Category Archives: Jay Selman's An Inside Look

Assistant Editor Jay Selman is spotlighted this month by American Airlines

Assistant Editor Jay Selman was spotlighted this month by American Airlines on the American Airlines’ Facebook page and also in the April issue of the American Way in-flight magazine:

On the American Airlines Facebook page:

Jay Selman in American on Facebook

In the American Way in-flight magazine:

Jay Selman in American Way

Read the full article: CLICK HERE

Jay writes regularly in World Airline News in his An Inside Look column. Stay tuned for more “inside” stories from Jay. During the day, Jay works for American Airlines (formerly US Airways) hub in Charlotte. The rest of the time he is either flying, photographing or writing.

Are you interested in writing about your side of the industry? We are always looking for more writers to bring the full story to the readers. Please contact us if you have an idea for a column.

Video: The American Airlines’ Piedmont Flipbook:

 

 

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Jay Selman’s An Inside Look: Connie Tobias – An Aviation Legend Retires

Connie Tobias – An Aviation Legend Retires

Assistant Editor Jay Selman

Assistant Editor Jay Selman

by Assistant Editor Jay Selman

There are pilots, and there are aviators. When Captain Connie Tobias shut down the engines of her Airbus A321 at the conclusion of US Airways Flight 1967 on March 17, 2015, it brought to an end one chapter in a remarkable career of a remarkable aviator.

Connie Tobias in the cockpit (JS)(LRW)

 

Above Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Connie Tobias in the left seat of the retirement Airbus A321.

Below Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The Airbus A321 receives a congratulatory water cannon salute on arrival at Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT).

Connie Tobias A321 water cannon salute (JS)(LRW)

In over 40 years of flying, Connie has logged over 22,000 flight hours and flown over 70 different kinds of aircraft, ranging from a 1902 Wright Glider (below) and 1909 Bleriot (below) to the Airbus A330-300. That, in itself, would be a career to be proud of, but the career of Connie represents so much more.

1903 Wright Flyer

Connie Tobias 1902 Wright Glider (LR)

Connie Tobias 1909 Bleriot (LR)

Connie has not lost any of the feistiness that must have been necessary to break through one barrier after another as a woman born in 1950. She reflects, “When I was a five year old girl, I was expected to play with dolls. I did…sort of. I lined them up at an imaginary airport waiting for the imaginary airplane that I was pretending to be! Even at that age, I was captivated by the lure of flight. In those days, of course, women were not expected to pursue careers as professional pilots.

In fact, when I went to a military recruiter in 1969 to see about becoming a military pilot, I was told rather strongly to go home and be a wife to someone. A year later, I sent a letter to American Airlines seeking employment, I received a similar response. Today, such a response would seem outrageous, but 45 years ago, those answers were generally accepted as the norm.”

Connie Tobias in the Wright Glider (LR)

However, Connie Tobias is anything but the norm. She does not claim to be a rebel, nor is she an iconoclast. She is, however, a strong-willed woman who sets out to accomplish what is important to her. She notes, “People will try to steal your dreams. I refuse to let that happen.” In 1975, Connie, always a fitness freak, set out to bicycle her way across the United States, from California to Delaware. While taking a rest stop somewhere in Missouri, she had her epiphany. “I looked up to the sky and saw a jet airliner cruising high above, leaving a condensation trail in its wake. It was at that exact moment that I decided that there was no way I could spend the next 40 years working in an office cubicle which may or may not have windows. No, that was the moment that I decided that I would do whatever I had to do in order to make the cockpit of an airplane MY office.”

Connie began to take flying lessons in 1975 in Xenia, Ohio. Later, she used a unique angle to build up time. “I washed planes at Ohio University Airport in Athens, Ohio. A freshly-washed airplane needs to be dried quickly, and what better way to dry an airplane than to fly it? I looked for any way possible to build up hours. I flew for a truck and oil field manufacturer, in and out of Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. I earned my Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) rating and built up hours that way. I even flew as a “bird dog” for fire patrol operations, flying single-engine and light twin-engine aircraft. Basically, I did whatever I could to build up flying time.”

Connie’s big break came in 1982 when she applied for a pilot’s position that was posted at Aeromech Airlines, a regional airline based in Clarksburg, WV. She recalls with a wry grin, “The owner of Aeromech was a Greek gentleman, Angelo Koukoulis. The folks in Personnel at the airline accepted my application from Connie Tobias, probably believing that they were getting a Greek man. Of course, I was neither! In those days, female pilots were very few and far between. I was the second female pilot hired by Aeromech Airlines (below). Let’s just say I was generally not greeted with open arms into the fraternity that was almost exclusively male.”

Above Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Aeromech Airlines Embraer EMB-110P1 Bandeirante N615KC (msn 110230) is parked at the commuter terminal gate at Washington’s National Airport in Allegheny Commuter colors in February 1980.

As soon as she was checked out on the Embraer Bandierante, Connie was advised that she would have to earn an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) rating. Using pretty much the last of her meager savings, Connie passed her ATP practical with flying colors, and her written exam with an astounding 99%. Soon afterward, she learned that none of the male first officers at the airline had ATP ratings! Rather than being angry, she made up her mind that the best way to flourish in any environment was to be the happiest, most positive personality that she could be. Before long, she had built up an impressive stack of complimentary letters. While the aviation fraternity was still slow to accept her, it was apparent that the flying public loved her.

In 1983, Aeromech Airlines merged with Cleveland-based Wright Air Lines, and Connie found herself based in Albany, NY, flying the Convair 600/640. While the Bandeirante was configured for 15 seats, it was a new generation airplane. While the Convair held up to 50 passengers, it was late 1940s technology, devoid of any power-enhanced controls. “The Convair really had to be man-handled, and it was quite a challenge for someone of my size. I worked hard to develop the proper technique to control the Convair, and I believe that that helped earn respect and acceptance from some of the male pilots I flew with.”

