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The crew manifest above is the return trip from Saudi Arabia for N58021, which was this aircraft's first charter for Ocean Air Tradeways. The story leading up to the above manifest,,, is the story and its told by Charlie Blair in his book "Red Ball in the Sky"

Douglas DC-4 / C-54B-15-DO Skymaster

Ocean Air Tradeways / NC58021

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to New York / November 15, 1946

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Aircraft serial number 18395 was manufactured in 1944 at the Santa Monica facility. This aircraft was one of the last C-54B built before the upgraded C-54D. Douglas made 1,240 (DC-4/C-54) until 1947. From the Army Air Corp, Ocean Air Tradeways, U.S. Overseas Airlines to El AL (Israel) to Israel Air Force with a crash off Tel Aviv on January 2, 1949. More about this aircraft and the people that operated it below.

Excerpt from "Red Ball in the Sky" - Chpt. 4  - In Search of Gold

During my spare time from scheduled airline flying with American Overseas Airlines, I became involved with a small nonscheduled company which was on the verge of  leasing one of the war-weary airplanes. The diversion into new territory was at the invitation of Ralph Cox, a part-time dentist and copilot I had employed back in 1942 when hiring crews to man the flying boats of American Export Airlines.

...

Ralph Cox and I together with a trusty flight-engineer, journeyed into Connecticut one spring day in search of an abandon airfield known as Winsor Locks. This airport was later destined to become the official airport for Hartford.

 

But in 1946 this particular airport was not much to look at. A casual passer-by would have had difficulty finding the place at all, so massive were the undergrowth and weeds that concealed it from the highway.

 

But for the more professional observer there were two other landmarks which identified this ghostlike airport for what it used to be.

Close at hand near the airfield entrance, a dilapidated control tower reared skyward a modest few yards, its last vestige of paint gone with the wind and the weather. But I looked in vain for an occupant of the tinted-glass box atop the weather-beaten underpinnings. It would have been in keeping with the deserted scene if a ghost suddenly rose up behind the glass to warn us against any further penetration of this premises.

Close at hand near the airfield entrance, a dilapidated control tower reared skyward a modest few yards, its last vestige of paint gone with the wind and the weather. But I looked in vain for an occupant of the tinted-glass box atop the weather-beaten underpinnings. It would have been in keeping with the deserted scene if a ghost suddenly rose up behind the glass to warn us against any further penetration of this premises.

But the other landmark brought us back to reality. It was an airplane - a four engine transport known in military lingo as a C-54, series B.

Here was the object of our quest. This would be Cox's forthcoming entry into big-time air transportation.

It stood forlornly at the far-end of the airport, the once-shiny skin tarnished and dull, its Air Corps makings stripped away. Branded as war surplus at the tender age of two years, and stripped of its proud insignia, the shabby relic appeared dispossessed and forsaken.

From a distance and in these seedy surroundings its airworthiness looked altogether dubious. However, on closer inspection, the vital components appeared somewhat more trustworthy. This was encouraging to me because my reason for being there was to fly it away.

The flight engineer clambered from wing to wing and from bow to stern to peer into all the places where trouble could secretly generate. When he had finished, Cox and I invaded the cockpit to strap ourselves onto a pair of tattered seat cushions.

After a couple of thousand hours in the left front seat of a DC-4, I had become well acquainted with all the gadgets and with the technique for squeezing this sizable airplane on to a four-thousand-foot runway, such as Roosevelt Field on Long Island where we intended to go.

 

The flight engineer verified everything was well bolted together, and the wheels mounted in reliable rubber. The tanks also contained a modest fuel supply, and there was oil in each engine. Much to our surprise the four engines started promptly and ran at even tempo. We took leave, and gave Winsor Locks back to the jack rabbits.

There was no hangar at Roosevelt Field that could contain the monster, but the idea of such splendid comfort and expense, would have been revolting to Cox, anyway. The conversion of this airplane from "military to civil" would be a fresh-air job.

The going rate at a plush aircraft-modification center for converting a C-54 to a CAA-licensed DC-4 was upward of a hundred thousand dollars. A homegrown conversion out in the open air, doing without the huge overhead of a factory job, would cost only a fraction of that.

There wasn't much overhead out on Roosevelt Field's concrete ramp. There was no office rent or doe-eyed stenographer to distract the hired help. When the weather was good the mechanics worked on the airplane's externals. When it rained, there was plenty to be done inside its protective skin. Although the usual clutter of kibitzers and sidewalk superintendents further confused the scene, they usually dispersed when the weather was wet.

Here on this expanse of concrete the military C-54 gradually became a commercial DC-4, but only after a great hustle and bustle during the summer of 1946. For months the airplane was strewn all over the ramp, and it sometimes looked doubtful if the thousands of pieces could ever be put together again. My function would be to test-fly it if that day ever came.

