From the archives: Leighton Collins flies a 747 to Paris

Editor’s note: One of the most popular stories from the Air Facts archive is Leighton Collins’s spellbinding trip report from the cockpit of an early Boeing 707 on the way to Europe. This flight, in 1960, showed the promise of jet airliners and the skill of the men who flew them. In this article, we move 10 years into the future, as Collins again flies to Europe with TWA captain Bob Buck. This time they are in the larger and more advanced 747 – still one of the great achievements in aeronautical engineering. Ride along as they fly to Paris.

Eleven years ago the 707’s ushered in the age of mass air transportation. They carried twice as many people twice as fast on each flight. Comes now the 747 carrying twice as many people as the 707. Somewhere in there with these doubles, true mass air transportation arrived. Especially internationally. Why should anyone deprive himself of at some time seeing Europe, what with high-season 14-day round trip rates as low as $347 [roughly $2,200 in 2015 dollars]? And with it only 7 hours away? For most of us, some part of Europe means origins and going there provides the stimulation of a pilgrimage, a rewarding and stabilizing one.

Air Facts September 1970
This article originally appeared in the September 1970 edition of Air Facts

Our story, of a forty-two hour round trip to Paris with Bob Buck, Flight 800 over, Flight 803 back, does not, of course, concern the social or economic impact of the Jumbos, but what it is like to fly them. This is of more importance to those who fly privately than might at first appear. Mass transportation, of course, is not our goal. Mainly in private flying we’re willing to settle for just getting there. But whether it’s public or private air transportation, the machine used is basically the same and the stresses and demands on the pilot are essentially the same. What it comes out to is that in the process of getting lower seat-mile costs and in maintaining schedule and in improving safety, the airlines do much pioneering for us. This comes out more strongly in the 747 than in any previous airliner. For here is the biggest airplane yet, with the smallest crew, and it is the least demanding of all on the pilot.

Every now and then you read of something new added to an airline panel and you may think of it as just another luxury for the man who already has everything. This is an erroneous appraisal. When you give a pilot only six balls to juggle instead of nine, like by adding an automatic throttle control in a coupled approach, or a flight director, or a constant rate of climb control, then you have a less busy and a safer pilot: less possibility of errors because he is doing less, more time to provide the one thing which no amount of automation can provide: a continuous appraisal of the overall situation. When he gets too busy juggling too many balls (power, pitch, heading, airspeed, rate of descent, crosspointer needles, to name a few) — this is where the pilot fails sometimes, like going to a DH which he remembered as 635 ft. when actually it was 835 ft. For lack of an alert bell.

Little bells aren’t luxuries when you’ve got hundreds of lives and millions of dollars riding on a momentary inattention of a too busy pilot. They aren’t luxuries for the private pilot either, if he must press for schedule and he can afford them. Otherwise he needs to sit out more of the weather. But as time runs, though, he sits out less because he is getting at a pretty brisk clip the things he needs. Or at least has them available. And they help him just like they do the airline pilot.

Weather Anxieties

One of the few things we envy the airline pilot for, besides his pay, is his Sphinx-like attitude towards weather. It has always seemed that if only the private pilot could discover his secret he would not only save a lot of wear and tear on himself but would make better weather decisions. But there’s no mental button which can be pushed to keep one from worrying. One’s mind is a computer. We try to get all the risk inputs put in while sizing up a situation. And all the counter-balancing answers. We wind up with a warning light, or confusion light, or worry light when, even though it may be an almost subconscious sort of thing, we wind up with more risks than answers.

It seems, then, that the airline pilot’s enviable placidity factor stems not from a state of mind achieved by logic, but simply from having equipment and procedures which leave no residue of doubt in reaching a Go-No-Go decision.

TWA 747
The 747 towers over the ramp that just 15 years ago featured only propellers.

Flight 800 leaves Kennedy every evening at 7:30 P.M. for Paris. On the morning of our departure, on a Friday, we looked out the window to see how the weather to Paris was, and wondered if Buck had done the same (he hadn’t). By early afternoon there was still an overcast and just before departing for chez Buck, near Pipersville, Pa., a Philadelphia continuous news broadcast said that Radar had reported an intense thunderstorm 20 miles northwest of PHL which should reach the area within the hour. If only it were possible to get useful information like that when flying!

A Frontal Passage

In the hour’s drive to Buckeye Knoll we were in heavy rain much of the time, with visibility often down to a few hundred yards. The rain almost stopped while reloading into Bob’s air-conditioned glider-towing Buick station wagon, and then as we headed east towards Kennedy it started up again and we drove for two hours with minimal visibility, even to the point of finding confused motorists at times weaving along uncertainly in six-lane traffic.

About halfway along we asked Bob if he’d made any check of the weather yet and he said, “Well, not really.” Shortly before 3:00 he had called TWA Operations to see if Flight 800 was “operational.” Which meant simply that the airplane he’d fly over was enroute from San Francisco and from all indications would be ready to go within a couple of hours after its scheduled landing at Kennedy. They did mention to him that it was clear in Paris.

So, actually he’d given no thought to the weather, much less any anxiety. As we crept along in the rain and lightning and gusts Bob seemed completely oblivious of any connection between our current frontal weather and the prospective flight. Had we been going even only to East Hampton on Long Island on our own we’d have been on the anxious seat at this point, but Bob wasn’t worrying, and by osmosis we weren’t either (for we figured he could more than take care of any needed prudence in this area).

Balancing the Books

Why wasn’t he concerned about the weather? We don’t know, but we think it was principally because he was thinking like this. As departure time approached he would get a complete picture of the current local, enroute, and forecast Paris weather. If he had take-off minimums he would likely go. If there were a frontal passage or squall line near Kennedy, he might delay a short while. Once off he would have his airborne radar to enable him to request deviations around any cells, and in any event he had an airplane which would take 45 f.p.s. vertical gusts and stay on schedule.

His main comfort was most likely in being able to get right up to an altitude which if it doesn’t solve all enroute weather problems at least gets you up to where you can see if there’s any really Big Weather. He would have no ice problems (hot windows, hot wing), nor range problems, no navigation problems. The Paris terminal forecast (which is what we’d have sweated most about) was almost irrelevant: too far ahead to count on, and in any event it would have little meaning except picking a sure alternate and adding enough fuel to get there. Still another factor might be Bob’s making this trip five times a month: having flight after flight go off pretty much as visualized is itself a confidence builder.

