“Experimental” DC-4 expedited for UNRRA war relief flights

…the continuation of Jack Stettner’s story and the Veterans Air Express UNRRA contract.

Met Opera Diva Jarmila Novotná christens Veterans Air DC-4 in 1946 at Newark Airport.
Jarmila Novotná, actress and star soprano of the New York Metropolitan Opera, is preparing to christen this Veterans Air Express DC-4 on April 16, 1946. The company’s first destination for the UNRRA was Prague – the world-renowned Czech soprano’s birthplace. PHOTO SOURCE: Unknown.

Dear Reader, our Diva’s name was difficult to trace – and eventually provided courtesy of the Santa Fe (NM) Public Library InterLibraryLoan Librarian, one of my highly valued Veterans Air “network.” Gaye Lyn

The United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration awarded Veterans Air Express a UNRRA contract as part of the UN’s World War II war relief efforts.  In so doing, Veterans became the first civilian air cargo service to fly behind the “Iron Curtain.”1

Jack Stettner flew copilot with Captain William Jakeman on the company’s first flight to Warsaw, 7 May thru 17 May, 1946.2

The aircraft they flew, NX58003 named GLOBETROTTER, had delivered tons (literally) of hatching eggs on two back-to-back trips to Prague less than a month prior. [April christening photo shown here.]

The United States Immigration Manifest for the Warsaw flight is missing, so far, from official U.S. documentation so we don’t know the other Warsaw crew members. Fortunately for this research, however, the dates were garnered from Jack’s Fllight Log during our face-to-face meet-and-greet in Florida early August 2015. (Big grin!)

“Experimental” aircraft.  Really?

An explanation for you aviation buffs wondering about the “X” in the “NX” tail number: During the entire period of the company’s start-up phase [and perhaps short history], time was of the essence. According to Jack Stettner and other sources, the DC-4 needed major overhaul and modifications, but also re-certification from military to civilian life which could drag out. In what later must have proven to be highly uncustomary cooperation from “the powers that be,” this DC-4 was given “Experimental” designation in order to expedite the UNRRA war relief flights.  Thus the “NX” tail.  (And when/if more is known, perhaps a story for future coverage.)

Pushing the point, I know, but this image is NX58003, Experimental DC-4…the workhorse of Veterans Air contract with the UNRRA – United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.5

7 May to 17 May, 1946.  Warsaw. 
55,000 hatching eggs. Russian approvals.

For this first Warsaw flight, Jack describes the crew’s concern with and attention to vital temperatures in the DC-4. As in the first two previous flights for the UNRRA to Prague, the DC-4 temperature had to be closely regulated. “The hatching eggs had to be kept warm (within certain limits)…on the ground as well as in the air. If the temperature was too low, the eggs would no longer hatch. If too high, they would hatch prematurely (and die of starvation). So timing became critical.”6

A different matter of life-and-death was flying over Russian-controlled Germany and needing Russian approval to do so. (While the war had been over nearly a year, the jittery Russians had quite recently shot down a U.S. C-47 – known in civilian terms as a DC-3). “Russian communications with their own anti-aircraft batteries was very poor and we would be shot down if we deviated in any way” was how Jack explained the criticality of their designated flight corridor.7

In his film footage here, which I hope you’ve watched, John Noll, an early Veterans Air Core Founder, recalls a Russian fighter escort “sitting on our wing” just to be sure Veterans did not deviate from the flight “plan” as they flew through that corridor. Jack Stettner remembers the Russian approvals for sure, but doesn’t recall the escort. (More rubrics cube information to investigate.)

And, “just like that,” the company began to thrive.

Like the other Veterans Air “lads,” Jack Stettner did more than fly for the company. As one of those self-described “bunch of cocky kids,” it became evident that to be successful they had to get their act together. They had to do more than fly from Point A to Point B. Prompted by a “hard” lesson having to do with 30 barrels of lobsters (subject for another story), the Veterans founders/crew members decided to self-select areas they liked or suited their talents. So, Jack volunteered for Operations ‘cause he could organize things. And someone who said “I-like-buying-things” volunteered to become Purchasing Agent. And the high-flight-time member stepped up to become Chief Pilot. Just like that8.

The Veterans Air Expres ex-servicemen get their act togehter, to build the cargo buiness & make expansion plans.
THE VETS (13-man) LINE UP. Garnering attention, experience and new business. Only Saunie Gravely is recognizable to me – 4th from back end with hat brim jauntily tipped down. 

