A Sightseeing Charter Flight

Posted 04/21/04

By Emil Schoonejans

(Or how to get out of the office without even trying!)

TWA’s Sales Department sold a round-trip charter flight to a group of foreign nationals to highlight their day off on October 2, 1964. The jobs these folks had were to staff their respective countries’ exhibits at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. They looked forward to seeing Niagara Falls, one of the most beautiful natural regions in the world.

The 1649A Constellation was crewed by Captain Bill Hoveland who had just qualified on the aircraft, and First Officer Bryan Lake (who if I remember correctly) was inversed by crew schedule because there were no other Co-Pilots available. There was not one 1649A currently qualified line Flight Engineer available, so crew schedule called me out from behind my desk.

The weather was perfect for sightseeing. This gave us a spectacular en route view of the varying degrees of autumn foliage, which by itself made the flight very rewarding. We saw Niagara Falls from the air, and again when on the ground and up close -- very close. Everyone was warned not to lean on the safety railings. We intended to return to New York with the same passenger count with which we departed. By sunset we had come to the end of a perfect day … that is until we got back to the airplane.

When attempting to start the #3 engine, nothing happened. The starter failed to crank the engine. There was no TWA maintenance on the field and no contract maintenance available either. Bill said he would handle the passengers and told Bryan and I to see what we could do. I got out my tool kit, took down the engine firewall, checked for electrical power to the starter motor, and found power to be normal which meant we had a starter change requirement before we could go anywhere. There was an Air National Guard presence on the field, and with their permission Bryan and I checked the parts departments in their hangars but to no avail. No compatible starters were located. Our luck had to change -- and it DID!

A Saturn Airways flight landed for fuel. The aircraft was a DC-7, which was good news to me because its engines were identical to ours. The really good news, of which I was almost certain, was that they carried spare parts. Bryan and I introduced us to the Saturn flight crew at the flight operations office and by way of confirming our hopes, I asked their F/E if they did in fact carried spare parts. Happy with the affirmative answer, I asked if we could borrow a starter. Saturn’s Captain agreed, but with fingers crossed and one caveat, that being if they had more than one on board.

Together with my new "best friend," Saturn Airways’ F/E Carlos Telez, we climbed into the belly of the DC-7 and opened their parts kit. Much to my consternation, their starter looked quite different from ours but I was certain its mounting flange would mate with our engine’s mounting pad. They got their fuel and departed, we had our starter, and Bryan and I got to the job at hand.

Meanwhile, and it seemed as if by magic, Bill had arranged for food to be delivered to the airplane and for housing later at a local motel. While the passengers were eating, he faced a bigger problem of how to communicate the fact that they will be spending the night … locally.

Of the seven diverse groups of people, only one or two individuals per group spoke English and there was no common language between the various groups. Everything Bill said to our passengers had to be translated within each group by its leader. He did somehow get across to them, that after eating they would be going to the motel while the airplane would be repaired. For them of course, this raised the serious dilemma of not getting back to New York on time to open their World’s Fair exhibits. Bryan and I completed the starter change, did an operational check and got some sleep in the passenger cabin.

Bright and early the next day, we got the very happy holiday-ers back to their jobs on time.

Before going back to my desk upstairs, I went directly to our maintenance foreman on duty to request Saturn’s property be removed from our plane, and its return to Saturn Airways guaranteed and expedited with a special thank you to their crew. This was accomplished before lunchtime.

Emil Schoonejans (1949-1985) Maintenance and Flight Operations, New York.

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