Being a bit of an aircraft “nut”, I’ve always been interested in aviation history, which includes not only successes, but disasters, and what we can learn from them. I’ve flown on many types of aircraft, including 707s, DC-10s, DC-8, 727s, Comet (I had to reference that one because few may know the de Havilland Comet), VC-10 (London to New York), 737s, and even Cessna 150s, yet I’ve never flown on a 747, probably because my “flying adventures” stopped in 1978. I’ve also been fortunate to experience several landings from the flight deck (mainly because of an adopted “uncle” who flew Spitfires in the Second World War and later became a commercial airline pilot), something that stopped after increased terrorist threats. One funny experience I had was flying from Barbados to England’s Gatwick airport aboard a propeller plane. I don’t even remember the make of the aircraft, since this was in 1970, but it was a cheap charter flight. I undertook this flight with a couple of cousins of mine, who were also going to school in the UK (I was going on to Ireland, which is where I flew on a Comet). I flew to Barbados on an Air Canada DC-8, and remember a young lady not far from me praying as we took off. Flying really scares some people, even though it’s much safer than traveling on roads.
When I arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados, meeting up with my cousins, only a few hours would lapse before we boarded our flight to the UK. We exchanged some pleasantries, and looked forward to our flight. When boarding time came, we were directed to this propeller-aircraft. My (female) cousins were struck with terror (we were all in our mid-teens). No, it can’t be, we’re flying to England on….on…on….that??! Mum, Dad, how could you do this to us?! We all knew it was a cheap charter flight, but none of us expected to be flying to the UK on a propeller aircraft! And I’m quite sure Mum and Dad didn’t realise this either; at least I’d like to think so. Was saving a few quid really that important? My cousins began crying – no, no, we’re not going to make it on that...we are not boarding it; surely this is a mistake. With some gentle persuasion on my part (though I had my own doubts), we boarded. The flight to the UK took 17 hours, with a stop-over in Tenerife (sort of a relief…well we got this far, so…not much more to go…maybe we can really make it). The arrival at Gatwick was somewhat bumpy, but we landed safely, much to the relief of my cousins. The only “incident” of the whole journey, for me, was when looking for my passport to show immigration officials, and having found it, raised my head very quickly only to hit it on the counter, which drew a few laughs.
That wasn’t the last time I flew on a propeller aircraft. A few days before migrating to Australia I flew in a Cessna 150 to Tobago with a friend and trainee pilot, which my brother thought was “mad” (in the bad, not good sense), but I enjoyed every minute of it, and it wasn’t the first time I’d been up in a Cessna with trainee pilots. So as you can see, my personal aviation history is quite colourful. I always wanted to be a pilot, and applied in writing to BOAC (subsequently British Airways) when I was just 15. The reply that came back shattered me. Not because I needed high “A” and “O” levels in school examinations, but that I would have to undergo a hearing test, and I already knew that I had a 20% loss of hearing in both ears. Thus my dreams sank to the bottom of the ocean – I didn’t even bother to follow through, because I knew I’d fail on that count alone. But I’ve maintained a great interest in aviation, and aviation history.
I remember reading about the crash of Turkish Airlines flight 981 in the news, and the tragic loss of life involved in that accident, and things like this interest me because they show that safety isn’t necessarily the domain of “modern jets”. The DC-10s had an early history of problems, which included the outward-opening cargo doors (to allow more space for luggage), and that was what proved fatal to flight 981.
Are DC-10s safe? According to Wiki :
Despite its troubled beginnings in the 1970s, which gave it an unfavourable reputation, the DC-10 has proved a reliable aircraft. The original DC-10's bad safety record continuously improved as design flaws were rectified and fleet hours increased. The DC-10's lifetime safety record is comparable to similar second-generation passenger jets as of 2008.
Following the 1974 Turkish Airlines crash, all DC-10s underwent mandatory cargo door modifications. That, of course, is little compensation for the tragic loss of 346 lives on March 3, 1974. Perhaps life is a lottery, but maybe many more should have raised questions and concerns and followed through with modifications before this happened.