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Chapter 11

The key to understanding what happened to the airline piloting profession during World War II lies in recognizing the amount and rapidity of aviation’s wartime growth. From a time when a pilot could expect to know every pilot working for his own airline and a great many working for others as well, aviation became, almost overnight, a globe-girdling busi­ness with an expansion in personnel to match. Pilots could no longer ex­pect to know their contemporaries, even at the same domicile, unless they happened to attend school together. The number of pilots working for the airline-military contract operation doubled and quadrupled. The far-flung overwater operations of airline pilots who had never before been out of sight of land was a harbinger of things to come in the postwar world.

War and technological development have always had a curious relationship, almost as if humans’ destructive urges somehow feed their creative ones. World War I spurred aviation’s development, but World War II skyrocketed it. Fueled by unlimited government spending, aircraft designers and manufacturers burst brilliantly into the struggle against Hitler and Tojo. The advances in aircraft, engines, electronic communication, and weather forecasting were phenomenal. Even turbine-powered aircraft, considered a technical stunt with only remote possibilities in the 1930s, had by the end of the war become an operational fact of life.

For ALPA, the biggest problem posed by wartime was one of adapting. As part of the labor movement, ALPA was in an awkward position. Labor, al­though a crucial commodity, clearly took a backseat to the managerial and industrial skills necessary for America’s becoming, in the words of FDR, the “arsenal of democracy.” The titans of industry and commerce, who had been pretty much out of power during the early New Deal years, returned triumphantly to Washington after war clouds began forming on the Asian and European horizons, and the New Deal made its peace with them. For the labor movement as a whole, the question was one of maintaining its position, rather than of making new gains. The union leader who ordered his workers to strike for a pay raise at a time when young men were dying in foxholes and on a hundred battlefields around the world risked not only a crackdown by the combined power of government and industry, but repudiation by the public and his rank and file as well.

ALPA entered the post-1938 period in excellent shape. As the possibility of war increased, the military services began denying pilot requests for release from active duty, thus cutting off the supply of labor on which the air­lines had always depended. This worked to ALPA’s advantage as the contract process went forward.

The military further tightened the supply of pilots by allowing junior airline pilots with a hankering for a military career to return to active duty. The Air Line Pilot began carrying an ever-lengthening list of active airline pilots killed in crashes while serving with the reserves. The shortage of pilots was becoming so acute by late 1938 that FDR created the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT) to train 20,000 pilots. ALPA worried about this kind of competition. “Who is going to provide jobs, retirement, and benefits for these pilots?” the lead article in the December 1938 issue of The Air Line Pilot asked. Behncke couldn’t really try to stop CPT, for it was clearly in the national interest, should war come, to have adequate manpower in the nation’s cockpits.

In terms of membership, ALPA was growing all the time. An overwhelming majority of working airline pilots paid dues, with the percentage of nonmembers dropping every year. Back in 1932, the 19 delegates who as­sembled at Chicago for the convention represented just 344 dues-paying members. By 1940, 70 delegates represented 1,400 airline pilots, roughly 90 percent of the total then working. At the end of World War II, ALPA’s dues-paying membership had increased to 5,730, or over 90 percent of all airline pilots.

As early as 1939, the few pilots who were not ALPA members were primarily either junior copilots, not yet eligible, or a handful of senior holdouts, many of whom were also ineligible for membership because they had fought some ALPA policy over the years or, more commonly, because they had gotten badly in arrears on dues.

For most new hires, it was considered a sign of acceptance when the veterans asked them to fill out an ALPA application form. Junior pilots who re­fused to join were rare. “If a fellow is not going to join,” one delegate to the 1936 convention said, “he is not going to get a lot of instruction from the first pilots. If he joins, we will help him along and do everything we can for him.” The old-timers who had put their necks on the line for ALPA weren’t about to let fuzz-cheeked newcomers have a free ride.

Most junior pilots understood this and could see other advantages to belonging to ALPA as well. W. T. “Slim” Babbitt of Eastern Air Lines (EAL) re­members his decision to join:

I went to work for Eastern in 1935, and I learned about ALPA from the senior people. But by no means were all of them in ALPA; none of the supervisors was. Of course, I was very interested in how you got to be a captain. Every now and then I’d see a copilot disappear. I’d say, “What happened to him?” Somebody’d say, “Well, he’s not here anymore. A couple of supervisors said he couldn’t do it.” And I figured, hell, this is on a personality basis. That’s what got me inter­ested in ALPA. I mean the union was what gave us an orderly proce­dure for checking out as a captain based solely on your ability as a pilot. It was very evident to me that if I was going to take this as my profession, I’d better stay close to ALPA.