We Can Do It, Too

In summary, we speculate that Bob’s happy pre-flight state of mind, as far as weather goes, stems from knowing that if area weather permits takeoff and getting to altitude properly, he will depart on schedule. A flight is hardly ever likely to be delayed for enroute weather. Enroute weather has to do only with flight levels and routes. Destination weather you see about as the flight progresses, it being solely, on a for sure basis, a question of fuel and alternates. So why worry? In private flying, we sometimes have to run on three legs, but we are gaining on this. Gaining in range, altitude capability, our navigation equipment is more than good, gaining in speed. But, of course, some things we do lack, and consequently our decision making process is more difficult — really adequate weather briefing being still a major deficiency. On the other hand, it is surprising how many things which are counted as of major importance in a 747 cockpit you can also find in not too less sophisticated form in a Cherokee or Skyhawk or Musketeer. Meanwhile we just have to learn to put those things we don’t have an answer for over in the No-Go list, and thus eliminate the reasons for worry.


Bob Buck checking weather
Check the weather? Sure, but there’s no use worrying about it too much.

The two hours preceding departure time went by as if only half an hour. Bob checked his mail: passed recent company physical; recurrent training schedule; Jepp envelope, which he checked to see if there were any pages relevant to this trip and then put it in his flight kit for filing at a more convenient time. Then to operations: check the bulletin board; check the “Notams” on the 747 to see if any pages had been added on top since the last page he initialed on the previous flight (there was a new sheet on a change in reverse thrust procedure, but he already knew about that). Then to the weather maps. The ground level prog chart for the destination area showed a low way up north of England with a cold front trailing down between Iceland and England and on southwesterly into mid-Atlantic. London was forecast for clear, which Bob bought. Paris was also forecast clear, but Bob said the ground in the Paris area cooled more at night than in England or here and he’d expect morning stratus. So that took care of the far end.

The Main Factors

With the meteorologist the 300 m.b. (30,000 ft. or FL Three zero zero) chart was the subject of discussion. It showed the jetstream, at around FL300, coming across northern Canada and then bending down into a slight sag south of Greenland and then slanting northeasterly and going off in that direction between Iceland and Scotland. Core winds were 90 kts. with a shallow gradient on both sides which Bob explained to us meant little likelihood of clear air turbulence of any consequence. While it was only academic, he also checked on the tropopause level, which was at 37,000 over the last half of our route. The tropopause is the altitude at which the temperature stops dropping as you go higher and it means smoother air and generally lighter winds. It would have been pertinent to the last of our flight, in case of headwinds, but the 747’s are a little fat at usual weights and operate mostly in the lower 30’s. The 707’s run mostly in the high 30’s and can often benefit from getting up into the tropopause. Enroute: no significant weather. Maybe we’d be flying at times in no more than a thin cirrus layer.

Finally, to the local weather forecast chart, which showed a cold front off the east coast, trailing from a low way, way north. “You don’t get much from a low that far away,” Bob commented, “and besides when the front gets over the ocean the tops go down.”

The weather, then: no problem getting off and to altitude, no enroute weather, no likely terminal weather of significance. Which left only checking with the flight dispatcher and getting the papers.


The dispatcher, of course, was ready. A Computer Flight Plan for the minimum time track was all printed out: starting with 199,700 lbs. of fuel and cruising at FL 330 we should reach Paris in 6:15 with 48,200 lbs. remaining, or almost two hours’ fuel. The printout had the reporting points listed vertically down the left side and across from each of these points it gave the distance, total distance to there, course or airway, flight level, temperature at that level, wind direction and velocity, TAS, wind component ground speed, time for each leg, total time so far, fuel burned, fuel remaining. In the wind component column all the figures were plus, ranging from a gain of 9 kts. in the climb, up to 105 kts. about half-way across and down to 5 kts. on the last segment into Paris. In short, a tail wind all the way. The longest time shown for a segment was 41 minutes between 51N/30W and 52N/20W, a distance of 379 n.

The big question with this document was take-off fuel. 3,000 lbs. of fuel had been included for getting to the runway. This was the only item in the fuel computation Bob felt might be subject to questions. “What are the delays running?” Bob asked. The dispatcher answered, “Well, right now we’re 200 and ¼ and you better figure on 30 minutes.” The weather we’d driven through from Pennsylvania had caught up with us. Knowing well that delays beget delays Bob wrote down an extra 25,000 lbs., half to allow for taxi delays and half in case ATC gave a less favorable altitude. And that was it, as far as fuel and weather were concerned.

The rest of the papers presented by the dispatcher did not require decisions but they were nonetheless interesting. The First Officer, Bob Hamlin, had gotten there ahead of us and had prepared the ATC Flight Plan, a surprisingly simple one for such a long flight: it listed simply one of the Standard Instrument Departures (SID), Holiday I, by name, with Poe transition, jet airways to Gander, and finally ocean route Track Xray. 6:15 ETE to be flown at Mach. 84.

INS Flight Log

Next on the counter was the Flight Log Form particularly adapted for use of the Inertial Navigation System (INS). The main point about this is that Inertial or INS is really area navigation, much like a Course Line Computer operation, but on a global scale (and it is hooked to nothing known to man on the ground). This brings up the question of coordinates because you go where you are supposed to go only if the correct ones have been set into the unit — as everyone finds out early in trying to use a CLC.

Bob asked F/O Hamlin to get the book on the counter which gives the latitude and longitude of each reporting point on the various ocean routes, so they could double check the coordinates for these points listed on the Flight Log. Hamlin said he’d already checked them, but Bob’s practice is that both of them make a final double check. They have the latitude and longitude book also in the airplane, of course, but there’s no substitute for starting out right. Everything listed was checked.

Long Seconds

Another interesting document, of six legal cap pages, was entitled “North Atlantic Region International Notams.” Here was the latest on the major airports rimming the north Atlantic; speed requirements, reporting requirements, radio notams, runway and taxiway conditions, gates, etc. But it started off with this noteworthy item: “Pilots conducting ILS approaches to either 4R or 22L at JFK may experience localizer needle aberrations during an approach. These aberrations are manifest in localizer needle oscillations and could reach full scale deflection. The duration of such deflections are between 12 to 18 seconds before normal needle indication is resumed. These aberrations are caused by heavy jet type aircraft in their final roll out position on the runway after landing while in proximity to the localizer antenna system. Once clear of the runway normal ILS service returns.” Attached to the notam sheath was a Category II Approach Evaluation Form, in which TWA requests a report on at least one Category II actual or simulated on each round trip (Decision Height 100 ft).


Another bulky document was the Department of Commerce ESSA Weather Bureau “Forecast Folder.” Bob gave it only a cursory glance before passing it on to the F/O. We found later it included a large two-page listing of terminal forecasts at all the northeastern U.S. and Canadian airports and major European airports, a surface prog chart showing the two lows (over Canada and Iceland) and the connecting frontal systems stretching across the Atlantic. This chart interested us in that it had sketched in the cloud cover to either side of the fronts.

The next chart in the Folder showed the jetstream and associated wind velocities at 300 m.b., and the final one showed tropopause levels and temperatures.

