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RTW80 Leg 14. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)-Hong Kong Kai Tak. VVTS-VHHX.
2022-01-29


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This time we take Air Vietnam for our Hong Kong leg. The airline (Vietnamese: Hãng Hàng không Việt Nam) was established in 1951 while the country was still part of French Indochina. After the fall of the French and the division of Vietnam into North and South, Air Vietnam became the national carrier for the Republic of South Vietnam. Headquartered in Saigon, it flew over two million passengers until the government's collapse in 1975.

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Air Vietnam climbing out of Saigon

Initially the airline concentrated on domestic flights using DC-3s and DC-4s. It then expanded to international flights to Paris and throughout South and Southeast Asia using DC-6s and Viscounts. Eventually, it added jets including the Sud Caravelle, B707 and B727, some of which were obtained from Air France and Pan Am. And in the 1960s it joined with Continental Air Services (CASI), the subsidary part of Continental Airlines who flew STOL aircraft mainly in Laos but also other parts of Southeast Asia. The joint venture shared passsenger and cargo flights on domestic and international routes as well as maintainence facilities throughout the region. (One of the obscure partners in these arrangements was Air America.)


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Cruising over the South China Sea

The airline had a number of incidents on record – including two DC-6s. This should not be surprising as most of its operations were in a war zone of one type or another. One of the DC-6 incidents involved a exploding bomb in the passenger cabin. Air Vietnam pilots must have been inured to normal risks (see below).


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Nearing Hong Kong, we catch a glimpse of Macau and its island runway.

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Some clouds greet our arrival.

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The red-and-white Checkerboard Hill, just above the cockpit's Air Speed Indicator marked the legendary Checkerboard Approch to Kai Tak's Runway 13. The requirement for "hand-flying all the way in" made it a pilot's delight. (The Checkerboard has recently been restored as a monument to the great airport.)

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The "Checkerboard Turn" incorporates a 47° visual right turn, starting at about 600ft and exiting at 140ft to line up with the runway. Getting the speed and timing of this maneuver requires precise flying. Weather can be a factor. Especially so because the surrounding mountains can channel the winds into unexpected directions. That said, this is not the serious challenge for the relatively small DC-6 as it would be for a B747. That long jumbo-jet runway ahead provides plenty of margin for error.

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Finals over Kowloon

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A little unexpected excitement. The Air Vietnam pilots insisted on the Checkerboard approach despite a forecast of brisk winds from the northwest. When we neared the city, the winds appeared to have vanished. So we smoothly executed the curving approach only to discover a 12kts tailwind on the field. Made for a longer runway experience than expected. No worries. But we might mention to maintenance that they look at what seem to be faulty brakes...and then walk away whistling an innocent tune.

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Parked at the Kai Tak gate. Impressive airport, this.


Many thanks to Ali501 for his splendid Kai Tak (VHHX). Ant to FreakyD and superspud for their Hong Kong City and Hong Kong Port, respectively..


Summary:
Date: 2022-01-29
Route: VVTS-VHHX
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 3:01
Leg Distance: 824nm
Total Time: 30:39
Total Distance: 7,568nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 15. Hong Kong Kai Tak-Taipei Songshan. VHHX-RCSS.
2022-02-01


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Out of Hong Kong we hop aboard one of the city's real success stories, Cathay Pacific.


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Cathay Pacific ready for departure on Rwy 13, Kai Tak. Most aircraft would depart in this direction without regard to the wind because the runway leads out over the harbor and does not require a strenuous turn and climb.

The airline was initiated in 1946 by an Austalian and an American, both ex-air force pilots who had flown the Hump. They bought a DC-3 and started flying freight to Australia and (after receiving unwanted special attention from authorities in Shanghai) moved their base to Hong Kong. They named their airline Cathay (ancient for China) and Pacific (reflecting their intercontinental ambitions). Legend has it that the name resulted from a drinking and brainstorming session at the bar of the Manila Hotel (other reports indicate the Cathay Hotel on the Shanghai Bund). The airline grew quickly adding five DC-3s and connecting the cities of Southeast Asia: Hong Kong, Sydney, Manila, Singapore, Shanghai, Saigon, and Bangkok.


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Circa 1950

The colonial government insisted on British ownership and the two pilots sold out to the London-based Swire Group. (This international financial conglomorate had been developed by several generations of the Swire family, starting in the eighteenth century.) The Swire management oversaw Cathay Pacific's becoming the dominant airline in Hong Kong and the expansion into the highly successful HAECO, the international aircraft engineering and maintence group now based in mainland China and the United States as well as Hong Kong.


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Leaving behind Cathay's home city, the towers of Hong Kong and the shipping of Victoria Harbour.

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the airline prospered with DC-6Bs and Lockheed Electras and adding passenger routes to Sydney, Taipei, and Tokyo. It carried its one millionth passenger in 1964. In the 1960s jet age, it acquired fast Convair 880s and then Boeing 707s. The mid-1970s saw the acquistion of widebody Boeing 747s and the establishment of direct flights connecting Hong Kong and London. And the next decade added routes to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco and then the major cities of Europe, including London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Rome, and Zurich. In 1998 it became a core founding member of the Oneworld alliance with American Airlines, British Airways, Canadian Airlines and Qantas.

By the 2010s, Cathay had won numerous "best airline" awards. It was the fifth largest passenger airline and the busiest cargo line. A success story of the sometimes rough-and-tumble free market business culture of Hong Kong.


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Climbing to altitude to catch the tailwinds.

Starting in the 1990s, Cathay developed a complicated relationship with Dragonair. That airline started in 1985 as a direct Hong Kong competitor to Cathay. The Swire group bought a part ownership but exercised no control. Dragonair focused on underserved Chinese routes and branched out to other Asian cities at first with narrow-bodied Airbus A320s and later with wide-bodied A330s – all to good effect. At its height, Dragonair had 35 aircraft and served 50 destinations in 14 countries. However, in 2006 Cathay took ownership and eliminated the competition. In 2016 Cathay Pacific merged the two airlines, renaming the junior partner as Cathay Dragon – and then eliminating it in 2020 as a function of the Covid crisis.

Nowadays Cathay Pacific is on life support. Unlike most other major airlines, it has neither a government sponsor nor a large internal market. Dependent on international travel and freight, and based in a "zero covid" city, Cathay has lost most of its pre-pandemic traffic. It received multi-billion dollar sustaining loans from the government which will pose a financial challenge in a few years. In addition, Hong Kong itself has lost some of its allure for business travelers as it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the city from the rest of mainland China. Even if traffic regains its pre-Covid levels, Cathay will have trouble meeting its incurred financial obligations. It is facing absorption into China's government airline Air China.


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Clouds on approach to Taipei. This Hong Kong-Taipei route has proved to be especially busy and profitable for Cathay Pacific.

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Down safely on Rwy 10 at Songshan Airport. Note Taipei 101 (the Taipei World Financial Center) in the background. This was the world's tallest building until it was surpassed in 2009 by Dubai's Burj Khalifa.

Songshan (RCSS) was Taipei's main international airport until its status was replaced by the new Taoyuan International in 1979. For a few years, Songshan depended on domestic traffic and was facing obsolescence due to the rise of Taiwan's increasingly fast rail networks. However, Songshan has become one of the Pacific Rim's international "city" airports that connect business travelers who value easy access to downtown centers. The airport seems poised to experience a renaissance similar to Bangkok-Don Mueang, Jakarta-Halim Perdanakusuma, Kuala Lumpur-Subang, Singapore-Seletar, Seoul-Gimpo, Shanghai-Hongqiao and Tokyo-Haneda. All these airports have central locations compared with newer and larger but far-flung international airports.

Especially interesting is the 2008 opening of regular cross-Straight charter and freight flights that connect Taiwan with China. Songshan has received the majority of these flights. And in 2010, direct flights between Taipei-Songshan and Shanghai-Hongqiao began on a regular multiple-times-a-day basis. The airport is now undergoing upgrades to the runway, terminals, and jet bridges.


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Parked at the ramp with the distinctively-roofed Grand Hotel Taipei in the background. Note the presence of aircraft from China Airlines, ANA, and Air China from Taiwan, Japan and China respectively. An important mix.

Thanks to Orbyx for the freeware Taipei city scenery.

Summary:
Date: 2022-02-01
Route: VHHX-RCSS
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 1:38
Leg Distance: 438nm
Total Time: 32:17
Total Distance: 8,006nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 16. Taipei Songshan-Shanghai Hongqiao. RCSS-ZSSS.
2022-02-02


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Now we turn to Taiwan's China Air Lines. Not long ago, it would have been impossible to fly from Taipei to Shanghai. And in the days of the DC-6, it would be unthinkable to do so in the ROC flag carrier China Air Lines. Things are changing.

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From its inception until 1995, China Airlines was literally the "flag carrier" of the Republic of China government. Embeded in this flag was a deadly serious international political contest.

When China Airlines was started in 1959, the national "flag carrier" was CAT (Civil Air Transport), an airline formed by Claire Chennault in the immediate post-War revolution to serve the Nationalist Republic of China under Chiang Kai-Shek. Many of the pilots had served with Chennault's Flying Tigers. (The Flying Tiger Line, which we encountered in Cambodia and Vietnam, was a completely different group.) When the small airline faced financial difficulties, it was purchased by a CIA false-flag corporation. CAT maintained a civilian presence with regular passenger flights, including international jet service in the 1960s, while it simultaneously used other aircraft to fly covert missions in Korea, Indochina, and Southeast Asia for its obscure owners. (These missions generated legendary flying tales, but now is not the time.)


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Turning north from Taipei.

The new China Airlines (CAL) began with a pair of PBYs and was owned entirely by the Republic of China government (whose actual domain was now limited to Taiwan). Beginning with charter flights, it started to establish scheduled service on domestic routes. It acquired a number of DC-4/C-54s which served as cargo carriers from 1962-1975. (Our aircraft for this flight is a DC-6A painted to stand in for a DC-4 freighter of the early 1960s. CAL did not operate DC-6s.) Later in the 1960s, China Airlines acquired B727s and B707s to operate an initial network on the Pacific Rim and then to connect to North America through Japan and Hawaii.

The 1970s brought on B747s that operated the profitable Trans-Pacific routes non-stop. In the 1980s-1990s CAL became one the largest purchasers of new B747s and Airbus A300s to develop its long-range international network.


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Climbing to altitude above a thick layer of clouds that covered most of our route to Shanghai.

Importantly, in 1995 China Airlines changed its livery. Up until then, its red-white-and-blue colors and national markings reflected the Republic of China flag painted on its tail. The airline introduced a new "plum blossom" logo to replace the national flag and colors. (The plum blossom is the national flower of Taiwan.) Over the years, the (DRC) Chinese government had used diplomatic pressure to prevent China Airlines from obtaining routes to many nations who recognized the Beijing government. After the change in the logo, this pressure was relaxed and CAL could more easily expand its set of  destinations.


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Descent through the clouds over the hills of Eastern China

When cross-strait relations improved early this century, Taiwan and China allowed direct flights between the two countries. These came first as occasional charters, then as regular charters, and finally as regular inter-city service in 2009 and 2010. Since then, China has become the second-largest market for China Airlines, with over 130 flights to 33 destinations on the Mainland. (In the last couple of years, CAL has begun to emphasize its flights to Southeast Asia. And it has reduced its Mainland routes due to tense cross-strait relations.)

Since 2011 China Airlines has been a member of the SkyTeam alliance. With a fleet of 65 widebodies and a total of 87 aircraft, it now operates 1,400 flights weekly to 102 cities across six continents. By some standards, it is the world's 33rd largest passenger airline and the 10 largest cargo line.


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Crossing over Hangzhou Bay on approach to the Shanghai area. In the 1930s, Pan Am pilots started flying small Douglas Dolphin amphibians for CNAC's Shanghai-Hong Kong routes. The sometimes dicey weather over this large bay made scheduled flight dangerous and caused at least one fatal crash into these waters.

Shanghai Hongqiao (ZSSS) is an old airport, opening for civilian use in 1923. From the 1930s it became (in part) a military field, first in the Sino-Japanese wars and then the Revolution. Not until 1964 did it again revert to regular civilian use. And, due to the geopolitics of the time, it did not really open up to international travel until the late-1970s and 1980s. Hongqiao became the main airport of Shanghai as the city grew quickly back into its old role as a financial and commercial center, in many ways the heart of China's re-awakening. In 1999 almost all international flights moved to the modern Pudong International (ZSPD), some 16 miles east of the city.


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Finals into Hongqiao with the city center merely eight miles to the east.

Now, Hongqiao serves mainly domestic flights as a major hub in the Chinese national system. It is also headquarters for a number of airlines, including China Eastern Airlines. And in 2010, it added a second (four times larger) Terminal 2 that increased the airport's capacity to 40 million. It is a sign of the rise of Chinese aviation that the airport is already filled to capacity.


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Taxiing past the very busy domestic gates at Terminal 2

Hongqiao also handles a limited number of international flights, here to the network of Asian "downtown" airports Tokyo-Haneda, Seoul-Gimpo, and Taipei-Songshan as well as Hong Kong and Macau. 


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Unloading cargo with the modern skyscrapers of Shanghai in the far background

----

It turns out that one of our traveling companions had contacts with a local man of some means. He had his private pilot take us up to see a bit of modern Shanghai. It seemed to be a matter of some pride.

Forty years ago, Shanghai was a large decaying industrial city, merely a shadow of its former self. However, Shanghai's dynamic entrepreneurial spirit was unleased by the far-reaching market-economy reforms of Den Xiaoping in the 1980s. The city grew and developed in ways that surprised everyone.

A great symbol of that change is Pudong, the district just across the Huangpu River from the European Bund built in the 1930s. In living memory, this land was rice paddies and even as late as the 1980s is was single-storied housing. The district was designated as a special economic zone to house the engines of Chinese "market" institutions. Today, it is chock-full of high-rise office towers and the district includes three of the highest buildings in the world. Pudong is just a bit smaller than Chicago. A visual representation of this transformation is captured in the following pair of photographs.


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Here is Pudong in 1987 and in 2013.

We got a chance to fly down the river during the early afternoon and take a few pictures. And then came back in the evening to see the city in it sparkling lights.


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Three of the worlds tallest skyscrapers. From the center-left: the Jin Mao Tower (1,380 ft), the Shanghai World Financial Center (1,521 ft) and the Shanghai Tower (2,073 ft).

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Nearly a classic photographic shot with the previous "big three" adding the Oriental Pearl Tower on the right. The skyline of Shanghai. This is the financial and commercial hub of modern China. Plenty of power here.

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A night view

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This the European Bund bathed in light. Once the manifestation of Shanghai's economic power from the 1860s to the 1930s, this is now more of a tourist attraction. The two large buildings on the right are the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building (built in 1923) and the Customs House (1927). Contrast the size of the "symbols of power" here and above.

Shanghai's buildings are courtesy of SamScene3D's Shanghai City Times.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-02
Route: RCSS-ZSSS
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 1:33
Leg Distance: 368nm
Total Time: 33:50
Total Distance: 8,374nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 17. Shanghai Hongqiao-Nagasaki. ZSSS-RJFU.
2022-02-03


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Today we take Japan's long time world-class airline, Japan Airlines, from Shanghai to Nagasaki.

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Our departure takes us over central Shanghai. Pudong on the left, the Bund on the right of the Huang Po River.

Japan Air Lines (JAL) was founded in 1951 as a private company and began flying DC-3s, DC-4s, and Martin 202s on domestic routes. It was soon reorganized in 1953 as a semi-government corporation as the official "flag carrier" of the new Japan. By the end of the year, the fledgling JAL network extended northward to Sapporo and westward to Fukuoka.  The next year, with new DC-6Bs, the new airline initiated international flights starting with the Tokyo-Wake-Honolulu-San Francisco route. (It first advertised its American flight crew for this flight, presumably to reassure Western customers. Within a couple of years, of course, Japanese captains and full flight crews were the norm.) By 1960, using DC-6Bs and DC-7Cs JAL had expanded its service to other cities in the United States, to Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

With the arrival of the jet age, JAL turned to DC-8s (eventually operating a fleet of 81 DC-8s) and Convair 880s to replace the new Douglas pistons (which were reassigned to the domestic and cargo routes and kept in service well into the 1970s). The line added more Asian destinations such as Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Sydney. And the increased range of the DC-8s enabled transpolar flights, through Anchorage, to Copenhagen, Paris, Hamburg and London. That said, the existing transpacific routes through Honolulu to Los Angeles and San Francisco continued to be the biggest source of revenues.

During the 1970s, JAL bought B727s and especially B747s (both short-range and long-range models as well as freighters) for its growing routes within Japan as well as to other countries. (A B747-SR set a record of 550 passengers on an Okinawa-Tokyo flight.) In a special move, when JAL started flying to mainland China in 1974 it ceased normal service to Taipei. Instead, to satisfy political requirements, it created a separate subsidiary, Japan Asia Airways, to fly to Taiwan.


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The mouth of the Yangtze River, the world's third longest river and the arterial waterway of central China. Being on the junction of the Yangtze and the sea was the main economic driver of Shanghai's historic success. On the water you can see the Tijuca (a Vehicles Carrier built in 2008, now sailing under the Norwegian flag), the Vancouver (Container Ship, 2007, Cyprus), Maersk Piper (Oil Tanker, 2008, Singapore), and the Maersk Nucleus (Oil Tanker, 2007, Liberia). Thanks to Henrik Nielsen.

The company completely privatized in 1987 with the government selling off its shares. Over the previous five years (1983-1987), the IATA had voted JAL the world's best performing airline in passenger and cargo. In the new deregulated era however, facing competition home and abroad, its financial fortunes fluctuated with the international economy. In 1997 it created JAL Express as a lost-cost carrier which helped the airline regain profitability. In 2001 JAL merged with Japan Air System (a mainly domestic carrier that focused on smaller markets) and changed its name to Japan Airlines Corporate and soon Japan Airlines International with both domestic and international divisions. In 2005 it joined the Oneworld alliance.


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The city of Nagasaki lies off to the north. For centuries, it was self-isolated Japan's main connection with the outside world. The airport is on Omura Bay behind the city.

During the onset of the Great Recession in 2009-2010, Japan Airlines experienced deep drops in its revenues (despite remaining the largest revenue Asian airline). JAL underwent restructuring under a bankruptcy regime. A new, more entrepreneurial leadership was appointed. The airline enacted cost-cutting measures, including deep reductions in staff and the elimination of some international routes. And it received government loans ($3 billion) as well as financial support from its airline partners. At one time, it appeared likely that JAL might join the SkyTeam alliance (with strategic investments from Delta Air Lines as well as Air France KLM). However American Airlines  (with British Airways and Qantas) raised its offer to $1.4 billion and JAL decided to stay with the Oneworld group. When it emerged from bankruptcy and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the company's value was more than sufficient to pay off the emergency investors.

Japan Airlines has regained its footing. It serves 80 destinations in 20 countries. Its fleet includes 218 aircraft including 61 B737s, 31 B767s, 19 B777s, 49 B787s, and 8 A350s. Throughout the last decade, almost every year, it has continued to win various "best airline" awards to mark its excellent service.


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Approach to Nagasaki's island airport in Omura Bay

Nagasaki Airport is located 11 miles (18 km) northeast of the city center. The airport terminal and commercial runway are on Mishima island in the middle of Omura Bay. A shorter runway, used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force for helicopters, is on the mainland. (The smaller airfield was founded in 1923 as Omura Airport and opened as a civilian-use airport in 1955.)


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Taxi to the lovely terminal. Not too crowded, it has an observation deck on the third floor. And a playroom for kids. Ideal for plane spotters with families.

The commercial island airport opened in 1975 as Japan's first full-scale airport built on the water. While similar to Kansai, Kobe, Kitakyushu and Chubu, Nagasaki's island existed before the airport was constructed. (The airport's construction involved flattening the islands hills and creating landfill to expand the island's size.) Importantly, the island's 13 families all agreed to relocate so that the new airport could be built.


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Busy ramp work in progress

Nagasaki's first international service was to Shanghai, starting in 1979. One of Japan Airlines' secondary trunk routes was Shanghai-Nagasaki-Tokyo.  We replicate it here in our DC-6B – which began its service on the transpacific Tokyo-Wake-Honolulu San Francisco route.


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And, of course, every passenger gets a copy of the Game of the Year along with a box lunch.

Thanks for the unusually good rendition of Nagasaki RJFU as an "enhanced" default  airport by Microsoft/Asobo.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-03
Route: ZSSS-RJFU
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 1:46
Leg Distance: 475nm
Total Time: 35:36
Total Distance: 8,849nm

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RTW80 Leg 18. Nagasaki-Tokyo Haneda. RJFU-RJTT.
2022-02-05


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Today we continue on Japan Airlines from Nagasaki to Tokyo Haneda.

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Wheels Up as we depart Nagasaki to the light of the rising sun in the east

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Cruising at 19,500 ft with quartering tailwinds from 60 to 110kts. Rather speedy flight, but the winds generated a considerable amount of turbulence. The food service was a little shaky.

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Here is Kansai in Osaka Bay. Completed in 1994, this was the first of the new island airports built after Nagasaki twenty years before. Nowadays, it is nearly impossible to find enough uncontested land to build a new airport – so the only feasible option is to build artificial islands. Kansai is now the principle international airport in the greater Osaka region.

Here is a little story about the now world-famous JAL "crane" logo – with a little bit of irony mixed into the plot line.

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The JAL livery is called the Tsurumaru or "crane circle." This is an image of a Japanese red-crown crane with its wings extended in full flight.

The Tsurumaru JAL logo was created in 1958 by Jerry Huff, the creative director at Botsford, Constantine and Gardner of San Francisco, which had been the advertising agency for Japan Airlines from its earliest days. JAL had used several logos up until 1958. When the airline arranged to buy new Douglas DC-8s, it decided to create a new official logo for the inauguration of its jet service worldwide.

In his notes on the creation of the logo, Jerry Huff writes, “Japan Air Lines was a dream account primarily because they trusted us completely, even going to great lengths to make sure I understood Japanese culture and its arts by sending me on an extensive tour of all its existing routes. I was exposed to the culture further while shooting the "Culture" magazine ad campaign, where we photographed Japan Air Lines stewardesses in full kimonos in twenty locations throughout Japan. I felt I knew Japan as well as any American ad man could.”

In the creation of the logo, Huff was inspired by the personal crests of Samurai families. In a book he'd been given, We Japanese, he found pages of crests, including the crane. On his choice of the crane, he writes: "I had faith that it was the perfect symbol for Japan Airlines. I found that the Crane myth was all positive—it mates for life (loyalty), and flies high for miles without tiring (strength.)"

Although the presentation team from Botsford, Constantine and Gardner believed their logo to be the only one in contention, they arrived at the final presentation meeting to discover that JAL had also sought logo entries from other firms. Discussions about the logo continued for three days. In Huff’s notes, he states that the president of JAL made the final decision, and chose the logo not because of its expression of Japanese culture, but rather because he felt an American agency would have the best understanding of the American market, which was the main focus of the logo campaign. [Logopedia]

 

The Tsurumaru livery was in use until 2002, when it was replaced by a livery called the "Arc of the Sun." The livery featured the motif of a rising sun on a creamy parchment-colored background. But then came the bankruptcy. After its corporate restructuring in 2011, Japan Airlines returned to the classic Tsurumaru logo.


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Approaching the Tokyo region, we get some good views of Mount Fuji. (It is often obscured by clouds.) A poster shot.

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Finals into Haneda Runway 34L with the downtown center of Tokyo in the background. Most of the airport, including the two main terminals and three of the four runways, is on reclaimed land that was not present thirty years ago. Just below the aircraft is the Kaze no To "tower of wind" for the Aqua-Line bridge-tunnel that crosses Tokyo Bay. The tower supplies air to the tunnel with a ventilation system powered by the bay's almost-constant winds.

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Haneda is the home hub for both JAL (Japan Airlines) and ANA (All Nippon Airways) who are fierce competitors. Terminal 1 is mainly JAL and Terminal 2 is mainly ANA. Our Douglas is headed for the gate at Terminal 1. Haneda can be a little crowded...handling 87 million passengers annually it is the fourth-busiest in the world.

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Unloading at the gate.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-05
Route: RJFU-RJTT
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 1:45
Leg Distance: 528nm
Total Time: 37:20
Total Distance: 9,377nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 19. Tokyo Haneda-Kushiro. RJTT-RJCK.
2022-02-06


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Our third leg in Japan, here to Hokkaido's Kushiro. We'll stay with our Japanese Airlines crew as JAL regularly flies the RJTT-RJCK route. They will know how to make a proper turn over downtown Tokyo.

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Turning over central Tokyo. The old Tokyo Tower, the Diet buildings, the Emperor's Palace.

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Snowy winter day in northern Honshu.

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Finals into Kushiro.

Kushiro (at 190,000) is the largest city on the eastern end of Hokkaido. It has long been an important port because it is more reliably ice-free than other harbors on the island or on the Russian mainland. For that reason, it was a target for the Russian Tsars who needed ports for their imperial designs. (After WWII, the Soviets tried to claim the city as their reward for their late entry into the Asian war. The US prevented the move.) In the last century, it has become economically important because of the growth of commercial fishing and the concomitant need for wintertime ice-free fishing harbors.


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Rather nice little regional airport.

Kushiro Airport opened in 1961 and has since expanded and upgraded the runway and added a Category III instrument landing system. The newish (1998) passenger terminal is three times the original and employs three boarding gates. This is mainly a domestic airport but it does serve international charter flights to South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.


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Parked next to another Japan Airlines craft at the third of Kushiro's Boarding Gates.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-07
Route: RJTT-RJCK
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 2:04
Leg Distance: 497nm
Total Time: 39:24
Total Distance: 9,874nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 20. Kushiro – Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Yelizovo. RJCK-UHPP.
2022-02-07


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To continue our journey, we join a crew from Northwest Orient Airlines. We shall head for Yelizovo Aiport at Petropovlosk-Kamchatsky on the Kamchatka Peninsula. (A well known stopover for RTW racers.) Our Northwest crew members are familiar with the northern route connecting North America and Asia through Japan.

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Experienced Northwest Orient Airlines crew is ready to depart from Kushiro.

Northwest Airlines started as a mail-runner in biplanes but quickly developed into a regional Minneapolis-based airline in the upper Midwest that eventually extended its reach along its mail route from Minneapolis to Seattle. In the 1940s it flew DC-3s, DC-4s, and Martin 202s throughout the region.

However, the airline had ambitions for its imagined "Great Circle" route through Alaska and over the Pacific to Japan and the Asian rim. In 1931, along with Pan American, it had sponsored Anne and Charles Lindbergh's remarkable exploratory flights along that route. And during World War II it put some effort in getting government contracts to supply the US military effort in Alaska and the Aleutians. The company not only flew the route, but built the infrastructure. It was at that time that Northwest started painting its tails bright red in order to increase visibility in the harsh northern climate. So when the war ended, Northwest's Arctic experience made it ready to invest in the northern route to Japan. The US government agreed.

Both Northwest and Pan American won the concessions to fly routes between the US and Japan. For Northwest, this was the main chance and they took it. They established a hub at Haneda and flew regular routes along the Great Circle route. The effort began in 1947 with DC-4s flying three times a week through Anchorage and Shemya Island in the Aleutians. In two years the airline introduced B377 Stratocruisers for the route. And then in 1954 it started to phase in DC-6Bs to replace the Boeings. These were, in turn, replaced by DC-7Cs. Northwestern worked closely with their Japanese counterparts and were instrumental in the early development of Japan Airlines – supplying aircrews, equipment and training. These relationships, built over decades, lasted a lifetime.


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Northwestern became the largest foreign airline to serve Japan. It won and exercised "fifth freedom" rights to carry passengers from and via Tokyo to other Asian destinations such as Seoul, Taipei, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. In the 1960s, the company introduced B707s and B720s and put them on the Great Circle transpacific route – which now included non-stop flights. And it turned to the B747 when it became available in the 1970s. In its public stance, if not its legal name, Northwest became Northwest Orient Airlines. Over the years (until its merger with Delta), Northwest carried more passengers across the Pacific Ocean than any other American airline.

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Climbing out over Hokkaido

This trip to Kamchatka should be a long but uneventful voyage at high altitude over water. And for a couple of hours, it was an opportunity to practice good airmanship in keeping the Douglas on course and on schedule. Maybe too routine.


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Clouds approaching Kamchatka

About 90 minutes from the Yelizovo things got more interesting. The local weather station suddenly reported the onset of a heavy snowstorm with visibility of less than one-quarter mile and a ceiling of 750 feet. Naturally, Yelizovo has an ILS and a long concrete runway. Everything should be fine. However, especially with the DC-6's quirky autopilot system, things could get interesting. We spent a good hour plotting various ways to handle the ongoing blizzard with its winds and near whiteout conditions. (There are no good alternative airports nearby.)


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Looks like the weather might be clearing except for the dense clouds just over the airport. Is there a snowstorm under those clouds or not?

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The good news is 48kts crosswinds but no blizzard

In the event, the snowstorm passed through the valley and visibility was just fine. On approach, we had 35-40kts crosswinds just for entertainment purposes. This was a surprise because the revised METAR had only modest winds from the north. Only when we got below 1,500 ft did the winds taper off and match the reporting station. So, easy peasy.


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Crabbing as the fierce crosswinds started to diminish

Yelizovo is the airport for Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The city of 180,000 is the administrative and cultural center of Kamchatka. It sits on hills and is surrounded by volcanoes. Across the sheltered Avacha Bay is Russia's largest submarine base. During the Soviet era, Petropavlovsk was known for its fish, especially its salmon and crabs. Since 1993, the fishing industry has been privatized and much has been sold to foreign interests. In addition, apparently, there is considerable poaching of salmon for their eggs – with the laws only indifferently enforced.

The airport serves as a Russian air force base with (it seems) MiG-31s based there along with a number of turboprop transports. The civilian side is more busy than you might think. A new runway extension was completed in 2012 and a new terminal is scheduled for 2023. Even in the pandemic year 2020, there were 5,000 airline departures from Yelizovo, most on B777 and A319/A320 aircraft to 19 regularly scheduled destinations. Aeroflot, S7 Airlines and Aurora top the passenger lists.


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Parked near Rossiya ship


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-07
Route: RJCK-UHPP
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 3:42
Leg Distance: 869nm
Total Time: 43:06
Total Distance: 10,743nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 21. Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky Yelizovo - Anchorage. UHPP-PANC.
2022-02-08


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To continue our journey, we continue with the crew from Northwest Orient Airlines. This time we have an early morning departure to cross the Bering Sea. The length of time in darkness over the water was long enough to get a good start on War and Peace.

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The first half of the trip was under clear star-studded night skies. It was a delight to see the sun peeking over the horizon.

Northwest's meteorologists, led by Dan Sowa, pioneered the first clear-air turbulence forecasting system in 1957, important since the airline flew many northern routes over turbulence-prone mountain areas. Northwest remained a leader in turbulence prediction, providing TPAWS (turbulence prediction and warning services) to other airlines.

After consulting with these crack meteorologists, we decided against the direct route to Anchorage, instead angling southeast and passing over St Paul Island. A low pressure system sat along our route and threatened to confront us with serious Arctic headwinds from the northeast. This re-routing decision added about 60nm to our journey but aimed to minimize the headwinds on the first part of the crossing and, more dramatically, to catch the substantial winds off the Pacific that were roaring along the Aleutians toward Anchorage. Of course, the question was whether the wind forecasts would be realized in the real world.


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In the event, the headwinds were modest for the early portion and then we did catch the edge of the jet stream across the northern Pacific.

Heading to North America and the United States, we might consider Northwest's domestic airline fortunes. At the time of the 1950s-1960s extension of the routes into the Asian Pacific, Northwest continued its strong position along the northern rim of the US running from New York to Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle. Adapting to new opportunities, the 1970s management team added routes from the upper Midwest westward to Hawaii and southward to various Florida destinations – to serve the growing waves of wintertime holiday travelers seeking relief from snow and leaden skies in the surf and sunshine.

While the management was conservative in its business decisions, it did keep up the technology and aircraft adoptions. The onset of deregulation, however, changed the environment for Northwest as it did other US airlines at the time. United acquired  Pan Am's transpacific operations and its competition threatened Northwest's lucrative "Orient" routes. Management reacted and "merged" with Republic and set up a Midwestern feeder network for flights to the west coast and to Asia. (The merger proved operationally difficult but seems to have worked out in the end.)

In 1989, the airline was purchased in a leveraged buyout by an investment group. The attendant monumental debt forced the sale of much of the fleet and the company's holdings in Tokyo. In addition, it had to force repeated employee wage cuts which only exacerbated its already difficult labor relations conflict. Through the 1990s, Northwest managed to increase its competitiveness in the industry, on both domestic and international routes. However, the industry's hard times associated with the 911 attacks and the Gulf War hit Northwest especially hard. The airline declared bankruptcy in 2005. It was merged into Delta in 2008.

At the time of the merger, Northwest was the nation's sixth largest passenger airline. And it was the largest air cargo carrier among the country's airlines.


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Finally, we reached Alaska.

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Descent over the crisp snow-covered Mount Redoubt, a frequently active stratovolcano. Just to our right is icy Tuxedni Bay opening up into Cook Inlet.

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Turning over Kenai to fly the approach into Anchorage International.

The first aircraft to fly in the Anchorage area was a Boeing seaplane which had been shipped to Anchorage in pieces, aboard an Alaska Steamship Company freighter.  This plane, owned by an Anchorage World War I aviator named C.O. Hammertree, was reassembled and prepared for flight in April, 1922.  The first flight occurred on a day Cook Inlet was free of ice – pilot Roy Troxell flew the seaplane a few hundred feet into the air, circled around the Inlet and crashed into the mud flats.  He was not hurt, but Anchorage’s first plane was demolished. (Alaska Aviation Museum)


Not a great start. But Anchorage has become a major center for aviation.

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Landing on Runway 7L with a bit of a tailwind. No worries on the long runway.

Anchorage International Airport (AIA) is Anchorage's third city airport. The first, Delaney Park, was quickly overrun by the city's growth. The second, Merrill Field, became Alaska's major airport with two runways and all-weather facilities, but it too became surrounded by the city and its expansion was restricted. (Merrill is now an incredibly busy GA airfield, one of the busiest in the world.) The new AIA was opened in 1953 to provide an attraction for international aviation to use Anchorage as a stopover point. It functionally replaced transport carriers prior reliance on Elmendorf AFB. The new airport served as a focal point for the Circle Routes from the US to Japan and Asia. And, soon enough, for the polar Great Circle Routes between Europe and Asia as well. By 1960, Anchorage had become the "Air Crossroads of the World."

In 1964 the airport was severely damaged by the Good Friday Earthquake (9.2 on the Richter scale). The terminal and tower had to be rebuilt. But with the 1970s frenzy of Alaska Pipeline air activity, the airport quickly grew and developed with an additional lengthened runway and another new terminal. International travel increased through the 20th century ... and then leveled off as modern jets could handle polar routes non-stop. However, US-Asia air cargo grew explosively and Anchorage became a choice stopover point for distribution and sorting operations. Nowadays, AIA is the second busiest cargo hub in the US (behind only the Fedex operation at Memphis).


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Parked at Anchorage surrounded by Alaska Airlines craft.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-08
Route: UHPP-PANC
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 6:35
Leg Distance: 1,767nm
Total Time: 49:41
Total Distance: 12,510nm

 

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RTW80 Leg 22. Anchorage - Juneau. PANC-PAJN.
2022-02-14


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At Anchorage we switch to an Alaska Airlines flight to Juneau. Unlike many carriers using the DC-6 who have failed to survive the industry's economic challenges and competition-driven contraction, Alaska has transformed itself into a real success story.

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Rising out of the murky fog covering Anchorage. You have to say that this is one handsome livery on this DC-6C, Alaska's designation for the passenger-cargo combination configuration.

Alaska Airlines has its roots in two Anchorage operations started in 1934, McGee Airways and Star Air Service. "Mac" McGee sold out and later managed Star. The operation merged with other airlines and grew but struggled financially. It was bought and sold several times and, in 1944, adopted the name Alaska Airlines.


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Climbing through the towering clouds

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And then East into the sun

In the immediate Post-War years, Alaska upgraded their fleet to DC-3s, DC-4s, and C-46 Commandos. The airline moved its headquarters to Seattle at Paine Field, while keeping a branch office in Anchorage. To supplement its in-state operations, it developed a large international charter business. The most dramatic event was the 1949 Operation Magic Carpet in which Alaska Airlines flew DC-4 and C-46 aircraft to transport 49,000 Jewish refugees out of Yemen to the newly-established state of Israel. Then the CAB tightened charter regulations and shut down Alaska's worldwide flights for safety violations.


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The Alaskan coastal scenery is superb. To the right is Martin River Glacier. To the left is the Copper River and (not quite visible in the cloud shadow) the Million Dollar Bridge. In the early 1900s, J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim family spent $1.4 million building the bridge over Copper River to ship copper from the mines at Kennicott to the port of Cordova. (The bridge cost about $50 million in 2022 dollars. That seemed to be a lot of money for a railway bridge.) The company recouped $200 million for the copper shipped out via the bridge. (That is about $6.7 billion in 2022 dollars.)

During the 1950s, the airline struggled to find strong leadership or financial stability. Once, in 1951, the CAB stepped in and forced one owner out. But it did allocate to Alaska a certificate to connect Anchorage and Fairbanks with the "lower 48" cities Seattle and Portland. These routes would prove the profitable lifeline that the company needed. Under new leadership in 1957, Alaska started to introduce innovations such as in-flight movies and the "Golden Nugget" service which included an on-board saloon and piano. And helpfully, the new pressurized DC-6 aircraft enabled flights above the region's clouds and weather disturbances.


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The Fairweather Glacier as it falls to the sea with the Fairweather range in the background.

With the 1960s Jet Age, Alaska first tried the Convair 880 and soon transferred over to Boeing 727-100s (and later -200s) which would become a fleet mainstay for a quarter century. Facing tough competition from Northwest and Pan Am, Alaska tried a number of gimmicks such as providing in-flight announcements in rhymes, staging fashion shows in the aisles and having bingo games on board while enroute. To celebrate the state's Centennial in 1967, it dressed stewardesses in Edwardian outfits.

By the 1970s, the Seattle-based airline was surviving but faced an uncertain future with rising fuel costs. Another burden stemmed from a tragedy. In 1971 an Alaska B727 crashed on landing in Juneau, killing 111 people in America's worst airline crash at the time. However, with the rise of demand associated with the new Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the airline recovered. Hoping for a new image, the new CEO changed the logo to the image of a smiling Eskimo, which it remains today.


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Starting the descent passing by Glacier Bay National Park and Mount Crillon with the Brady Icefield in the far distance.

Alaska was one of the few airlines that supported the deregulation movement of the late 1970s. Constrained by the existing regulatory structure, its route base was limited to ten cities in Alaska and one in the contiguous US, Seattle. It had only ten planes in its fleet. Immediately after deregulation, Alaska began to expand its network – adding Portland, San Francisco, Palm Springs and Burbank. Oakland, Spokane, Boise, Phoenix and Tucson soon followed. It also acquired Horizon Air to expand its reach to mid-sized cities in the west.


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Sometimes you are delighted to be flying a published approach with navigation aids. Here the Alaska crew are confident about using the LDA X RWY 08 approach.

By the 1990s, the airline generated a pattern of efficient fleet utilization, customer satisfaction, and sustained profitability. It changed its focus away from Alaska and added higher revenue markets: fully 70 percent of its passengers flew south of Seattle and the airline served 30 cities and 6 states outside Alaska. And in the decades since, it has managed to handle the industry's severe challenges and come out as a dominant airline on America's West Coast with growing connections to the Midwest and East. It is now the sixth largest airline in the United States.


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In the event, the clouds dissipated and we had a clear visual approach into Juneau. In limited visibility conditions, this indirect approach is tricky to fly due to the elevation barriers but it is necessary for any chance of safe operations. Alaska Airlines put great effort toward developing better procedures for the legendarily difficult Juneau airport.

Juneau Airport has long been critical for Juneau as the capital city of Alaska. Without road access, Juneau depends on sea and air routes for its survival. From the late 1920s, it was served by smaller local airlines as well as by bush pilot operations, all via seaplane operations downtown. The new airfield was opened in 1935 for Pacific Alaska Airways. (PAA was a Pan Am subsidiary who flew airmail and passengers from Juneau to Fairbanks in Lockheed 10 Electras.) Landplanes were only a minor part of the transport mix until the Army Air Corps seized the PAA airport and built a tower and paved the runway. After the war, the city constructed a terminal in 1949 and the airport soon became a civilian facility. The first major airline to use Juneau was Pan American in 1947. By the 1970s-1980s, it was Alaska and Western. Alaska is the main carrier today. The airport continues to maintain its one runway along with a seaplane landing area to serve bush pilots as well as the major airlines. Current traffic is mostly air taxi and general aviation with only about 8 percent of the total being scheduled commercial operations.


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Sharing the terminal jetways with a sister ship from Alaska Airlines.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-14
Route: PANC-PAJN
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 1:52
Leg Distance: 513nm
Total Time: 51:33
Total Distance: 13,023m

 

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RTW80 Leg 23. Juneau - Vancouver. PAJN-CYVR.
2022-02-17


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After arriving in Juneau, we catch a Canadian Pacific flight headed to its home base at Vancouver. We want to celebrate Canadian Pacific's role in developing the Great Circle routes connecting Asia and North America. And the DC-6B was the sustaining engine of that success.

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Climbing out of murky Juneau into the blue skies above.

Canadian Pacific Air Lines (CPA) was formed in 1942 as an amalgamation of ten regional bush airlines in the Canadian North. In the late 1930s, Canadian Pacific Railways started to enter the airline business by picking up one-by-one these small operations until organizing them into a single entity. Management was by the same bush pilots who built the small lines. This collaboration continued as a regional airline in the north country through the war years. Additionally, it flew supply flights, it trained military pilots, and it provided maintenance, all to support the war effort. 


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Frozen Rainbow is a cheerful sign.

In 1947 the owning Canadian Pacific Railways company leadership put Grant McConachie in charge of the airline. He had been the creator and president of one of the originating bush airlines and knew how to operate in the north. More than that, he proved a charismatic and persuasive executive. Two years later, Canadian Pacific Air Lines moved its headquarters from Edmonton to Vancouver. At the same time, the airline initiated an expansion into international operations with a Great Circle passenger route to Tokyo Haneda and Hong Kong that Grant McConachie had negotiated. Eventually this line proved to be a profitable venture and a mainstay of the company.


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Crisp view of Devils Thumb rising above the Stikine Icefield

Canadian Pacific operated under real constraints. It was nominally in competition with Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) which was government-owned and government-supported. (This was the precursor to today's Air Canada, renamed in 1965.) Canadian Pacific was thus prevented from establishing routes that TCA had already chosen. That is to say, it could aim only for destinations that TCA had ignored. The airline continued its operations in western Canada, including Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and the northwest of BC, Alberta and the Yukon. It was barred from easy access to Toronto as well as New York, London and Paris.

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A truly International Airline

Under McConachie, CPA expanded by developing additional international routes to San Francisco and Los Angeles. And then longer runs through Honolulu and Fiji across the Pacific to Auckland and Sydney; and then southward through Mexico City to Lima, Santiago and Buenos Aires; and then through Edmonton or Calgary across the Arctic to Amsterdam (later extended to Athens and Rome). In 1956 three DC-6B flights a week departed Vancouver for Amsterdam, two flights for Tokyo and Hong Kong, one to Auckland, one to Sydney, and one flight to Buenos Aires. This expansion was quite a feat when every route involved separate and sometimes contested negotiations with the destination countries.


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Brisk tailwinds at altitude above the mountain peaks made for a fast turbulent ride.

Starting in 1959, CPA replaced the piston planes with DC-8s on the long range flights and with Bristol Britannica turboprops on many of the North American routes. In due course, DC-10s, B737s, and B747s were added to the fleet. And the Canadian routes grew to include some connections to the nation's eastern half, most notably Halifax which enabled the airline to establish a "transcontinental' flight.


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Short finals into Vancouver

In 1968 Canadian Pacific corporate decided to reorganize and rebrand the different subsidiary units into, for example, CP Rail, CP Hotels, CP Ship, CP Telecommunications, and CP Air. The new CP Air got an orange logo and livery. (Each of these subsidiaries has since been sold and the host CP Rail has reverted to it Canadian Pacific Railways name.)


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Assigned parking surrounds us with many Red-on-Blue tails of Air Canada and Delta

The deregulation of the Canadian airline market in 1979 brought a disruption that had unintended consequences for CP Air. The company had long lobbied for the change, hoping to enter the protected markets of Air Canada. However, in a rush to expand the fleet to take advantage of the new opportunity, the airline went into deep debt. When that debt obligation coupled with downturns in the key Asian markets (the most profitable routes), CP Air found itself in financial trouble. In 1987 it was sold to the smaller Calgary-based Pacific Western Airlines which had concentrated on the Western Canada domestic market. PWA combined with CP Air and (two smaller lines) to form Canadian Airlines International (or simply Canadian Airlines). The new airline looked to have a bright future, expanding its Asian operations and growing to 40 percent of the domestic market. However, the company was also debt-heavy and the 1998 Asian markets' second downturn sent it into financial crisis. The new and promising Canadian Airlines entity was absorbed into Air Canada in 2000.


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A friendly sight. Parked in front of The Fairmont. Just the thing for our Canadian Pacific  crew.


Summary:
Date: 2022-02-17
Route: PAJN-CYVR
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 2:25
Leg Distance: 687nm
Total Time: 53:58
Total Distance: 13,710m

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RTW80 Leg 24. Vancouver – San Francisco. CYVR-KSFO.
2022-02-21


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Today, we take United Air Lines to San Francisco. While United was – by regulation – a domestic airline for a half-century, it did add Vancouver to its West Coast "Mainliner" route.

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While the sun backlights the clouds, UAL is poised for a morning departure to KSFO.

United Airlines (UAL) has its roots in two different pioneers of aviation. The first was Walter Varney, a WWI airman who created Varney Air Lines in Boise, Idaho. His operation's Swallow biplane conducted the first contract air mail flight – in 1926 from Boise to Pasco, Washington to carry 200 pounds of mail. In 1930 Varney sold out to what became United Air Lines. He then founded and then sold Varney Speed Lines. It became Continental Airlines – which eventually merged with, or acquired, UAL 85 years later. Varney also provided financing to purchase and move then bankrupt Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to Burbank, where it grew into one of the most successful companies in the business. He retired a quarter century later.


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Leaving Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains

The more powerful figure was William Boeing. In his first career, Boeing made a fortune in the lumber business on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. In 1916, he caught the "aviation" bug and decided to design and build his own aircraft. His company soon produced seaplanes for the Navy and fighter planes for the Army. In 1925 Boeing built the Model 40 for airmail routes (along with the mail compartment, it had seats for two passengers). And Boeing formed Boeing Air Transport to carry the passengers and the mail. In 1929 and 1930, Boeing's company merged with Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Aero, Chance Vought, Sikorsky, Stearman and Standard Steel Propeller. The large holding company added smaller regional airlines to create a vertically integrated aviation company, combining manufacturers with deployed airlines. This was the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC).


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A brief opening in the solid undercast reveals the snow-peaked Olympic Mountains.

After the Air Mail scandal of 1930, the US government ruled that such large holding companies as United Aircraft and Transport Corporation were anti-competitive. The 1934 Air Mail Act, along with new anti-trust laws, forced UATC to split into three separate companies: United Aircraft Corporation (Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, Vought, and Hamilton) in Hartford; Boeing Airplane Company (Boeing and Northrop) in Seattle; and the United Air Lines (all the airline flight operations). The government implied that those involved in the scandal should leave the industry. While not a whiff of impropriety surrounded William Boeing, he resigned from the company, turned to other investments, and "concentrated on his horses."

United Air Lines' new president, hired to make a fresh start, was William Patterson who remained as president for the next thirty years. The airline linked together its component airmail routes to produce a transcontinental "Mainline" from New York west to Chicago, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. It then developed a strong north-south line along the West Coast, from Seattle (and Vancouver) to San Diego. These early connections created major operations hubs at Chicago and San Francisco. (Added later were Denver and Washington, DC.)

In 1933, Boeing Aircraft announced the revolutionary B247. It was the first airliner to incorporate all-metal design, a fully-cantilevered wing, retractable gear, surface trim tabs, an autopilot and de-icing boots for wings and the tailplane. It was faster than contemporary fighter planes. It crossed the continent in nineteen hours, some eight hours quicker than its competitors.


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Many miles of clouds below made for a solitary beautiful sunny day above

Boeing sold the first sixty 247s to Boeing Air Transport as part of amalgamation UATC. Airline competitor TWA also ordered the B247 but UATC declined the order. UATC was going to protect it corporate interests. But in the event, a dramatically different outcome was on order. TWA President Jack Frye (another great in aviation history) quickly turned to Donald Douglas to produce a two-engined all-metal monoplane airliner that became the DC-1, DC-2 and then the DC-3. While first to market, the B247 was slower and smaller than the DC-2 and DC-3. The Douglas aircraft were commercially viable as passenger revenue airliners, the B247 was not. The DC-3 became an aviation legend ... and the B247 did not.

United Air Lines flew the B247 though much of the 1930s before finally shifting to the DC-3. In the early days this was a competitive advantage as it could cross the country without an overnight stop or changing planes. With their new Douglas airliners, TWA and American soon caught up.

After the war, United took advantage of new technology. It bought newly pressurized aircraft such as the DC-6B which allowed fast safe transport "above the weather." And in 1954 it became the first airline with flight simulators that had visual, sound and motion cues for training pilots. (At $3 million, they were somewhat more expensive than most desktop computer flight simulators. At least until you count the addons.)

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From 1953 to 1970, United operated six-day-a-week afternoon non-stop extra fare "men only" flights between New York and Chicago ("The Chicago Executive") and Los Angeles and San Francisco on which women and children were banned. Advertised as a "club in the sky", they featured "cocktails, steak dinner, and cigar and pipe smoking permitted".

The Civil Aeronautics Board approved the service, with a $3 surcharge for the liquor license. There was a two-cocktail limit, but flight attendants largely ignored this rule. These 5pm flights were intended for businessmen commuting for work. United offered teletype business news updates with closing market prices.

"What we give men is an opportunity to get away from women," a United spokesman stated in 1954. "We don't regard it as segregation. We regard it rather as a little luxury." "And we give him a pair of slippers ... A passenger can smoke a cigar or his pipe, if he likes. He can't do that on other flights. A lot of women object to sitting next to a man smoking a pipe; a lot of men object, too. Let those men ride with the women." These aircraft operated with a load factor of 80 to 90 percent. They were a resounding success.

Seventeen years later, United eliminated the service as it faced pickets by NOW and legal complaints at the CAB, and as demand fell away to a 40 percent utilization. Another United spokesman explained, an "all-male environment" had become dated. Not all travelers agreed. "One of the nicer things in life is disappearing," Elmer V. Aldridge, one of the flight’s final passengers, lamented in 1970. "Where else can a man find this sort of congeniality?"

... A different time, so many years ago.


In 1961, United merged with Capital Airlines (then 6th in the US) to edge out rival American Airlines as the country's largest airline, and the world's second largest behind Aeroflot. In the 1960s UAL acquired DC-8s (and Caravelles) and in the 1970s it added  B747s and DC-10s. In 1940 United flew to 37 airports, in 1953 66 airports, and in 1968 90 airports. This was the story of a mature successful airline.

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The Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay. A wonderful familiar sight.

Of course, airline deregulation upset the apple cart. United's management had pushed for deregulation as it believed that it needed new destinations, especially international destinations, to grow into increased profitability. To expand UAL became the launch carrier for the B767 to the tune of $1.2 billion – eclipsing Pan Am's launch order for the 747. In 1985 it acquired financially-stressed Pan American's entire Pacific Division (aircraft and staff) for $750 million. And in 1991, it bought Pan Am's routes to Heathrow as well as Pan Am's Latin American routes and Miami gates.

However, the turbulence of the 1990s, with labor unrest, economic dislocations, and competition from low-cost carriers, put United in a more precarious condition. Management bargained for an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) in which employees agreed to lower wages in return for ownership in the company. In retrospect, this did not work out so well for the new employee-owners when United declared bankruptcy within the next decade.


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Flying over "The City" as San Francisco was legendarily known in the region and more broadly in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

At the turn-of-the-century, United (along with other lines) came under financial pressure caused the steep downturn in travel associated with 911, the economic slowdown, and the rise in jet fuel prices. In 2002, the airline filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, cutting costs by furloughing workers, negotiating new contracts, eliminating routes (including the entire Latin American base), and trimming the mainline aircraft fleet by a fifth.


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The colorful San Francisco Bay Salt Ponds, in use since the Gold Rush. The current project is to return these areas to natural wetlands and to manage flooding in the area.

United emerged from Chapter 11 in 2006 looking for a financial partner. (In September 2008 its shares briefly lost all value under false rumors of another bankruptcy.) In 2010, it engaged with Continental Airlines and agreed to a merger.  From the outside, it looked as though United was the senior partner as the new entity retained the historic United brand and retained its headquarters in Chicago. (At the executive management level, the Continental side might have done rather well financially.)


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Short final for KSFO. This is when the First Officer reminds the Captain about Korean Air.

Currently, United seems to be surviving. During the pandemic it lost revenue and did lay-off thousands of employees. However, it has retained its fleet and started to replace its older aircraft and to grow its capacity.


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United Gate E9 at San Francisco International Airport

We shall stay at the St. Francis on Union Square. And, by tradition, we shall meet up with all the other "Eighty Days" pilots gathered at the Fairmont's Tonga Room. An evening or two of refreshments and tall tales.


San Francisco and Historic Posters.

San Francisco seems to have inspired a fair number of artistic airline posters. Perhaps it is the magical quality of the city's reputation as a delightful place to visit and to live. Hope you enjoy these.

"There may not be a heaven, but somewhere there is a San Francisco."


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Summary:
Date: 2022-02-21
Route: CYVR-KSFO
Aircraft: DC-6B [PMDG MFS]
Leg Time: 2:37
Leg Distance: 735nm
Total Time: 56:35
Total Distance: 14,445m

 

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I'm afraid I am falling behind and feel sad to have missed a gathering at the Tonga Room. So many have skipped ahead of me while we dilly-dallied in Vancouver for several days.  Now in Seattle (KSEA), headed to Portland, Oregon, (KPDX) this afternoon if all goes well, and then San Francisco (KSFO) tomorrow afternoon.  Have fun in Frisco! One of my favorite cities in California. Safe flying...

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