Worst Place To Be A Pilot

A Susi Air pilótáinak korántsem mindennapi élményei végre dokumentumfilm-sorozat formájában is elérhetőek! :)

[English pages] Frank Sinatra and his Lear Jet N175FS

In late May 2005, Ronnie Powers casually flipped through some papers left on his desk. They detailed the ownership history of an abandoned plane he had recently bought in California for $45,000. The sheaf was, he assumed, just more paperwork cluttering his office at Griffin Spalding Airport, 38 miles south of Atlanta.

Powers, CEO of Atlanta Air Salvage, frequently bought such aircraft. Even today, Atlanta Air is known as a "boneyard," the end of the line for hundreds of planes too damaged, too outdated or too forgotten to be of much use to anyone else. Powers pulls them from water, drags them from ditches, takes them wherever he can find them -- and for all he knew, this latest aircraft, now rusting out in San Jose, was a typical purchase. "A lawyer called one day and said, 'We've got an old Lear for sale. Will you give us X?'" Powers recalls. "We were just going to break it down for parts, and I wasn't even sure it was good for that."

Powers sent his chief operating officer, Ken Williams, to the San Jose Jet Center to see what it would take to drag Learjet Serial No. 31 back to Georgia for its autopsy. Williams snapped photos and took notes. The plane had been locked in a hangar for more than a decade, abandoned by its owner until the unpaid hangar fees had reached nearly $20,000, at which point someone had simply hauled it out back and left it in the rain. There were twigs stuck in the wheels. The logbooks were gone.

When Williams returned to Atlanta, he called Lear to run a historical-records search, which he forwarded to his boss. Powers thumbed through the stack now, half-interestedly scrolling back through the plane's life. Before being shipped out to San Jose, it had bounced between owners in Illinois. It had been repainted multiple times. Oddly, the N number seemed to have been switched back to its original vanity registration after having been changed several times.

Then, deep in the pile, Powers came across a letter dated October 30, 1964. It was a receipt from Lear Jet Corporation, made out to California Airmotive Corporation, which was buying a plane for a client. The receipt said simply, "Please convey to Mr. Sinatra our congratulations and our intention to deliver to him the world's finest business machine." Powers looked at that N number again - N175FS. His eyes widened. Suddenly, this was no mere hunk of scrap metal.

If ever a plane played among the stars, it was N175FS. From June 1965 until he sold it two years later, Frank Sinatra and his famous friends logged more than 1,500 hours on the small, powerful early business jet. Sinatra routinely used it to shuttle the Rat Pack from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and his home in Palm Springs. He wooed Mia Farrow in it, and intimidated Michael Caine, then dating his daughter Nancy, in the back. Celebrity private-plane culture was practically invented on it: At a time when few had their own private jets, when most Americans had never seen a private jet, Sinatra and his plane were like Hollywood's version of the first kid in class with a car. Dean Martin borrowed it to fly to movie sets. Marlon Brando and Sammy Davis Jr. took it to Mississippi to meet Martin Luther King Jr. for a civil-rights rally. Elvis Presley eloped with Priscilla Beaulieu aboard it.

Today, N175FS sits in a warehouse at an undisclosed location in California under the care of Jeff Thomas, a noted aircraft historian and consultant who is safeguarding the plane for its current owner, a Belgian collector. Word of Ronnie Powers's discovery spread fast. Within two days, the Belgian's representatives had contacted Atlanta Air Salvage. A month later, a deal was struck, nondisclosure agreements signed and money wired from an account in Monaco.

Thomas, who helped Paul Allen collect the vintage military planes housed in the new Flying Heritage Collection museum in Everett, Washington, spoke with Private Air on the condition that we not identify the current owner or the aircraft's location. He assures us, however, that N175FS is well (or well enough for a plane that was this close to being recycled for scrap). The wing and horizontal stabilizer have been removed for easier storage, but "the plane is fully restorable," he says, "even flyable."

