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By Lou Washington

Lou Jesse HallThis past week the Boeing 707 reached its 60th birthday. The 707 was not the first pure jet passenger transport in the air. But, it was such a huge commercial success that it attained a kind of iconic status among the flying public.

For many of us, the 707 would be the first jet aircraft we would fly. It was a ground breaking airplane. Boeing had not spent much time building or designing passenger transport aircraft after the war. The military kept them busy developing the B-47 and B-52 long range strategic bombers. Both of these aircraft featured technology and design elements incorporated in the non-military 707.

During my young life, I had occasion to fly now and then. Prior to the 707, I had flown in DC-3s, DC-7s and perhaps a Convair of some sort, but the model number was not of any significance to me at the time.

Air travel in these larger prop powered aircraft was pleasant enough. Yes, they were loud and there was a lot more vibration then you typically feel in a modern jet. But the big deal about the 707 was the speed. The 707 cruised at a rate in the neighborhood of 600 mph. That my friend, was very fast to most of the flying public.

By comparison, a Connie or a DC-7 cruised around 350 mph. A little better than half the speed of the four engine 707.

The effect of this was to shrink the world by about half. What used to be a ten hour cross country flight meant you could now fly five hours west in the morning, conduct your business in the afternoon and 707 st louistake the red-eye back east in time for work the next day. Flying the same route in a prop job, would require a day out, a day onsite and a day back.For business and sales folks, this was huge.

I remember vividly my first flight in a jet and it was, of course a Boeing 707. I was about 13 years old and I was lucky enough to be included on a class trip to Washington DC and New York City. I was just thrilled.

Standing on the tarmac at St Louis Lambert Field, The huge TWA 707 seemed to stretch out across my entire field of view. Flying was markedly different in those days. Upon entering the airplane the flight attendant took us to our seats. Once I was buckled in, I inspected the content of the seat pocket in front of me. In addition to the magazine and emergency procedure card, each passenger was provided with a 5 pack of Winston cigarettes! Of course, I was too young to partake.

My memories of the flight are vague, but I do remember that there was a pronounced feeling of acceleration that lasted somewhat longer than the acceleration phase in a prop. The other big difference was altitude. The 707 flew miles above the Earth, while the prop transports had a considerably lower operational ceiling.

This made most of the ground features all but invisible in the jet. But the ride was was sublime! Flying in the 707 after riding in a big prop transport was like riding in a Lincoln Towncar after spending days riding in a poorly maintained buckboard pulled by an ornery mule.

I have included a couple oScan 11f snapshots from my first jet voyage. I always enjoyed flying the 707 during my road warrior days in the ’80s. It was not my favorite, but part of the reason for that was it became increasingly rare as the ’80s moved on toward the nineties.

Boeing built the last 707 in 1979. A 21 year production run for a commercial airplane was phenomenal in those days. After starting production in 1958, Boeing turned out about 1,000 of the four engine 707s. According to Wikipedia, there were ten 707s still in commercial service as of 2013.

The plane figured prominently in the book and original “Airport” movie. If you have a chance to watch the original “Airport” (Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy) you will get an idea of just how fond people were of the 707.

The 707 also stared in an episode of The Twilight Zone. The speed of the aircraft inspired the author to write about a 707 that inadvertently traveled in time. Upon arrival at Idelwild (now known as New York JFK) on Long Island, they find a jungle full of dinosaurs rather than a nice modern airport.

The big Boeing was featured in popular music of the time as well. Gordon Lightfoot’s song, Early Morning Rain, uses the 707 as an image of escape from the cruel realities of life, “stuck here on the ground”  His lyrics tell us of the “big 707 set to go”.    He completes this image with, “Hear the mighty engines roar, see the silver bird on high, she’s away and westward bound, far above the clouds she’ll fly.”

The 707 was quite a show off in real life too. During a meeting of airline executives in Seattle, Boeing arranged to have their demo 707 do a fly by for the executive’s benefit. The test pilot at the controls, put the plane in a full roll during the fly by.

The You Tube link is well worth the time not only to watch the big plane perform this, but to hear the pilot’s son describe the event is very cool.

Boeing 707 Barrel Roll

So, here’s to Boeing! Here’s to the 707! What a great airplane!

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

A couple of months ago I wrote a piece on the importance of words in the context of delivering a message. The main thrust of the piece was my dislike of certain code words that are meant to dress up a negative message and portray it as a positive event. Marketing and public relations folks are likely the most frequent abusers of this strategy. I was talking about words like “right-sizing” or “right-sourcing”.

The fact is people, consumers or customers or employees, see through this activity and know they are being scammed. There are almost inevitably two reactions.

1)      People feel insulted that the message bearer would think they are stupid enough to believe the message.

2)      People get mad because they know they are going to pay a very dear price for whatever adventure the company is about to embark upon.

This type of intentional deception is not limited to words. Companies also practice deceptive behavior. As marketing professionals, we must not allow ourselves to be co-opted into these schemes.

A friend of mine sent me an article today related to an accident involving Thai Airlines.  As airline accidents go, this was not a disaster. A few folks were injured, there were no fatalities. The airplane skidded off the runway. There were fourteen injuries. One of the landing gear collapsed during the event.

Sometime, shortly after the accident, someone was dispatched to black out or paint over, the airline logo and name displayed on the vertical stabilizer at the aft end of the airframe. You really have to wonder what marketing genius green lighted this strategy. I guess the site of the hobbled aircraft, with emergency slides deployed, was just too much for the image consultants to bear.

