In the winter of 1987, my girlfriend and I travelled by Cubana de Aviacion Ilyushin IL-62M CU-T1225 Russian jet from Brussel to Havana, with stops in Zurich and Gander, Canada (The latter only for uplifting fuel). After a stop-over in Havana, we travelled onboard another Russian jetliner, Cubana de Aviacion Tupolev Tu-154-B2 CU-T1222 to Mexico City. During our stay in Mexico I took the opportunity to spend some time at Oaxaca Airport, (460 km. south-west of Mexico City) to spot and photograph the Douglas DC-3 activity at this tiny airport. During these days Kodachrome K64 was the norm for aviation slides and for some reason excessive use of the color dark blue was the favorite of Mr. George Eastman of Kodak! Enjoy the pics and captions.
Oaxaca Airport (January 19, 1987)
After successfully negotiating with the local airport authorities, we were fortunate enough to be granted permission to photograph the aircraft on the ramp. Through the sweltering morning heat, we made our way to the Dakota ramp, where a few minutes later we were able to view the familiar lines of the classic piston-engine veteran, the DC-3. Scattered around the hot & dusty ramp we discovered a variety of Dakotas being worked on.
Aerovias Oaxaquenas flight 104 (from Oaxaca to Salina Cruz, of January 19, 1987)
Aerovias Oaxaquenas, which was established in November 1979 by a group of local businessmen keen to make money, they operated two 28-seat DC-3 Dakotas for daily passenger schedules to the cities of Puerto Escondido and Salina Cruz. Purto Escondido, also known as the next Acapulco, is a tourist resort situated on a beautiful bay on the Pacific coast and can be reached by road from Oaxaca. However, in 1987, this entails a rather grueling 13 hour journey, partly along dirt roads and consequently air travel is definitely recommended. The other destination served by Aerovias Oaxaquenas is the airfield at Salina Cruz. This city is a booming and evil-smelling port with a naval base, extensive oil storage facilities and an oil refinery. Normally, only oil-workers and businessmen use the services of Aerovias on this route. As we desired to depart from Oaxaca in grand style, we decided to sample a flight on one of Aerovias morning departures to Salina Cruz. We arrived at the airport at the crack of dawn, already the sun′s rays were burning the skin and we proceeded to the Aerovias check-in desk, which was located inside the airport′s ultra-modern terminal building. Here we confirmed our two seats aboard flight number 104 to Salina Cruz. Aerovias Oaxaquenas flight 104, from Oaxaca to Salina Cruz, was scheduled to depart at 08:30LT. The price was only 26.873,00 pesos.
I introduced myself to the desk clerk as the "flying reporter from Holland who wished to ride the Mexican DC-3". A few minutes later I was introduced to the 43 year old captain, Jose Manuel Galicia Galan, who insisted that I remained in the cockpit throughout our flight. Jose Manuel, who started flying at the age of 17, served as a Dakota pilot with the Fuerza Aerea de Mexico and amassed a grand total of 6,800 flying hours on a number of transport aircraft. Despite his other incredible achievements and his flying skills, he had not mastered the English language!
His co-pilot, Gustano Ortego Berdeso, was also a DC-3 specialist with some 3,000 hours under his belt and he joined us a few minutes later. Berdeso had one advantage over his captain, he did speak some English, but "yes" and "no" were the only words I heard! Happily, my Spanish lessons paid off and so communication was no problem. Having been introduced to Berdeso, we made our way to the waiting DC-3 on the ramp. To my surprise, the DC-3 was not yet ready. A bright yellow fuel truck was still replenishing her tanks. Nobody seemed to be in any hurry despite her planned departure time of 08:30LT and we were then given a half hour delay. Finally our 44 year old trusty DC-3, which had been converted to executive configuration by Remmert Werner in 1963, was ready to allow her patiently waiting passengers to board.
Together with just six other passengers, we boarded XA-JII through the small door on the aft port side. Inside, wewere pleasantly surprised to find she still possessed a very luxurious interior. Comfortable, fresh green colored seats filled the cabin in a two-by-two layout. Located at the rear of the passenger cabin was a classic oak cloakroom with golden handgrips. The side and ceiling panels were decorate in a very stylish form and the interior lighting had been adapted to create a very special atmosphere. It seemed very hard to believe that I really was in a vintage airliner built during the 40′s! My girlfriend seated herself halfway along the aircraft, next to one of the panoramic window, thereby assuring herself of the best viewing point possible. I advanced forward to the cockpit, where Captain Galan and co-pilot Berdeso were preparing the old bird for the flight to Salina Cruz. I was looking for the jump-seat, to prepare for take-off, but there wasn′t one! Unlike most other DC-3′s, XA-JII has a very spacious pantry area which is located just behind the cockpit with no bulkhead in between. So I was told to lean on the pantry!
At 09:05LT, the ground handler gave a "thumbs-up" signal, indicating "prop-clear". Soon afterwards both Pratt & Whitney′s burst into life with a sudden jolt, generating a great deal smoke, only to be followed by a pleasant rumble as the engines gently warmed-up. At 09:15LT Captain Galan moved the throttle levers firmly forward and XA-JII thundered a purposeful way along the runway and lifted off in the clear morning air, to climb slowly to our assigned altitude of 8,000 feet. I immediately noticed that I was in the company of a very professional flight-crew. With the greatest of ease they manipulated the controls and seemed to take it all in a very relaxed manner. As we cruised along at a very respectable 160 knots, we skimmed over the bare peaks of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountain range. We were amazed by the astonishing scenery which seemed to pass by every minute or so!
Captain Galan and his co-pilot were very interested in the aviation magazines that I had brought along and while studying them they did not seem to be too bothered about the mountain tops as they crept closely past! But I had a great degree of faith in the Mexican flight crew, who were performing a routine mission. During our conversation it became clear that they did not understand why anyone should be interested in old propeller driven aircraft, let alone the faithful old DC-3. After 50 minutes flying time we were approaching the outskirts of Salina Cruz and XA-JII began her descent with a wide left turn soaring over the Pacific Ocean.
Captain Galan placed his Dakota firmly onto the ground with a thud and we seemed to have arrived at what must be one of the most neglected airstrips in the whole of Mexico. Thanks to some steady braking, our captain managed to stop the old DC-3 before disturbing a herd of very bedraggled looking goats that had strayed onto the airfield - a scene typical of everyday Mexican life! We taxied to our parking position outside what appeared to be the remains of an old marine building. A few minutes later, our Captain shut down both engines and the door was opened. We both jumped out into some very thick, luscious vegetation and it seemed amazing that the old Dakota had actually managed to taxy through this growth at all!
Once we had safely disembarked from the DC-3, we thanked Captain Galan and his co-pilot Berdeso for their hospitality and for providing such an enjoyable flight. From the airstrip we made our way to the public road and here we were soon picked-up by the local bus service which was operated by a most dilapidated ancient charabanc, making us wish that we were back on board that old DC-3!