Finally, the General Declaration Form, listing by name the 21 crew, which included 13 hostesses, a purser, food service manager, and a 3-man flight crew deadheading to Paris to fly a 707 flight to Tel Aviv. Passengers: 140. Cargo: Manifests Attached. (As we figure it later, cargo must have weighed around 7,000 lbs.)

Saddle Up

TWA terminal at JFK
An elegant complement to the 747.

Now all that was needed was a 747 and this entailed a rather scenic winding around JFK in a crew bus until we reached TWA’s elegant new International Terminal specially designed to handle the 747’s. We got checked in at the ticket counter and our bag on the conveyor and then started trailing Bob down through the seamy side of the terminal to where the airplane was. We came out a door right onto the tow tractor, a 150,000 lb. 4-wheel vehicle diesel-electric powered to each wheel individually. It cost TWA $1 a pound. Bob said he’d seen it move right off on glaze ice with a 747 in tow without slipping a wheel. And there was the airplane, way up thattaway, with the nose straight to and almost against the terminal wall. We don’t comment on how big they are because you’ve heard all about that.

A Forest of Wheels

Bob wanted to show us the landing gear. The main gear has four oleo units, two coming out of the fuselage and two out of the wings a little farther ahead and naturally a little farther apart than the other two. To each of these four oleos is attached a four-wheel truck, so that makes sixteen tires on the main gears, plus two on the nose gear, or, in all, an 18-tire landing gear. When the nosewheel is turned past a certain point, the two sets of main gear wheels farthest back caster, thus reducing the turning radius.

The Fan Jet Idea

While underneath we were also interested in a quick look at those high-bypass fan jet engines, or at least the nearest one. Looking in the front you see an 8 ft. diameter multi-bladed fixed pitch propeller, which is also the first stage of the first compressor. The by-pass part explains itself when you get behind the engine and look forward. The distance between the main engine nacelle and the annular ring around the propeller is about two feet, so at its tips the propeller is simply blowing air back in normal propeller fashion. In take-off and initial climb 70% of the thrust comes from this fixed-pitch prop by-pass feature. As the airplane gets higher the by-pass feature loses its potency because the prop is fixed pitch, but by then the pure jet part of the engine is coming into its own and the air the inner two-thirds of the blades of the prop is pushing through the compressor sections is just right and the higher it goes the more efficient the jet engine. While it gains some at low altitude and loses some at high altitude, the overall specific fuel consumption of a by-pass or fan jet engine is significantly lower than a straight jet engine.

Simplification by Automation

The check list for a 747 is a long one, but probably not as long as you think, and this starts bringing us to the main story about flying the 747. As airplanes grew they kept adding indicators with circular dials. The pilots had to look at each one, think what it meant, which way the needle moved, what it read, what it should read, and so on, not ad infinitum but until he did not have much time left for flying, and especially for being really in command. Completing the items on the Before Take-Off part of the checklist takes maybe 30 minutes and the purpose of this is to get everything set up so that, essentially, the pilots will need to look at only the things which need looking at, and so that the information they used to get from Jeppesen computers and from the navigator they can get with simply a glance at some backlighted numbers in a window.

Total Navigation

Inertial Navigation System
The AC Electronics Inertial Navigation System offers almost magical functions, including a digital readout of speed, position, time and more.

We could overload you with detail on this pre-flight phase, for to us it is all fascinating, but we’ll skip heavily. Bob’s first activity was getting the Inertial Navigation System units organized. Each has a 9-key keyboard much like an adding machine. His first action was to check that the Flight Engineer, on his preflight check, had inserted the latitude and longitude of the TWA Terminal position and that the inertial platform was erected with a green light saying that the INS was ready to work.

This checked, so F/O Hamlin started loading the waypoints of the flight plan into the INS, the last waypoint loaded being Paris. By a remote control, all three INS units can be loaded at once. With the INS loaded, Bob then ran the whole steeplechase through, checking all three sets to see if the same latitude and longitude figures would come up in all three windows for each waypoint. All agreed. Then, changing the function switch on the set to distance, he pushed the Paris button and got a great circle course reading of 3151 nm. Enroute if one of the three sets disagrees with the others a warning light comes on.

Draper’s Dream

We would not make a serious attempt to tell what inertial navigation is for it is complicated beyond understanding. It has been described as celestial navigation in a closet. It is purely a mechanical device, consisting of rate gyros, gimbals, and delicately sensitive accelerometers. At the starting point of a flight (which has to be set in as the Flight Engineer did at JFK with the airplane standing still) it creates for reference the celestial sphere. It measures the vertical at the starting point and records that and can continuously measure the vertical at subsequent locations. Which way the airplane goes and under what acceleration is measured by the accelerometers. Once a mass experiences an acceleration in a given direction it can be assumed to continue in that direction until it is subject to some other acceleration. You wouldn’t think there could be a mechanical instrument, an accelerometer, which is essentially a pendulum, which could tell you when you’re moving along 600 mph in a 747 that you are very, very gradually encountering, say a light headwind, or a light crosswind, but it does measure this and reduce the recorded accumulated forward acceleration to that point, or from a side load compute the drift angle. And so on.

The INS has no outside inputs, no radio or other ground station input, no magnetic heading information, — almost no nothing except those gimbals within gimbals, gyros, accelerometers, and computer to get answers out as to the current attitude of the system as compared to the starting input.

Automatic Alertness

One other item in the Before Take-off which bears significantly on the 747’s cockpit simplification: the annunciator panels. This we couldn’t follow, but the largest one has maybe thirty windows. They push a test button to check that all bulbs light up in the small windows. Another panel covers navigational equipment. The two large flight instruments straight in front of the pilot have small backlighted windows around their rim showing what, for instance, the course director is set to do, and whether the nav instrument is set to the INS system (by a large TRUE sign above the course indicator) or the omnis. Groundspeed is also shown and distance according to the DME or INS, whichever is being used.

Well, there’s a lot more, but the point is that once it is all set up and checked out, from there on rather than scanning the panel and walls and ceiling looking for irregularities the pilots simply go about their business of flying the airplane and an annunciator light will tell them if there are any irregularities and where they are. As, for instance, when start-up time came, and an annunciator light showed one of the rear cabin doors as not properly secured. Bob put through a long distance call on the intercom to the cabin attendant at that station and requested another pull on the locking lever. The light went out. The door had been locked well enough probably but the locking lever had not travelled that last fraction of an inch which would have actuated the magnetic limit switch.

