"Neil Brooks" Avstry #2

Neil Brooks, tells us about his time in the Airforce serving with Strategic Air Command, and his time with United flying DC-6, DC-8's and 727. We also talk about his experience building his KitFox.

Published Date: Wed, 23 May 2012

Direct link to m4a audio file of show. Recommended (right-click to download/save).

Before we get to this episodes we ask that you consider making a small financial donation to the Aviation Story podcast. This donation will help us gather better stories, and share them with the Aviation Story podcast community.

Sincerely, The Avstry Team

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

Show Notes

J.R. Warmkessel: Hi Neil! Thank you so much for joining us today. I really like to start these interviews by asking our people to tell us about the licenses they currently hold or have held from the FAA. So why don't you start there?

Neil Brooks: Ok. Starting with the student pilot, private pilot and then after I got out of the air force, I got the ATP, ATR, Air Transport Rating with United Airlines after I was with them for about 12 years, I guess it was.

J.R. Warmkessel: Multi engine or did they not have a multi engine back then?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. Multi engine.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell us about when you were in the air force.

Neil Brooks: Ok. I first learned how to fly when I was in high school in 1946, in Denver, Colorado. Flew a piper cub off a dirt field. It's called Combs Field. And then I went to Colorado in A&M and got a degree in Mechanical engineering. And then I went into the air force. Wend through pilot training and flew the T6, T28, T33 and then I finished up in the air force flying the F84, the straight wing one.

J.R. Warmkessel: And what year did you go into the air force?

Neil Brooks: 1951. And I was in four years, till 1955.

J.R. Warmkessel: SO that would have been about 6 years after World War 2 ended?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. Let's see. '45 to, yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: And you flew the T6 that was at the Harvard or, which variant of the T6 were you flying?

Neil Brooks: The Harvard I guess.

J.R. Warmkessel: And then the T28. That would've been the Trojan?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. And then the T33s, the Lockheed trainer, to place trainer.

J.R. Warmkessel: Without the shooting star or...

Neil Brooks: Shooting star. I guess you call it that. And then I also flew the F80. The single piece F80, the first...

J.R. Warmkessel: Phantom?

Neil Brooks: No no. F80 is the predecessor of the T33. Lockheed F80.

J.R. Warmkessel: Ok. So what do you remember most of kind of that time, you know what stands out to you as...

Neil Brooks: Oh, let's see. It was during Korean war, and I spent most of my time in SAC, which was the Strategic Air Command and they had couple of fighter wings for special purposes and I spend the rest of my Air Force time there. Air Force is a good career. But it wasn't for me. So I got out when my time was up after 4 years. And then I went to work for United in Denver after I got out of the Air Force and started off as a what was called a flight engineer on a DC6. And then after about 8 years I graduated to become the First Officer in the DC6 and the Conveyer 340.

J.R. Warmkessel: Was that known as the Connie?

Neil Brooks: No. Conveyor Twin Engine.

J.R. Warmkessel: Ok. You have to forgive me.

Neil Brooks: That's alright. And then co pilot on the DC8. And then 1969 it was, I was promoted to captain on Boeing 727 out of San Francisco and I few that for about 15 years I guess it was. And then 1985 I moved over to the DC10. And flew that for the last few years before I retired at the age of 60 and last couple of years I flew between San Francisco and Honolulu. Best job I've ever had.

J.R. Warmkessel: That sounds like a lot of fun. But going back to as flight engineer those days, you know, we don't really see flight engineers much anymore. What does a flight engineer do? Could you maybe give us a little flavor of what that job was like?

Neil Brooks: Well it was required on DC6s and DC7s and later planes. They had a rule if an airplane weights over I think it was 80,000 LBS they had to have a flight engineer on it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Around about what year was this?

Neil Brooks: 1956. Well, they started in 55'. Somewhere around that anyway. But, flight engineer you do the walk around, inspect the pre flight airplane and then when they get in the cockpit while you operate the starter and ignition and get the engine started.

J.R. Warmkessel: And these would've been turbo fan engines at that time?

Neil Brooks: No no. R2800.

J.R. Warmkessel: Oh wow, so these were R28, double row WASP?

Neil Brooks: Yeah

J.R. Warmkessel: So that's a piston engine and that has 28 cylinders per engine, right?

Neil Brooks: I think. I don't remember.

J.R. Warmkessel: Ok. Fair enough. I'm sure you knew it at that time.

Neil Brooks: Yeah, it's been a long time. Anyway, that was a fun airplane. We used to fly Denver to Chicago a lot. Turn around, come right back. And it was a long day. We'd put in about 12- 16 hours but, fly to Chicago it takes about four and a half hours and then about three fifty I think it was going to Chicago and four twenty coming back to Denver.

J.R. Warmkessel: Now everyone else tells me that era, flying was an event. You'd get up and dressed up in your Sunday best and it'd really be something really special. No like it is today.