The senior holdouts were a tiny minority, and Behncke didn’t worry about them. Of course, if they got in trouble he wouldn’t do anything for them either. By 1938, when ALPA first began appearing on behalf of pilots with grievances, that counted for a lot, as a group of senior holdouts on United Airlines (UAL) was about to discover. The affair was known as “The Purge of ’39.” After it was over, most pilots knew that ALPA was worth the dues—even back dues, if it came to that.

The genesis of the purge on United was an accident at Point Reyes, Calif., in February of that year. The pilot in command of a flight from Medford, Ore., to Oakland misinterpreted signals from the Point Reyes low-frequency range, went in the wrong direction, ran out of gas over the ocean, and crashed at sea. Everyone aboard died except for a passenger and the captain, Charles B. Stead, a veteran who had been with UAL.

Stead was not much of an instrument pilot. He had a lot of company in this respect, particularly among veterans. Unlike so many others, Stead had the questionable good fortune of surviving his error. He had no alter­native but to face a federal investigation, which, partly owing to the new pressure generated by the Air Safety Board (ASB), found that he was in­competent and had used “bad judgment.”

For UAL’s higher brass, the Point Reyes crash was the last straw. W A. “Pat” Patterson had always treated his pilots rather gingerly, whether they were ALPA or non-ALPA. As the newfangled instrument flying developed in the 1930s, many old-timers either chose to ignore it or did the bare minimum to comply with the new rules without getting fired. On UAL, there were about a dozen such pilots who were targeted for dismissal in the wake of the Point Reyes crash as an object lesson to other reluctant instrument fliers. Many old-timers suspected that UAL wanted to get rid of them because of their high salaries rather than because of their alleged inability to fly in­struments. The company had already proved that it was no respecter of legendary names when Jack Knight, the hero of the first transcontinental night airmail flight in 1921, got kicked upstairs to a meaningless (and temporary) executive position in 1937. That was a clear indication to older line pilots that they had better stay close to ALPA for self-preservation. Still there were a few who perversely refused to join. They were about to learn the full measure of their antiunion folly, for the only qualification an older pilot needed for inclusion on the purge list was that he not be an ALPA member.

The company appointed Ragnar T. Freng to head the purge. Among its victims were some exceptional pilots, such as the legendary Al De Garmo, whose skill at contact flying dated back to the days of open cockpits. Behncke’s buddy from Langley Field, Werner O. Bunge, got caught in the purge and hauled before what he called a “monkey trial,” or pilot disposi­tion board. Bunge’s case is unusual, for he was a charter member of ALPA who had resigned after things settled down.

Werner Bunge told his story of the purge:

Freng had been ordered by Mr. Patterson to get rid of us old guys who didn’t care to learn instrument flying. A lot of them said, “If I can’t see where I’m going, I don’t fly.” I wasn’t like them, I’d fly instruments.

I had learned instrument flying while we were at Langley Field on active duty. I did, and so did Behncke. While I was based at Cheyenne in the early days, I had a conversation with Pat Patterson. He asked me, “You’re a leader, aren’t you?” So I guess people there had told him that I was a president of the ALPA local council. It was very touchy. This was in 1933, and we were pretty much on the spot, because they called us in one by one and said, “We under­stand you are liable to strike. If a strike is called, will you fly?”

Well, all I could say was that I’d strike. We beat them on that, and Mr. Patterson humbly recognized ALPA. After that, I said, “Well, I am not going to fight anymore, I’m going to stay out of this in the fu­ture.” The fight was over, see, and I have a document signed by Ralph Johnson, George Douglass, and Rube Wagner saying they appreciated the fact that I stood up when so few would. Then I re­signed because I didn’t really believe in unions.

Then when Stead crashed, the company said, “These old fellows don’t know how to fly instruments.” They called seven of us to the Oakland base and asked us to resign, said if we would we’d get six months’ base pay—that was $250 a month. Now if I had been in ALPA, they wouldn’t have bothered me, because they never called George Douglas or Rube Wagner or any of the older guys who were in ALPA. They were let alone. Along about 1937 I began to think I’d like to get back in ALPA, but with the back dues I had to pay since I got out in 1934, well, I guess I should have.

