Airplanes had been around nearly forty years when New York's Wings Club was formed in 1942. And over the years the club has charted a course that parallels the highs and lows of the industry itself as I wrote in this article published in the New York Times. The occasion for writing about the Wings Club is its move into new digs after eight-plus years of not having a place to call "home."
In the course of working on the story, I spent some time looking through the two volume history of the club. I can't decide what was more fun, reading the year-by-year account or seeing the doings in the old photos.
This is not the first time that I've longed to be part of aviation's yesteryear (certain to get worse when ABC-TV starts its fall series Pan Am) How can one not yearn for the time when each new day brought exciting advances? I see a photo of John Borger, the Pan Am exec who in the 1930s helped the airline hopscotch across the Pacific by building airfields and refueling stops on tiny islands along the way.
I see the astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Kathryn Sullivan recounting their exploits in space. There are photographs of people in the book whose names I'd previously seen on buildings, CR Smith, former chief of American Airlines, and the man after whom is named the CR Smith Museum located at American's base city in Dallas. LaGuardia? Sure, we know the airport, but how about Fiorello LaGuardia, the New York City mayor from 1934-1945?
I liked seeing Jacqueline Cochran surrounded by all those men just dazzled to be hangin' with the "speed queen" as she was known, for being the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier. She was also the first director of the WASPS -- Women's Airforce Service Pilots.
Retired United Airlines Captain and Wings Club member John Kent bragged to me last week that Jackie once invited him to dinner and cooked him fried chicken and buttermilk. "She was quite a lady," he recalled.
Then, like a sliver of sunlight piercing the clouds, someone like Richard Branson of Virgin walks into a club dinner on the arms of two of his airline's flight attendants, or the tough-as-nails former boss of American Airlines Bob Crandall shows his softer, funnier side in a musical spoof for Herb Kelleher, the imaginative founder of Southwest Airlines (stand by, I'll post the video shortly) and I think to myself, "Hey, these times in aviation ain't too shabby either." And I almost can't wait to see what photos will make it into the next volume of the history book.