Emirates to the A380 rescue

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So Emirates Airline has come to the rescue of the Airbus A380. Was it gallantry or pressure that led to this outcome? It’s probably a bit of both.

With the Jan. 18 signing of an MOU for up to 36 new A380s, Emirates is assuring that production of the ultra-large widebody—which can seat between 525 and 853 passengers and has a 15,200 km range—will continue for another 10 years. The announcement came just three days after Airbus COO-customers John Leahy said the A380 program would have to be shut down if Emirates did not commit to a new order. The two parties have been negotiating for a further commitment for quite some time, with Emirates seeking assurances from Airbus that A380 production would continue for at least 10 years, and Airbus, in return, pressuring Emirates to place an additional order to guarantee that an end customer for the aircraft, and its production line, was out there.

As of Dec. 31, Emirates has 41 of a total of 95 A380s in Airbus’ production backlog. The new order boosts that total backlog to 131 aircraft. Airbus delivered 15 A380s in 2017, and has said it plans to deliver 12 in 2018, then eight in 2019, with deliveries possibly dropping to six per year beyond that, which would support A380 production into 2032. Airbus Commercial Aircraft president Fabrice Brégier said on Jan. 15 that the company “came to the conclusion that we can go down to six aircraft per year and maintain an industrially efficient production line.” If Airbus indeed sticks to a six-per-year production rate, now that a potential 131 A380s are in backlog, production could carry on an additional 18.5 years beyond 2020, to 2038—another two decades.

And Leahy has not given up on future customers for the aircraft. “This is an airplane, I assure you, whose time has come,” Leahy said on Jan. 15, emphasizing that that forecast traffic growth into major hubs will force demand for larger aircraft. Leahy envisions Airbus selling six-to-eight A380s per year “until the market level gets to 25 a year, but it will take a few more years to get there.”

Is it just wishful thinking, or a prescient strategy? Airbus hasn’t sold a new A380 since March 2016, which was an Emirates order for two of the model. Nonetheless, Emirates’ MOU now gives Airbus some breathing room for its A380 program. Will Airbus stick with its previous six A380 per year production plan, or will the company go at a higher rate? This is still to be seen.  Both Leahy and Brégier plan to retire fairly imminently. Future A380 sales campaigns and production decisions will be left to their successors.

Additional airlines and lessors with backlog A380 orders include Russia’s Air Accord—an entity that took over aircraft orders transferred from defunct Russian carrier Transaero—(three in backlog); Dublin-based lessor Amedeo (20 on order, but with no announced  operators); ANA (three);  Qantas (eight); Qatar Airways (one); Singapore Airlines (three); and Virgin Atlantic (which has deferred its six A380s several times).

It was up to Emirates to keep the A380 program alive, and the Gulf carrier group’s chairman and CEO Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum extolled the aircraft’s virtues.

“We’ve made no secret of the fact that the A380 has been a success for Emirates. Our customers love it, and we’ve been able to deploy it on different missions across our network, giving us flexibility in terms of range and passenger mix,” Al Maktoum said. “This order will provide stability to the A380 production line [and] we will continue to work closely with Airbus to further enhance the aircraft and onboard product … the beauty of this aircraft is that the technology and real estate on board gives us plenty of room to do something different with the interiors.”

This resolution to Airbus’ A380 crisis is a positive story. It allows Airbus to continue to employ thousands of production line workers worldwide. Manufacturers of components for the aircraft will continue to have a steady production flow. Emirates and other operators of the A380 (including Air France and British Airways) will continue to have replacement parts and, potentially, replacement aircraft if they deem to order any. And passengers will still be able to experience a flight on what many customers say is the most elegant, quiet and even luxurious aircraft yet made. 

To know the A380 will still be out there, in operation, and with new models still to be built and delivered—the biggest of the big commercial passenger airplanes—gives travellers one more travel bucket list opportunity to attain, before the big jumbo jets are gone forever.

For Emirates to make this possible is indeed an example of a certain kind of gallantry.

Mark Nensel mark.nensel@informa.com


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The 747 Had a Great Run. But Farewell Doesn’t Mean the End.

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Jan. 19, 2018

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MARANA, Ariz. — There may be no airliner as recognizable as the Boeing 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, with its iconic hump of an upper deck. For aviation fans, the introduction of the “Queen of the Skies” was a triumph of engineering and grace: unprecedented size and speed with spiral-staircase international glamour.

But the airline business has changed, and the giant plane has become more expensive to operate. A couple of weeks ago, the final 747 flight by any commercial United States airline took to the sky.

