John S. Anderson Spent 50 years at USAir.

John S. Anderson retired from the aviation sector in 1998. He joined American Export in 1942.

Anderson grew up in Asheville, N.C., creating model airplanes and looking up. In 1929, he flew a Curtiss pusher seaplane from a small island between Miami and Miami Beach. His family vacationed in Florida over Christmas. “That flight caught me!”

By age 9, he often visited an Asheville airfield to observe a Ford Trimotor carry passengers and investigate vintage Curtiss OX-5 planes.

“Once, when I was upside down in someone’s Aeronca C-3 cockpit, the plane’s owner grabbed me by the seat of my pants and yanked me out,” Anderson claimed. “He was curious about my activities. When I stated my intentions, he became cordial and showed me everything I desired. He didn’t give me a ride.

Central Airport

1937: Anderson’s father died. In high school, he moved to Richmond for family reasons.

After school, he rode his bike to Central Airport in northeast Richmond to fuel and park planes. After graduation, he worked full-time and was guaranteed weekly flying time.He was allowed to solo after 4 hours and 50 minutes to avoid using teacher time on a non-revenue student. He was conscientious and was paid $2 a week plus flying time.

When Two-Mac Aerial Tours came through Richmond, they hired Anderson. He cleaned, oiled, and fueled the plane. He earned $15 every week selling tickets. He could ride in the copilot’s seat on empty flights.

United States Export Airlines

Anderson enrolled in Parks Air College’s maintenance engineering course in 1940 and graduated in 1942. He became a welder, aircraft and engine mechanic, and private pilot there. He got a second-class radio coding license with teacher rating.

Pearl Harbor halted his intentions in December 1941. He tried out for Army Air Corps aviation cadets but failed the physical.Anderson, 19, worked as an A&E mechanic for American Export Airlines in Port Washington, Long Island. American Export Lines formed AEA in 1937 to provide transatlantic service.

Anderson started working with AEA on April 15, 1942, with the understanding that he would be transferred to flight operations when hiring increased.

John Anderson polishes a Ford Tri-Motor at Virginia Beach in September 1939.

Pan American Airways opposed AEA’s flying-boat service for years. New Sikorsky S-44s traveled between New York and Ireland.AEA also won a U.S. Naval Air Transport contract for four-engine Consolidated PB2Y-3s and twin-engine Martin PBMs. All AEA wartime operations were under this contract, and all crewmembers joined the Naval Reserve. About 10 of General Chennault’s Flying Tigers returned after their AVG contracts expired.

Anderson: “Seaplanes are slow.” The Sikorsky airplane cruised at 140 knots and had a 29-hour range.Headwinds of 70 mph were common when flying west from Foynes, Ireland to New York. To minimize wind, planes flew between 100 and 500 feet. Nighttime vigilance was needed.

Ocean spray would ice up the wing floats, wing, and hull, increasing drag and fuel consumption. They occasionally picked up ice, which melted slowly.

A Sikorsky S-44 flying boat takes off in the New York LaGuardia Bowery Bay in 1942.

Favorable winds favored eastward aircraft. In instrument conditions, they’d soar higher than typical to break out of the clouds and allow the navigator to gain a celestial fix.

Anderson: “One night, out of Botwood, Newfoundland, going for Shannon, Ireland, we had to decide whether to continue or turn back.” “We climbed the Sikorsky to 18,100 feet before escaping. We couldn’t go higher. The Pratt & Whitney 1830 engines were running at maximum rpm with wide-open throttles. Thankfully, the overcast lifted and the navigator could see. We were in good position, so we quickly fell through the clouds to 8000 feet.

Pan Am Captain Paul Roitsch and Sud Aviation test pilot Juan Franchi show flight engineer John Anderson the Concorde flight simulator in Toulouse, France.

Anderson began his career as a flight engineer on Dec. 1, 1942. His flights left lasting impressions. In 1950, he flew medical evacuations from Tokyo to the U.S. for the Korean Airlift. Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. It had 28 upper and lower beds, pressurized to fly above most storms.