Harry Huking was my superior and since I wouldn’t resign like they asked, he gave me a flight check. He admitted that I had been singled out because I was an old-timer and not in ALPA. So I knew at that point it didn’t matter what I did, but I went up in a 247 and we did all these fancy maneuvers while Harry kept writing down these things in his little book. So I was fired like that.

Although ALPA was quiet during World War II, it was not altogether inac­tive. Dave Behncke had reached an achievement plateau in 1938, and in the months of peace remaining he devoted himself to completing employment agreements, one by one, with each airline. Almost simultaneously with the completion of the last contract, the Japanese bombed Pearl Har­bor, and Dave Behncke faced pressure to relax standards for pilot working conditions because of the wartime emergency. The airlines were going to war, and they expected the nation’s airline pilots to salute smartly and toe the mark.

In the beginning, this was not an altogether unsatisfactory idea to Behncke. As we have seen, he had a lifelong love affair with the military that left him predisposed toward some kind of militarization of airline pilots in time of war. As far back as 1932, Behncke had persuaded his fellow ALPA members to support something he called “The Legion of the Air,” designed primarily to give airline pilots a quasi-military status. The “Executive Board” (a group of Chicago-area pilots he assembled, temporarily, for advice) formally petitioned the Democratic Party’s national convention in 1932 to adopt a platform plank that would give all active airline pilots reserve commissions or, failing that, to support a new organization of airline pilots that would be available for call-up in time of national emergency. In 1934 the second ALPA convention voted unanimously that “recognition be given to ALPA by the government as a reserve air unit, due to the fact that our members are in continuous training in the most advanced phases of flying, especially night and instrument and bad weather flying.”

Over the years, a number of bills were introduced in Congress to give airline pilots reserve military status, but without exception they failed to pass. As late as June 1939, Behncke was still pushing this idea, calling airline pilots “the minutemen of air defense.”

There is no doubt, however, that a great many airline pilots were leery of the military. Most of them had been soldiers at one time or another and, like most veterans, much preferred civilian life. Behncke was clearly more gung-ho than the average airline pilot, but he persuaded them to back his military idea as politically expedient. In that highly patriotic era, it was cru­cial for ALPA to present a public service image.

In any case, Behncke had more pressing problems to contend with than the rather improbable one that masses of airline pilots would be drafted as buck privates, handed rifles, and sent off to the trenches. Even with World War II looming, Behncke’s strongest efforts weren’t in military preparedness, but in contract negotiations. ALPA had its own business to attend to in Kansas City, Dallas, and New York. TWA signed ALPA’s second contract on July 18, 1939, having been narrowly nosed out for first by American.

While British and French armies crumbled on the continent of Europe, Dave Behncke continued knocking down contracts. Penn Central Airlines (later merged with UAL in 1961) became the fourth company to sign an ALPA contract.

In the midst of the contract successes, a purely political battle erupted in Washington—one that ALPA would eventually lose. A prelude to Behncke’s decline, it heralded the erosion of his political base in Washington. It began in a curious way, with the failure of what had been, in its time, one of ALPA’s greatest successes—ASB.

The creation of the independent ASB was the political high-water mark for ALPA in the Behncke era. He had beaten the Air Transport Association (ATA) solidly on this one; they fought against ASB all the way. But, despite the initial enthusiasm for it and the fact that Behncke’s idea of an independent safety board to investigate accidents was so obviously in the public in­terest, ASB fell victim to the war years and was not revived until 1966 with the creation of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The two factors primarily responsible for ASB’s demise were the new whip hand held by the operators over the Roosevelt administration be­cause of the wartime buildup and the personality of Thomas O. Hardin, former ALPA first vice-president and the dominant member of ASB.

Jimmy Roe, who was on both the first and second “Lobby to Save Lives,” striving first to secure passage of ASB in 1938 and second to prevent its being abolished in 1940, remembers:

The first thing you have to understand is that real safety costs money, and that’s why they were out to get ASB in 1940. In the old days, before that crash that killed Senator Cutting, the first thing the government would come up with was pilot error, it was just about automatic. Of course pilot error does happen, but what if it was company error, or more likely an error in the government-run facilities? Did they ever come up with government error?