Fire One

When start-up time comes there is an atmosphere of quiet and intense concentration in the cockpit. The F/E turns his electrically driven seat to face forward and runs it up to the front end of its track, which puts him in easy reach of the throttles and other engine controls. Bob does the starting but the F/E stays right with him and monitors the indicators for the slightest variation in what would be a normal starting sequence. Air start pressure is 40 lbs. but drops to 20 as the spin-up starts. At 15% of N2, which is the recommended starting rpm of the second stage compressor, the fuel lever is lifted to idle position to allow fuel flow into the burners and ignition. This is the critical point, for if the temperature shoots up too fast it means the fuel/air ratio is not within limits and any optimism about keeping on on the theory that things will correct themselves can wind up in a hot start, which necessitates a complete shut down and cooling off period. Will engine starts ever be other than an exercise in hopefulness and a question of the pilot’s having the necessary touch? No. 1 lit up O.K., smoothly and noiselessly, and then the remaining engines responded to the same delicate timing of ignition and fuel flow controls.

Cast Off

So, to Paris. But first our nose would have to be gotten out of the tent. They start the engines in this position because of the serious problem of blow back from those massive engines (43,500 lbs. of thrust each, or 48,000 with water injection). When, on signal from Bob and the ground crew chief, the tow truck started pushing us back it was like a large ship floating slowly away from a dock. With all that weight and eighteen wheels, any individual wheel going over a small bump doesn’t really register anything. The airplane simply floats, and so slowly.

Finally they had us away from the terminal and out in the open and disconnected the tow vehicle and we were on our own. Meanwhile F/O Hamlin had listened to ATIS, gotten taxi clearance, gotten the ATC clearance on the clearance delivery frequency, and we started for one of the perimeter taxiways (lost as far as we were concerned). Bob brings up the power ever so slowly and as soon as he started moving the INS showed not only the course along the taxiway but the groundspeed in knots. It seemed as if we might be moving 1 kt. but the indicated was 5. That first 90° turn onto the next taxiway was really a thrill. Bob was looking to his right but he kept going straight on until it appeared that we were just too far past the turn to make it. Then he gave it full right with his steering hand crank and slowly the nose started swinging to the right in an arc which suggested a pivot (impossible), but which was mainly a product of those rearmost eight wheels castering. Sometimes in these turns the cockpit gets clear beyond the taxiway and out over the grass, and that is eerie. The point is that the nosewheel is about twenty feet farther back than the cockpit.

Ground not Air Traffic

Paris? There were nineteen other four-engine jets ahead of us bound for 22R. A couple would take-off, then there’d be nothing moving for awhile, then there’d be a landing or two on 22L, and after awhile another take-off on 22R. In all it took 45 minutes to No. 1 position. This sort of thing, of course, makes passengers wonder, “What’s wrong?” and early Bob had made an announcement explaining the situation. He also repeated it in French, which one of the cabin attendants told us later always made a tremendous impression on the French nationals aboard, which is usually about 20% on a Paris flight. Meanwhile, Bob reviewed with Hamlin the radials and altitudes involved in the SID clearance to be sure they were in agreement on exactly how the departure should be made.

Full Tilt

“TWA 800, cleared for take-off.”

It was not dark (8:10 EDT), but the runway lights had been turned on and they have centerline lighting on 22R. Somehow the runway did not seem 11,000 ft. long sitting up where we were. Bob pushed the four big throttles forward. Up until then we felt we’d been in a boat, floating along in calm water. But now for the transition into the air age, Queen Mary size. The acceleration is terrific what with those fans. But it needs to be because from 0 kts. to a Vr of over 170 kts. with so much weight requires a good healthy, sustained push. Actually at the start you think you’re going to be off in a jiffy at this rate, then in the middle third of the run it doesn’t seem to be quite enthusiastic enough, then in the last third the speed is getting high enough for the ram effect to cause those jets to take a deep breath and from there on you sense a steady increase in power. Bob had commented that 22R was the roughest runway at JFK so we’d expected to become aware of the landing gear taking a beating. Sometimes in 707’s on rough runways we’ve wondered how the wheels stayed on. But this you don’t sense in the mighty 747. It just ran, and ran, level, with minimal jiggling, and only just a moment before rotation was there any suggestion that maybe the runway was on the rough side.

Semi Weightlessness

Boeing 747 cockpit
In cruise at FL330, the airspeed winds up close to the barber pole.

Yes, rotation, and aviation, leaps ahead a hundred years. The runway vibrations are gone. There is no engine vibration. It rides the swells softly at climb speed. Turbulence imparts only a slight lateral oscillation which damps right out. The noise level (wind noise) is low at climb speed. The pilot begins to bank to follow the Flight Director indication of proper bank to intercept the first pertinent omni radial. He calls for the After Take-off check list to be read. Soon we’re at 4000 and cleared to 15 and on the way there cleared further to our requested FL330. Bob usually flies it manually up to cruise altitude (to keep his hand in, as he put it), but this time he turned on the autopilot, set 330 in a window, coupled the autopilot to the Omni set on Nantucket as the first waypoint, and relaxed. When we reached 330 an amber “altitude” light changed from amber to green and the airplane levelled off. Shortly this will be changed to where a bell rings at the selected altitude.


The behavior, or lack of behavior, of the airspeed indicator in the jets and even turbocharged piston engine airplanes is interesting: you seem to wind up looking at the same figure most of the time. In the 747, for instance, after reaching the required speed for take-off flap retraction and getting out of the speed restriction zone near the airport, they show 2000 fpm at 250 kts. indicated with climb power. After 10,000 feet 300 kts. is held, as that’s the best climb speed clean, and finally on levelling off in the thirty thousands and reducing to cruise power the needle stays on 300 to 310 kts. Meanwhile a second striped hand on the airspeed indicator which points to the “ambient” speed of sound may have started off at 350 kts. and come down to 320 kts. at cruise altitude. At any rate, they avoid letting the two get together as this would initiate a sound barrier encounter, shaking, and what not.

Full Sail

An ocean flight has three phases. First getting off and up to altitude, then the level cruise part, and finally the descent. Everybody’s busy in Phase 1, but in Phase 2 there’s little to do. Once he reaches cruise altitude Bob makes a habit of starting at the left side of the cockpit and going across it and the instrument panel and to the right side, checking everything along the way to see that there’s nothing abnormal going on. From there on it’s just a question of letting the autopilot follow the INS right-left needle to the next waypoint and then to the next one and the next one. But, of course, he’s thinking his way across.

The No. 1 INS he keeps set on present latitude and longitude, so the numbers in its windows, or the tail fractions of them, are continually changing. But any time he wanted to know exactly where he was or wanted to let anyone else know all he’d have to do would be read off the numbers in the windows.

The No. 2 INS, by the F/O, is kept set to the waypoint ahead and the digital readout on it is the present distance to the point and the minutes to get there at present speed. This unit is also putting in a true course and the groundspeed and the drift angle reading in windows on the pilot’s Horizontal Situation Indicator (Bendix) or you might say Pictorial Display Indicator.

The No. 3 INS, the one below the throttle pedestal, just above the transponder, gives a continuous indication of wind direction and velocity. From watching it Bob can judge the accuracy of the position of the jetstream as shown on the weather map and also know when he gets closer to it, from the rapid gain in wind velocity.