Even though the color scheme on the airframe identifies the airline just as effectively as the logo or the name painted on the tail, someone decided that blacking out the name would surely fool some of the people!

My first thought is these guys care far more about damage control then damage prevention or investigation. That is not a confidence inspiring realization. That would affect my selection of one carrier over another much more than the fact that the carrier had had a recent accident.

I’m far more interested in how a company reacts to a crisis then knowing if they have experienced a crisis. There are very few airlines flying today that can claim an accident free history.

An airline that reacts quickly to help the customers involved in the accident, to learn what caused the accident and to take steps to avoid a repeat of the accident is far more inspiring than one that seeks to hide the fact that an accident even occurred.

When I’m flying along at 90% of the speed of sound, through a -70⁰ vacuum, stuffed into a metal tube along with several hundred other folks and a couple of thousand gallons of high-grade kerosene, I want to know that the folks upfront driving the plane and their bosses back home, value honesty over deception.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

We took in the movie “Jobs” this afternoon, the bio of Apple founder and industry visionary Steve Jobs. Despite the crummy reviews and relatively low-level of hype surrounding the movie, Barb and I decided that it beat the uninspired collection of cinematic dross playing on the other 15 screens.

Before I get into a review of the movie, let me just say I never knew Steve Jobs personally nor have I read any of the biographies about him. I will say that Barb and I lived for a couple of years in Cupertino and we both worked in Palo Alto so I had some early experience with Apple as a company.

We lived and worked in the Valley during the mid to late ’80s. I had occasion to know some folks who worked for Apple during those years and I was indeed struck by the passion they felt for the company and its products. They were almost religious in their devotion.

During those years it was not uncommon the have people working beside you that were just putting some bread in the fridge while they looked for a real job. The company I worked for had numerous refugees from Atari who had recently laid off a huge number of folks. It wasn’t unusual to have several HP folks show up, maybe some IBMers or Sun employees hitting your HR office as a group following a round of downsizing or reorganization or de-funding of some project or another.

I don’t ever remember working with someone who used to work for Apple. I don’t know if they didn’t have lay offs or if people just stop working after leaving Apple.

The movie does not paint Steve Jobs as a very likable fellow. I can’t really venture an opinion about Jobs in terms of his personal warmth or fuzziness rating. It does give him passion, creativity, vision and drive. I have to assume he possessed these traits because they would be necessary to accomplish what he did.

For me, the best aspect of this movie was the realistic portrayal of the ongoing tension that exists between Finance, Marketing and Engineering. In that regard, I think this movie did a superb job of showing just exactly how difficult it is to convert a dream into a product concept and then turn that concept into a market changing (I will not use the word disruptive) product and then selling that product as a profitable business.

During my career, I have had the privilege of working in marketing with some very smart folks, I’ve also worked with some superb financial guys and I would have to say the engineers I’ve been around were some of the best in the business. Getting these three elements in sync and making a buck at the same time is supremely difficult.

So, in that regard, if Steve Jobs lost his temper, lashed out at someone or fired people, I’d have to say so what? Those things happen all the time. Business requires us to occasionally be overt, curt and a bit dispassionate.

During the movie, Jobs mentions the concept of making the PC work like an appliance. He talks about removing it from the box, plugging it in and then, “it just works” was how he put it. That kind of simplicity is almost always impossible to attain.  Almost anything you buy requires tweaking, set up or at least a protracted amount of time reading a manual.

About three years ago, I decided to do something radical. My home PC died. We took it down into the basement where we have a family crypt for our deceased PCs. After placing my PC in its niche of eternal rest, I headed out to Best Buy to replace it.

For some reason or another, I decided that this time I was going to go with a Mac. I picked out the model I wanted and waited for the stock person to bring all the boxes and stuff up to the cash register for me.

They rang up my purchase and then handed me a single brief case sized box with a suitcase type handle. I laughed and told them that I had purchased a desk top machine, not a laptop. They assured me that my entire Mac was indeed in the box.

Once I was home, I opened the box and found the monitor and integrated CPU, the keyboard, a mouse, the stand and a power cord. There was also one very slender, very small booklet.

I put the monitor on the stand and plugged the thing in. A message popped up telling me that a wi-fi signal was detected and it asked if I wanted to connect. I tried the mouse and clicked on the “yes” icon. That was it. My Mac was up and running.

No cables, no manuals, no software loads, no CD-ROM, no download this or that, no learning curve. Nothing. It just worked.

So, thank you Mr. Jobs for understanding the beauty of simplicity but also understanding that the best simplicity allows us to exploit astounding complexity.

Go see the movie.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Growing up in a small city which sat astride two US Highways and a transcontinental Interstate you can imagine that automobiles were a big part of daily life. We had no need to pile buildings on top of one another because land was cheap. That meant everything was going to be on the first floor including the acres of asphalt required for parking.

Because of our horizontal approach to city planning, things were spread out. If you needed to go next door for a cup of sugar, you hopped in your car and went. We drove everywhere. School, grocery store, barber, movies, you name it, we took the car. I knew folks that drove to the mailbox in their front yard to pick up their mail.

Parking lots were ubiquitous. We had vast open plains of asphalt and concrete. There was always a place to leave your car while you did whatever it was that you were doing.

The car was as embedded in our culture as was the horse in the culture of the Old West.

The first true rite of passage for kids of my era was the driving test. This was what we waited for year after year, long after we had outgrown the pedal cars we used as four-year olds. Until we reached that magic birthday we contented ourselves with bicycles. Of course, we pretended our bicycles were cars.