Like so many others before it, the plane was heading to the Southwest to retire.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

A passer-by at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport might have noticed something unusual as Boeing 747 No. 6314 pushed back from the gate for the last time. Onlookers in the terminal waved farewell as the plane, operated by Delta Air Lines, taxied out to the runway. Undeterred by the chilly weather, even members of the ground crew pulled out their phones to memorialize this flight in photos.

On board was a small group of passengers — mostly Delta employees.

Paul Gallaher was serving as first officer. Earlier in his career, as a pilot for Northwest Airlines, he had helped fly a fleet of brand-new Northwest 747s from Boeing to the airline’s home base in Minneapolis. Delta inherited those planes when the companies merged 10 years ago. Like No. 6314, he would retire when the flight touched down.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

Back in the cabin, Gene Peterson, another Delta 747 captain, and Holly Rick, a flight attendant, had other plans. They had met when they were on a 747 charter flight crew in 2009. Now they prepared to walk down the aisle — not just to their seats, but to say “I do.” They did, somewhere over Memphis.

“I’m going to cry before today is over,” said Rebecca Johnson, one of the flight attendants on board. “It’s just part of aviation history. To be a part of it is kind of awe inspiring.”

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

Four hours after takeoff, the jumbo jet was circling above cotton fields in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, preparing to make its final approach to Pinal Airpark, where its next chapter would begin.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

The 747 revolutionized the way people traveled when it began service in 1970. Mark Vanhoenacker, a pilot for British Airways and the author of “Skyfaring: A Journey With a Pilot,” wrote in The New York Times last year that the aircraft took advantage of economies of scale to make long-distance air travel affordable to the masses for the first time.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

“This aircraft is a marvel for when it was built,” said Anthony Black, a Delta spokesman aboard the flight. But, he pointed out, a marvel of 1960s engineering is not necessarily suited to 2018 industry needs. Many airlines are moving to a business model that focuses on connecting more cities directly with smaller, more fuel-efficient planes, rather than funneling passengers through a few large hubs.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

The desert climate makes county-owned Pinal Airpark, between Phoenix and Tucson, an ideal place to store airplanes long term, and about 120 aircraft are here right now, scattered across the desert floor. The dry air prevents major corrosion, so their parts can be used to help keep other planes flying. Airplanes can even be kept in flying condition, ready to go back into service on short notice.

Brandi Lange is an operations manager for Logistic Air, one of the companies that own or maintain former airliners at Pinal Airpark. “My main thing here is parts and part support,” she said. Her company’s inventory includes two former Northwest Airlines cargo 747s and a passenger 747 that used to fly for Trans World Airlines, a brand that disappeared after it merged with American Airlines in 2001.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

That T.W.A. plane is one that Ms. Lange pays particular attention to. “I’m pretty sure it’s haunted,” she said. “I’ve gone in there before and there was a newspaper, and I’d move it and put it somewhere and the next thing I would know it would be right by the stairs. And I’d move it somewhere else and it would be right over here next to the stairs again.”

Though many of the plane’s valuable electrical components have been removed, whole seating sections are preserved — filled ashtrays (dating back to at least 2000, when the United States fully prohibited smoking on flights), old magazines, emergency oxygen masks and all — seemingly ready for passengers to board.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

The air in the cabin is still permeated by the musty, familiar aroma that greets travelers at the door to any plane waiting at the end of a jetway.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

Even if an airplane has outlived its useful flying life, its components and metal from the fuselage can almost always find another application. Sometimes that might mean going to Hollywood: The new Fox TV show “LA to Vegas,” a comedy about the airline industry, got many of its airplane seats and other set pieces from Pinal Airpark.

Jet Yard, another tenant at Pinal Airpark, focuses primarily on dismantling and scrapping planes that airlines no longer wish to fly.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

The plane’s body can be melted down and reused in some other way. “Could be a pop can, could be a beer can, could be part of a car, could be part of another airplane,” or a mobile phone, said Pat Connell, the general manager of Jet Yard. “There’s an uncountable amount of uses for the metal.”

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

But going to the desert doesn’t always mean an airplane will be broken apart and turned to scrap.

“I would say close to half of the aircraft or more will get reintroduced into service at some point in time,” said David Querio, the president of Marana Aerospace Solutions and Ascent Aviation Services.

His company, which also sometimes dismantles aircraft, is performing heavy maintenance on about 25 airplanes, and is storing more than 100 others at Pinal Airpark, including the 747 fleet that Delta just retired. Although the airline has not announced specific plans for those aircraft, Mr. Querio has seen similar planes become workhorses in other parts of the world.

For air carriers in Africa, Asia and South America, buying a used aircraft is “a lot more affordable than buying new aircraft,” he said. Even though they are less fuel efficient than modern planes, their higher operating cost is offset by the low purchase price, making secondhand jumbo jets an ideal choice for airlines looking to expand.

