Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Best Flight Ever!

In the early 1990s our airline was operating from the St. Louis Lambert airport as an express carrier for Trans World Airlines. 
Trans World Express, or TWE as we called it, was operating turboprop aircraft exclusively.  I was working as a captain on the British Aerospace Jetstream, a 19 passenger twin-engine aircraft.  The BAe-3201 was built in Scotland and as originally designed was a sleek, neat looking airplane.  I suspect that it was originally intended to operate as a corporate executive transport, but when the turboprop commuter airline express carrier craze started BA took their existing design and adapted it for airline use.  The most evident feature of that adaptation was a “belly pod” attached to the underside of the central fuselage which provided space for the carry-on baggage.  That pod also gave the airplane a pregnant look.  The checked luggage was placed into an aft baggage compartment, which had the unique feature of only being accessed through the main cabin door.  The main cabin door also was located at the rear of the cabin.  The security rules require that luggage checked at the counter, which has not been scanned at the security checkpoint of the departure airport, must be isolated from the passengers.  To accomplish this, the aft baggage compartment door was locked with a key.  Another note, with only 19 passenger seats, a flight-attendant was not required by FAA regulations, so we had none.  It was just two pilots and the passengers to experience the ride.

One night, after a long day of flying, we were boarding our last flight of the day.  We routinely flew seven or eight flights each day, so needless to say, we were feeling tired and eager to get this last one done and get to the hotel.  This flight was a late evening departure leaving St. Louis Lambert for the Topeka, Kansas Forbes airport.  That flight normally took us around an hour and a half to complete.  The passenger boarding went smoothly as there were only two passengers.  They were two women who looked to me to be in their mid-sixties and had all the looks of vacationers returning from Mexico.  They were wearing sombreros and other garments full of color and style typical of Mexico.  They were in good spirits and by all indications, had a great vacation.  I welcomed them onboard and we started up and headed for the runway.  As I was taxiing I noticed a strange bumping sound which seemed to happen only as I was turning a corner, but not every time.  After giving it some thought and reviewing the instrument panel I disregarded it and we took-off for Topeka.

It was a beautiful night and the flight was smooth as glass.  One of my favorite features of the BAe-3201 was the fact that it did not have an auto-pilot.  Whether the captain or the first-officer was flying, he had to fly by the controls, or in another word, drive.  I do not recall if I flew the leg or my co-pilot did, but I do recall a nice, uneventful flight.

Upon landing at Topeka I noticed that weird bumping sound again.  I taxied to the gate and shut down the engines.  When I opened the curtain which separated the cockpit from the cabin I immediately saw the source of the bumping.  The loading agent in St. Louis inadvertently failed to lock that aft baggage door and it was wide open.  The bumping was caused by that door swinging open and closed as I

turned corners.  I then noticed that those ladies saw that open door and through the opening recognized their checked bags, for one of those bags was half opened and they had a bottle of rum with them which was now down about one-third.  One of them cheerfully raised the bottle and proclaimed that to be, “the best flight ever!”

Captain William (Billy) Howe
Trans World Express circa: 1994
April 27, 2013

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