weeks. We flew P-49 (NC 30091) into most every regular and alternate airport south of Lima. On board were company officials as well as a representation from the CAA. The purpose of the trip was to check out alternates, radio facilities, etc. I saw airports on this trip that I never saw again.
Between flying regular schedules as co-pilot, 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 Ecuadorean circuit as PIC. My first passenger flight as PIC was on February 15, 1945 northbound to Panama from Lima.
In March 1945 I was posted to Quito where I flew until December of that year. I was due, and took, a 3 month vacation stateside for the months of July, August and September, my first visit home in 3 years. It gave us a chance to show off Paula to her grandparents in Chicago and Maine and Marie and I an opportunity to meet our in-laws for the first time. The vacation over, it was decided that Marie would stay on in Maine for a few more months. I was scheduled to return to Lima for a flight refresher and then back to Quito to finish my duties there. I left Quito for Lima about the end of November where I had a few weeks off after having had some surgery.
While in Quito, we had rented our small furnished residence in Lima to an U.S. Embassy legal attache by name of Wiley. As was the case with embassy people, he had shipped an automobile to Lima from the U.S. When he rented our place, he told us he was only going to be assigned to Lima for a short time. I had admired his auto and asked if he would give me first refusal when he left Lima. He did and that is how we became owners of a maroon 1939 Buick Special Convertible with white sidewall tires (the car and tires had 50 thousand plus miles on it when we bought it for $1,500). When we left Lima in May of 1947 to return to the states (forever, we thought at that time) I sold the car to Val LaPierre, who was head of Panagra’s communications department, for $3,000. When we did return to Lima in 1951, Val was still driving the old Buick. After our return to Lima from Ecuador, we moved into a different home on Los Naranjos 392, right next door to the house in which I had lived with Rich before getting married.
During the first half of 1946, most of my flying was between Lima and Santiago, Chile with an occasional trip to Panama. I was making $800 a month which seemed like a lot.
In August of 1946 I was made a check pilot. One of the prime reasons was that I was qualified on the Ecuadorean circuit and Panagra was in the process of checking several new PIC’s in Ecuador. In this capacity I checked out Junior Denham, Charles Schultz and Bill DuBois. After the Quito checking, I did some route checking out of Lima, north and south, and conducted an occasional 6 month flight check. This was worth an additional $25 a month.
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 DC-3. 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.
While clearing customs, Mr. Gardner invited me and Marie to have cocktails with them at the Hotel Bolivar that afternoon. Marie was still nursing Paula and she felt she could not get away for an extended period of time such as he was suggesting. Mr. Gardner called Marie on the phone and said “Let the maid give the baby a bottle!” She did, we did and had an interesting evening listening to a superb story teller.
Mr. Gardner had just finished covering the Sir Harry Oakes murder trial in the Bahamas for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. He described in detail his observations including acting out the performances of the wigged barristers and presiding judge. All the while sipping on creme de menthe.
Earlier I mentioned the fact that we carried radio operators on all passenger flights. One of these was James “Zip” Zellon. 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.
During the spring of 1947, we decided that I would resign from Panagra and return to the U.S. I had a year of college to complete for my degree and I entertained some notions of going into a business of my own. All of this was accomplished with varying degrees of success and I ended up working a ‘jack of all trades’ at a 250 watt radio station (WTVL) and getting my degree. Great fun reading the news, disk jockeying, local color and commercial reader for sports events, etc., etc.
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 might 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.
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 DC-3 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 DC-3s 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 DC-4s 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. We used this apartment for a month or two until we obtained our own living quarters and I went back to flying DC- 3’s to all of the places I had visited before.
Take care, enjoy the day, and join me next week when we continue our series on Panagra.
August 20, 2021