Above Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. Wright Air Lines Convair 640 N862FW (msn 9) is seen in Miami on October 30, 1983.

Unfortunately, the merger between Wright and Aeromech proved to be a bad marriage and before long, Connie received word that the airline was on its last legs. “First officers for regional airlines were generally earning something below poverty-level wages, and Wright was no exception. I was living paycheck to paycheck, and I knew I had to do something. I had enough money to apply to exactly one airline.” She elected to put in an application to Piedmont Airlines (1st), which was known to be actively hiring women as pilots. In mid-1984, Connie Tobias was hired by Piedmont, becoming the 16th female pilot flying for the company. Today, by comparison, women make up approximately 5% of the US Airways pilot workforce.

Above Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. Ex-Northeast Airlines/Delta Air Lines Boeing 727-295 N1643 (msn 19448) displays the 1974 livery for Piedmont.

In the mid-1980s, Piedmont was growing by leaps and bounds. Connie started out as a first officer on the Boeing 727 (above), a dramatic step up from the archaic Convair. Piedmont proved to be the Land of Opportunity for Connie, and a mere 26 months later, she became a captain on the company’s Fokker F-28. In rapid succession, she graduated to captain on the twin-engine Boeing 737 and later, the larger tri-jet Boeing 727.

In 1989, Piedmont merged with USAir, later US Airways. As the airline added larger aircraft, Connie made a decision to trade in her low-seniority captain’s seat in exchange for a more comfortable lifestyle of a high-seniority first officer. Connie was able to hold a position in the right seat on the transcontinental Boeing 757 (below) and intercontinental wide-body Boeing 767. She later became a first officer on the largest and longest-range aircraft in the US Airways fleet, the Airbus A330. By all measures, Connie had beaten the odds and broken through the glass ceiling, achieving success in a field that had been considered a male world when she began her journey.

Above Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. USAir’s ex-Eastern Boeing 757-225 N604AU (msn 22199) taxies at Miami in the 1989 livery.

Some seven years ago, however, Connie suddenly found herself facing a new battle, this one against Mother Nature. She explains, “To discuss my medical challenges would take another entire article, but let’s just say I had a total of 13 medical issues. Altogether, I was out of work for six years. I was told that I would probably never again be able to pass a first class medical exam that airline pilots must pass twice a year.”

Connie took on the greatest battle of her life with the same tenacity as she faced other challenges. “I was determined to finish my airline career in the cockpit, and not in a hospital bed. To that end, over the course of six years, I required the services of 19 doctors, and was put under anesthesia ten times. This was the biggest battle of them all in my career, and my life.” But Connie has never been one to accept “No” for an answer, and in typical fashion, she fought back. First, she literally clawed her way back into a healthy body. Once that was accomplished, she worked unceasingly to bring her flying skills back up to speed.

Above Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. Airbus A319-112 N765US (msn 1371) painted in the 1997 color scheme departs the runway at Charlotte.

 

Finally, in 2013, she was restored to flying status with US Airways, on the Airbus A320 family (above). After being off flying status for six years, she was required to fly in the right seat for six months, but in July of 2014, Connie Tobias once again earned the right to wear the four stripes of a captain on the Airbus.

As inspiring as the story of her airline career is, there is much more to the story of this aviator. She explains, “You might say that an aviator has a love affair with the sky. I love flying, and as airliners become more and more automated, it is easy to get a little bit bored. Sure, there are times when I get to exercise and challenge my piloting skills, but I wanted to do more piloting…more aviating…than what airline life was offering me. I began looking at opportunities outside of the airline environment to get my piloting fix.”

That search took Connie to the Collings Foundation, a private non-profit educational facility dedicated to the preservation and public display of transportation-related history, including historic aircraft. For an aviator like Connie Tobias, it was a dream-come-true. “The Collings Foundation gave me the opportunity to fly all sorts of exotic aircraft, from a McDonnell F4D Phantom II (below) to a 1909 Bleriot XI Monoplane. Of course, in order to fly these aircraft, I had to earn a variety of ratings and endorsements, including seaplane and glider and taildragger skills. I also took an extended course in aerobatics and upset recovery. Ironically, while flying the Phantom was one heck of a kick in the pants, it was the Bleriot that required the greatest challenge and the most research…and opened the most unique of doors for me.”

Connie Tobias F-4 Phantom (LR)

It started with Foundation founder Bob Collings running into Connie one day and remarking, “You know, you look like Harriet Quimby. Will you portray her and, while you are at it, learn to fly the Bleriot?” Quimby was an award-winning photojournalist as well as a movie screenwriter who was also interested in aviation. On August 1, 1911, she became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. The following year, she became the first female to fly across the English Channel. There is a saying that it is a lucky man who hears opportunity knock, but it is a wise man who opens the door. Obviously, the same applies to a woman, and Connie Tobias proved to be an extremely wise woman who opened the door that led to her parallel career and unique claim to fame. She took Bob Collings’ suggestion and developed a presentation of the life and accomplishments of Harriet Quimby, which she has performed for audiences around the world.

She says, “It is an honor and privilege to be in a position where I can be an inspiration to future aviators, especially girls and young women. In the days when I was breaking into the aviation world, there really weren’t many female role models I could emulate. I’d like to think that between my own accomplishments in aviation and my portrayal of Harriet Quimby, I can inspire others to dream big.”

Flying the Bleriot required intense preparation. Connie relates, “One day, I was watching the movie ‘Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines’. As the movie concluded, I realized that all of the pilots had one thing in common. They all crashed. It was a stark reminder that those early airplanes were very crude in their design, and extremely delicate to fly. I wanted to fly the Bleriot, but I wanted to make darned sure that I was successful. I spoke to the folks at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, home to a number of pre-World War I airplanes including another 1909 Bleriot. The Bleriot guru at Old Rhinebeck suggested that I contact another expert in Texas, and I kept following one lead after another, taking in as much as I could about flying an aircraft that was controlled by powered wing warping. Wing warping was a system for lateral control of early aircraft, and basically a precursor to the aileron.” Connie even referred to Louis Bleriot’s writings in her quest to understand everything she could about the Bleriot and wing warping. In the end, she did, indeed, fly the Bleriot, and she flew it well.

