Steve Pollock

Since 1963.

Category: Braniff International Airlines (Page 1 of 2)

Remembering the Past

Remembering Bill Schock on his 100th birthday … and the 52nd anniversary of Braniff 250 in Falls City. Also … feeling old from … time flying and stuff.

Since the AM2431 crash in Durango a few days ago appears to be from weather-related causes, never forgetting the lessons of BN250, as well as CO426, OZ809, EA66, PA759, DL191, and US1016 is as important as ever. Hope today’s flight crews are paying attention.

Photo of Bill Schock

For Bill

Back in 2014, I included a chapter in my book detailing Bill Schock’s war experiences as they related to his reporting on the crash of Braniff International flight 250 in 1966.

The editors at McFarland, rightly but regretfully, suggested I delete the chapter since it was rather tangentially related to the subject, namely “Deadly Turbulence: The Air Safety Lessons of Braniff Flight 250 and Other Airliners, 1959-1966.” (Yeesh, that title.) They wanted 80,000 words; I gave them 96,000, so yeah, some cuts were needed—like the chapter about events which happened in 1966.

But for what it’s worth, in honor of Bill, here’s the deleted chapter. I hope it does him at least some honor.

Farewell, Bill. Thank you.

Update 05:00 26-Jun-18: I revised the chapter to correct a few annoying typos and to add some information, including original source documents for Bill’s war record. Click the link below again to get the revised version. Thanks!]

Read the chapter at this link:
«Deleted Chapter About Bill Schock from Deadly Turbulence by Steve Pollock»

Photo of Bill Schock

A Final “Hangin’ Out the Warsh”

«This is Bill’s final column» out of countless ones he wrote over 71 years for the Falls City Journal.

With this column, he said farewell; the Journal has been sold and moved to a much smaller space in downtown Falls City which it had occupied until 1950.

It’s all extremely symbolic of the state of small-town journalism in the wayward America of the 21st century.

He wrote about one memory that I can personally relate to very much from my time at the Duncan Banner:

“A man came into the office and was pondering over the counter. Finally, he said, ‘I guess I’ll keep on another year. It ain’t the best paper in the world, but it is something to read.’ Another time a man brought an ad in for placement in the Journal and when he was told the price he said, ‘The old man gave me a better price.’ The clerk said, ‘Who’s the old man?’ He said ‘Bill Schock.'”

Falls City Journal

B-17 bomber in blue sky background

More Grief

This is kind of like how I feel about my (possibly four) upcoming surgeries: I don’t want to do this, but I have to, and I hate it.

Received a kind e-mail yesterday telling me of the death of Bill Schock of Falls City, NE, on Thursday evening, six weeks short of his 100th birthday. Cripes, 2018, you’re just not going to let up, are you? This bites very hard.

I’ve written and posted photos and documents here about Bill before. Without him, I would never have finished my first book; in fact, without him, there would have been really no book at all, because his photos and reporting about the crash of Braniff International flight 250 near Falls City in 1966 form the foundation of the book and provide witness to the events of the tragic night of 6-Aug-1966. He very graciously gave, with no expectation of anything in return, photos, archives, notes and the permission to use them.

But more, far, far more than that, he was what most of us can only aspire to be: a man of his generation who played an important part in his country’s fight against global fascism, and an exemplary journalist, the highest ideal of American newspaper reporting. At a time of a resurgence of fascism and a retreat into seeming death of (especially small town) American journalism, this is a particularly hard blow. It was inevitable. But still.

Bill fell last week, suffering cuts and bruises. But his hospital checkup revealed something he had, typically, kept quiet: he had end-stage liver cancer. He died Thursday night.

