Seaboard World Airlines.... and me
Bob Bogash
Bob Bogash

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Seaboard World Airlines - Boeing 707-345C

Seaboard & Western Airlines, later Seaboard World Airlines, was a primarily-cargo airline based in New York with which  I had an interesting (and long-term) relationship.  It started back in 1957, when as a new teen-ager, I decided to get my money "working" as a first time investor.  My father had brought home a brochure from the stock brokerage firm Merrill-Lynch about the airlines. He knew of my passion for airplanes, airlines and airliners, and of course,  I read it cover to cover.

At the time, I had amassed the princely savings of $200 from working innumerable odd jobs throughout the neighborhood, from painting to gutter cleaning, mowing lawns, washing cars, and a bit later, baby sitting.  The Merrill Lynch brochure waxed ecstatic about the future of air cargo - something still done today.  There were a small group of quite tiny airlines devoted to cargo.

I decided to blow my whole $200 (should have been a lesson for later in life!) on two - Flying Tiger Line in California and Seaboard in New York.  Both - like many of the others - had been started after WW II  by returning aviators who wanted to stay in the flying business and acquired war surplus C-47, C-46 and C-54 airplanes at rock bottom prices.

  C-54

I bought 10 shares of each - FTL at $12/share and SWA at $8/share.  Both airlines struggled, eventually merged, and eventually became part of Federal Express.  After a "reverse split", my SWA shares sank to near zero - and, in fact, my whole $200 investment  eventually became worthless.  Well, Live and Learn.

By 1959, when I was 15, I was sufficiently mature to hit the road "independently" (still couldn't drive) to the New York area airports.  With camera (a 35mm Voightlander Vito-B)  in hand and accompanied by my airplane fan friend Paul Nevai, we hitch-hiked out to JFK (then known as Idlewild- IDL) with some regularity.  A much calmer and more gentle world back then, hitch-hiking was something I did continually with great success.  Other than my bike, it was my primary means of transportation, and I am amazed at the places I went using the method.   Even more amazing, was our brazenly walking unescorted all over the ramps, runways, and hangars at the major airports - it was simple and unhindered.  Many locations didn't even have fences and the airport police or pilots and mechanics had no problems whatsoever with a couple of teenagers with cameras wandering all over the premises (and onto innumerable airplanes.)  Today, we'd both wind up in Juvenile Detention, and the airports would be closed down for hours (or days) awash with SWAT Teams.  If I didn't have all the pictures to prove it, people would declare that I was the biggest liar in the world.   I did indeed live in Good Times - and the "Good Old Days" were indeed the "Good Old Days."

  

Some Proof!  A TWA L-1649 landing on Rwy 19R (no longer in existence), an Eastern Connie taxiing in, and an American 707-120 outside their hangar at IDL.



One place we had success was the Seaboard hangar.  At the time, SWA was flying Super Connies (L-1049H).  They also had a leasing business on the side, and here is N1005C, a Connie wet-leased to the Irish Airline Aer Lingus.





Fast forward a couple of years and it's 1965.  I've graduated from High School - and college - and have begun working as an Engineer at Boeing in Seattle.  A dream come true.  (My Dad always said I should pay THEM, for allowing me to work there and climb all over airplanes!)

I continued, of course, my avid airplane photography work - this time at Boeing Field and Seattle-Tacoma Intl (SeaTac.)  And the Boeing plant at Renton.  Same "no-fence" situation as in New York and the ramps etc were mine to roam as I saw fit.  (This time, my airplane camera pal was Ted Gibson.) 

My "association" with Seaboard continued.  At this time, SWA was flying Canadair CL-44 swing-tail freighters to and from Saigon in support of the Viet Nam War, and their airplanes transited SeaTac regularly - often, - with the sad job of transporting the Remains of soldiers killed in the War.

  CL-44 at JFK


CL-44s at SEA






Seaboard was always active in leasing, especially wet-leasing, and their equipment could be found in many liveries.  Here's a CL-44 at JFK leased to BOAC.

