Good guys who had gone bad
By Mike Zoeller
International airports in the 1960s and early 1970s were home to array of gleaming early-model Boeing 707s and 720s operated by the likes of Pan Am, TWA, Lufthansa and United.
By the mid 1970s many of these aircraft had migrated to secondary carriers, cargo or charter outfits, perhaps no longer working out of a city’s principal airport but still plying the skies and making a profit for the ‘planes owners.
Towards the latter part of the 1970s newer types were being introduced, fuel prices had increased and the proud birds were being retired and offered for sale. Some soldiered on carrying passengers and cargo on a regular basis till time, literally, ran out. A handful of others ended their days flying for some less than respectable owners to locations where no questions would be asked as to the aircraft’s visit or for whom it was flying.
Pan Am Boeing 707s
Pan Am started phasing out it's non-fan Boeing 707s in 1970 when the value of the aircraft would have been circa $1.5 million. Many were sold in the United Kingdom, Turkey, the Philippines, Yugoslavia and of course the US, ten years later one could be acquired for less than $500,000. One such aircraft was Pan Am's former Jet Clipper Aurora, Boeing 707-321 N725PA, it saw service with THY - Turkish Airlines followed by 2 year stint with UK based leasing company Tempair (Templewood Aviation) before they were liquidated at the end of 1976 and it was parked at Ostend, Belgium.
A flying heap of shit
In December 1977 Lieutenant General Maurice F Casey, trading as Burbank International Co. acquired the aircraft, payment negotiations were carried out in Miami, at one stage a gun appeared on the table and the buyers tried to pay with Australian Black Opals... On the 17th February 1978 it was ferried from Ostend to Luton, UK for checks wearing it’s new registration N725CA. Casey's intention was to operated livestock flights between Miami and Venezuela, something of an issue with an aircraft not equipped with a main cabin cargo door. A special flight certificate was given to ferry the aircraft from Luton to Miami via Gander, the flight took place on 8th March. Freelance navigator, David Welch, who was on the flight described the 707 as "a flying heap of s**t". Prior to departure on the 8th, N725CA undertook a test flight out of Luton during which a hydraulic fluid cable broke loose and dumped it's load of fluid over new cars parked at the nearby Vauxhall car plant. This made the national press who referred to the aircraft as 'The Luton Carwash Bomber'. David Welch remarks "We just managed to get the 707 airborne (on the 8th March) before a bailiff arrived at Monarch Engineering's operations intending to slap a writ on it for all the damage. Vauxhall made a £1M insurance claim against Templewood, plus a large number of the population of Luton claimed that their cars were ruined too. On the way to Gander it developed the worst Dutch roll I ever experienced - twice at least. One problem was that one of the outer engines wasn't giving full power."
The aircraft never moved from Miami, although $73,000+ of repair work mainly to wing corrosion was carried out during most of 1979. A total of 3 liens were placed on the aircraft between March 1979 and October 1981 and at one stage it was nearly sold to a company in Wyoming. Finally the aircraft was sold to General Air Services in 1981, it was broken up at Miami between September 1983 and January 1984.
Jet Clipper Viking
Sister-ship N723PA Jet Clipper Viking's twilight years were any thing but restful, and like Aurora it gained national press coverage in the UK. After serving with JAT it was sold, via brokers, to United Trade International and registered N711UT by the end of 1975. The President of UTI was Shirley Adams Soghanalian, wife of Lebanese Armenian arms-dealer, Sarkis Soghanalian and mother of Garabet Soghanalian who ran Pan Aviation who were the centre of a FBI/DEA probe in the 1980s on suspicion of drug-running. N711UT made an appearance at Stansted in early 1976 wearing an anonymous colour-scheme in cargo configuration and showing signs of having carried the inscription 'Afric', lending belief to the reports that it had been operating out of Swaziland in 1974 for a company called Air Union AG which might have been owned by Soghanalian too. The aircraft was seen at various locations between 1976 and 1979, Miami, San Jose CR, Lisbon, Prague, Budapest, Sofia and Athens from where cargo flights to the Middle East were being operated.
From Warsaw to Beirut
During this same period Sarkis Soghanalian was known to be selling arms to the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia, and various factions in Ecuador, Mauritania and Nicaragua. Much of the activity had a blind eye turned to it, such is the way of international politics. A contemporary report stated that the US (CIA, FBI State Department or DIA?) supplied a 707 plus crew to enable Christian forces in Lebanon to be equipped with arms, on one delivery at night from Warsaw to Beirut via Athens without flight-plan the aircraft refueled in Athens. The aircraft was ready to depart when the tower called to pull aside, two Greek customs officials wanted to inspect the plane's cargo. Soghanalian asked the pilot if they could ignore the request and just take off, but it was pointed out to Soghanalian that the Greeks had an air force base at Thessaloniki and could deploy fighters. The front of the 707 had seating with the rear cargo area curtained off, so Soghanalian entertained the customs officials with Scotch and attempted to bribe them. As they were not up for bribery Soghanalian and the crew pulled guns on the Greeks, locked them in the plane's toilet and took off. Upon arrival at Beirut the officials were released with the help of the Greek Ambassador and were sent home the next day on a commercial flight. Apparently the officials were not even missed in Athens!