In Missouri, the driving age was 16. That meant your first beer, your first real kiss and your first encounter with law enforcement was also at age 16. It was thrilling to be 16. Going out was an adventure!

My dad taught me drive on lazy Sunday afternoons in the parking lot of the Shelter Insurance Company headquarters building in my home town. It is one of the most precious memories I have of my father. His quiet, patient manner made him the ideal teacher for this type lesson.

Naturally, most of my friends were all roughly the same age as I, so driving and cars was the primary conversational topic in those days. We dreamed about hot rods, read books and magazines about cars and street racing and in general lived in a culture with the automobile positioned precisely at center stage.

For us, New Years Day has nothing to do with January first. For us, New years was sometime in early fall when the new models were introduced. During the lead up, we would argue about whether Ford would finally abandon dinner plate tail lights, if Chevy would stack headlights or stick with a side by side configuration. Styles changed radically over a very few model years. Fins went away, fastback designs leant cars with a sleek aerodynamic look which likely had little to do with physics.

Marketing folks understood how important cars were. I believe it was no accident that new television shows debuted in the Fall simultaneously with the annual introduction of the new car models. The linkage between visual media and automotive design became firmly entrenched in this era.

I remember the season premier of Bonanza running without commercial interruption so America could spend twenty uninterrupted minutes at the end of the show to see the new Chevys introduced in their TV debut for the coming year. The next day at school, no one talked about Ben, Hoss or Little Joe, the conversation was all about the new Malibu or ‘Vette.

The End of the Era

As with many cultural shifts multiple factors contribute to changing styles, interests and norms. During the late ’60s and early ’70s there was a definite move away from the material orientation that drove our obsession with fins, chrome and high output V8 engines. The ’74 oil shortages did not help matters any.

We still worship cars, but our tastes and approaches to automobiles has greatly changed. We are more utilitarian, more focused on efficiency and mission in our selection processes.

Today, it seems like kids don’t really care much about driving. I’m not saying they are misguided, I just find it amazing that some kids don’t feel any urgency with regard to getting a driver’s license. The prospect of driving a car does not equate to freedom and adventure in the same way it did for my contemporaries.

In fact, the position of the automobile and the importance of driving seem to be diminishing rapidly in this post millennial age. Most recently, the notion of self-driving or autonomous vehicles are becoming real possibilities in the not too distant future.

Horrifying!

I can’t imagine a more depressing development than a car that drives itself. Before you start yelling “Luddite Philistine” at me, consider a few things about autonomous vehicles. These are just a few of the problems I see with this technology.

Designated Driver – Who needs them? No one is going to drive because the car knows the way home. Does this mean we all get to drink all night kong? Someone has to remain sober or no one will remember all the embarrassing stuff that happened.

Parking – I don’t mean parking at the mall, I mean parking after the movie on Saturday night. This is a very subtle art that young guys learn and pass along to other young guys. There are techniques and skills that require practice and honing. There is much more to it than “ . . . . Oh look, we’re out of gas on this deserted country road . . . . What will we do now?” I can’t imagine trusting some software developer at Subaru to get this right.

Drag Racing – Mano-a-Mano, A veritable ocean of testosterone powers the need to dominate the car next to you at a stop light. The revving engines, screeching tires and fishtailing acceleration at the green light. Every high school in America has one kid who has the baddest, meanest drag machine on the street. The cops know him and everybody wants to be him. Unless he’s a complete pizza face, he has pretty good luck in the romance department as well.

Jonesing your Neighbors – Part of the fun of buying a new car is sticking it to your neighbor. They are stuck driving a four-year old Junker while you a cruising around in luxury. How will you brag about a car you don’t even drive? Why would you envy your neighbor when the egg parked in his driveway is suddenly blue instead of green.

The Culture of Yawn

Then there is the other issue. The problem for which there is no solution. An American institution that has its beginnings in that most noble of enterprises, Moonshine distribution. This AV technology threatens a tradition that has grown over the years to become one the greatest spectacles in sport. Of course, I’m talking NASCAR!

Can you imagine the shame we will all feel watching a track with thirty or so driverless cars endlessly circulating around, never bumping, never squeezing or cutting off other cars. They will of course be unable to achieve speeds in excess of fifty-five miles per hour. Their sophisticated anti-collision and safety systems will over ride any attempt to break away from the pack.

What about the drivers? There won’t be any!

No angry young ego maniacs running around in ridiculous jumpsuits. No more rivals to bad mouth each other between races. No more post race fist fights. No poofy haired retired driver TV announcers explaining the action to us in their phony, exaggerated southern drawl voices.

All of this will be replaced by thirty jelly bean shaped vehicles putting around a vast race track forever locked into the formation and order in which they started.

I know autonomous vehicles are likely inevitable. I know they will save lives and probably save us countless hours of commuting time. I know they will save dollars in terms of gasoline or energy costs.

It’s just that they are so damn boring.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

The recent crash on landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco brought back a memory from my flying days back in the ‘80s.

Airframe manufacturers are obviously building safer products than in past years. More and more people seem to be walking away from downed airplanes than ever before.  So, I certainly tip my hat to those guys for doing their part in making flying an even safer alternative than in past years.

There is one thing that still disturbs me greatly. Let me briefly tell my story and then you can draw your own conclusions.

One evening back in 1987 I was returning home to the Bay Area after a business trip. I was changing planes in Denver to pick up a flight into San Jose.  Everything went smoothly; I made the connection on time and was seated toward the back of the coach cabin on a DC-8 stretch.

The DC-8 was a single aisle four engine aircraft. It was, even in the mid ‘80s, kind of “long in the tooth” for commercial service by a tier one airline. But, many had been retrofitted with the new generation of jet engines so you saw 8’s with some frequency in those days.

