John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: February, 2019

Once Upon a Time on Manhasset Bay

Part Two

Someday a Clipper flight will be remembered as the most romantic voyage in history.

                                                                                                 Clair Boothe Luce 1941

June 28, 1939 on board Pan American’s Boeing’s B-314 flying boat Dixie Clipper:

At 1:59 PM, external generators brought the Dixie’s four 14-cylinder double-row Wright Cyclones to life, the first airplane engines to require the use of 100-octane fuel. Stephen Kitchell, the flight engineer switched on each engine’s starter permitting external generators to power up each of the reluctant engines. One by one, they emitted a hesitant, whir-whir sound as the propeller slowly rotated until a spark caught. With a blast of black smoke, each engine caught allowing the propellers to spin in response with a deafening cacophony of sound and power.

Captain Sullivan, his co-pilot, Gilbert Blackmore and Flight Engineer, Kitchell, sailed their charge north through Manhasset Bay and out into Long Island Sound. Sullivan turned his craft into the wind as Kitchell, gave the engines their richest fuel mixture possible. Sullivan and Blackmore performed their pre-flight check-list, set the flaps and steered their boat on a take-off path through the waters of the sound. As the Dixie Clipper accelerated, it ceased to be a boat and morphed into an airplane as it broke free from the sound’s suction to soar into the sky.

The B-314 didn’t have a cockpit. Instead, it featured a flying cabin located above the forward cabins and its massive wings. The captain sat in the left seat, the second pilot (co-pilot) in the right seat. Going aft, a spiral staircase on the right (starboard) led to the passenger deck. A large navigator’s table occupied the left (port) side.  The radio operator and the flight engineer sat facing their equipment further aft. The rear led to a door leading to the navigator’s observatory.

Life on board moved at a leisurely pace. Betty Tripp recorded the following in her diary:

“At dinner…everyone was in high spirits and we enjoyed gay and interesting conversation. The tables were set with white tablecloths. The dinner was remarkable and beautifully served. Some contrasted this trip with the days of sailing ships which took two or three months to cross the ocean…yet we were crossing it in twenty-four hours. Captain (R.O.D.) Sullivan came down from the control room to smoke a cigarette and visit with the passengers. He was grand, patient to answer questions and inspired real confidence by his cool cheerful manner. Everything seemed so routine and matter-of-fact that we almost lost sight of the fact that this was an airplane flight to carry passengers to Europe.”

The menu began with the choice of a Martini Cocktail or a Clipper Cocktail. (A bracing mix of apple brandy, lime, grenadine plus a dash of absinthe.)

Appetizers included Canapes Pate De Fore’s Gras, Chilled Celery, Crystalized Ginger or Mixed Olives. Main courses included Steamed Spring Chicken, Roast Prime Ribs and Baked Virginia Ham. Desserts: Neapolitan Ice Cream and Pound Cake. Dinner was served on PAA China brandishing the airline’s logo.

Emily C. Dooley a reporter for Newsday with her feet firmly planted on the ground pointed out the inadequacies of the B-314 in a 2011 piece about this flight:

“While the planes were luxurious, with dressing rooms, a dining room and lounge – even a honeymoon suite – the flights were not. Planes at that time were not pressurized, the trips were long. ‘Many passengers fell sick from turbulence,’ said Atlanta resident, Dan Grossman, a former pilot on”

Me thinks MS Dooley doesn’t get it. Pre-war passengers didn’t know any better. Despite this fling boat’s limitations, it was state of the art for airplane travel in 1939. Beyond that simple fact, I’d venture a guess that many of today’s seasoned air travelers would gladly go back in time for the opportunity to experience a clipper flight in a New York Minute.

On that day almost 80 years ago, Port Washington achieved a significant place in aviation history, but the world was on fire. Less than six weeks later, World War II began forcing Britain and France into mortal conflict with Nazi Germany. America remained a neutral nation as flights were restricted to the southern route truncated in neutral Lisbon.   

Port Washington operations ended the following March when the brand-new Marine Air Terminal opened at LaGuardia Airport. The first flight to Lisbon from LGA left on March 31, 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor Uncle Sam requisitioned all twelve Boeing B-314 Clippers for military use. Pan American continued to operate the Clippers but stripped of most romantic trappings.

By the time of Japan surrendered in August of 1945, the era of the flying boat was over, and Juan Tripp retired all the B-314s in 1946. Most were sold to airlines operating in South America where adequate runways were still scarce. Removed from Pan American’s T.L.C. they didn’t last long, and none survived.

