Montreal to San Francisco by Boeing 737

Bob Bogash        

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A Trip to San Francisco

Nordair, the small Canadian airline I was assigned to, had a mix of company owned and leased Boeing 737s. In May, 1970, they were scheduled to receive a new 737 from the Boeing factory in Seattle (CF-NAQ) and were going to return one of their leased 737s (CF-NAI; N9064U) to the owner - United Air Lines - in San Francisco. A one-for-one swap.

Nordair 737-222 CF-NAI - a United lease airplane (N9064U)
I took this photo May 8, 1970, in front of the Nordair hangar in Montreal, a few hours before we departed for San Francisco - the subject of this story.

Small companies are often frugal companies, and Nordair desired to avoid flying two 737s across the continent on their own hook. Accordingly, they hatched a scheme whereby they created a passenger Inclusive Tour charter to San Francisco. The plan was to fly a planeload of paying passengers from Montreal (YUL) to San Francisco (SFO) on NAI (the UAL lease airplane), go up to Seattle and pick up their new airplane (NAQ), ferry it down to San Francisco and pick up their pax load for return to Montreal. And - that's what they did.

I was requested to accompany the airplanes both ways, and I requested that my lady friend Dot Cormier - a Nordair ticket agent - be allowed to accompany me. This request was granted. We had been dating for about 8 months and she had never seen California or the West. This would be an opportunity to fill that gap.  I hadn't realized it when I started this page, but there was a very real connection between taking this airplane to SFO, and my 51 year marriage to Dot.  Actually, it was the defining moment.....

UAL lease airplane NAI had been delivered new to Nordair from the Boeing factory on July 10, 1969, and had been a bad "problem child" since Day One. She had had continual APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) problems, including on her delivery flight from Boeing. Once she had a bad break down in Churchill Falls, Labrador - you can read that story here. The return to UAL was sked for the night of May 8-9, 1970, with the return on board the new airplane (NAQ) on May 14.

Airplane NAI, although the same physical size as Nordair's other airplanes, was a lot less capable. It had less powerful engines (JT8D-7s instead of -9s), much less fuel capacity (a much smaller Center fuel tank), and a much lower (MTOW) Max Take-off Weight (100,000 lbs vs 114,000 lbs.) This had no effect during day to day operations, for which it was intended, but a significant effect when trying to fly cross-country - like we were planning. Basically, with about a 61,000 lb OEW (Operating Empty Weight) and 100-110 pax, the ZFW (Zero Fuel Weight) came to about 83-84,000 lbs. That left only about 16-17,000 lbs for fuel. The wings nominally held 9000 lbs per side, so we could not even fill the wings and could carry no fuel at all in the center tank.

Nordair's own airplanes could carry about 12,000 lbs in the Center Tank, or about 30,000 lbs of fuel total (32,000 lbs or more on a cold day.) With the same payload, that extra fuel meant 3 - 4 hours more flying - a big difference. Nordair flew many revenue flights between Montreal and Vancouver, Las Vegas, Mexico City and Acapulco - non-stop. On Dec. 20, 1970, they flew a revenue flight from Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe to Montreal non-stop, a distance of 2680 sm in 6 hours and 14 minutes.  Not bad for a "short range" airplane!

Nonetheless, the 737 was designed as a short-range airplane, and for most operators, it was. About an hour's typical flight. Nordair's average flight was more like 2.4 hours. Aloha Airlines in Hawaii, where I was assigned next, had an average flight time of only 19 minutes! Of course, today's 737s are far different creatures in terms of weights, fuel consumption, capacity, and range. Then again, they cost a lot more money. And, they can't fly off gravel runways!

As NAI was configured, with about 110 pax, she was good for about 800 nm range, Plus or Minus. Under IFR rules, she needed 1) Fuel to destination, 2) fuel to Alternate, and 3) 45 minutes fuel as Reserve. Assuming a 200 nm Alternate - she needed 2000 lbs and the 45 minutes needed 4000 lbs, that only left about 10,000 lbs to make the trip. Flying to San Francisco would require 2 or 3 enroute fuel stops. The original flight plan, was with two stops, via Minneapolis (MSP) and Salt Lake City (SLC):

YUL - MSP 876 nm

MSP - SLC 861 nm

SLC - SFO 520 nm

Departure time was sked for 2359 hours, Friday May 8, 1970 - a real "Red-eye." Montreal had a noise curfew that began at 2400 hours. Just prior to departure, Dispatch decided that serious convective weather in the MSP area was sufficiently of concern to avoid the area. Accordingly, the Flight Plan was tossed and the airplane dispatched to ORD (Chicago - O'Hare) instead, with the balance of the route to be determined enroute -- by me!   Nothing like a little Vote of Confidence. Fortunately, I had my airplane performance manual and charts with me - something I always carried.