Success begets success. The popular concept is Six Degrees of Separation, that we are connected with anyone in the world by six or fewer steps. In the aviation world, it is closer to Two Degrees of Separation. In 2003, the owners of the Wright Flyer collection were looking for pilots to fly both the 1902 Wright Glider replica and the exact replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made the first powered flight. Thanks to her exposure flying the Bleriot, Connie Tobias was selected as one of a handful of pilots to fly the Glider. She wow’ed the organizers by using her skills honed by her tons of research, including hang gliding, by choosing the proper moment to fly the Glider in a near-perfect hover on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, NC. Of those pilots, only Connie had previous experience flying an aircraft that utilized powered wing warping. Late in 2003, she became the first and only woman to fly the 1903 Wright Flyer exact replica. When asked what airplane in her logbook was the most memorable, she answers, “The 1903 Wright Flyer. After all, how many men or women can say that they flew that airplane?”

Connie’s commitment to inspiring students with Quimby’s story along with her involvement in flying the 1903 Wright Flyer and 1909 Bleriot has won her special recognition from The National Aeronautic Association and the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Connie has appeared in numerous documentaries, is a Distinguished Graduate of Engineering, holds the Medal of Merit from Ohio University, and has been inducted into the Amelia Earhart Forest of Friendship. She has been generous in her donations to a cause near and dear to her heart, a scholarship fund at her alma mater, Ohio University. The scholarship assists young men and women in pursuit of a career in aviation. She says, “I remember what it was like trying to break into the aviation world with an empty bank account. There were several times early in my career when I was literally down to my last few dollars. If I can help young men or women avoid some of the financial struggles that I went through, I am happy to do so.” This scholarship is appropriately named The Harriet Quimby Scholarship.

Connie Tobias and the Cabin Crew (JS)(LRW)

Above Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Connie poses with the cabin crew on her last flight with US Airways.

Now that Connie Tobias has retired from her airline job, what does she plan to do with all that free time? “Free time? What free time? My last flight with US Airways was on March 17. The following day, my birthday, is being spent packing for a long-awaited trip to a gala birthday party in Paris. I leave on the 19th, and will spend a little time touring Europe. Once I get home, I will have plenty to keep me busy. I plan to do some hiking, learn another language, and play the piano better. I’d love to continue to fly small airplanes and regain those skills. I still have my instructor’s rating, so that is a possibility. I still have a dream of flying a Bleriot across the English Channel. There is a possibility that the Wright airplane collection will be going to China, and if it does, I plan to go over there for that. I have also thought about flying for the Collings Foundation. And, of course, there is still a demand for Harriet, so I plan to continue portraying her as time permits. I expect to have a full dance card for the foreseeable future.”

If that is not enough, Connie is involved with the following organizations”
International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA),
Ninety Nines (99’s),
Women in Aviation International (WAI),
Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA),
Aviation Advisory Board and Board of Visitors – Russ College of Engineering – Ohio University,
National Alumni Board of Directors – Ohio University,
National Aviation Hall of Fame – Board of Nominations

Free time? What free time? We can all learn from the life of Connie Tobias. US Airways is losing a senior captain, but aviation is not. No way.

Copyright Photo Below: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Fellow female pilots come to salute Connie on her last airline flight and her arrival at gate D7 at Charlotte.

Connie Tobias + Female Crew Members (JS)(LRW)

Jay Selman’s An Inside Look: Another End of an Era

Assistant Editor Jay Selman

Assistant Editor Jay Selman

Another End of an Era – Farewell to the Boeing 767

by Assistant Editor Jay Selman

February 12, 2015 marked another end of an era at US Airways, as the company retired its last Boeing 767-200. While the airline was quick to point out that its merger partner, American Airlines, operates nearly 60 of the larger 767-300s, the final flight of the 767-200 represented the end of an era for US Airways. Following the general success of flight US 737, marking the retirement of the company’s last 737 Classic in August 2014, US Airways repeated the act with flight US 767, which operated from Philadelphia to Charlotte, and back to PHL.

The 767 entered the US Airways inventory through the merger with Piedmont Airlines in 1989. Piedmont received its first Boeing 767 on May 21st, 1987, shortly after the merger with USAir was announced. N603P was used to inaugurate the carrier’s first intercontinental service, between Charlotte North Carolina and London’s Gatwick Airport. Piedmont ordered six of the type initially, and after merging with USAir, another six were added to the fleet. Eventually, the 767s were used by US Airways in virtually all of its intercontinental markets. The 767 had the range to fly from Charlotte to Rome, Sao Paulo, and even Honolulu. Its common type rating with the 757 allowed the company to better utilize its pilots.

The Boeing 767 first went into service in 1982. It was the manufacturer’s first wide-body twin engine aircraft and was ground-breaking in several aspects. The 767 was the first Boeing wide-body to be designed with a two-crew digital glass cockpit. Cathode ray tube (CRT) color displays and new electronics replaced the role of the flight engineer by enabling the pilot and co-pilot to monitor aircraft systems directly. (A three-crew cockpit remained as an option and was fitted to the first production models. Ansett Australia ordered 767s with three-crew cockpits due to union demands; it was the only airline to operate 767s so configured.) Development of the 767 occurred in tandem with a narrow-body twinjet, the 757, resulting in shared design features which allow pilots to obtain a common type rating to operate both aircraft.