Thomas says his client hasn't decided if he'll be the one to oversee the restoration. At the same time, they seem to be making moves - 10 years after Sinatra's death - to position the plane for resale. Thomas recently commissioned a marketing firm to assemble a book-length binder of old photographs, press clippings and correspondence that would probably sell briskly at Barnes & Noble. Topping the list of possible buyers, he says, are the major Las Vegas casinos -- and perhaps Graceland, which is home to two of Elvis's planes, a Lockheed JetStar and a Convair 880. Knowledgeable sources estimate that Sinatra's plane, even in its current condition, could be worth nearly $650,000.

And yes - should the thought have crossed your mind - Thomas says the owner would consider selling to a private collector. "But he wouldn't sell it to just anybody," Thomas says. "After all, this is a plane with a lot of history."

From early on, Sinatra's life was closely linked with aviation. Legend has it that his mother, Dolly, dreamed he would become an aircraft engineer; when she learned he wanted to sing, she threw a shoe at him. The Lear wasn't Sinatra's first plane -- he had owned a giant dual-prop Martin 404 and a tiny French Morane-Saulnier 760 jet -- but by the mid-'60s, the Chairman of the Board also owned a record label, a film company, real estate across the country, even a missile-parts manufacturer. Lear's early production lagged behind demand, but six months shy of his fiftieth birthday, Sinatra took ownership of the revolutionary business jet and named it Christina II, after his youngest daughter.

Inside, the jet had two leather seats at the rear of a 17-foot cabin and a single seat up front, along the port side, by the door. A couch sat along the opposite side, running up to the cockpit. The 43-foot-long aircraft was equipped with twin General Electric CJ610-4 engines that generated 2,850 pounds of thrust and sounded roughly like the end of the world. Climb-out generated 3G's and continued on at 6,000 feet per minute. "There isn't a jet produced today that has the climb performance of the Lear 23," says Clay Lacy, who sold Sinatra the plane. Sinatra had his trimmed in orange, his favorite color.

While he owned the Lear, Sinatra also had access to three others through Lacy, who was quickly becoming the largest distributor of private jets on the West Coast. The men traded hours in the various aircraft depending on need and availability, almost like an early fractional program. Many stars of the day waxed poetic about flying on Sinatra's plane. Beatles roadie Mal Evans described in his diary a 1967 flight with Paul McCartney on one of the sister jets: "We left Denver in Frank Sinatra's Lear Jet [sic], which he very kindly loaned us. A beautiful job with dark-black leather upholstery and, to our delight, a well-stocked bar." Evans's home video of the flight, which can be seen on YouTube, shows McCartney recording the experience with his camera. He appears awestruck -- and this was a Beatle.

Other famous names appreciated Sinatra's generosity, as well. On May 1, 1967, Presley and Priscilla snuck out the back of Elvis's estate in Palm Springs, drove to the airport and boarded N175FS, bound for Las Vegas and a justice of the peace. "I was both exhausted and relieved when we finally returned to Palm Springs aboard Frank Sinatra's Learjet," Priscilla wrote in Elvis and Me. Hours later, she was pregnant. Mia Farrow, meanwhile, has recounted how her first date with Sinatra -- to a screening of None But the Brave -- ended with an invitation to fly to Palm Springs. "That was a whole other city," she said. "We were in L.A., and I didn't think I could do that -- I didn't have my pajamas or anything. He said, 'Well, how about if I send my airplane for you tomorrow?'" Farrow described the next day's flight as "the boldest thing I ever did."

A year later, after their wedding, N175FS whisked the 21-year-old actress and 50-year-old singer to the south of France for their honeymoon. Several months earlier, though, Lacy says, he had flown her down to Acapulco on one of the sister jets, for a vacation with Sinatra. Lacy had tried to help with customs, collecting her paperwork and identification to present to security. But all the border agents really cared about was a piece of paper the waifish star pulled from her purse. It read, "I hereby give permission for Mia to leave the country on a trip to Mexico." It was signed by her mother.