All the Answers

So, we rush through the air through a short night, encountering only an occasional thin cirrus layer, and hardly a bobble where the jetstream turbulence was supposed to be. And how relaxed the crew. Anything they want to know (Bob did not turn up with a computer at all on the flight) they can just read it off: True Airspeed in a window, with all the corrections (it bobs along 500-501-502-500). Mach .845 in another window. Altitude, no doubt about it, 33,000 in big numbers. Even the back-up altimeter (the third on the panel) in front of the Captain has digital readout for the thousands of feet, with a hand for the hundreds. Fuel? This, of course, is on the F/E panel, but there’s the answer, in numerals: present gross 505,000 lbs., fuel weight 171,000. Fuel Flow? It shows by the average of the four white columns in the vertical readout panel just ahead of the throttles, 6500 lbs/hr for each engine. Or if more precise information or a verification is desired, the F/E panel has a circular dial showing fuel flow on each engine. It might be too early to be checking it now, but 4×6500 is 26,000 and 26,000 into the 171,000 fuel aboard would be nearly 7 hours’ fuel remaining. Paris? The INS button says it’s only 300 minutes away at present speed, so the calculated 2 hours’ arrival reserve is intact.

Flight Engineer on 747
All the answers are there, especially in front of the Flight Engineer’s seat.

The point of all this is that the answers are all in waiting. The last calculation mentioned above not many years back might have taken at least five minutes fooling with a pencil record of fuel flow recordings, a ground speed calculation (maybe not much closer than an “up to now” figure), estimated position, and so on. At one point we asked Bob what about the Point of No Return chart. This used to take quite awhile to fill out and compute and recheck. They don’t even have such a record now. Pushing the Gander, New Foundland waypoint button and the Cork, Ireland waypoint button will give the minutes to either place (as well as true course) and distance. With a tailwind they might want to use a computer to figure the minutes back to Gander, but it could be done in less time simply by making a 180° turn and reading off the minutes “at the present groundspeed.”

100 miles from Gander Bob tuned in his No. 1 nav and it gave the magnetic course to Gander with the needle centered and the DME read 100 miles. Switching over to the INS, its needle was also entered with the indicated True course set in and it also showed 100 n. to Gander (and 12 minutes to get there). So we were getting to Gander by INS as precisely as if we had used omni only.

To Anywhere

Shortly after the ocean clearance was received and things had settled down with the INS and autopilot taking us to the first ocean waypoint (179 n. to get there and 18 mins.), F/O Hamlin asked us where we based and we told him Mercer County Airport at Trenton, N.J. He has plates only for airports large enough for them to land on, so did not have TTN, but he had McGuire AFB, which is near Trenton. He put McGuire latitude and longitude into one of the vacant waypoint spaces in his INS and the answer flashed instantly in the windows: 1618 miles to McGuire from present position and 168 minutes to get there at present groundspeed. Here again the 168 minutes was based on our eastbound groundspeed and this figure would have changed immediately after a turn towards McGuire with an automatic recomputation of the gain or loss component from our present wind of 60° at 16 kts. So, you push a button or two and for wherever you want to go you get a great circle course to get there, turn to it, and read off time to get there, drift angle, groundspeed, and just as if you had a weathervane and anemometer, wind direction and velocity. Was there ever a navigation system equal to this, over land or sea?

Land Ho

We had taken off at JFK at 8:10 by our watch. By 12:10, dawn’s first light. There were large areas of stratus way below, and nothing at our FL330 other than a few contrails which had fanned out to considerable width. After awhile Bob asked F/E Terry to get London and Paris weather. There was a radio selector panel beside the jump seat. On HF there’s a continuous weather broadcast from Shanwick Radio (a contraction of Shannon and Prestwick control centers). London: clear. Paris: 3500 scattered, 4 miles. A bit later the Vortac at Cork, Ireland, came in, with the DME showing 100 n. The INS showed perfect course needle alignment and 101 distance to the waypoint.

When you get that close to land you feel you practically have it made, but it’s still about 700 n. to Paris. Before long we were over Cork and taking a heading for some airway intersection farther on. Then across Land’s End, the isle of Jersey, and through a large break, there was Omaha Beach off to the left. Radar vectors to an ILS for 07 gave us a pretty good turn over and a good view of the palace and gardens at Versailles. Finally, the ILS approach clearance.

Missed the Boat

Bob asked us if we wanted to see a coupled approach and automatic landing. We told him no, that we’d rather see him land it, and right there missed a priceless opportunity for a preview of the future. It was a terrible mistake. For many years the aviation community has dreamed of ultimately achieving blind landing capability. Few seem to realize how close to it we are today. The 747 can actually land itself. And where conditions are favorable, as they were in this case, they like to let it do it so as to accumulate data which eventually will tell them that it is all right to go operational on this.

Here is where we are now on getting down. For a hand-flown ILS approach at Paris the minimums are 200&¼(or rather 200 Decision Height and some runway visibility minimum about equal to ¼). TWA and the 747 are approved for Category II approaches, which means that with the Flight Director working, the autopilot working, and the approach coupler between the ILS needle and the glideslope needle and the autopilot working, the pilot may elect to use a DH of 100 ft. This approach is not to be flown by hand, but by the autopilot with the pilot simply monitoring it.

Bull’s Eye

There’s a special feature of the Bendix Attitude Director Indicator (which is essentially the Artificial Horizon fancied up) called the Bull’s Eye. It is a small circle which mysteriously appears from somewhere when you get the ILS and glideslope needles pretty well crossed in the middle. If you keep them crossed and the center of the fixed reference aircraft in your erstwhile artificial horizon stays within the Bull’s Eye ring you’re in business, otherwise forget going to 100 ft. or even 200 ft.

The Bull’s Eye can move in any direction and its position will tell whether where you want to be is up and to the left, or down and to the right, or what have you, but of all the “needles” not to be chased this is it: it is simply a highly magnified, extremely sensitive indicator of raw ILS needle and glideslope needle data. Rather than telling you what to do (the course director is already doing that) it simply tells you whether so far you’ve got a good enough approach to go to minimums.

In our own small plane flying, we can slide for third base and reach 200 ft. with the ILS and glideslope needles centered, but 20° off the runway heading, break out and get back to the runway and down without any difficulty. In a low approach with a 747, unless you’re coming down to the DH point with the airplane not only almost exactly lined up with the runway centerline but also with only the most minute corrections in heading and attitude in use to keep the ILS and glideslope needles exactly crossed you just are not going to make it so don’t try and institute a go-around. Because breaking out even 50 ft. to one side of the centerline of the runway makes it impossible to get back over the runway and lined up in time to land. The Bull’s Eye serves, then, simply as an indicator of the quality of the approach being made, whether it is well enough stabilized and close enough to the target of both position and small corrections to be feasible.