Seaboard meanwhile had grown out of their antique C-54 fleet into the CL-44 and then the Douglas DC-8-50F series (which they used on the North Atlantic.)


DC-8-50F at JFK

Did Seaboard ever fly 707s?  Of course!  But little noted.  And worst of all, many websites list the 707 not at all - for example Planespotters.net Fleet List for Seaboard shows nary a 707 in sight.  Wrong!  Here's the Proof.

Douglas was playing with their DC-8 series at the time, coming out with stretch -61, -62, and -63 versions.  The -63 was stretched 37 feet, had more powerful JT3D-7 engines, and pylon redesigns.  Seaboard became the kick-off customer for the Freighter version, which held 18 pallets instead of the 13 on the -50 series.

Sadly (and interestingly), Douglas had the same delivery timetable problems then, that they later brought to Boeing after the McD-Boeing merger.  Their schedule slides was so severe, and SWA needed the lift capacity so much, that SWA actually came to Boeing to see if they could buy some brand new 707-320C freighters as interim airplanes while waiting for Douglas to get off the dime.  And they did - ordering three 707-345C airplanes - which actually were built, delivered and entered service long before the DC-8-63s began showing up!

Because of my long "association" with Seaboard (stock buying teenager, hangar-cruising teenager, and SeaTac cruising airplane watcher), I was excited to see them become a Boeing customer.  I was an engineer working at Boeing Renton.   I began following the progress of their configuring their airplanes, their build, and final entrance onto the Boeing Renton flightline.  Finally, it was an exciting day when their first airplane - N7321S - was moved from the factory to the fueling pits with only its rudder giving away its final livery.  Some rare photos.


Airplane #1 - N7321S on the Flight Line - Renton - before First Flight


Airplane #2 - N7322S in the fueling pits at Renton - before First Flight


Seaboard 707 on the Renton Flight Line after painting but before First Flight
Photo courtesy Bob Woodling


Fast forward a couple more years, in an amazing turn of Fate, I was a Boeing Commercial Airplane Field Service Engineer, and my very first assignment was in January 1968 to JFK Airport in New York where I was assigned to help Seaboard introduce their brand new Boeing 707-320C jet freighters!!!  From a 13 year old buying Seaboard stock, to a plane-spotting teenager climbing ramp fences and trespassing in hangars, to an "Official" Boeing representative with a seat of honor in their daily Ops Conferences - and all in a 10 year period.  Over 50 years later, it still amazes me.

For the better part of the next year, I worked daily with Seaboard on their 707s.  I also flew the Line extensively on the first two airplanes.








 Some Websites state that there was a problem with the 707C working in the Seaboard system but that was not true - not in the slightest.  Actually, the question sometimes arises as to which airplane - the DC-8-50 or the 707-320C was the "superior airplane."  Lots of discussion about this over the years, of course.  It reminds me of the debate over the B-17 vs the B-24 as to which one was "better."  Here's one data point - for what it's worth - in the year I worked and flew with the 707s at SWA, SWA's Senior crews - who could bid (presumably) any equipment they wanted, all chose to fly the 707.  My logbook shows many flights with Paul Mlinar (Seniority #1 - I have many hours sitting behind Paul, in his Fruit of the Loom T-shirt and smoking his cigars) and Ralph Neary (then Chief Pilot I believe.)  I never really ever discussed this with anyone but just kept my own private little score card of pilot seniority vs equipment flown and drew my own conclusions.



The excellent Seaboard Pilot Association Retirees (SPAR) website states that the 707's were just an interim A/C, which is true. The 2nd 707-345C arrived in March 1968, while the 3rd 707 (N7323S) was never delivered to Seaboard as sufficient numbers of -63CF's had arrived.  Details follow below.

