In Praise of the 747.

I’ve never kept track of how many times I’ve flown across the Pacific, but I’d guess it to be well over 200 flights, counting those to the U.S.mainland and flights to the Western and South Pacific. But I remember two of those flights vey clearly. Although vastly different experiences, both were on a PanAm 747.

The first was a flight to San Francisco to attend a conference. I had been upgraded to first class—always a pleasure, but most especially on PanAm, pretty much the Gold Standard at the time.

We had been airborne for about an hour when one of the flight attendants tapped me on the shoulder and said, “If you’re ready for dinner, Mr. Loomis, we have a table ready for you upstairs.”

Three tables on the upper level had been set for dinner, with tablecloths and china and silverware. The flight attendant indicated where I should sit and—to my great delight—I found myself opposite Pat Brown, the former governor of California. He and his wife were returning home from a trip to Asia to attend the first inauguration of their son, Jerry Brown, as California governor.

For the record, Governor Pat Brown was a most delightful dinner companion—entertaining, amusing, interesting . . . and surprisingly well informed about Hawaii politics. 

My second memorable experience also involved a PanAm 747 when I was returning home to Honolulu after a business trip to Guam. It was a 10-hour, late night flight and just two or three minutes after we had taken off from the Hagatna airport, there was a bright flash and a loud BANG right outside my window.

The plane continued its steep climb for another minute or two, then leveled off and the captain came on the plane’s P.A. system.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “we lost our Number 3 engine shortly after take-off and we’re going to be heading back to Guam.” He then assured us that there was no danger. The 747, he said, was a magnificent aircraft capable of flying long distances on two engines, so we would have no trouble safely returning to Guam.

He continued, “You’ll notice that I have turned on the ’No Smoking’ sign . . .” Then he said, (and I remember his tone changed and his exact words), “Folks, I really mean it! We’re going to be dumping several thousand gallons of jet fuel over the next 20 to 30 minutes.” I suddenly realized with fuel for a 10-hour flight on board, we were too heavy to land!

Thankfully, there were no further incidents. We returned to Guam, landed safely, and I was back in Honolulu and back a work three days later . . . but with a new and expanded appreciation for the venerable 747.