Ruminations From the Ramp
You Can Get Off at the Terminal
By Tony Vasko
It’s kind of amusing to read of the battles for "Passenger’s Rights" and how, in the midst of a howling snowstorm, people expect that when they arrive on a diverted flight, they will be handled like the Concorde passengers at Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I appreciate that no one should be treated like people were in the following little incident, but at times the public asks for a little much I think.
In the 1940s and 1950s, a lot of people who had been infected with the aviation bug in the service saw an opportunity to buy some of those war weary transports they had been driving around and "make a fortune" flying passengers on the cheap. Some companies like the "Flying Irishman" weren’t really an airline at all but were what we now call charter brokers who leased airplanes by the trip from their struggling owners. The smart owners got paid in advance. The "non-skeds" as they were known, flew surplus machines like the Curtiss C-46 and the Douglas DC-3 (C-47) and DC-4 (C-54). Cheap to buy (they often came with full tanks of gas at the military surplus storage depot), they demanded a lot of work to stay airworthy.
The intention naturally was to make it to the ranks of the "scheduled carriers." Few of the non-skeds made it there, but one success story was Trans Caribbean Airways. They flew only in the booming New York City to San Juan market. The Puerto Ricans were the first big Hispanic wave to hit the States and, like all the immigrants before them, they saved their money and brought the family up too as soon as they could. Unlike the days when it was definitely a one-way trip, they could also return to the Island to soak up a little heat in the winter before returning to the cruel climate of New York.
Trans Carib, as everyone called them, had a two-plane fleet consisting of a DC-6, N-878, and a DC-4, N-416. Both were hand-me-downs and had the maximum number of seats allowed by regulation. The inflight service was sparse, but the prices were low and so business was good. They contracted their maintenance out to the Lockheed Air Service where I worked.
The DC-4, while not pressurized, is equipped with two heaters. A small heater for the cockpit could be used on the ground for it had an electric blower to push the air through it. There was an exhaust pipe on the port side of the nose of the aircraft to let the nasty fumes outs. The cabin heater was naturally much larger and was located in the ceiling of the crew compartment/galley just aft of the cockpit. An air scoop on top of the fuselage faced into the air stream and the speed of the airplane rammed the air in. Most of it was routed for distribution to the passenger cabin. If it was cold out it could be heated, but if it was hot out, there was no air conditioning. Airflow was not as well set up as on today’s airplanes, and so the hat racks in the cabin were fitted with what are now very old-fashioned looking fans to blow some air around.
Comfort on the ground was not good. The cabin heater needed that air ramming into it if it was to run. A small but very important part of the ram air splits off and goes to the heater combuster where 100 octane fuel is added along with some ignition. While the cockpit heater had a blower, there was no blower for the cabin heater. It took 90 knots of airspeed to ram enough air into the heater to allow it to operate.
It was a very cold night at Idlewild Airport (the JFK name was years away) and the Trans Carib crew had picked up old N-416 at our hangar and taxied it to the terminal. The engines had started rather easily for the aircraft had just come out of the hangar, but they made one mistake. They only ran the inboard engines (#2 and #3) to save fuel. That meant that the outboards (#1 and #4) were getting colder and colder and, yes, colder.
Delays with passengers aboard aircraft are nothing new.
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