Also typically, he wrote just a simple six paragraph obituary for himself, leaving out … well, most of his singularly extraordinary life. His grandson fortunately took it in hand and summed up Bill’s amazing life in the «obituary that was actually published here by the funeral home»:

“Bill Schock, a war hero who helped save the world from fascism and a beloved pillar of the Falls City community his entire remarkable life, years ago penned his own obituary and tucked it away for safekeeping. “Papa,” as he was affectionately known by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren the past 50 years, used just six small paragraphs and half a sheet of paper in understating an iconic life worthy of a weighty tome, chapters of which could be mistaken for fiction. Words like “hero,” “beloved,” “pillar,” “remarkable,” and “iconic” were not included, nor even considered. There was no mention of “Bill Schock Blvd.” or the myriad of individual honors and awards earned either professionally, during a 70-year career at The Falls City Journal, or civically, when he served on the City Council, School Board, Hospital Board, Rotary Club, Veteran’s Service Committee and Nebraska Outstate Daily Publishers Association, just to name a few. It read only that “Bill has served on numerous boards.” It was that modesty that helped make Falls City’s love for Bill Schock rival only Bill Schock’s love for Falls City. …”

Dorr and Clark Funeral Home, Falls City, NE

Read the whole thing. Bill’s was a life well-lived, and for many people, including me, “icon” and “hero” are highly appropriate words. I typically don’t like the words “hero” or “heroism;” they’re trite and overused. Just my parents and my husband have always been my “heroes.” Beyond that? Well, I’ve found few that can exhibit real “heroism.” In fact, these days, you’re a hero if you spend a few hours suffering from a hangnail, or put a piece of trash in a garbage bin. Bill however; now there’s someone I can look up to as an actual hero.

He gave in, fortunately for us, to his family’s urging to write a memoir of at least his World War II experience. “Thrills, Chills and a Spill,” is fascinating reading. Very few copies exist, since he apparently didn’t think anyone else would be interested. (!!!!!) I fortunately found a .pdf of it and it’s pretty spellbinding. And very vintage Bill. He ends it with this summing up:

“As we leave Europe and the war behind us, I can’t help but think of the one year, nine months and 22 days spent here in history’s worst war, trying to do my small bit for my country. It sure as heck wasn’t fun and games!
“But like the feller says, I would’t do it again for a billion bucks. And, on the other hand, I wouldn’t take a billion bucks for what I’ve gone through.
“They just have to be the greatest experiences of my life.”

And the book is just one year, nine months and 22 days out of 100 years of his amazing life. The other 98 were exemplary of sacrifice, service and great good fun, from bombing the hell out of German fascists to listening to countless school board meetings. This one is devastating. Heart-breaking. Who can replace his extremely large shoes? I wish I knew.

Farewell, Bill Schock. Sir, we appreciate, thank and salute you, not only for your time in uniform, but also and especially for your long service out of it. You are keenly missed.

Image of a plane crashing

Shuttling Between Failures


Turning Sows’ Ears into Silk Purses

This one truth we know: 2017 was disastrous on many levels, including in commercial aviation. Airline corporate boards’ are ever ramping up on their war on passengers, pilots and cabin crew. But there was a very tiny yet significant bright spot noted in The Washington Post and elsewhere: « 2017 was the first year since the advent of passenger air travel that no one died in a commercial airline accident ».

“The Aviation Safety Network estimated there were nearly 37 million flights in 2017, more than any year in history, meaning that aircraft mishaps are declining even as the number of flights continues to rise. The last commercial jet airline crash in which more than 100 people were killed was Oct. 31, 2015, when 224 lives were lost after a flight from Russia broke apart in Egypt. The ASN, which tracks crashes using different metrics from those to70 uses, showed 10 recorded crashes involving small propeller planes and cargo aircraft, killing 44 passengers and 35 people on the ground in 2017. In 2016, the group counted 16 accidents with 303 dead.”
—The Washington Post, 2-Jan-18

But in true 2017-was-an-asshole form, even that tiny bright spot was tarnished when the Personality-in-Chief who shuttles between golf courses and Pennsylvania Avenue on a pimped-out Boeing 747 at considerable taxpayer expense, took credit for last year’s remarkable airline safety record. Urk.

