Editor’s note: Once again the Air Facts archives offer a mesmerizing flying story from record-setting airline captain Bob Buck. In this article, from the March 1969 edition, Buck takes us from New York to all kinds of exotic places in his Boeing 707: Frankfurt, Athens, Tel Aviv, India and finally Hong Kong. Fly along as he makes his first flight to this challenging airport–a trip halfway around the world and back in time.
The next thing to a moon shot
Hong Kong. You hear so much about it. Our routes take us there but I’d never flown that trip. It seemed time to get at it. It has been Connie days since seeing Bombay and Colombo, Ceylon, and B-17 times since Bangkok; Hong Kong we’d never seen. I got myself set up.
But such a long lapse requires requalification. This is done by answering a long questionnaire on the routes; safe altitudes, correct altitudes, navigation aids, communication procedures, weather, approach procedures, a lot of things to look up.
And after that you look at movies. These are for each terminal and take you through approaches to all runways. I sit in a dark classroom and land at Bombay, Columbo and Bangkok. They seem somewhat familiar and I remember the hills on the east end of the runway at Bombay, the millions of beautiful coconut palms at Columbo, the flat, wet land around Bangkok.
But Hong Kong is something else. The terrain is tough. Mountainous islands stick straight up out of the sea, no flat ground. They have filled in a piece of the harbor to make a runway. It’s a peninsula 8350 feet long. There’s water on the SE end and endless clusters of houses backed up by hills on the NW end.
The movie for Hong Kong is long. Straight in is an ILS that threads a needle between rocky islands. If the approach is missed it’s a precise turning pull up because within two and a half miles, straight ahead, the hills go up to 1532 feet and you’ve got to miss ’em.
But the SE landing is the interesting one. You come over points with adventuresome names. Home on the Cheung Chau beacon and then do a peculiar figure 8 procedure turn letting down to 1000 feet. Leave Cheung Chau and head for Stonecutters island and beacon. And heading for it you also head for those hills. You break out before Stonecutters or it’s a missed approach.
At Stonecutters you start a right descending turn. The mountains are on your left, close. Houses are below, close. You seem to just clip the roofs as the ground slopes down about with your descent path. A big orange and white checkerboard on a hillside is an aim point you must turn inside. And, from the right, comes the runway. You seem high and cut lower over the houses, clear the boundary and land. You feel like you want to get stopped because an overshoot would be into the harbor. You want to keep straight too because there’s water on both sides of the runway.
The movie shows all this at night too with lead in lights of white, orange and red plus the checkerboard all lighted up to help you keep on the curving course to the runway.
Even with the movie a check pilot must go in there with me the first time. So Jim Lydic will be waiting for me at Bangkok to ride that last leg into Hong Kong.
The trip starts with a nonstop to London. Routine except Kennedy is fogged in and we wait almost five hours to get off.
The ocean crossing has changed with the years. Once we had two copilots, two flight engineers, a navigator and radio operator all packed in a Connie with constant traffic between seats and the crew bunks.
Now just three of us; Chuck my copilot, Glen, flight engineer, and me. No movement back and forth, we sit in our seats all the way except for necessary trips aft. We hardly even visit with the passengers.
Two computers and Doppler sensors take the place of the navigator. The radio isn’t much better than it was except it’s all phone, no more dots and dashes, and there’s a wonderful gadget called Selcal. This fixes it so we don’t have to listen all the time to the awful static-loud high frequencies. If the ground wants us a bell rings and a yellow light comes on. Then we flip the jack box switch, press the mike button and say, “Who called TWA seven oh two?”
The Doppler aims us straight across and we take Loran fixes to see if it’s doing a proper job. We get off 15 miles to the right once and after committee-like consultation bring her back on course, make a small correction and tear ahead.
The extra crew members are replaced by speed. No more 12 to 14 hour London flights that require rest periods. Our flight plan is 6:05 and we make it.
A short time on the ground and then over to Frankfurt, Germany, an hour away, and call it a day.
The following morning — let’s see, we left New York on Monday, now it’s Wednesday, and we’re going to Athens. We’re at the Frankfurt airport wrapped in wintertime European fog. The airplane we are to take out can’t get in. It’s sitting in Paris waiting for Frankfurt to improve.
We’ve been flying these routes for 22 years now and each winter go through this fog business and have all sorts of delays. The advertisements, committees, symposiums, etc., etc., talk about all weather flying and CAT II and CAT III, but out where we do the work nothing has changed. It’s just like it always was. When it fogs in you sit and wait, or if you are in the air you go to an alternate — DC-4, Connie and 707, all the same.