Leaving the Gate on time, we aborted the take-off at about 80 kts, when a duct overheat light came on. My first and only true Abort.  The airplane exited the runway, and after holding off the runway, while we were discussing our options, the light extinguished. We taxied back to the end and requested Take-off Clearance - but were now in violation of the curfew. Fortunately, the Tower had observed the situation and things were fairly lenient (at least in those days) and asked their usual "Reason for Curfew Violation?" "Mechanical" was the curt reply.

Once off the ground, and for the next few hours, including after leaving ORD, I was one busy boy. In a nutshell, I had to determine where we were going after Chicago and do it in the dark, on my lap, sitting in the jump seat. No disrespect, but the pilots were clueless in this area; they got their Flight Plans from Dispatch. Plus, of course, they were busy flying the airplane. I pulled out my performance charts and Jeppesen High Altitude IFR chart for the Western U.S.

Nordair Flight dispatch had done an outstanding job planning the flight. In many ways, they were way ahead of the pack in this arena. Gordy Girvan had been their Chief Dispatcher, and he later branched out into being one of the first users of computerized flight planning. Using programs he wrote and developed himself, he uploaded them onto a Mainframe somewhere (in the Cloud - we'd say these days), and then communicated with the Mainframe via a phone modem - where he would put the phone handset into a cradle and all the beeps and tones would pass (at super slow speed - maybe 300 baud) back and forth. The result was a printed out Flight Plan, with all the data, headings, waypoints, times, fuel burns etc.

This was a Nordair computerized Flight Plan.  Pretty advanced for 1968!
This particular flight was from Vancouver to Montreal - non-stop - in 4 hrs 24 minutes

Gordy eventually left Nordair, and peddled his program and expertise with his own company to major airlines throughout North America and the world; sold out to a larger corporation and worked for them running his company - now a subsidiary - for several years from Los Angeles. He retired to Vancouver and visited us several times here in Hansville. If anybody needed to write a book, it was Gordy, with a very interesting life and innumerable stories. In fact, he was in the middle of writing his bio when he passed several years ago, and the outcome of his book is unknown to me (I tried contacting relatives, but with no success.)

In 1984, I took a 737 on a world-wide Sales Tour, with a stop in Montreal.
Here's Gordy and myself visiting on board the airplane.  It was 12 years since I had left Nordair.
The second picture was of me and Gordy during one of his visits to us in Hansville

In any event, because of the MSP weather, forcing a last minute routing change, Montreal's curfew, the pressure of the schedule, and a few other things, we departed with no beautiful computerized flight plan in hand; instead there was just me on the jump seat juggling manuals and charts producing my SWAG flight plan - in the dark. (A WAG is a Wild Ass Guess - something produced by mere mortals; being an Engineer, of course, I could produce a much more refined product - a SWAG, short for Scientific Wild Ass Guess.)

My Performance Manual - Just by luck I had it along
"Never leave home without it!"

A Performance page that gave me Flight Times and Trip Fuel for different Distances

Using an IFR Navigation Chart, I could determine distances by manually adding up mileages between navigation fixes

No calculators in those days, folks - all by hand.  Lemme see, 'that's 4, carry the 3....'

And a couple of other things. Funny what you remember - the very worst part of this exercise was getting light to see what I was doing. I might have been better off sitting back in the cabin, and asked the Stew - but there were exactly zero empty seats. (Maybe I could have swapped seats with Dot - I thought about it.) The 737 has two observer seats in a tiny cockpit - a fixed bench seat behind the pilot, and a fold-down contraption between the pilots. In the recess where the fold down seat stows while folded up, were an oxygen panel, a radio control panel, and a map light. That light was all I had - it had a circular filter lens - red and white. I couldn't use the white because of its effect on the pilots' night vision, so I was forced to use the red - which was woefully inadequate.

My eyes were never very good, or I would have been driving this machine and Mordy (the Capt.) would be sitting in the jump seat! This light was attached with a snap-in socket, allowing it to be removed, and powered by a coiled electric cord. What I wanted to do - with my third or fourth hand, which is what I now needed - was to hold the light so that I could see my nav charts and performance tables. But - a BIG but - the light was hot enough to fry eggs - no exaggeration - I could not hold it nor leave it on my lap or paperwork. I tried using the 2nd observer seat as a desk, but it was on my left, and the troublesome light was on my right.   I was in a bad way. I not only had to flight plan a jet airliner full of passengers across the country - but I had to do it in the dark. In real time.

Today, of course, I'd have a nice little cool LED light that would solve my problems, but it isn't today - it's May 1970. Another little thing that I didn't have was - better sit down for this - but I didn't have a calculator. They hadn't been invented yet. In my early aviation days, everything was done by hand - long hand - and you had better know arithmetic - not "Math" - but arithmetic. This was a lot of fun when I worked Weight & Balance exercises on DC-6As and Connies - where the numbers got really big and you had to know Multiplication and Division too. Because it's 2196 nm (nautical miles) from Montreal to SFO, I had to add the individual segment mileage distances that I took off the Jepp charts over and over by hand to try to come up with accurate distances, in order to pick fuel stops.

