Stories for My Grandchildren

"My First Airplane Ride"

United Airlines French Caravelle

In 1962, when I was 12, Mom & I were returning to Cleveland, Ohio from Newark. We were to fly from Newark International airport to Cleveland-Hopkins airport in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Just the amount of time it would take put me in total awe, especially when I thought of how long the drive was through snow and slush on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Over 8 hours!

Of course I was nervous as all get out having never flown before. When we got to the airport, the United Ticket Agent notified us that we would be flying aboard the new French Caravelle jet airliner. Jet airliners were still fairly new with many more propeller driven aircraft still in service. The boarding ramp was at the extreme rear of the airplane so when I walked on board I got a full glimpse of the whole cabin. It seemed rather small to me, like the inside of a Greyhound Bus. Mom gave me a window seat and boy was I excited.

One of the most beautiful women I had ever seen walked down the aisle. This was the first stewardess  (nowadays referred to as a Flight Attendant) I had ever seen. I believe most of the stewardesses at that time were selected because of their beauty. This one definitely fit the bill. She was impeccably dressed in her uniform and smiled the whole flight. I was in awe once again.

Once we were all situated the Captain came on and said they had representatives from the FAA onboard and they would be doing some tests. Some of the tests would be to see how quickly the aircraft could climb and also how fast it could slow down once the air brakes  were applied. His last statement was, "Anyone not wanting to participate on this test flight could take a later flight if they desired."

I really didn't think much of it as I was more concerned with the jet engines starting up, the plane vibrating and starting to move away from the terminal. I kept hearing a banging noise at the rear of the plane and the Captain came on once again to explain that the rear hatch wasn't closing properly and they were trying to slam it shut.  Once they got that closed he came on the radio again and told everyone to brace themselves because when we hit the end of the runway and rotated we would be climbing at a very steep angle and moving quite fast.

The engines were screaming as we left the runway. I felt as though I was on an amusement park ride when we lifted off and I thought I was going to be going almost upside down. This is exaggerated but it seemed like we were climbing at about a 45 degree angle which was probably closer to 30 degrees. We went up through the clouds so fast I hardly had time to notice how tight I was. Mom was chuckling to herself watching me.

As soon as we hit cruising altitude, they performed a few more tests, we had lunch and returned to earth safely in Cleveland. It was a great experience!

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