Neil Brooks: Yeah, people used to dress up a lot when they travel. In those days you'd see a lot of men with coats and ties and women were dressed nicely and ...

J.R. Warmkessel: All the flight attendants were nurses?

Neil Brooks: Not then.

J.R. Warmkessel: No, not then? Ok.

Neil Brooks: Earlier they were but they, later on they became...

J.R. Warmkessel: Relaxed?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. They had to be single, and once they were married they lost their job. But that was interesting times. The only problem seemed like they ever had, on two different flights we had to shut down an engine because of a cylinder failure. And other than that the weather was the main thing. Flying through the mid west the summer time with all the thunderstorms.

J.R. Warmkessel: The thunderstorms. Yeah sure. Dodging those.

Neil Brooks: Kind of exciting. Fortunately we had radar and we could kind of skirt around. When I first started with United they were just installing the radar and I remember my very first flight from Denver to Chicago. We flew through the thunderstorm and boy the airplane was bouncing all over the places. Rather exciting.

J.R. Warmkessel: I'm sure your passengers didn't appreciate that too much.

Neil Brooks: Oh no.

J.R. Warmkessel: But maybe it's also that they wanted to get there.

Neil Brooks: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: So then you are promoted to a first officer?

Neil Brooks: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell us about that a bit.

Neil Brooks: Oh, we went through flight training and those days they used the simulator for flight training but then you had to actually go out and fly the airplane. And go out do stalls, maneuvers and mainly take offs and landings.

J.R. Warmkessel: So what tear was this? Round about?

Neil Brooks: Oh about 1964. 63 I think it was.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell me about the simulator, what would that entail?

Neil Brooks: Well, in those days when I first went to work they had DC6 simulators. And then you sit in there and they had the sound effects and you could run the engines and maneuver it and it'd print out on a chart showing where you went but then after they got the jets the simulators became pretty realistic. They put a motion system into them so that if you operated in a turn eye, the simulator would move. You'd get the impression that you were moving.

J.R. Warmkessel: Oh wow. That must've been really incredible. So now this would've been right about the time when England had the Comet, is that right?

Neil Brooks: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: So do you have any recollections of the Comet? Maybe you could tell me a little about from your perspective.

Neil Brooks: No. The only time I ever saw a Comet, there used to be one after they quit flying them. There was one parked in the ramp in the O'Hare. But I remember the Comet, when they had their accident, they finally figured out that the, the design they didn't have a rip-stop on the sheet metal in the fuselage. And so it cracked and it kept on splitting and they just came apart.

J.R. Warmkessel: And this would've been a pressurized aircraft at that time. So it was like one of the very first ones.

Neil Brooks: Yeah. And they were at high altitude and a crack would develop and then..

J.R. Warmkessel: That was that.

Neil Brooks: That was it.

J.R. Warmkessel: So then you got promoted to captain?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. I flew the DC8, again my last year or so out of San Francisco to Honolulu and back and then I got promoted to captain and flew the 727, the Boeing 727. It's like a sports car.

J.R. Warmkessel: Really? Now my first memory is 727 is the one with the engine and the tail, that's a three ended model. And that also has the, kind of a famous, staircase in the back, right?

Neil Brooks: Yes, yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: Any fun recollections of that time?

Neil Brooks: Well that's when, what's his name, the first hijacker that hijacked North West I think it was, he hijacked I think it was North West, but anyway, he got his money and he had a parachute. Went out of the back steps.

J.R. Warmkessel: And just, I don't think they ever found him as well.

Neil Brooks: No they didn't. They found some money in the riverbank a few years ago but they never found him after that.

J.R. Warmkessel: So now you were flying to Honolulu did you say, on Oahu?

Neil Brooks: Yeah. That was when I was on the DC8s and then the DC10s I go back and forth and that's about it. The only excitement that I ever had on a 727 was one day taking off from Reno, summertime; we got a chartered flight out of Reno up to Des Moines, I think it was. Anyway we lost, tire tread came as just as we were lifting off, went into the right hand engine and tore it up. SO we had to shut it off and start dumping fuel and...

J.R. Warmkessel: And Reno is a pretty steep climb out of there right, I mean...

Neil Brooks: Here in the valley, it's a hot summer day; we used a awful lot of runway so it was nip and tuck and so we started dumping fuel just even before we got beyond the airport boundary and climbed out a little ways and kept dumping fuel and came back and landed.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well, I think the reason, and I was told the reason is that the 727 had that 3rd engine was to provide it more power, kind of for steeper take offs. Is that...

Neil Brooks: Not necessarily. I think that was a...

J.R. Warmkessel: A wives tale?

Neil Brooks: Yeah they, I think the just extra redundancy they had, they want to put engines in the back and they needed an extra and I guess for the weight of the airplane, I don't know the design behind it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Fair enough. Fair enough. So then you kind of retired from...