Tomorrow Now

Had we not have struck out by being behind the times, Bob would have shown us what will be eventually their approval for a Category III approach, i.e. one with automatic landing. In that case he would have, early in the approach, set an Automatic Throttle speed into the autopilot, say 143 kts. and this would have taken care of power and constant approach speed. He would have turned on both autopilots and a warning light would have told him if there were any disagreement between them about what they should be doing in response to navigation signals being received. (If an autopilot fails, there’s a warning light and Bob takes over).

Then he would have turned the coupler on and probably an automatic landing mode switch and as the airplane approached 200 ft. the response to the glideslope needle would have started becoming progressively more damped and at about 65 ft. it would have been cut off entirely and automatically and the pilot hooked automatically onto the radar altimeter. Meanwhile the ILS signal is still controlling heading. At about 50 ft. the throttles would have started coming back automatically in response to a computed flare path and the nose would have started rising in a computed flare. When the wheels touched, a squat switch on the landing gear would have cut off the autopilot and Bob would have had to control the roll-out heading. In case of a crosswind the autopilot/coupler will have been holding the necessary crab angle and it will not kick out the crab before touchdown, but normally in zero/zero or near that it is usually calm. Bob says that in all the automatic landings he’s done it laid it on beautifully.

Tail Low

While old hat, what we saw was just as good. Following the course director’s bank and pitch signals, Bob came right down towards the centerline of the runway with the Bull’s Eye almost centered in the “artificial horizon” window. How they ever judge their height above the runway we’ll never know. In his 747 qualification training period Bob had mentioned to us, in connection with finding the ground, that he felt having the main wheels touch down about 20 ft. short of the runway was more of a problem, because of the length of the landing gear triangle. It seemed to us we were a bit high over the fence, and were going to land a bit long (they have a stop temporarily on the flap lever which reduces maximum flaps about 5° and gives a little extra float and slightly higher landing speed), and then when we felt we were surely flaring 50 ft. too high he started letting the nose down and we realized the rear wheels had been on the runway for some time and we hadn’t even known when they touched.

Strong Stop

With the nose on the ground Bob pulled the reverse thrust levers and moved the four big throttles backward. It really does lean you forward, but this is the way to do it because once the airspeed gets down to some point in the roll out the engines begin to ingest their own forward-blowing exhaust and begin to load up with unburned fuel. So you get all you can out of reverse thrust while the airspeed is still high and then shut it off and never go back to it, relying on brakes from there on, which are also powerful. At the end of the braking period Bob asked F/E Terry, “How are my brake temperatures?” Sure enough, over in a corner were a cluster of brake temperature gauges. “All in the green,” Terry answered. Any docking of a 747 is likely to involve considerable close quarter taxiing, so you wouldn’t want to try it with overheated brakes.


Orly airport 747 cockpit
Taxiing in at Orly.

As we turned off the active and started a cross-country taxi trip, with the After Landing check list being read, it became boat-like again, floating along, seemingly at too much of a snail’s pace, but the INS groundspeed indication read 30 kts. on one long straight stretch. Heading in to the terminal, as well as the man with the paddles up on a balcony, there are a couple of vertical lights on the roof, a sort of VASI on its side, as a backup, and if both lights are kept green then you’re heading straight in. There’s also the yellow line, but at night or with snow on the ground….

After the engine shut down (they seem to go out like a light), Bob pushed the Paris waypoint button on the INS and recorded the latitude and longitude reading on his set. It wasn’t quite what had been set in for Paris at JFK, but a mile from where we were it would have read the same. No wonder they get to the moon, with INS.

Joining Up

We didn’t wait for the Secure Cockpit check list but tore out through the cocktail lounge on the upper deck behind the cockpit and spun down the circular stairway into First Class and followed those passengers out and into Immigration along with the rest of the passengers. The terminal facilities for the 747’s were finished at Orly before the 747’s got there and you really go right through. There are lots of gates so showing your passport involves only a relatively short line, then you’re surrounded by baggage conveyors with the baggage already coming in. There are two exits from this baggage claim area, one for those with something to declare and one for those without anything to declare. Side by side, the former was staffed, but the other wasn’t, so nearly everyone just walked right through and there was France, la belle France. We were at the crew bus station before Bob got there. It was now 4:00 A.M. by our watch and 9:00 A.M. Paris time. (They don’t use daylight-saving time.)

Lost Night

Bob’s routine is to take a four-hour nap after these flights, then get up and walk about ten miles, have dinner, and turn in, leaving a 7:30 A.M. call. Which he did. We tried, but couldn’t get to sleep for the four-hour nap. The walk was wonderful. First by subway to the Left Bank (they have wooden rails and rubber tires and are virtually noiseless), then window shopping and a lot of winding around in what must be as picturesque an area as there is in any city in the world, historic sites (Hemingway’s house), and finally by foot and bridge across the Seine. By the end of dinner in a delightful little restaurant with almost as many waiters as patrons the best we could do was walk on back to the Celtic with one eye partially open. Paris is so beautiful. When you can see it.

Sold Out

The take-off Sunday morning, scheduled for 11:00 A.M. was preceded by what happened at JFK, starting about 9:00. Of particular interest was a full passenger load, some 349 souls and an ETE of 7:10 due to a minus wind component which would average 20 kts. for the distance. A cold front was forecast through the New York area two hours before arrival time (1:55 EDST). Bob added 30,000 lbs. of fuel to the computer fuel figure to allow for the front slowing down and possible traffic delays at JFK. We would start taxiing out at 653,000 lbs. gross, which would include 258,000 lbs. of fuel, and 76,000 lbs. of payload. So the airplane would be heavy compared to coming out of JFK, but even so we could have carried 47,000 lbs. more. But not in passengers. As Bob explained, all the big airplanes are space limited passenger-wise, at least with standard seating. People, on the average, aren’t quite heavy enough for the space they require.

Squawk No. 1

One of the first things a F/E does on reaching the field for a flight is to check the Squawk List of the crew which brought the airplane in. He not only wants to see what was written up but how much of it can be fixed during the turnaround.

A beautiful city – when you can keep your eyes open.

The main item concerning Flight 803 was an inoperative Auxiliary Power Unit (APU). The 747 is supposed to be self-sustaining on the ground, i.e. it has a 1200 hp turbine in the tail (which emits considerable thrust) and it can supply all electrical and bleed air requirements of the airplane. This means air-conditioning on the ground and a generous supply of bleed air for starting. But when the APU is inoperative then ground APU equipment is required. The catch on this, with the 747, is that the largest ground APU equipment available is adequate only for up to the 707. Such equipment will normally provide enough air for starting, but it will not carry the air-load required for the 747’s air conditioning. All it can do is blow in outside air, and not much of that.