The 767 was initially flown on domestic and transcontinental routes, during which it demonstrated the reliability of its twinjet design. In 1985, the 767 became the first twin-engine airliner to receive regulatory approval for extended overwater flights. The aircraft was then used to expand non-stop service on medium- to long-haul intercontinental routes. Today, thanks to the concept proven by the ground-breaking 767, over 90% of the intercontinental airline flights are operated by twin engine aircraft flown by a two-pilot crew.

US flight US 767 PHL-CLT with Jay Selman (LRW)

Above Photo: Assistant Editor Jay Selman prepares to depart on flight 767 on February 12 from Philadelphia bound for Charlotte.

US Airways flight 767 PHL departure (JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. The morning departure of flight 767 from Philadelphia.

There was a low-keyed celebration at the gate in PHL prior to departure of US 767. Breakfast pastries were served and the gate agent boarding the flight made a short announcement explaining the significance of flight 767. We pushed back from gate A18 in PHL at 8:55 am, five minutes early (below).

US Airways 767-200 at gate A18 PHL (JS)(LRW)

US Airways flight US 767 Capt Scott Lesh (JS)(LRW)

 

At the controls were PHL-based Captain Scott Lesh (above) and First Officer John Hyde (below).

US Airways 767-200 flight 767 Capt Scott Lesh and FO John Hyde in cockpit (JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. Captain Scott Lesh and First Officer John Hyde in the cockpit of N252AU for the final day of revenue flights.

Flying “shotgun” in the flight deck jump seat was First Officer Jim Zazas (below). Jim and I go back a long way, and he is one of those guys we call an “Aviator” with a Capital A. He was in the second 767 class with Piedmont in 1987, and has been on the 757/767 ever since. In his spare time, he flies just about anything with a propeller, especially if it has the classification “Warbird.” From B-17 to P-51, Jim has probably flown it. His latest accomplishment was to get himself checked out in The Tinker Belle, the C-46 based in Monroe, NC. For Jim, this was a farewell to his favorite jet airliner.

US Airways FO Jim Zazas PHL (JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. US Airways First Officer Jim Zazas.

I found it interesting that the flight was basically an extra section, added to the flight schedule approximately one month earlier, yet we departed PHL with every single seat filled. There were a significant number of aviation enthusiasts on board, but for the majority of the passengers, this was merely one more flight from Point A to Point B.

The flight was operated by N252AU, a 767-2B7 ER, msn 24765. 252 was originally delivered to USAir as N652US on May 25, 1990. It was the 308th production 767. From November 1993 until April of 1996, this aircraft was used on a wet lease program on behalf of British Airways, and flew in the British carrier’s colors during that time. Following the merger between US Airways and America West Airlines, the aircraft received its current registration.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/119629568″>US Airways Boeing 767-200 N252AU departure from PHL on the last day</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19954503″>Bruce Drum</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Video: Jay Selman. The departure of N252AU from Philadelphia on the last day.

US Airways 767-200 N252AU arrival at CLT last day (JS)(LRW)

Our flight to Charlotte was uneventful, and following a well-deserved water cannon salute (above), we arrived at Gate D2 a little past 10:44 am. There, the company presented two cakes, decorated in blue and white, commemorating the retirement of the 767-200 (below).

US Airways 767-200 last flight cake (JS)(LRW)

 

US Airways 767-200 last flight US 767 CLT crew (best)(JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. The crew of flight 767 poses with the two special cakes at the Charlotte turnaround.

During the nearly two-hour turnaround, I had a chance to chat with the lead Flight Attendant, Ellie Zalesky. Ellie told me that she began her career with Mohawk. “I’ve worked every airplane from the FH-227 to the A330, and the 767 was my favorite, hands down. I’m really going to miss her.” We had a chance to snap some souvenir photos prior to the final scheduled flight, and then it was time to head back to PHL.

US Airways 767-200 N252AU and crew on ramp CLT (best)(JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: The crew of flight US 767 poses with Boeing 767-2B7 ER N252AU on the ramp at Charlotte during the turnaround.

The return flight of US 767 pushed away from the gate in Charlotte at 12:27. It was markedly different from the first leg. The plane was less than 1/3 full, and this time, the majority of the passengers were hard-core enthusiasts and airline employees, much to the curiosity of the few “regular passengers” on board. There was a party atmosphere in flight, as we took time to enjoy the final flight of the 767-200. The flight attendants were surprised by the “enthusiast culture”, but quickly warmed to the occasion. Captain Lesh made a long announcement regarding the last flight of the 767-200, and its significance to US Airways, and commercial aviation.

US Airways 767-200 N262AU cabin (JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. The cabin of N252AU.

I also had a chance to talk to another old friend, Bruce Clarke, who retired as a Captain on the 757/767. Of the 767, Bruce waxed poetic, “I don’t think that Boeing has ever built a sweeter airliner. She never put me into a situation that I could not easily get out of. With a service ceiling of 41,000 ft, we could get above a lot of weather…and other traffic.” (Shortly before he mentioned that, I looked out the window and noticed a CRJ900 cruising a few thousand feet below us). Clarke continues, “The CF6 engines put out plenty of power so even at max takeoff weight of 395,000 lbs, the 767-200 ER climbs effortlessly. The 767 has inboard and outboard ailerons, which gives her incredible agility. She is a very stable platform and cuts through turbulence like a knife through soft butter. I’ve flown the 707, 727. 737, 757, and 767, and the 767 was by far my favorite.” Clearly, everyone I spoke with who had flown or worked the 767 loves her.

US Airways welcome to Philadelphia (JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: Jay Selman. Back at PHL once again.

We arrived back at the gate in PHL at 13:46, about 20 minutes early. Most of us were in no rush to deplane. Instead, we lingered for just another few minutes, savoring what will probably, for most of us, be our last moments on a 767-200. After all, as US Airways removes its last 767 from the fleet, its merger partner, American Airlines, prepares to introduce the 787 into service.