The plane was full that evening and people boarding were bringing with them the usual assortment of carry on stuff.  Laptops were just becoming common but people also still carried boxes of slide carousels and presentation transparencies.  Then there was the usual collection of shopping bags, overnight garment bags and brief cases.

Everyone was seated, the door had been closed and the jet-way had just been pulled back.  I was sitting in a port side window seat, so I could see the ground crew clearly. Inside, I noticed the AC outlets above the overhead compartments were venting something. Anyone who has flown on a humid day has probably seen this and it is invariably condensate, water vapor, cast off by cooling hot humid air.

On that particular evening, it wasn’t condensate, it was smoke.

Within a couple of seconds there were shouts of, “smoke!” and “something’s burning”. The cabin filled with a smell of burning oil.

The DC-8 cabin was a long narrow tube with frequent bulkheads to separate it into a series of smaller cabins. This meant that you could not see the front of the cabin from the rear of the airplane. You could see maybe ten rows before your vision was interrupted by a bulkhead.

The people sitting on the aisles almost immediately were on their feet, flooding the aisle and essentially blocking any view the seated passengers had beyond their immediate vicinity in the cabin. A little bit of panic began to grip the crowed plane as passengers exhorted those seated over the wings to open the emergency exits. Behind me, two flight attendants watched and said nothing.

After the fact, I found out that the DC-8 did not have any communication links from the flight deck or other flight attendant stations  to the aft end of the plane. In other words our flight attendants knew as much about what was happening as I did.

The aft emergency door was opened and by now escape shoots were deployed from the over wing exits and from the doors at the back.

People began to exit the airplane. From my seat (I couldn’t go anywhere because the aisle was filled with people) I could see a man walking along the wing with a garment bag over his shoulder. I remember thinking that he looked remarkably calm.

Almost every person in the aisle was digging through the stuff in the overhead bins trying to retrieve their belongings. Think about that and think about the time it takes to empty an airplane upon arrival at a gate.  We had every reason to believe that the plane was on fire and these guys were worried about their carry-on junk!

My only thought that evening was that I was going to burn to death because some jackass couldn’t get their carry-on bags out of an overhead bin.  That thought made me furious.

This morning, as I watched video shot in the aftermath of the Asiana crash I saw evidence of the same thing had happened there. People were walking around on the ground with their carry on bags! How selfish can people be? Is some souvenir from Korea more important than someone else’s life? Is that really how we think?

I know plenty of folks will hate this, but, the only way to fix this is to ban carry-on items on commercial flights. If all luggage was checked there would be no reason to stop for anything. When an airplane is on fire, time is of the essence. People have to move quickly and not be encumbered by bags, laptops, camera cases etc.

I could be persuaded to allow purses and briefcase size items. But I would remove the overhead bins altogether. Beyond those two items, I would ban it all.

I know people are clutching their chests at the prospect of having to go to baggage claim, but I just don’t see a better alternative.

With Asiana flight 214, we got lucky. We usually don’t get lucky in the world of airplane crashes.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Yesterday an unusual event took place. Boeing, specifically the Boeing 787 program VP Mike Sinnet and Test Pilot Heather Ross hosted a live interactive webcast.  I was lucky enough to catch about 45 minutes of the event.

I had received an invitation for the program the day before. It was an unrestricted log in and listen type format with Twitter serving as the medium for submitting questions. In a word, it was fascinating. It said a lot about the kind of company Boeing is.

Questions came from aeronautical engineers, business flyers, wannabe pilots and folks who were just curious about some aspect of the 787.  The subjects covered myriad topics from flying in general to specifics about the battery fix put into place by the folks at Boeing.

The 787 program is groundbreaking in so many ways; I guess it should not be a surprise that Boeing would turn to an event like this to open up the lines of communication between itself and the flying public. This is telling in that it supports the idea that Boeing knows who their customer really is. In case you are confused by that statement, let me clue you in. Boeing’s customer is the flying public far more so than the various airlines flying their equipment.

The airline/passenger relationship is totally different from the airframe manufacturer/passenger relationship is. This is not just some high level marketing concept, it is a very real dynamic that has profound effects on the actions all of us involved in the business of air travel.

Airlines select airplanes because they meet some performance criteria in terms of capacity, speed and fuel economy. They look at their mission as one of moving 50, 100 or 600 passengers between point A and point B. They will select and buy the aircraft that handles that job in the most economic fashion.

Airline passengers choose airlines because they offer flights to places they want to get to on a schedule that is convenient to them. Many times, passengers have a choice. That means the passenger will be comparing other factors in order to make a decision. One of those will be the equipment used for the flight.

As a business flyer, this factor is important to me. When I traveled frequently, it was very important to me. I was much less concerned about the paint scheme and logo on the skin of the airplane than I was about what type of airplane it was to begin with.

One of the things Boeing does very well is to bring the passenger into the concept development phase of a new airplane. Then, again and again at each design stage, throughout the development of that aircraft the passenger is consulted. The passenger is part of the design group.

Additionally, Boeing understands that all passengers are not alike, a great example of this is found in the design of the 777. The overhead compartments can be easily reached by persons of short stature.

When the plane is rolled out, takes to the air and finally enters into revenue generating service, everyone has a little stake in that airplane. People want it to do well because in part it is “their” airplane.

