I was enjoying a cuppa in the baggage loaders rest room, catching my breath after working a busy departure in the gate room upstairs. I was working as a Passenger Security Agent for American AIrlines – my first airline job.
Security would’nt have been my first choice of job – I was already a qualified pilot, and had passed all of my Flight Operations and Despatch exams, but nobody gets hired into a blue chip airline in Flight Ops. The only way in is either as a Check In Agent, a Baggage Loader, or a Security Agent.
I chose Security Agent.
The decision was a simple one. After PanAm 103 was brought down at Lockerbie just two and a half years previously, security was uppermost in everyone’s mind. American Airlines were using the profiling system at the time, similar to that used by El-Al.
I learnt behavioural psychology, how to question, how to conduct a proper body search (NOT how Hollywood imagines that it is done) and how to use a security X-Ray machine.
I just thought at the time, that this would be more interesting than seeing a procession of faces, all demanding an upgrade, or doing my back in hefting overloaded bags.
Working in Ops is considered a plum job, as it is remote from the passengers, is conducted in the dry, and is intellectually demanding.
I found an empty space at one of the grubby tables, and sat down to enjoy my brew.
I saw a dark blue silhouette lurch to a stop outside the building, blanking the sunlight streaming through the window, plunging the restroom into a gloom that matched it’s decor.
The door slammed open, and a bearded bloke in his forties appeared. Walking over, he dropped an overstuffed clipboard onto the table, saying “Mind if I join you”
“Help Yourself” I replied, watching as he swiftly made a coffee at the small sink.
Returning to the table, he proffered his hand, saying “I’m Bev, I’m doing the Royal Mail”
I must have looked a bit blank, because he laughed, and said “Mail Sacks – You know, letters for air mail”
I shook his hand, telling him I was in security.
We spent about half an hour exchaning our histories, and it came up in the conversation that we both flew. He had a share in a De Havilland Chipmunk down at Shoreham, and I flew Piper Warriors and Cessnas at Popham.
We went our spearate ways, and it wasn’t until another three years had passed that I ran into Pookie again.
I was the new boy in Flight Operations. Having returned from eighteen months working as Special Services Manager at Stansted, I had finally obtained a position in Ops.
There, sitting at the main control desk was Bev, quietly and efficiently running the entire ground operation at London Heathrow for the 14 daily flights.
I worked with Bev closely for the next three years, and came to love his gentle humour and his ability to produce fantastic caricatures of his colleagues.
Once we had got to know each other, we flew together on many occassions, and in any number of different aircraft. I have shared the sky with him in the delightful Chipmunk, pulling gentle loops, rolls and stall turns over the timeless, grassy south downs.
We pottered up and down the south coast of England enjoying summer in a PZL Wilga (A delightful Polish cross between a combine harvester and an aircraft).
We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first powered flight in a Piper Warrior, and did a low pass at the small grass strip in Sussex appropriately named Kittyhawk.
We have fooled about in the Citabria, and been school kids in the Stolp Starduster Too. And what can be better than flying in a Bücker Jungmann with a friend, whilst another friend formates on you in a Stampe?
Anyhow, getting back on track…
Pookie’s sense of fun has often been unleashed on his poor, unsuspecting colleagues.
Below is his account of an episode that amused us all back in Ops whilst he was on holiday one year..
Thanks for all the laughs over the years Bev…
And as for the flying?
Well – that’s been a blast!
Over to you.
The following was written by Bev Pook, Pilot, Humourist, Motorcyclist, Bon Vivant and Good Friend.
A Lightbulb On Vacation.
Back in the mid-nineties, I was working for American Airlines as a Flight Operations Agent, planning flights, briefing crews, and coordinating everything to ensure flights arrived and departed on time.
The flight operations room had few windows and was lit with harsh fluorescent lights, which are difficult to work with due to their flicker, The flicker isn’t normally discernible unless you concentrate on your peripheral vision and it can then be sensed.
These lights are very good for office work as they cast little or no shadow, but if using a computer screen (which also flickers) they can cause sight problems as your iris struggles to cope with the flickering.
Enough of the technical details then.
Being heartily fed up with the eye-ache, I ferreted around for a solution, and during one very uneventful night shift, I found a battered old Angle Poise lamp which had been discarded into a dark and cluttered corner of an unused office.
