It was seventy years ago, yes, way back in 1945, when C.S. Robinson founded Robinson Airlines. Over the next 27 years, Robinson Airlines and the airline it later evolved into, Mohawk, flew the skies over the northeastern United States. Then, in April of 1972, forty-three years ago this month, Mohawk Airlines was absorbed by Allegheny Airlines and Mohawk, the airline of the Air Chiefs, became just another chapter in the thick book of aviation history.
In this article, I’m not going to review the history of Mohawk Airlines. There are already several sites on the web where the intimate details of the life of the airline that proclaimed itself “The Route Of The Air Chiefs” can be found. Instead, my article is simply going to take you, the reader, back in time to the 1960s, a time when the sound of propeller engines was the predominate sound in the sky. To help take you back to that era, I will use photos of Mohawk Airlines aircraft and memorabilia. But as you read, please feel free to substitute, in your mind, the airline of your choice. There are so many for you to choose from. North Central Airlines, Southern Airways, Northeast Airlines, Capital Airlines, Trans Texas Airways, Central Airlines, Allegheny Airlines, Pacific Air Lines, Bonanza Airlines, Lake Central Airlines, Hughes Airwest, the list goes on and on and on.
So read on … go back in time … and as you do, let your mind hear the echoes of propellers … and the echoes of an era gone by …
You’ve checked in for your flight at the airline ticket counter in the main terminal building. The process has taken about five minutes. You’ve received your “Boarding Pass” and now, surrounded by family members who have come along with you to the airport to see you off, you are walking towards the gate. Everyone is free to walk with you all the way to the gate … and … they are free to wait with you until your flight boards. As you walk through the terminal, you pause a moment to point out the door thru which your family members can go to watch and wave after you have boarded your plane. The door leads to an observation deck. Access to the deck is free. There are numerous observations decks around the terminal area. The airlines welcome observers; their thinking is, “Today’s observers will hopefully be tomorrow’s passengers.”
Moving on, you come up to your gate. Out the window, you and your family get the first glimpse of your aircraft.
It is a Fairchild Hiller FH-227. Although you have flown before, this will be your first flight on a jet-prop powered aircraft. You are excited to be on one of these newer planes. Air travel is changing, becoming more modern. And change is always a “good thing.”
There is a light drizzle falling, so you know you will get slightly wet as you walk out to the plane. You have heard that some of the large airports now have something called a “jet bridge” which makes it possible for passengers to board a flight without ever going outside. Geesh. What will they think of next? Unfortunately for you; however, your airport does not yet have such an amazing convenience installed at its gates. So you are going to get a bit wet.
As you wait for the gate attendant to announce that your flight is “ready for passenger boarding,” you look around. Your fellow passengers and their family and friends are seated around the gate area. The men are dressed in shirts with ties (some are wearing business suits), the ladies are all wearing skirts or dresses, and the children are dressed neatly; in fact, their clothing would be appropriate if they were in a stylish restaurant or in church services. The clothes your fellow passengers are wearing does not surprise you; after all, taking a flight is a special occasion that certainly requires a person to be well dressed.
The gate agent announces that your flight is now ready for boarding. A quick hug to your spouse and your children and you walk out on to the tarmac and over to the stairway leading up to your plane. At the top of the stairs, a stewardess waits to welcome you on board.
Inside, and now out of the rain, you go down the aisle in the center of the passenger cabin to your assigned seat. You are stunned at how “roomy” the cabin is. So many people. Surely this is about as large as an airliner can ever get.
Back in the terminal, your family has now gone out on to the observation deck. From there, they can watch as your aircraft taxies away from the gate. You can see them standing there. You can also see the prop blades becoming a blur as they spin faster. The sound of the propellers reverberates loudly throughout the passenger cabin. You think to yourself that someday you will take a flight on one of those new passenger jets that the bigger airlines are now flying, the 707 and the DC-8. You’ve heard that not only are the flying times faster, but the noise in the cabin is much, much quieter. As your aircraft begins moving, you look out the window again. You can see your family waving and you wave back.
As your plane moves along a taxiway, one of the young stewardesses is making a safety announcement. She explains how to fasten your seatbelt. She instructs you to look in the pocket of the seat in front of you where you will find an Emergency Exit card.
You locate the card and examine it briefly. Then you rummage through the seat pocket to see what else it contains.
And then you make a surprising “find.”