We drink coffee, chitchat with the hostesses, look at the airport shops and their cameras, recorders, perfume, electric razors, have some more coffee. After five hours the weather crawls up to minimums and our airplane arrives. It takes about an hour to service it and then we are ready to go.
“Frankfurt ground, TWA seven forty ready to start engines.”
“TWA seven forty there will be a delay of one hour, ATC. We will call you,” comes the terse reply.
We tell the passengers and our mechanics on the ground, get the Stars and Stripes newspaper from a hostess and with feet up, cockpit speaker tuned to the tower, read and wait.
The hostess brings more coffee. She complains, we complain, but we wait. The hour drags by and true to Germanic precision we get a start clearance, fire up and taxi out.
“Delta Foxtrot ten departure, maintain one nine zero, departure control one twenty one five after take-off.”
We read it back and then check it over. It’s over Nierstein beacon at 5000 feet, then left to Neckar, Herrenberg and Trasadingen, Herrenberg at or below flight level 190. The ADF’s and omnis are set up, it’s all clear in my mind. The before take-off check list is finished.
“Okay, tell ’em we’re ready to go.”
The copilot does and they clear us for take-off. We run down the field, lift the nose and start to climb. Keep the speed low, 220 knots, because over Nierstein there is about a 50 degree left turn and with high speed we’d cut too wide a swath or make the turn too tight and jam the passengers down in their seats with a couple of G’s they wouldn’t like.
We rush toward 5000 feet and I pull power so as to round out nicely on altitude and not do it roughly and lift the passengers off their seats in an unwanted demonstration of weightlessness. Then, as I get power reduced and level off, ATC says unrestricted climb to 190. So power on and resume climb as the ADF goes around over the beacon and I turn left toward Neckar. The course after this hasn’t any big turns so I let the speed build up to 250 knots and as we approach 10,000 I let it go to 300 knots.
We are sort of settled into the flight and I look down and see a big white glob of stratus that fills the Rhine Valley. That’s the stuff that put us in fog all morning. The rest of the country is clear, but hazy. Up high there is just a wash of cirrus across the sky.
The Neckar beacon is at Heidelberg and I look down and see the town and castle. It would be fun being down there in the late winter afternoon in the smoky atmosphere of a Beer Stube having a glass with good friends and perhaps holding off predinner starvation with a knockwurst. Well, another day.
Further south we pass near Stuttgart and I search, about 25 kilometers SE, for the little town of Schlattstall and the factory back in the pretty hills where our Libelle sailplane came from. I can see the area, but can’t pick out the factory, but I can visualize it. Just a tiny place, 55 people, the inside smelling of resin they use with the fiberglass and probably six sleek fuselages upside down on wooden horses with men standing on them fitting gear doors or other things. A quiet little place where they make one of man’s most efficient, beautiful and certainly most pleasure creating devices.
ATC brings me back to reality and clears us to 37,000 feet, the altitude I’ve picked because of some weather and possible thunderstorms near Athens.
By the time we’re over the Alps we are up there. The last of the day casts long purple shadows over the snow covered mountains. The villages in the dark valleys have their lights on and the thoughts of an Inn in one of those Swiss towns seems good indeed. I’d have an entrecote and pomme-frits, a green salad and some of that fruity red Dole wine, or would that be good so soon after the beer and knockwurst we had in Germany? Well, we’d work something out.
Now it’s night and we are over Italy, the east coast and towns like Ancona, Vieste, and Brindisi which is right on the heel. And then we are changed over to Athens control except you call it Athinai which sounds like Atheeny, but you say it that way because they are very sensitive about it and will correct you if you say Athens.
We skin along the west side of the Albanian coast as cloud masses come in below us. There isn’t any lightning and the radar doesn’t show any cells so I rather think it’s general rain. There is a Mediterranean low to the northeast, the kind that’s typical in November. Athens will be on the back side with cold unstable air being pumped in. It never gets really bad, rarely a ceiling under 800 feet.
We call our company radio and get the weather and it’s raining with 1200 feet scattered and 3000 overcast with good visibility and a northerly wind about 20 knots.
This isn’t much of a problem except it’ll be rough in the lower levels. There’s a line of hills only a few miles northeast of the field that go up over 3000 feet and the spillage from a northeast wind gives a lot of chopped up air that jounces you around on the approach.