The crew patiently stayed onboard to pose for final photos, answer final questions, and perhaps absorb those last few moments on the aircraft they love.

When Captain Lesh shut down the CF6s, N252AU had logged 100,813.48 hours, and amassed 18663 cycles, relatively few for today’s jet airliners. The airframe has plenty of life left in her, and, while nothing has been officially announced, there is an excellent chance that the 767 will be “re-purposed” in the near future.

As a postscript, a Boeing 757 scheduled to operate a round trip from Philadelphia to Charlotte later in the day developed a mechanical issue, and 252’s retirement was postponed for another few hours. The final round trip, however, was done with none of the hoopla reserved for flight US 767. As far as we were concerned, we were on THE retirement flight.

Piedmont (2nd) logo

 

As one more side note, when sister ships 249 and 250 were officially retired from the US Airways fleet, they represented the last airplanes that flew for Piedmont Airlines. As an original “Piedmonter”, this fact was as significant to me as the retirement of the 767-200.

Jay Selman with 252 (nose)(JS)(LRW)

Above Photo: What will be the fate of ship “252”?

US Airways aircraft slide show: AG Airline Slide Show

USAir aircraft slide show: AG Airline Slide Show

Piedmont Airlines (1st) aircraft slide show: AG Airline Slide Show

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Jay Selman’s An Inside Look: Farewell to 406

Guest Editor Jay Selman

Guest Editor Jay Selman

Farewell to 406

by Guest Editor Jay Selman

In over 50 years, I have lost count of how many airplane flights I have taken. I’ve flown on airliners, military airplanes, corporate jets, private aircraft, and helicopters. I’ve flown in just about every airliner from the Comet to the Concorde. I’ve flown from Greensboro, North Carolina to Winston-Salem, a 7-minute (maybe) hop, and I’ve flown from New York to Hong Kong. I’m saying this to say that I have taken some memorable flights, but the vast majority of the airplanes I’ve flown in don’t stick in my mind.

One flight that I do vividly remember occurred on September 15, 1988, when I flew on N406US (man 23876), from Boeing Field in Seattle to Greensboro, North Carolina. 406 was a Piedmont Airlines Boeing 737-401, just one of well over 12,000 737s that have been built or are on order. What made it special was the fact that it was the first 737-400 in the world to be delivered to a customer, and I was privileged to be on that delivery flight, 26 years ago.

Piedmont 737-400 N406US (88-1st 737-400)(Grd) BFI (JET)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jim “Jet” Thompson. Boeing 737-401 N406US is towed out at Boeing Field on a cloudy Seattle day with a special “First Boeing 737-400” banner.

Piedmont was one of the early operators of the 737-300, a vastly-upgraded version of the venerable 737-200. Powered by a pair of CFM-56 engines, the 737-300 represented a tremendous advantage in terms of economy, power, and lowered noise levels inside and outside the cabin. The -300 was an immediate hit with airlines and passengers. A year after the first -300 entered service, Boeing offered the -400, featuring a 10-foot fuselage stretch over the -300. Needing a replacement for its fleet of aging 727-200s, Piedmont became the launch customer for the -400, with an initial order for 25. In 1987, USAir announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire Piedmont. 20 737-400s of Piedmont’s original order were delivered, and USAir ordered an additional 35 of the type and, in all, the company eventually operated 55 737-400s.

By the time that 406, named the Thomas H Davis Pacemaker in honor of the founder of Piedmont Airlines, was ready to leave her nest in Seattle, Piedmont was heading toward a merger with USAir, and she was delivered in a hybrid color scheme of a bare metal fuselage and a Piedmont blue cheat line. As a useless bit of trivia, only four Piedmont 737-400s were delivered with a blue stripe: 406, 407, 408, and 409. The rest came on property with the red USAir cheat line.

Piedmont 737-400 N406US (88)(Ldg) CLT (JS)(LRW) 10.88

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. N406US wears the Piedmont metal transition livery as it lands in Charlotte.

Boeing did a nice job of catering the first-ever delivery of a -400, and there was cause for celebration. It was, indeed, an historic event. Yet, the mood among most of the Piedmont people was a bit subdued, as reality set in that the company we loved was on its way toward non-existence. William Howard had recently stepped down as President and CEO of Piedmont, and his replacement, Tom Schick, was onboard, along with a number of other airline dignitaries, most of whom were, for all practical purposes, in a lame-duck environment. 406 was even delivered with a USAir registration, rather than its originally-allocated N404P. While it was still an historic and exciting moment, there was not complete joy.

For me, the highlight of the entire flight was after we landed in Greensboro. As we came to a stop, I looked out the window and saw Piedmont founder Tom Davis himself standing at the bottom of the airstairs. Not only was he a legend, but also a true gentleman. He also had a gift for remembering faces and names, and as I reached the bottom of the steps, he shook my hand and, without hesitation, told me, “Jay, I expect to see some good pictures of our new plane from you.” (He got some!)

On August 5, 1989, Piedmont Airlines ceased to exist, as everything Piedmont became USAir. Altogether, USAir operated 55 out of the 482 737-400s that Boeing built. Still, I always found myself smiling when I would see 406. I knew she was special. Fast forward 25 years. Years ago, under the leadership of Stephen Wolfe and Rakesh Gangwal, US Airways (as the company had since rebranded itself) elected to hitch its wagon to the Airbus narrow-body product. Slowly but surely, 737s were being replaced with a mix of Airbus A319s, A320s, and A321s.

US Airways 737-400 Patches (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Metal patch on N406US.

