Good guys who had gone bad
By Mike Zoeller
Good guys who had gone bad
International airports in the 1960s and early 1970s were home to array of gleaming early-model Boeing 707s and 720s operated by the likes of Pan Am, TWA, Lufthansa and United.
By the mid 1970s many of these aircraft had migrated to secondary carriers, cargo or charter outfits, perhaps no longer working out of a city’s principal airport but still plying the skies and making a profit for the ‘planes owners.
Towards the latter part of the 1970s newer types were being introduced, fuel prices had increased and the proud birds were being retired and offered for sale. Some soldiered on carrying passengers and cargo on a regular basis till time, literally, ran out. A handful of others ended their days flying for some less than respectable owners to locations where no questions would be asked as to the aircraft’s visit or for whom it was flying.
Pan Am Boeing 707s
Pan Am started phasing out it's non-fan Boeing 707s in 1970 when the value of the aircraft would have been circa $1.5 million. Many were sold in the United Kingdom, Turkey, the Philippines, Yugoslavia and of course the US, ten years later one could be acquired for less than $500,000. One such aircraft was Pan Am's former Jet Clipper Aurora, Boeing 707-321 N725PA, it saw service with THY - Turkish Airlines followed by 2 year stint with UK based leasing company Tempair (Templewood Aviation) before they were liquidated at the end of 1976 and it was parked at Ostend, Belgium.
A flying heap of shit
In December 1977 Lieutenant General Maurice F Casey, trading as Burbank International Co. acquired the aircraft, payment negotiations were carried out in Miami, at one stage a gun appeared on the table and the buyers tried to pay with Australian Black Opals... On the 17th February 1978 it was ferried from Ostend to Luton, UK for checks wearing it’s new registration N725CA. Casey's intention was to operated livestock flights between Miami and Venezuela, something of an issue with an aircraft not equipped with a main cabin cargo door. A special flight certificate was given to ferry the aircraft from Luton to Miami via Gander, the flight took place on 8th March. Freelance navigator, David Welch, who was on the flight described the 707 as "a flying heap of s**t". Prior to departure on the 8th, N725CA undertook a test flight out of Luton during which a hydraulic fluid cable broke loose and dumped it's load of fluid over new cars parked at the nearby Vauxhall car plant. This made the national press who referred to the aircraft as 'The Luton Carwash Bomber'. David Welch remarks "We just managed to get the 707 airborne (on the 8th March) before a bailiff arrived at Monarch Engineering's operations intending to slap a writ on it for all the damage. Vauxhall made a £1M insurance claim against Templewood, plus a large number of the population of Luton claimed that their cars were ruined too. On the way to Gander it developed the worst Dutch roll I ever experienced - twice at least. One problem was that one of the outer engines wasn't giving full power."
The aircraft never moved from Miami, although $73,000+ of repair work mainly to wing corrosion was carried out during most of 1979. A total of 3 liens were placed on the aircraft between March 1979 and October 1981 and at one stage it was nearly sold to a company in Wyoming. Finally the aircraft was sold to General Air Services in 1981, it was broken up at Miami between September 1983 and January 1984.
Jet Clipper Viking
Sister-ship N723PA Jet Clipper Viking's twilight years were any thing but restful, and like Aurora it gained national press coverage in the UK. After serving with JAT it was sold, via brokers, to United Trade International and registered N711UT by the end of 1975. The President of UTI was Shirley Adams Soghanalian, wife of Lebanese Armenian arms-dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian and mother of Garabet Soghanalian who ran Pan Aviation who were the centre of a FBI/DEA probe in the 1980s on suspicion of drug-running. N711UT made an appearance at Stansted in early 1976 wearing an anonymous colour-scheme in cargo configuration and showing signs of having carried the inscription 'Afric', lending belief to the reports that it had been operating out of Swaziland in 1974 for a company called Air Union AG which might have been owned by Soghanalian too. The aircraft was seen at various locations between 1976 and 1979, Miami, San Jose CR, Lisbon, Prague, Budapest, Sofia and Athens from where cargo flights to the Middle East were being operated.
From Warsaw to Beirut
During this same period Sarkis Soghanalian was known to be selling arms to the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia, and various factions in Ecuador, Mauritania and Nicaragua. Much of the activity had a blind eye turned to it, such is the way of international politics. A contemporary report stated that the US (CIA, FBI State Department or DIA?) supplied a 707 plus crew to enable Christian forces in Lebanon to be equipped with arms, on one delivery at night from Warsaw to Beirut via Athens without flight-plan the aircraft refueled in Athens. The aircraft was ready to depart when the tower called to pull aside, two Greek customs officials wanted to inspect the plane's cargo. Soghanalian asked the pilot if they could ignore the request and just take off, but it was pointed out to Soghanalian that the Greeks had an air force base at Thessaloniki and could deploy fighters. The front of the 707 had seating with the rear cargo area curtained off, so Soghanalian entertained the customs officials with Scotch and attempted to bribe them. As they were not up for bribery Soghanalian and the crew pulled guns on the Greeks, locked them in the plane's toilet and took off. Upon arrival at Beirut the officials were released with the help of the Greek Ambassador and were sent home the next day on a commercial flight. Apparently the officials were not even missed in Athens!
Luck ran out for the 707 when it was impounded in Helsinki in February 1979. However it’s fraudulent activities were far from over, it was about to take seat-of-your-pants flying to new levels. In the summer of 1979 the aircraft was released by the Finnish authorities to Air Union AG and was ferried to Lasham, UK for checks and a change of registration to 9Q-CRY (falsely), it was being readied for operations by ‘Khan Air’ flying livestock between the Arabian Gulf and India. Money for the complete checks was not very forthcoming and the aircraft departed Lasham for Bristol still with many un-rectified defects such as both compasses being unserviceable as were both HF sets. 9Q-CRY’s departure from Bristol to Kuwait was spectacular and even raised questions in the British Parliament, on the 11th October after using every inch of runway it rotated taking with it two marker poles – previously around ten feet tall, together with a portion of the airport boundary hedge. The aircraft’s crew consisted of a qualified British FE but the Captain and FO were a father and son team, Richard Khan Senior and Junior, with questionable 707 command experience. The aircraft received a 10 hour inspection in Kuwait with the help of Kuwait Airways, problems were apparent in the pressurisation system, metal bars were found hanging from the fuselage, wings and landing gear. Landing gear locks were damaged, mainly be trees and undergrowth. However it departed in an un-airworthy condition to Bombay in order to complete a livestock charter. For several months the aircraft operated it’s cattle charters around the Arabian Gulf with the undercarriage locked DOWN and despite being surrounded on the ramp at Sharjah, it managed to evade all of the ground vehicles and depart. Destination was Luxembourg, but by the time it was over Erzurum, Turkey an emergency was declared as two engines had been shut-down. It arrived at Ankara on 25th January 1980 and was hastily abandoned by the crew, unsure as to who truly owned the aircraft or what to do with it, the Turkish Ministry of Transportation scrapped the 707 in 1984. As to the Khans, they have never been heard of again.