May I See Your Papers, Please

Posted 03/03/04

By Keith Horton


On Jan. 30, 1966, one of TWA's 707s went off the end of the runway at Frankfurt, Germany, and suffered structural damage requiring repair before the airplane could be ferried back to Kansas City for additional work. Before the day was over, TWA’s ace aircraft structures engineer Lloyd Mielke and I were on our way to Frankfurt. As it turned out, just getting there wasn’t easy and some interesting incidents were generated during the trip.

At that time, all our passports were held in TWA’s office in Washington, DC, so they could easily be kept up-to-date with all the visas necessary to quickly gain entrance into any country where TWA airplanes flew over, or where they landed. Since both of us were on an "emergency" travel list, our passports were kept there. The practice was that if we needed to make a trip overseas, we would normally be taking a flight from Kansas City to New York and then on to our destination, so our passports could readily be flown from Washington to New York in time for pickup there. That plan didn't work this time, however, because the weather was so bad on the east coast that there were no flights going from Washington to New York, nor were there any from Kansas City to New York. The alternate plan was to go to Chicago and grab a flight to London, with the hope that the passports would catch up to us there before proceeding on to Frankfurt.

So up to Chicago we went and when we got on the plane to London there were only four passengers in the first class section -- we two engineers and two Hollywood super stars --Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. We didn't have any conversation with Ms. Taylor at all, as she slept nearly the entire flight, but Richard Burton talked to us a bit. After we landed at London, I noticed that Ms. Taylor went into the lavatory and didn't come out for quite a while.

In the meantime, as we went down the passenger stairs I noticed several dignitaries and cameramen obviously waiting for her, and when she finally made her appearance at the doorway, all aglow with fresh makeup, she really looked like a million dollars.

Checking for our passports we found they had not arrived. To make matters worse, our flight to Frankfurt was canceled because of fog at the Frankfurt airport, and we were now going to have to stay overnight in London with no passports. TWA staff at London arranged for us to stay at a nearby hotel, but there was still the not insignificant problem of getting through customs without passports. Our people let us out through a normally locked door, from where we could walk over to the hotel, and told us that someone would be there at that door at a certain time the next morning to let us back in. However, when we showed up at that door the next morning, there was no one there, which caused considerable consternation for fifteen or twenty minutes until someone finally arrived to let us in.

We had to proceed on to Frankfurt -- still without passports -- and it took an awful lot of talking by the TWA people there (all in German so I couldn't understand it) before we were issued some special entrance papers. We stayed at the Frankfurterhof, a big, grand hotel of the old days, and it was a wonderful place to stay with great food served in the dining room.

I recall that there was a huge bathtub in my room with chrome-plated pipes above the back of it. They were steam heated and the bath towels were hung on them so they would be nice and warm when used. Looking out of the window I could see that there were still a lot of bombed out buildings nearby, even twenty years since World War II.

Having arrived earlier from Paris, Stan Moore and Stu "Chappie" Chapman, head of maintenance for the International Region, were there and worked with Lloyd to detail instructions for a repair of the damage to the upper crown of the stricken aircraft’s fuselage. The plane, however, would have to be flown un-pressurized all the way home over the Atlantic. This caused a problem, as it would have to fly at an altitude of at least 25,000 feet since jets don't have very good range when flown at lower altitudes.

The flight crew would need oxygen for the entire flight, so with instructions from Engineering at MCI, a plan was worked out to install several large oxygen bottles in the cargo compartment with some temporary piping up to the cockpit. I recall we received very specific instructions from Jules Duval in Engineering about assuring that the tubing was carefully cleaned and rinsed with alcohol before being installed.

Talking to the ferry flight crew later I found that their trip was uneventful, except that having to wear oxygen masks the entire time proved to be very uncomfortable. Once safely in the hands of our highly skilled people at the Overhaul Base, permanent repairs were made and the airplane was returned to service a short time later.

We never saw our passports on that trip. I suppose they must have stayed in Washington, since my passport was there the next time I needed it.

Keith Horton (1941-1983) served in Maintenance/Tech Services – Engineering and Field Maintenance, Kansas City.

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