You have heard about Mohawk’s “Gas Light Service” flight. One look at the stewardess standing in the aisle of your aircraft reassures you that you are not on the “Gas Light Flight”; your stewardess is not wearing the special uniform that stewardesses on the Gas Light flight (purportedly) wear. Someone must have left this souvenir card behind. Hmmm. Maybe whoever left this card in the sea tpocket in front of you had been distracted by other thoughts. Hmmm.
Anyway, your aircraft has now reached the end of the taxiway. You’ve flown on Mohawk Airlines before, so you know that now comes an especially noisy few moments: the engine runup. On your previous flights, when you were on Mohawk’s Convair 240 “Cosmopolitan” and then again on another flight when you were on a Convair 440 “Metropolitan,” the pilots had held just short of the runway. The pilots of those planes had then run up each engine separately, powering them up to max throttle for a few moments. You remember how the entire aircraft had vibrated as a tremendous roar drowned out every other sound … and you knew that the thundering roar you had heard was the sound of raw power. Then, on those previous flights, your aircraft had taxied on to the runway and taken off. For this flight today, you expect the same thing. So you are rather surprised when this aircraft continues taxiing right out on to the runway and begins accelerating down it. No engine runup. And you suddenly realize that you actually miss those few moments. True, these new prop jet engines still give a thrill as they wind up to full power, but somehow it just isn’t quite the same. This new Fairchild 227 is very nice, but.
As your flight climbs up, you look out the window on your left. The view is superb; the high-mounted wings are above you so the view is unobstructed. But again you discover that there is something different; something that was there on your previous flights on Mohawk that isn’t there now. As you gaze out the window, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but there is something missing from the scenes you saw on previous flights, something that used to be there on all of your previous flights on Mohawk. And even though you can’t identify what it is that isn’t there now, you know you miss seeing it. Just like you miss hearing that thunderous rumble of the engines and just like you miss feeling the aircraft jouncing and bouncing as it strains against the brakes during that runup, you miss something now, too.
But whatever it is, the fact remains: air travel is changing, becoming more modern. And change is always a “good thing.”
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If you are a reader whose past experiences make you able to “relate” to the experience of the fictitious air traveler in this story, I hope the description and the photos have given you a few minutes of pleasant memories … of days when airports had free observation decks by almost every hallway in the terminal; of days when everyone could walk to and wait at a gate; of days when you couldn’t board an airliner unless you went outside in whatever weather was occurring to do it; of days when an airline passenger dressed presentably to take a flight; of days when the word “stewardess” meant young, single, and female; of days when a meal served on a flight was a real meal instead of a bag of peanuts; of days when the engine runup was a thrilling prelude to the takeoff; etc. And if you are a reader who is too young to recall such things, I feel badly for you … because you have missed an era you would really have enjoyed. Air travel is changing, becoming more modern. But change is not always a “good thing.”
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A few important comments …
1) The “Gas Light Souvenir” card shown in this short tale would not really have been found in a seat pocket of a Mohawk FH-227. The “Gas Light” flight service had ended long before Mohawk added FH-227 aircraft to its fleet. I just wanted to present the card. I never had the good fortune to fly on a “Gas Light” flight either. I wish I had.
2) The picture of the FH-227 Emergency Exit card is a picture I took of a real card that I have in my possession. It is a very rare card; in fact, I was unable to find a photo of that card anywhere on the web so it is very possible that Planeviz is the only site where a picture of a Mohawk FH-227 Emergency Exit placard can be viewed (*see added note below). What makes the card very rare is the small print in the lower left hand corner of the card — MOH #1625C0001 REV 6/66. There are plenty of FH 227 Emergency Exit cards floating around, but there aren’t very many with that little sequence of letters and numbers still in existence. I’ve got that card, and I’ve got another one, too.
Both cards are in mint condition. The card above would have been found in the seat pocket of a Mohawk …
3) I have the entire copy of the Nov-Dec 1967 Mohawk Airlines Air Chief newsletter. I only took a photo of the title banner for use in my tale.
4) The “jet props” referred to in the story are also known as “turbo props.” They were Rolls Royce engines. Unlike the piston engines on aircraft such as the Convair series, turbo props did not need a warmup / runup prior to takeoff.
* Please come back to Planeviz soon and join me. One of my upcoming articles will be titled The Birth Of An Aircraft Spotter. It will be the true story of a six-year old boy who doesn’t know today that the wish he made three weeks ago is going to come true three weeks from now. :-)
* (Added note: Today, May 1, 2015, I found a website in Germany that displays this revision and also another revision of a Mohawk FH-227 Emergency Exit card. That single website is, thus far, the only other place where I’ve found MOH #1625C0001 REV 6/66).