Luck ran out for the 707 when it was impounded in Helsinki in February 1979. However it’s fraudulent activities were far from over, it was about to take seat-of-your-pants flying to new levels. In the summer of 1979 the aircraft was released by the Finnish authorities to Air Union AG and was ferried to Lasham, UK for checks and a change of registration to 9Q-CRY (falsely), it was being readied for operations by ‘Khan Air’ flying livestock between the Arabian Gulf and India. Money for the complete checks was not very forthcoming and the aircraft departed Lasham for Bristol still with many un-rectified defects such as both compasses being unserviceable as were both HF sets. 9Q-CRY’s departure from Bristol to Kuwait was spectacular and even raised questions in the British Parliament, on the 11th October after using every inch of runway it rotated taking with it two marker poles – previously around ten feet tall, together with a portion of the airport boundary hedge. The aircraft’s crew consisted of a qualified British FE but the Captain and FO were a father and son team, Richard Khan Senior and Junior, with questionable 707 command experience. The aircraft received a 10 hour inspection in Kuwait with the help of Kuwait Airways, problems were apparent in the pressurisation system, metal bars were found hanging from the fuselage, wings and landing gear. Landing gear locks were damaged, mainly be trees and undergrowth. However it departed in an un-airworthy condition to Bombay in order to complete a livestock charter. For several months the aircraft operated it’s cattle charters around the Arabian Gulf with the undercarriage locked DOWN and despite being surrounded on the ramp at Sharjah, it managed to evade all of the ground vehicles and depart. Destination was Luxembourg, but by the time it was over Erzurum, Turkey an emergency was declared as two engines had been shut-down. It arrived at Ankara on 25th January 1980 and was hastily abandoned by the crew, unsure as to who truly owned the aircraft or what to do with it, the Turkish Ministry of Transportation scrapped the 707 in 1984. As to the Khans, they have never been heard of again.
Pure-jet Boeing 707s
TWA took longer phasing out it’s pure-jet Boeing 707s, initially some of their -131 models were sold to Israel in 1971 but the final -331 models did not leave the carrier till 1979 when they really were at the end of their useful life.
One such aircraft was Boeing 707-331 N762TW. In March 1980 it was sold to Caledonian Airlines Inc of Pennsylvania and flown to Miami to be repainted into Air Tanzania colours prior to lease. Strangely no paint drawings were available for Air Tanzania's complicated colour-scheme and photos of one of the airline's Boeing 737s were used for reference. The aircraft was delivered to Air Tanzania in May 1980 replacing their Boeing 720 N62215 which had also be leased from Caledonian Airlines. Caledonian Airlines was no relation to the British company of a similar name, the Pennsylvania company was owned by a George Hallak aka George Khallaq who also had offices in Beirut. George Hallak was infamous among international law enforcement agencies for obtaining illegal airline tickets and forged travel documents. Hallak, as is well documented in a report by the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, helped the PLO form Caledonian Airlines and was involved in the PLO's 'investment strategy'. The aircraft was seized by the Tanzanian authorities in July 1981 after Caledonian had defaulted on their contact with Air Tanzania, at the time the aircraft was the highest time 707 with a total of 66,681 hours.
Air Tanzania's earlier experience with Caledonian had also not been a happy one. A former United Airlines Boeing 720-022 registered N62215 was leased from 21st December 1979, arriving the following day in Dar es Salaam. As soon as the aircraft arrived it was pressed into service, not on the Dar es Salaam - London Gatwick route as the American flight crew expected, but flying troops from Mtwara (Tanzanian coastal city) to Beira and Maputo (Mozambique), in connection with the transition of Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. When 'conventional' passenger operations finally started it became apparent that out of Kilimanjaro to Gatwick the 720 could only carry 29 passengers, something Caledonian no-doubt failed to mention to Air Tanzania. The aircraft only operated a handful of services before being replaced by the 707-331. Like the 707 the 720 ended its days rotting away under the Tanzanian sunshine.