Juan Tripp moved on to iconic piston powered land airplanes like the DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7, the Lockheed Constellation and the Boeing Stratocruiser, airplanes that populated the world’s post-war airlines until the birth of the jet age in the late 1950s.

Those heady days of romance, those survey flights, the commercial service to Bermuda beginning in 1937 and those inaugural trans-Atlantic flights: all originated from Manhasset Bay

Amazing! Still, it all happened as if in a blink of the eye of aviation history.

Once Upon A Time in Manhasset Bay

June 28, 1939 – a clear and bright early summer’s day, a crowd of several thousand New Yorkers gathered on Manhasset Isle, a waterfront community of Port Washington to watch history in the making. The largest airplane any of the spectators had ever seen rode easily on the gentle swells of the bay while moored to a boarding gangway. The flying boat’s captain, Robert Oliver Daniel Sullivan carried official papers proclaiming him, “Master of Ocean Navigation.” This title recognized his competence to cross the Atlantic developed on several trans-Atlantic survey flights he had successfully flown.

Speeches were made, bands played as the crowd watched in wonder as Captain Sullivan led his crew of twelve men all outfitted in crisp navy-blue nautical uniforms in a “crew march” along the dock in formation and onto the airplane. Pan American Airways promulgated high discipline and spit and polish. Each crew participated in a crew march wearing their formal uniforms before every flight, even for a test flight. These were the dangerous early days of commercial flight and PAA believed this show of discipline would inspire confidence of the traveling public.

Twenty-two passengers, sixteen men and six women followed the crew inside the cabin of the Dixie Clipper where first class ruled. A one-way ticket cost $375. Four stewards accompanied these luminaries to one of the six cabins they had reserved or to the single cabin suite furthest aft in the cabin. Being 1939, none of the accommodations included cabins en suite, but the clipper had three lavatories, one forward and two aft, a separate ladies powder room. And a men’s retiring room.

The list of passengers consisted of mostly VIPs making this inaugural flight. First among equals; Elizabeth (Betty) Stettinius Tripp, wife of Juan Tripp, Pan American’s founder and chief executive. Joining Mrs. Tripp were William J. Eck, an executive with Southern Railway who had made his reservation years in advance. John M. Franklin, president of United States Lines, Torkild Rieber, chairman of Texaco who would be forced to resign months later due to his close association with Nazi Germany, Louis Gimbel the president of his name-sake chain of department stores and Mrs. Clara Adams, of Maspeth, Queens, a veteran of history-making flights. Mrs. Adams made the flight with greater ambition, her goal being to fly around the world in 16 days.

Without a doubt, the most intriguing passenger was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, FDR’s man to be our top spy during World War II. Donovan founded and ran the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. His biographer, Douglas Waller, explained: “He took Pan American Airways first transoceanic flight to Marseilles…dining on turtle soup, steaks, and ice cream and receiving a silver cigarette case to commemorate the maiden trip.” Mr. Waller noted: “Before he boarded the plane Donovan had a rigger come to Beekman Plaza to show him how to use a parachute.”

Pan American never invested in a proper terminal building on Manhasset Isle. Departing passengers lined up in front of several 4’x 8’ plywood boards mounted on wooden saw-horses inside the same hanger where they serviced their clippers. Rudimentary at best, but Pan American knew this was all temporary.

Designated Clipper Flight 120; the schedule called for a noon departure with a flying time of 19 hours to Horta in the Azores, a distance of 2,375 air miles. Following a one-hour re-fueling layover, the flight would proceed an additional 1,057 miles to Lisbon, Portugal with an ETA of 1700 hours (5 PM). Passengers would overnight in Lisbon and be back on board for a 0700 take-off for Marseilles, France.

Although the Spanish Civil War had ended in April when the Republican forces capitulated to Francisco Franco, Spanish air space remained closed forcing Captain Sullivan to fly around the Iberian Peninsula, through the Straits of Gibraltar and north across the Mediterranean to Marseilles, a ten-hour flight that covered 819 miles.

Total elapsed time including the Lisbon layover, 44 hours. The estimated total flying time was 37 hours and the distance; 4,251 miles.

On the same day that the Dixie Clipper began its epic flight another Boeing 314, Pan American’s Yankee Clipper Flight 101 under command of Captain Arthur E. LaPorte completed the first round-trip mail flight from Southampton. Captain LaPorte’ outbound flight left Port Washington on May 20th, twelve years to the day Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic. Both flights, outbound designated Flight 100 and the return flight used the northern route. The return flight stopped in Foynes, Ireland on the River Shannon, Botwood, Newfoundland and Shediac, New Brunswick before landing on Long Island Sound. Total distance, 3,411, flying time, 26 hours with three layovers lasting five hours.