Now 75, Lacy still runs Clay Lacy Aviation (one of the largest FBOs in California), and his recollections remain invaluable. Don Lieto, the former chief pilot for Sinatra Enterprises, died more than 30 years ago, making Lacy one of the last able to give firsthand accounts of the plane. Sinatra's own musings, typically, were almost maddeningly vague. It's difficult, for instance, to pin down the jet's influence on his music -- Sinatra recorded both "Come Fly With Me" and "Fly Me to the Moon" before he owned it, and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" after. He did, however, once note of N175FS in an aviation journal: "I had to make frequent trips to work at the studios in Hollywood plus singing engagements out of state, so it made sense to be self-sufficient...A good example is the [trip] just finished that took us to the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, St. Louis, Chicago and points west."

The Newport festival is widely regarded as a crucial turning point in Sinatra's career. Occurring just a week after he took delivery of N175FS -- and after a few years in which Sinatra seemed thrown off-stride by the emergence of rock n' roll -- his 20-song set demonstrated that in many ways the best was yet to come: Four months later, his Thanksgiving TV special, Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, won an Emmy. In the months that followed, he recorded three of his biggest hits: "Strangers in the Night," "That's Life" and "Somethin' Stupid," a duet with daughter Nancy. At the very least, then, N175FS appears to have been good for getting work done.

And not just work. Lacy recalls one particularly active day in early June 1966: Lacy had Christina II because he was scheduled to fly the camera ship for publicity photographers to capture the Air Force's cutting-edge XB-70 Valkyrie above Edwards Air Force Base. (The cameraman needed a plane capable of chasing a bomber that hit Mach 3; Sinatra's 518-mph Lear 23 was the fastest civilian aircraft they could find in Southern California.) But as Lacy prepared to fly from Van Nuys to Edwards Air Force Base, he received word that he'd have to make a detour. Now.

The night before, Dean Martin's birthday party at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills had grown rowdy. Fred Weisman, the retired president of Hunt's Foods, sitting at the next table, apparently complained about the noise. Words were exchanged, punches were exchanged -- and while Sinatra told Time magazine that "I at no time saw anyone hit [Weisman] -- and I certainly did not," someone certainly did. With one of the Polo Lounge's phones, in fact, hard enough to fracture Weisman's skull.

Lacy taxied up to Gate 3 at Burbank Airport just after 6 a.m. to find Sinatra and Martin still wearing their suits from the night before. Sinatra's left arm hung in a sling made from a pillowcase; Dino sported a shiner and had bloodstains on his shirt. He muttered something about leaving the country, but Sinatra merely settled into his seat and shrugged. "Nah," he said. "We'll hide out for a few days. It'll be fine."

The pilot dropped the duo in Palm Springs, then continued on to Edwards. But the day still had more excitement in store. As the final photos were taken, an F-104 flying in formation with the Valkyrie collided with it, slicing off its tail and engulfing the F-104 in a fireball. A photographer in the back of the Lear captured the disaster on film. The $700 million Valkyrie prototype rolled onto its back, entered a flat spin and smashed into the desert floor in an enormous cloud of black smoke. The fatal crash (only one of the two Valkyrie pilots ejected safely; the F-104 pilot also died) is thought to be the most expensive collision in aviation history, and the photographs became a centerfold in Life magazine. And, as usual, Frank Sinatra's plane was on the scene.

In June 1967, Sinatra put his Lear up for sale and traded up to the improved Gulfstream GII. N175FS began life after Sinatra with Thomas Friedkin, chairman of Gulf States Toyota and later a fixture on the Forbes 400 list. Next came Bernie Little, central Florida's exclusive Budweiser distributor (the N numbers were changed to 777TF and 477BL, respectively). Then it passed through multiple owners in Illinois -- during which it once spent a year outdoors with birds nesting in the engines and mud daubers clogging the fuel lines. In 1985, Robert Brandis, owner of Brandis Aircraft in Taylorville, Illinois, made it flight-worthy again, restored the fs to the tail and gave the plane its current charcoal, black and red color scheme. He sold it to Stanley Furmanski, a California doctor who, soon after acquiring the plane and hangaring it in San Jose, allegedly tried to run down an FBI agent in a car, and was sent to prison for insurance fraud. The plane then vanished until Atlanta Air's Ken Williams pried open the door.

