Clipper 405 

 An Eyewitness Report

 

Reporter Dan Gilmore's eyewitness account of the first flight to link the US and Soviet Union with regularly scheduled service. July 15, 1968.  Pan Am N405PA Clipper Stargazer landed in Moscow, making history.

"MOSCOW — (UPI) — The voice from the control tower was friendly and loud as it greeted flight 44, “Hello Clipper 405. You are cleared to land." The great white jet glided down out of the pale, blue Russian sky, over green fields and tidy villages, and roared down the runway in brilliant sunshine at Sheremetyevo Airport, leaving a decade of political bickering in the wash of its jet engines.

Pan American World Airways Flight 44 made history as the first regularly scheduled American service between New York and Moscow. Aeroflot had opened the direct air service between the two cities on Monday [July 15,1968] with the flight of the Soviet Ilyushin-62 jet from Moscow to New York, with a stop in Montreal.

I sat in the cockpit jump seat behind Capt. Robert M. Weeks, chief pilot for Pan American’s Atlantic Division, as the Boeing 707 jetliner streaked over the Baltic following a refueling stop in Copenhagen.

In the cabins behind was a gathering of 56 American diplomats, publishers and newsmen, guests on the historic “Protocol” flight. A second plane filled with paying passengers was close behind.

Flight Capt. Ralph Hunt of Kinnelon N.J., contacted the Riga Control Tower as the plane entered Soviet air space over the Soviet Republic of Latvia.

Riga gave Hunt a crisp "proceed” and the jet turned south toward Moscow.

Donald Agger, Assistant U.S. Secretary of Transportation, looked below on the Russian countryside. "This is a broad, Kansas-like country.” he said.

The flight was the very spirit of friendship and for the 11 hours and 25 minutes it was in the sky the political and ideological differences of the two countries belonged strictly to the earth below.

Passengers drank American Martinis and ate Russian Caviar. From the first "welcome aboard” in New York to the voice at Sheremetyevo’s Control Tower, the singular mood was on friendship.

The rest of the menu included Cocktails, Vodka and Beer, Russian Hors d’Oevres, Muscovite Chicken, Veal Smetana, Beef Stroganov, Poiish Broccoli and Russian Coffee Cream Layer Cake

Two former American ambassadors to Moscow were on the plane and the present ambassador, Llewellyn Thompson, was waiting at the airport.

An airport reception room had been decorated with one of the rarest sights in Moscow — American flags. Champagne and caviar were passed around at the reception, and tiny salmon sandwiches were laid out on trays.

The Pan Am flight had stopped to refuel in Copenhagen and a heavy rain delayed it for 30 minutes. It arrived an hour late. The Aeroflot flight to New York Monday was delayed an hour and 35 minutes waiting to land at Kennedy International Airport.  

The Pan Am plane will return to New York via Leningrad and fly the Moscow run once a week."

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