At 1:59 PM, external generators brought the Dixie’s four 14-cylinder double-row Wright Cyclones to life, the first airplane engines to require the use 100-octane fuel. Stephen Kitchell, the flight engineer activated each engine’s starter motor permitting external generators to power up all four of the reluctant engines, one at a time. Each emitted a hesitant, whir-whir sound as the propeller slowly rotated until a spark caught. With a blast of black smoke, each engine caught forcing the propellers to spin rapidly creating a deafening cacophony of sound and power.

To be continued

Football Without End

Superbowl LIII finished with a thud late in the evening (EST) of Sunday, February 3rd. I found the best account inside the pages of National Review in a piece by Kyle Smith written before the game was played.  Early on in his piece, Mr. Smith telegraphed his position on the game by explaining he had ceased drinking for the month of January… “until Satan’s children the New England Patriots won the AFC Championship” forced him to become…” reacquainted with a bottle of Whistlepig Straight Rye.”

Smith continued: “So the Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the 112th consecutive year and will win it for the 77th time. A poll before the match against the Kansas City Chiefs showed every state outside of New England was rooting for the Chiefs except Michigan, where Tom Brady played college ball.”

“Watching the Patriots is a useful lesson in the ingenuity of evil.”

But enough, already. The season is over, and it is time to move on…or is it? Good grief, can’t we have the dead month of February to let go and stand down from our NFL addition?

Apparently not, enter the latest manifestation of a recurring phenomenon, the professional spring football league. This year’s gem wears the moniker: The Alliance of American Football (AAF) and it kicked off its premier season last weekend with two games on Saturday night broadcast on CBS and two more on Sunday, an afternoon game on the CBS Sports Network and a night game on the NFL Network. Other games will also appear on TNT and B/R Live, a streaming service.

Eight teams in two divisions; Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express and Orlando Apollos in the Eastern Conference and Arizona Hotshots, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet in the Western Conference. Each team is scheduled to play ten regular season games. Four teams will make the playoffs with the Championship game to be played on April 27, the final day of the 2019 NFL draft.

Charles Ebersol, son of Dick Ebersol, is the bullish co-founder of the AAF. He believes that the AAF will succeed where others failed because of legal sports gambling. “He’s hoping to land in a right-place-right-time moment in which sports betting is now legal and expanding in the United States.”

Joe Drape reported for The New York Times: “Eight states already offer gambling on sports contests and by next year, sports betting could be legal in at least a dozen more.”

“Among the AAF’s early investors (is) the gambling and entertainment powerhouse MGM Resorts International. ‘It’s a technology play,’ Scott Buttera, MGM president for interactive gaming said of the AAF.

“MGM executives said they were most taken by the AAF’s app. which can provide a host of data in milliseconds. The information arrives so fast…that it could eventually allow in-game betting on play outcomes – like pass or run and a host of other propositions.”

All well and good, but ratings and even home attendance will still determine the success or failure of the AAF. The number of people who gamble on the games doesn’t matter at all if fans don’t tune in. In my opinion, Ebersole’s business plan is ass-backward. Without ratings, the betting action on the games is meaningless.

The track record for professional spring leagues is awful. Since the NFL-AFL merger in the mid- 1960s four different spring leagues have been launched with the following results:

The World Football League (WFL) created in 1974, failed in 1975.

The United States Football League (USFL) came next in 1983. The USFL completed two spring seasons then announced a fall schedule in 1985 to directly compete with the NFL. Instead, the USFL sued the NFL for monopolistic practices. A Brooklyn jury found the NFL guilty, but a single juror manipulated the other seven jurors to limit damages to one dollar. She fibbed that the judge could change the amount if he wished. He can but only downward. (The amount was multiplied to three dollars for treble damages.)

Next, the XFL for one year in 2001 and the United Football League (UFL), 2009-2012.

Hope and / or greed must spring eternal as in addition to the AAF, another new entrant, the eight-team American Patriot League (APL) is planned for this spring playing from April 6 to June 23.

Insanity rules supreme, in 2020, Vince McMahon, plans to re-launch his WWE’s XF,

a complete failure the last time around. Will the madness ever end?  

Football without end, Amen. 