When we got the independent safety board in 1938, we thought our troubles were over because we had one of our own men in there, Tom Hardin. Now, Tom Hardin didn’t make too many friends in Washington, and maybe if we’d had somebody else it would have been different, but that’s just my opinion in hindsight. I thought Tom would be all right, and I thought at the time he was doing OK. I knew him particularly well. We’d been in the Air Corps together at Kelly Field, and after he went with American Airlines I worked with him a lot. In fact, we roomed together for weeks in Washington during hearings and meetings. Maybe we lost the in­dependent safety board because of his personality or because of the way he was carrying out his duties as chairman.

I do know that Hardin cost the airline companies some money, and he certainly wasn’t popular with them because of that. Roose­velt had the power to abolish the safety board. Congress could stop it, but it did not do so. So after two years of the independent safety board, from 1938 to 1940, it was abolished by presidential order.

Behncke couldn’t believe that FDR, the man who had so often sup­ported policies favorable to ALPA in the past, would let its cherished ASB slip away. Behncke had made safety the cornerstone of ALPA’s public rela­tions policy, emblazoning the motto “Schedule with Safety” on ALPA’s letterhead. He had manipulated the ASB law so that one of its three members would have to be an active airline pilot, and had personally selected Tom Hardin to be the airline pilot member. He probably made a mistake for, as Jimmy Roe noted, Hardin had more than a few rough edges.

Hardin was a Texan who had been, variously, a soldier, a barnstormer, a local aviation entrepreneur, and a 10,000-hour American Airways, later American Airlines (AAL), pilot. Like Behncke, he had been involved in Gen­eral Pershing’s expedition into Mexico after Pancho Villa in 1916, but there is no indication the two met at that time. He served for seven years on ac­tive duty as a commissioned aviator before resigning to form his own airline, which he headquartered in Fort Worth and christened Texas Air Transport. He won the first Texas airmail contract in 1927, and in 1929 sold out to Aviation Corporation of America in a deal that left him financially secure. In 1930, apparently bored with the life of idle wealth or broke because of the stock market crash, he went to work for AAL, first as an execu­tive, and subsequently as a line pilot. Hardin took an active interest in ALPA’s affairs almost from the beginning, and Behncke considered him an asset to ALPA because of his previous success in management. During the 1930s, Hardin held practically every ALPA office, finally winding up as first vice-president, second only to Behncke.

In June 1938, during the closing days of the congressional session, Har­din had led the first Lobby to Save Lives in its efforts to save the indepen­dent ASB in the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 from a last-minute revision proposed by ATA. ATA had tried to dilute the airline pilot member’s authority by weakening ASB’s mandate and, when that failed, to substitute a one-man safety director in lieu of a multimember ASB. The newspapers had learned of this proposed revision in the law and had given the Lobby to Save Lives a fair amount of publicity. ALPA had won the battle, and the future of ASB seemed secure.

Had it not been for the war in Europe, ATA would probably never have been able to destroy ASB. The problem was that FDR needed the support of the executives his New Deal had previously opposed. In order to win them to his service in wartime, there had to be a quid pro quo, a token of good faith. Throughout every area of governmental authority, the weak­ening of New Deal reforms was apparent as the “dollar-a-year” men (who were, in reality, merely executives on fully paid leave) flooded Washington and began taking the measure of their old opponents, particularly the labor union leaders. Thus a softening of the New Deal’s prolabor policies was an early and obvious casualty of the wartime situation. For air trans­port management, nullification of the costly ASB idea was a primary target. FDR, canny politician that he was, understood the give-and-take nature of the political game. What he had given, he would now take, and so ASB was dead.

Behncke was stunned at the elimination of ASB in FDR’s Reorganization Plan No. 4 when it was announced in April 1940. During the months ASB had been in existence, it had done an excellent job. The number of pure pilot error findings had dropped sharply, and the airlines had had to spend a large amount of money complying with ASB safety recommendations. Airline safety began to improve dramatically. By June 1939, after the com­pletion of the first full season of cold-weather operations (traditionally the most dangerous time), the accident rate was down sharply, with only a single fatal accident, on Northwest Airlines (NWA) at Miles City Mont., which resulted in four deaths. Figures for the previous three years showed an an­nual average of 22 fatalities.

FDR’s proposed reorganization would transfer ASB’s investigatory function, together with all its personnel, to a newly restructured Civil Aeronau­tics Board (CAB). Behncke learned about the abolition of ASB like every­body else—by reading the newspapers. Fiercely angry at what he considered a betrayal by FDR, Behncke resolved to fight.

