In tribute to 35 years of UAL B-737 Service
On Sunday morning, April 28th 1968, 35 years ago today, there was something “special in the air” and it wasn’t “AA” related. Although we are "AA Advantage members", we are also "UAL Mileage Plus", and this was a United “Red Carpet” occaision. On that day United Airlines introduced 737 service to the USA with it’s flight 648 from Chicago O’Hare (ORD
) to Grand Rapds, Michigan (GRR) Having written to Bill Mellberg, aviation author and airplane staff writer for a prominent airliner magazine, who was actually on that flight with his cousin Dave, I thought the three of us should re-create the flight.
Due to circumstances, Bill and Dave could not be here today, 35 years later, but gentlemen, you were with us in spirit on these flights today. This one’s for you guys.
B-737-322 N364UA Nose No. 9964. UA
(I also flew this plane on Christmas day with wife Kathleen) an “old friend”
My 341st flight ever and 217th UAL.
Up early (“O dark thirty” = 04:45 and driving to the GRR Express Lot.
Was at the counter by 06:15 wearing every UAL pin I could round up and my UAL Sweatshirt....NOT
to be worn on board, of course, in spite of the significant day. I mentioned to ticket counter CSR Nancy and gate agents Phil and Jim that we had a birthday to celebrate today. In my bag, as this was not to be an over-nighter....two cameras, flight log, vintage UAL postcards, and various ads from the period nof 1966-1967 telling about the “new” 737 and how it would affect our lives.Also, I included an ad called : “What will it be like to fly in a Jet” from 1957. Also, “the Care and Feeding of Jet Passengers” from March 1960. I also included in my packing, Bill Mellberg’s article, which prompted this anniversary trip. One sad footnote, in my excitement and rush to leave, I forgot to remove my Leatherman Tool (read ‘knife’) So au revoir tool and in addition I had a bit of explaining to do to the authorities. A stupid error. I didn’t go to jail, fortunately.
There was a full pax load and very lucky to get on. However, Seat 2A put me in prime situation to talk to purser and crew about the historic nature of this day and especially being on a 737. I actually gave up a pre-departure OJ prefering to have a picture taken by purser Amy. Push, taxi and take off exactly on time as this flight flies more than 80 OT
. We left from RW
17 under clear skies. Soon I was talking to 2C, who was Pam Bauman, ORDSW and 18 year UAL F/A. Pam this day was reporting to work for an ID
which would take her to BOS
and finally TPA
. We spoke of her love of flying and especially the fact that she collects models of airplanes and the fact that her HS
yearbook claimed she was destined to be the CEO of an airline one day. I think she would make a good one. I did little with Channel 9 this morning as it was more interesting to talk to Pam. She used to work for Allegheny, based at AZO and flew Shorts 212s. This flight was not nearly long enough as we did notget it “all” discussed. Do airplane junkies ever get it all said? I hope Pam has a very long CAREER at UAL. On arrival 9 minutes early I quickly add, I waited for all to deplane and then we did photo ops with crew who kindly went along with my mania. I found out that Capt had flown N9003U (the plane which made the inaugural flight 35 yrs ago) many times, which was a bonus to learn. Capt. Karl didn’t fly it 35 years ago, however. We arrived at ORD
Gate B-1. End of segment one of our anniversary flight.
Crew this morning to Chicago was: Capt. Karl Richcreek, ORD
11 years with UAL; F/O John Myers ORD
4 years in the right hand seat; Purser Amy Branachowski, DCASW, 13 years F/As Thom Norris, 6 years and Robyn Gray, DCASW also 6 years. All of these crew members and Pam represent the very best of UAL and I was happy to have them in charge today. I heard them say goodbye to each and every pax and it was sincere. Amy and Thom were especially interested and in fairness, Robyn was far back and very busy.
Having the choice of heading for the city, with all that Chicago has to offer or staying around the airport all day, which do you think I choose? LOL
A full day of airplane watching and taking some pictures too, especially some 737s, won out. As a bonus, I met some very interesting people.
Gloria and Jack Stiles, from Toledo from where I flew my very first flight in 1959 (TOL
) on United. We talked some airplanes and got the various types straightened out. I also met Mary McLean, from Australia, who can help me with my gambling addiction. She even drew me the “Gambling Bug” Very lovely lady, who was to have gone to Toronto but....SARS.....cacelled that.
She was headed to LGA
. Michael Lamport Commons, of Harvard Medical School, managed to multi-task, talking business on the phone and airplanes and airlines to me, all at the same time! UAL needs to talk to him. He has the answers to all their financial problems. I’ve always thought that one joy of flying is meeting interesting people. So, after breakfast and lunch at ORD
, listening to a lot of Spanish on my walkman, I prepared for the return trip to GRR and crossed the twinkling lights between Concourse B and C.
I was originally to take the 18:50 flight, but if I took the 15:30 flight, it would be more meaningful as today, April 28th, that flight would be the very first
737 to fly ORD
to GRR and that in fact was the actual route of the inaugural flight. So, in spite of dire pax load predictions.....
-GRR B-737-522 N944UA Nose No. 1644. UA
My 342nd flight ever and 218th UAL. I was happy to see N944U. I had also flown it once before.
I met Dianne Dickert at Gate C-3, talked with her about what I had been doing all day, she actually carried on board the “press release” I had written before I could get it there. When I presented my “press release” to the purser, she said it had already been circulated.
Half of my job done. (smile) Not being at all sure that I would get on, I did not want to risk that crew would not know. But, on I got and in 1C, next to Velérie-Berset Price, with whom I spoke French and Spanish. A bonus! Valérie and I spoke at length about UAL and specifically my own airplane addiction. A lovely representative of her native Switzerland.
Push was OT
and we followed CO
N13665 out to RW
4L, I believe. Very little Channel 9 again, as talking with Valérie won out.
Wheels up at 16:15 and now, heading to GRR we were actually re-living the route of the first UAL 737. Great view of the “Windy City” and as a perfect
punctuation mark to the day, Capt. Smith informed the very full plane during a PA announcement that we were flying a 737 on the 35th Anniv. of the first flight and flying the same route. Very nice touch. Several pax commented happy anniv. to Capt. during deplaning. Upon landing at GRR more pictures were taken to document the occaision. Crew for this segment were: Captain Steven Smith, SEA
; F/O Mark Baden, SEA
; Purser Marbalene Hamblin, PHL
; and F/As Sara and Debra, working in back. No service as there was slight chop, but it should be noted that there often is on this flight, at least limited beverage service. In fact, going over this morning, there was OJ and coffee service. This crew also could NOT have been nicer and I thank them also for the opportunity to take the pictures, which they certainly did not have to do. United is lucky to have you on the team.
Here’s to 35 years of the great Boeing 737 and memories of that original flight ORD
-GRR. One of many UAL firsts in aviation history. A true “Red Carpet” memory. Clear and United skies to all, James Oliver