Flight Planning - Then and Now

OK, I'm a guy who enjoys stuff from the Past - I mention it often enough.

 "I live in the Past because I prefer it to the Present."

But - not in this case. I've always enjoyed Flight Planning - right up until the Present. In the Old Days, I'd spread charts all over the living room floor and go to work with my Weems Plotter, measuring distances and checking routings and aerodrome info. Sometimes - like this story I'm telling, folding and refolding charts in the confined space of the cockpit. You get to be quite good at folding. A pencil (not a pen - that's why they put erasers on pencils - you do know what a pencil is, don't you?) Then I'd come up with distances and headings and flight times and fuel requirements. My charts were always all marked up.

           A Weems Plotter

But, in this situation, I could have done this whole exercise literally in a few minutes using my iPad - if I had done it today, that is. I have several flight planning apps loaded on my iPad (and iPhone) - but the one I prefer is called Fore Flight (FF). As ironic as it seems, Boeing bought that company and their logo now says "Fore Flight - a Boeing Company." (Jeppesen too, come to think of it.) Cross my fingers they don't ruin it. FF could have figured every bit of data, shown me the route, given me my position, checked the weather, checked the NOTAMS, and given me the contact info for the handling agencies. And with just a few screen taps. That is indeed a miracle.

A few taps on Fore Flight gives me the whole flight in detail. 
I admit it - I'm spoiled.

So, here we are - we're enroute ORD, and strange as it might seem, even though this was a UAL airplane, and UAL was the Big Kahuna in ORD, there wasn't any time to arrange for them to handle the airplane (we were going to MSP, remember?) Or maybe they didn't try. So, we wound up using an FBO on the field at ORD. And, in addition to everything else, I had to coordinate this via radio using ARINC. (ARINC is a radio and service outfit formed by, and owned by, the airlines, It is used by operators - airlines and business operators, who don't have a "Company Radio" facility to communicate with. (These days a lot of this might happen via ACARS with data up and downlinks. Maybe, and maybe not.)

OK - we're going to ORD, but where to next? The flight time to ORD was 2:07 which gave me some time to do some fast figuring. First, why not go to SLC per the original plan? That would be Simple!  I added up all the chart mileages and came up with a distance of 1086 nm. Hmmmm - that's why. Its 225 nm further than from MSP. At LRC (Long Range Cruise - our slowest, and most economical cruise speed) that would require about 14,000 lbs of fuel. Adding in required Reserves of about 6000 lbs would bring our fuel load to 20,000 lbs. Added to our ZFW of about 84,000 lbs would make our take-off weight 104,000 lbs - more than the max that our airplane was good for. So, SLC was too far. Going to ORD instead of MSP meant we would have to add another stop - 3 stops to go trans-con in a 737. Well, this particular aeroplane was not a transcon aeroplane - at least in the UAL configuration - nor was it intended to be. It was designed to go from Newark to Cleveland to Detroit, etc.

OK - How about DEN (that's Denver Stapleton - the current airport wasn't even somebody's dream yet.) That's a no-brainer. Let's go to DEN. Big UAL presence there too. Adding up the mileages off the Jepp chart, it was 772 nm ORD - DEN - we could do it. Or could we? (DEN was also 841 nm from SFO - within range, but on the long side.) 

Diving into my Perf charts, DEN had potential problems for this airplane. I'm sure we could have figured out a way to fly out of there, but I didn't have the time to screw around; I mean the airplane is clicking off 8-10 miles per minute. As a high altitude airport above 5000 ft ASL, I was presented an assortment of take-off limitations, 2nd segment climb limitations, brake energy limitations, tire speed limitations. Diving quickly into the charts, I could see fairly substantial possible runway length requirements, and high take-off speeds. But, most of all, there seemed to be a severe take-off weight problem.  It looked like we could barely get out of there with more than minimal fuel.  I could figure it all out, I suppose, but back at my desk - not in the dark cockpit working on my lap. With a lot of time pressures. I decided I immediately needed to find a lower elevation airport further East. DEN had too many "issues." But where? That was the question.

I found out later on that UAL themselves had problems flying their 737s from Denver; in fact, they configured the airplane to be specifically an East Coast airplane not intending to use Denver.

This was too much for my poor brain to work through - on my lap in the dark.
I knew a DEN take-off would be fast and I also knew we didn't have high speed tires installed.
And most of all, we were severely weight restricted.

Chicago, Chicago - that Toddlin' Town

We landed at ORD and I put my papers away to go out and fuel the airplane. I told Mordy (Nordair Chief Pilot John Morden) to file for Denver and we'd re-file in the air - after I figured out where we were going. Which he did. I started adding miles east from SLC; I figured Nordair Dispatch had bought into the SLC-SFO leg (it was only 520 nm), and I'd call that one good.

We taxied out and took off from Chicago - it was the middle of the night. This whole escapade was in the middle of the night. Although we had a destination on file with ATC, actually we didn't know where we were going. Yet. But they didn't know that.