During her time in service with Piedmont/USAir/US Airways, 406 served the company well. She was not involved with any significant incidents, although the number of patches on the fuselage suggests there may have been more than a couple of minor issues throughout her life. She did suffer some minor damage when a loading bridge came in contact with the pitot tubes and angle-of-attack indicator located just in front of the forward entry door. This was not an uncommon problem with the 737 Classics, and a loading bridge operator always has to take extra care with these model 737s. Altogether, seven different engines hung on each wing of 406, and a total of 17 auxiliary power units (APUs) were installed in the tail of 406, and over its lifetime, she underwent many B-Checks and C-Checks. These numbers are fairly consistent with the average maintenance activities of a 737 of this age. For the record, 406 was the first 737-400 to wear the final US Airways color scheme.

US Airways 737-400 N406US (05)(Apr) CLT (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. A nice flying portrait of N406US in the final (2005) US Airways color scheme.

Her last revenue flight occurred on August 1, when she arrived from Pittsburgh at Charlotte. Maintenance personnel worked on her for three days, getting 406 ready for her last flight. Finally, early in the morning of August 5, 25 years to the day of the Piedmont/USAir merger, 406 was ready for her last flight as a US Airways-operated trip.

US Airways 737-400 Data Plate (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The original Boeing data plate.

I met Captains Gene Thomas and Doug Christen, who were going to do the honors of flying “Cactus 9240” from Charlotte to Tucson, Arizona. Each of them had several thousand hours in the 737, and although both of them had plenty of seniority to hold positions on the company’s “big iron”, they elected to stay on the 737 until the very end because of their love of the aircraft. Captain Thomas retired shortly after ferrying 406 to Tucson, and Captain Christen has moved on to the Boeing 757/767. They both praised the 737 as being a real “pilot’s airplane”, and will miss flying them. They were both struck by the historic significance of both aircraft 406 and the date, August 5.

US Airways 737-400 N406US pilots for final flight (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Captains Gene Thomas and Doug Christen.

As the pilots cranked the engines, it felt a little strange sitting in Row 2 of an empty airplane. Brakes were released at 9:20 am local, and Captain Thomas guided 406 to the end of Runway 36C at Charlotte. A few minutes later, Cactus 9240 was given takeoff clearance. With no passengers or cargo onboard, we were airborne in around 3000 feet at 9:27 am. 406’s final flight had begun.

US Airways 737-400 Jay in cabin (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay in the empty cabin of N406US en route to the desert.

Since this flight was operated under Part 91 rules, the pilots were permitted to leave the door of the flight deck open, and I was able to enjoy a view not only of the cockpit, but the world beyond the cockpit windows. The pilots were kind enough to take time to explain to me a lot about what goes on behind those perpetually-closed doors. They both talked about their love for the 737. Along with both of them agreeing that it is a plane that pilots fly, rather than program, they both commented on the robustness of the 737 airframe. As one of them noted, “Quite a few of our old 737s have been converted to cargo carriers, and will continue to fly for quite a few years. How many A320s have been converted to freight dogs?”

US Airways 737-400 N406US cockpit (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The cockpit of N406US.

Unlike the nicely-catered delivery flight 26 years ago, I sat alone in 406’s cabin, eating a Jersey Mike’s sub that I brought along, and drinking a bottle of water that catering left onboard after stripping the interior of any equipment that could be used on other aircraft. It gave me a chance to wander around this historic airplane and savor this one last flight in her. Truth be told, I was probably one of handful of people who really appreciated the significance of 406, but that’s okay. I was given the chance to fly on her this one last time. I am not one who keeps a log of all the planes I have flown in, but I do know that I’d flown in 406 at least a dozen times over the years.

US Airways N406US final approach TUS (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The final “Final Approach” as US Airways for N406US.

Captain Thomas said that during her final flight, 406 performed flawlessly. She did not produce a single squawk during the flight, and every flight parameter was met or exceeded. Sooner than I would have wanted, we began our descent into Tucson, where we followed an Air Force KC-135 on visual approach to Runway 11L. Captain Thomas greased the lightly-laden 406 onto the runway at 10:09 am local time, and we then taxied back to the facilities of Ascent Aviation Services. Ascent is a premiere narrow body maintenance and storage center located at Tucson International Airport. Several ex-US Airways 737s are stored there, where they will either be readied for a new operator, or broken up and sold for parts. The fate of 406 is uncertain as of this writing. Captain Christen said that typically, a plane will sit for two or three months as their owners look for another operator. After a certain point, it will be scrapped. I would certainly like to see her fly again, as she has plenty of life left in her, but the fate of 406 has yet to be determined as of this writing.

US Airways 737-400 N406US aircraft in storage TUS (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Aircraft in storage at Ascent Aviation Services in Tucson awaiting their fates.

At 10:15 am, Captain Thomas shut down the engines of 406 for the last time as a US Airways flight. Over nearly 26 years, she had accumulated 69967.4 total flight hours, and 47032 cycles. We climbed down the airstairs, and posed for a couple of final pictures. And that was it. The Ascent technicians hooked 406 up to a tug and towed her to a spot in between two other 737s awaiting their fates. I took one last photo of an historic plane, and a special airliner to me, and then I hopped into a truck to take me to the terminal for my flights home. This had been one flight I won’t forget.

US Airways 737-400 N406US towed into position at TUS (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. N406US is pushed into its storage spot at Tucson (TUS) next to a Solaseed Air Boeing 737-400 which was just retired.

Boeing 737 Slide Show: AG Slide Show

US Airways: AG Slide Show

Jay Selman’s Inside Look: US Airways operates the last Boeing 737 Classic revenue flight

Guest Editor Jay Selman

Guest Editor Jay Selman

An Inside Look: The End of a Classic Era

by Jay Selman

When I was hired by Piedmont Airlines (Winston-Salem) in 1981, the Boeing 737 reigned supreme. We were taking delivery of brand new Boeing 737-200s, and oh how I loved those birds. They were short and fat, and NOISY in an era when noise was still acceptable! In the early days of my airline career, I was on an airplane virtually every weekend. Those were the days when an airline could make money with a 50% load factor, and on those rare occasions when a flight did fill up, there was usually room in the cockpit for a company employee. I’d venture to say that 95% of my flights during the first 10 years of my career were in 737s.

