I won’t go if the dress code says “leisure suit”


I think I would have already had The Pan Am Experience by now if I lived anywhere near L.A.:

Your Pan Am experience starts on the main deck with a cocktail and beverage service in the First Class cabin. Each stewardess that greets you will be adorned in her original 1970’s Pan Am uniform. Our Pan Am crew will offer various video & audio selections while you sit back in your Pan Am Sleeperette seat and sip a cocktail.

Soon after, you’ll climb the winding staircase where the crew will set your table for a truly memorable dining event. In classic Pan Am style, you’ll be offered your favorite cocktail and served a delightful gourmet meal. Everything from the china to the glassware is authentic with careful attention to the exquisite service delivery of the era and menu offerings of Pan Am.

After dinner, you will have an opportunity to view the vast collection of airline memorabilia and view other film production sets.

“Pan Am makes the going great” was Pan Am’s slogan in the early 1970s. I still remember the excitement of my first commercial flight, on one of Pan Am’s first two 747s when I was ten eleven years old, so yes, please.

My first flight of any kind was less than a year before that, and was in a canary yellow – 3M’s Post-it® colour trademark be damned – Piper Cub that I had helped repaint, flown by its owner, a veteran TWA Flight Engineer. The door’s paint was still drying, so we flew in the vicinity of the now long-gone Tewksbury, Mass. Airport (Tew-Mac) for half an hour without it. Scared? Nah, I was too young to be scared. Plus, I was flying, dammit!


Pan American World Airways went out of business in 1991, but its name lives on, and still in the world of transport, in the form of Pan Am Railways, which bought the rights to the Pan Am name in 1998. I took this photo of one of their engines idling just a few blocks from my house two winters ago:


On a peripherally related note, I just received from the UK this spiffy print of a Geoff Nutkins painting of the B-17 Mon Tete Rouge II of the 452nd Bomb Group that was based at Deopham Green, Norfolk in WWII. It’s one of a limited edition of 500 prints produced in 1980.


He painted this several years before I used the same source photo of the aircraft when I painted my Boeing Belle flight jacket painting. I thought it was the perfect angle of a Flying Fortress for the back of a jacket, and didn’t find out about his painting until a few weeks ago, when I looked up “Mon Tete Rouge II” as I wrote that “Boeing Belles” post. After I saw his eBay listing for the print, it took just a few hours before I decided to order it.


The photograph that we both used was black & white, and we each figured the lettering on the nose must have been red given the name (translation: “My Redhead II”), but I found out during that recent search that the lettering was actually blue on ship 42-97069. At the time I painted the jacket, my research indicated that the wingtip colouring on 452BG aircraft was yellow, so I believe that’s correct in my version.


I’m not sure where I’ll put the print yet, but it may replace the B-17 print I have in my office at the moment, or I may rearrange this wall to accommodate both:


Here’s another flight jacket I painted, this one featuring a young Ginger Rogers, who wore this outfit in a publicity still for one of her first starring roles, that of radio star Glory Eden in “Professional Sweetheart.” My research indicated she had strawberry blonde hair at the time, and Daffy Duck is based on a 1942 Warner Brothers animator model sheet from 1942, when he was still a bit pudgy. The lingerie set was probably black, but that wouldn’t have shown up well on dark brown, so I took some artistic license. The boxes she’s leaning against are an accurate depiction of cases of linked .50 caliber bullets used by the machine guns aboard Army Air Force bombers in WWII. This jacket and “Boeing Belle” are on display on stairway landings in my house.

Aviation history, connected

Boeing 747 Rollout 1969-09-30

RA001 on 30 September 1968

I was reading this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the long-overdue restoration of the prototype Boeing 747, shown above on its rollout day – rolling, yes, but without working engines yet – and got to wondering if the Museum of Flight still had “Bomber” Bob Richardson’s B-17F as well.

I found that they do, which pleased me because I once flew in that B-17 in the days leading up to the 1988 Wings of Eagles Airshow at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York. I was a volunteer and arrived a couple days early, staying in the SUNY Geneseo campus dorms overlooking the NWM field. I got to talking with the museum president, Austin Wadsworth, a couple days before the airshow was to start, and he invited me to join the pre-airshow press flights the following morning. Those flights were to be in two B-17s. I remember my dropped-jaw excitement and exactly what he said as I left: “Get here early.” I needed no extra alarm.

The next morning, I arrived at 6:30am and then proceeded to have the time of my life, flying off the grass airfield in the museum’s B-17G, Fuddy Duddy, up to Buffalo, then swapping between Fuddy Duddy and Bomber Bob’s Kathleen, at that time the only F-model B-17 still flying, as they took groups of reporters up for separate promo flights over Niagara Falls. By the time we returned to Geneseo six or so hours later, I had a grin on my face that lasted for weeks – one that returns as I type this.

When we flew back to Geneseo in the afternoon, I took this photograph from the bombardier’s position in the nose of Kathleen shortly after takeoff as we banked away from Lake Erie:

Departing Buffalo, at about 800 feet

That’s an old scan of a physical photo – no digital cameras back then. I recently found and scanned at a much higher resolution another departure photo I took and it’s here.

Richardson had stopped in Geneseo to be at the airshow with Kathleen on his way back to Seattle from the UK after participating in the shooting of David Puttnam’s “Memphis Belle” film (which was way, way over the top but still entertaining). I remember that he died the year after I flew on his aircraft. I didn’t know him well, but from all accounts he was quite a guy. I’m still grateful that he welcomed me on his aircraft that day with only an hour or so’s notice from Wadsworth.

The airshow that followed was, in a word, spectacular, with a total of six B-17s present along with nearly a hundred other mostly WWII-era aircraft. I think it was the largest gathering of B-17s since the production of the “Twelve O’Clock High” film in 1949, and I don’t believe that number has been seen together since, either. Just five B-17s participated in the “Memphis Belle” filming.

I took this shot early on Saturday morning, opening day of the airshow, before too many people spoiled the opportunity. Fuddy Duddy is at the far end, and Kathleen is the only olive drab aircraft:


Six B-17s at the 1988 Wings of Eagles Airshow, Geneseo, New York

The following year, I returned with an 8×10 of my six tails shot and presented it to Wadsworth along with my thanks for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Ah…proof it really happened,” he said with a smile.

That next year, the airshow featured five B-17s, a Consolidated B-24, and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster:

I read another pleasant bit of news just now when I searched to verify I was recalling his name correctly: The National Warplane Museum name has returned to Geneseo, with Austin Wadsworth still in the left seat. I figure if anyone could pull off another large flock of B-17s one day, that’s the man right there.

Here’s Bomber Bob Richardson’s B-17F today in the Museum of Flight:

TMOF Boeing B-17F