REACHING BACK - “Spring Break”
Published in Airliners Magazine
Mar/Apr 2000 Issue 62
Ah, Spring; better yet, Spring Break.
College freshman year, spit and vinegar, time to take it easy for
a week in the spring of 1965.
I couldn’t afford to traipse off to Florida but a break in any
form was good and it would give me plenty of time to hang around my
local Cessna dealer. I
would kick it off with a flight home since I loved piston twins and
would attempt to talk Dad into paying for a ticket.
He was a tough sell and a non-aviation aficionado.
The bus or train was good enough for me, he said, often.
Oh, I forgot to mention that my college was only 110 miles from
home. Dad figured it was
almost close enough to walk.
College was near Cleveland, Ohio and home was Erie, Pennsylvania;
that meant Allegheny Airlines territory.
Martin 202s and
Convair 440s were plying the Newark –
Cleveland and Washington (National) – Cleveland runs which made
mandatory stops at ERI. The
202s both intrigued and terrified me at the same time, with their flame
belching out the stack or the intake (each engine would take turns).
Engine oil would constantly drool out of every crevice on the
nacelle. But I was hooked
on the airline biz and had already planned to go into it after
CLE-ERI was a whopping 35 minute flight and I was looking for a
way to increase the flight time and experience.
I envied my classmates who actually flew somewhere beyond a
half-hour. I discovered
that I could fly from Cleveland to Akron on a
Lake Central Airlines
DC-3, then change planes and continue on a
Lake Central Convair 340
through Youngstown and on to Erie.
Allegheny’s fare was $10 but Lake Central said they would take me
for $12.75. What a deal!
I would get 1:20 in the air plus a plane change and two stops in
the middle for only $2.75 more!
Lake Central didn’t comprehend my aviation excessiveness but was
happy to collect the $12.75 and I probably became the first person to
fly CLE-ERI through the triangle of CAK and YNG.
My parents would never understand so I just told them I was
coming in on Lake Central – they didn’t keep up with which airlines flew
where and probably wouldn’t ask.
The departure evening was at hand and I just knew this would be a
memorable experience. The
DC-3s were about gone from airline flights so this made the first leg
important to me. I still
remember that night like it happened five years ago; even one of the N
numbers is still tattooed on the aviation side of my brain.
Stationary front, low ceiling, drizzle, fog.
Lots of fog. My 6:00
p.m. departure to Akron was way behind.
The DC-3 was slogging through the crud and was still somewhere in
Indiana. Every airline’s
schedules were in tatters.
It was getting dark, now.
After two hours of delay, Lake Central had a Convair 340 flight make it
in. They added a flag stop
to Akron and took us on.
The inside of the Convair-Liner was damp, overly
warm, and completely full of 44 worried travelers.
Our takeoff from CLE was uneventful and we entered the clouds
just after the gear hit the wells.
The air had only a light chop so the twenty-five minute segment
to CAK was routine. The
approach took us to minimums and the captain had just started to apply
power for a go-around when he saw the strobe lights and plunked in for a
landing. The ramp was
sprinkled with Viscounts, DC-6s and Convairs.
The Akron-Canton terminal was a sea of college
students and businessmen.
Collegians from at least six universities were camped out all over the
gate areas. A few large
transistor radios echoed out the latest Beatles hits, especially “I Feel
Fine”. I’ll never forget
the irony. Many had
been there for five hours and the sad stories were growing.
Some passengers were diverted into CAK and were waiting to see
what their carriers were going to do.
My LC connection was the epic voyage, flight 37, which began in
Indianapolis and stopped at Dayton, Columbus, Akron, Youngstown and Erie
enroute to Buffalo. This
flight was impossible to keep on schedule in instrument weather.
Still an aviation novice but resourceful enough to
call the control tower, I found that CAK was a temporary landable oasis
as all airports north were now completely fogged in.
Erie was up and down, so there was hope.
My spirits were not buoyed when I saw my usual Allegheny Convair
440 taxi in. Allegheny
didn’t even fly to Akron!
Erie was too foggy and Cleveland socked in behind them, so they diverted
to CAK and would bus the passengers on to ERI.
I was deeply concerned but still hoping for
my $12.75 worth of flying.
At nine-thirty, Lake Central 37 pulled up to the
gate. It was N73123 (msn
42). The continuation of
the flight was a “go”.