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CreditDustin Chambers for The New York Times

Pinal Airpark is sometimes called a graveyard or boneyard for planes. Jim Petty, the airpark’s manager, bristles at that description.

“It’s really not what we are,” he said. “It’s a maintenance and storage facility.”

He’s trying to change that perception with informal tours and a visitor-friendly attitude. He wants to spread the word that planes here, in one way or another, almost always have more to come.

After 747 No. 6314 landed, and after the passengers (including the two newlyweds) and crew had left, the inside of the giant plane was suddenly empty and utterly quiet, the unoccupied seats and aisles illuminated only by the sunlight filtering through the windows. Sitting in the desert, the Queen of the Skies still looked regal in this new realm.

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Aviation artist speaks at today’s reception

Art gives wings to David Gray’s creativity. The painter and sketcher who spent most of his childhood in Columbus will speak during a free opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. today about his current exhibit at Gallery 506 in the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

Refreshments and beer/wine will be served.

This show, which runs through February, consists primarily of Gray’s paintings and drawings depicting military aircraft. Also on display are model airplanes on loan from the local Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum.

Gray’s love affair with airplanes, aviation and history began as a small child. As a boy, he would ride his bike to the local airport to dream and play in a derelict C-119 cargo plane. Too young to fly, Gray turned to paper and pencil to fulfill his fascination with aviation and history, and began drawing airplanes, ships and epic battle scenes in second grade.

His keen interest never waning, Gray received his private pilot’s license at age 17.

While majoring in history at Mississippi State from 1981 to 1984, Gray produced his first commissioned, limited-edition print — an F-16 — which sold out in three months.

Information: 812-378-2622.

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NW Model Hobby Expo returns to Evergreen State Fairgrounds Jan. 26 to 28

The NW Model Hobby Expo is back again this year, running, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26-28 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe. This expo has lots of radio control hobby events, vendors, activities, and a whole building of swap items. It’s the event of the year for many hobbyists, collectors, competitors, distributors, and tech firms from the Pacific Northwest.

Participants and vendors will range from local to national to international, with model airplanes, boats, cars, robots and drones.

Activities include indoor radio-control car racing, drift car racing, crawler cars, airplane/quad/helicopter flying, an indoor boat pond and drone racing. Battle robots will perform on Saturday and Sunday. Makers will explore 3-D printing and lasers. Find the full schedule and details at http://nwmhe.com.


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Electric Airplanes Could Remake Aviation

The next sector ripe for electrification: aviation.

Electric airplanes could completely make over the regional airline sector — fundamentally changing the way we move around and creating new economic opportunities.

On this week’s Energy Gang, we’ll talk with Ashish Kumar, the CEO of Zunum Aero, about the company’s electric propulsion system and hybrid-electric airplane model. We’ll discuss design challenges, battery requirements, immediate market opportunities, and the long-term economic benefits of electrified aviation.

Then, a look at the latest global figures on renewables investment. China had another explosive year in 2017, while America had an anemic one. We’ll tease out the latest global numbers that broke over the last week.

The Energy Gang is brought to you by CPower Energy Management. Find out more about CPower’s demand-side energy management solutions.

Recommended reading:

  • Zunum Aero technology and design
  • GTM: Zunum Aero, an Electric Airplane Startup Backed by Boeing and JetBlue Ventures, Unstealths
  • GTM: Global Renewable Energy Prices Will Be Competitive With Fossil Fuels by 2020
  • GTM: China More Than Doubles America’s 2017 Investments in Clean Energy, in a ‘Runaway’ Year

Subscribe to The Energy Gang podcast via Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher or wherever you find your audio content.

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Nuclear reactors the size of wastebaskets could power our Martian settlements

Not your standard reactor

“A traditional light water cooled reactor makes a gigawatt in electricity. It’s a million times bigger, it’s very complicated, and it’s designed so it utilizes the fuel very well,” McClure says. At the size of the little Martian reactor, things get a lot less fuel-efficient. “But we do have a reactor that is very easy to predict, easy to operate, and in fact can control itself,” he says, which cuts down on the likelihood of accidents that might loom over a bigger power source.

In other words, we’re not risking a nuclear meltdown on Mars.

“Melting fuel would be difficult if not impossible for the applications that we’re doing,” McClure says. “The way we’ve got the physics designed, the reactor will basically put out as much heat as is being asked of it. So if we lose cooling and are just radiating a little bit of heat energy away, the reactor will drop in power to match that.”

