SI Vault
Percy Knauth
July 06, 1959
Flying the ocean has become so routine these days that it scarcely merits a "safely arrived" postcard from the other side; but to a select small group it is still a major adventure, and occasionally an ordeal. These are the transocean ferry pilots of small airplanes, and their unofficial leader is Max Conrad, songwriter, ex-high-jumper and grandfather, who at 56 has amassed, in 30 years of flying, the astonishing total of 36,000 hours in the air. A man who in the jet age still epitomizes the traditions of the Lindbergh era, Conrad, at various times a barnstormer, mail pilot, one-man-airline operator and proponent of a national youth program for flying and fitness, began his transatlantic ferry career in 1954 with the delivery of a twin-engined, five-place Piper Apache from New York to Paris, the first nonstop, solo flight over this distance since Lindbergh's historic feat in 1927. Last month he set a new distance record for small planes in a single-engined Piper Comanche (SI, June 15), of which he tells on pages 64 and 65. The adventure of an ocean Right with Conrad starts below, as told by Sports Illustrated Editor Percy Knauth, who not long ago flew as copilot in an Apache from Boston to Paris.
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July 06, 1959

Adventure With A New Lone Eagle

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2100 hours. The sun has disappeared.

2105 hours, and Max tries Ocean Station Delta on the ADF again. The needle circles slowly around the dial, stops at around 80� and pulses restlessly and rather vaguely. "She's hunting for something there," says Max, "and that's about where the weather ship ought to be." To check, he switches it off briefly; the needle turns on the dial, but comes back to the same heading when he switches on again. He tunes in on the Torbay frequency; slowly the needle homes on 2�. Both stations are too weak to hear; both indicate by their weakness that we may be farther south than we had thought. But that's O.K.; we'll be blown back northward when we reach the other side of this counterclockwise wind pattern.

Darkness is closing in fast now. Outside everything is pearly gray; the sky behind has changed to rose. The deep chasms in the cloud floor seem mysterious and vast—dark, silent rivers winding through the landscape of an unreal world.

2152 hours. We call Ocean Station Delta. There is no reply, but her signal is coming in strongly now. Max pulls out his facilities chart and finds the weather ship on it—she patrols an area marked off in squares, each square lettered, across and down. By the letters in her signal we can tell where she is: if she sends C and P at the end of her regular call letters, for instance, we find C, run our finger down to where it meets row P, and there is where she is.

A curious thing develops. We seem to be getting two different signals from the weather ship—both with her regular call letters but with different location letters. One indicates she is in the southwest corner of the grid area, the other that she is over on the eastern side. We check and recheck. Are there two weather ships in the area? We don't know.

2215 hours. We call Santa Maria and give our position. We also start up to 9,000 feet and ask for clearance to that altitude. The cloud floor below has been rising slowly to meet us; now we are beginning to brush the peaks of that unearthly landscape, and little wisps of fog make brief flashes of our red and green navigation lights on the wings as they whip past. It is an eerie feeling, particularly when we cross one of those cavernous openings that lead down to the dark sea so far below.

We send our request for a new altitude again and again to Santa Maria, without reply. Meanwhile I milk D-GARY slowly upward, out of the reach of those looming, seemingly so solid peaks of cloud.

2235 hours. Santa Maria comes in and clears us to 9,000, but wants us to let down to 7,000 again when we reach 40� west. We're not far from there now, but let's enjoy our higher level while we can.

Ocean Station Delta is coming in strong now, and we are almost abeam of her. Still no solution to the mystery of the two divergent signals. Max thinks that perhaps the relief ship is coming in.

The moon is low and far behind us now. The stars are clear and glittering in the cold blue sky.

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