A day at the airport – Caribbean cargo operations
The cargo operation I flew for out of St. Thomas U.S.V.I, is the focus of this diorama.
The diorama is representative of various daily airport operations combined in one setting. One of the more notable aspects of hauling cargo were souls no longer on board. We often transported “human remains.” These were typically packaged in low profile, cardboard boxes that one might never suspect contains a body. This type of box is in fact one of the miniature cargo items loaded inside the Twin Beech. However, the coffins
and the hearse
were the perfect match to clearly depict one of the more unusual cargo items being transported.
My first encounter with the human remains issue was in San Juan, where I spied a small cardboard box sitting atop a pile of cargo just prior to loading. The box had originally contained toilet seats and in a bizarre twist, the company logo featured a pugnacious, diapered baby wearing a pair of boxing gloves with his fists up as if he were sparing. I made an off-hand comment about the box to the loadmaster who flatly replied, “it’s a baby.”
I said, “What!? You’re joking!”
He repeated, “It’s a baby.”
I scoffed, “Oh sure, we always fly baby deliveries in cardboard boxes for toilet seats that just happen to have a picture of a baby on the box. With a rather disgusted expression, he produced the cargo manifest and pointed to the listing for the box – “Human Remains” – and repeated, “it’s a baby.”
Somewhat disturbed, I mumbled under my breath, “I guess that makes me the grim stork.”
That was San Juan Puerto Rico.
I never quite got over the bizarre serendipity of that moment. Watch the movie “The Rum Diaries” for an idea of what San Juan was like. The movie features Johnny Depp as a character from an unfinished novel by Hunter S. Thompson. There’s even an airport scene with a twin beech in the background. For me, the beginning of the movie was a real memory flogger, listening to “Volare” as a bright red cub tows a banner over the beachfront. The song, the cub and the hotel in the final shot of the opening are related to personal moments of life that now only dimly exist in memory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMg9sNycXqY
While there are a number of aircraft featured in the diorama, the C-47 is one of two main aircraft the diorama theme centers around. The other aircraft is a C-45 awaiting final finish.
Here is the action as viewed. The C-47 on the ramp is being loaded with cargo.
The first load of cargo is piled close to the tail, awaiting loading
while a couple of coffins and a crate are loaded first.
Finished with his delivery, the top-hatted undertaker departs in his ancient, but well maintained, LaSalle hearse.
The loader inside the C-47 plans positioning of the crates once loaded aboard.
Outside, the loadmaster is guiding the forklift driver’s close tolerance entry, as the coffins barely fit through the cavernous, cargo hatch.
In the meantime, the pilot (who curiously resembles Robert Lansing from the TV series Twelve O Clock High) and cargo operations manager stand close by going over the cargo manifest.
Up front, a couple of men from “Flying A Service” carefully fill the C-47’s fuel tanks according to the aircraft’s loading.
The hose tender makes sure the hose does not scuff the aircraft as he watches the fuel metering gauge in the hose storage compartment, while the other man filling the tank has the ubiquitous, red, shop rag stuffed in his back pocket to wipe up spills and protect the fuel nozzle.
Access to the fuel tanks is provided by a well-worn, yellow, work stand at the leading edge of the port wing. The raised platform’s canvas buffer strip, typically an old piece of fire hose, can be seen mounted around the edge to prevent damaging the aircraft.
An avionics technician sits in the left seat of the cockpit
doing a final check on the new radio installation, identified by the newer style antennas mounted atop the fuselage.
Another tech standing on the ramp calls up to the man in the cockpit to confer on questions concerning the radio installation.
At the edge of the ramp, a technician puzzles over replacing a burned out taxiway light.
The LED actually did burn out and there is no way to replace it without major surgery to the diorama; hence the puzzled tech.
It was all in day’s work.
Stay Tuned – Up next: A gear retraction test on King Aerial Survey’s Cessna T-50 Bobcat.
25 additional images. Click to enlarge.