002 – How it all began

By the time I was 6 yeas old, I was already hooked on airplanes, specifically airliners. Oh, those were wonderful days. Back in the 1960s, you could walk through the airport and collect a treasure trove of good stuff from the airline ticket counters. Timetables, postcards, stickers…you name it. Even better, you could write to the airlines and they would send you ALL SORTS of collectibles. My favorites were the pictures of airplanes that they would send. Postcards, 8 x 10 black & white glossy photos (sometimes, even color photos!), and even posters.  Even the airplane manufacturers were generous in their giveaways. I was happier than a pig in mud.

What a terrific time to be an aviation enthusiast! Every year, I would send out a new batch of letters to the airlines. Sometimes I would get new pictures, but more often, I would get the same pictures I did the year before. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. In 1969, I bought my first camera, a Praktica single-lens reflex capable of handling interchangeable lenses. I bought a 135mm telephoto lens and set out for the new closest airports from my home at the time on Long Island. My weekends became consumed by heading out to La Guardia and Kennedy Airports, camera in hand. I’d found my passion! In retrospect, what I wouldn’t give to go back in time 50 years with today’s photo equipment…and a little better skill in airplane photography!

The following 12 years brought some fascinating travel opportunities, each better than the previous one. Those years will be covered in future articles on this blog. In 1981, I got my big break. I became the regional airline correspondent for Professional Pilot magazine. I also grew a set of big brass ones, and walked into the offices of Aviation Week with some air-to-air photos. I walked out with a cover photo. That was sort of like hitting a grand slam at my first major league at-bat. My early accomplishments gave me the credibility I needed to approach regional airlines and offer to take air-to-air photos to use in the “Commuter Corner”.  I’d hit avgeek nirvana! Over the next several years, I was blessed to have the opportunity to take a pretty good collection of air-to-air photos of some awfully neat airliners. Here are a few of them.

This is probably my most iconic photo shoot early in my career. Ransome Airlines had left the Allegheny Commuter System and just received its first brand new De Havilland Canada DHC-7 in house colors. The company organized a local photo flight for the Press and on a beautiful Saturday morning, we took off in a company Nord 262 and made a couple of passes around the Philadelphia area. Before heading back to Philadelphia International Airport, the Director of Marketing asked, “Would anyone like anything else?” I piped up, “How about a shot in front of the Empire State Building?” The rest, as they say, is history.  That photo flight was so successful that eventually, Ransome used my photos in a number of applications, including posters, safety cards, and even ticket jackets! (How many ticket jackets have you seen with photo credit? Or, as they say in 2018, “What’s a ticket jacket?”)

PROBABLY MY MOST ICONIC PHOTO SHOOT. RANSOME AIRLINES HAD DEPARTED FROM THE ALLEGHENY COMMUTER SYSTEM AND JUST RECEIVED A BRAND NEW  DASH 7 IN ITS OWN COLOR SCHEME. THE COMPANY ORGANIZED A PRESS PHOTO FLIGHT (WE WERE IN A NORD 262) AND WE MADE A COUPLE OF PASSES AROUND THE PHILADELPHIA AREA. AFTER THAT, THE DIRECTOR OF MARKETING ASKED IF ANYONE WANTED ANYTHING ELSE. I PIPED UP,  "HOW ABOUT A SHOT IN FRONT OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING?" LIFE WAS SOOOOO0O SIMPLE 35 YEARS AGO...

__________

Henson Airlines was the first commuter airline in the United States to forge a code-sharing agreement with a larger airline. In 1967, president Richard Henson inked a deal to provide replacement service for Allegheny Airlines between Hagerstown MD and Washington National Airport.  In 1983, Henson flew the coop. Piedmont Airlines was looking to establish a hub at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and purchased Henson Airlines to provide regional feed to the up-and-coming airline. By January 1984, N900HA, Henson’s first DHC-7, was painted in Piedmont Regional colors. I was invited to Salisbury for a very special photo shoot. Mr. Henson was in the left seat of the Dash.