Bob was annoyed with the APU situation because it created a passenger comfort problem. He explained that they started off with eight APU spares for the 747 strategically located along the routes, but five of them were at Garret in a crash modification program, so it wasn’t easy to get one replaced. He went back in the terminal and found TWA’s Paris operations manager and asked him to hold up boarding until the last possible moment. When you get 370 people, including crew, sealed up in one of those air tight vessels the cabin temperature takes off and right now. So he’d get them in quick and then start as soon as possible after that. With even only one engine running he’d have air-conditioning.

It’s remarkable how quickly they can get 349 people on one of these if they want to, but we soon had a small sample of what must have starting happening to them. Even with the overhead escape hatch in the cockpit open and outside air blowing lightly through the air-conditioning vents it was pretty soggy.

Three Strikes

When it came time to start No. 1 Bob and the Flight Engineer were on the ready. 40 lbs. pressure. Spin up normal. Then Terry started calling off a drop in starting pressure. And the temperature in the compressor section started rising much too rapidly. Body English and optimism is no help in these situations and Bob pulled the throttles back and shut it down. After some discussion with the Ground Crew chief he gave No. 1 another try with the same results. Then a longer discussion. They tried No. 4, but the pressure went right down early in the starting effort. Then No. 3. No go. At this point Bob told ground that unless he could get sustained 40 lbs. pressure within five minutes he was going to have the airplane unloaded. “Those people will be cooking back there if we don’t get going.” Something got screwed up a little tighter and shortly No. 2 was started. “Turn the air-conditioning all the way up for awhile,” Bob said to Terry, “they’ll be needing it.”

Excuse, Please

So, again, we started floating away from the pier, as it were, with that powerful tractor pushing us tail-first to an open area. Shortly after the two had moved away and Bob started moving under sail a warning light came on “Electrical Access Panel Door.” Oh, brother. It was probably shut, but not firmly enough to suit the magnetic micro switch, so inability to pressurize was a potential. Terry called in on the company frequency requesting that a truck and mechanic come out, Hamlin got an amended taxi clearance back to the terminal, and we had a nice bit of taxiing around a square traffic circle. And a short, short speech to the passengers to let them know they weren’t seeing double. With permission to stop on the inner taxiway, the truck came out, the mechanic ran from the truck to the nose and then underneath, the warning light went out, and he was quickly back to the truck.

In the Long Run

Runway 07 at Orly Field at Paris is 11,500 ft. long and smooth as a billiard table. The temperature was around 80° and it was clear. The Take Off data card which the flight engineer had placed in front of the throttle quadrant showed V1 as 150 kts., Vr as 171 kts. and V2 (the maximum angle of climb speed with an engine out) as 177 kts. As Bob turned onto the runway we released our shoulder harness so we could lean over enough to one side to see the airspeed indicator. It is a larger than usual instrument and it looked like a long way to 171, and it was. It gets to about 60 kts. rather quickly, then seems to take its time getting to around 120, and at around 150 as if it will never make 171 Vr in the amount of rapidly shortening runway ahead. All of a sudden the engines seem to get their second wind, the accelerating increases strongly, and the nose lifts, airspeed 171 kts. Even at such a high gross the climb attitude is spectacular, the airspeed continues to build rapidly, and the next thing the call is for a power reduction.

Water Injection

Actually there is a slight power reduction before that. On each takeoff they have available 3200 lbs. of water which, under full power, is injected into the burner cans in the engines to keep the temperature of the cans within limits. The water supply is exhausted after two minutes and at that time (they usually cut the water injection off just before that) the F/E trims the throttles back as necessary to keep the can temperatures from rising any higher. Meanwhile in the take-off he has been monitoring closely power output, rpm’s, temperatures, fuel flow and other indices of engine performance.

Amended Clearance

We were soon cleared to 310 and up towards Cork Bob told Hamlin to ask for a change in ocean routing to a more northerly track. He felt that after crossing the jetstream that would get us far enough north of the big sag in the stream south of Iceland to get into a relatively low headwind area before having to cross it again as it came from a more northwesterly direction in the latter state of the crossing. More miles, but less wind. The clearance change was granted, Hamlin set in the latitude and longitude of the first new ocean waypoint, and just for luck Bob asked for a clearance direct there from present position. It was granted, saving quite a dog leg.

Squared Away

Meanwhile we’d gotten to our assigned 31,000. 2000 fpm at first with 9000 lbs/hr fuel flow on each engine, airspeed 300 kts. Then about halfway up the climb dropped to 1000 fpm. Towards the last it was 500 fpm. They figure 30 minutes to 30,000. Levelled off, the power was reduced to 7,000 lbs/hr and the indicated stayed on 300 kts. or up a bit, 310 kts. You see, they have more power than they can use in these. The power had to be reduced to keep from going past the desired Mach number of .84. It was noteworthy that the extra fuel and 110 passengers above what we had coming over required an extra 600 lbs/hr of fuel per engine to maintain the same speed. This explains why at the higher weights adding an extra hour’s fuel doesn’t mean you are going to get there with it. You burn extra fuel getting it there, so, in effect, lose about 20% as transportation charge.

Good Idea, But

The surface chart showed that not so far west of Ireland we’d be crossing a cold front. Maybe it was not much of a front, but it at least pulled the cork on what we’d long thought had weather information possibilities for the guy down under. The idea: the airline pilots are all sitting up there now where they can see the weather so why can’t they report where the activity is. At 31,000 we were in the clear, with only a suggestion of contrail debris here and there.

Nearing the front there was first some solid, slightly puffy looking stratus way down low, then a layer came along at maybe 20,000. This was obviously the top layer but there may have been several layers below this one. The front? There was no way to really tell. Where it probably was, the top layer got up maybe to within 5,000 ft. of us but it was smooth on top, except for one spot which showed just the faintest suggestion of a cu top trying to poke up through. Beyond this there might have been a long line of not quite as high thunderstorms hidden by the layer. There was no way to tell. A little farther along we thought we saw an anvil cloud. It was anvil shaped and there was snow or something trailing down from it with a sweep to the left or south. But it was not connected to anything below. We asked Bob what it was and he glanced and said, “It’s a detached cirrus.” Having run out of string we did not pursue the question.

About this time Shanwick called and said for us not to cross the next waypoint before a certain time, due to traffic ahead, which was evidently slower than we were. Go to the point and hold? In mid-ocean? Not these days. The barrier-time Center named minus the time of day gave 20 minutes, so it was just a question of throttling back (to Mach .83) until No. 2 INS said 20 minutes to get there. After another slow lap Bob asked for 330 and got it and we went back to normal cruise. Due to the fact that east and west ocean crossing use different routes, the odd and even thousands rule is often abrogated.


747 seat adjustment
A simple but effective way to adjust the seat just right.