During the discussion yesterday, it was apparent that Boeing has earned a huge amount of respect and trust from the flying public. Both Mr. Sinnet and Ms. Ross were clearly excited about a chance to talk with people about their product. The Q&A was not all softball either. But, it was clear these guys knew their stuff. I had the feeling they had picked the right people to handle this event. Both of them made a point of stating how much they loved their jobs and being a part of Boeing.

When was the last time you heard a corporate apologist gush about how much they loved working for their company?

Hats off to Boeing for getting this right!

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Class reunions are events unlike any other in our life experience. What I mean by that is they offer us a chance to measure or at least notice specific net changes in our cultural milieu. Since they occur at regular ten-year intervals and because you typically only see the folks in your class during the once per decade event, they make it easy to see how much life has changed since the last get together.

For instance, if you attended your reunion in 1980, you probably didn’t see a single cell phone or video cam. That’s because 1980 was still the era of land-lines and Kodak Instamatics.

By 1990, there were likely a number of cell phones and a few video cameras. We would laugh at these people today because the cell phones would look like World War Two era Army field phones and the Video cameras would make you look like the crew backing up Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. How could we think THAT was cool?

I went to a reunion in 1999 and I was amazed at the number of video recorders. They were starting to get pretty small by then. I remember looking across the banquet room and seeing about fifty of these things just rolling, taking in the ambiance of the Great American High School Reunion. Our reunion featured plentiful amounts of free booze so I’m sure the antics of my classmates, and me for that matter, were recorded for future use as blackmail fodder.

Now, we are about to enter another one of those technologically significant, yet potentially embarrassing eras.  Google Glass will soon become as ubiquitous as the video cam and the smart phone. Will it be the tech equivalent of the duck-tail or mullet? Or, will it be world changing?

Personally, I’m skeptical. Imagine walking into the ball room to register. The person behind the table is smiling sweetly and looks vaguely familiar. Before she can say, “Hi, I’m  ….” you are mumbling to your eyepiece to activate your facial recognition software. Glass quickly whispers her name into your ear “Betty Jo Belitnikoff”.

Why Betty Jo! You haven’t changed a bit. I love the blue rinse and those sensible shoes . . . very cool!”

That happens to be the last thing you say directly to any of your classmates that night. The rest of the evening, you are conversing with the Glass friend dangling in front of your eyeball. Everyone else is doing the same thing.

All you hear is low murmuring of Glass commands – Identify Face, . . .record, . . . retrieve email,  . . .open Facebook, . . . open LinkedIn. . . . message to Frank.

And so it goes all night long. Everyone is prowling around identifying faces and pulling up cyber versions of each other. No direct conversation is required.  Everyone who wants to interact can simply message via Glass.  An eerie silence hovers over the entire room. It’s like a zombie convention.

There are undeniably definite advantages. You get to avoid answering the unpleasant questions and you don’t have to listen to boring stories about kids and pets. You are in control; you can ignore or dig as deeply into the life of each classmate as you might care too. If it gets too bad, you’ll likely have the option to pull up something to stream from Netflix.

This is when you realize that the real world and the cyber or virtual worlds have partially merged. It is so disorienting, you are suddenly not sure what has happened or where you are.

Are you a warm blooded human visiting a virtual class reunion? Have you somehow been sucked into the virtual world where you can only interact via the technology you bring with you.

Or, has the virtual world expanded into the three dimensional universe, blurring the once distinct boundaries into a sort of cyber no man’s land? Has your Second Life merged with your real life?

You will ponder this as you move about the ball room, but you will come up with more questions than answers. A whiff of familiar perfume will pull you in one direction while a Facebook posting will jerk you back into reality, or was reality found only in a perfume scented distant memory?

Which is real; the warm and funny close friend of forty years ago or the bitter, angry guy spewing venomous political pabulum on Facebook?

The great television writer, Rod Serling would have recognized this dilemma right away. He would tell you without hesitation, you have indeed entered, The Twilight Zone.

By Lou Washington

If you travel with any frequency, you may have had the experience of finding yourself accidentally standing in the middle of some place that has been associated with some particular historical event. I’m not referring to an intentional trip to some battlefield or monument. I mean the times you are driving or walking along and unexpectedly see something that tells you that you are in a hallowed place.

I remember one such occasion during a business trip to Dallas, Texas. We were driving around downtown Dallas looking for the free way entrance so we could return to our suburban hotel. We pulled around a corner and my first impression was a brief feeling of familiarity, then it struck me that we were in the middle of Dealey Plaza. All the images in my mind of the Kennedy assassination suddenly filled in my view. The overpass, the book depository building and the large Hertz sign were there almost frozen in time.

On another occasion I was in London and was changing buses near a place called Marble Arch. Standing on the sidewalk, I noticed a small sign that was a commemorative plaque for the martyrs of Tyburn. Tyburn was a notorious place of public execution in London for many centuries. It was not difficult of hear the echoes of the mob as they cheered on the executioners as they went about their work.

Several years ago, Barbara and I were on vacation. We had just completed a car show in Myrtle Beach and we wanted to find a nice quiet place to just decompress for a few days. Barb found a wonderful destination for us, Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is the southern most inhabited island in the group making up the Outer Banks just off the Carolinas here in the States.

Most of Ocracoke is deserted. A small village is located on the southern end and is built around a harbor which hosts a ferryboat landing. There are no bridges between the mainland and Ocracoke, you have to travel there by ferry. The village also hosts a number of smallish motels and restaurants. There are numerous shops offering a variety of nautical themed items and local crafts.

For people who are just interested in knocking around for a few days, ignoring the time of day and forgetting about work, Ocracoke is perfect.