Around the time N175FS was disappearing, Lear itself almost exited the stage. After a succession of ownership changes and its purchase in 1990 by Bombardier, some at the giant Montreal-based aviation manufacturer questioned the value of the brand, and whether its designs shouldn't simply be called Bombardiers. They soon thought better of it, though, and the company has recently made a concerted effort to reconnect with Learjet's roots.

In 1965, Lear was a homegrown Kansas company run on a shoestring, when CBS aired a primetime special about Sinatra's life. The show is widely remembered for Walter Cronkite's probing questions into Sinatra's Mafia ties -- which, ironically, prompted him to threaten to kill the producer -- but it was also noteworthy for five minutes of black-and-white footage of Sinatra standing by the fuselage at LaGuardia Airport, gushing about his new airplane. Back in Wichita, the phones started ringing off the hook. "It wasn't rocket science," recalls Bill Lear's daughter, Shanda Lear-Baylor. "When any new product is embraced by someone like Frank Sinatra, it becomes something everybody has to have."

Bombardier, of course, were as surprised as anyone to learn of N175FS's recent reemergence. In a sense, though, they've been planning for this moment. In connection with the forty-fifth anniversary this year of the first Learjet flight, the company has announced the release of the new eight-seat Learjet 85. It's the company's first all-composite jet -- with a profile strikingly reminiscent of those early Lear 23s. "We kept the pointy nose, the T-tail -- we pushed our designers to stay within that envelope," says product manager Brad Nolan. "Evolutions in aerodynamics have taken place, but this plane will be immediately identifiable as a Learjet." And in keeping with tradition, the 85's twin PW307B turbofans will generate 6,100 pounds of thrust at takeoff. Each.

Sinatra would surely approve. When people think of Frank Sinatra, they don't immediately think "aviation buff." But Ol' Blue Eyes grew to be close to Bill Lear, and sent him a steady stream of personal letters philosophizing about such seemingly mundane details of the jet's interior as the pullout card table. The bar of Sinatra's Palm Springs estate contained a radio he used to communicate with aircraft overhead, and this passion for aviation remained even after Dolly Sinatra was killed in a 1977 private charter plane crash, en route to Las Vegas to hear her son sing. (Note from Vern: I recall this accident. A chartered Lear Jet took off from Palm Springs enroute to Las Vegas and crashed into Mt. San Gorgonio)

One of Lacy's most enduring memories of Sinatra is of picking him up at the Palm Springs airport. Sinatra stood waiting with Kirk Douglas; they needed a ride to emcee a Hollywood event. They were tight on time. But the airport had a new fuel truck -- and once employees drove out to the plane, they couldn't get it to start pumping. "Kirk was nervous as hell," Lacy remembers. "He's thinking they'd miss the event, the whole night was ruined." The workers sprinted off to get help. Sinatra strolled over to the fuel truck and began flipping levers. When the boys returned, they found Frank Sinatra, cool as could be, standing there with a smile, just a man fueling his airplane.


[English pages] The Lear Jet Turns 50 - But It Almost Didn’t Make It Off the Ground

Learjet flying in 1965
Fifty years ago today, Bill Lear stood on a runway and watched his life savings lift off from an airport in Wichita, Kansas. He was 61, and had amassed a fortune in the consumer electronics age. But the jet age was upon us, and the serial entrepreneur saw a chance to build a business around his passion, flying.

Lear Jet would become synonymous with private jets and set the standard for decades, due in equal measure to Lear’s insistence on high performance and a savvy marketing strategy that relied on social media long before anyone knew what that meant.

But the story almost ended just a few months after that momentous first flight when the original prototype came down almost as quickly as it went up, then erupted in flames just beyond the runway. Lear could only watch in dismay as his dream literally went up in smoke.