For the Golfer-in-Chief to take credit for this is beyond offensive and insensitive and a lie. It blackens the names of people like Eastern 304’s Grant Newby and Braniff 250’s Don Pauley and Jim Hilliker and Ruth and Mitchell Kuhr and USAirways 1549’s Sully Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles and those dead and injured on Southern 242 and Delta 191 and Air Florida 90, plus all the CAB/NTSB investigators, FAA enforcers and weather experts like Dr. Ted Fujita and Dr. Fernando Caracena … and on and on. And especially all the flight crews who thousands of times a day implement what was learned in the past and get us safely to Lawton and Houston and Milwaukee and Paris and Hong Kong and Lagos.

Let’s be clear: The Ego-in-Chief had absolutely nothing to do with the absence of death on the airways last year. And it was a slap in the face and highly offensive to the memories of all the people who died and all the people who worked so hard to prevent future recurrences. Their great sacrifices are the real reason why we can fly from Dubuque to Fort Myers … Without. Dying. In. A. Plane. Crash. Now you are admittedly shoved into a tiny space with little air and subject to appalling treatment, but you are more likely to be killed by being beaten up by rogue security forces (or being shot by a toddler with Granny’s gun) than you are from Dying. In. A. Plane. Crash. Airlines, airports, police and corporate boards have much work to do on the ground to equal the safety record in the air.

In fact, the record of the former deadbeat owner of the “Trump Shuttle” is pretty clearly the opposite of admirable airline operation, safety and responsibility. The Boston Globe did « a very through review in 2016 » of how the pioneering Eastern Airlines Shuttle was destroyed by Frank Lorenzo and the man who appears to be the current incarnation of P.T. Barnum.

These two Vandals have the same egos and desire to destroy, but Lorenzo actually had some brains to carry it out. Unlike his business partner.

The story is sordid and long, but the details were made clear by Matt Viser’s excellent Globe piece. To wit: Lorenzo sold the Donald the Eastern Shuttle for an overvalued $365 million (if DT had created a brand-new shuttle from the ground up with brand-new planes, not old worn-out 727s, estimates were that he could have done it for $300 million.) Of course, the money was all borrowed. It was 1989; Eastern (and Continental) were already almost dead from Lorenzo’s sledgehammer and the economy was tanking. Pan Am 103 was bombed, the first Gulf War was about to begin. It was incredibly bad judgement to overpay a bunch of other peoples’ money for something that was guaranteed to tank.

The now-decades-old D.T. playbook was followed from the beginning. D.T. started his airline foray by … snarking about Pan American, which had put in more hard work and suffering and pioneering effort into air travel than D.T. would ever be capable of mustering:

“He suggested Pan Am’s flights were unsafe, that the company was strapped for cash and couldn’t spend as much to maintain planes as Trump Shuttle.”
—The Boston Globe, 27-May-16

And, heavy foreshadowing here, true professionals expressed their disgust over his statement, which, both then and now, is like pissing in the wind:

“We said, ‘Donald, don’t ever do that again,'” recalled Henry Harteveldt, who was the company’s marketing director. “It was wrong. We had no proof to back that up. And there’s an unwritten rule in the airline business that you don’t attack someone else’s safety record. There but for the grace of God go I.”
—Ibid

In other words, D.T. (and countless weak attempts to contain his insanity) has never changed. He was just given 21st century tools to broadcast his uninformed and misguided vitriol to a wider audience, i.e. Twitter. And this time, he has nuclear annihilation capabilities instead of a piddly little failing airline.

But back to 1989. As Harteveldt stated, “There but for the grace of God go I.” The Shuttle was pretty crappy safety-wise from the beginning, and he did nothing to improve it, partly because he had zero aviation experience. The grace of God was apparently withdrawn:

“And Trump’s unfounded remarks about Pan Am safety? They almost immediately came back to bite him. Trump’s own airline was struck by a near-tragedy within its first three months, when the nose gear failed on one of his jets and forced a crash landing at Logan.”
—Ibid

As is noted, investigators found the nose gear failure cause: A “mechanic had used the wrong part in the gear mechanism, and it eventually disintegrated and locked the gear in place,” a safety failure that had happened under Lorenzo’s watch.