Athens, like all the world now, has VHF and enroute control, approach control, tower and the rest. They speak English and do a good job although all these places away from the States haven’t had the high pressure, fast moving traffic and aren’t geared to it yet although they will have to move faster soon because traffic world wide is increasing dramatically. Things move slowly now like when you are ready to take off you’ll often be held if someone passes the outer marker, until he’s on the ground. At Chicago they’d clear a couple of airplanes off in that time.
Traffic is light and we are cleared for a descent and then an approach from the Aiyina beacon which is on an island by the same name. We track out from this beacon letting down over water until we intercept the ILS and then turn in and make the approach. There isn’t any radar vector service at Athens.
During the descent we’re on instruments with snow at first and then down lower snow and rain mixed, and finally it’s all rain. The air is pretty smooth and there isn’t any ice, but we have the engine cowl hot air on to keep any engine icing away.
We leave the beacon about 9000 feet and I scramble to get down to intercept the ILS at 3000 feet. It’s a little bouncier down low, but not bad. A little above 3000 feet the stuff becomes ragged and looking to my left the lights of Athens and Piraieus come into view sharply in good visibility. I tell the tower we have the field in sight and turn in getting on the ILS as we do, but it’s only for practice. The air is gusty and the airplane sinks in some shear right near the ground that I just catch as we land. It’s a good place to carry a little extra speed. But that can be overdone when it’s raining because the runway gets slick. Fortunately Athens’ runway is 10,499 feet long and gives you something to play with.
In much of modern world travel you never leave home. We ride into town in a taxi that, on the wet pavement, scares me more than anything in an airplane. It dumps us off at the Hilton Hotel. It has the same service that you’d get in the States and, in a way, knocks out the interesting and unique in travel. Once, when you went to Greece or any other country, you ate the food of the country and rubbed elbows with the people of the country. Now you rub elbows with fellow Americans and eat hamburgers in the Hilton Coffee Shop. Luckily the past years have taught us where to go, what to see and enjoy, so it’s easy to get out and see the good things of a country.
The next night it’s still raining lightly as we stand on the airport waiting for our plane. This is late Thursday, Thanksgiving, and we just had a Turkey dinner in the hotel before coming to the field. The trip tonight will be to Tel Aviv and Bombay. This will be a long night.
The trip to Tel Aviv is a flip. One hour and 35 minutes at 33,000 feet on top. There are some showers near Tel Aviv and we duck around one with the help of radar. We broke out in descent at about 2500 feet as we approached the coast line and the LOD beacon which is almost on the coast and is the outer marker of the ILS. During descent, as in Athens, I leave the radar on and use it not just for weather, but to show the coast lines as a navigation check. So much of the flying we do is around coasts and islands that the radar is useful as a back up navigation check. It paints this sort of thing very well, so even though it’s not part of our navigation procedures it gets lots of use.
Breaking out under the clouds the coast line shows up well with the city lighted and very busy looking. It’s a far cry from the first days we came here 20 years ago. It was tough then with people living in tents and homes made from packing boxes and corrugated iron. We used to bring our own food along with us so as not to cut into the meager local supply.
Now they have their Hilton too and nice homes and food and all the things of the good life. The people still retain, however, that feeling of working together and they are thoughtful and haven’t learned the gimmick. I enjoy being there and admire the things they have done. There’s always a dark spot, though, in knowing that war isn’t very far away and peace isn’t secure.
We are in and out in forty minutes and now starts the long haul to Bombay. The political situation makes the haul long because we cannot leave Tel Aviv and go bee line for Bombay. That would take us across various lands that are not wise to fly over in today’s political world. So the course is to leave Tel Aviv and go back northwest over Cyprus and then north over Turkey and east across Iran almost to the Russian border near the Caspian Sea, then south to a place called Sharjah and finally across the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea to Bombay. All this is about 6 1/2 hours of grinding.
Out of Tel Aviv we use our radar and duck those few showers and soon get cleared up and are on top of everything. It’s a clear, star-studded sky. The problems aren’t weather or navigation, they are just communications and wondering who you should try to get hold of next. There’s a string of omnis across the route at interesting sounding places like Elazig, Rezaiyeh, Zanjan and others. But the navigation is almost like at home.
