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Prop It Up: Mohawk’s Incredible Weekends Unlimited

Guest Editor Dave Nichols

Mohawk’s Incredible Weekends Unlimited

In April of 1970, I took two weeks off from ‘work flying’ to do some ‘fun flying’ and visit family back in Pennsylvania.  Part of the reason for going home was to experience Mohawk Airlines “Weekends Unlimited” program.  The plan was so original and different:  fly most places in their system on Saturday and Sunday for a net fare of $33.95, with firm reservations!  The cool part was you could fly the entire weekend if you wanted to, literally stepping off one aircraft and onto another.  A few places were off-limits, like Canada and Minneapolis.  You could make reservations any time after noon on Wednesday for that weekend’s flights.  Mohawk (MO) would then issue real tickets for all the flights you were reserved on.  Wow.  Looking at the timetable, MO did not reduce the schedule much on Saturday or Sunday.  New York State and New England were areas I had not explored much.

I spent probably two hours in trip planning at home.  The timetable I used is still in my collection.  I made myself a few targets, wanting to be sure to get to Boston, Syracuse (SYR) and Providence (PVD), as I had never been there.  Utica-Rome, New York (UCA) was Mohawk headquarters and overhaul shops so that was a must-see, too.  Any other cities would be a bonus.  I carefully planned a chain of flights for the weekend.  There was a lot of trial and error involved, kind of like figuring out a maze.  I didn’t want to get trapped at a particular terminal with no alternate way out should weather or a mechanical occur.  Let me put the fare into perspective:  $33.95 in 1970 would normally buy you a 100-mile segment, round-trip.  You can see that the Unlimited Weekend was a real deal.

On Wednesday, at “noon :02” I made the phone call.  The Mohawk reservationist did not share my enthusiasm when I told her my plan.  I heard air gasping into her microphone.  She grumbled that a superior would have to be consulted since so many legs were involved.  There was a hint that no cities could be visited more than once.  I was not popular in her world and I was becoming aware that she could crush my plan like an empty ice cream cone.  After the huddle at MO’s reservation center, all was approved.  I told her I would even stop by the Utica res center on Saturday afternoon to say thanks – she declined.  I was reminded that I would have to be heading in the magnetic direction of home by 6:00 p.m. Sunday.  The woman sneered when she said the ticket counter agent would really enjoy writing 10 tickets for me.

I had decided early on to start and end this extravaganza at home – Erie, Pennsylvania – instead of driving the 100 miles to Buffalo.  More options would be available at BUF but I wanted to make this easy on myself; just pure fun.  Erie only had four Mohawk flights a day but it would work.  I even went to the terminal a day early to be ticketed during quiet time.  The lead MO passenger agent had been at the ERI station since 1956 and was a little rough hewn but he wrote my tickets – all by hand back then.  I did notice he was grinding his teeth.

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum. Sister aircraft BAC 1-11 204AF N1127J (msn 180) “Dominion of Canada” in the 1965 delivery livery taxies to the gate at New York (LaGuardia).

Saturday morning, launch day, arrived with great weather across the Mohawk system.  My first flight was MO 197, a BAC 1-11, N1115J, from Erie to Detroit at 10:35 a.m.  I was flying in the opposite direction from the core of their system but Detroit gave me lots of possibilities and a seat on their new Detroit-Hartford non-stop.  How’s that for a local service airline?  Climbout from ERI is always exhilarating:  the wooded landscape as green as nature can provide, the sweeping peninsula with miles of sandy beaches and Lake Erie itself.  The 138 nautical mile leg only took :35 of air time.

Detroit-Metro airport was the springboard for an interesting flight:  MO 84 non-stop to Hartford, Connecticut (BDL) and then on to Boston.  The cutesy, 70-something seat BAC 1-11 would only need 1:30 air time to get us there.  Amazing.  The airplane turned out to be the same one that brought me up from Erie.  The crew had flown BOS-SYR-BUF-ERI-DTW starting at 8:00 a.m.   Their workday would be done back at Boston.  Off we went, retracing our steps over Lake Erie but a lot higher this time.  I could see the City of Erie from flight level 290, which was a first for me.  Flying across the woodlands of southern New York State is quite picturesque.  Hartford, a major insurance center, was a quick stop – only 12 minutes in the timetable.  We landed early, which insured an on-time departure.

Heading northeast to Boston I was able to make out the tip of Cape Cod to our right.  I imagined the PBA DC-3s shuttling in and out of Provincetown.  Boston was certainly weathered, both the city and Logan Airport.

