Maverick Boeing 707 operations
Private aviation notes from Capt. Ross “Rusty” Aimer
On April 1978, I spotted my first sight of a Maverick Boeing 707 freighter as Amsterdam-Schiphol airport. As a kid the bull logo was facinated me. 36 years late I enjoyed a very interesting conversations on the facebook with Captain Ross Aimer about his adventures during his time with Maverick. Following is an extract of this conversation. The notes are co-written by Ross his son Toby and are for us to enjoy!
By Toby Aimer
Before the fundamentalist Muslim Iranian revolution in 1979, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was looking to beef up ranching in his kingdom and willing to pay top dollar to anyone who would deliver quality livestock. This was a business opportunity not to miss.
In 1977, Santa Barbara pilot, a Canadian and an American businessman came up with the idea to specialize in transporting inseminated cows to Iran. The pitot had a burning ambition to own an airline and the Canadian businessman had the contacts to procure the livestock. They found a Californian rancher and land owner to invest in their company named Maverick International Airlines and financing to lease Boeing 707 jets from a broker.
Maverick is a term, usually referring to unbranded cattle which are not part of a herd and became labeled “mavericks. Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870) was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name is the source of the term "maverick", first cited in 1867, which means "independently minded". Various accounts of the origins of the term held that Maverick came to be considered independently minded by his fellow ranchers because he refused to brand his cattle.
Maverick set up headquarters at Stewart Airport in the Hudson River Valley, north of Manhattan and in the heart of New York's dairy industry. The principals decorated their private offices with thick Persian carpets and hand-carved furnishings.
The broker’s aircraft were gutted and turned into corrals that could hold 98,000 pounds of animal flesh. A safe was installed in the cockpit so the pilot could carry large sums of cash to buy fuel.
Soon Holsteins, calves, Brahma bulls and horses traversed the Atlantic bound for Tehran. On the return trip, Maverick's cargo planes sometimes brought back flowers and melons from Israel and auto parts from Italy.
Sex was safe, but aviation dangerous
It was the winter of 1978. Unprotected sex was rather safe, but aviation was still very dangerous. The young Rusty Aimer had just jumped ship from an Iran Air 747SP on a 4-day layover in New York. After working in Iran for 9 years, he was fully aware of the impending fall of the Shah and he had no intention of going back.
While the crew desk in Tehran was still looking for him to finish his trip, he had already lined up a job flying a 707 freighter with a Pan Am offshoot called Maverick International.
The New York-based organization’s motto was “the world’s biggest bullshipper.” The proverb was strategically written upside down inside the main cargo door of the 707-320Cs.
Occasionally, New York controllers in search of a cheap laugh on the frequency would ask the crew to repeat the airline’s motto.
On this trip with the new company, Aimer was to command a flight that had just arrived from Montreal in Amsterdam to Moscow’s old Sheremetyevo Airport. Onboard were 100 head of prize heifers. This was a generous gift from the people of Canada to the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture – a gift likely aimed to improve the Soviet's dairy stock. The 1,000 pound beasts were neatly pressed side by side in specially designed pens and guarded by a couple of rather large French-Canadian cowboys. With boots, hats and cattle prods, the cowboys kept the rowdy passengers in line and on their feet.
Thousands of pounds of sweat and urine
The cargo aircraft used to carry cattle were modified to circulate a high flow of air at very low temperatures in order to keep the cattle from suffocating in their own body heat and CO2. Thousands of pounds of sweat, urine and cow manure deposited by the unruly passengers was highly corrosive and must be carefully contained in heavy plastic tarp and sawdust. It was to be immediately cleaned and washed down after each journey because, frequently, the same aircraft would bring, for example, tulips from Netherlands or shoes from Italy. It goes without saying that any trace of cow deposits was neither pleasant nor acceptable. The protocol for the receiver - in this case, the Soviets - were responsible to clean the aircraft before its another departure.
Aimer and his crew did their part and delivered the delicate ladies safe and sound to their new home. Now they waited patiently for the trucks and cleaning crew to remove the trash and clean the aircraft. A few hours passed and there was still no sign of the cleaners. Rusty was getting impatient. He could almost taste the cold beer awaiting him in Amsterdam - followed by; perhaps, some much needed “window shopping.”
