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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!

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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