Further investigating led me to a new bulb in a cupboard, and once wiped off with a cloth, the old lamp worked perfectly.
I placed it on the main Ops desk in and I would use it whenever I was positioned in that area. I found it particularly useful on night shifts when I worked alone and could turn off the fluorescents and enjoy a softer light emitted by an incandescent light bulb.
However, I found nobody else seemed to appreciate my light as when I returned on shift after a few days off, the lamp had been pushed back out of the way.
Just before I went on vacation the bulb blew, so I threw it away and departed for a fortnights tranquillity. No sooner had I returned from holiday, I was accosted by my work companions who accused me of taking the bulb on holiday.
Because of this, I decided that my next vacation would see me having some fun at their expense. This time I took the bulb out of the fitting and locked it away in my cabinet, leaving the office with the Angle Poise containing no light source.
After a long and boring flight, I eventually arrived in Muskogee Oklahoma and was met by my good friends, with whom I would be spending my vacation.
Over breakfast the next morning, I asked Terry if I could borrow one of their light bulbs, which was greeted by a strange look but I did get the light bulb.
I then started taking photos of the bulb and me on holiday. Each picture got more and more elaborate and set up to highlight (excuse the pun) that I had indeed this time taken the bulb with me.
Here are a few of those pictures.
I hope you enjoy my rather schoolboy humour.
Sorry Bev, I would have published this as an “Illuminated” manuscript, but couldn’t find the correct keys.
Earlier today, I posted an article featuring James Stewart, the movie actor.
During my research, I came across the account of Harrison Ford who crash-landed his vintage aeroplane whilst taking off from Santa Monica airport on the 5 March 2015.
Now, I have always had a lot of admiration for Harrison Ford, and as a fellow pilot, I feel a lot of sympathy, as I know how easy it is for a situation to develop, and rapidly get out of control.
Mister Ford is a keen pilot, and holds both single engine and twin engine licences, together with a helicopter licence. He owns a number of aircraft, and is in love with flying to the extent that – in his words “I will fly up the coast for a cheeseburger” – and I don’t know any fellow pilots who have not done this…
As an aviation enthusiast (anorak) I love any films related to flight, flying, or aeroplanes. My film collection is littered with films such as Top Gun (which must be the seminal aviation movie for the 80s) Air America, The Great Waldo Pepper, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and the Flight of the Phoenix.
I decided that it would be interesting to see how many other Hollywood stars who appeared in such movies actually had piloting experience.
There are one or two well-known high-profile pilots, such as John Travolta, who owns a number of aircraft, and has a home on an air park in Florida. Up until recently he owned and operated a Boeing 707 bearing Qantas livery, which he used to fly as a goodwill ambassador for Qantas. He has recently donated this aircraft to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, which is part of the Australian Aviation Museum in Illawarra, Australia, just outside of Sydney.
His nearby neighbour in California, one Clint Eastwood has been a qualified helicopter pilot for over thirty years, as well as being a keen environmentalist.
Fellow actor and songwriter, Kris Kristofferson was also a helicopter pilot, having been taught by the U.S. military, and serving in Germany. Leaving the army in 1965, he became a commercial helicopter pilot, serving oil platforms in Southern Louisiana for three years before making it big in the music industry, and then more latterly, the movies
The diminutive Tom Cruise, who played the lead role of Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in the film Top Gun is a pilot in real life as well. Having qualified in Canada, he owns a P51 Mustang, and a Pitts Special. Not content with just flying aircraft, he also likes to jump out of them, and is a keen parachutist. This, in my opinion, makes him a certifiable lunatic – but, hey, each to his own.
Morgan Freeman also flies, and holds a Private licence. He too has experienced the thrill and freedom that flying offers. As a younger man he was an aircraft engineer in the USAF, and had aspirations of being a fighter pilot. I think he made the right choice, because as a successful movie star he can afford to fly whatever he likes….
The late, great James Stewart was a full Colonel in the USAF, and flew many combat missions during the Second World War, and was a highly decorated pilot. He also appeared in the famous film The Flight of the Phoenix, and appeared in the starring role in the biopic of Charles Lindbergh. However, his wartime experiences affected him profoundly, and he was averse to appearing in war films.