Somehow by summer's end it was ready to go, and I took it a loft on its first test flight. After becoming thoroughly convinced that the airplane was airworthy we dropped in on Long Island's Aviation Country Club at Hicksville for lunch and to demonstrate that the aircraft with four engines doesn't always need a big airport. Besides the tennis courts, swimming pool, and other trimmings, this aviation club sported a grass-covered airfield that was not much more than two thousand feet long.

The landing from north to south in dead calm air was routine, except that the sunbathers didn't think so as they dived hastily into the swimming pool. But taking off from this sod field was more exacting, and we picked up some extra yardage by making a semicircular departure. The takeoff roll was started in a west-southwesterly direction, and we were airborne on a northwesterly heading without trespassing our wheels on the adjacent meadow.

This airplane was clearly capable of great things. The Civil Aeronautics Administration concurred and decorated it with a license and a new number - NC58021. No one took the trouble to shatter a bottle of champagne across its humble prow. It wasn't customary to anoint a mere tramp of the airways.

It was early November, six months after I picked up the airplane at Windsor Locks, before everything was ready. The next order of business was to start making money. Cox's new company, called Ocean Air Tradeways, would need to start flying promptly with its first four engine payload. On the ground an airplane becomes a leech which can quickly bleed its owner to agonizing fiscal demise.

The first trip was a big one. NC58021 was contracted to fly all the way to the Persian Gulf, to a land that flowed back gold - Saudi Arabia.

The contract stated that the passengers must be on their way within twenty-four hours. Although this didn't allow much time for assembling a competent flight crew, the required half dozen were gathered on the flight deck at the appointed hour. Each man had driven his own hard bargain with Cox.

Dressed as we were in motley mufti we didn't cut much of a figure, but this was not collection of baboons. Four of us had managed a few days' leave from American Overseas Airlines. Two of the crew weren't thus entangled with the airlines, but they, too, were professionals.

As occupant of the captain's seat I was the overall boss of this quickly assembled expedition. My main function, other than flying, was to coordinate all aspects of a five-day journey that would average fifteen flying hours a day. The most important requirement, other than safety, was to bring the airplane home as quickly as possible.

The aircraft had been chartered to Arabian-American Oil Company (Aramco) because Trans World Airlines, the regular means of transit to Arabia, was grounded by a pilot's strike. We has a total of forty passengers, mostly Aramco employees en route to the Arabian oil fields. Along, too, were three Egyptian potentates, who would be our distinguished guests as far as Cairo. The top man in this trio was Nochrachi Pasha, who would be the next premier of Egypt.

Our purser in the passenger cabin was Bill Scouler, a comrade of the flying boats. He was taking a few days off from his catering business to be our one and only cabin attendant. Besides tending his duties as purser, he would double up as a steward, nursemaid, and diplomat.

His skill as a diplomat was fortunate. The Pasha was not an understanding passenger. Being unhappy with the austere accommodations he took to storming up and down the cabin aisle most the night, his head wrapped in a towel to ward off the persistent drafts that attacked him from every nook and corner of NC58021. His two companions could do nothing to calm him down,

We refueled in Stephenville, Newfoundland, and by the time of our arrival over Paris the cabin behind us was in a state of festering turmoil. To make matters worse we were obliged to divert to London after circling for an hour over Paris, waiting in vain for our turn to land in everlasting thickening fog at Orly.

A diversion to London was usually a routine maneuver, but unfortunately it was past midnight when we arrived. The Pasha had missed a Paris airport rendezvous with some political pals, and this brought forth a new spasm of abuse and agitation.

The landing at London caused other difficulties. Our maps and radio=facility charts for the journey to Arabia were waiting for us in Paris, together with instructions for routing beyond Cairo. To meet the deadline, we had been obliged to leave New York in a hurry, and no one from Aramco who came to La Guardia Airport knew our final destination - not even the passengers. Just fly toward Arabia, we were told. Someone in Paris would furnish the details.

The phone call from London to Paris availed nothing, so we decided to start out the direction of Cairo without delay. Our first order of business was to rid ourselves of the troublesome Pasha. But there was another perplexing problem. Cairo had two airports to choose from - Payne Field and El Almaza. The toss of a coin chose El Almaza.

There were no maps to be had at London Airport in the middle of the night, except for a chart of the route on the controller's wall. However, it was securely pasted there, so the best we could do was commit it to memory.

We were soon on the road to Cairo, flying a route that kept the western slopes of the Alps at a healthy distance in the darkness. Over Sicily a dazzling sun came up to scorch the windshield as we pushed against strong easterly headwinds toward the Egyptian end of the Mediterranean .