United Airlines Boeing 720s
United Airlines started to dispose of their fleet of 29 Boeing 720-022s in 1973, the majority served for many further years, one such aircraft was N7216U which was sold to Aero Specialties in August 1973. The seats were removed so ostensibly it became a cargo aircraft, little happened it the way of flying till late 1975 when it was sold to Dolphin Aviation of Sarasota and was seen operating around the Arabian Gulf with Pionair titles which was the trading name of a small Ghanian outfit called Pioneer Air Transport. The aircraft was returned to Dolphin at Bombay in March 1976 and was soon sold, via an agent to Dick Wellman/Airmanmia who operated ad-hoc freight flights around the Middle East with two DC7s, mainly for Air India Cargo. The agent took the money ($250,000) and ran, never paying Dolphin, an agreement was somehow accepted between Dolphin and Wellman and the aircraft continued to fly in the region, but never returned to the USA. From 1976 till 1979 the aircraft was seen at Abu Dhabi, Bombay, Dhahran and Bangkok in a constantly deteriorating condition till in April 1979 when the FAA, having inspected the aircraft at Hong Kong, issued an emergency suspension of airworthiness due to the poor condition of the aircraft which had received the very minimum of checks since it had left United. The aircraft ended it's days at Hong Kong's Kai Tak with the question as to who the legal owner was unanswered while the aircraft's value depreciated daily, it was finally broken up in April 1981.
In the summer of 1976 Lufthansa retired it's Rolls-Royce powered Boeing 707-430s. Of the 5 707-430s that the airline owned, 4 of them went on to work either directly or indirectly with infamous Biafra war mercenary pilot, Henry 'Hank' Warton. Warton (aka Wharton) was born Heinrich Wartski in Germany in 1916, he emigrated to the US in 1937. Post war he flew for or ran numerous freight airlines throughout Europe and beyond. During the Biafran war he ran a fleet of old, illegally registered Constellations. In the early 1970s he operated DC7F aircraft under the names North American Aircraft Trading and ARCO (Bermuda) the latter maintained base at Sao Tomé, Basle and Stockholm. Using his connections at Lufthansa Warton along with associate M Marshall Landy, acquired four of the former Lufthansa aircraft D-ABOB, D-ABOC, D-ABOF and D-ABOG between September 1976 and August 1977 at scrap value prices.
A colourful career
The first aircraft was D-ABOG which became N9985F and probably had the most colourful career of all the 707s. Upon delivery to Miami it was converted to cargo configuration, at least the seats were removed, soon after Landy and Warton's Air-Trans Ltd leased the aircraft to International Aircraft Leases of New York who in turn sub-leased the aircraft to livestock specialists J D Smith Inter-Ocean Inc who organised cattle charters mainly out of Newburgh, NY to Central and Latin America, and occasionally flying for Lanica (Nicaragua). Some trans-Atlantic services were also operated to Ireland and France. However in August 1977 the aircraft was seized at Newburgh by the FAA for violations of Federal Aviation Regulations due to poor maintenance procedures, inadequate safety equipment (with many safety placards still in German) and also due to the fact that the contracts negotiated basically meant that the aircraft was being operated under Part 121 rules, but was barely meeting Part 91 requirements. A hefty fine was paid by Landy, Warton and J D Smith Inter-Ocean and by the end of September Warton had the aircraft flown to Miami. By this time one of the other 707s had already been written-off, D-ABOB had become 9Q-CRT and had been leased by Air-Trans Ltd to Pearl Air (Grenada) and had been carrying out livestock flights (though one can speculate that other loads were carried) around the Middle East till a hard landing at Sana'a, Yemen in August finished it's flying days.
Secret arms flying operation
Warton by now was recruiting a number of flight crews for a 'secret' arms flying operation out of Central Europe to the Middle East and East Africa. A deal was struck for the US to clandestinely supply Russian ammunition and guns to Somalia to fight the Ethiopians with the aim to have a bit of real-estate on the straits of Hormuz. Somalia at the time had Soviet weapons but only US ammunition, Ethiopia has US weapons but only Russian ammunition. One of the recruits was John Lear, son of Lear Jet creator, Bill Lear. He arrived at Frankfurt on 22nd October 1977 and flew his first flight on N9985F on the 25th routing Budapest - Mogadishu, this was repeated on the 28th. Flights to and from Budapest used the name Fragtflug as the operator (a defunct Icelandic operator which had provided aircraft during the Biafran conflict, owned by Loftur Johannesson, a famous billionaire arms dealer and friend of Hank Warton), over Yugoslavia, Air-Trans Miami was the operator, over the Mediterranean the aircraft’s registration was the call-sign and on contact with Jeddah Lear was instructed to use a Somali Airlines call sign. Finally Jeddah to Mogadishu was flown under radio silence. If the crew were questioned they were carrying 'agricultural materials' from Budapest to Jeddah, in total 580 tonnes of arms were flown from Budapest to Somalia. There is also some anecdotal evidence that N711UT was involved with these operations too.