“Number one crashed,” recalls Clay Lacy, a longtime friend and business associate with Lear, who died in 1978. “It was the best thing that ever happened to Bill Lear.”

When the Lear Jet first flew on October 7, 1963, there was nothing on the civilian market that could come close to its performance. Suddenly anybody could fly as fast as the airlines. The Lear Jet wasn’t the first civilian jet for sale, but the jets that came before were bigger, much more expensive and never came close to offering the same convenience as the tiny jets from Wichita.

Today the original Lear Jet 23s and 24s are fading away because their thirsty and noisy engines are costly to operate, and not neighbor friendly at many airports. But they can still outperform the majority of private jets currently being produced. Lacy believes the Lear Jet set the bar high for every jet that came after it. And still today airplane manufacturers are trying to keep up with the little jet that almost ended its life burning in a Kansas field.

Suddenly anybody could fly as fast as the airlines.

The company, which today is part of Bombardier, started in 1960 when Lear saw an opportunity to create an airplane capable of keeping up with the jet airliners growing increasingly popular in the late 1950s.

At the time, many of the country’s biggest businesses flew aircraft like the Douglas DC-3 or Beech Model 18. These twin engine propeller airplanes were roomy but slow, plodding along at less than 200 mph. Lear knew that companies making business aircraft who couldn’t keep up with the new Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, which fly at 550 mph, would fall behind, literally and figuratively.

“If you guys don’t do it, I’m going to do it,” Lear told aerospace leaders in Wichita, according to Lacy. Wichita was the home of Cessna, Beechcraft and many other aviation heavyweights. Everyone chuckled, but Lear got the last laugh.

Lear had a long history of innovation. Beyond his work on the first car radio in the late 1920s — he and Paul Galvin created the name “Motorola” for the new product — Lear also developed early autopilot systems and radio direction finders in the 1930s. While still hard at work with his airplane business, he invented the 8-track cassette player in 1964, originally called the Lear Jet Stereo 8.

Eager to get started with his private jet idea, Lear bought an airplane factory in Switzerland after the country abandon plans to build a small fighter jet. After a rough start in Europe, Lear had everything packed up and moved to Wichita early in 1963. Lacy asked him at the time why on earth he’d set up shop in his competitors’ back yard. His answer is familiar to anyone in Silicon Valley: “Can you think of any place where I can steal more engineers?”

Lear wanted to build a jet that could cruise at Mach 0.8 (~530 miles per hour) and fly at 41,000 feet. This would make it nearly as fast as the new jetliners, and fly even higher. He wanted the airplane to be relatively simple to fly, making it possible for civilian pilots with little or no jet experience to transition into the new hot rod airplane with a reasonable amount of training. Lacy says every time a decision had to be made, Lear opted for simplicity, while keeping the performance. In the end he says Lear’s engineers may have done the detailed design, but the man at the helm shaped it into the reliable, high performance airplane it would become.

Everything was going well, and Lear saw his plane make its first flight on Oct. 7, 1963. Then came that fateful day in 1964, when the prototype took off on a flight to test single engine performance. It was an anxious time for Lear, because by that time he was running perilously low on money. He worried that a prolonged certification program would doom the company.

But then, the miracle. The first Lear Jet ever built crashed.

“They took off with the spoilers up, and an engine shut down,” Lacy says. The spoilers are meant to slow the airplane when it’s time to descend, and it is nearly impossible to take off if they are left up. The guy in the captain’s seat was a Federal Aviation Administration pilot. He and the Lear pilot sitting next to him had neglected to put the spoilers down for takeoff.

The airplane wallowed into the air, and the pilots realized something was wrong. They tried, and failed, to get the second engine started. Neither of them noticed the spoilers. The airplane didn’t get much more than 10 or 20 feet into the air and eventually settled back down into the field, where a wing tank ruptured and it caught fire. Nobody was hurt in the accident. At first it seemed like a disaster, but soon Lear was able to turn the accident into exactly the break the company needed.