Communications are VHF, but it’s often to some sleepy person below and there are gaps where no one seems to answer and then you call approach control at a place like Tehran and he relays for you to the proper center. In some areas there isn’t controlled ATC as we know it, but rather information regions which keep you informed of the traffic in the area and you do the rest.
Dawn spooked its way into daylight about the time we approached Sharjah. The ground became visible as big mountains all brown and dry desert about like the country in eastern California. You always have that feeling of who can live there and on what. It’s lonesome and desolate.
At Sharjah we flip on the Doppler and let it help us go across the water to Bombay. That’s about 1050 miles.
We run out of VHF and go to HF with its squalling, static interference, fading and all the rest. We work Karachi and finally Bombay and give check points which are places with names like Dolphin, Threadfin, Seahorse, and are finally 100 miles out of Bombay.
The weather has been delightful. About a 65 knot tail wind and clear skies. It’s a good time of year to prowl these regions, the monsoons are over and the weather is good.
Bombay comes in clear on VHF and gives us descent and it’s all like going into some place in the States that isn’t very busy. You can always pick up Bombay in the distance by a smoggy area that’s pollution — caused by wood smoke since they burn a lot of wood. It has a strange, pungent odor that permeates the air.
The tower is very formal and despite the lack of traffic will not approve a straight in landing and we have to do a complete circle calling on downwind, base, and final. The runway is 10,500 feet long and there aren’t any problems.
Customs is rather fussy and it’s necessary to list all the money you have with you, each piece of jewelry, even your wrist watch. The actual customs people are polite about the entire business, but it’s tedious.
India is poverty and the scenes one sees riding into town are depressing with many, many people and poor living conditions.
Our hotel isn’t a Hilton, but it’s very comfortable. It’s near the beach and has a swimming pool which is well decorated by Bikini clad girls. Most of them are hostesses for our airline or some of the other airlines that use this hotel. Airline crew members in the tropics live by the pool. The gals come out, and that can almost be a literal statement, in their Bikinis to soak up the sun and life is a day of lying in the sun drinking lemonade or some soft drink. I find European girls, which most of these are, drink very little alcohol. They haven’t been enchanted with Le Martini or Le Scotch and only drink a little wine with dinner.
They get covered with sun tan lotion and look all oily as they lie about in the sun, on their backs for a bit and then when partially done, flopping over on their tummies to get sun on the other side. The Bikinis leave little to the imagination especially when they undo part of the top so as to slide it down to get the most sun on the most hide.
The male crew members lie around too with much attention being paid to the femininity and each new girl that arrives pool side is looked over thoroughly. Small talk conversations go on with much airline chatter, many read and others sleep, recuperating from the mixed up time zone effects and long night flights.
Down on the beach, separated from the hotel and pool by a guarded fence, one sees the native people walking. An acrobatic troup comes along and quickly sets up a rope on tripods much like the tight wire in a circus. A drum is beaten for attention and the troup, Dad, Mother and a little boy, do stunts, hand springs and such, and Dad walks the rope. The little one comes up to the fence and asks for money and gets a few Rupees. There’s a man with a mongoose and a cobra in a basket who will stage a fight if you pay enough. I don’t pay him anything because I want the cobra in the basket, all the time!
So the day and evening go and about 1:30 in the morning the phone rings to say the flight is on time and we’ll be picked up in an hour.
We drive out to the airport through the sleeping villages and it’s difficult to adjust my thinking to seeing people with their beds on the edge of the road sleeping, or just lying on the ground.
The airport is like most airports at three in the morning. Sleepy people, janitors cleaning up, a few people waiting to greet arrivals, others there to see someone off in sort of a festive mood, perhaps the leftover of a goodbye party.
To the crew it’s an office under fluorescent lights, hellos to a dispatcher who’s been on duty since midnight. A raft of papers to look over; the weather, the load, fuel available, alternates and the flight plan.
It’s two hours to Colombo, Ceylon, our first stop. The weather is good with a few leftover showers in the Colombo area. I can visualize them as early morning cumulus, the tropical kind with a base around 1500 feet, the tops 15,000 or so, but the rain not too heavy as they die out with the dawn.
We climb out of Bombay, get on top the smoke layer, and there staring at me is the Southern Cross. It’s pleasant to see. I haven’t seen it for a few years. I try to remember the names of the stars but can’t get past A Crux. In the celestial days we were sharp about all that. Somehow when celestial went down the technological drain we lost part of the romantic in worldwide flying. There was something about standing up in a dome and getting a star centered in the octant and shooting its altitude that had adventure and excitement in it, a little of the deck of a square rigger under you. I miss that part.
