Since it is ridiculously hot and humid in Florida from May until October, folks spend a lot of time indoors to escape the heat – just like people from the northern climes spend a lot of time indoors during the winter to escape the cold and snow (or come to Florida as a snowbird!).  The bugs come out at night, too, so taking an evening walk is also out of the question unless one is doused with bug spray, which is not my favorite thing.  What do people do to stay busy during all of this indoor “down time”? I don’t know what others do, but we play cards, read, do puzzles, talk and watch a lot of TV.

     I believe I have watched more TV since I’ve been down here – nine months now – than the previous two years combined! Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies – no commercials and a lot of variety. The other night we watched a 1953 movie called “Island In The Sky” starring John Wayne and a bunch of fine actors.  The storyline revolved around the Air Transport Command (ATC).  Wayne and his crew were flying back from a mission to Europe when he had to put the airplane down in the middle of nowhere in Labrador due to icing.  This being the movies (and John Wayne…), he was able to land the airplane on a snow-covered frozen lake with landing gear – not skis – intact!  It was a well-acted story and had a happy, if somewhat up-in-the-air ending (no pun intended).  Other flying buddies find the crew and supplies are dropped since they are down to about their last cracker after seven days of brutal cold.  The kicker is that the movie stops there – viewers are left hanging with no idea how the guys actually got out.  As Mike and I like to say when we sense a lack of progression in a TV or movie script: “hole in the story!”

     There is no “hole in the story” when it comes to the real ATC.  Those folks were responsible for delivering important supplies – freight, mail (and sometimes passengers) that had to get into the field ASAP – from the U.S. to points around the world. 
     The service was an outgrowth of the Army’s Ferrying Command, which was an airplane delivery system utilized when Britain entered WWII and needed American-built planes to fight the Nazis.  The major airlines of the day – Pan Am, Northwest Orient, Eastern, Western and United (only one of which is still flying today!) – contracted with the government to do the deliveries.  Some contracts were active through the Ferrying Command and some were set up through other military organizations. The whole initiative eventually got so convoluted and involved that in 1942 the Army took a step back and put the whole process under the new ATC.  The service would be responsible for all ferrying and transportation tasks except those directly necessary for combat operations.
   Although the ATC was considered to be a military airline, it was difficult to get personnel to fly the airplanes because trained military pilots were going into combat.  The ATC created a program to qualify civilian pilots – including airline pilots – and used WASPs (Women’s Air Service Pilots) as well. As the war continued, the ratio of military to civilian pilots flying for the ATC increased; by the end of the war, more than 80% of the pilots were military.
     The ATC really proved you could get there from here.  They flew to England from the East Coast by way of Canada (just like John Wayne’s ill-fated return trip!), to Australia from the West Coast via Hawaii and the South Pacific Islands, and to North Africa from Miami and other East Coast bases.  In the Americas, they flew to Alaska and the Aleutians across Canada and went south to Central and South America.  To get to China, they flew to Brazil from Miami, went across the Atlantic to Africa and continued across the Middle East to get to India, the entry point for China.  Keeping the CBI theater (China/Burma/India) supplied was a priority; China was completely cut off from regular imports by the Japanese invasions of China, Burma and parts of India.
     The airplanes were bare bones with no heat or pressurization. Flights lasted for many hours. Pilots wore heavy jackets, hats and gloves.  Vast expanses of the terrain they flew over were either rough or liquid.  Boredom was as big a threat to the crew’s well-being as equipment failure or bad weather.

     The ATC remained active until the Air Force became a branch of the Armed Services in 1947 and established the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) to support the new Department of Defense.  The Military Airlift Command (MAC) replaced this military airline in 1965.  MAC was replaced by the Air Mobility Command post 1991. AMC continues to fly and also manages contracts with the civilian airlines.  Seems like basically not much has changed except the equipment and the name!

Just For Fun –
     Speaking of “Islands In The Sky,” Catalina Island’s little airport (privately owned but open to general aviation) is often referred to as  the “Airport in the Sky” because it is located close to the highest elevation on the island (1,602 feet).  The lone runway is pitched in the middle so it appears even shorter on short approach.

     In comparison (and no slam on Catalina…), the airport at the highest elevation is Qamdo Bangda Airport, in Tibet (but to be politically correct needs to be referred to as being in the People’s Republic of China).  It’s at 14,219 feet above sea level, just about half the height of Mt. Everest.  Another Tibetan airport is being built at 14,544 feet.  That one is scheduled to be complete in 2014.  What’s an additional football field length among friends?

COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION DAY 2 months 27 days – have you been doing your homework?
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit


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