Not only was Henson Airlines the first commuter to forge a partnership with an airline, it was later the first regional airline to partner with Piedmont Airlines. By January 1984, N900HA, Henson's first DHC-7, was painted in Piedmont Regional colors. I was invited to Salisbury for a very special photo shoot. Mr. Henson was in the left seat of the Dash.

__________

Of all the aviation personalities I have met in my career as an aviation photojournalist, Richard Henson was probably my all-time favorite.  To me, he epitomized the pioneer airline CEO of an era that, sadly, is long gone. When I was in Salisbury MD photographing the Henson fleet in their new Piedmont Regional Airlines colors, he took a few minutes to take up his Beech King Air 90 to pose for some photos. He was delighted with the photos I gave him, but he also confided that the King Air’s days were numbered. It took nearly four years, but in 1987, he traded in his King Air for a Cessna Citation II (SP). I was delighted to return to Salisbury to take some photos of Mr. Henson flying his new chariot.

Of all the aviation personalities I have met in my career as an aviation photojournalist, Richard Henson was probably my all-time favorite.  Here is his personal chariot shortly after he bought it to replace his King Air.

__________

In October 1985, Aerospatiale brought its first ATR-42 demonstrator to the United States to show it off to Ransome Airlines, which was looking for a replacement aircraft for its Dash 7. Ransome eventually bought a modest fleet of ATRs but by that time, Ransome was operating as a Pan Am Express and the ATR-42 appeared in the iconic Pan Am color scheme. I covered this event for Commuter Air magazine, and this was my first cover photo with that publication.

AEROSPATIALE  BROUGHT ITS ATR-42 DEMONSTRATOR TO THE UNITED STATES IN OCTOBER 1985. FIRST POTENTIAL (AND EVENTUAL) CUSTOMER WAS RANSOME AIRLINES, WHICH WAS LOOKING FOR A REPLACEMENT FOR ITS DHC-7.  I WAS WRITING FOR COMMUTER AIR MAGAZINE AT THE TIME, WHICH MERITED A PHOTO FLIGHT...AND MY FIRST COVER PHOTO WITH THAT MAGAZINE

__________

By 1980, it was clear that the commuter airline industry in the United States had reached puberty. Until then, the mainstays of the industry had been the Beech 99 and De Havilland Canada Twin Otter, both unpressurized. Swearingen was having some success with its pressurized Metro, essentially a stretched version of its Merlin corporate aircraft.  However, early versions of the Metro were often severely weight-restricted. In 1980, British Aerospace entered the 19-seat fray with its Jetstream 3100, an upgraded version of the original Handley Page HP.137 Jetstream.  The “new” commuter airliner boasted significant performance improvements over the original Jetstream, primarily due to replacing the original Turbomeca Astazou engines with the lighter and more powerful Garrett TPE-331 turboprops.  The second production Jetstream 3100, N155AA, was leased to Atlantis Airlines, based in Florence SC.

ATLANTIS AIRLINES WAS THE FIRST US OPERATOR OF THE BAE-3100, A VASTLY UPGRADED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL HP.137 JETSTREAM.  N155AA, THE SECOND PRODUCTION JETSTREAM 31, WAS LEASED TO ATLANTIS AIRLINES OF FLORENCE, SC.  THE JETSTREAM 31 WENT ON TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL 19-SEAT PRESSURIZED COMMUTER AIRCRAFT.

__________

The other new entrant in the pressurized 19-seat market was the Beech 1900C, which was developed as a stretched King Air. Although it was introduced to the market a full two years behind the Jetstream 31, the Beech 1900 outsold the British rival, nearly 2 to 1, Brockway Air, based in Burlington VT, first acquired its Beech 1900s through its absorption of rival Clinton Aero. In 1986, Brockway joined the Piedmont Commuter system.

BROCKWAY AIR OPERATED FOKKER F-27S AND BEECH 99S UNDER THE PIEDMONT COMMUTER BANNER.