“Trump — who weeks earlier had made claims that he would send all of his own planes through X-rays to make sure they were safe — turned on the TV and watched as CNN showed a Trump Shuttle flight circling the air. “After several attempts to jar the nose gear loose, and after circling around to burn fuel, the pilot landed on the back two wheels, slowing the plane down as much as possible before lowering the nose of the plane onto the runway.”
—Ibid

He then flew up to Boston on a Trump Shuttle flight. Hilariously tragic: He “was kind of a nervous flier” and asked one of his airline executives, “Is this thing safe?” I can’t think of a more perfect illustration of his public-huckster/private-doofus personality … and oh, the foreshadowing!

Once in Boston, he praised the “maestro” pilot who sucessfully landed the flight, Robert Smith. And in another bit of foreshadowing, Smith loved D.T. right back:

“The ‘maestro’ that day, pilot Robert Smith, said Trump had been advised not to come up — so as not to draw attention to the crash — but Trump disregarded it. “He was very happy with the crew,” said Smith, who after decades in the airline industry called Trump “the best boss I’ve ever had.” “And I think he was very happy with the exposure he got that day. He handled it beautifully.”
—Ibid

I smell Stockholm Syndrome and future Trumpista voters; you know, the ones who voted for him but who will bear the full brunt of his destructive con. But I digress. I love the followup to “He handled it beautifully”:

“One of the passengers on that flight — who recalls sliding out the aircraft and into a pile of foam — was Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush and his super PAC to try to defeat Trump. “Afterward,” he said, “all I got was a form letter and a drink coupon.”
—Ibid

While Murphy is, like myself, biased against him (or rather his con jobs and inability to grasp reality), facts are facts. A drink coupon for an emergency evac is hardly handling things “beautifully.”

In fact, his own marketing executive at the Shuttle summed up this “beautifully handled” situation:

“‘He certainly was a man known for his bravado. He promised people a diamond in the sky when we had 21 of some of the oldest, worst maintained 727s then flying,’ said Harteveldt, the marketing director. ‘He’s giving a press conference promising a diamond in the sky. I’m saying, “You may have to settle for cubic zirconium to start.””
—Ibid

Perhaps if he had “x-rayed” (!) all those 727s and found the gear part problem the whole situation would not have had to be “beautifully managed” in the first place.

Ultimately, the shuttle was “successful enough to cover operating costs but not enough to pay down the debt.” Meanwhile, D.T. was divorcing his wife and marrying his mistress, something which happened twice, but does not bother the opportunistic evangelicals flitting around his head. But I digress.

After just 12 months, he fired an executive (who had insisted that the 727 needs two pilots and a flight engineer, even though D.T. wanted to fly them with just two pilots to save money) and laid off 100 employees. After 18 months, the shuttle lost $128 million dollars. After 30 months, he golden parachuted out:

“In late 1991, about 2½ years after Trump had purchased the airline, Trump gave up control of his prize in order to get out from a pile of debt. As part of the deal, Trump was no longer responsible for some $245 million in loans left on the shuttle airline. In addition, out of the $135 million that Trump had personally guaranteed, at least $100 million was forgiven, according to news reports at the time.”
—Ibid

Absolved from $245 million in loans and welshing on $100 million which he had “personally guaranteed.” He was out only $35 million while banks and others were left holding the bag. Said he: “I felt successful. The market had crashed. I didn’t lose anything. It was a good thing,” he said.

A very good thing for him indeed. The human wreckage he left? Not so much.

Apologies to The Globe and Matt Viser for so extensively quoting from the article, but it needs rebroadcasting to as many people as possible. Kudos.

But instead of focusing on D.T.’s usual nonsense, we should focus on remembering and honoring the memory of the thousands of casualties and millions of worrkers who made 2017 the safest commercial aviation year in history. May 2018 continue the trend.

[Text by HawkEye. Photo by Rob Potter via Unsplash]

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