Lincoln, Nebraska

Now - where to? Somewhere in Kansas or Nebraska. North Platte? Kearney? Omaha? Grand Island? Lincoln? That's it - Lincoln. I had to look up airport elevations, hours of service, and runway lengths at all these places and then add up their different distances to SLC. All in the dark, and I better be FAST!!!


Lincoln was only 1200 ft above sea level, and best of all, it had a runway 12,900 ft long! (An old air base.) The A/FD (Chart Supplement) showed it was attended 24 hours and had JP-1 (UAL had insisted the airplane only be fueled with JP-1 for arrival in SFO.) Distance from SLC? 693 nm. We're in business! I told Mordy to re-file for LNK and I got on my radio with ARINC to ensure we'd have fuel on arrival.

We landed without problems in Lincoln, Nebraska; I refueled the airplane, did a walk-around and went into the dispatch office. As I glanced over the paperwork on the walls and on the counter - I saw something that chilled my bones. A NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) currently in effect for the long runway at LNK stated most of the runway was Out of Service "for construction" - only 5000 ft was usable. Holy Toledo! Well, of course, doing my jumpseat flight planning in the dark, I had no access to NOTAM's. Jesus - what were we gonna do now???

I rounded up someone from the airport and asked for the story. "Well", he said, "they were working on the runway lights". "Yeah, yeah - tell me more", (We don't need no runway lights!) . Well, he said, about 8000 ft of the runway lights were out of service. "I see, I see", I said - "is there anything wrong with the pavement?'" "Nope", nothing wrong with the pavement?" "So we can use it all for takeoff?" "Yup - it's up to you." I got hold of Mordy and explained the situation. "No problem" he said. That's the answer I wanted. Hell, that's why they put landing lights on airplanes. So we started up, and took off headed for SLC. The airplane lights worked fine, even after we ran out of the runway edge lights. Piece of cake.

It was now 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning (again - we're chasing the clock) and we were heading West - finally on the home stretch. We had busted our stop in MSP due to weather; had an RTO in Montreal because of a mechanical problem; then busted Montreal's take-off curfew. We'd flown on without a flight plan (pre-planned, that is, of our own - ATC had a Flight Plan), landing at ORD and then Lincoln, Nebraska, surviving my mad "flight plan on your lap in the dark" escapade. Somehow escaped the runway closed NOTAM at Lincoln and were now heading for Salt Lake City, where would be back on Nordair's original flight plan. What else could possibly go wrong??? Go wrong? Go wrong?

It's 693 nm from Lincoln, Nebraska to SLC, and we descended in the dark over the unseen Wasatch Mountains. Hopefully, Thompson Flying Service would be waiting for us. Why hadn't Nordair in Montreal arranged with United? Or Western?  Or somebody that flew real airliners?   I'll never know. We landed in SLC and were directed to our handling agency's ramp. The flight time from Lincoln had been 2:20. As we taxied in, we started the APU - or should I say tried to start the APU. As with the Delivery flight from Boeing, and the excitement in Churchill Falls, Miss Lemon Ship decided to continue throwing tantrums. Yes - the APU would not start. As in my Fort Chimo story about the Sky Gods, and their perverse refusal to allow things to run just "one more time", all we needed out of this goddam plane was one more lousy APU start - just one more - and she wouldn't give it to us. I hate airplanes....

We gave it the one start attempt and quit. All of us remembered (only too well) the debacle that had happened only weeks after Nordair's first 737 arrival, when multiple APU start attempts had resulted in a fire that burned up the tail cone and one elevator on NAB - their brand new airplane. And NAI had already proven susceptible to the same issues over the past few months. Nope - one Strike and you're OUT!  (Info:  The APU had been changed, for cause, the day of departure - May 8.  The APU had been changed 6 times during the time NAI was in-service with Nordair.)

Cabin of 737 CF-NAI

NAI had a forward airstairs on the left door; the refueling panel was on the right wing. We left Nbr 1 running, so I couldn't use the airstairs - instead we shutdown Nbr 2 - here we go again.... like a bad dream, that repeats over and over. I proceeded to the cabin and opened the R-1 service door. Over the noise of the running engine, I yelled at a ramp guy, asking for a set of steps to be brought to the R-1 door. When that was done, I was able to get close to him and asked if they had an air start cart. Answer: No. With a name like Thompson Flying Service, hardly a surprise. Why couldn't one of the airlines be handling us? Another 50 year old question - never to be answered. Hey, I understand - Nordair was being frugal. They were a small company. Small companies are frugal. After all, this was actually a ferry flight, but they had sold tickets going both ways to cover the fuel costs. Nuff said.

I'm starting to figure out why Nordair likes me to be with the airplane.....

I told the ground people I would fuel the airplane with Nbr 1 engine left running and to make sure they stayed clear. Refueling an airplane with an engine running is very bad karma, and doing so at 4:00 in the morning with a planeload of passengers is even worse. Definitely not something I'm proud of, but we did it.