__________

Brockway Air also acquired a trio of late-model Fokker F-27s when it bought Air North. Shortly after the fleet was painted in Piedmont Commuter colors, I decided that the airline was ripe for coverage by Commuter Air magazine.  While I was at company headquarters in Burlington VT, we arranged for an air to air photo shoot with N421SA. This has turned out to be one of my very favorite photos. The thin layer of clouds above us diffused the light just enough that the photo looks more like a painting. N421SA, by the way, was originally sold to West Coast carrier Swift Air, and later sold to Air North.

THIS IS PROBABLY MY FAVORITE VINTAGE AIR2AIR PHOTO. THE VERY LIGHT CLOUD LAYER ABOVE US DIFFUSED THE LIGHT SO THAT THIS LOOKS MORE LIKE A PAINTING THAN A PHOTO. N421SA WAS ORIGINALLY DELIVERED TO SWIFT AIR ON THE WEST COAST, AND WAS LATER SOLD TO AIR NORTH. WHEN IT WAS PAINTED IN PIEDMONT COMMUTER COLORS, THAT WAS MY CUE TO WRITE AN ARTICLE...AND, OH YEAH, TAKE A FEW PHOTOS AS WELL.

__________

Trans Central Airlines was an improbable airline operating an improbable aircraft type with an improbable hub – Tulsa, OK. Nevertheless, the company’s YS-11 made a colorful subject flying over Tulsa in July 1983

Trans Central Airlines was an improbable airline operating an improbable aircraft type with an improbable hub - Tulsa, OK.  Nevertheless, the company's YS-11 made a colorful subject flying over Tulsa in July 1983

__________

Back in the late 80s and very early 90s, Mesa Airlines operated a growing fleet of Beech 1900s. N91YV is shown in the carrier’s original color scheme with Shiprock in the background. Back in those days, Mesa was just one more small airline trying to keep its head above water!

Back in the late 80s and very early 90s, Mesa Airlines operated a growing fleet of Beech 1900s. N91YV is shown in  the carrier's original color scheme with Shiprock in the background.

__________

Colgan Airlines grew into a small regional airline from its beginnings as a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) at Manassas VA. Owner Charles Colgan was also a Virginia state senator. The airline began operations as an independent carrier.

HERE IS ANOTHER VIEW OF N1900J IMMEDIATELY AFTER DELIVERY, AND JUST PRIOR TO REPAINTING

__________

N1900J, was airframe UA-3, the last pre-production Beech 1900. It was leased to Colgan Airlines shortly before the carrier struck an agreement with New York Air.Shortly after N1900J was leased to Colgan, the carrier became a New York Air Connection operator, and its fleet was painted in the distinctive red of colors of the larger airline. I photographed N1900J high above the rolling Northern Virginia countryside.

N1900J, MSN UA-3, WAS THE LAST PRE-PRODUCTION BEECH 1900.  THIS AIRFRAME WAS LEASED TO COLGAN AIRWAYS, WHICH WAS THEN OPERATING AS NEW YORK AIR CONNECTION. I PHOTOGRAPHED THIS HIGH ABOVE THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA LANDSCAPE SHORTLY AFTER IT WAS PAINTED UP IN THE FULL NEW YORK AIR CONNECTION LIVERY.

__________

As a New York Air Express carrier, Colgan flew what was probably the most easily identifiable Shorts 330 in the country. Over the years, I have photographed N331SB in several different color schemes, but this one was certainly the most eye-catching.

COLGAN AIRWAYS OPERATING AS NEW YORK AIR CONNECTION FLEW ONE OF THE MOST EASILY IDENTIFIABLE SHORTS 330S IN THE COUNTRY! OVER THE YEARS, I PHOTOGRAPHED N331SB IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT COLOR SCHEMES, BUT THIS WAS CERTAINLY THE MOST EYE-CATCHING!

 

__________

There was something about the Piedmont color scheme that helped ANY plane look good…even the Shorts 330! N332SB was originally delivered to Sunbird Airlines, which later changed its name to CCAir when it became a Piedmont Commuter carrier. While Henson Airlines was wholly-owned by Piedmont, CCAir remained independently owned.