As I stated earlier, the 707s were acquired to fill the gap until the DC-8-63s could be delivered.  Seaboard purchased three airplanes and they were built to their unique specification  -345C.  All three were built. For Seaboard. This actually was a three way deal (if you count Boeing.)  Knowing these would just be interim airplanes, SWA negotiated an arrangement with VARIG of Brazil to eventually take the airplanes. It was my understanding at the time that this was pre-arranged prior to signing the Definitive Sales Agreement with Boeing, but cannot state that positively.  It could have been an MOU or even a hand-shake deal.   Once the DC-8-63s came on line, the airplanes would move on to VARIG.  The -45 unique customer number was created for SWA and assigned to these airplanes.  This creates a Detail Spec against which the airplane is configured with the customer, and built.


Seaboard 707s

The three airplanes were - briefly, S/Ns 19840, 841, and 842.

19840 became N7321S - L/N (Line Number) 679 - First Flight 16 Feb 1968 - Deliv 26 Feb 1968

I flew on N7321S many times, including 2 Sep 1968, when we flew LHR-FRA-ZRH-Prestwick-JFK.  Both airplanes were flown by SWA only in pure freighter configuration.  (VARIG returned them to passenger configuration.)



This airplane was sold to VARIG on 20 Aug 1968 under a sale/leaseback agreement, continuing in SWA service.  It transferred to VARIG on 28 Feb 1969 where it became PP-VJY.  It flew with VARIG until 4 July 1986 when it was sold to the Brazilian Air Force as FAB2401.  It was converted into a tanker and re-designated KC-137.  It was withdrawn from service 10 Oct 2013 and auctioned for dismantling 16 Jan 2014 for $6000.






19841 became N7322S - L/N 683 - F/F 26 Feb 1968 - Deliv 6 Mar 1968
This airplane was also sold to VARIG, also on 20 Aug 1968 under a sale/leaseback. It also continued in SWA service. It transferred to VARIG on 31 Mar 1969 as PP-VJZ.



N7322S was in SWA service for 13 months.  I flew this airplane extensively during 1968, including 31 Aug 1968, when I flew it JFK-Prestwick-AMS.  On one particularly grueling marathon (remember -  a freighter, zero pax seats) I flew it "around the horn: - JFK-Prestwick-LHR-FRA-ZRH-Geneva-Shannon-JFK.

I think some readers will understand when I say that when you have a small number of airplanes, each one becomes very personal.  You work on them, you fly them, you remember all their little idiosyncrasies and incidents.  They all have their own personalities.  For whatever reason, I always liked 322 better than 321.  She had more "warmth" or something.

So, it was with terrible sadness that I learned that 322, not long afterwards, while with VARIG, was involved in a horrific accident.  On 11 Jul 1973, she was flying RIO-Paris/Orly when a cabin in-flight fire occurred while approaching Orly.
 The origin was believed an aft lav, for unknown reasons.




The smoke was so bad, the crew were unable to continue and so landed in an open area only 5 km short of the runway.  They did a great job and the airplane survived the landing very well, but smoke had incapacitated most of the occupants (similar to Saudia L-1011.)  There were only 11 survivors (10 crew); 123 people died.

  

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19730711-0&lang=en

Synopsis

Varig Flight 820 departed Rio de Janeiro (GIG) at 03:03 for a flight to Paris-Orly (ORY). The en route part of the flight was uneventful. At 13:57 the aircraft had descended to FL80 and contacted Orly approach, who told the crew to maintain FL80 and head to the OLS VOR which would take the aircraft to the downwind leg of runway 26. At 13:58:20 the flight crew contacted Orly approach and reported a "problem with fire on board". An emergency descent was requested. At 13:59 clearance was given to descend to 3000 feet for a runway 07 landing, making a straight-in approach possible. While the situation on board was getting worse (smoke entering the cockpit and passengers becoming asphyxiated), a clearance to descend to 2000 feet was given at 14:01:10. The flight crew put on oxygen masks as smoke was making it impossible to read the instruments. At 14:03 the pilot decided to make an emergency landing 5 km short of the runway with gear down and flaps at 80deg. The Boeing approached with considerable nose-up attitude, in a slight left bank. The aircraft truncated some small trees and made a heavy landing on a field. Both main gears collapsed and the engines were torn off in the subsequent skid. The fuselage however, remained intact. Ten occupants (all crewmembers) evacuated the aircraft. By the time the firemen arrived (6-7 minutes later) the fire had burned through the roof and there was no sign of life. Of the four unconscious occupants the firemen could evacuate, only one survived.