He began by politely reminding the airport officials of the carriage contract which stipulated they must promptly clean the aircraft. After a few hours and several repeated requests, he may have, at some point, raised his voice and uttered the words, “your f'ing cows, your f’ing $hit!" At that point, a couple of soldiers with Kalashnikovs began shoving the small, statured American Captain around as he pointed to his “N” registered 707, which sported an American flag on the fuselage. They were basically telling him it would be wise to get the flock out of there. The 30 some year old Captain soon realized that he was no match for the Soviet Army at the height of the Cold War.
One of the cowboys watching his favorite Captain being shoved around pulled him aside and asked if he could open the cargo door in flight. Rusty tells the man it was mechanically not possible, but the aft galley or the entry doors could. In fact, that was the way they removed smoke and fumes in the old 707 days. After a few seconds, he understood what the clever Canadian had in mind. He and his crew quickly prepared the heavily laden 707 for departure.
Shoveling tons of cow manure
The late night departure was rather a routine out of SVO with the exception of some light snow encounter. Aimer had made these departures many times when he was with Iran Air.
However, the Soviets did not possess the sophistication of western radar. They did not detect the 707’s lack of climb gradient and slow speed shortly after takeoff. There was not much traffic in the area at that time of the evening, which helped the Maverick crew perfectly execute their deviant plot. Aimer selected flaps 14 and slowed the big bird to about 120 knots. While the F/E quickly depressurized the aircraft. With a very shallow climb the aft entry door was cracked open. The cowboys, with the help of the flight engineer (another Pan Am furloughed pilot), quickly shoveled several tons of cow manure out of the aft door of the 707.
I wonder if the Muscovites ever noticed the smell and the consistency of the snow that evening.
The graciously beautiful advanced 707-320C, now a bit lighter, climbed like a homesick angel to her destination AMS.
Before Aimer and his crew finished celebrating their “uneventful flight” in Amsterdam, the word had got back to Pan Am dispatch in Kennedy and around the aviation circles in New York that a Maverick 707 just bombed Moscow with 6 tons of unadulterated cow $hit!
Another flight, another story
In the midst of the Cold War, I was flying a 707 freighter to SVO (Moscow Airport). Before we boarded the aircraft in Amsterdam, two KGB types showed up and induced themselves as "Navigators!". I had no choice but to take them.
Shortly after takeoff, I signaled the Flight Engineer to get into the "adult book store" under his table. The "Navigator's" eyes became bigger and bigger as they watched my old F/E, intensely studying the Hustler Magazine.
With my broken Russian, I asked if they wanted to retire to the back with some educational material? We never saw those bad boys until we parked at the hard stand!
Hoodwinked by slick businessmen
In its first year in existence, the company posted $16.9 million in revenue. But spent $ 20 million. Despite the imbalance in the ledger sheet, English investors took an interest in Maverick. They sent a willowy British auditor to New York to see if the company might pay off. He got an eyeful. "They ran the business like little boys with toys," the British auditor came to realize. Too often, Maverick's jets came back from the Mideast empty. This practice, known as deadheading, meant the company assumed the expense of fuel and salaries with no income to defray the costs.
The auditor also discovered the partners had set up a company in the Cayman Islands to divert airline income. In addition, the US businessman appeared to be siphoning off funds from the payroll withholding. The auditor found this particularly shocking and felt obligated to alert the Californian investor to the shenanigans. The investor finally find out he was being hoodwinked by these slick businessmen.
Maverick crashed and burned after the Shah fled his throne in the face of Muslim revolutionaries in January 1979. The upheaval shut down the Tehran airport for days, stranding one of Maverick's planes. In addition, Maverick financed cattle barns on the ground in Iran, assets the Ayatollah Khomeini nationalized when he took power.
The pilot/owner bailed out and signed his share over to the others. They worked around the clock to keep the airline functioning. Soon employee paychecks bounced. Beauchamp foreclosed on the jets. The Internal Revenue Service arrived, seeking more than a quarter of a million dollars in employee withholding that had never been paid. Maverick went bankrupt. The Californian investor and other creditors, including the IRS, were left holding the bag.
I want to thank the following aviation photographers for using their images: Malcolm Nason, Hans Werner Klein, Rainer Ness and Wolfgang Mendorf