Neil Brooks: I retired in 1989. And here in Watsonville at home I build a Kit Fox.

J.R. Warmkessel: Talk to me about that experience.

Neil Brooks: Yeah. I bought a back in I don't remember, 1994 I think was.

J.R. Warmkessel: Did you buy it partially built or was it a brand new or...

Neil Brook: No it was a kit. The only thing built was a steel tubing frame, fuselage frame. And I took the product home and my two car garage and assembled it there and took me about a year, 1200 hours. And then I completed it there, covered it and painted it and everything there and then I brought it down here to the airport and I got it into a hanger and I flew it till a couple of years ago and then I sold my interest in it.

J.R. Warmkessel: So why did you decide to build an aircraft? I mean what was the appeal that I was supposed to buy an aircraft, what...

Neil Brooks: Well, I always like to do things with my hand. I started out as a kid building model airplane s and I just, yeah the idea appealed to me to be able to build an airplane and fly it.

J.R. Warmkessel: You know I think a lot of people if you said that hey you could build your own airplane, that the average man on the street would say, nah you're crazy, you could never build an airplane. So tell me little bit about the aircraft. Is it an aluminum aircraft, is it ...

Neil Brooks: No it's a steel tube fabric covered fuselage. And then the wings had wooden ribs tubing for the main spar. And then its covered with fabric and then you seal the fabric and paint it up. You're in business.

J.R. Warmkessel: Oh fantastic. That's, it sounds like something you know with a little bit training and a little bit of desire that anyone could do it.

Neil Brooks: I think so. If you are fairly handy with tools. Yeah, it was a fun project. It's with several other people I've talked to and I felt the same way. More fun building it then flying it.

J.R. Warmkessel: I understand. I understand that. Did you have any mentor, anyone who really guided you through the process of building it?

Neil Brooks: No. The manual, it came with a pretty good manual, and there was one more down here at the airport at that time and I used to go visit him, Rene Shonar was his name and he had a kit box, but I was pretty well along before I came across him.

J.R. Warmkessel: But it must've been nice to go and say - oh that's how they did that.

Neil Brooks: Oh yeah. Sure. Yeah. And then I flew that quite a bit. It was a good airplane for sightseeing. I flew it up to Idaho camping about 3 times. And, but that's a long haul. 95 miles an hour and kind of a long drag. I get, coming home westbound from Idaho, I've put in about 8 hours flying time. That's a long time in a seat.

J.R. Warmkessel: And no auto pilot.

Neil Brooks: That's for sure.

J.R. Warmkessel: And no flight engineer to start the engine for you.

Neil Brooks: No.

J.R. Warmkessel: And that's a two seated plane that's what I recall.

Neil Brooks: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: What kind of engine is in it?

Neil Brooks: It's a Rotax 80 horsepower cylinder. And it's a short stroke engine, gear reduction. And it would ground adjustable prop. And this is a good airplane, I liked it. I enjoyed it. But here in last couple of years I just kind of lost the interest in flying and I'm 83 years old now and I've had enough flying for a lifetime I guess.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well, I think you've experienced a lot more than the most of us, with your military career for which we really thank you for and we really appreciate that here. Service to United, building the airplane that's just is an amazing career to look back on. Have you ever had an emergency other than the 727 that maybe a lesson could be learnt from for some of them listening to our podcast today?

Neil Brooks: No, the only thing I can say about having emergencies at United Airlines in those days is, with simulators, they had introduced all sorts of mechanical in flight problems in the simulator and the training was excellent and I give a lot of credit to that. As a copilot said while we were climbing out, he said this is just like being on the simulator. All that we can see outside he said. We had to shut the engine down.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure. But it was, you know I'm thinking back of the recent past with Sullenberger and the copilot. They landed their plane at the Hudson, but I think it was the training, the constant vigilance of the training that really prepare your pilots and copilots and what not.

Neil Brooks: My opinion is they just can't short change training, whatsoever. They really have to provide good training for the pilots. And you know its, experience helps but training is very important I think.

J.R. Warmkessel: I've always been told that experience is what you have when you don't need it anymore. So now you're building model airplanes though, I saw in your car you had a handful of them.

Neil Brooks: Yeah. I'm back to my childhood now.

J.R. Warmkessel: You know I've always appreciated the ability to become a child again in our later years. I'm looking forward to it myself. Well, Neil, I guess it's time to wrap this up but I really wanted to take a moment and thank you for your service and thank you for coming on our podcast and telling us about how it was cause I think that the history is a critical aspect and if we forget where we came from, why we do things then we're only going to repeat them

Neil Brooks: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well thank you very much. Bye bye.

Neil Brooks: Bye.

Direct link to mp3 audio file of show (right-click to download/save).

Show Notes