Fueling the 737

In the early days of the 737, there were a lot of teething problems. The APU was one for sure. The FQIS was another. FQIS stands for Fuel Quantity Indicating System. It was abysmal. Nordair had continuing problems from Day One. Boeing had made repeated trips out with teams that were changing quantity probes and wiring harnesses and connectors and black boxes. An outfit named Simmonds Precision was the vendor for the system. By chance, they were located in Vergennes, Vermont outside Burlington - only about a two hour drive from Montreal. They were in Nordair's hangar a lot, with their engineers and test gear. Didn't help much.

Often the quantity in a tank would roll down to zero in flight; sometimes it would be erratic. I got one of my first shit-letters from my boss Andy Jones when I described what was happening. I made a comment about "so, I swapped fuel quantity indicators to see if the problem went to the other side." Andy picked up on that immediately and sent me a nastygram "What do you mean YOU swapped indicators???" After that, I chose my words more carefully.

The erratic indications were mostly a nuisance but a real problem was that the automatic volumetric shutoff system wouldn't work properly. Basically, you could open the fuel valves and let the tank fill until full, when it would shut off automatically. Just like when you put gas in your car. Except it wouldn't. Shut off, that is. So then the tank would overfill - the extra fuel would fill a small surge tank near the wing tip and then go overboard through the fuel tank vent. A fuel spill on the ramp would occur - sometimes a big one - sometimes a humongous one. Fueling was done at 50 psi; you can imagine how much fuel pours out in a very short time. Well, maybe you can't; trust me. A lot.

Early in the program, on the way to Barbados, I was fueling at Nassau in the Bahamas about 4 o'clock in the morning. (Yes, they flew a lot of red-eyes, and I was getting a lot of my own red-eyes - the Barbados turn was a 27 hour marathon.) There was a huge fuel spill out the left wing tip that I didn't catch until it created a huge lake of jet fuel under the airplane (which was full of sleeping passengers, with the APU running.) One spark and we would have had a conflagration. (Those were the days before anyone worried about the environmental concerns; these days the airplane would be there for days while they did some sort of hazmat cleanup.)

That Nassau job was the last time I ever fueled without using dripsticks. From then on, I would pull the sticks and shut off the fuel valve manually when fuel started to squirt out the little hole in the stick. Even did that on 747s, which had "dripless" drip sticks. If you've ever had the auto-shut-off fail at a filling station, you'll understand.

The Last Leg
San Francisco - Open your Golden Gate
Here I Come!

Anyhow, the last leg to SFO was 520 nm. Trip fuel would be about 9000 lbs. Adding Alternate plus Holding fuel would add about 5000 lbs more for a total of 14,000 lbs. I put 7000 in each wing, far short of the 9000 lb capacity - to make sure there would be no spill. I was taking no chances - I mean we had an engine running. I left the small Center Tank empty.

One hour and 48 minutes later and we were taxiing in to United's Overhaul Base ramp at SFO. It was a bright sunny morning. Of course! This was California. CF-NAI, aka N9064U and Nordair were about to part ways. But, mainly, me and NAI were about to part ways. Forever. Man. I love 737s, but I didn't love that one....

Being such a bright Saturday morning, Dot and I had to make the most of our only five days to explore San Francisco and California! With no time to waste.  Never mind, I hadn't slept in 30 hours; at least she had slept on the flight West - maybe.  We were young and raring to go; we could sleep when we got home.

Exploring San Francisco Bay

After doing SFO, we roamed down the Big Sur coast to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, then back up the valley inland heading north. Along the way, we stopped at a small Spanish Mission in Soledad, out in the middle of nowhere - that we found enchanting. Enough so, that the thought entered my mind that it would be a fine place to get married - if one were to get married, that is.  I had a weak moment and Proposed; Dot Accepted, and the rest is history.  (Full story - Click here.)

I lost her August 8, 2021 and have been rudderless ever since. We were married for 51 years. Without NAI, might have never happened, so I guess I need to speak of that airplane a little more gently. One of those many "What-If's" we all have in life......

July 29, 1970

NAQ - Our New Airplane

Meanwhile, Nordair's Chairman Jim Tooley had gone to Seattle to pick up their new airplane CF-NAQ. The NAI pilots had dead-headed up there and flew it down to SFO to pick up the pax charter load. Tooley could be a tough customer. That's an understatement. Thursday, May 14th, we all piled onto the new airplane and headed back to Montreal with a fuel stop in MSP. It was Dot's birthday.

CF-NAQ at Nanisivik - northern tip of Baffin Island

New airplane; new airplane smell; like a new car. No more troubles. Right? Yeah, sure.....

Nordair provided good service, especially on their charters. Food and booze. Lots of it, and those French Canadians knew how to bend their elbows. Drinks weren't doled out in those skimpy miniatures, they were poured out of 26 or 40 oz big bottles from the serving carts. The customer had to "say when" and some of them took their time saying it. Charters were a lot more fun than "regular" flights. The pax were all going on holiday, they were all happy, many knew each other, and they got so well "oiled" that minor mechanical and weather perturbations were accepted in stride.