 

After takeoff at London I discovered a chart in my flight bag. It was a map of Europe and the Mediterranean which measured some four inches long when plucked from the pages of a small pocket-size memo book. Cunningham, the navigator, had a sharp pencil. While over the sea he plotted celestial-position lines on this miniature map which would have done credit to the navigator of an ocean liner. 

The easterly headwinds kept me casting an eye on the fuel gages, but after passing Tobruk I stopped looking.  Two hundred gallons would still be in the tanks at Cairo, where the weather promised to be cloudless. It would be difficult to miss the Egyptian capitol with so many antiquities jutting out of the landscape, and with the river Nile nearby.

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Mohmuod El Nochrachi Pasha
Pasha with King Farouk
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DC-4

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DC-6

photo credit George Trussell

After landing at El Amaza we taxied briskly to a weather-beaten terminal building to park among a clutter of aircraft of all shapes and sizes. But we dared not cut the inboard engines because of a peculiar characteristic of this particular DC-4 while on the ground. Until we could coax some of the paasengers to leave their seat and come forward to the cockpit to add weight in the nose, or else find someone outside to install a tall tailpost under the ship's tail, the airplane was so tail heavy when fully loaded that it would fall back on its tail like a supplicating hound dog as soon as the engines were shutdown. This unseemly posture- nose wheel high in the air and tail on the ground- hardly befitted the stars and stripes which decorated the tail of NC58021.

Despite the imposing size of the DC-4, there was little interest in our arrival. An occasional Egyptian gave us a curious stare, but there was no offer of a passenger stairway with which we could dispose of our agonized potentates. After much waving and beckoning, we finally succeeded in making a colorful uniformed policemen take sufficient notice to signal a cluster of unshaven, skinny=looking workmen, clad in grubby brown coveralls. A small stairway was brought forth which reached halfway to the passenger cabin door. The first step was a long one, but no tears would be shed in NC58021 if the Pasha had landed upside down on the concrete.

The tailpost was installed and the engines shut down, but it was now clear we had no business at El Amaza. Our high-ranking passenger was certainly not traveling incognito, yet there was no one at this airport to greet him. Obviously his retinue was waiting at Payne Field a few miles away.

To appease the Pasha I thought about cranking up all the engines and changing airports, but suddenly there was a great shouting and tumult. A thundering stampede of the faithful came storming in from the airport entrance to engulf a black sedan which had somehow materialized at the bottom of the small stairway.

In a few moments the black sedan was gone, and so was the Pasha. He had survived the first step.

After that everything was easy. Someone told us to proceed to a place called Dhahran at the far end of Arabia.

We took leave of Cairo not long after midnight and found ourselves at peace with the world over a vast wasteland that stretched a thousand miles from Suez to the Persian Gulf. Now and then in the star-studded void we spotted a lonely campfire, but there was not sign of life on the black emptiness of the desert until dawn came at Dhahran.

The passenger cabin was tranquil. The big shot was gone, and many years later we learned that our agonized traveling companion had, in due course, gone to his reward. He had been assassinated, which was not surprise to anyone. Oddly, non of the crew of NC58021 has ever been accused.

CREDIT LINE: Excerpt(s) from RED BALL IN THE SKY by Charles Blair, copyright 1968 by Charles Blair. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Publishing for allowing the posting of the above excepts of Charlie's book. 

The approved license to post the above expires on 6/10/29.

American Overseas Airlines

NC58021 and the incredible story of Al Schwimmer

NC58021 returned  to New York from Dhahran in the middle of November 1946 (crew manifest above) and the crew of the first flight of Ocean Air Tradeways went back to their regular jobs. Ralph Cox  continue to build his new airline with additional aircraft. In 1948, Cox renamed it Atlantic Northern Airlines and then back to Ocean Air Tradeways in 1949. and by 1951 settled into the name U.S. Overseas Airlines.. USOA operated until its bankruptcy in 1966.

 

During the year of Atlantic Northern Airlines, Cox set up an arrangement to lease NC58021

to representatives of the Jewish Movement.  His initial contact was with Al Schwimmer.

The first agreement was penned in Paris in February 1948 and the aircraft started making trips between 

Czechoslovakia and Palestine. "A Wing and a Prayer" will tell the very interesting story of Al Schwimmer

efforts. Also see the timeline below.

 

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Al Schwimmer
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Supreme Court of New Jersey - Decided April 27, 1953
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"According to Cox "Schwimmer used to operate out of the Burbank, California airport. "He leased one of my planes to assist the early government of Israel", said Cox,

"but eventually they ended up stealing the plane."

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LA Times 11/17/49
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DC-4   NC58021 / 4X-ACA
"The birth of the airline almost occurred simultaneously with the birth of Israel."
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Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Today

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