But I don’t even need the Doppler. It’s an omni airway. The biggest chore, again, is communications, waking up a sleepy guy on the ground to give a check point and finally giving it on HF to Madras.
Dawn arrived half way there. A most sensational one with the sky very delicate pinks and turquoise while the blackness still lingered down low. It was tropical with big towering Cu sticking up in silhouette, and there were searchlight-like rays cutting across the sky in a fine golden hue. I see many dawns and there is almost always beauty in any of them, but this was exceptional.
The showers had pretty well died down and only a few Cu floated around, but without rain. The approach into Colombo airport, called Katunayake, which I couldn’t hope to pronounce, is by radio beacon. I could see the field, but went through the approach just to be familiar with it for some other day. It seemed so old-fashioned to be doing an approach using the ADF and nothing else. It was like 15 or 20 years ago when most of our overseas approaches were like that.
We crossed the coast and just a few miles inland is the airport, a single strip 11,050 feet long. It nestles down in the coconut palms and there’s a very nice feeling as you level off and land and see all those trees along the runway.
The terminal building is new and very attractive. Everything is clean. We stepped out into the early morning air. It was still cool from the night and the ground was wet from the nighttime showers and there was that humid tropical smell that has a certain amount of excitement to it. It’s a pleasant place.
Forty minutes and we are off again. The passenger load about three quarters full. American tourists, Chinese and people native to the east, a mixture of races all going somewhere and you wonder, a little, why and where.
The course goes first over the northeast coast of Ceylon at a place called China Bay. It’s a radio beacon and I like the name ― all the names sound like something out of Somerset Maugham’s eastern stories and if you’re a bit romantic they are exciting.
Climbing toward China Bay you see the high mountains of Ceylon off to the right. They go up to almost 8300 feet and help make Ceylon interesting and diversified. In the mountains the climate is quite moderate and there’s a golf course and it’s not unlike England. The main town in that area is Candy, another good name.
From China Bay, helped by Doppler, we head across the Indian Ocean, 1150 miles of it. The clouds are well below us and the few big cumulus soon disappear and leave almost a cloudless sky. Little lines of very small Cu, way down low, appear now and then, perhaps less than one percent of the sky. You look at them and wonder why they are there, what caused them? A temperature difference? A bit of moist air lifted just enough to kick it off? But why there over the sea, why just that spot? Will we ever know all these mysteries?
Enroute, we cross the Andaman Islands, over a place called Port Blair, which has an omni and tower on 118.1. We’ve been working HF with Madras and Rangoon, but now I call Port Blair and get an immediate reply by a slow and formal talking gentleman who is very interested in his work. He wants to know how far out we received his omni and while I don’t remember exactly I know it was over 200 miles. This information seems to please him. He is indeed cooperative and we chat a bit about the quality of his transmission and his airport which is 7000 feet long and down in some hills. I feel very friendly toward this man I’ll never see as we sign off.
Landfall is at a place called Tavoy on the Burma coast. Forty five miles further along and we enter Thailand and get Bangkok control on VHF. This is a brisk talking man you know is American. We get a descent clearance and scramble to get down because we’re only about 90 miles from the airport.
The weather is good, almost cloudless. The country below is flat and green and cut up by canals that run straight with little villages along them and boats on them that are obviously the commerce of the country.
The airport is big with two parallel runways, one used mostly by the military and the other civilian. There’s much attention with military transports coming and going. The civilian side has many airliners with brand names we know, like TWA and Pan Am, and there are lots of others you never heard of, but somehow they seem to have jets and fly like the rest of us and cover that tremendous area that is south east Asia.
The terminal is a busy place with the pleasant people of the country. They are attractive and smile and seem to mean it and the tiny women folk are very attractive indeed.
Jim Lydic is there and we chitchat about the flight to Hong Kong. It’s agreed that Jim will fly and I’ll work copilot since this would be the best way for me to get a good look at the area. Chuck, my copilot, is quite happy about this because he can go in the passenger cabin and catch some sleep on the two and a half hour flight.
From Bangkok to Hong Kong is an unusual flight because we cross right over the Vietnam war zone. First Thailand, then Cambodia and then Vietnam near Pleiku and over Qui Nhon which is south of Da Nang and north of Saigon. It’s almost a crazy situation and certainly must be the first time regular passengers, tourists, fly right over a war zone as a regular thing, but all airlines do it.