However, the agent told us Erie didn’t look good at the moment but
Youngstown had landing minimums.
We boarded, about 10 of us, the remainder of the Convair was
filled with through passengers.
Something was not right when I entered the cabin.
The air was stuffy with a whiff of body odor.
The passengers looked ashen.
I asked around and was peppered with stories of weather delays at
each stop and mechanical problems.
The left engine had begun throwing sparks out the exhaust port
enroute to Columbus. Since
the exhaust outlet is over ten feet away from the engine on a CV340,
that’s some good sparks.
The engine was worked on but a volley of sparks reoccurred on the
approach to CAK. Eyeballs
along the left side had been pressed against the windows.
I’m not an ultra brave soul but since no mechanic examined the
bowels of the engine at Akron, I figured it was just a too rich mixture
and carbon flakes were being created and blown out.
I dutifully took a window seat on the right side.
Sitting next to me was a female co-ed about my age taking her
first flight, very quiet but I figured she would be good conversation as
the flight unfolded.
Besides, I could teach her all the great stuff about Convairs…
Our aircraft was in the pre-takeoff area a long
time. Each engine was run
up twice. We were the only
airplane out there. Flight
37 finally headed down the center stripe and the engines roared.
Water spray from the fog being chewed up whipped off the
propeller tips. The
visibility was fog laden, quite dark and drizzly.
It was a verrry long, protracted take-off run.
Passengers on the left side suddenly gasped as orange and red
sparklies streamed by their windows.
I didn’t know the exact length of Akron’s runway but I was aware
the asphalt was modest and a sheer drop-off awaited any luckless
aircraft at the end.
Relief, the nose wheel raised.
At that precise moment, just like every simulator check ride you
ever heard of, one of the engines started to miss.
It was the right engine, the good engine!
The #2 radial was stuttering badly.
I could see out of the corner of the window the red runway end
lights zipping toward us.
N73123 wallowed into the air.
The Convair sagged like one of Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25s taking off
from a carrier deck. The
end of the runway flashed under us.
All I could see in the white blaze of the landing lights were
trees. Tall trees of every
specie tried to duck from our assault.
We were below the tops of some of them.
I swear I could hear the peaks of pines brushing against our main
gear tires. At this
juncture, most everyone screamed.
The young woman next to me
fainted. I can still
hear the air escaping from her mouth as she slumped in her seat.
My colon begged to be emptied.
The beleaguered Convair stabilized after the gear
came up. The right engine
was not shut down. I’m convinced if it had been, we would have
discovered why tree trunks win against aluminum.
Once the power was reduced to climb configuration, the right
engine smoothed out, much to everyone’s prayers.
We were now bolstered from “sure death” mode to “maybe we can
walk away with only injuries.”
The CV340 climbed slowly through the black murk, the left engine
still vomiting sparks but down to a shower a minute instead of
continuous. No PA
announcement was ever made.
The aircraft made four turns in a holding pattern
above Youngstown. The first
ILS approach resulted in a missed approach.
Everyone bit their nails when the engines were pushed to full
power. I was a wreck, now.
My face was flushed; I could no longer be a symbol of strength
for my neighbor who awakened briefly. I
was wickedly reminded of the old pilot psalm that reads:
“It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air
than to be flying and wishing you were on the ground.”
To our astonishment, the engines behaved this time and climbed us
back to approach altitude.
We landed on the second attempt.
There were no movie-like cheers from the passengers.
Everyone was wrung out emotionally.
We sat like zombies until the airstair door opened.
The pilots certainly had enough.
Lake Central bused us and
I arrived home at 2:00 a.m.
Even Disney couldn’t give you an experience like that for $12.75.
Every time I came across N73123 in the field I would always smile a half
smile and just shake my head.
This airplane went on to a full and very productive life.
Converted to a 580 by Lake Central in 1967, absorbed into
Allegheny in 1968 as
N5843, then to
Mountainwest Airlines, Nor-Fly
as a freighter, and to Canada with Kelowna
She was finally exported to New Zealand in 1997 where she is
current with Air Freight NZ.
That airframe logbook is very thick.
story updated 2005
Update : N5843 became ZK-KFH
Click here for a 12/12/2006 Photo.
The Links I added to Dave's Story were not part of
the original story of course since it appeared in a print publication.