TAA / Australian 30 Years Ago
This year (2016) we not only celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Trans Australian Airlines (TAA) but we also celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the renaming of Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) to Australian Airlines and the introduction of the first Boeing 737-376 Airplane into the Fleet.
The first of the twelve (12) B737-376 Airplanes, ordered by TAA on the 27th May 1985, was designated as PQ001, Line Number 1225, Serial Number 23477, and was originally to become VH-TAA
(Conceptually Only) complete with the TAA 'Chocolate Block' Logo and Livery.
This Airplane came off the Renton Production Line on the 2nd of April 1986 and following acceptance by the TAA Team, was given to the Boeing Flight Test Team for Testing and Certification of the Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS), Improved APU and other Enhancements.
During Flight Testing It flew with FAA Registration N3281U (As well as Little Humdinger – to be explained later).
The first Australian Airlines B737-376 was to be registered as VH-TAF and Powered by two (2) CFM International CFM56-3C1 engines
TAA/Australian Airlines was to be the first airline in the world with an EFIS Cockpit on the B737-300 airplane type.
This is the EFIS Test station within the cabin monitoring the cockpit
Following initial Development of Specifications and Contract Signing by the TAA Technical Services Manager, John Cramond, a Team of TAA 'Representatives' was sent to Renton, Washington, USA to Manage, Inspect and Accept the TAA B737-376's.
The initial Team ('A' Team) comprised:
- TAA Senior Avionics Engineer - Sladen Hope who was designated as the TAA Technical Representative Seattle;
- TAA Senior Inspector Avionics – Joseph Favazza who was designated as the Senior Engineering Representative Seattle; and
- TAA Surveillance Inspector – Mike Fisher who was designated as the Engineering Representative Seattle.
Boeing Secretary – Georgia Jamison was designated as the Administrative Assistant to the TAA TSD Manager and the TAA Technical Representative Seattle.
Load and Balance Test Rig in the rear cabin.
[TAA Senior Mechanical Engineer – David Patston took over as TAA Technical Representative Seattle in mid September 1986 and TAA Production Inspector Airframe – Frank Farrugia arrived Late August 1986 to assist Mike Fisher. TAA Production Inspector Avionics – Peter Patti and TAA LAME - Stewie Coutsevalas arrived in Mid November 1986 to take over from Joseph Favazza and Mike Fisher.]
The above are the "B Team" who took over in September 1986.
In early 1986, the new General Manager of TAA James Strong, together with his Public Relations (PR) Team decided to change the name of TAA to Australian Airlines with effect 4th August 1986, however as the roll-out of the new Australian Airlines Livery was scheduled for the 8th June 1986 at the Renton Facility, and TAF would still be in Flight Test, James Strong quickly needed a B737-300 airplane to be painted in the new Australian Airlines livery.
Please Step Forward PQ001 (VH-TAF)! It could be painted and continue in Flight Test complete with the new Livery.
Another Advertising Coup for our PR Department!
Actually VH-TAF did not enter service in Australia until 20th October 1986, instead, the Second Production Airplane, VH-TAG, was the first Australian Airlines airplane to go into Australian Airlines service on the 20th August 1986.
The Secret Plan
So a secret plan was hatched between TAA and Boeing to paint PQ001 (VH-TAF) and store her in a secure area away from the prying eyes of Ansett (who had a sniff of something big going on), the media and the public.
PQ001 Being Hidden in a hanger
PQ001 (VH-TAF) was duly painted at the Renton Paint Shop during the wee hours of 5th & 6th June and then 'stealthfully' moved, and then hidden in one of Boeing's huge hangars at Renton, complete with Boeing security guards with express orders to let nobody in except the Customer, i.e. us.
James Strong arrived at Seattle on 4th June and visited the Boeing Renton assembly lines on Thursday 5th June and on Friday the 6th June,
James expressed a desire to see PQ001 (VH-TAF) in the new Australian Airlines livery.
Sladen Hope and James Strong were met by yours truly at the door to the secret location where the newly painted PQ001 (VH-TAF) was being held when suddenly, as we neared the 'Boeing security guarded' door, two (2) Ansett employees exited expressing their delight to James Strong at having sneaked in and seen the new Australian Airlines livery.
Their comment to me was "Great Paint Job Joe".
It was about this time that I thought my employment at TAA / Australian Airlines would come to an end.
However James Strong, the great person that he was, just laughed it off. Phew! I dodged another bullet.
Of course, this was before emails, facebook, twitter and the other social media, so Ansett would not have had time to transmit any images back to Melbourne and in any case the unveiling was to happen on Sunday the 8th June.
I remember being lambasted several times by James Strong whenever I met him in the years following the incident, once in London would you believe!
Of course, the unveiling went ahead on Sunday. VH-TAF (still not painted with the new registration) looked truly magnificent as she rolled out alongside Lake Washington.
The roll-out was attended by the TAA Seattle Team, Boeing, Australian Press Members and of course Ansett representatives (as well as those who sneaked a look at the new livery before unveiling). A great day was had by all.
The Little Humdinger
Now the story about 'The Little Humdinger'. Well, you see, when PQ001 left Final Assembly and into Flight Test, she was coated with the standard yucky Boeing acrylic green, no TAA registration, only the FAA Registration 'N3281U' stuck letter by letter in the rear passenger windows so it was very difficult to pick out as 'our' airplane whenever it taxied or flew, which was somewhat disconcerting for the TAA team.
One day when Mike Fisher and I were in the Cockpit/Cabin area of PQ001 (VH-TAF) inspecting and talking with some Flight Test technicians, we asked them how easy it is to start the APU, to which they replied (Please imagine this being said with a strong southern U.S. twang),"Well you just flick this little bitty battery switch to 'on' and then switch the APU switch to the start position and that little humdinger, she just lights up".
So we thought that 'Little Humdinger' should be the unofficial name of PQ001 (VH-TAF) and duly asked our friends at Boeing to manufacture three (3) large adhesive signs of which 2 were placed either side of the cockpit area and the third inside the aft accessory access area.
The latter was to stay in place for many years thereafter. A reminder of her Flight Test days. There was no further confusion as to whether the 'green' airplane in the sky was ours.
PQ001 was identified as VH-TAF and Delivered (Accepted) at Seattle Delivery Centre (Boeing Field) on the 3rd October 1986, departed Seattle on the 5th October and entered into Australian Airlines revenue service on the 20th October 1986.
Joseph Favazza and Mike Fisher were at Seattle for the Inspection and Acceptance of the first eight (8) B737-376 airplanes, i.e. VH-TAF, TAG, TAH, TAI, TAJ, TAK, TAU and the Final Inspection of VH-TAV.
After a very busy but satisfying assignment, Joseph Favazza and Mike Fisher flew home on VH-TAU under the proficient Command of Flight Crew: Captain Graham Lowther, Captain Ron (Moose) Anderson and First Officer Allan (Noise) Burgess. The Flight Engineer was Steve Kinson.