Drinks, anyone?

Nordair bought a lot of liquor, of course, and cases and cases of it were piled high and stored in a fenced in and locked, bonded crib in the aircraft Stores area. One day, on a flight from Montreal to Hamilton (Ontario), a stew served a drink - vodka on the rocks - to a passenger, who promptly chugged it down in one big gulp. "Gee", she said, "you drank that just like it was water!" "It WAS water", he replied. She poured out some from the big bottle and took a sip. By God, it was water.

This started a big investigation. By the time it was over, they had determined some miscreants (never identified) had been making midnight raids to the liquor crib, removing the booze and replacing it with water (only works with clear booze, like vodka or gin.) And -- if you only steal about 3/4 of the bottle, the remaining only gets diluted and still retains some smell and kick. A perfect crime! Lord knows how many water drinks Nordair had served and over what length of time. Except for that one customer's smart ass comment, they might have never found out!

Anyhow, what goes in has to come out. Nordair airplanes had two lavatories - both on the left side - one in the front and one in the back. In those days, the toilet was basically an over-sized porta-potty. (These days, it's an under-sized porta-potty.)  It had a self-contained waste tank with a capacity of 17 gals, which was pre-charged with about 3 gals of blue-dyed deodorant (source of the infamous "blue-ice.") When used, there was a timed flush motor that recirculated the contents of the tank in a swirl to flush the new added contents into the tank, which was hidden from view by a little stainless steel flapper. On the tank bottom was a drain valve - similar to a big toilet plunger - and a big drain line that went down to a servicing panel that had a big cover (A leaking valve and cover gives you blue ice. Look out below!)

The honey bucket truck driver would normally hook up the drain hose and a water flush line; open the drain valve, drain the contents into his truck's tank; then flush and clean the tank once or twice, redrain, and then precharge for the next use. Very much the same as the system used on many boats and RV's.

The flight from SFO to MSP was 3:40 - more than enough time - with the flight attendants pouring all that kickapoo juice out of 40 ouncers, for the lav tanks to fill up. Which they did - especially the aft lav. After the tank filled up - surprise! - it over-flowed all over the floor, sloshing here, sloshing there. The nice new-car smell and appearance of our brand new airplane had been replaced by the sights and smells reminiscent of the men's room down at a waterfront sailor's bar that had last been cleaned in 1942. It was ugly. UGLY.

This ungodly transformation had not gone unnoticed by one Mr. James Tooley - Nordair's CEO - who had just coughed up quite a few million for his new flying machine. To say he was unhappy would be to understate the situation very badly. And, of course, he vented his unhappiness on the only person having any connection with Boeing within a thousand miles - yours truly. Now, was it my fault that his stews over-served a bunch of drunks and that they couldn't hold their water? Best make that comment under my breath. Because the FUN was just starting.

  Nordair CEO Jim Tooley

He dragged me out of the cockpit to show me the gory mess.  Fortunately, we were soon to get a reprieve in the form of a fuel and servicing stop in MSP. The next leg to Montreal was only 2:15 and we should soon be back good as new - well, almost as good as new. Nothing a little Lysol spray couldn't fix - or at least cover up, eh? (See, I'm starting to talk like these guys too. Been there too long.)

Well, I did need to oversee the fueling, but that damn Blue Room poop spill problem kept intruding in my thoughts.  Bummer for a brand new airplane. The honey-bucket guy will fix it for me.  Next thing I know, the lav truck driver is pulling on my sleeve while I'm trying to fuel the airplane. "Got a problem", he says. Why ask me, I thought - do I look like I know what I'm doing? Do I look like I work for Boeing? Do I look like a plumber? "What's the problem?" I says. "Tank won't drain" he says. Oh, that's great, I think - so what is that all about? Do we placard the aft lav as INOP and send all those happy drunks to the front and only remaining lav? Yeah sure, that'll work just great. Meanwhile, the CEO gets wind of this new little detail and gets very vocal about his unhappiness and opines loudly on his opinion about big beautiful Boeing airplanes, and that company in Seattle, in general.  And, he's got an audience of 110 - plus me.  (Recall that there are 110 pax on board, and there are no empty seats, and we're parked out on a hardstand (no terminal, no boarding lounge, no walking around - and definitely no using the lavatories!)

I'm not sure this is what I signed on for.  I remember seeing this great brochure Boeing had about their Field Reps.  I remember the Title clearly:  "To Airlines around the World there are 50 Mr. Boeings."   Sort of like a Marine Corps recruiting poster.  So this is what those Mr. Boeing's actually did - eh?  Report problems and coordinate customer and sales visits?  Check.  Advise and Train the customers personnel.  Check.  Change brakes, and start engines, taxi airplanes, and fix thrust reversers and APU's? - er, only at risk of getting Fired. Flight plan, navigate, fix toilets?  Never.  And now, and now, get yelled at in front of a planeload of passengers by the Customer's CEO -  on behalf of The Boeing Company? 

