Just Fly'er Like A Cub

Posted 03/26/04

By Dent Brome

Memory of a fledgling pilot’s first flight at TWA.

First off, it would not have occurred without my being hired. Which is a story in itself -- short, typical, I'm sure, and some may find it amusing.

In early December of 1946, myself and various and sundry other aspirants of the airline profession were assembled at the TWA Hangar at LaGuardia Field. We had been "Sta-Nined" to death, taken and passed our physicals, which left nothing but an interview with one Captain Harry Campbell between us and the payroll.

Mine went something like this as I recall -- I entered the office, shook hands, was offered a seat facing an awesome figure who said, "Captain Campbell, glad to know ya". He then queried about my military and civilian flight experience with no indication of its making any impression at all. At which point he allowed that "I gotta ask ya a question!" Then he came up with the "64 dollar" question … "What's the worst thing can happen to a pilot while flying an airplane?" I hesitated very little and replied, "Damn thing catches on fire!!!" Whereupon, smiling, he rose out of his chair, extended his hand and said, "You're hired! Can you be in Kansas City on next Monday?" I vigorously shook his hand and said, "Sure as h---!" Thus started 33 years of more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

The first flight was in 1947, one lovely evening in January. The locale was Kansas City Municipal Airport (the one downtown). The occasion arose that about ten newly-hired copilots had to be "qualified" by achieving three landings in a Constellation before going out on the line. The regulations were further designated that three must be at night. So for pure economical reasons, the three were given at night in order to avoid having to give six -- three in daylight and three more in the dark.

This gave rise to my first meeting with one Captain Bush Voights -- a notoriously courageous Check Pilot at the time. We met him at the ramp after supper and either drew lots or went by "Seniority." I really don't recall who went first. I had the "Luck" to draw No.1 so I got to do all the starting engines and taxiing out. Back in those days, when the right side of the airplane went the same place as the left, and the fellow doing the flying sat in the LEFT seat. I strapped myself in and while all the "startin' up" and all that stuff was goin' on, Bush asked "Have ya ever flown any multi- engine before?" I allowed as I had some Twin Beech and Grumman Tiger Cat time. This appeared to impress him not at all (and rightly so, as I look back on it).

Whereupon he inquired, "Got any Cub time or planes like that?" This I had, and he gave a rundown on we were going to takeoff and land this HUGE FOUR-ENGINE MACHINE. First he declared,

"We're in one of them 049s, there's no nose-wheel steering, so make her turn using the outboard engines. If that don't work ease in a little brake, but not too much as we'll wear them out, and you'll do just fine."

He was sitting over there apparently not worried about the aircraft at all! Then he went on to outline how we were going to accomplish the circuit of the pattern and the landing of this monster. "Don't bother about retractin' the gear it'll just wear it out. We'll keep Take-off Flaps on all the time 'til we're on base, or so, then I'll give you landin' flaps. Just trim her out nice and make believe those four throttles are all in one piece. Then fly her like a Cub and you won't have a bit of trouble."

We had to leap-frog the river to gain access to Fairfax Airport, across the river, in Kansas where it wasn't so busy. We managed it somehow, and accomplished three "arrivals." The "Connie" didn't tend to bounce as much as a Cub. Two of them were touch-and-go, with the flaps being brought up to take-off as the power was applied again after the landing, as he had described. On the third we rolled on out and I swapped seats with the next "victim." We did three of these routines a couple days later in the DC-4, with another courageous instructor, and that completed our "training" as copilots at the time. The remainder of our time was getting out on the line with the men we flew with.

What can you say about these men? We learned to be pilots from them and how to be Captains -- also how NOT to be Captains! I often wondered if there is any one left around today who could say to a total stranger, on some pitch black evening in the front end of a Boeing 747 without so much as a smidgen of simulator time … "Just make believe the four knobs are one and "Fly 'er like a Cub?"

Those were the "Good ol' Days."

Denton Brome (1947-1980) served in Flight Operations based at EWR. He flew west September 11, 2002.

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