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. Boeing 737-201 N736N (msn 19420) of Piedmont waits for its next assignment at Atlanta. The -200 is painted in the original 1974 livery.

By 1985, the 737-300 had joined the Piedmont fleet. Although it still had the 737 designation, it seemed to be a whole new animal. Those CFM-56 engines were massive compared to the JT-8Ds on the -200s, and the 737-300 promised significant increases in payload and range, as well as significant reductions in fuel burn. Oh yes, and they were QUIET. In fact, a common complaint among crewmembers flying the -300 was that they had to lower their voices so that passengers would not join in their conversations. The cockpits of Piedmont’s -300s still had the old “steam gauges” but they also had greatly improved avionics, and even a lovely feature called “Autoland”, which the company was never actually certified to use.

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. Boeing 737-301 N307P (msn 23259) of Piedmont wears the updated white top 1974 color scheme.

Piedmont was the launch customer for the Boeing 737-400, essentially a stretched -300, and in September, 1988, I had the good fortune to fly on the delivery flight of N406US, the first 737-400 in the world to be delivered by Boeing.

 

Copyright Photo: Nigel P. Chalcraft/AirlinersGallery.com. The first delivered -400, Boeing 737-401 N406US (msn 23876) taxies at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood in the bare metal 1988 livery.

At one time, Piedmont was able to claim the title of the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 737. No wonder I had a love affair with the Seven Three throughout my career in the airline industry.

In 1989, Piedmont and USAir merged and I was now working for USAir. The merger brought a large number of different aircraft types to my company, but I still loved the 737.

 

Copyright Photo: Christian Volpati Collection/AirlinersGallery.com. Suddenly the Piedmont name and brand were going way. USAir later gave way to US Airways as a brand.

Then in 1997, USAir CEO Steven Wolf shocked the aviation community by announcing an order for up to 400 narrow-body Airbus aircraft. Ultimately, this would reduce the composition of the company’s narrow-body fleet to one basic type (the A319, A320, and A321 are all the same basic airplane).

The handwriting was on the wall for the USAir (later US Airways) 737s…in fact, all of the narrow body aircraft operated by USAir. With respect to the 737s, the dwindling fleet of 737-200s was parked following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, while the last of the -300s was retired in 2013. Finally, on August 19, 2014, N435US operated the final flight of a US Airways 737, appropriately designated as flight US 737.

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. There are now no longer any US Airways 737 Classics operating out of the Charlotte hub. N406US landed at CLT with 43515 cycles and approximately 65405.45 hours. The airliner was a trusted performer for the carrier and has now been retired to the desert.

“Cactus 737”, its ATC callsign, flew from Charlotte to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Philadelphia and back to Charlotte on August 19, and I was able to fly all three legs on it. US Airways elected to keep the event low-key, since, after all, the “new American Airlines” is currently operating over 230 Next-Generation 737-800s, and will eventually own a fleet of over 300 of the type. But what made the trip special for me was the fact that the pilot in command, Captain Jeff Tarr, was also flying his last trip as an airline pilot.

US Airways 737-400 N435US at the gate (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The end of an era. N435US sits at the gate, unlikely to carry passengers again.

 

When Cactus 737 pulled into Gate D7 at 9:48 pm at CLT, there was no real fanfare for the airplane, but there was plenty of recognition for Captain Tarr.

US Airways 737-400 Captain Jeff Tarr and F-O Robert Channell (JS)(LRW)

 

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. Pictured in the cockpit of N435US is Captain Jeff Tarr (left) and F/O Robert Channell (right). This also was Jeff’s retirement flight.

And, after all, that is the way it should be. Too often, an airline is defined by its aircraft, or its color scheme, or its catch phrase. But what should REALLY define an airline is it’s employees. For most of us who have been in this industry for any length of time, it’s more than a job…it’s a way of life. Most of us who have been here for awhile began working in the days when we were envied for our status as airline employees. We remember hearing, “You have one of the best jobs in the world,” rather than, “I wouldn’t have your job for anything in the world.” An airline is about people, and not just airplanes.
 Having said that, the Boeing 737 has been part of the airline I work for during my entire 33-year career. Admittedly, the Airbus offers many advantages to the passenger than the old 737 Classic. And, of course, once the merger is complete, I will, again, be working for a company that will be operating 300+ Next-Generation 737s.

US Flt 737 Crew (JS)(LRW)

Copyright Photo: Jay Selman/AirlinersGallery.com. The proud crew of flight US 737 that operated the flight from DFW to PHL and finally to CLT.

 

In my personal opinion, an Airbus simply cannot compare to a Boeing in terms of useful life and ruggedness. Why do I say this? Just consider this fact. There are still plenty of 737s around with 30+ years on their airframes. Many still haul passengers, while countless others have been converted to freight dogs. I have no idea how many 737s have been converted to cargo carriers, but I can tell you exactly how many A320s have been.
 So, vive la 737. You’ve given me a great ride.

 

Piedmont Airlines (1st): AG Slide Show

USAir: AG Slide Show

US Airways: AG Slide Show

Jay Selman’s An Inside Look

An Inside Look – “Quite a career!”?

by Guest Editor Jay Selman.

Guest Editor Jay Selman

Guest Editor Jay Selman

It was exactly 33 years ago that I began my airline career with Piedmont Airlines. June 25, 1981 was a beautiful sunny day when I first stepped onto the ramp at Washington National Airport as an airline employee. I remember the ramp smelling of coffee, and I quickly discovered that there was an art to hoisting myself into the belly bin of a YS-11 without hitting my head on the bin ceiling. Every time a plane took off on what was then runway 36, I simply had to stop and take a look, I felt like I was the luckiest guy in the world!”