The radio is different. Things are much tighter and you feel a certain tenseness that doesn’t exist normally. We are assigned an altitude of 24000 feet which is lower than we want, but that’s all they’ll give us.
There are strange radio stations you don’t know too much about with call signs like Pussycat or some such. They keep you informed of traffic and anything military that might get near you. One of the chaps, a very American sounding young man, asks if there are any girls around. I call up one of the hostesses, a cute little French girl.
“Danny,” I say to her as I hold the mike in front of her mouth, “Say, Hello Baby.”
She obliges and it gets real action and chatter from the chap on the ground.
“Are you French?”
“Yezz, I am,” Danny answers.
“Wow!” comes the reply.
It’s almost a dirty trick to tantalize that boy down there with such a yummy sounding voice, but he likes it. We sign off and Danny goes back to her cabin and chores.
The weather is good with two tenths Cu. The dark green of Vietnam is below with mountains and rivers cut deep between them with the growth down close to the river’s edge. Occasionally you see a military camp of some sort, big ones. I can’t help but think of the boys down there fighting for their lives. I wonder if one looks up at our jet and yearns to be on it headed for home. It’s a depressing feeling, flying over there. A tearing frustration comes over me. Why can’t we end the thing? I feel a yearning sadness that is almost overpowering.
We leave the coast and head across the South China Sea toward Hong Kong, but I cannot shake the awful feeling of Vietnam.
It’s about 600 miles of water. The Doppler is at work again and we double check our position with Loran. We’re not too far from Red China, about 100 miles, and much closer than that nearing Hong Kong. So you become very interested in your work of keeping that big bird on the proper track.
One hundred and fifty miles south of Hong Kong we are in VHF touch. It’s very British now, crisp and efficient. The weather is good except there’s a southeast wind which means we’ll have to make the landing on the curving path over the houses and next to the mountains. I’m glad of it as I want to see this more difficult approach.
It’s almost like the movie with the Cheung Chau approach. Jim goes through the entire thing for my benefit. The figure 8 procedure turn and let down and then homing to Stonecutters. It’s late in the afternoon and it’s a little hazy, but it’s a reddish, gold haze and the many islands stick up out of the sea like those in a Japanese print. The waters around are busy with big ships, medium ships, little ships, hydrofoils and junks, all the sights we’ve seen in the movies so much that it isn’t a surprise in actual life.
After Stonecutters we curve in over the houses and cut inside the mountains. I see the big checkerboard on the hillside and then the runway comes in view and Jim cuts her down close over the houses to as not to be too high. Actually it doesn’t seem as bad as it’s talked up and the movie shows. If you’ve ridge soared a glider you’d feel quite at home making the approach. Of course this was a clear day and I imagine it would be much more interesting with rain at minimums which are 600 foot ceiling and 3 miles visibility. We’ll save that for another day.
Well, Hong Kong is an interesting place. A very striking harbor with Hong Kong Island piling up behind it on hills that are up to 1800 feet and covered with buildings. At night with the lights it’s a dramatic sight.
It’s all very far eastern and Chinese, but, of course, you know it’s been British for many years. The big thing is shopping and it’s the world capital of materialism. It sort of felt like a tremendous Macy’s basement.
The tourists take about two popular tours, one by land and the other by sea, and see the sights which include Repulse Bay which is very colonial British, Aberdeen with its floating restaurants and the area where people live their lives on boats, and the Wanchai district where Suzie Wong hung out with her friends of dubious virtue. This is touted about the way the Italians tout Romeo and Juliet in Verona, and it’s about as fictional. There are many other points, of course.
Aside from the tours it’s shopping and bargains, and people live in their Hilton or Mandarin Hotels rushing out to shop and buy everything from cameras to clothes and jewels and then retreat to the safety and sanitation of the hotel where everything is just about like home except that the decorations are Chinese.
We took a tour and did some shopping, but mostly we tried to get adjusted to a 13 hour time change from home. It wasn’t easy and never accomplished. I found myself wide awake reading at four a.m. and then, feeling like a nap about noon, sleeping until seven in the evening. So after our 50 hour layover there I was ready to start home.
Now I was on my own, Jim having gone off elsewhere to check someone else. The departure was at night and the weather had settled in to light rain with about 1000 feet. The take-off was SE and you glue on the ILS backcourse to be certain to go between the islands as you climb. But with the zoom of the jet we were quickly above any terrain and soon above all clouds and back in the clear star filled sky.