It’s also designed to operate in the odd environment of space. We think of space as cold, but keeping a reactor cool in a vacuum isn’t so easy. There’s no material like air or water flowing by that can transfer heat away from your generators. Instead, the system relies on eight heat pipes, each filled with about one tablespoon of sodium, which has a high boiling point.

The sodium boils at high heat, when it gets near the parts of the pipes closest to the fissioning uranium fuel. The vapor travels down the pipe and condenses, where the temperature difference helps generate electricity. Then, the cooled substance travels back to the warmer part of the pipe and the whole system starts again. It can theoretically produce reliable power for years, if not decades.

How safe is it?

Many people who hear nuclear and space worry that if something should go wrong on launch, the nuclear power source onboard could prove hazardous to those standing below.

“People always think you’re going to fly Chernobyl into space or something,” McClure says. The reality is far less dangerous. “Before you fission a reactor there are some minor amounts of radioactivity that exist in the core, because it is uranium, but its very small. If something were to happen in a launch accident, it’s really not going to present a problem to the public,” McClure says.

McClure explains that should something go wrong with a launch, the exploded remnants of uranium in the reactor’s standard, un-fissioned state would pose very little danger to the public. “You’re talking far less than a millirem for a peak dose. Most people would be in the microrem range,” McClure says. For comparison, the average American tends to receive about 620 millirems per year in radiation. “It’s far, far less that you would receive from background radiation, or taking an airplane flight.”

But launching the power source is only the first step. It must also operate safely in remote reaches of space. Once it’s turned on—long after it leaves Earth’s atmosphere—it will become more radioactive. But the team has designed it so that the reactor will shut down automatically if the power fails. And they plan to put it through its paces next month in Nevada, connecting it to two engines that will each produce about 80 watts of power to bring the fission reaction up to a heat of about 800 degrees Celsius.

“We’ll shut off all heat removal and show that the reactor will not only survive, but also stay in a standby mode, where if the power conversion system could come back to life and start drawing power again it will go right back to where it was. That will really demonstrate that we can handle any transient or off-normal operations of this reactor without any worries,” says Dave Poston, chief reactor designer at Los Alamos.

What will it do?

“The one kilowatt is for deep space missions, a mission to another planet like Pluto or one of the moons of Jupiter. The 10 KW version is either for deep space or the surface of Mars. Right now NASA’s current planning would call for sending five 10 kilowatt reactors to Mars,” McClure says.

That’s enough to provide the estimated 40 kilowatts of electricity needed to power a Martian base, plus one extra for good measure.

“Mars is a very difficult environment for power systems,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said at a press conference. “It gets less sunlight than Earth or the moon, it has very cold nighttime temperatures, and it has very interesting dust storms that can last weeks and months that engulf the entire planet.”

While NASA has explored solar panels as a potential source of power—and they definitely aren’t off the table—the agency is looking for something that could help power necessary life support systems consistently. Even when the sun is particularly faint.

The first reactors would land on Mars and begin powering autonomous systems to separate water ice into liquid oxygen and hydrogen, generating fuel for the return journey. Once humans arrived, the systems could power their habitats and other support systems. NASA is in talks with commercial groups as well, proposing that the Kilopower reactor might be valuable for their off-world exploration efforts.

“As a former astronaut I can assure you that having reliable power sources is critical when venturing away from low Earth orbit,” says Janet Kavandi, director of NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “And this type of power system will be especially important as we travel deeper into the solar system, and eventually to the surface of other worlds.”

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Why the 747 Is Such a Badass Plane

On August 3, 1970, Pan Am 747 “Clipper Victor,” lifted off from JFK for San Juan, carrying 359 passengers and 19 crew. Flight 299 was a “redeye,” one of the first regularly scheduled routes since Pan Am inaugurated Boeing 747 service back in January.

Aboard was Esther de la Fuente, one of the first 747 flight attendants. In mid-flight, she was approached by a short, bearded man wearing a beret. “I want to go to Cuba,” he said. Esther thought he was joking and responded airily, “No. Let’s go to Rio. It’s a lot more fun at this time of year.”

Then he pulled out a gun, and the first ever 747 hijacking was underway.

Clipper Victor’s Captain, Augustus Watkins, declared an emergency and diverted for Havana. Flight 299 touched down at 5:31 am at Jose Marti Airport under the gaze of Fidel Castro.

As stunned passengers gathered their thoughts, Watkins exited the airplane with the hijacker, soon finding himself face-to-face with Castro. The Cuban leader then unloaded question after question about the flying behemoth, the largest airplane to ever land in his country.

It was the first time he had ever seen one with his own eyes.