PROBABLE CAUSE:

 "A fire which appears to have started in the washbasin unit of the aft right toilet. It was detected because smoke had entered the adjacent left toilet. The fire may have been started by an electrical fault or by the carelessness of a passenger. The difficulty in locating the fire made the actions of cabin personnel ineffective. The flight crew did not have the facilities to intervene usefully from the cockpit against the spread of the fire and the invasion of smoke.

The lack of visibility in the cockpit prompted the crew to decided on a forced landing. At the time of touch-down the fire was confined to the area of the aft toilets. The occupants of the passenger cabin were poisoned, to varying degrees by carbon monoxide and other combustion products."




19842 L/N 712 - F/F 15 May 1968
When this airplane became tendered for delivery, SWA no longer needed the lift.  The airplane was placed in storage until a formal contract was consummated with VARIG for all three airplanes in August 1968.  It was then delivered directly to VARIG on 6 Aug 1968 as PP-VJX.



PP-VJX was hijacked from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Cuba 4 Nov 1969 with 101 aboard.   Sold to Brazilian Air Force as FAB2402 on 12 Nov 1986, and converted to a KC-137 Tanker.  It has since been scrapped.



I spent 8 months working with those two airplanes (321 and 322), and their service experience was excellent.  They were very reliable airplanes, and meshed - (ground-handling wise) with the ground equipment for their DC-8 freighters seamlessly. I'd like to think SWA's very favorable experience with the 707 led them to eventually sign on for 747s.


707 at London Heathrow


707 at Frankfurt


Here's an interesting one!  Also at Frankfurt, a Seaboard C-46 - 1968 - and still in service!



DC-8-63 Incident

One interesting thing that happened during my tenure at Seaboard, was the Delivery (finally) of the first Douglas DC-8-63F to Seaboard (21 Jun 1968.)  I was there watching its arrival at SWA's main base at JFK - and it's subsequent departure on its first Revenue trip (in pax configuration.)


DC-8-63 arriving at JFK from Douglas Long Beach

It flew to McChord AFB near Tacoma, Washington, picked up 214 soldiers from nearby Fort Lewis, and departed for Viet Nam with a stop in Japan.  However, approaching Japan, it was intercepted by Russian MIG fighters and forced to land at a small fighter base in the Kurile Islands.

  MIG fighter alongside the DC-8

After several days of diplomatic negotiations, the Russians released the plane and it continued on to its Japan servicing stop.


Seaboard's excellent website (Click Here) is the product of Capt. Ken Kahn.  David Hill, another Seaboard Capt, and I are good friends; we first met at The Airliners convention in Phoenix in 2000, where I was the Keynote Speaker.  He even drove his RV out here from Memphis and parked in my driveway for a few days while we visited.   He has taken the SWA history lovingly under his wing and produced a lot of material, including an excellent VHS video.  Seaboard's alumni are a dwindling number, and David is very concerned that their history - as recorded on their website, --  not be lost when they are gone.

Seaboard was a great airline, with great people and a great record.  Their size and type of operation do not lend themselves to  being a source of great interest by a lot of airline fans.  It's a shame.  I was lucky enough to be their Service Rep as they operated their first Boeing airplanes.  History like theirs has an important place in the history of commercial aviation and should not be lost to the ages.  
They were my first assignment as a Boeing Field Rep and were an important part of my life when I was young.  Even before I went to college or went to work for Boeing.  Sadly, Seaboard ceased to exist as an independent company in 1980.  Over the years, I was assigned to and worked with dozens of airlines.  From Seaboard to Pan Am, Piedmont to Aloha, Eastern, Western, Northwest.  Canadian Pacific, Braathens, Wien Air Alaska.  It's a long, long List.  Sadly, very sadly, almost every one of them has disappeared.  But my memories remain. They were Good Times.

Bob Bogash

A fine reference book:




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Revised 2 May 2024

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