Anderson: “I usually went back once on long flights to say hello, but not much more.”These planes refueled at Wake Island. On one stopover, many planes were on the ramp. Truman and MacArthur were having their famous, uncomfortable meeting there.

When American Export Airlines won transatlantic rights to northern Europe, including London, in 1945, it cut links with the shipping sector. American Airlines bought it and turned it into American Overseas Airlines. AOA stayed with American for a few years; Anderson flew the DC-4 Skymaster, the Constellation, and the Stratocruiser.


AOA amalgamated with Pan Am in 1950 and dissolved. Anderson progressed through transitions and mergers to become Pan Am’s flight engineering director. He has flown on most piston-engine aircraft of that era, then Boeing 707, 747, and Douglas DC-8 jets. In the 1960s, he worked on Pan Am’s Concorde and SST review teams. Anderson’s Parks Air College education helped him continue learning.

“The education I received from manufacturers was some of the best I could have gotten,” he said. Wright Aeronautical, Hamilton Standard, and Curtiss Electric were also helpful.

Anderson took a night college course to understand a “new-to-me” principle when Pan Am purchased jets.

“It was a general training to prepare me for Pratt & Whitney and Boeing’s comprehensive operations programs,” he stated. Pan Am’s jet-launch team was busy in 1958. Line personnel underwent thorough flight training before receiving the first plane. Crewmembers were given 20 hours of training flights because jet simulators weren’t available.

Before regular airline service began, Anderson was assigned a survey and promotional flight. The job required ferrying a 707 from New York to Washington National Airport (DCA) for a christening ceremony by Mamie Eisenhower, and then to Washington-Baltimore International Airport (BWI) to pick up senators and newsmen for a journey to Brussels, Belgium. BWI’s vast runways accommodated the plane’s weight.

The 707 required a start cart for the engines, and the only one on the East Coast was at Washington National. The problem-solving scheme was doomed. The 707 was to start engines at DCA and fly to BWI while a police-escorted vehicle brought the start cart. Long delays were inevitable. Anderson finished the aircraft logbooks and calculated the fuel uplift at BWI when he heard sirens signaling the cart’s arrival.

Crew brought senators to 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. Several groups were flown to Paris for publicity flights around the Eiffel Tower. They returned to Idlewild on October 19. Anderson met Pan Am’s CEO on that flight.

Pan Am made the first American commercial jet trip from New York to Paris on Oct. 27, 1958. Anderson worked the first westbound crossing from Paris.

Pan Am was interested in buying the Concorde when it was being developed by Sud Aviation and BAe. Anderson was on Pan Am’s three-man Concorde evaluation team, which visited Bristol, England, and Toulouse, France. The team wrote software specifications and monitored its progress for six years.As a flight engineer consultant, Anderson observed the first supersonic airline flight. The test program reached Mach 1.47. I made four trips on the Concorde with other team members, but we cancelled the contract.

One Concorde flight left Cork, Ireland, and traveled to North Africa and the Bay of Biscay. In 30 minutes, they reached Casablanca.

John Anderson (second from left) discusses Concorde flight evaluation with (L to R) Andre Turcat, Sud Aviation chief test pilot; Paul Roitsch, chief pilot, technical, Pan Am; and Brian Trubshaw, chief test pilot, British Airways.

Anderson had flown the same distance from Foynes, Ireland, to Port Lyautey, Morocco, in 10 1/2 hours during the war. In those days, the Germans monitored the Bay of Biscay and sometimes attacked transiting planes.Anderson’s Concorde work echoed a later assignment comparing American SSTs. Airlines were requested to compare Boeing and Lockheed’s commercial offerings. The American SST program required long flights to Evendale, Ohio, and West Palm Beach, Fla., for engine testing.Both the Lockheed rounded-tip delta wing variant and the Boeing swing-wing aircraft were stunning. Boeing’s GE-powered swing-wing won permission, but the Senate canceled it over environmental concerns.