He put up a good one, earning wide popular support in the press. Personally leading a second Lobby to Save Lives to Washington in late April 1940, he tried to persuade Congress to block Reorganization Plan No. 4.

Carl Luethi, a charter ALPA member who went to work for NWA in 1931 and retired in 1963, remembers being tapped by Behncke to replace Cash Chamberlain as NWA’s member of the second Lobby to Save Lives:

I think Behncke asked me to come on down to Washington to walk the halls of Congress because I was local council chairman at Min­neapolis. When Cash Chamberlain got killed at Miles City, I was the logical one to do it.

What happened to Cash was they had a fire. The Lockheed 14 had this little step between the pilot and cockpit, which covered a fuel transfer valve, and it never should have been routed through the cockpit like that. Well, the speculation is that they got a fuel leak in there and it caught a spark somehow. It was a poor design, and they changed it afterward, and I think ASB’s investigation made them do it. In the old days, they’d have just written it off as “pilot er­ror” and let it go.

We all thought ASB was doing a good job, and the trip down to Washington to try to save it was well worth our effort. But we just couldn’t get anywhere, we came away feeling very frustrated, like the administration wanted ASB out, they had the power to do it, and that was that.

ALPA’s only hope of stopping FDR’s reorganization of ASB lay in persuad­ing key legislators to block it. As Behncke and his fellow airline pilots were discovering, being right wasn’t enough.

U.S. aviation had gone an entire year (1940) without a single fatal accident, but when the President issued a formal statement commending the air transport industry he omitted any mention of ASB, which most airline pilots believed was directly responsible for the good record. “This safety record,” FDR declared, “has been achieved through cooperation and team­work between the personnel of the airlines and the workers in the federal government.”

Behncke wondered editorially why FDR would abolish “the principal contributor to the world’s best air safety record,” and so the controversy continued to swirl, eventually spurring FDR’s enemies to the attack. Among them was Rep. Clarence Lea of Minnesota, whose support of ALPA extended back to the early 1930s. “I raise no question about good intentions,” Lea said on the floor of the House. “But when the history of aviation in this country shall finally be written, it must contain chapters showing the dark side of the picture, particularly the President’s decision to cancel the independent safety board.”

Stung, FDR replied with uncharacteristic rancor, accusing his critics during a press conference on April 30, 1940, of being “ignorant, gullible, and politically misled.” He reserved some particularly harsh words for Dave Behncke and ALPA: “I am standing behind the plan to reorganize ASB. A flood of misinformation has engulfed this issue, much of it absurd. This morning, we saw a group of well-intentioned people staking out an exclu­sive claim as the so-called Lobby to Save Lives. Their implication is that we are not interested in saving lives.” The President assured the assembled re­porters that such was not the case, and there is little doubt that these tough words had a chastening effect on Behncke. He had been in FDR’s corner for so long, on so many issues, that the thought of having him as an enemy was unnerving. Congress refused to block FDR’s plan for ASB, and in May 1940 it went out of business.

Behncke seemed to realize that he was outmatched, politically in over his head, and in danger of alienating a man who could do ALPA irreparable harm. So he made his peace with FDR, at least for the time being. He still hoped that reason would prevail and that the special relationship he had previously enjoyed with the Roosevelt administration would be rekindled. It was in this mood that he wrote: “Now war clouds loom. Local problems should be made secondary. There is a bigger job to be done. We must prepare quickly. There is no other way to stay safe from the dictator-controlled machines of Europe.”

Once again, as in the crisis over the airmail in 1934, Behncke pledged his support to FDR. Behncke hoped that history would repeat itself and that ALPA would emerge victorious by tying itself to FDR’s apron strings. Behncke also had personal goals in mind, goals he could hardly hope to achieve if he alienated FDR.

Sometime in early 1940, at the age of 43, Dave Behncke took one last shot at the military career that had eluded him in the 1920s. Although he had not flown at all since his near-fatal accident in December 1934, he got back in the cockpit. He was considered a bit old by the standards of that time, but through judicious string-pulling with friends in the Army Air Corps reserves, Behncke managed to get checked out in Boeing P-26 fight­ers. He still held a first lieutenant reserve commission, but he was obvi­ously angling for bigger things.

