Charles Raines

Prior to the mid 70’s, if a pilot was fortunate enough to get a job with a major airline, the expectation was that they would remain with that company until the mandatory retirement age of 60. Every aspect of one's professional life would be dictated by seniority; but eventually a pilot would become senior enough to fly good trips, have a lot of time off and enjoy good pay and benefits. All that changed with the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. This ill conceived legislation–made worse by a conservative president's war on organized labor and a decade of greed in which corporate raiders raped and pillaged the airline industry–changed the life of airline pilots forever.

What was once the best airline industry in the world became a shadow of past glory. Many of the companies that pioneered air transportation–PanAm, National, Eastern, Braniff, Western and later, TWA and Continental–disappeared forever. For me, what had been the best job in the world, deteriorated to a point where I hated going to work. In 1983, after fifteen years of service with a once proud airline, I found myself on the street facing a very uncertain future.

Every pilot who survived this era has their own story. Many simply walked away from flying and transitioned into more stable careers. That decision was not difficult for me. All I wanted to do was fly airplanes and I was not going to let misfortune drive me out of my chosen profession. Fortunately I didn't have a family to support and was reasonably debt free. Also in my favor was the fact that I had a lot of experience in the Boeing 727, a commodity which almost guaranteed employment with one of the new airlines that were springing up like weeds. Over the next nineteen years, I wore the uniform of five different airlines–each one better than the one before. It was a wild ride!

I found the adage "it is easier to find a job if you already have one" to be very true. I was never unemployed for more than a few days at a time; and although the pay and working conditions were not always so good, I was doing what I wanted to do. Looking back, I wouldn’t change many of the decisions I made. I had a good career which spanned 34 years. I flew airplanes I enjoyed flying and flew to some of the most interesting places in the world–while working with some of the finest people I could ever have chosen to associate with.

Below are some of the airplanes in which I spent many enjoyable hours–and a few that weren't so enjoyable. They all hold fond memories.

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North American Sabreliner 60 (The Proud Sparrow) – This airplane was used for pre-employment flight checks and for transporting company executives.  In April 1973, the airplane crashed on takeoff from Montrose, CO after a thrust reverser unexpectedly deployed shortly after liftoff.  Only the pilots were on board.  Both were killed. This was the first jet I ever flew.Douglas DC9-15F (On the ramp at Dallas Love Field) – The smallest DC9. It was the same size as the -10 series but had larger engines and a cargo door – which was welded shut because of objectionable air leaks.  This was my first assignment as an airline copilot.Boeing 727-200 – Boeing 727-100 – Flight International Airlines bought five of these airplanes from PanAm – only three were ever made operational.  Typical of many airlines that started operation after deregulation, this company lasted only one year. This was the first airplane in which I flew captain.Boeing 727-100 –  CAM Air was a cargo airline based in Atlanta, GA.  The Boeing 727-100 with cargo door – CAM Air operated several of these birds for Emery Worldwide from a hub in Dayton, OH.  Unlike the other package carriers, Emery specialized in overnight delivery of heavy freight.  Night freight was a totally new experience for me and was the easiest job I ever had.Boeing 727-100 – KeyAir based five of these airplanes at Nellis Air Force Base in NV in support of the Tonopah Test Range where the F-117 was being secretly tested.  On weekends, three airplanes would fly contract charter flights to the East Coast and the Caribbean.  The company was eventually bought by World Airways who showed little interest in maintaining Key as a viable airline.A KeyAir Boeing 727-100 at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport – After moving to Savannah, GA, KeyAir attempted to operate as a scheduled airline but lacked the capital and management expertise to succeed.  After twenty years of operation, KeyAir filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated in 1993.Douglas DC10-15 (At Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris)  – One of only five airplanes of this type originally built for Laker Airways. The same size as the -10 series, it had larger engines, a higher gross weight and more range.  KeyAir operated this bird for less than a year.McDonald-Douglas MD-83 (On the ramp in Cancun, Mexico) - Shortly before KeyAir went out of business, the company leased three late model MD-83's. These were beautiful airplanes, but integrating them into the failing company was unsuccessful.  Experience in this airplane however was valuable in getting my next job.  Notice the old National Airlines logo on the tail and the Irish registration number.McDonald-Douglas MD83 – RenoAir was a well financed, publicly traded company with good management and a board of directors well versed in the airline business.  The company (ATA code QQ) was in business for seven years until it was bought by American Airlines in 2000.  Flying for RenoAir was the most enjoyable job I ever had.McDonald-Douglas MD87 – The MD87 was a shorter and lighter airplane than the MD82 or 83, but had the same engines. It could therefore take off with a full load on a hot day from Reno (Elevation 4,415 ft) and make it non-stop to Chicago, a popular destination for the company.  Notice the extended vertical stabilizer and how much closer the engines are to the wing.  This was a fun airplane to fly.Two MD82' on the ramp in San Jose, CA – RenoAir entered into an agreement with American Airlines to begin flying the short haul routes that AA was abandoning in San Joae, CA. The idea was to continue feeding passengers onto the long haul routes that AA continued to operate.  RenoAir however lacked the resources to support two hubs.  This decision was the beginning of the end for this small company.A RenoAir MD83 in AA colors – Once the failure of RenoAir became inevitable, American Airlines bought the company to prevent Southwest Airlines from becoming the dominant carrier in San Jose–which happened anyway.  Since AA operated older MD82's, RenoAir's newer equipment was alien to the AA fleet.  Until the new airplanes could be disposed of, they were painted white in lieu of being polished. American Airlines MD82 – After the acquisition of RenoAir, the 311 RenoAir pilots  were stapled to the bottom of the AA seniority list.  As AA first officers were trained to fly our airplanes, we moved to the right seat and begin flying copilot for some very inexperienced captains.  This didn't always go so well, but the pay and benefits were so good, I simply kept my head down and my mouth shut. B727 Cockpit – A well arranged cockpit compared to the hodgepodge arrangement of the DC9 and MD80.  Moving many of the system controls to the flight engineers panel reduced the pilots workload considerably.  The down side was that the noise level was very high and your feet would get cold in the winter.DC9-15F Cockpit – Very little changed throughout the years.  The early airplanes had no flight management system.  Instead they used the very capable Sperry SP-50 autopilot located on the center pedestal below the throttles.MD83 Cockpit – The most complicated part of this cockpit is the flight management system which was a poor match for the airplane.  Some MD83's combined the engine instruments into a glass plate which looked better, but was actually more difficult to read.  This was actually a quite comfortable cockpit.Early MD80 Cockpit – The major difference from the DC9 is the addition of a flight management system on the center glare shield. Since this airplane was designed by mechanical engineers, almost everything was operated by cables and pulleys.  Note the absence of a magnetic compass.  That was located behind the captain's head facing aft.  A series of mirrors were used to read it.DC10-15 Cockpit – A beautifully designed cockpit.  Every system control not directly related to flying the airplane was moved to a massive flight engineer's panel aft of the copilots seat.  As in all Douglas airplanes, this cockpit was exceptionally quiet, even at high speeds.  Surprisingly however, there was less leg room than in the DC9.

“Old pilots never die, the airplanes just pass them by.”
Gill Rob Wilson – 1892-1966 – American pilot, Presbyterian minister, early editor of Flying Magazine