Anderson wasn’t on the 747 review team, although he wrote its engine portion. The 747’s engine was unreliable because of its hasty design and production. The engine mounting mechanism and variable stators had to be adjusted even after flying certification to prevent abrupt engine stalls when thrust was lowered. Failure-prone thrust reversers. First-day 747 difficulties worried many.

Encountering Lindbergh

In February 1974, Anderson took a 747 from Frankfurt, Germany, to New York. The Frankfurt ramp was ice, so the tug took a while to push the jet from the gate.The purser came to the flight deck to confirm the emergency briefing. Then she announced Lindbergh’s presence. The captain then told the passengers of the delay.“General Charles Lindbergh is aboard today,” he said.

The purser returned a second later, shocked.

The purser said, “You did it!” “Lindbergh is furious. When traveling, he hates fame.

After takeoff, the purser returned with a note: “Dear Captain, since you’ve made my life terrible, I’d like to fly.”Captain agreed promptly. Lindbergh arrived on the flight deck and sat in the observer’s post. Lindbergh and the captain were icy and formal, and the distance to the first officer made discussion difficult. Anderson felt lucky to spend 8 hours with Lindbergh.

Anderson said Lindbergh was returning to Connecticut from a German environmental meeting. “At 72, he looked much older and frailer. I later learned he had cancer and died in August.”

Lindbergh informed Anderson he wanted to reduce global fuel use. Lindbergh peered out the window as they flew along Long Island Sound to Kennedy Airport.

He said, “I’m looking for a house.” Then he exclaimed, “Yes! See? Out there!”

Anderson saw Lindbergh’s lights near the ocean.


Anderson was grateful for his 27 years working on the 747.

He said, “It’s a fantastic accomplishment.”Anderson won his request for Miami as his home base and returned to flight engineer. Pan Am reduced operations in 1982 and offered him an early retirement payout. Anderson retired after 40 years and 7 months on Dec. 31, 1982.

Soon after, he joined Overseas National to fly 747s during Hajj. They flew Nigerian Muslims to Saudi Arabia for Mecca pilgrimages. He spent the program in Jeddah.

Tower Air invited Anderson to be a flight engineer. 20 747s joined the airline’s fleet. Anderson was chief flight engineer for 14 years. On his 76th birthday, May 11, 1998, Tower Air celebrated his retirement.

Anderson became a professional photographer. His favorite photo is Concorde 214-G-BOAG landing at Boeing Field on Nov. 4, 2003. The British Airways supersonic plane was making its final landing approach after flying from New York to Seattle in 3 hours, 55 minutes, 12 seconds. Decommissioned plane on exhibit at The Museum of Flight.Anderson was a docent in 1999. Soon, he got interested in the Lockheed Blackbird, a Mach 3.2 reconnaissance plane. He visited Edwards Air Force Base to fly one of the few remaining SR-71s and the simulator.

Anderson wrote a 66-page essay on the Blackbird series of aircraft in August 2000, from the CIA’s A-12 to the Air Force’s SR-71. The museum has a Blackbird MD-21. It’s the only surviving variant with a ram-jet-powered surveillance drone. Anderson collected his study to help other docents conduct public tours and discuss the program in depth.

He overachieved!

Quick Summary

First scheduled U.S. air service began in the early 20th century. The U.S. Post Office Department conducted the first scheduled flights between New York and D.C.

Varney Air Lines commenced operations in 1926. Varney flew a single-engine biplane between Pasco and Elko. United Airlines was founded in 1926; American Airlines in 1930.As more people traveled by air in the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. airline sector grew. Larger and more efficient aircraft, like the Douglas DC-3 and the Boeing 747, also helped the sector thrive.

1978’s Airline Deregulation Act abolished several government rules from the airline industry. This led to increased competition, lower fares, and new airline entries.Since then, the U.S. airline sector has evolved and grown, with many large airlines and smaller regional carriers operating flights worldwide. Millions of people work in the U.S. airline business, a key contributor to the economy.

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