Rumors were rife in mid-1940 that in the event of war the airlines and all their pilots would be called to the colors. Behncke expected to be offered a significant jump in rank when that happened, and he wanted to be an ac­tive aviator.

While everybody waited on events, Behncke tried hard to mold ALPA into a more modern, technocratic entity. He began forming special committees of airline pilots to serve as his technical advisers, partly because he felt that lack of this kind of expertise had hampered the effort to save ASB. Behncke was beginning to put together the committee infrastructure that would one day be the domain of the “nuts-and-bolts” types, airline pilots whose personal and technical bents inclined them toward the nonpolitical side of ALPA activity. In May 1940, just after the ASB battle was lost, Behncke announced the formation of ALPA’s first Engineering and Airworthiness Advisory Committee.

Behncke knew, however, that airline pilots alone, for all their practical experience with airplanes, would not give him sufficient weight when combating the airlines’ technical personnel, who usually sported an impressive array of fancy engineering degrees from prestigious universities. In 1940 Behncke began to search for a suitably degreed aeronautical engineer. The search finally bore fruit after the start of the war when he hired Ted Linnert to be ALPA’s first full-time staff engineer.

“Mr. Behncke said he wasn’t looking for an airline pilot type,” Linnert remembers. “He said he had plenty of flying talent, and he could get all the lawyers he wanted for the legal department, and in any case Mr. Behncke was pretty much of a one-man gang over there when negotiations were in progress. ‘What we need is aeronautical engineering talent to go along with certification,’ he said, ‘because all these aircraft being developed dur­ing the war have to be licensed, certificated by doing flight test work, and so forth.”’

By early 1941, ALPA’s Air Traffic Control and Airway Aids Advisory Com­mittee was also functional, but its contributions were muted because, like the Engineering and Airworthiness Committee, it suffered from lack of technical engineering help.

All the while, the employment contracts continued to mount. Each one represented something of a scalp for ALPA’s trophy belt, particularly Delta Air Lines. This southern airline, with its strong regional tradition of anti-unionism, proved surprisingly easy to conquer. When the Delta pilots un­der Charles Dolson got moving, they did a thorough job of it. Delta had a reputation for being a paternalistic “one big happy family.” Consequently, it must have come as a shock to C. E. Woolman when his pilots unionized.

“I don’t think he ever forgave me for getting ALPA started on Delta,” Dol­son said later. Nevertheless, after a hard, four-day bargaining session in At­lanta, Woolman himself signed for the company. “All arguments were cut to a minimum,” Behncke admitted happily. He was used to far more strenuous, long drawn-out sessions. In fact, some pilots were beginning to think Behncke rather enjoyed them and felt cheated when the negotiations went too easily.

UAL fell into the hopper on Sept. 25, 1940, after nearly a year of negotiations. The agreement covered the airline’s 359 pilots, which made it sec­ond in size only to AAL. It was the eleventh ALPA contract.

Northwest and Western Air Express (soon to be renamed with its mod­ern title, Western Air Lines) had already completed contract negotiations, but final signing was being delayed owing to a few minor points that were under National Mediation Board (NMB) jurisdiction. Of the nation’s major carriers, only EAL and PAA (Pan American World Airways) were still without contracts, and the prospects on EAL looked bleak.

One of the EAL pilots involved with that first contract, Vern Peterson, remembers what it was like to challenge Eddie Rickenbacker:

The thing that really got us interested in ALPA to begin with on East­ern was when the company bought some multiengine airplanes and brought in new pilots to fly them. Well, Gene Brown was No. 1 on our seniority list, but the concept of upgrading people accord­ing to seniority had not yet been established. So Gene Brown took the bull by the horns, got out early one morning, had some of the mechanics crank up one of the new multiengine airplanes, and then he went out and checked himself. Before ALPA was founded, that was an offense which would have been followed by firing.

I was attracted to ALPA from the beginning because of what hap­pened to a friend of mine who was working for a little fly-by-night outfit right after the mail cancellations in 1934 for $120 per month. My friend cracked up and broke a leg and was in horrible shape.

Then Behncke got into my friend’s case and was able to get his hospital bills paid and his salary paid while he was in the hospital. I thought that was quite an achievement. When I finally managed to get a job here on Eastern and the boys asked me to join ALPA, I said it was a darn good thing and I would be glad to join. The trouble with talking like that is that you get elected to something. The next thing I knew I was elected copilot representative.

