• Feature: Three Holer Part One: Wrench

    In the early spring of 1976 rumors abounded about the possible resumption of airline hiring. An old friend who had been furloughed from Eastern in 1973 suddenly found himself recalled to duty in early 1976, and it was he who gave me perhaps the best single bit of advice I have ever received. "Tony", he told me, "don't wait for the hiring to actually begin before leaving active duty. Put in your papers now". This was something of a daunting prospect for me, because I had been continuously employed since the day I graduated from college some 5 years earlier. The thought of jumping into the void without a job offer in hand was not a comfortable one, but the logic of his advice was undeniable.

    Fortunately for yours truly, the Air Force had not been keeping track of the airline recalls and was still offering early release from active duty for those pilots who would commit to the AF Reserve for a time period equal to twice their remaining active duty service commitment. So I held my breath and immediately applied for a transfer to the Air Force Reserves. My application was accepted (this was hardly news to my squadron superiors, since I had, perhaps foolishly, never made a secret of my airline ambitions). And so it was that I crossed the line from active duty to reserve duty; which in practice meant crossing the street to the 707th Military Airlift Squadron, USAF Reserve, Charleston AFB, South Carolina. Since both my old and new squadrons flew the C-141, it was largely a paperwork exercise, and I was off flying my first line mission for the reserves within the week.

    Thus freed from any encumbrance to immediate airline employment, I set about sending applications and/or letters to every airline that I had ever heard of. This included all of the major and local service airlines, and as many non-skeds as I could find (picture below). I had to organize a file system to keep all of the applications straight - there were over 20 of them! Every airline wanted a resume of qualifications, of course, and this brought the Flight Engineer Certificate issue to the fore.

    This is what started it all - my original application as a pilot for American Airlines. Note that they put the biggest and best on the cover!

    I had already completed the FE written exam earlier in the year, so the remaining decision was whether or not to go the whole nine yards and train for the actual certificate. And if I decided to get the ticket, where should I train? At that time Braniff Airlines, while not the only entity offering training for the Flight Engineer certificate, was certainly the most desirable place to get it, if for no other reason than that they showed a strong inclination to hire the graduates of their own school. None of the other schools were affiliated with airlines in 1976 - it was another year or two before American and one or two others got into the game. Then again, Braniff was a highly desirable potential employer in its own right, what with their enticing collection of domestic and international routes, to say nothing of their rainbow colored "jellybean" fleet of jets (pictures below)! So it was to Braniff that I applied to take the Boeing 727 Flight Engineer course. Shortly after I was accepted , I also signed up for their 727 type rating course, figuring that if an FE ticket looked good on the resume, a Captain rating would look even better!

    Braniff operated the most colorful fleet of airplanes in its day, such as this 727-227 approaching ORD.

    Perhaps the same 727 at DFW. Braniff's extensive route network made it an appealing employment choice in 1976, before the evil gleam of deregulation entered the dark and tortured mind of Alfred Kahn!

    The total cost of this educational experience was around 10 large, as Tony Soprano would say several decades later! That would be $10,000 for those of you who are not "made men"! (Closer to 100K in today's dollars) Although I had managed to save a few bucks over the course of my 4 year active duty career, I had nothing like 10K hanging around. In fact, 10K was very close to my annual salary in the early part of my Air Force career. Fortunately for me and my airline ambitions, my then-rich Uncle Sam had long ago provided for my education after military service through a piece of post WWII legislation known as the GI Bill. My parents had, around the time I was born, used their GI bill benefits to go to college - the first in their families to do so. I had already been to college, of course, and so instead of using my benefits for grad school or law school or something along those lines, I used them to pay for the Braniff school. The GI bill covered 90% of the cost, leaving only a manageable 1K or so to emerge from my savings account.

    1. byron1976's Avatar
      byron1976 -
      Very nice stuff! Thanks!
    1. FlexibleFlier's Avatar
      FlexibleFlier -
      You bring back fond memories of my first days at Eastern Air Lines in 1966. I had the added benefit of being trained as both F/E and F/O since EAL had seat-swapping at that time. Flying trips alternately in each seat, I learned the airplane very quickly and felt that I knew that it better than any other I have ever flown (with the possible exception of the Sikorsky S-76 which I flew and instructed in for 20 years). Thanks for keeping the seat warm for me.
    1. Bill Alderson's Avatar
      Bill Alderson -
      Damn Tony! I didn't know you could write that well! Live and learn.

      Nice job.

      Bill Alderson
    1. lifeson's Avatar
      lifeson -
      Hey Tony I really enjoyed reading this. Very thorough and interesting.
    1. phil0's Avatar
      phil0 -
      Very interesting and informative. You give us a great appreciation of the technical and emotional aspects of your craft. No doubt writing the articles takes no small amount of time.

      Phil Collura
    1. veeblefetzer's Avatar
      veeblefetzer -
      What a well-crafted, fascinating story. Many thanks for sharing it with us, Tony!

      -Jon Houston
    1. nholman's Avatar
      nholman -
      Hi Tony, Great stuff. My first flight with AA's Three Holer was from Boeing Field to Newark. Waiting for flights from you as nobody puts a story together like you do. Norm Holman
    1. Lieuallen's Avatar
      Lieuallen -
      What a fabulous article -- really makes it come alive!

      Is it called a 3-holer because of the three engines, or because of all the 3-ring binders you need?!
    1. Howellerman's Avatar
      Howellerman -
      Terrific article, Tony! I was too young to remember my Dad's FE experience @ TWA, but do remember him qualifying for Co-pilot (his favorite) and Pilot (back down the seniority ladder). Looking forward to the next installment!!!
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lieuallen View Post
      What a fabulous article -- really makes it come alive!

      Is it called a 3-holer because of the three engines, or because of all the 3-ring binders you need?!
      Probably both!

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