CCAIR WAS ONE OF THE FIRST MEMBERS OF THE PIEDMONT COMMUTER SYSTEM. I PHOTOGRAPHED N332SB OVER CHARLOTTE IN SEPTEMBER 1985. THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THE PIEDMONT COLOR SCHEME THAT MADE EVEN THE SHORTS 330 LOOK PRETTY GOOD!

__________

Back when Piedmont Airlines was still Piedmont Airlines, the company owned and flew a vintage DC-3, N44V. During the height of airshow season, the Grand Old Lady appeared almost weekly at shows up and down the East Coast. Today, of course, N44V resides, non-flying, in the Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. I was able to manage this air-to-air shoot in the summer of 1987.

This was my one and only air-to-air photo of the Piedmont DC-3, back in 1987 when Piedmont was still Piedmont.

__________

Air Vermont, based in Burlington VT, was one of the early operators of the Beech C-99, which boasted a higher gross weight than the earlier “B” models.The C-99 was easily distinguishable by the deep cargo bin suspended from the belly.  I photographed N97AV hugging the shoreline of Lake Champlain in August, 1983.

Air Vermont was one of the early operators of the Beech C-99. I photographed N97AV hugging the coast of Lake Champlain in August 1983

__________

Gull Air operated a fleet of handsome Cessna 402s. Typically, the bulk of its fleet spent the summers in New England and winters in Florida. I captured N402GA over Hyannis, MA.

Gull Air operated a fleet of handsome Cessna 402s. Typically, the bulk of its fleet spent the summers in New England and winters in Florida. I captured this Cessna over Hyannis

__________

Scenic Airlines led the way in converting the venerable Twin Otter into an aircraft more suitable for sightseeing. The DHC-6 was refitted with larger windows and a four-bladed prop which reduces noise inside and outside the cabin. These Vistaliner conversions are in use around the world today.

Scenic Airlines led the way in converting the venerable Twin Otter into an aircraft more suitable for sightseeing. The DHC-6 was refitted with larger windows and a four-bladed prop which reduces noise inside and outside the cabin. These Vistaliner conversions are in use around the world today

__________

Exec Express Airlines operated a small fleet of DO-228s and Piper T-1040s. I photographed this DO-228 in Oklahoma.

Exec Express was one of a number of small regional airlines that tried (and failed) to make a profit by connecting the smaller communities of the midwest. The carrier operated a modest fleet of Dornier DO-228s (above) and Piper T-1040s (below)

N4118G was one of a handful of Navajo Chieftains operated by Exec Express in the mid-90s

__________

That’s right, it’s a New York Air Bandeirante. Not THE New York Air, but a division of Starflight Airlines with the same name. I captured N4268R flying along the south shore of Long Island.

That's right, it's a New York Air Bandeirante. Not THE New York Air, but a division of Starflight Airlines with the same name. I captured N4268R flying along the south shore of Long Island.

__________

As Brockway Air continued to operate as a Piedmont Commuter carrier, the company determined that its Fokker F-27s were too expensive to operate, and chose to replace them with the smaller but considerably more efficient SAAB 340, including N741BA.

As Brockway Air continued to operate as a Piedmont Commuter carrier, the company determined that its Fokker F-27s were too expensive to operate, and chose to replace them with the smaller but considerably more efficient SAAB 340.

__________

After the merger with Piedmont, USAir began dismantling the highly-successful Florida Shuttle and replaced the jets with Henson Airlines Dash 8s on heavier routes, and Embraer Brasilias on thinner routes. Florida Gulf Airlines was formed under the Mesa Airlines certificate to operate as a USAir Express carrier focused on Florida and the Southeast.

After the merger with Piedmont, USAir began dismantling the highly-successful Florida Shuttle and replaced the jets with Henson Airlines Dash 8s on heavier routes, and Embraer Brasilias on thinner routes.  Florida Gulf Airlines was formed under the Mesa Airlines certificate to operate as a USAir Express carrier focused on Florida and the Southeast.

