BOEING STRATOCRUISER – SUMMER 1954

Most adventures begin by going somewhere else. Hard to have an adventure in your own backyard. Of course, somewhere in the world there is someone planning to have an adventure in your backyard.

Around mid June 1954 I set off for Paris enroute to Tourtour. I went to Idlewild airport in NY and found myself on a PanAm Stratocruiser.
I had flown to California with my father a few times on a DC 4s, or DC 6s and at least once on a Lockheed Constellation, a beautifully designed aircraft. There were usually 2-3 stops enroute. They flew at low altitudes and in generally bumpy weather. I remember stops in Texas at run down airports that probably never seemed to have been new even when they were built. The airsickness bags were exhaustively used by a majority of the passengers. It was loud, the air smelled badly, the tobacco smoke from the passengers almost seemed to improve the ventilation. People dressed up to go flying, babies cried even more often then they do now and had a better excuse, and the food on the prop driven trans-continental flights was about what it is now. That is how I remember it. I did not get sick.

The PanAm Stratocruiser was in a different league, PanAm saw that the competition were ocean liners. They had competed before the war with flying boats that could circle the globe with multiple stops. Boeing built the Stratocruiser on the airframe of the B 29. It was big and impressive. Boeing built 57 stratocruisers. PanAm bought about 30 of them. They were the top of the line before jets came along to put an end to their flying careers.

I had never imagined anything like it. There was two abreast seating in two rows. After the plane took off dinner was served on China with proper silverware.
The pilot came back to join his passengers. He was part of the experience. He asked me if I wanted to visit the cockpit. I did. Two years later I had a pilot’s license.

After dinner those of us who were fortunate enough to be in the front of the plane adjourned to the bar/lounge below. It held about 14 passengers and was reached by a narrow staircase. Upstairs the stewards and stewardesses made up full length beds that dropped down, one above the other like a pullman car. The lounge was structurally the former bomb bay. I learned this later. I did not know it at the time.

I decided, now that I was on my own and traveling to Paris that I would have a drink. I had enjoyed a little wine at home. But nothing serious like Cointreau which I chose at random. I was on my own, free to make choices. I got 2-3 airline bottles of Cointreau. I woke up in my cozy bed feeling lousy. It was the wrong choice. I have never liked Cointreau since. I am glad that my first hangover had not involved Scotch. I still like Scotch.

I am not sure, but I believe that we landed in Gander, Newfoundland to add fuel. On subsequent flights to and from Europe I regularly landed in Gander even if it was not on the schedule. Tin buildings, sometimes cold and snow, nothing else. Flights then continued to Shannon. Cashmere sweaters, miscellaneous snacks, and you still had not arrived where you where going.

14 plus hours later I landed in Paris, took a cab to an address and continued my adventure. The flight had been a wonderful beginning.

PanAm was part of most of my later adventures. When they stopped flying I felt slightly abandoned.