The next flight was BOS-Providence (PVD)-Albany-Utica/Rome on another black/white/gold BAC 1-11. All these cities were new to me.   Flight 189 departed at 4:00.  Providence looked nice and seemed like a great place to live.  Albany, New York was a beehive of MO activity, then and before.   Mohawk used ALB as the staging point for service to upstate New York and Vermont.  Albany also featured almost hourly flights to New York City – even years previous with the Convair 240.  The FH-227B carried those loads in 1970.  Utica-Rome (UCA) is in a handsome wooded area, kind of at the feet of the Adirondack Mountains.   It was the bonafide headquarters of Mohawk.  We landed at 6:00 pm which amazed me that three cities could have been covered in just two hours.  Also, I developed an even greater respect for the 1-11, being such a perfect fit for Mohawk.  I only had forty minutes to walk around outside the terminal.  Mohawk’s large office building and hangar was impressive.  UCA was not a hub for MO but there were frequently one to two airplanes on the ramp.  [Today, UCA is no longer an airport; everything is X’d out].

I wolfed down a generic airport sandwich and headed for my last plane of the day.  I always look forward to propellers and the short 35 minute leg from UCA to Elmira, New York would be on a Fairchild 227B. turboprop.  I’ve never been a proponent of the FH227 but any prop ride is a good ride.  In May 1970, Mohawk was operating 16 Fairchilds and 15 BAC 1-11s.  Mohawk had plans to be an all BAC 1-11 airline as five FH-227s had already been sold off.  Amazing for a regional carrier to be disposing of aircraft that were bought new in 1966!

Copyright Photo: Bruce Drum. Fairchild-Hiller FH-227B “227 Vista Jet” M7819M (msn 542)  “City of Albany” rests at the gate at Syracuse. N7819M also carries an additional Allegheny Airlines sticker as the end of Mohawk nears.

N7817M was ready to board.  I counted 48 seats and the flight was half full.  The scenic and famous Finger Lakes were off the right wing on this leg.  This was the type of flying you wish would not end.  Elmira (ELM) is a smallish city at the southern mid-section of New York State but generated good loads for Mohawk.  It sported BAC 1-11 service, as well.  I would overnight here.  Hoping to follow the crew to their chosen motel I noticed they still had some flying to do.  The first officer said they would go to Ithaca and on to JFK.  So I chose a nearby motel that offered terminal pick-up.  It was a family-run place, single story, with a parking space in front of each door.  Set back from the highway, it featured large swing sets in the front yard.  A classic.

The next morning was an interesting flight from ELM  non-stop to Washington-National (DCA).  I was impressed that Elmira would have such a trip.  MO 340, another FH-227B, N7813M, left at the civilized time of 8:25 a.m.  Even in the non-speedster Fairchild (about 180 knots indicated), the time enroute to DCA was only 1:05.  Never a dull second sightseeing on final approach and at the terminals,  Washington-National had already outgrown itself.  Airplanes were shoe-horned at the gates and three deep on the ramps, especially Allegheny.  Everyone should scope out DCA sometime.

A twenty-five minute connection put me aboard MO 41, a BAC 1-11 with non-stop service to Rochester, New York (ROC).  In fact, a quick look at my itinerary confirmed that all my trips today would be non-stops.  Mohawk was working at creating more non-stops and less of the 3-5 stoppers the regional airlines were known for.  Rochester, touching Lake Ontario, has the Genesee River flowing through the city along with the Erie Canal, forming an X pattern.  Eastman Kodak had a big presence in Rochester back in 1970.

MO 34 non-stop to Newark awaited at 1:20 p.m.  Just 55 minutes later the BAC 111 was swooping across the threshold at EWR.  The airport was a crowded place and well worn like LaGuardia, DCA and BOS.  Not much on my sentimentality meter, I was out of there in less than an hour.  Flight 57, a BAC 1-11, N1131J (an aircraft purchased from Aloha), non-stop to Syracuse was next.

Another comfortable leg of less than an hour, SYR comes into view.  Large Oneida Lake sits north of the city.  Erie Canal history permeates this town.  This would be my shortest connection time, only 19 minutes.  Ten minutes after pulling into the gate, flight 33 landed, inbound from JFK.  I joined those folks after just a fourteen-minute turn.

1970 Route Map:

We were off to Buffalo, New York (BUF) that only takes a half-hour.  If one is fortunate enough to see Niagara Falls on a visual approach, it is something to behold.  In winter, BUF quite possibly gets more snowfall than any city east of the Rockies.  Maybe more of us should see Buffalo in January so we can reconfirm how lucky we have it.  Buffalo was a strong station for Mohawk, lots of activity going to places all over their system.

I made a routine connection there to another MO BAC 1-11, N2111J (the first jet delivered for Mohawk) at 6:35 p.m. and proceeded home to Erie.  It is only 95 air miles and we landed at 7:00.  I visited twelve very different cities, set foot in eight states, for under forty bucks!  Had every segment been a FH-227, the enroute sightseeing would have been primo but I still gained the flavor of the geography.  Thanks Mohawk, for a genuine unlimited weekend of flying.

Write Dave Nichols at propitupblog@gmail.com

Read Dave previous articles:

What Allegheny Meant To Me: CLICK HERE

A Day with Southern Airways: CLICK HERE

Mohawk Airlines: 

All timetables, maps and logos kindly suppled by Airline Timetables.