(Since I’m still searching for who did what and when, I’m missing some names here.)  Plus some photos (like this one) lack clarity. But I’m using what I have gathered to show just a portion of media attention Veterans Air was garnering.  National news magazines.  National and daily newspapers.  Aviation news publications.  All with their imaginations captured by the venture, they supplied readers with coverage – from 3-line entries to full features with photos.9

(Dear Reader, if you know any of these men, please contact me! Gaye Lyn)

Harvey G. Stevenson and Saunie Gravely in May 1946
GUIDING LIGHTS of Veterans Air Express Company according to feature article.

And what was Saunie, the President, doing all this while?  I know he wasn’t flying, because my Dad didn’t become a pilot until after his Veterans Air endeavor. I do know Saunie worked along side the company attorney, Harvey G. Stevenson. No doubt.  The photo caption in Air Transportation calls the two men “Guiding Lights.”10  Harvey was the attorney for Brenner Produce Company and was brought into Veterans by Arthur and Nellie Brenner11. Nellie had become Vice President Finance for Veterans. I’ve seen her signature and corporate title — on company stock certificates and warrants that Jack Stettner gifted to me. Thank you, Jack!  Hugs. (Excuse us, folks, while we have a private moment!!)

My Dad also made arrangements in Sebring, FL., (where I also visited one week ago today – last Monday!) for an aircraft maintenance & refurbishment hangar and for refrigerated storage capacity for fresh produce cargo flights. (The rest of that Florida trip is here: Breakfast with Marilyn Gries!12  Hours with Allen Altvater at Sebring Airport and the Sebring Historical Society13.  And, even longer ago, cocktails with Paul Eason in Santa Fe!14

And…and…and…as soon as I catch up with myself!

My apologies, Dear Reader. This Post was originally drafted on 8/18/2015…and I’ve just gotten back to edit and add photos (9/8/2015).  So references like “visited (Sebring) one week ago today” are terribly outdated! Gaye Lyn, 2015

1 “First U.S. Civil Plane Will Enter Soviet Area,” New York Times, (1857-Current files): May 7, 1946, as Cited in: ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times, 1851-2003) pg. 8.
2 Fred Graham, Special to The New York Times, “Warsaw Flight With 55,000 Eggs Achieved ‘By Guess and By Gosh,’”The New York Times, May 20, 1946, as Cited in: ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times 1851-2003) 25.
3 Jack Z. Stettner, Pilot Log, 1946-1947 Veterans Air Express entries, left-hand page, first-stages of Warsaw flight, 5/7 to 5/10/1946.
4 Ibid. Log, left-hand page #2, Warsaw flight 5/10 to 5/17/1946.
5 "Newcomers Hatch a New One,"Business Week, story-in-a-photo-caption, 1946-04-23, 16. Photo Credit: Not given by magazine.
6 Jack Z. Stettner, “A Place in the Sun,” pgs. 40-49 in Memories of the Jing Bao & Beyond,, 2nd ed., (Lincoln, NE: Authors Choice Press, iUniverse.com, Inc. 2001), 43. NOTE: The source of the stories, anecdotes, figures, and details in Jack Stettner's book, Memories of the Jing Bao & Beyond, are the author's memories as recalled approximately 50 years after he experienced them. Al Stettner, son of Jack Stettner.
7 Ibid. “Place in the Sun,” pgs. 43-44.
8 Ibid. p. 41.
9 “The Vets Place A Stake in the Sky,” Air Transportation: Air Commerce section, 1946 January, 36-37. Photo Credit: None provided by publication.
10 Ibid.
11 “AAF Veterans’ Airline to Speed Perishable Produce to Markets,” Newark Evening News, 13 September 1945, 18.
12 VAE Web Post, “First unofficial ground hostess. Marilyn Gries. Found “Treasure!” July 11, 2015 https://veteransair.org/first-ground-hostess-marilyn-gries/
13 “Florida ideal secondary maintenance location,” VAE Web Post, April 2015 https://veteransair.org/florida-ideal-secondary-maintenance-location/
14 “Meeting Paul Eason, son of Charles Eason, Sr.,” VAE Web Post, Nov 11, 2015 https://veteransair.org/paul-eason-son-of-charles-eason-sr/

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