Here’s an interesting item. On the way over we had noticed a couple of narrow strips of electrician’s tape on the window frames just to the pilot’s left and the copilot’s right, at eye level. Since this looked rather simple and we had six hours to figure it out we didn’t ask. But on getting in the cockpit at Paris we noted a related but entirely different thing: right under the compass, mounted horizontally on the center frame of the windshield was a 2 in. aluminum disc. There was a small orange ball at the 9:00 o’clock position and at the 3:00 o’clock position and each had a large black plus mark on it, the 3:00 o’clock one facing the captain and the other facing the copilot. At the 6:00 o’clock position was a small white post with a little ball on top.

Bob explained, “Oh, this is one of the early airplanes (they’re all of six months old now!) and that was for proper seat aligning.” While still on the ground in Paris, he let us get in his seat and maneuver it until the little white ball was lined up with the plus mark on the ball on the right. It required a higher and more forward seat position than one would likely select to cruise with. The device results in every pilot landing the airplane having his eyes at the same position behind the windshield. The idea is that in the attitude the airplane reaches a 100 ft. DH a pilot might not even see the runway if he happened to have his seat too low. There was once some discussion in Air Facts of a tall instructor and a short student and vice versa and how different things looked to them with their different eye levels. So, here in one of the world’s most sophisticated airplanes they’ve got a simple sighting device which every side-by-side trainer really needs! And a homemade one at that.

Weathervane Navigation

Early in the flight Bob had mentioned that the winds aloft forecast charts furnished by the French were consistently accurate. It was true this day because it was possible to look at the wind direction and velocity reading on the No. 3 INS all the way across and tell just about our position. And what winds. And how they shift. An hour and a half out of Paris as we neared the jetstream the wind was 193° 61 kts. Twenty minutes later, beyond the core of the jetstream it was 213° 14kts. (which is what Bob had gone fishing for more of). Three minutes later: 320° 15 kts. Then as we reached the jetstream the second time: 334° 70 kts., but our groundspeed was 460 kts. or 40 shy of still air normal so the 70 wasn’t enough on the nose to really hurt. But it can be. Twenty minutes later: 339° 87 kts., ground-speed 451 kts. Heading 280° True. Not long after we were across the NW/SE jetstream: 226° 14 kts. like the map said and this held pretty well on into New York area, groundspeed 484 kts.

Good Old Gander

When Gander vortac came within range its DME reading was 146.5 miles and the No. 2 INS read 147. Shortly there was a sigmet of a line of thunderstorms from Yarmouth to St. John and Bob asked for 350 and got it, also a slightly more inland route. But here again the balcony view of the weather was not really revealing. We were on top of occasional layers, but in the clear. A cu sitting off by itself to the right showed rather classic vertical development and Bob turned his radar over that way and in contour it showed a fair cell.

It’s over a thousand miles from Gander on but it is downhill and before long we were cleared to something in the twenties, with a request to expedite the descent. When the airplane is above 290 they put a stop behind the throttles because if the throttles are closed above that altitude and then advanced rapidly it is possible to get compressor stall. This is the only time the airplane is slippery on getting down. With the throttles back to the stop, about 1000 fpm seemed about all it was willing to do, and, of course, that isn’t an expedited descent. But they have an answer. Speed brakes. When Bob put them on there was a mild and continuous shudder but the descent went to 2000 to 2500 fpm, and then at 290 with the stop out of the way and throttles closed and the speed brakes retracted we were looking at 4000 fpm down. The cabin was going down at 500 fpm from its peak of 5100 ft. at 35,000 ft. The cabin pressure differential indicator usually reads just over 8.0 lbs/sq. in. at altitude.

To TWA, Too

New York had 2000 scattered and 4 miles. They descended us early and ran us across Republic and Zahn’s airport heavy VFR traffic on Long Island at 2000 ft. looking for somebody to run into (and we were all sure looking). There was an unusual amount of winding around with radar vectors for final approach course to 22L and we were glad to see that certain things can still happen in the best of families. Radar brought him in too high, too fast, too close, and at too great an angle to the localizer course and gave him a fast “Cleared for an ILS, contact the tower on….” Bob didn’t give us a choice this time and we think he may have been going to show us an automatic landing, but there wasn’t time to get organized. The autopilot took it down through the glideslope, and then back up through it, the Bull’s Eye raced across the indicator a time or two and disappeared — there just wasn’t time for the autopilot to capture and stabilize and Bob shut it off and landed, we don’t know when but with lots of runway to spare.

On Balance

Well, that’s the 747, the Queen of the Airways. In foreign ports one can only be extra proud of its being the center of attraction and in its already being around in good numbers. The pilots like it and in choosing an airplane to ride in that means more to us than anything else. It rides best of all in rough air. In a trip back to the tail enroute from Paris we were surprised that there wasn’t a feeling of being crowded, what with a full passenger list, but the width of the cabin and height of the ceiling and width of the seats and extra aisles gives just the opposite feeling. It has a steady feel to it. You can stand in the rear of a 707 cockpit and sight over the nose to a cloud and it hardly seems possible at nearly 600 mph but the nose is continuously hunting in both pitch and yaw. Due to improved aerodynamics or a better yaw damper or better autopilot the 747 doesn’t do this, it just moves steadily and majestically forward. Creating the pushbutton chapter of the Air Age.

As the crew disbanded at Kennedy and Hamlin walked away, Bob glanced at him and said, “You know that fellow is a good example of the perfect co-pilot. He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t talk, he knows the book, and he is always ahead of the flight.” We felt we’d also seen the perfect example of an ideal 747 crew.


  • Fantastic article. Interesting to read about how at the time of this flight CAT III was still under development, and how much manual work was involved in the engine start sequence.

    I also have to admit that it was a bit chilling to read the flight number, “TWA 800”, knowing what would happen to a 747 of about that vintage on that very route 26 years later…

  • Thank you so much for publishing these articles. Mr. Collins was a great writer and his enthusiam shows clearly through his direct, authoritative style. I almost felt like I made the trip with them.

    He obviously loved these trips, the people and the planes.

    If you enjoyed this story, play close attention:

    Captain Buck was also an accomplished writer and his memoir is not to be missed by anyone reading these pages. I couldn’t find it at Sporty’s but Amazon has it.

    Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

    In North Star over My Shoulder, Bob Buck tells of a life spent up and over the clouds, and of the wonderful places and marvelous people who have been a part of that life. He captures the feel, taste, and smell of flying’s great early era — how the people lived, what they did and felt, and what it was really like to be a part of the world as it grew smaller and smaller. A terrific storyteller and a fascinating man, Bob Buck has turned his well-lived life into a delightful memoir for anyone who remembers when there really was something special in the air.

    Great August Summer Reading. If you loved Mr. Gann’s FATE IS THE HUNTER, you will also very much enjoy this book.

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