"Da Plane, Boss, Da Plane!"

Posted 03/26/04

By Rodger Morphett

Between 1955 and 1957, I worked for Jim O'Malley in International Crew Scheduling (KIDLSKD), first as a Call Clerk and later as a Lead Scheduler. On one midnight shift as Lead Scheduler, I remember an unidentified tall chap walking past the sliding windows of my office toward the Dispatcher's Office. 

The usual quiet of the small hours then was broken by several noisy minutes of chairs moving, drawers opening and closing, and a general bustle of activity before he left without speaking to anyone. A minute later the Dispatcher on duty, Fred Lather, came over to my office to say that Howard Hughes had just stopped by.

In ‘57, when we were taking delivery of the 1649As -- the first new airplane to operate fully international rather than just coast-to-coast non-stops -- we were in dire need of a plane for transition (pilot qualification) training. Hughes had picked up a 1649A in Burbank and had flown it to Montreal, where he parked it, had electric and phone lines attached, and for several weeks lived in it. 

We blocked space on every Air Canada flight from New York to Montreal for a crew to quickly bring the plane to New York whenever Hughes might finish his undisclosed mission. We later learned he had just abandoned the plane and left town without notifying anyone. We quickly got a crew up to Montreal and the plane was ferried to New York to begin crew training.

Hughes was a "funny guy" -- funny "ha-ha" or funny "strange," but back then none of us was laughing as we tried to make sense of his odd behavior while struggling to keep TWA’s operations on track!

Rodger Morphett served in Crew Scheduling and Flight Dispatch at IDL/JFK.

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