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum/AirlinersGallery.com. NAMC YS-11A-205 N219P (msn 2109) of Piedmont Airlines taxies to the runway at Fayetteville, NC.

Those were halcyon days for me, and to be honest, I didn’t realize how good I had it then. The captains usually found a way to take care of airline employees traveling on pass…often in the cockpit. Man, I loved that! Heck, one time, I was one of seven people in the cockpit of a 727! The captain gave me his “brain bag” and said, “Son, this is your seat for the next two hours, so hang on!”, and I replied, “Thank you, sir!”

When I worked in Newark, we had three flights a day that went up to Boston and came right back. The pay wasn’t that great in those days, so I thought nothing of flying up to Boston on the morning flight, enjoying a breakfast on board, and then flying back, having lunch along the way. For dinner, we could usually count on one flight canceling, and catering would unload the meals in the ops office, where I was working at the time. We could usually get free passes on other airlines, and I sure made the most of them. To date, I have set foot in over 40 countries on all six inhabited continents. (Some day, I will figure out a way to add Antarctica to that list!).

One day, I was flying from Heathrow to Kennedy on a Pan Am Boeing 747, and the check-in agent looked at my PI employee number on the pass and said, “Oh, you are P1 (one)…we can upgrade you to first class! I played dumb, and for the first time, experienced the luxury of a true intercontinental first class service, complete with caviar, plenty of vodka to wash it down, and a couple of glasses of Dom Perignon. I truly enjoyed that trip…at least, the part I remember!

I started out working part time at Washington National Airport with no benefits other than travel. It didn’t matter…there was never a shortage of people willing to work for $6 something an hour in exchange for being able to travel for free. After passing all my tests that were requirements for upgrading to full time, I transferred to Newark in 1983 as a full timer. Those were the days when PEOPLExpress (1st) was growing by leaps and bounds…and Piedmont was vigorously defending its territory in the southeast. Newark grew to become the largest non-hub station on the Piedmont system, and working there was a great learning experience for me. 3 ½ years later, in April 1986, I transferred to Raleigh-Durham, where I spent the next 13 years. In 1999, I transferred again to Miami, which was like being reassigned to heaven. As an airplane enthusiast, I can’t think of a better airport to have ramp access at. Being in Miami also allowed me to connect with some old friends, and opened the door to my becoming the editor of Airliners magazine for a couple of years..

Things changed, and I transferred to Charlotte in 2006, and, like Moses wandering in the desert for 40 years, I feel like I have finally reached the Promised Land. (The difference is, of course, that Moses never got to enter the Promised Land!). I am very happy in Charlotte, and plan to finish out my career here.
Three mergers and two corporate bankruptcies after I started with Piedmont, I still have a job, unlike many of my colleagues at Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, and Braniff, to name a few. The merger between Piedmont and USAir represented the biggest change for us…Piedmont was a way of life, and USAir was a job, although still a good one. I’ve lost track of how many different computer systems I have used over the years, as I get ready for yet another change of computer system, uniform, and name. The industry today is barely recognizable from the industry I began working for.

When I started, the Boeing 737-200 was the backbone of Piedmont’s fleet. Today, the last of the US Airways 737-400s are a few weeks away from leaving the fleet. Gone are meals on most domestic flights, and even on intercontinental flights, I’m not likely to get caviar and Dom. I can’t say I’m happy about the changes that have occurred in my industry, in general, and my company, specifically, but I still feel like I have one of the best jobs in the world.

Some days, you’re the big dog and some days, you’re the fire hydrant. I come to work with the attitude that I am going to have a good day, and I really do have more big dog days than fire hydrant days. I can wake up in the morning and decide to have dinner in New York, San Francisco, or London…as long as there is an empty seat on the plane, I’m all set.

Through my job, I met a wonderful kind-hearted woman who agreed to be my wife. I work in an airport environment, which to me is the equivalent of a young kid working in a candy store.

When I started 33 years ago, I could not begin to imagine where the journey was going to take me, but I have to admit it’s been a very good ride. There have been plenty of unforeseen twists and turns along the way, but all in all, I still consider myself blessed to be working in the industry that has been my lifelong passion.

Note: You can leave a note here for Jay.

Jay Selman’s An Inside Look

Guest Editor Jay Selman

An Inside Look

As a Walter Mitty pilot, I really love getting an inside look at what happens behind the cockpit door, which is now closed to us non-pilot types. In early May, an incident occured at JFK which I found fascinating. I received an email which contained some basic information that I am “borrowing” in an attempt to present a fair and balanced narrative of the incident.

The distilled summary: An American Airlines 767 enroute into JFK from Los Angeles arrived to be assigned runway 22L as the landing runway. The wind was out of 310 at 22 knots, gusting to 34 knots—a direct crosswind that might have had a slight tailwind component. The Captain refused the landing runway and, when ATC declined to assign 31R, he declared an emergency and landed on it anyway.
Here is a condensed clip on the incident:
Over on PPRuNe (Professional Pilots Rumor Network):

opinions are divided. Some think the Captain should have slipped into the flow and let the controller work out an approach for 31R that would minimize chaos for everyone else. If the flight was so low on fuel as to require unconditional maneuvering, why didn’t the crew declare this sooner? And if the crew couldn’t handle a 34-knot crosswind as just a day at the office, what are they doing flying into Kennedy? Others cheered the Captain, believing he determined that an unsafe condition existed and acted to correct it. End of story. On my personal Facebook page (aviation.writer@gmail.com), opinions are similarly divided.

One gentleman who originally offered an opinion said, (and I agree) “I don’t have enough experience in this realm to offer an opinion on the righteousness of the Captain’s call. Even if I did, I’m not sure I would, because I wasn’t in the seat.” However, I welcome your comments on this blog in an effort to share your Inside Look into this incident.

Thanks, as always, for visiting us here.

Jay

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