Where are they?  You know.  Where are the Boeing salesmen when I need them? Or the engineers? Or the mechanics? They wave good-bye from the Seattle ramp as we depart with big happy smiles and I get to wade around in the shit - literally. Tooley demands that I "fix it - and right now!!!" Hey - I'm the Boeing Rep and my boss Andy Jones back in Renton has made it very clear to me that I'm not to work on airplanes. Sorry, call him.   Oh yeah, that'll work.  Get fired if I fix the toilet; get fired if I don't fix the toilet.  Well, at least I'll be married and my new wife can support me.  I begin to hear him shouting at me and wildly waving his arms as I recover from my reverie. "I'll check it out", says me.

Here all I want to do is go home. Turn over this nice new airplane to maintenance. I mean I just busted hump bringing that other junker to SFO - flight planning in the dark, arranging for handling, dealing with a busted APU, three middle-of-the-night fuelings, including one with an engine running. And now I'm supposed to fix busted toilets too. Hey Man (I'm starting to sound like Joe Biden), I just got engaged, for Christ's sake. It's May 14th and it's my future wife's birthday, and she's on board to boot. And I'm wearing a coat and tie, with my plumber's crack well hidden. Do I look like a plumber?.

OK, OK - I go over to the lav panel with the honey bucket man. I go to pull the drain valve handle and immediately know what's the problem and it's not one I want to hear - even if I'm talking to myself.

The handle is loose, meaning the cable to the top of the drain valve has probably jumped off one of its pulleys - or more likely was never run over the pulley in the first place, or the Quick Disconnect was never hooked up - you know -- back there in the good old Boeing factory. Meaning some mech screwed up, and some QC inspector never picked it up.

It's the old "Search for the Guilty and Punish the Innocent" routine. I know it by heart. Your Honor - I'm Innocent!  I mean, this is the very first time this drain valve handle has EVER been pulled in service. No excuses or finger-pointing at the Customer. I know I'm Innocent - and so prepare myself for getting Punished.

There's a simple solution to this predicament, and I know what it is, and I want to find the guy who can follow my instructions and do it. Someone besides me.  Picture your home toilet tank when the little chain from the flush handle to the flapper valve breaks or falls off. You pull the flush handle and nothing happens because the chain won't raise the drain valve. There is one small difference however. In your toilet tank you stick your arm down in the clean water of the flush tank. Or maybe even, turn off the water and drain the tank. On this lousy toilet, someone has to stick their arm down through this 17 gallon cesspool of floating piss and crap and manually pull the drain valve. (Sorry about being so explicit, but I don't know any other way to describe this - I mean I did leave out the sights and smell part of the description.) This is my (future) wife's birthday, and I'm just an engineer, with my white shirt, coat and tie, and I'm under standing orders to quit working on airplanes - or get fired - while the customer's CEO is yelling at me to fix this horrible sea of piss and shit sloshing around at the back of his brand new airplane, and 110 passengers are watching all this transpire. Sometimes I think Boeing doesn't pay me enough.....  Look at the bright side, Bob - the APU is running and you are not making a one-engine stop - yet!

I'm suddenly thinking of Kris Kristoffersons' song (actually, he hadn't written it yet, and so - clearly - he stole the words and music from me) - "Why me, Lord? What have I ever done...."    I moved up the aisle to where Dot was sitting - I remember it clearly to this day - she was in an aisle seat on the right side about two thirds back from the front. I took off my jacket, shirt and tie and handed them to her. To say she (and the surrounding passengers) was surprised is an understatement. I just told her not to ask any questions.  It was plumber's crack time.

I moved to the galley in the right rear and with one of the stews, picked through the galley supplies until I found one of those big black 32 gallon plastic garbage bags. I unrolled and loosened the garbage bag and stuck my arm in it all the way to one of the bottom corners. I made sure the honey bucket man had his drain hose all hooked up to the airplane. Then I waded (literally) through the floating mess on the floor of the lav; raised the toilet seat, plunged my arm into the mess, and popped the little steel cover (by feel only) off its latch. It was "underwater", so to speak, and the "water" wasn't exactly "clear". Then I plunged all the way into the 17 gallons of mess - up to my shoulder, with my nose mere inches from the floating stew, and felt around for the drain valve. It's offset quite a bit - see the pictures. My arm almost wasn't long enough - but I finally found it and felt my way up to the top.  Sure enough, the connecting cable was lying loose. Hell, I knew it would be.  I pulled on the valve to unseat it and with a giant WHOOSH, all the contents of the tank drained in a big rush down into the honey bucket truck.