__________

As the commuter airline industry began to mature, regulations were changed to permit operation of aircraft weighing more than the previous limit of 12,500 lbs. As aircraft manufacturers scrambled to design and build larger regional aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace saw the potential to extend the useful life of its venerable robust Gulfstream 1. developing the Gulfsteam I-C. By extending the fuselage by 10’8″, seating capacity was increased to 37 passengers. Sadly, baggage capacity was not similarly increased, and Gulfstream abandoned the program after converting five aircraft.

As the commuter airline industry began to mature, regulations were changed to permit operation of aircraft weighing more than the previous limit of 12,500 lbs. As aircraft manufacturers scrambled to design and build larger regional aircraft, Gulfstream Aerospace saw the potential to extend the useful life of its venerable robust Gulfstream 1. By extending the fuselage by 10'8", seating capacity was increased to 37 passengers. Sadly, baggage capacity was not similarly increased, and Gulfstream abandoned the program after converting five aircraft.

__________

The Swearingen Metro was essentially a stretched Merlin corporate transport. For many years, it was the only pressurized aircraft built for the commuter airline market. Earlier models were limited by regulations to 12,500 lbs fully loaded. As a result, the early Metros were severely weight-restricted. In 1980, weight restrictions were raised to 14,000 lbs, and Swearingen immediately began work on the Metro III. Midstate was an early operator of the Metro III

The Swearingen Metro was essentially a stretched Merlin corporate transport. For many years, it was the only pressurized aircraft built for the commuter airline market. Earlier models were limited by regulations to 12,500 lbs fully loaded. As a result, the early Metros were severely weight-restricted. In 1980, weight restrictions were raised to 14,000 lbs, and Swearingen immediately began work on the Metro III. Midstate was an early operator of the Metro III

__________

Resplendent over the Rockies. Pioneer Airlines was an early operator of the Metro III, and this represented one of my more challenging photo shoots. I was in a Beech 99 with the emergency exit door removed, and we were flying at an altitude of some 12,000 feet. I didn’t realize I was hyperventilating until my backup slapped an oxygen mask over my face! The effort was worth it, however.

Replendant over the Rockies. Pioneer Airlines was an early operator of the Metro III, and this represented one of my more challenging photo shoots. I was in a Beech 99 with the emergency exit door removed, and we were flying at an altitude of some 12,000 feet. I didn't realize I was hyperventilating until my backup slapped an oxygen mask over my face! The effort was worth it, however.

__________

Cincinnati-based Comair was an early (and short-lived) operator of the Shorts 330. The airline holds a special place in my heart, as it was the subject of my first full-length aticle published in Professional Pilot magazine.

COMAIR WAS ONE OF THE EARLY OPERATORS OF THE SHORTS 330.  THE COMPANY ALWAYS HELD A WARM SPOT IN MY HEART BECAUSE IT WAS THE SUBJECT OF MY VERY FIRST PUBLISHED MAGAZINE ARTICLE

__________

N690PC was the first Shorts 360 delivered to CCAir.  The 360 was a somewhat larger, somewhat less ugly development of the 330. It is incredible to see how drastically the Charlotte skyline has changed in some 30 years.

N690PC WAS CCAIR'S FIRST SHORTS 360, OPERATING AS PIEDMONT COMMUTER. I PHOTOGRAPHED THIS OVER THE SKYLINE OF CHARLOTTE AS IT LOOKED IN 1987.

5 thoughts on “002 – How it all began

  1. Jens Polster

    Fantastic story. In many things I find myself. Also for me all started with collecting postcards, posters and stickers in you g years. Now I look back on 40 years of aviation photography. I’m still infected by aviation and love it. Again thanks for your great story. Look firward to some trip reports. Have a good weekend Jens Polster / Germany

    Like

  2. Very interesting Jay. As you say it’s a pity we didn’t have today’s equipment and money in the early days. Also didn’t appreciate how it would all change. Best wishes KB

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s