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To Write a Book or Not to Write a Book

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Well, I did write the book - a few years ago, "Pan Am Captain, Aiming High", after this post was originally written. Today I'm updating the post for my new vocalist, musician web site.

Here are some of the subjects that I considered writing about. Some are in the book, some aren't:

  • Landing at Kai Tak Airport at Hong Kong, the worlds most exciting and dangerous approach.

  • Meeting Charles Lindberg

  • Hong Kong Island Skyline

  • Some of the celebrities on our flights Marlon Brando & Tahiti Lawrence Harvey Steve McQueen Nick Nolte -- He did a "gotcha" back at me Shel Silverstein in Tahiti Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth's husband)

  • Greenland

  • The Liki Tiki at Moorea near Tahiti

  • My belly landing in the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy (I still have the photo somewhere)

The Early Years My flying career began in 1957 when I started flight training at a small airport near Detroit, MI. I was torn between pursuing a career as a musician or going into the business world, and neither seemed to be the best option for me. So I was looking for something else.

When I was still in the Army in 1956, serving in the Ft. Hood Texas 4th Armored Division Band, one of my fellow musician drummers, Gene Brujhell talked me into taking some flying lessons in a Piper Cub, where he was taking lessons. My wife objected because it was expensive, at $5.00 per hour (1956 dollars). But I justified it by using only the extra money that I earned playing dance gigs as a musician drummer at local clubs. Photo ID 1685090:

Piper Cub
Piper Cub

In Detroit, after the Army and while I was trying to make up my mind on a career to pursue, one of my college friends was interested in becoming an airline pilot. That interested me because I had flown about 12 hours while in Texas and had soloed; so I did have the flying bug. We decided to go out to the airport and find airline pilots to talk to and find out more about an airline pilot career.

Flight Training After doing that research and determining how I would pay for the flight training, I made up my mind to pursue a flying career, and started to work on my licenses. First I borrowed money from a local loan company at a pretty high interest rate. However, that allowed me to fly more and progress faster, so in the end it took fewer flight hours so the high interest rate was a wash. The GI bill paid for 75% of the flying up to the commercial license. The rest of the training, I had to pay on my own. The loan would pay an advance amount to the flight school, and when the government reimbursed them, the loan company would advance more. Then of course I had to pay the loan off in a couple of years.

Using that loan, I was able to get my Private License, Commercial License and Instructors Rating in about 8 months. Then I got a job instructing and did that for two years until I got a job with Zantop Airlines, an all freight airline that hauled auto parts to and from Detroit. In 1966 I left Zantop Airlines to go to work for Pan Am. The Curtis Wright C-46 pictured below, was the first large aircraft that I flew, and I'm happy that I had that experience because the C46 is the hardest aircraft there is to land in a cross wind.

The reason is, that you land by touching down on the two front wheels first; then you lower the tail wheel to the ground as the aircraft slows. The body is very wide, and has a very large tail fin/rudder area, so before the tail wheel comes down and touches the ground, the wind can push that large mass of metal around very easily.

When a pilot learns to do cross wind landings in the C46, they can land any plane in a cross wind. Photo ID 0557081:

The instructors job was not an 8 hour a day job. I would usually only have an average of three to four students a day, so I had to supplement the income by working dance gigs as a musician drummer with bands in night clubs and private parties. Those were very lean years because we had two children by then and a third on the way.

The Decision Recently I was talking with AR Ambassador Margaret Rome and something triggered me to tell her about the time when I was fortunate to have Charles Lindbergh on our flight and he came to the cockpit to talk to us for awhile. Meeting Charles Lindbergh was one of the great highlights of my career, and will be the subject of one of the short stories.

Margaret then encouraged me to go ahead and do some posts on some of the people I met on the flights, as well as some of the places I visited, and incidents that may be interesting to some.

My Favorite City So thanks to my lovely wife and to Margaret Rome, I did some aviation posts on Active Rain. And now, years later, I'm editing and re-posting them on my musician, vocalist blog. My first post was on the (now closed) famous Kai Tak International Airport on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong skyline photo by musician vocalist Bill Travis
Hong Kong 1986

Hong Kong has always been my favorite city to visit, and I was fortunate to have many Pan Am flights there and be able to get to know Kowloon and Hong Kong Island quite well. The flight approach and landing at Kai Tak Airport to runway 13 is the most exciting and one of the most dangerous approaches in the world, and that is what I'll begin with.

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