Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
11 min read
Boeing 707

The polar flight from LHR-LAX was a good 11 hr. 27 min. in the 707, about half of what the Connie took to do it in the ‘50s.

1971. My first entry into Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV), was on my first around the world trip out of New York in August of 1971. I had lost my ORD CV-880 captain bid due to cutbacks caused by the recession and energy crises of the early ‘70s, but was able to hold a B-707 international F/O bid at JFK. It was a twelve-day trip: JFK-LHR; the polar flight from LHR-LAX (a pretty good 11 hr. 27 min., about half of what the Connie took to do it in the ‘50s); LAX-HNL; HNL-GUM; GUM-AHA-TPE-HKG; HKG-BKK-BOM; BOM-TLV; TLV-ATH-FCO and FCO-JFK.

The captain was a 1942 hire and a real “one man band.” He never joined up with the F/E and me on layovers. He told me right off that there were four, not three, “most useless things in aviation.” After the runway behind us, the altitude above us, and the fuel in the truck comes: the four-stripe co-pilot! Ouch. On the eighth day of the trip—I had not yet flown a leg, and would not—the captain made one of his infrequent and very brief trips to the lavatory. The F/E reached up, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “If you want to knock off the autopilot and fly it for a minute I won’t tell.”

Prior to this trip I had never been east of Athens nor west of Honolulu, so I was in awe of just about everything I encountered. After our Bombay (now Mumbai) layover, which I found so depressing after having had my first look at abject poverty and witnessing some truly heartbreaking sights, I completely lost my appetite and could not eat anything during the twenty-some hours we were there. On top of that, it was during the monsoon, which was continuous rain and very hot. It was so humid (and “stinky”) that I could not light a match (I was a smoker then). I was very relieved to be leaving, headed for “the land of milk and honey.”

Lod Airport

Modern day look at the former Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion), from where we would board the crew bus for the Tel Aviv Hilton.

We landed at Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion) and boarded the crew bus that would take us to the Tel Aviv Hilton. TWA owned Hilton International at the time and we stayed in Hiltons at most of our overseas destinations. They were usually the best hotel in town; TWA did not skimp on crew accommodations! TWA also picked up the tab for meals—no alcoholic drinks. We instructed the waiter to list any “drinks” as orange juice. Our chief pilot once remarked that it was a wonder that any crew members ever got a cold with all the orange juice they drank.

The ride from the airport was a revelation, seeing the most lovely, manicured orchards and gardens I had ever laid eyes upon. It was truly an oasis in the middle of the desert. The F/E, Richard W. Debruyn, a 1945 hire told of how, when we first started flying Connies into TLV shortly after Israeli independence in 1948, it was nothing but a tent city. What we found there in 1971 was a thoroughly modern city of tall buildings of impressive architecture with wide boulevards, modern trains and buses that could take you anywhere in the country, and a beautiful sandy beach on the sky blue Mediterranean. The Israelis we mingled with were mostly young Sabras (native born Israelis) and to find them so much like Americans their age, so “westernized,” was quite a surprise.

I hadn’t yet acquired a taste for Middle Eastern cuisine, so Dick and I turned to that foreign traveler’s salvation, an Italian restaurant. It was quite good, on the beach with outside dining an option. When we returned to the Hilton there was a party in progress that turned out to be a large group of Israeli fighter pilots that were celebrating an anniversary of the Six-Day War. When they found out we were TWA pilots, they insisted we join them and we couldn’t pay for anything! To be honest, at this point, I was starting to develop a serious case of homesickness and it was a real morale booster to be so warmly welcomed in a strange land so far away from home by such a wonderful group of guys.

1972—The Lod Massacre. [The airport serving Tel Aviv was originally called Lod, for the small village that it displaced. It was later renamed Ben-Gurion after David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of the newly independent Israel.]

The Lod Airport massacre was a terrorist attack that occurred on May 30, 1972, in which three members of the Japanese Red Army recruited by the Palestinian group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations (PFLP-EO), attacked Tel Aviv’s Lod airport (now Ben Gurion International Airport), which killed 26 people and injured 80 others. Two of the attackers were killed, while Kozo Okamoto was captured after being wounded.