Being a history buff, I was intrigued by the fact that Ocracoke was the site of the final act in the illustrious career of Edward Teach, otherwise know as Blackbeard. But, as we found out, Blackbeard was not the islands only claim to maritime fame.

The British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island

As we were exploring during our first morning on the island, we encountered a unassuming sign that pointed us down a lane to the British Cemetery. I had that strange feeling that once again I was going to find myself standing in the middle of a bit history.

Our curiosity was piqued so we headed down the lane. After little more than a couple of hundred yards, we found ourselves standing in front of a small, meticulously maintained cemetery. A Union Jack flew from a mast next to four graves which were located behind a neat white fence.

A small plaque related the story of the British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island.

HMT Bedfordshire

On 17 July, 1935 The Smith’s Dock Co. of Middlesbrough, England launched a brand new commercial fishing trawler at Teesside. She was not a large ship, only displacing 443 tons, she measured 162 feet from bow to stern. Her beam was just 27 feet. She was christened Bedfordshire.

Her life as a commercial fisherman was short. In 1939 the British Admiralty knew the world was fast approaching a time of European instability if not outright hostility. They were all to familiar with the effectiveness of German U-boats from the previous world war. To counter this threat they embarked upon an aggressive plan to build out fleet vessels capable of countering the U-boats.

Anti-submarine vessels needed to to be fast, agile and able to carry depth charges. The Bedfordshire may have been designed for commercial fishing, but she was also an ideal platform for anti-submarine warfare. The Admiralty bought her in 1939 and outfitted her with a 4 inch gun, a machine gun and the requisite equipment for hauling and launching depth charges.

It was only a matter of months until His Majesty’s Trawler Bedfordshire was earning her keep in the Royal Navy patrolling British waters, ever vigilant for the hidden menace beneath the waves.

As the war spun up in earnest in Europe, across the Atlantic, the U.S. continued to ponder how they should become involved. There was no question that support for our allies was required in the European theatre of operations. Armament, supplies and other material was shipped across the Atlantic in support of England.

The attack on Pearl Harbor had decimated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The prospect of fighting a war in both the Pacific and the North Atlantic as part of a general European war effort was not something that the U.S. was immediately prepared to do.

Meanwhile the Kriegsmarine was making its presence known to American shipping. In early 1942 over 30 ships were lost off the American coast to German U-boat actions. The U.S. Navy did not have anything in their inventory to protect our supply ships during their Atlantic transit to England.

The Royal Navy dispatched 24 ships to the U.S. Coastal waters to help defend the commercial fleet from the onslaught of U-Boat attacks. One these 24 ships was HMT Bedfordshire.

The deadly attacks continued with devastating effectiveness. By the end of April, 1942 an additional 45 ships were lost.

Bedfordshire was ported at Morehead City, NC. On May 10th, she was tasked with searching and destroying German submarines believed to be patrolling in the immediate area. She weighed anchor and put to sea in search of her underwater prey. She left port minus one sailor, Sam Nutt.

Sam had been arrested the evening before by the local authorities in Morehead City. After spending the night as a guest of the City of Morehead, Sam was released without being charged with any particular infraction. However, Bedfordshire had long since sailed so he began looking for a “ride” to hopefully meet up with Bedfordshire at sea and re-join his crew.

HMT Bedfordshire was never seen again by friendly forces. Early in the morning, the good ship met her fate.

The U-558, Kapitanleutnant Gunther Krech commanding, was conducting operations in the waters off Ocracoke Island. She had a busy night and had already attempted one strike against the British ship Loman. The Loman managed to escape and evade the U-588.

Kapitan Krech then engaged the Bedfordshire off Ocracoke Island at 5:40 am, May 11th. The initial torpedo was a clean miss. A second shot was taken and the result was a direct hit. The Bedfordshire sank immediately taking her entire crew of 37 men with her to the bottom.

On shore, no one really knew what had happened. Nearly ten days passed and two bodies washed up on the shore of Ocracoke Island. They were identified as crew members of the Bedfordshire. This served to confirm suspicions that the good ship had met her end. After two additional bodies were found later in May, there was no doubt that Bedfordshire had gone down.

Four Markers for Four Sailors

The four bodies were interred on Ocracoke Island in what would be come the British Cemetery. The good folks of Ocracoke Island as well as the U.S. Coast Guard maintain and keep the cemetery. It has been officially transferred to and falls under the auspices of the British government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by means of a lease in perpetuity.

I have been to many war monuments and seen many military cemeteries during my life. But, this little patch of ground, smaller than our living room, touched me deeply. Four small but immaculate graves. Someone, somewhere no doubt had waited and waited for years on end for a homecoming that never happened.

Most war cemeteries contain hundreds or thousands of markers for the fallen. The scale of the tragedy is so overwhelming that the you become numb to the numbers. It’s almost as if the vast numbers of dead somehow share the weight of the war making it easier for each individual.

But here, on Ocracoke, those four men, were forever removed from their homes and loved ones. On that night, they paid the full price and along with their shipmates bore the entire weight of that war.

This was indeed a hallowed place.

By Lou Washington

If you love airplanes, you probably have a personal favorite. For some, the love affair might be based on performance such as the Mach 3+ SR-71. For others, the attachment may be the result of a particularly successful war record like that of the P-51 Mustang or Spitfire.

One Beautiful Airplane

For pure beauty of design I have to go with the Lockheed Constellation, especially the stretched, Super G, variant. The plane looks like it’s in motion even when it is standing still. The fuselage has a stunning aerodynamically curved shape; the trademark triple tail gives this bird an unmistakable silhouette. The huge wings, typically equipped with wingtip mounted range extending fuel tanks gracefully offset the four huge 18 cylinder Wright R-335-DA3 radial compound supercharged engines.