But anyhow, by 1940 we were long overdue to have a contract. Now, some coordination was necessary, and when I brought this to the attention of other local council chairmen on our line, they elected me to be the guy to carry the ball on this first contract. It wasn’t easy, some of the pilots would get me off in a corner and tell me I shouldn’t rock the boat. We had opposition.

Time went on and Behncke requested a date to start negotiations, but this was stalled month after month. Finally, I got exasperated and decided to go directly to Capt. Eddie Ricken­backer. My opportunity came at the dedication of the Eastern Air Lines building in Rockefeller Plaza in New York. This was attended by several of the Rockefellers, Eddie Rickenbacker, and all kinds of celebrities.

When it was over, I approached Captain Eddie, asking when we could meet with him to discuss the contract. His response started off with, “Why, you little whipper-snapper,” and ended up with a statement that hell would freeze over before he would do any negotiating.

I reported this lack of progress to Behncke, and he went to Washington. Eventually, through some political pressure, we got a contract.

In July 1941, EAL became the last major domestic airline to sign an employment agreement. Only National, among domestic airlines, lacked a contract. Panagra and Pan Am presented special negotiating problems because of their unique status under federal law, but in October 1941 Panagra signed.

Because of the far-flung nature of Pan Am’s operations, plus an innate streak of conservatism among its mostly ex-Navy pilots, Pan Am would not sign a contract until June 1945. Its 1,000 pilots lagged nearly five years behind their domestic contemporaries.

It was a hard contract, requiring repeated intervention by NMB. The first actual negotiating did not take place until August 1943, and the need to involve pilots at dispersed domiciles made subsequent sessions the most expensive in ALPA’s history, costing in excess of $50,000.

And then it was Dec. 7, 1941—the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Dave Behncke, the first few months of the U.S. involvement in World War II held bitter personal disappointment. He was so ready for the call to active duty that he had prepared himself for it by requalifying as an Army pilot in the reserves. The new Air Transport Command (ATC) was going to war, with desk-bound executives like C. R. Smith of AAL, who had no previous military experience, claiming high rank and important positions. During the first few weeks of war Behncke anxiously awaited his call to serve. All around him airline pilots were returning to active duty, and Behncke’s hunger to be part of it was intense. When his orders to active duty finally came, however, they were shattering.

Behncke had expected that he would be assigned to a job commensu­rate with his civilian experience. He had, in fact, told his friends that he ex­pected no less than a colonelcy and hoped he would be billeted to person­nel duties in the ATC. What he got was a measly promotion to captain with orders to a flight instructor’s billet in Texas.

Once more Behncke enlisted the aid of Fiorello LaGuardia, who man­aged to get the offensive orders canceled. In fighting them, Behncke learned that his old enemies in management had contrived the orders to get him out of the way and had on at least one occasion bragged about it publicly.

So Behncke embarked upon his great crusade—to protect airline pilots from the use of what he called “war hysteria to tear down our hard-won gains.” The first battle would be over extending the limitation on pilots’ hours from 85 to 100 “for the duration.” Publicly Behncke went along, while privately he did everything he could to sabotage it. He told the 1940 convention: “They’re using ‘patriotism’ as an excuse to tear down the 85-hour law, and on most of the smaller airlines it’s just about dead. It will be hard to get back.”

Behncke never blamed FDR personally for these reverses. “He is a great President who has done many good things,” Behncke said. “But he has also made a few bad mistakes and he has certainly received plenty of bad advice.”

Behncke seemed to understand that both he and FDR were now prison­ers of forces neither could control. Behncke had to float with the prevail­ing antilabor tides that were then at flood stage in Washington. FDR, in or­der to win the war, had to allow a free hand to Behncke’s old enemies. Believing that it was the airline executives who were the villains, Behncke resolved to fight a subtle, behind-the-scenes guerrilla war. Its object was to protect the pilots working for the ATC in the various companies’ military contract operations from being excessively exploited. As Behncke said: “President Roosevelt himself had made it clear that his national defense program is not to be done with the sacrifice of wages and working limita­tions which labor has made.”