“He was getting low on money,” Lacy says. “And he had it insured for $500,000.”

With the FAA at the controls, there was no suspicion of insurance fraud. Even better, Lear was able to make some calls to well-placed friends in Washington. “The FAA wrecked my airplane,” he told them. The FAA soon assigned enough people to speed along the certification program, and Lear was handed a type certificate for his new jet just two months after the accident (and only nine months after the plane’s first flight).

The first small business jet in history was finally ready for sale.

The speed and budget with which Lear went from idea to certification is remarkable. Today, developing a new jet can cost more than $1 billion and take more than a decade (see: Eclipse jet). The nine-month certification of the Lear Jet 23 cost just $14 million. Lacy admits that, “things were different, the value of money, but not that much different.”

Lacy and Lear would become close friends early on. Lacy was a United Airlines pilot who sold airplanes on the side. He convinced his boss at the airplane dealership, Allen Paulson — who would one day own business jet maker Gulfstream — that they should sign on as a distributor. Paulson considered the idea for a while, and eventually told Lacy he wanted to make a quick trip to Wichita to see the Lear Jet.

“Why don’t you fly me back there in your P-51, and I’ll have a look at it,” Allen said to Lacy.

Once in Wichita, the ride in the Lear Jet sealed the deal. “He was blown away,” says Lacy.

There wasn’t a private airplane on the planet that could keep up with the Lear Jet 23, which even outperformed most commercial and military aircraft.

“It will out climb an F-86,” Lacy says, referring to the North American Aviation fighter jet that ruled the skies during the Korean War. Lacy flew the F-86 in the California Air National Guard and says the Lear Jet 23 could beat it to 40,000 feet.

“The Lear takes 14 minutes, and that’s just normal climb,” he says. “If you really try, it will get there in seven.”

Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin standing by a Learjet in 1965
Anyone who wanted to travel fast and travel in style bought one.

Lacy and Allen’s west coast Lear Jet dealership outsold every other dealer in the country. The list price was $495,000. Frank Sinatra bought one. Danny Kaye was another customer, and soon became a partner in the Lear Jet dealership. Big businesses like Boise Cascade and the then ubiquitous Rexall Drugs bought Lear Jets as well. Anyone who wanted to travel fast and travel in style bought one.

Lear knew Lacy, based at the Van Nuys airport just north of Los Angeles, would be the secret to his marketing strategy. Lacy recalls sitting at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with Bill Lear when he pulled out the Beverly Hills phone book.

“Bill asked, ‘How much does it cost to fly the Lear Jet for an hour?’” With gas at 18 cents a gallon and the cost of maintenance and upkeep, they figured $135 an hour. Lear handed Lacy the phone book.

“Call anybody you think will talk about the Lear, take them for a flight,” he said. “I’ll pay you $185 an hour to cover it.”

“We flew a lot of people,” Lacy says. “One of the reasons for flying people in Hollywood, whether they were going to buy it or not, was to get them talking about it. Get that household name.”

The plan worked. Beyond making countless celebrity flights, the Lear Jet was featured on TV programs like The Dating Game, where winners would be whisked off to Las Vegas or San Francisco. Within a few years, the Lear Jet name had become part of popular culture.

By the late 1960s, Lear had sold his company to the Gates Rubber Company and with it went the dealerships (and the name was contracted to Learjet). Clay Lacy went on to start the first jet charter business at the Van Nuys airport with a single Lear Jet in 1968. Today he manages a fleet of 55 jets, including the first Lear Jet he ever owned, serial number 12. And Van Nuys is now home to more than 250 private jets.

Learjet changed hands a few times after Lear sold the company, and today the company’s newest models continue to roll off the Bombardier assembly line. The Canadian company acquired Learjet in 1990 and currently offers four different models. The new versions still carry the same impressive performance as the original, with cruise speeds over 500 miles per hour. The new Learjets continue to be popular aircraft, though jets from Cessna and Gulfstream fly faster and further.