When the draining was over, I re-seated the drain valve onto its valve seat as precisely as I could, (all by feel through the garbage bag - you can't see the thing from the toilet bowl); I didn't want it to leak and drop little blue (and brown) ice balls all over the unsuspecting earthlings down below.  Then I snapped the hide-the-view cover back into place at the bottom of the toilet bowl.  I withdrew my arm, and very, very carefully pulled the plastic garbage bag inside-out, so as to reverse the wet and dry sides as I pulled it off. I actually succeeded quite well in that, and then rolled up the bag with the gunky side on the inside, and the clean dry side now on the outside; went down the adjacent aft air stair and gave it to the truck driver - moving quickly on to the right wing fueling station in my undershirt to finish the fueling. Cleaners came and mopped up and wiped up the mess in the lav and in the adjacent aisle and door entryway areas making everything as good as new. Well - Sort of good as new.  The new car smell, however, was definitely gone.  Gone forever. (When we got back to Montreal, mechanics found the cable had never been run over its pulley or connected to its quick-disconnect. I knew that.)

With the airplane serviced, fueled, and cleaned, I went back down the aisle to Dot and retrieved my clothes. I got dressed again in the forward entry area with 110 people watching (there's no place to hide in Nordair's configuration - and there sure is no room in the lavatory or the cockpit); took my seat back in the cockpit, and off we went for Montreal, as if nothing had happened. I don't think Tooley ever said "Thanks." Boeing sure didn't.

It was Thursday May 14th; it was Dot's birthday; and it had been a busy non-stop week since the previous Friday morning, May 8th, when all these adventures had begun. We started off by working that Friday, then going home to pack for a week and returning for the late evening flight. Pre-clearing U.S. Customs.  Next was scrubbing MSP off the flight plan at the very last minute due to weather, meaning I now became the Dispatcher; then had an RTO and a minor mechanical out of Montreal; busting the no-fly curfew; followed by frantic on-the-fly flight planning in-flight all the way across the country, on my lap, in the dark; three in-the-dark refuelings; an APU failure; refueling with an engine running; sight-seeing around California; a marriage Proposal; an Acceptance; a cross-country Birthday celebration with 110 other people; and finally diving into a busted toilet.

Well, I had promised Dot that it would be "an exciting trip." Maybe marrying this crazy Yank from Seattle wasn't such a good idea?

Post Script

I called my folks after we arrived home and asked if I could come visit the next day, Friday, for the weekend; I told them I was bringing "a friend". On Friday, the 15th, we worked half a day and then drove the six hours down to New Rochelle, where my "friend" turned out to be Dot, my future wife - and we gave them (my folks) the "good news"! They were surprised. My brother wasn't - he had predicted it, and ran around the house yelling "I told you, I told you!".

Only six weeks after this adventure, I again flew with NAQ - this time flying the Royal Family - Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne around the High Arctic for a week, marking the Centennial of the Northwest Territories. Story coming on that one.


July 6, 1970 -  NAQ awaiting the arrival of the Queen and the Royal Family at Frobisher Bay


Arriving in Resolute Bay (CYRB)

An autographed picture presented to me by Prince Charles as a momento of their trip

Incredible other adventures during that six week period too - some of which deserve and hopefully will get stories of their own. So many stories, so little time.

NAQ went on to have a long 33 year career flying with 9 airlines and is currently stored in Marana, Arizona.  She might yet fly again. You never know.

CF-NAQ in Arizona - April 2021

There's a Long, Long Trail a-Winding

Well, it has been a long, long trail, and in some ways, it started when we brought lease airplane NAI back to United in San Francisco.  Life has her twists and turns,.... and you never know where she'll lead you.... And it all started when Nordair decided to lease a 737 from United Air Lines, and then asked me to help bring it back to SFO when the lease was over.  As it turned out, taking NAI to SFO was the defining moment in our marriage. 
Life is full of "What-If's" and, in retrospect, this one was huge!

On July 29th, 1970 -  10 weeks later - we returned to Soledad, California - and got married in the Mission we discovered and fell in love with during our May visit (Story here.) We were married for 51 years, and we never slowed down. Not for a minute. Not ever.

It was a Good Life. But I miss her terribly...... and then some.

Her story - Click here:

There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding

Nights are growing lonely,
 Days are very long;
 I'm a-growing weary
 Only list'ning for your song.

 Old remembrances are thronging
 Thro' my memory,
 Thronging till it seems
 The world is full of dreams,
 Just to call you back to me.

 There's a long, long trail a-winding
 Into the land of my dreams,
 Where nightingales are singing
 And a white moon beams.

 There's a long, long night of waiting
 Until my dreams all come true;
 Till the day when I'll be going down
 That long, long trail with you.

 All night long I hear you calling,
 Calling sweet and low;
 Seem to hear your footsteps falling
 Ev'ry where I go.

 Tho' the road between us stretches
 Many a weary mile,
 Somehow I forget That you're not with me yet
 When I think I see you smile.

There's a long, long trail a-winding
 Into the land of my dreams,
 Where nightingales are singing
 And a white moon beams.

 There's a long, long night of waiting
 Until my dreams all come true;
 Till the day when I'll be going down
 That long, long trail with you.

(Words: Stoddard King / Music: Alonzo "Zo" Elliott) 1913

Copyright 2021 Robert Bogash.  All Rights Reserved