Now, let’s move on to Star Trek. Stark Trek epitomises the pinnacle of what aviation could become; flying in what is effectively four dimensions. The cast of this show is positively filled with an abundance of pilots.
James Doohan, who played Chief Engineer “Scottie” flew during the Second World War as a liaison pilot, flying Taylorcraft Auster single engine aircraft, liaising with Canadian Artillery units. He was a natural and exuberant pilot, and was apparently reprimanded for slaloming his aircraft between telegraph poles in around Salisbury Plain, whilst operating from RAF Andover.
Creator and director of the Star Trek franchise, Gene Rodenberry was a bomber pilot during the Second World War, flying B17 Flying Fortresses in the Pacific theatre. He flew 89 combat missions, and was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Medal, and the Air Medal. He retired from the USAF holding the rank of Captain.
Subsequently, he went on to work for Pan American, flying Lockheed Constellations. Strangely, he left his aviation connections behind and before creating the series, he enrolled as a police officer in the LAPD.
Michael Dorn, (Lieutenant Worf) is an accomplished and experienced pilot too. – and has owned a number of classic American ex-military jets, including a T33 trainer, and F86 Sabre, and a Sabreliner. He is also very privileged to have flown with both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.
Kurt Russell, joins the ranks of celebrity aviators. The star of films such as Backdraught, and Vanilla Sky, and long-time partner to Goldie Hawn holds a private licence for both single and multi-engine aeroplanes. He is also heavily involved in the aviation charity Wings of Hope.
Action man Steve McQueen was also a very keen aviator. Having had a very dismal and fractured childhood, Steve developed a love for motor racing, fast cars and motorcycles. He owned a collection of both, and performed a lot of his own stunts. He is particularly renowned for the motorcycle chase sequence in The Great Escape, and for the high speed car chase in the film Bullit.
It must be a hand-eye coordination thing, because he also fell in love with aviation.
Or it could possibly be because his natural father was a stunt pilot with a Barnstormer Flying Circus!
Steve owned and flew a 1945 Boeing Stearman biplane, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a very rare Pitcairn PA-8 which was used by the U.S. ace Eddie Rickenbacker when he flew for the U.S. postal service.
George Peppard of “The A Team” fame was a talented pilot, and flew most of the aerial sequences in the film “The Blue Max” in which he starred as a German Air Force pilot. He also piloted his own Lear jet, which he used for commuting.
Jack Pallance, was selected by the USAF for pilot training, but a serious aircraft crash, which severely burned his face prevented him from flying thereafter.
It’s also important not to forget the ladies in aviation.
Angelina Jolie is a qualified private pilot and flies a Cirrus SR-22. The model Giesele Bundchen has gained her wings, as has the British TV personality Carol Vorderman.
Hilary Swank who, coincidentally, played the part of Amelia Earhart has also got a licence.
It’s not just the movie and TV personalities that have been gripped by the thrill of flying.
Country Singer Alan Jackson has a private licence for both single engine and twins, and ex Van Halen rocker Dave Lee Roth has a helicopter licence.
Gary Numan, the Techno-Pop icon of the 1970s and front man of Tubeway Army is passionate about flying. He qualified as a pilot and operated a North American Harvard for 15 years on the UK Airshow circuit.
Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of heavy rock group Iron Maiden is also a flier. However, his enthusiasm took him one stage further than most of his contemporaries, who are, in the main, private pilots.
He decided that he would gain his commercial licence, and in fact flew for the now defunct UK based airline Astraeus, flying Boeing 757/767 types. He now owns an aviation company based at St Athan in Wales.
Probably the most famous musician with a licence is John Denver. During a musical career that spanned a couple of decades, he too fell in love with flying. Taught to fly by his Father, a record breaking USAF officer (who flew a B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber) he also owned and operated many different aeroplanes, including a Learjet, a Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane, and a pair of Cessna 210 utility planes.
Many of Johns songs were about aviation or space travel.
John died too early in an air accident, when flying his recently acquired Rutan Long EZ which crashed on a Californian beach, killing him instantly.
So, next time you watch a film, and think that the actor or actress is a “Lovey” and a soft shrinking violet, you may be doing them a great dis-service. Not only may they be doing a good percentage of their own stunts, but they may be better qualified than you are!