At 82, Clay Lacy still flies regularly. He has more than 53,000 hours flying experience, and many of those are in the older (and newer) Lear Jets, “it handles so damn good, like a little fighter plane.”

Lacy recently flew one of his Lear 24s at the Reno Air Races. He had a smoke system installed and flies a complete aerobatic routine in the business jet. He’s also used Lears extensively for filming movies, including all of the air-to-air scenes in Top Gun, as well as just about every commercial for the airlines.

“It’s a good thing he shot for high performance, for the moon so-to-speak,” Lacy says of Lear’s original plan. “Or the whole industry might be behind a little.”


[English pages] A race around the world: Boeing 747SP versus a Gulfstream IV and a Concorde

By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet

Trips around the world have been popular ever since Magellan set the stage with his trip in the 16th century. Jules Verne wrote a famous book about such a trip.

A US airman claims to have the unique record of having flown around the world facing backwards all the way in the tail gunner position of a Boeing B52.

The last round-the-world record was set by aviatrix Brooke Knappe in 1984 in a Gulfstream III which circled the globe in 45 hr 32 min.

Armed with this knowledge, a few of us—all friends, including Clay Lacy (a United Airlines 747 captain at the time)—plus Bruce McCaw and Joe Clark, decided at a luncheon at the 1987 Paris Air Show that it was time to set a new world record. To achieve this, Lacy arranged to borrow for a weekend a United Airlines Boeing 747SP, N147UA, which we named "Friendship One."

Having gone this far, we sold tickets for $5000 each for the flight. The basis for United letting us use the airplane was that the trip was for charity.

The entire proceeds of 100 tickets—$500,000—was donated to a children's hospital in Seattle WA. The Boeing Company contributed the costs of fuel, landing fees, etc. Volkswagen paid catering and other incidental expenses. For this, we dragged a VW Golf around the world in the cargo bay.

The flight was commanded by Lacy and the passenger list included such celebrities as Moya Lear (Bill Lear's widow), Astronaut Neil Armstrong, United Airlines Founder Ed Carlson and Aerobatic Pilot Bob Hoover.

Someone computed that there were more than 100,000 flight hours accumulated by the participants—most of whom were pilots, obviously.

To qualify for an around-the-world record, the distance covered has to be a minimum of 36,787.5 km, or about 23,000 miles. On Jan 28–30, 1988, departing from and returning to BFI (Boeing Field, Seattle WA), we made 2 refueling stops enroute—ATH (Ellinikon, Athens, Greece) (now closed) and TPE (Taipei, Taiwan). Our total elapsed time was 35 hrs 4 min. Our total ground time was 1 hr 50 min. And we set a new record.

However, our glory was short lived. Soon afterwards, Al Paulson of Gulfstream beat our record in a Gulfstream IV.

He did so by means of his superbly organized ground stops. While he had to make 4 refueling stops, as compared with our 2, the average ground time for each stop was 18 min.

Obviously, their records were just waiting to be broken by a Concorde. Air France organized such a trip in 1992, with a Concorde restricted to 70 passengers—mostly invited guests—reduced from the total capacity of 100 because of weight limitations.

Air France flight 1492 started in Lisbon on Oct 12, 1992. The relatively short range of the Concorde necessitated 6 refueling stops—Santo Domingo, Acapulco, Honolulu, Guam, Bangkok, Bahrain and back to Lisbon. For record purposes, the 2 captains, Claude Delorme and Jean Boye, had to perform on the entire flight, while cabin crews were changed in Honolulu and Bangkok. The gourmet menu was a book in itself.

As a typical airline operation, each groundstop was prescheduled to 90 min. This was strictly followed. A business pilot would have ignored such self-imposed rules and gone like heck the minute refueling was complete.

But, of course, the receptions and cocktails for crew and passengers could not be interrupted during the ground stops. (For the duration of the 747SP flight, only the refueling crew had been allowed to leave the airplane.

The rest of us were restricted for 37 hrs—but there was an onboard party going on all the time anyway.) On arrival in Lisbon, the Concorde was greeted by Air France Pres Bernard Attali.

