El-Al Flies to Istanbul — Part 1

Early in January 1951 Turkey and Israel signed a Bilateral Air Services Agreement. In February El-Al was expected to perform its first return-flight from Lod to Nicosia and Istanbul. El-Al had at that time 8 airplanes: 2 DC-4s, 3 C-46s and 3 Lockheed-049 Constellations. El-Als load factor in 1951 was 60%. With its 8 airplanes and 592 employees it flew 15,000 passengers and 800 tons of cargo and had a net income of US$722,000. Due to such a high scope of activity El-Al could not find an available airplane which would carry out this maiden flight which had only 20 passenger reservations while the C-46 was carrying 45 passengers or 5 tons of cargo and flying busily to all points in Europe. Finally management turned to Israel Air Force headquarters and asked them to lease a Douglas DC-3 from them on “wet-lease” (including crew).

On February 16 Poupko called me and Nathan Novick to his office and asked us that on the 19th we should fly C-47 No. 1407 in order to practice some instrument-flying and emergency-procedures as we shall have to transfer this airplane next day to Lod Airport where we will have to be flight-checked by an El- Al Captain which will be assigned to us.

On the 20th of February we flew the airplane to Lod and were met by Captain Mortimer Levasseur who was a South-African pilot who flew as Captain with “Universal” airlines until it was winded up and then joined El-Al. We had a short friendly chat and then he asked each of us a long string of questions regarding the handling of the airplane. We then took-off and he gave each of us slightly more than 15 minutes of take-offs and landings, an emergency and some instrument-flying. It could’nt be shorter. He was very satisfied when he got off the flight and reported to El-Al and the Civil Aviation Authority that we could fly the desired flight.

We left the airplane at Lod and went back to our base at Ekron. Towards the end of the month I flew a Stearman to Ramat-David and back on some errand and on the 28th I flew the Chief-Radio-Officer of our Squadron, Daniel Sasson, in a Stearman to Lod so that he would get fully briefed by the Chief-Radio-Officer of El-Al as to all the radio frequencies and procedures pertaining to the route which we are about to fly. Meanwhile the Crew-Manifest was prepared: I and Novick would fly as Captains. Bunek Festing (who was a flight-navigator with the Soviet Air-Force during the 2nd World-War) would fly as Navigator. Daniel Sasson would fly as Radio-Operator and El-Al would send Werner Wolf to fly as Steward. Two days before the end of the month Novick and I received from the Civil Aviation Authority: Senior-Commercial-Pilot Licences (with Instrument-Ratings) and the El-Al uniform store issued us all with uniforms which did not quite fit our measurements. There were El-Al Pilot Wings on Nathan’s and my jackets and 3 golden stripes on our sleeves. We were told that the airline’s pick-up car will pick us up from our dwellings in Tel-Aviv on the morning of March 1. I left our base on the 28th of Feb. and went to sleep at my parents apartment and since Sasson had nowhere to sleep in Tel-Aviv I took him along with me.

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