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Friday, April 29, 2016

Christine

Doreen and I got a hotel room near the airport when we arrived in Orlando.  We rented a car and started looking for a house to rent.  We found a house on Brandeis Ave., between Orange Ave. and Orange Blossom Trail (OBT).  We had spent most of our savings during the low income days in California, so things were tight.

In order to help the airline get started, most of the pilots performed other duties, besides flying their schedules.  Some created the pilot schedules.  Some were setting up a recruiting department and developing a list of pilots to contact when hiring began.  I was going to develop a ground school for training our own pilots, instead of sending them to USAir.  This would save a tremendous amount of money in hotel and travel expenses, not to mention the actual cost of paying USAir.

In my three years at USAir, I had learned the entire airplane, all the systems.  However, I still needed training aids, such as panels with pictures of all the panels in the cockpit and a few videos to fill some of the time.  I had some stuff of my own and was able to get Quinzi to send me others.  I had to get a printing company to make the panels pictures and get chairs and tables for the classroom.  I rented film and overhead projectors, movie screens and all the things I thought I would need.

There were less than a handful of pilots hired, between the day I was hired and when we actually had a full class that I would teach.  Before we get to that, it is time to talk about Christine.

The fourth Florida Express airplane was N1543.  It was the first BAC 1-11 delivered to Braniff International.  It had never flown as an airliner, but was in corporate configuration, with couches and large, comfy seats.  I don't know who owned it last, but our airplane buying geniuses found it in an airplane graveyard, between Phoenix and Tucson Arizona.  We were buying it strictly "as is", which means we pay the lowest possible price and the seller is not responsible for anything that is wrong with it.

Bob Dixon, Al Frink, a crew of our top mechanics and I flew to Phoenix, then drove to the Pinal Airport Airpark (MZJ), in Marana AZ.  Bob had started getting me involved in decision making situations, when they came down to his level, because of my knowledge of the BAC.  Unfortunately, the major decision to buy this plane did not get to us before the fact.  I don't think our top management team trusted our input at this time.  Some of their decisions were making me not trust their input.

It was extremely hot at the airport, 106 degrees F.  The poor mechanics had to be out in all that heat trying to inspect that plane.  We were able to be in the shade of a huge hangar, after we had done the kinds of checks pilots would do.  But, it was a dry heat. :-D  I remember the list of discrepancies we were amassing and the shaking of the heads of the guys representing the people who sold it to us "as is".  We were going to have to fix what was wrong and there were many things wrong.

Probably the worst, was the fact that mud daubers had made their home in the pitot-static system of the plane.




There, now you can get as deeply into that as you want, or you can just let me explain that this is the system that provides information to the airspeed indicator, altimeter and vertical speed indicator.  You need those.

The main problem was that, since the plane had not been used as an airliner and the baggage compartments were essentially wasted space, aftermarket fuel tanks had been installed in them and were  blocking access to the pitot static lines that were clogged with mud dauber housing.  Imagine getting into a tight space in 100+ degree heat and trying to remove and clean small tubes, in a darkness.  I was glad I was a pilot and not a mechanic that day.

The next day was a different story.  After we were told things had been fixed, Dixon and I had to fly the jet.  Al Frink and some of the very mechanics who had worked on it were onboard and I give them credit for that.

We did all the preflight stuff, started the engines and taxied for takeoff.  There seemed to be some minor discrepancies on the takeoff roll, but we could not be certain.  Once we got airborne and leveled off at a low altitude, we could see major problems.  One of the airspeed indicators was indicating far too low for level flight at our power setting and the other one looked like a windshield wiper, swinging back and forth.  On transport category planes, there are two independent pitot static systems.  Both were screwed up.  Bob and I were discussing it, when Frink came up to stand behind our seats in the cockpit.  When we showed him what was happening, he said, "Get this (slang for a sexual act) thing on the ground".  (This is a family blog.)  OK, Captain Al.  

Easier said than done.  Flying precise speeds during landing is very important and we could not trust what we were seeing.  This was going to have to be flown by the "seat of the pants".  So here we have these two non test pilot, non college educated, natural pilots trying to devise a plan for returning safely to the surface of the planet.  No sweat.  

We both had enough experience to know the various attitudes, power settings and sounds to get this job done safely.  Plus, we added a few knots for Momma and the kids.  Seriously, Dixon did a very fine job.  I was just along to lower the gear and flaps, etc.

The plane was finally fixed well enough to fly back to Orlando.  Actually, because of the temperatures, flying distance, runway length and so forth, we had to fly to Phoenix, refuel for the long trip and then fly back to MCO.  We needed a longer runway, than the one in Marana.  No sweat any more.

This plane was taken to a hangar on the west side of Orlando's airport.  The interior and auxiliary fuel tanks were removed, it was painted in Florida Express colors and gone over from the radome to the horizontal stabilizer.

When it was entered into service, things started going wrong.  It was a weird plane, as if haunted.  The flight attendants noticed this, as well as the pilots.  The flight attendants started calling it Christine.  Check the hyper link by clicking on Christine for this one.  They even made up a song, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, which they sang at the Christmas party every year.  "And a partridge in a pear tree" was replaced by "and we still had to fly on 43".  Remember, the tail number was N1543.



N1543 was actually the first BAC 1-11 delivered to Braniff International and here it is at its roll out.

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