El-Al Flies to Istanbul — Part 2

The DC-3 which we transferred from 103 Squadron to El-Al and which was numbered 1407 was registered by the Civil Aviation Authority as 4X-ATA (interestingly this was the registration of the first El-Al Boeing 707-458 with which I was hijacked in 1968) and given an air-worthiness certificate. Nathan and I decided that I would perform the outbound flight and he will perform the return flight so as to split the functions of Captain and co-pilot equally between us. We did not really need a Flight-Navigator on this flight. The distances of this flight were short and there were enough non-directional beacons on this route. Radio-Navigation was one of my fortes and Nathan was not far behind me. This airplane, having been formerly an airliner – was well instrumented and our Radio-Operator got us all the weather information which we required and broadcast with his Morse-key all our positions as required. But this was still winter and more so in Turkey and therefore IAF Headquarters decided to add a Flight-Navigator to our crew.

The paratroopers bunks were removed from both sides of the cabin and comfortable armchairs were installed for 20 passengers. Behind the last row there was stretched a strong net behind which the passengers’ luggage was stowed. 3 jump-seats were placed ahead of the first row of passengers for the cabin-crew. I instructed Bunek Festing to occupy one of them throughout the flight as we would not need him in the cockpit. All 20 passenger-seats were occupied by paying-passengers on our departure from Lod and Istanbul.

We took-off from Lod Airport early on the morning of March 1, 1951 and landed at Nicosia Airport, Cyprus 1 hour and 45 minutes later. Cyprus was still a British Protectorate in 1951 and Nicosia was still the capital. The Airport was also an RAF base. we stayed on the ground for one hour only. 5 passengers disembarked to stay and the others went to the transit lounge and had a cup of coffee while we fueled the airplane, checked it and went to the Met. Office to get the Meteorological Folder for our next leg of the flight (this we did before every one of our 4 departures that day.) The weather between Lod and Nicosia was good. Our flight from Nicosia to Istanbul took 3 hours and 35 minutes and it was only during these last minutes that we went into clouds and flew on instruments. We stayed at Istanbul Airport for 2 hours and had time for lunch in addition to fulfilling all our pre-flight duties. The flight back to Nicosia took only 3:25 hours but 2 hours after take-off night fell. One hour after our take-off the weather became clouded and it started raining so that Nathan had to continue his flight to Nicosia on instruments. Although both our approach to Istanbul and back to Nicosia were carried out in clouds, flying on instruments alone (“blind flying”) none of us had any difficulty getting all the way to the landing runway. The night-flight back from Nicosia to Lod took 1:40 hours in clear weather.

Although we flew that day 10 hours and 25 minutes and were 16 hours on duty I returned to Lod less tired than I was when I landed in Rome in November 1950. This was no doubt due to the fact that the weather on this flight was nothing compared to the bad storm I had to fly through then, the fact that Nathan flew half the flight and that my flight experience had already reached 976 flight hours. This was a good flight. The passengers were satisfied about the extreme precision to schedule, the comfort and service, and, last but not least, the smooth landings.

This new El-Al route was open now. Many more passengers asked for reservations and the airline decided to use a C-46 with 45 passenger-seats. The DC-3 returned to the Squadron and to being C-47 No.1407 and we: Nathan Novick and I were asked to return our oversized uniforms to the El-Al stores and our flight-licenses to the Civil Aviation Authority. This last request was mean and base due to the fact that similar licenses were handed out without requiring any flight-checks or written exams to all the foreign and Israeli pilots who flew for El-Al by that time while we, although we were checked-out by Captain Levasseur and although we proved that we could and did carry out the flight to perfection, were asked to return our licenses and were kicked back to the Squadron without as much as a word of thanks from anybody.

19 months later, when I joined El-Al Israel Airlines on October 1,1952 as a Trainee-Pilot nobody in this airline remembered that I was registered “with esteem” in the Golden Book of the Keren Hakayemet Leisrael by the Board of Directors and Management of this very same Airline only one year and nine months previously and that I performed, as Captain, this Airline’s first commercial flight to Nicosia and Istanbul only one year and six months earlier.

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