The former D-ABOC
N64739, the former D-ABOC, which had been converted to a freighter in a similar way to N9985F, joined the operation in October 1977 and was a regular visitor to Mogadishu till the 4th November 1977 when Lear flew it from Budapest to Stansted via Salzburg. It would seem that at about this time the Somali operation ceased as Lear collected another 707-430 at Stansted a few days later, 9G-ACK (formerly D-ABOF) which was registered to Geminair Ghana but was flying mainly for Nigeria Airways with crews supplied by Air-Trans Ltd. From Stansted Lear flew the aircraft to Heathrow for a regular Nigeria Airways service to Lagos.
9G-ACK was the most ‘above board’ of all of the 707’s, operating for an established carrier, Geminair, it flew numerous leases and charters for DETA Mozambique, SABENA, Dan-Air, Monarch, British Airtours and Britannia Airways between 1977 and 1980. However it was often called upon to operate for Warton during this period too and for most of 1980 it operated for Nefertiti Aviation which was heavily reliant upon Warton for aircraft and crews. By July 1981 it had been returned to Air-Trans (if indeed it had ever really left Air-Trans in the first place) and was wearing the registration N90498, illegally, as this registration was allocated to N64739 and which was already semi-derelict at Tripoli by this time. Air-Trans applied for a special permit to ferry ’N90498’ from Manston to Miami, the aircraft departed Manston but never got to Miami, instead it flew to Kano in Nigeria and was painted as 3C-ABH on one side and 3C-ABI on the other, under the control of another Warton company, Bata International Airways of Equatorial Guinea (a country familiar to Warton during his flights to and from Biafra). John Lear returned to work with Air-Trans in October 1981 and flew 'ABH Athens-Johannesburg-Cairo during the month with arms and ammunition and later Khartoum - Sana’a with cattle. Finally as EL-AJC this aircraft arrived at Bournemouth in July 1983 from Cairo in an anonymous all-white colour scheme and was broken up shortly afterwards.
In the mean time N9985F had spent much of 1978 and 1979 one step ahead of the law visiting locations such as Bucharest, Lisbon, Angola and Ireland, all locations which Warton was familiar with and in which he had contacts. Maintenance, such as it was, was carried out at Manston by Invicta Aircraft Engineering who’s Michael Harradine was the agent for Equatorial Guinea’s ‘flag-of-convenience’ register. Finally the FAA caught up with the aircraft at Manston in October 1979 when an inspection was carried out revealing numerous points of corrosion, severe corrosion by over-wing exits, rust, vertical stabiliser leading edge strip loose, no airworthiness certificate carried and no FAA flight manual carried - the aircraft was declared un-airworthy. Despite these comments somehow the aircraft was able to depart Manston and was subsequently noted in early 1980 flying cargo at Sana’a for Warton’s Anderson Aviation Corp. In August 1980 N9985F returned to Manston, where Anderson Aviation notified the FAA that the aircraft was being sold to Bata International . . . as 3C-ABH. From December 1980 the aircraft was painted in the same markings and registration as the other 3C-ABH, even wearing two registrations. The aircraft’s final days are hard to trace, but what is known is that livestock flights were flown around the Middle East in 1982 and that by 1984 it was withdrawn from use at Tel Aviv in poor condition. By 1989 the remains were being used as a fire trainer by the Ben Gurion Airport Fire Service.
Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa
And so what of N64739 which had returned State-side in November 1977 after it’s stint as a gun runner? It was registered in Ireland in August 1978 as EI-BFN with Interconair, Dublin who already owned a Britannia and intended to use the 707 on long-haul livestock and general charters (N9985F had their titles applied but never entered service), however there were certification difficulties and the aircraft returned to the US register as N90498 with Landy in January 1979 at Manston. In April 1979 it left Manson for Tripoli as 5A-CVA with STAC (Soc. Transports Aériens Centrafricains) as company formed by Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa to carry ivory for resale abroad. Bokassa was overthrown in a coup in September 1979 and the aircraft was nominally transferred to United African Airlines, the successors to STAC. The aircraft officially reverted to N90498 with Anderson Aviation in January 1980, but never departed Tripoli, remaining there till 1988 when it was broken up.
All these events took place over 25 years ago, post 9/11 security around the world of aviation was increased dramatically, but one has to wonder if flights of a similar nature are still taking place on a regular basis?
Photo credit: Malcom Nason, Mick Bajcar, Dave Welch, AVI-Phot-NRW, George Trussell, Aris Pappas, David A. Carter, Frank Ebeling, Junari Sipila, Trevor Wame, Richard Vandervord, Ellis M. Chernoff, Marcel Walther, Bob O’Brien, Gerry Manning, Brian Maddison, EIDW Fotos, Alberto Storti, Gerhard Plomitzer, Wolfgang Mendorf, Russ Smith, Kev Slade and Danial Haghgoo.