Lockheed designed the Constellation in response to a concept and rough design from Howard Hughes. The design team for this fantastic aircraft included none other than the famed Kelly Johnson. Johnson was one of the driving forces behind Lockheed’s skunk-works. This was where the U2, the SR-71 and other highly classified aircraft were born. The vision for the Constellation was long range, high capacity and high speed.

It achieved all three objectives. At maximum capacity the Connie could accommodate 109 passengers. The plane had a cruising speed of 340 MPH and a top end of 377 MPH. The maximum range for the Constellation was 5,400 miles making it truly a transcontinental, transoceanic airliner. Lockheed produced these magnificent aircraft until 1958.

The Connie was the last of a breed. The long range airliners, powered by propeller driven engines, were being pushed out of the way by the much faster, more economical and smoother riding pure jets. The De Havilland Comet, the Boeing 707, the Douglas DC-8 and the Convair 880 captured the imagination of the flying public and ultimately made the prop driven birds obsolete. But, during most of the decade of the ‘50s, the Connie still reigned as queen of the sky.

Connie Comes to Columbia

I will always remember the first time I saw one these magnificent airplanes firsthand. I was only eight years old, but the experience left me with a lifelong love of airplanes and flying.

TWA Super G Constellation

At about 10:30 pm on the evening of Wednesday, April 22, 1959, TWA flight 265 lifted off from the airport in St Louis and headed west on the final leg of the Miami to Kansas City flight. Flight 265 was under the command of Captain Ernest Feazel. Initially, everything was working perfectly and the airplane experienced no problems.

At 11:03pm, Captain Feazel notified the Columbia Missouri airport FAA facility that the airplane was experiencing some trouble. The aircraft had developed a condition known as runaway prop on the number one engine located on the outside position of the port or left wing.

The Constellation was powered by four 3,250 HP engines. These were probably the most complicated internal combustion engines ever developed. The propellers used on these engines featured variable pitch control which enabled each propeller blade to turn on its long axis to adjust the angle of attack between the blade and the air.

Imagine a canoe paddle; pulling the paddle through the water with the wide portion of the paddle facing the direction you pull it is considerably more effective then turning the paddle so it slices through the water like a knife. On the airliner, this effect is used to maximize power delivered by the engine and to facilitate acceleration, braking and even thrust reversal in some cases. It also allows the prop to self adjust its pitch to keep the aircraft in power trim.

The runaway prop condition essentially meant that the number one engine was running out of control with the propeller angle pitched in a manner that created significant drag and delivered no thrust. Normally, a pilot would “feather” the engine involved and continue on with three engines.

Captain Feazel attempted to complete this procedure but, the engine did not respond. There was a very real danger that the engine would overheat causing the propeller shaft to fail which in turn would likely result in the engine blowing apart.  The end result would have been catastrophic.

At 11:14pm Captain Feazel notified the airport that he would need to land the plane. He declared an emergency, requested fire equipment and emergency personnel be made ready. At 11:17pm the captain advised that he was making his final turn and would be landing from the north shortly.

Before we continue the story let me tell you a bit about the airport that served Columbia Missouri in 1959.

Columbia Municipal Airport had two runways. One ran north and south and the other east and west. The north/south runway was the longer of the two and it ran out to a little over 4,000 feet. The east/west runway was shorter, running about 3,300 feet and intersecting the north/south runway at the south end. The main hanger and “terminal” was located near the intersection.

The two runways were composed of an asphalt or macadam surface. They were rated to accommodate aircraft with maximum landing weights of 27,000 lbs. Typically the largest airplane you would see at this airport would be the DC-3 Ozark Airlines aircraft serving Columbia with flights to St Louis, Kansas City and other communities in the vicinity.

The Lockheed Super G Constellation on final approach to Columbia Municipal that evening carried a crew of six people and 35 passengers. Adding fuel, mail, freight and luggage brought the gross landing weight for the Connie up to about 100,000 pounds. Typically, this plane would comfortably use a 5,000 to 8,000 foot runway in regular service.

One has to imagine that Captain Feazel had a lot on his mind that evening as the Connie approached the north runway threshold at four times the designed landing weight and half the runway he needed.

Witnesses report that the landing was executed to perfection. The plane came in low and slow, the Connie has a 100 MPH stall speed so slow is a relative term in this context.

Once the plane touched down, the brakes on the main gear locked. The aircraft skidded down the runway; the right wheel truck momentarily skidded off the runway digging up ground before re-attaining the runway surface. The tires on the left wheel truck exploded and the wheels began to dig into the surface of the soft asphalt.

As the plane crossed the intersection of the east/west runway, it spun around a full 180 degrees where it finally came to a full halt facing the direction from which it landed. Flight 265 was safely on the ground with less than 300 feet of runway to spare.

Unfortunately, the shredded tires, the blown number one engine, the locked brakes all added up to a major repair headache for TWA. Initially, there was little to be done because the plane could not be moved. As it set in the middle of the two runways, it slowly sank into the asphalt. A team was dispatched by TWA to Columbia along with a new engine to install and to get the bird ready for a short flight to the TWA Maintenance facility in Kansas City.

The passengers were carried to Kansas City by bus along with the flight crew.

The next day, while the repairs were in process, my dad took me to the airport to see the big bird that had dropped in during the previous night. Naturally, this was big news in our little city and many citizens headed to the airport to see the huge airplane. I stood there with my dad looking across the tarmac at this beautiful airplane. It was simply spectacular. I remember thinking that I wanted the plane to “get well” so it could fly again. I’ve been a plane nut ever since.

