Guest Editor Dave Nichols
Trans – Texas Airways Route Proving Run
By Dave Nichols
Trans-Texas Airways was one of the original Local Service Airlines, like Allegheny, Ozark, and Southern. On October 10, 1947, TTA was the proud owner of five ex-American Airlines DC-3s, 16 pilots and some five stewards. This was one day away from starting revenue passenger services and it dawned on the executives that they hadn’t done a proving run. The airline had only two routes in the beginning. The southern run was Houston-Hobby, Victoria, San Antonio ending at San Angelo. The northern schedule went from Houston to Palestine, Dallas-Love, Fort Worth-Meachem, Brownwood and terminating in San Angelo. All stops were in Texas. So, Manager of Flight Operations, Hank Erdmann, rounded up all the pilots and a young woman from the executive office to act as a surrogate stewardess and they prepared to tackle the northern route for a day. No federal inspectors were on board, which would prove to be fortuitous.
The captains and co-pilots had developed camaraderie of sorts but had little experience flying together as a crew. No cockpit management system existed; they used the checklists together and the first officer tried to learn the captain’s ways of doing things. The left seater did most of the flying. The first crew selected to jump in the frying pan was Captain Bob Quin and co-pilot Bob Barrett. The cockpit door was to remain open. DC-3 N33654 (msn 4117) was selected. She was a good airplane with the name La Gansa (The Goose) written on the nose. N33654 departed from Hobby and headed north under Visual Flight Rules, 150 miles to Palestine. The pilots had never been there and couldn’t even pronounce the name correctly: “Pal-es-teen’.” There were no nav aids near the airport. Captain Quin came up on the town too high and too fast. Unable to get in the groove, he called for gear and flaps up and made a go-around. The catcalls and heckling began in earnest from the cabin, and it continued around the traffic pattern.
Once parked at the tiny wooden terminal, the pilots were changed out. Bill Moore and Bob Saner took over for the 100-mile leg to Dallas. They had not flown together before. The flight was routine until touchdown at Love Field. Captain Moore had his own technique of raising the flaps as soon as the main tires struck the concrete. His call of “flaps up” startled the co-pilot, diverting Moore’s attention from the landing. The DC-3 took a good bounce. Co-pilot Bob then reacted to the command and raised the flaps, just as the airplane was at the apex of the bounce. Up came the flaps and down came The Goose. The flight ops chief roared: “Enough of this crap, only Hassler and Richards (the #1 and #2 seniority captains) will fly the right seat to keep you idiot captains in check.” This tactic would not be enough.
Bud Downes flew to Fort Worth. He was the resident DC-3 wizard and everything went soothingly well. It was to be the only perfect leg of the day. Pappy Jensen commanded The Goose southwestward to Brownwood. He had plenty of flying time – in C-46s. Those airplanes weren’t content to stay in trim so Pappy had become accustomed to let the airplane wander a bit. The Goose’s left wing would droop for a few minutes, then Pappy would respond and pick it back up. After 30 minutes of this, crewmembers moaned from the cabin: “For God’s sake, Pappy, raise the left wing!” Then Jenson would jerk it level but the wing was predestined to slowly drop down again, unheeded.
After the central Texas stop at Brownwood, came the 80-mile hop to San Angelo, which was at the end of the TTA system. Bobby Carle, who drew the honors, had only minimum time in a DC-3, being a B-24 pilot. On landing, he was a tad hot over the fence and the aircraft floated teasingly above the runway. Then the inevitable bounce, followed by Carle’s nudging of the throttles, which resulted in more bouncing. This was repeated liberally. The gallery sitting behind yelled in unison for him to pull the power off, put the yoke in his belly and let the darn thing die. It was kismet that San Angelo had a long runway.
After a lunch break and a scolding from the boss for everyone to stop pestering the stewardess, T.K. Lee flew the group back to Brownwood. Like several of his B-24 brethren, he found himself too high on the approach to runway 13, which was only 4,600 feet long. Not wanting to endure the jeers that would surely come like darts, he elected to land. He pushed the nose down until she trembled. The landing was long. When the mains were planted, T.K. mashed the brakes and put the yoke in his lap to keep the nose from going over the top. Smoking brake pads wafted into the cabin. With tires screeching and brakes squealing like hogs at feeding time, the sweet old Goose stopped right at the very end of the runway. However, the tail was still in the air. Suddenly, having reached zero inertia, the tail came plummeting down like a broken elevator cab. There was a tremendous jolt. All that was heard in the cabin were 18 people exhaling in unison. A lone voice carried forward: “I am surrounded by idiots.”
Bob Barrett summarized that day with this sage sentence: “The contrast between the brash young men who elbowed their way into the Goose that morning, grabbing at that poor little girl and hurling nasty remarks up to the cockpit, and the somber and humbled men who filed slowly off the DC-3 that evening back in Houston was amazing.” Their thought process and maturity had taken a quantum leap.
They had an airline to start the next morning.
Addendum: Of the 16 original Trans-Texas pilots, 12 made it a full career with TTA and later the renamed Texas International. From DC-3s, Convair 240s and 600s, and the DC-9-10, these TTA “gray beards” retired off the DC-9-32.
Route Map of Trans-Texas Airways on November 1, 1949 (courtesy of Airline Timetable Images):
Top Copyright Photo: Christian Volpati Collection/AirlinersGallery.com. Sister ship Douglas DC-3A N18121 (msn 1997) rests at San Antonio between flights.
Trans-Texas Airways/Texas International:
Dave always likes to hear from his readers. Write Dave Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Dave’s previous articles:
Ball Peen Hammers and Earth Worms (North Central Airlines): CLICK HERE
A Day With Aspen Airways: CLICK HERE
Nostalgic Tickets: CLICK HERE
Spring Break with Lake Central: CLICK HERE
What Allegheny Meant To Me: CLICK HERE
A Day with Southern Airways: CLICK HERE
Mohawk’s Incredible Weekends Unlimited: CLICK HERE