Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
Around the World With Transocean Air Lines
From its earliest days Transocean Air Lines provoked concern and controversy among its
competitors because of its unorthodox ways of getting business and its agility in completing its
missions. Orvis Nelson and his crews were always ready and willing to leave for anywhere in the
world on short notice with plane and payload.
"Every time I'd hear of a piece of business and go after it, there would be Nelson just departing,
shaking hands in the doorway, the contract in his pocket," lamented one competitor. Another
complained that every time Nelson threw the dice they came up seven; never snake-eyes.
"Sky tramps", "carpetbaggers of the skies", and "gypsies" were but a few of the labels or slurs
put on the flight crews and their leader. The successful always have their detractors, and there
were some among the scheduled carriers who considered Transocean an outcast in the world
of aviation. But the name-calling merely added to the mystique already surrounding TAL and only
helped to nurture the esprit de corps that was the most important asset of this adventurous
Everyone expected Transocean to fail from the beginning and throughout its years of success.
But history would show that it would be the bold young founders of this "crazy" airline who would
make a significant contribution to modern air transportation.
The spirit of cooperation that existed within the organization would extend to governments and
other airlines needing assistance during the hectic postwar years. Few countries in the Orient,
Europe, or the Middle East had national airlines or airport facilities during the mid-forties. So
Transocean often contracted with foreign governments to establish airlines, to supply
management, and to train flight crews.
During the early days of TAL, Nelson and Elsmore often served as pilots. On one of these
flights, Nelson piloted a group of officials from the Philippine government and Philippine Airlines
on a survey flight to Batavia, still at that time Dutch East Indies, (now Jakarta, Indonesia).
When Nelson landed, gunfire was erupting all around the airfield. The city was under seige by
rebels. This forced Nelson to stop the refueling and get the DC-4 back in the air as quickly as
possible. With full gas tanks in one wing and empty tanks in the other, the aircraft was pulling
dangerously to one side. He kept the nose down and the control wheel locked in the opposite
direction of the plane's yaw. Only with skill and a little luck was Nelson able to build up speed to
get off the ground.
The second aircraft, N66644, was placed in schedule in October, 1946. A third, N79048, was
put into service in January, 1947. The fourth, N95495, was acquired in November, 1946, was
used for only one flight during the month of December prior to its conversion to a B model which
was completed in April, 1947. These aircraft helped TAL during its first year in business to earn
nearly one half million dollars with a capital investment of only $200,000.
Crew members served as Orvis Nelson's eyes and ears. Their support on several occasions
inadvertently played into Lady Luck's hand for TAL. On one flight, a TAL plane with Philippine Air
Lines painted on the fuselage developed leaks in the fuel tanks while on the Kwajalein-to-Guam
leg. Because they were flying without cargo or passengers, Captain T. A. Buckelew elected to
over-fly Guam and continue to the final destination, Manila.
Soon after passing their scheduled intermediate stop, Radio Operator Wally Barnett received a
call from a frantic TAL station manager at Guam pleading for them to return to Guam. Apparently
he had talked a salesman from rival Pacific Overseas Airlines into hitching a free ride with TAL
instead of taking an earlier Pan American flight. This unintentional delay held the salesman in
Guam while contract bids for flying services were being submitted and opened in Manila.
Needless to say, TAL won that one.
As a collateral enterprise for the establishment and management of foreign airlines, TAL
formed a purchasing organization to buy and export spare parts for foreign companies using
American equipment. This developed into another lucrative business for the airline.
During its fourteen years of flying, Transocean crossed not only geographical borders to work
with peoples and governments around the world, but also broke through the barriers of
language, religion, and diverse backgrounds in its globe-encircling activities.
The skies knew no boundaries; neither did Transocean Air Lines.