The rest of the story of flight 265 is boring by comparison with the first act but no less remarkable. The engineers dispatched to fix the plane, under the management of TWA Maintenance Foreman, H. C. Herschel managed to install new brakes, wheels, tires and a new engine in a single day. That is a remarkable feat to accomplish “in the field” if you will. The scarred runway was patched up and people began to think about the departure.

A special flight crew was brought in with a “test pilot” in command. All freight, luggage, excess fuel and other unnecessary weight was removed from the Connie. Again, the short runway presented a challenge. Fully loaded, a Super G required about 6,000 feet of clear runway.

My understanding is the plane was literally backed up as far as possible onto the runway threshold to provide the pilot with as much room as possible for the take off roll. The engines were powered up, the brakes set, the flaps deployed and most likely a short prayer uttered as the throttles were advanced to maximum power.

Then, the brakes were released and the Connie bid Columbia a noisy farewell. She lifted off and banked to the west toward her home in Kansas City.

At that point I couldn’t wait for my first ride in an airplane. I was hooked.

A Few Closing Notes

Much of this story is told from my own personal memory.  I would like to cite a couple of sources for their contributions which were essential for much of the detail used in this piece.

The Missouri State Historical Society maintains digitized newspaper archives in the Ellis Library at the University of Missouri. I was able to gather many of the hard facts in the piece from the contemporary articles published by the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian. One advantage to living in the shadow of the world’s first and oldest journalism school is the availability of abundant and accurate reporting of events.

I would like to thank both newspapers and the society for their hospitality during my research.

The Columbia Municipal Airport has long since closed and been replaced by a newer facility. The old airport site is now the home to a large public park. Portions of the old runway still remain intact and function as somewhat enormous parking lots for patrons using the various ball fields and shelter houses available in the park.

The following photos show the airport in it’s current state as a park.

Looking south on main runway

This photo shows some of the remaining pavement from the original main runway. This was taken from the north end, looking south, roughly where the runway threshold as located.

This round-a-bout marks the center of the intersection of the two runways

This round-a-bout is located where the Connie finally came to rest after her 4,000 foot skid on landing.

Restored airport beacon light from Columbia Municipal

This beacon is “original” airport equipment restored to “like new” condition. Growing up in Columbia in the 1950s and 60s, the light from this beacon was visible after dark all over the city. It would complete a 360 degree sweep roughly once per minute.

Columbia Municipal Airport Main Hanger

The city Parks and Recreation Department uses the remaining main hanger build for storage and as a maintenance shed. Faded airport lettering is still visible at the top of the building.

The photo of the Super G Constellation is courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives. There are no known copyright restrictions on that photo.

By Lou Washington

Yesterday Delta Airlines announced that Comair, one of Delta’s regional feeder subsidiary airlines would cease operations on 29 September of this year.

Here in Cincinnati, Comair is something of a legend. When I moved to Cincinnati in the very early 1980’s, Comair was comprised of a handful of small twin engine prop aircraft. They flew to Cleveland and other nearby cities. Locally, those of us who flew frequently out of CVG knew that flying on Comair was not going to be like taking a wide-body to Hawaii. Flying Comair was for business folks who were getting business done here in the midwest.

Locally the primary carrier was Delta. Both airlines experienced great growth during the 80’s, both airlines upgraded their fleets and expanded their routes. Delta spent tons of money expanding their facilities here in Cincinnati and eventually made this one of their hubs with a wide array of international flights to Europe.

Comair built a new headquarters building and at a point was by some measures one of the largest airlines in the country. They partnered with Delta and began aligning their route structure with Delta to facilitate the classic hub and spoke operation that serves airlines today.

At a point, Delta purchased Comair and for many, I think this was indeed the beginning of the end for the airline.

This story has been repeated with slight variations now for decades.

TWA purchased Ozark Airlines to gain control of one of their primary feeders in St Louis. Soon after that occurred, the level of service extended to smaller markets well served by Ozark for many years began to deteriorate.

My own hometown of Columbia Missouri was a primary example. Ozark provided non-stop DC-9 (Boeing 717) service to St Louis, Denver, Kansas City and one stop service to Chicago, Washington DC and other destinations. After Ozark was swallowed up, local service to Columbia MO was reduced to a couple of daily flights to St Louis using De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft.

It did not take long for TWA to disappear from the scene with rapacious American Airlines gobbling them up a few years later. The details of that horrendous acquisition make for their own story.

50 Seat CRJ200

In the Delta announcement, the reason for the shut down was based on Comair’s use of 50 seat regional jets. Delta suggested these could not be operated profitably. Delta went on to explain that ridding themselves of Comair would allow them to concentrate on their major route structure served by their larger aircraft.

I’m sure TWA and later American had similar feelings about abandoning the small markets served by Ozark.

Some would say this is the fruit of deregulation. I’m not sure it’s that simple.

I do know this. Comair and Ozark operated profitably on their own, they served thousands of passengers in many smaller markets. They employed hundreds of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, ticketing agents baggage handlers and others. In other words they did know what they were doing, they knew how to operate in an environment their larger siblings chose to ignore or avoid.

Then, they were bought up, integrated into the operations of much larger, more complex and diverse enterprises. When the management of those enterprises decided that flying into smaller markets was not profitable, they abandoned them.

They bought businesses they did not understand and after failing to learn from those businesses they listened to their finance guys and bailed.

Some will call this the free market at work. If that is true, then the free market is not working very well.

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