Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)

From my base in Panama I covered the other six small countries of Central America. This involved a lot of flying on local airlines.

Most of the airlines were good, but commuting by air in Central America was always an adventure and sometimes hair raising, given the combination of tropical climate, mountains, jungle and short runways. Nearly all the airports required a steep climb out on take off and equally steep descent on landing.

One of the local airlines was known for the way its pilots flew. They flew the BAC-111, a sturdy British-built aircraft with plenty of power relative to its weight, and landed them firmly (some would say thumped down) and took off steeply (some would say perpendicularly).

When I first visited this airline’s headquarters I met its operations director, a genial American. We discussed airline and travel matters and somehow got around to the reputation of its pilots. The director made no bones about it, said most of the airline’s flight crew were former service fighter pilots, and summed it all up by saying, in his soft Texan drawl, “Yeah, our boys fly positive”.

That struck me as curious phrasing at the time. But his words, “our boys fly positive” stayed with me, and over time I began to see the logic of that attitude. It made good sense, in a region where the airports were hot and high, and often ringed with mountains, to optimise the aircraft’s performance.

Many times later, say, letting down through cloud to a rainy San Jose, Costa Rica, or waiting to take off on a scorching day in Tegucigalpa, I prayed that the gods of flight might be with us, and that our pilot was one of those who “flew positive”.

A BAC-111 in British Airways Colours

Image: 111

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