Over Vietnam it was clear. The war seemed closer because in the dark we would see occasional strange lights and flares and things that reminded me of flying across the Bay of Biscay during World War II when Germany still held France. The terrible feeling of depression came over me again and I hated all I felt and saw.
The return flight was much the same except most all of it was at night. Bangkok, Colombo and then Bombay. Dark all the way. At Colombo there were rain showers and I had to do one 360 while Quantas landed ahead of me and taxied back since there aren’t any taxiways next to the runway, but there wasn’t any problem.
We departed Bombay at night for Tel Aviv. Everything was routine except for a line of thunderstorms just north of Sharjah which had not been even remotely forecast. But we topped them easily and, with radar, avoided flying directly over any cells.
Near Russia I found the Jepco chart had a VHF frequency for a control center in Russia so I tuned it in and listened for a bit and sure enough heard some fast back and forth in what sounded like Russian, quite a kick.
The route across Iran and Turkey is over a lot of lonesome country and you sit up there wondering how remote from your thinking and way of life it is down there and, for miles, how empty of anything. Flipping on the wing light and turning your head to look back at the wing and those nacelles that hold the secret of all this flying, reliability of jet engines, make you feel quite secure. Our metal world of comfort, a good stock of food, friendly people and, again, that reliability makes all that under you remote enough so that it’s almost unreal. It’s a far cry from the last piston engines we had, the turbocompounds, which you watched with anxious eye most of the time because they quit quite often and not always in a friendly fashion because they liked to catch fire. I’m for the jet age.
Into Tel Aviv another Mediterranean low was kicking off showers and we ducked through them and landed about two a.m. This time we got off for an overnight.
The next morning, still dark, we took off for Athens and it finally became day about over the island of Rhodes, the first daylight flying since Hong Kong.
We made a stop at Rome and then on to Madrid for a night. The weather was good except for some broken showers around Madrid, but with a big ceiling of 3000 feet. We stayed 24 hours and then flew nonstop to New York where it was blowing with a NW wind after a cold front passage and was cold.
The main thing about the flight from Madrid was the presence of a lovely young lady and her mother. The young lady was Romina Power, daughter of my friend Tyrone Power. She’s making movies now. She looks very, very much like her Dad, except in a feminine way, and has that friendly pleasant, warm and unspoiled way about her that Ty had.
I drove to Bucks County and our home in the country. It had been two weeks. The hills, woods and fields were good, but as I looked across the pastoral countryside my thoughts went back to the green mountains of Vietnam and the men fighting in them. I looked for a long time, not seeing. There is much sadness in these times.
- From the archives: Bob Buck on William T. Piper - September 9, 2021
- From the archives: Bob Buck on low approaches - March 19, 2019
- From the archives: Bob Buck on radar - November 20, 2018
My father and I must have owned every one of Buck’s outstanding books. This old story was quite evocative, on several levels. I was an Army doc during the Viet Nam war, and Buck’s sadness about that awful conflict reflected how my wife and I felt at the time. I’ve visited Hong Kong several times to visit my son and his family, and Buck’s landing there made me wish once more that I’d had a chance to land at Kai Tak rather than the glitzy, safe, but ultra-boring new airport on Lantau Island. I’ve always wanted to look UP at hanging laundry from an airliner!
Interesting, but the picture on the email is a 747, not a 707.
After many times flying into both airports in Hong Kong, Kai Tak brings back fine memories of seeing the checkerboard.
Does anyone know if the flying club is still there?
Just seen your mail Larry , nope long gone , there was plan back in 2006 to keep a smaller version of the runway open it for helicopters maybe Executive jets, a lifeline to a much needed GA facility, a flight school and even a well deserved Kai-Tak museum. But it all came to nothing, highly lucrative real estate entrepreneurs shot down any aviation inspired activity and in the end malls, housing property, a Cruise-Ship terminal and probably even more malls will be the final outcome.
I live in Portland Oregon and got my license in 1962 and remember reading these articles in Airfacts back then. I never flew commercial but wanted my private flying to be as professional as the pilots who wrote in Airfacts. Thank you Dick for bringing back these stories. I still remember one where the discussion was whether to buy and install a transponder or a DME. Don’t remember what won the argument but I ended up buying both!
Great story. While reading it, I was imagining I was flying with the crew. Made me more inspired in becoming an airline pilot. :)