… At 10pm the attackers arrived at the airport aboard an Air France flight from Rome. Dressed conservatively and carrying slim violin cases, they attracted little attention. As they entered the waiting area, they opened up their violin cases and extracted Czech Vz 58 assault rifles with the butt stocks removed. Immediately afterwards, they began to fire indiscriminately at airport staff and visitors, which included a group of pilgrims from Puerto Rico, tossing grenades as they changed magazines. Yasuda was shot dead by one of the other attackers, and Okudaira moved from the airport building into the landing area, firing at passengers disembarking from an El Al aircraft before being killed by a prematurely exploding grenade. Okamoto was shot by security, brought to the ground by an El Al employee, and arrested as he attempted to leave the terminal….Wikipedia

Naturally, this closed the airport. I was the F/O on the first TWA (707) flight to land TLV following its reopening. We were not allowed to proceed to the terminal. A “follow me” vehicle led us to a hard stand in a remote area of the airport. Steps were placed at the L-1 door and we were instructed to disembark passengers, five at a time. They were to place their carry-on baggage on a cart at the foot of the steps. It would be inspected before it was reclaimed. All checked baggage was taken for inspection before passengers were allowed to reclaim it.

When we crew members finally were taken to the terminal to clear customs, it was a sight to behold. There were several bullet holes evident all over the building. There were several areas where floor tiles were missing from grenade explosions. It was a somber mood. There was no small talk…

1980s or ’90s? We were clearing customs and about to head for the crew bus when a horn sounded, and an announcement was made that we were on lock down. Beyond that, no one was told anything. All doors were locked and all activity ceased. After a while I thought I heard a muffled explosion quite a distance away. In a short time, normal activity resumed. When we got to our crew bus, I asked the driver what that was all about. He said that they had discovered an unattended bag and took it to a bunker to be exploded. I guess some unsuspecting tourist’s under shorts are now on the dark side of the moon.

Early ’90s. the breakup of Yugoslavia was in progress. We were flying from TLV to JFK. On entering the Belgrade UIR, we called in with a position report. The response was, “T dub yay 885 cleared direct Babit (intersection, our Belgrade UIR exit fix).” Flying the airways and making a position report at each compulsory reporting point was the norm. A little silly, it seemed, as just about all of Europe, and even the Middle East, now had en route radar coverage (although much of it was military and not meant for air traffic control use.

I replied, “Thank you sir, direct to Babit.”

The reply was a very sad sounding: “That’s okay, 885, this is so you have good memory from Belgrade.”

Well, I do have a good memory from Belgrade even though I have never been there.

One of my few regrets regarding my flying career is that, in the Cold War era so much of the world was off limits. Eastern Europe and most of Asia was behind the Iron Curtain. I have since learned that I missed a lot more than I was ever led to believe existed.

1994. Approaching TLV: “Tel Aviv Control, TWA 884, good afternoon.” (TLV responds with a squawk, descent clearance and an arrival routing.)

TLV: “884, do you see traffic, one o’clock, close?”

884: “Negative.”

TLV: “884, do you see traffic 12 to 1 o’clock, very, very close?”

884 (getting a little nervous): “Negative.”

TLV: “884 hold at Solin (intersection); we send F-16 to have a look.”

Holy ____! I didn’t like this. After ten or fifteen minutes we were cleared to proceed to the airport. I told my F/O, an ex-Air Force pilot, “I never saw an F-16.”

He said, “You weren’t supposed to; he did a good job.”

When we parked on the hard stand and the steps were rolled up, the usual contingent of airport people converged on the airplane, all doing their jobs along with three or four young guys dressed casually—I mean, denims and t-shirts, like everyday western European or American twenty somethings. They seemed to float around with no special purpose. I always wondered about them.

When we got to the hotel—we were now staying at the Sheraton on the beach, just a block or two south of the Hilton—I checked in and went to my room. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely fruit basket and a bottle of the Israeli cabernet that I had developed a taste for. This would have all been a $30 to $50 room service item—why free and how did they know about my favorite cabernet?

Later that evening the F/O and F/E and I went out for dinner. We had a nightcap or two on our way back to the hotel and I could not help but notice that a couple of the twenty somethings in casual clothes that were at the airport earlier showed up a couple more times. I’ll never know, but I strongly suspect they were babysitting us. I’ll never know for sure.

1995. On November 4, 1995, Israel’s fifth prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated.

In 1994, Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. He was assassinated by right-wing Israeli radical Yigal Amir, who was opposed to Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin was the first native-born prime minister of Israel… Wikipedia

Rabin was buried on November 6; I was scheduled to fly TWA 884, JFK to TLV, that day. World leaders from all over had converged on Tel Aviv for the funeral and the airport was closed to commercial traffic. My flight was delayed for several hours waiting for a release time that would get us there after the dignitaries had left. When “Niki” (Nicosia) handed us off to Tel Aviv, there was conversation on the frequency: “Jordanian One, contact Amman on 123.45.