A “Big” Deal

Five years before Wakins was forced to set down in Havana, Pan Am president Juan Trippe asked Boeing CEO Bill Allen for a long-range airliner twice the size of a 707 in order to circumvent the problem of limited gates at airports. Boeing designer Joe Sutter incorporated design influences from the contemporary program that produced the huge Lockheed C-5 Galaxy airlifter. Three airframe designs were considered for the 747 with first one stacking one 707 fuselage on top of another, according to Boeing historian Michael Lombardi.

“The first idea was an airplane that looks a lot like the A380,” Lombardi told Popular Mechanics. “They dropped that because they couldn’t evacuate the cabin quickly enough in an emergency. Then they thought of two fuselages side-by-side, the idea of the twin-aisle, widebody airplane.”

This basic idea has been the model for all widebodies since.

In a world full of widebody airliners including the Airbus A380, people forget the 747’s mammoth size and its status as a prestige aircraft. Dubbed the “Jumbo Jet” by the media, the 747-100 was about 1.5 times as large as a Boeing 707 and could carry 440 passengers compared to the 707’s modest 189 headcount. In fact the airplane was so large, Boeing had to build a new factory in Everett, Washington, just for assembly and it remains the largest building by volume in the world.

The 747’s distinctive “hump” derived from Boeing’s expectation that supersonic airliners, like the SST being designed concurrently at Boeing, would eventually take over international routes. So the 747 was designed as a freighter with a hump accommodating a nose hatch below the cockpit and a large side door behind it.

While the supersonic dream was ultimately a commercial failure (for now), the 747 became an icon of industrial design. Along with numerous aerodynamic innovations, it was the first commercial aircraft to incorporate high-bypass turbofan engines like those developed for the C-5. The Jumbo also pioneered commercial autopilot for landing and quadruple main landing gear.

The Party Queen

Because of its unprecedented size, Boeing worried that the 747 would be difficult to operate. But designers and test pilots labored to make an airplane easy to handle, whether on the ground or in in the air. Before the prototype was completed, designers improvised a mock-up cockpit mounted on the roof of a truck to simulate taxiing an airliner whose cockpit was 35 feet above the ground.

Boeing’s efforts paid off. Pilots describe the benign-handling 747 as like “flying a giant Piper J-3 Cub,” an airplane 10 times smaller than Boeing’s aerial monster.

Finished after just 28 months, the first of many 747s made its first flight on February 9, 1969, with its first commercial passenger flight arriving on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route.

The pilots’ love for the 747 is only matched by the millions of passengers who’ve boarded any one of the 1,540 747s made ever since. “Whether it was because it was a new aircraft or they were scared,” Pam Am Flight Director, Jay Koren remembered, “all the passengers drank like crazy.”

From its generous economy seats to its upstairs bar/lounge, the 747 was a flying status symbol that rivaled the stylish European Concorde. What it lacked in speed it more than made up for in comfort.

“Whether it was because it was a new aircraft or they were scared, all the passengers drank like crazy.”

“When it came out, it was a must-have airplane,” Lombardi says. “Airlines were buying it because they wanted it as a flagship, even if they really didn’t have a place for it.”

In many ways, it was the first plane to truly modernize air travel. Lombardi says the 747’s passenger capacity lowered seat/fare costs. Although its development costs and the early 70s recession/oil crisis nearly bankrupted Boeing, it became a long-term moneymaker.

A Versatile Giant

Despite the last 747 passenger flight by a U.S. domestic airline on January 3, 2018, over 400 747s continue in service worldwide. Eight different commercial variants have been built including the still-in-production 747-8F freighter version. While its days as an airliner are numbered thanks to more efficient, slightly smaller airplanes like Boeing’s own 777, the 747’s size and cargo-oriented design will keep it flying freight for decades to come says Lombardi.

The Jumbo continues to serve as the VC-25, known as Air Force One when the President is aboard, and as America’s National Airborne Operations Center as the E-4B. China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia all use 747s for their heads-of-state. 747s have carried everything from the experimental Airborne Laser to the Space Shuttle, acted as super fire tankers, and carried metal band Iron Maiden on tour as “Ed Force One.”

Lombardi can think of no other airplane which has crossed the Pacific as often as the 747. “Being captain of this flagship airplane, was the greatest job in the airlines,” Lombardi adds.

No doubt Castro would agree though he would never tour the inside of his temporarily captive 747. After taking the dictator on a walk-around tour of the plane, Watkins offered to take him aboard. “I would probably scare the passengers,” Premier Castro said. Minutes later, Watkins lined Clipper Victor up for takeoff and headed for Miami and an FBI-debriefing.

Flight 299 finally landed in San Juan at 10:45 am, about seven hours late.

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