The Chrysler Building and Me

The Chrysler Building is up for sale. The Abu Dhabi government fund that bought our iconic skyscraper at the height of the real estate market in 2008 wants to recoup as much of the $800 million they paid to Tishman Speyer for a 90% share in this art deco sky treasure. Tishman retained 10% that is also on the block. Real estate brokers differ widely on the estimated selling price but note Abu Dhabi paid top dollar in 2008 and they doubt the fund can sell without taking a loss. True, the market has re-bounded with a vengeance, but the tower is considered an obsolete relic unable to offer amenities and the work environment of our throw way office concepts. If true, this makes me sad.  

My first encounter with the Chrysler Building came at a Christmas Party held for the staff and their families when I was four or five years old. Back then I was a carrot top with a face full of freckles. Our downstairs neighbor, Bill Sleazak, invited my Mom and me to join his family at the party. Mr. Sleazak was an elevator operator in the tower, a job that I considered as important as a subway motorman or an airline pilot.

At some point during the party, a master of ceremony announced that there would be a freckle contest. Several kids came forward to be judged but I didn’t because Mom chose to keep me out of the contest as we weren’t real family. Nevertheless, some fellow standing near by took one look at my face and announced to the crowd, “I have the winner over here.”

With that, he propelled me through a sea of people right up to the judge who declared me the winner. I recall being showered with gifts and Mr. Sleazak being none too pleased that I received all this attention.

The Twenties were still roaring in 1928 when Walter Chrysler set out to build his namesake skyscraper determined that it would be the tallest in the world. (The Empire State Building was not his rival. Its conception was a year away)

His competition was a Downtown giant, 40 Wall Street, then sponsored by the Bank of Manhattan Trust. Originally conceived as a 47-story tower, the plans were altered, first to 60 floors and eventually; to 77 floors. The height of 40 Wall climbed to 927 feet.

Chrysler decided to top off his building at 72 floors at a height of 925 feet but with a secret plan.

Forty Wall was finished first taking the title as the world’s tallest building on May 1, 1930.  But Walter Chrysler had already unleashed his architectural addition, a 125-foot long spire assembled inside the building and hoisted to the top of the building in 1929, giving him the title On May 27, 1930 when the tower was deemed to be completed.

The howl from downtown could be heard everywhere. Cheat, fraud, charlatan, etc., etc. Still the architectural societies who govern these things deemed the Chrysler Building to be tallest in the world. Eleven moths later, the Empire State Building took the title.


I encountered a close-up view of the spire at some point in the 1980s. My firm had bid on the world-wide insurance needs for Freeport-McMoRan, a global mining conglomerate head-quartered in the Pan Am Building, (now Met Life.) I participated in our bid, preparing the proposal for their marine risks, a minor part of their insurance program. We have a sixth sense in the insurance brokerage business anticipating when we are being used to force the existing broker to hustle. In other words, the fix was in. Every other executive who worked on this proposal made themselves scarce the day Freeport-McMoRan called with the bad news that we had not been selected. I alone was available to accept the gilded lily.

When I arrived at their offices in one of the uppermost floors in the Pan Am Building, I was told to cool my heals. I thought of telling the receptionist to f*** off and leaving but the view from the lobby had grabbed my attention. From where I sat, I looked down on the base of the Chrysler Building’s spire. Not a great view on this murky, overcast morning, amazingly, I realized I was witnessing activity that nobody else could see. Three workmen had loosened a hatch at the base of the spire, where they were performing dangerous maintenance work. One workman stepped out into space roped to the other two. I looked on open mouthed and in fear for their safety.

Absorbed by what I was observing, the receptionist had to shout to jar me from my concentration. “They will see you now,” she explained. I hesitated, took a last look and let her usher me into a conference room where I listened as some assholes preached to me about the deficiencies of our proposal. I made no response, asked no questions and left at my convenience.

Returning to reception, I saw the men were gone and the hatch had been secured. I assumed all had gone well and thanked the Lord for their protection.

From 1992 to 1999, my office at Marsh & McLennan was on the 39th floor at the eastern side of 1166 Avenue of the Americas. I had an unobstructed view of the Chrysler Building, three blocks away. What a hoot!

My beautiful skyscraper: The first thing I saw in the morning when walked into my office and the last thing I saw at night before I left. Some nights, those rare times, usually after a significant rainfall washed away all the pollutants, those special nights when Manhattan sparkled like a thousand jewels, I would close my door, turn off the lights and admire my magnificent neighbor. Just the Chrysler Building and me.