Jack TenneyExtra Point

by Jack Tenney, Publisher

September 2011

This month’s extra point emerges from an interesting story (to me at least) made possible only because of the unlikely combination of differing state tax law, union rules, Communism as practiced in one of the Soviet satellites, environmental conditions, and international law.

Here’s the story. See what you think.

My brother was a pilot with a lot more hours than seniority with the airlines he worked for. He learned to fly in the Air Force and spent a lot of time mid-air refueling B-47s.

After his military service working for General Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command, he flew as a civilian for a few years with TWA. He became convinced that Howard Hughes was going to shrink rather than grow the TWA fleet of Super G Constellations.

Needing a brighter financial future to provide for his growing family, he became a ground-pounding securities salesman. That didn’t work out so he had to start over at the bottom of the union seniority list with Mohawk, another airline.

Mohawk was a regional carrier with a home base in Utica, N.Y. Mohawk was acquired by Allegheny, which morphed into USAir. Because of how flight crews were integrated after mergers and how bids for flights were carried out to assign crews, my brother was, more often than not, odd man out. But because of his ability and experience, he was given a few odd jobs.

For a while, he was leased to the Yankees and then to industrialist Cyrus Eaton to captain their charters. Sometimes he got to chat with Scooter Rizzuto; other times, he got to play golf while Mr. Eaton attended a board meeting.

One of his worst assignments had to do with the sale of  a DeHaviland “chicken hawk” to Air Bulgaria or something. The plane in question was parked in the Arizona desert along with squadrons of propeller-driven models being replaced by jets. For legal reasons the plane had to be flown from there to Oregon to close the transaction.

Then, because of concerns that the new owners might not have the skill to find their way home, my brother was to fly the high-winged aircraft to the East Coast, instructing the new owner’s flight crew en route.

Some of you know this model, as it was used as a short-hop commuter. It was known as the “Vomit Comet” to Burlington’s frequent flyers back in the day.

Anyway, the West Coast official sale location was chosen for its favorable sales tax policy. The crew from afar was composed of a pilot, a copilot, a flight engineer, and a political appointee — the latter being the boss, the decider, the spokesperson, and the guy with the certified check to buy the plane and gas money to get it back across the Iron Curtain.

The deal was done and off they went into the wild blue yonder except that day it was the wild gray yonder, getting darker, with a tough headwind and iffy forecast. My brother decided to put the plane down and sit out the storm. The commissar said, “Fly on! I’m in charge!”

My brother landed anyway. I forget what happened after that.