The total elapsed time on the Concorde flight was 32 hrs 49 min, bettering Al Paulson's record by 3 hrs 19 min and beating the 747SP record by 4 hrs 5 min. Considering that the Concorde cruises—or cruised—at more than twice the speed of both the Boeing and the Gulfstream, this was not a very impressive new record. Of course, its total time was much increased by spending 9 hrs 19 min on the ground.

I was privileged to participate in both the 747SP and the Concorde flights. But it was a poor way to see the world. It validated the old saying—jet flying is a way of seeing less and less of more and more.


Leszállás Varaderóban B737-essel

Kuba legismertebb üdülőhelyének látványos megközelítése a Canimar folyó völgye felől.. :)

The Human Fly

Daredevil Rick Rojett flying on a DC-8, piloted by Clay Lacy, on 19 June 1976 in Mojave..

[English pages] Clay Lacy and The Human Fly

'The Human Fly' DC-8-30 // N420AJ
The photo on this page has been kicking around my inbox for more than a year, having been sent to me by someone asking if it depicted a real event. Given that we live in a world where Photoshop is a verb, it’s a perfectly logical question.
As you’ll see from today’s video, the photo is quite real and depicts Clay Lacy’s fanciful flight of The Human Fly on the roof of a DC-8 in 1976. I vaguely recall the actual event, but if it got much publicity at the time, the memory of it seems to have been lost to the years, so I decided to phone Lacy for the background. As with everything in Lacy’s career, the backstory is interesting, the result of just the right alignment of having an airplane available, an airshow to promote, an ever-willing stuntman and a sponsor to pay for it all.
Although the video doesn’t explain it, the Human Fly’s benefactor was a pair a brothers in Montreal who owned a prosperous Pepperoni factory but were a tad bored with the sausage business. So they raised $200,000 and formed a promotional company of which the Human Fly was only the opening act. The DC-8 version of the Fly was Rick Rojatt, but the brothers apparently envisioned garbing others in the Fly’s disco-style red suit, it being 1976 after all, for all sorts of stunts. They planned a rocket flight across the English Channel and a swan dive from the CN tower in Toronto.

Lacy got the easy part. He happened to have a DC-8 available, thanks to an Alan Paulson deal to remarket a handful of retired JAL aircraft. Lacy knew enough people in the Washington side of the FAA to grease the approval wheels and in a few weeks time, he had the world’s only DC-8 with an external seat. Actually a perch, I suppose.

Would today’s FAA go for such a thing? Hard to imagine. In 1976, all the feds could think of to slow down the Human Fly project was to require a maintenance program, which Lacy was able to pull together relatively easily. But at least in those days, someone in the FAA would actually at least tell you what was required. Today, good luck.

The Human Fly act was but a page in a chapter of Lacy’s stunning and long career in aviation. He’s very much the last of a breed whose experience bridges the world of piston and jet aircraft. His book, Lucky Me, has him photographed with everyone who’s anyone in aviation, from World War II aces to moon walkers. Lacy did stints as a military pilot, a test pilot, air racer and airline pilot and he’s yet active today in the industry from his headquarters at Van Nuys Airport.

Although most of us probably can’t list Lacy’s considerable achievements, we probably see them every day. When the Learjet first appeared in the mid-1960s, Lacy saw not just a fast, appealing business jet, but a camera platform that could shoot anything that flew. Thus was born Astrovision, the sophisticated camera system used to shoot movies and high-end commercials of airliners sailing into the sunrise. You can see early Astrovision at work in the Human Fly video.

Computer-generated imagery has put a dent in that business, but real footage is sometimes still cheaper than CGI. “That’s especially true if you want the ground in the shot,” Lacy told me. “It costs hundreds of thousands to do that with CGI, but for an airline commercial, they can rent the 747 and me for less than $100,000.” Which brings us full circle. Today, the Human Fly could be a CGI project, but what a thrill to know it wasn’t.

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