The airline managers who flocked to Washington after Pearl Harbor expected to eliminate the federal 85-hour law entirely. Behncke was willing to extend the 85-hour limit to 100, but would go no farther. Behncke’s hard-nosed attitude infuriated Eddie Rickenbacker, whom Behncke ac­cused of using the war to “continually peck away” at the EAL contract Rickenbacker had signed so reluctantly in 1941. The crunch came in 1942 when a committee of airline executives invited Behncke to Washington to confer on an “intercontinental supplement” to cover pilots working over­seas for various airlines under contract to it. Behncke smelled a rat—in­dustrywide bargaining.

Actually, Behncke didn’t want to go to the August 1942 meeting at Washington’s Carlton Hotel, but he felt obligated to because of the war. ATA had named the committee of company executives. In his first attempts to nego­tiate “supplementals” for the pilots of AAL and UAL, Behncke had hit a stone wall, so he knew something like this ATA attempt at a uniform contract was coming. For moral support, Behncke took along ALPA’s lawyer, Daniel D. Carmel, plus EAL pilot leader W. B. Inman.

Behncke began the meeting by warning the assembled executives that they would get nowhere with him talking of sacrifices and weeping “crocodile tears,” because he knew they were making a ton of money on their contract operations. Furthermore, he said that if they tried, he would go public with a campaign to have everyone drafted for the duration of the war—executives, pilots, and whole corporations. They would all draw military pay, Behncke said, with all profits going back to the government or to the families of the killed and wounded. The meeting was off to a rocky start and got worse. As Behncke described it to the 1942 convention:

This was just a friendly little get-together, they said, but when we got there, they suddenly decided that they were going to do their negotiating collectively. Monro acted as their chairman, but Rickenbacker did most of the loud talking. It was the most peculiar and strained meeting I ever attended.

After I said my piece, Rickenbacker walked over and pointed a finger in my face, saying he was going to fight me and if I wanted to start now to go ahead, but he would still be standing when it was over!

He was very much worked up, and that little meeting didn’t end very well. That afternoon we met again and everybody was a lot less inclined toward fisticuffs. Monro was elected chairman, and he started out by saying he was sorry, but some of the things they were going to propose were not their own ideas but those of the Army. Then he walked over and apologetically laid a piece of paper down which contained the Army’s pay scale for ocean flying. I told them we’d go back to Chicago and think about it.

Behncke was under extreme pressure. One high-ranking ATC colonel and a former airline executive told him to “play ball or else!” Behncke told the 1942 convention: “They have been after us with everything they could lay their hands on to try and tear us down and destroy our salaries and working conditions. We must defend the rights of our members in military service so they will have something to come home to.”

This was not entirely idle rhetoric, as the death of W. B. Inman proved. Inman had less than a year to live when Rickenbacker threatened to trash him along with Behncke for his “unpatriotic attitude” in 1942. On May 7, 1943, Inman’s last radio message reported an engine on fire and a planned ditching midway across the South Atlantic en route to Africa on the military contract run from Natal. There were no survivors. To prove his point that people like Rickenbacker, for all their efforts to force pilots to fly for “Army pay scales,” were unwilling to do so themselves, Behncke ran an article in The Air Line Pilot calling attention to CAB figures for 1942. These figures showed that the airlines were cleaning up, with Ted Baker’s National topping the list by earning 53.76 percent on its total investment in just one year. The lesson Behncke made clear was that in war some get killed while others get rich.

Although it was not an easy thing to do, given Behncke’s natural ten­dency to be a flag-waver, he hung tough during World War II, grudgingly giving ground on standards, but always warily angling for advantage. He won a few, lost more. ALPA beat back a wartime attempt by ATA and the government to raise the certificated maximum gross weight for the DC-3, cor­rectly pointing out that the new standards would mean that a DC-3 that lost an engine on takeoff at many ordinary airports would have a single engine ceiling below the runway it had just left. But there was very little ALPA could do about routine violations of federal standards and contract provi­sions when they occurred under crisis conditions just behind the battlefronts.

Behncke knew the real crunch would come when the guns fell silent. ALPA would then have to contend not only with the great technological changes wrought by the war, but also with the airlines’ demand for industrywide bargaining. Behncke wasn’t about to surrender the privilege of ne­gotiating with one airline at a time, a technique that permitted “jacking up the house,” as one airline executive complained. Management surfaced the notion of industrywide bargaining in earnest for the first time at the Carlton Hotel, using the Army’s pay scale as cover.

Behncke would see it again in 1946 on TWA. It would cause ALPA’s first real nationwide strike.

To Chapter 12

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