Jordanian One replied, “Roger, Amman 123.45, good night, sir.”

Tel Aviv replied, “Good night Your Highness.”

I thought to myself, wow! I am privileged to have heard that exchange.

On the way to the hotel, the crew bus driver took us by the Kings of Israel Square, now Rabin Square, where Rabin was shot.

Rabin’s assassination came as a great shock to the Israeli public and much of the rest of the world. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis thronged the square where Rabin was assassinated to mourn his death. Young people turned out in large numbers, lighting memorial candles and singing peace songs. On 6 November 1995, a day after the murder, he was buried on Mount Herzl. Rabin’s funeral was attended by many world leaders, among them U.S. president Bill Clinton, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan who delivered a eulogy whose final words were in Hebrew – “Shalom, Haver” (Hebrew: lit. Goodbye, Friend). Wikipedia

The mood on that layover was sad and somber. I found it reminiscent of the aftermath of the assassination of JFK in the same month 32 years earlier.

I have just one sad afterthought. I used to be amazed by all this “Orwellian” security we ran into at most airports east of Athens and would think, “Am I ever glad we live in a free country where we don’t have any of this!” I will now ament that to, “used to live.”

Jeff Hill
10 replies
  1. Enderson Rafael
    Enderson Rafael says:

    Dear Jeff, it was a delightful experience to read your memories from a time so far from what we live nowadays on the line. We still meet here and there people like your 1971 B707 captain, pilots that despite the complete lack of social skills, manage to climb the seniority/luck list – often before we can avoid them on our never ending careers as FO’s. Fortunately enough, nowadays they are more rare and we have more tools to deal with them, although they are still really unpleasant to fly with. I loved like you brought the historic contexts to your passages, and look at the coincidences of life: I was just tonight overflying now a much more peaceful Belgrade, coming from JFK to the Middle East tonight on a Boeing 777.

  2. TWA &Ret.Capt.S.R.”DUSTY”West
    TWA &Ret.Capt.S.R.”DUSTY”West says:

    Hi Jeff: I had the pleasure of knowing you in the TWA RETIRED PILOTS ASSOCIATION & I too had the pleasures of flying in & out of Tel Aviv on the TWA’s B-707, L-1011, B747 & 767- during my furloughed years -I flew into the Middle East/ Africa, central & South America- with (2) different Airlines-as well as with my USAF Air National Guard units – I too remember all the tight security there & Athens, Cairo & Africa too!-I hired on in 1968- so I was not as senior as you- but enjoyed my times in the twilight of the “ GOLDEN AGE OF JET FLIGHTS”- yes there were a few miserable Captains to fly with – but most others were great pilots & good men & gals to know & fly & share good times in fight & on wonderful layovers in exotic locations!
    I have been retired from both TWA & the USAF GUARD since Dec 2000- my wife “LEE” of 62+ years are both still healthy & active – hopefully you are too !
    Cheers mate & as an old Fighter Pilot I still check my six- you should too!!
    S.R.”Dusty” West

    • Eric Hedden
      Eric Hedden says:

      Great seeing a fellow F-100 pilot! I was in the 162 TFT group at Tucson with Jack Hartman of TWA Earlier had crossed paths with Paterno.

  3. Eric Hedden
    Eric Hedden says:

    Great seeing a fellow F-100 pilot! I was in the 162 TFT group at Tucson with Jack Hartman of TWA Earlier had crossed paths with Paterno.

    • S.R.”Dusty”West
      S.R.”Dusty”West says:

      Eric : it’s a small world – Jack Hartman & I were in the same TWA “new hire “ class 09/13/1968& we both are members of the F-100 SSS “Super Sabre Society” & been to our conventions in Las vegas( Nellis AFB) together!cheers & “ check your six” DUSTY WEST

  4. Scott Grillo
    Scott Grillo says:

    Thank you for the memories. I too flew 884, but in 2000 as a probationary FO on the 767. And yes, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are special planes in my TWA memory.

    As we would say, onward to
    The Viv

  5. Capt.John Mooney TWA Retired
    Capt.John Mooney TWA Retired says:

    Great story Jeff that brings back memories of my 3 round the world trips and several flights into TLV as a F/O. I started TWA new hire class on 8/02/65 ! Back then TWA was a class act and I loved flying for them!


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *