I started my flying career with an airline cargo company who were regarded in aviation circles as the’F Troop’ of the flying world. They operated, when I joined, a couple of WW Two aircraft, DC 4’s and 6’s, which had four piston engines long past their sell by date. The crews were a motley bunch with some very strange flying habits. One, I can recall always brought a little pink furry rabbit with him on flights which he hung on the flying column for good luck. Our paths divided, as was the norm in the airline business, but I was to meet him many years later on the ramp at Luton airport. This tall blond female figure sashayed towards me resplendent in Captains uniform except he was wearing a skirt, bright red lipstick and pouting into a hand held mirror.
‘Morning Michael,’ she greeted, waving a limp wrist in my general direction’don’t you recognize me. I’m working now for ‘Equal Opportunities Airlines.’ Our engineers were ex- mechanics from a car factory that had closed down in Santry and, as such, their expertise was pretty limited. The chief pilot was heard to comment ’That lot know as much about aircraft as my arse knows about duck shooting’.They once attempted to do an engine change on the DC 4. As the job was complete they proceeded to do a ground test on the new engine. They went through the complicated start up procedure on engine one and were duly amazed when engine two fired up and the propeller started to rotate. Not for the first time had they got their wires crossed.
We flew general cargo but also livestock such as horses between Ireland, the UK and France for race meetings and horse sales at Newmarket and Deauville. The horses were carried in individual stalls and accompanied by grooms and handlers. On one flight, a stallion started to go berserk and was violently kicking the stall to bits. The Captain was afraid he would get loose and kick a hole in the side of the aircraft. He carried a gun for such emergencies and was threatening to shoot the stallion. ‘You will like hell’, roared the groom, ‘that horse is worth more than your bloody airplane’. Luckily for us, the horse was calmed down or the captain might have shot the groom instead.
A major part of the business was flying young calves to Italy for veal production. For these flights we put in a bed of peat moss on the floor of the aircraft to soak up any droppings. We carried three to four hundred cattle and the stink was appalling. In the high season we operated round the clock flights to Milan from Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports. On occasions we went into an airport in the Swiss Alps. It was always a night time flight and the approach was dangerous and exacting.
We had to follow a radio beam (VOR) from the airport from about fifty miles out and check the distance and heights very carefully to avoid the mountains. On one occasion the flight was delayed and we arrived in daylight following the same procedure. We were aghast and shocked to see how close the gray cliffs were on both sides of our aircraft, our perception was that they were scraping the wings. Eventually we landed, nobody spoke a word for several minutes as we all realized how close we had been to crashing into the towering mountains on the many night arrivals. Finally the flight engineer broke the silence with the immortal words, ’I didn’t realize this aircraft was so wide.’