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Classic true 1960s Story from a WW2 pilot turned post-ww2 Pan Am Airline Pilot

From War Pilot to Airline Pilot

I first heard this classic and true post-WW2 airline pilot story in 1981. However, this particular story has been repeated in airline pilot tales forever, especially among the older generations of airline pilots.

The story has been told and retold many times. As a result, there are literally countless versions of this tale out there.

This story comes from the horse’s mouth

I was sitting in the classroom for my initial Boeing 727 Flight Engineer ground school. Our instructor was a former Pan Am 727/707/747 pilot and an ex U.S. Army Air Corps bomber pilot from World War 2 and the Korean War.

post-ww2 airline pilot story, bombercrew
United States Air Force (formerly Army Air Corps) bomber crew.

The mandatory airline pilot retirement age in 1981 was age 60. So, like so many other pilots he had down bid to the Second Officer (Flight Engineer) seat to continue flying a few more years after the age of 60. Then he retired and started teaching airplane systems ground school.

The pilots from “the Greatest Generation” were often sarcastic, no BS hellraisers, yet the best ones ever to fly with from a younger pilot-perspective. The “old-timers” would also inject hefty doses of the greatest humor into their stories.

I was very lucky to have heard this famous story from the horse’s mouth because this very instructor was also the captain of that very flight we are about to talk about!

Post World War 2 animosity

Boeing B-29 Superfortress cockpit
United States B-29 Superfortress bomber-cockpit.

Allied World War 2 pilots often carried animosity towards Germans after the war. After the war, many of those former military pilots became airline pilots. Some of the pilots flew internationally for airlines such as Pan Am, which served regular post-war passenger flights to Germany.

post-ww2 airline pilot story, flight crew
WW2 airplane crew.

German Air Traffic Control

In most Western countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. ATC (Air Traffic Control) controllers are generally very helpful if a pilot asks for progressive taxi instructions at unfamiliar airports.

In Germany, however, pilots were expected to maneuver their airplanes on the ground with no assistance from the Ground Controller.

A classic post-WW2 airline pilot story

Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Germany

Pan Am pilot:

“Good morning Frankfurt Ground, Pan Am is clear of the runway.”

Frankfurt Ground Controller:

“Guten morgen Pan Am, you will taxi to your gate.”

The Pan Am crew were fairly unfamiliar with the airport, so the captain slowed the taxi speed considerably but momentarily, while the First Officer was digging deeper into the taxi chart for progressive taxi guidance.

Frankfurt Ground Controller:

“Pan Am, do you know where you are going??.”

Pan Am pilot:

“Standby Frankfurt Ground, we’re looking up our gate location now. Pan Am Ops (Operations) just changed the gate location on us”.

Frankfurt Ground Controller:

(Increasingly arrogant, sounding truly irritated):

“Pan Am, have you never flown to Frankfurt before??”

Pan Am pilot:

“Oh, I have been here before, in 1944, in another Boeing-type. But at that time I didn’t stop!”

Boeing B-29 Superfortress dropping bombs over Korea
B-29 dropping bombs.

Do you have any great pilot stories to share? Please let us know. You can contact us here.

Featured Image: A compilation of images of a Pan Am Boeing 707 and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. All other images: Boeing B-29 Superfortress: Credit National Museum of the United States Air Force.

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