World Airways Featured at Oakland Aviation Museum
World Airways has provided charter airline service
continuously since its founding in 1948, originally offering passenger service
between New York and San Juan with a fleet of three ex-Pan American World Airways
Boeing 314 Clipper flying boats. Entrepreneur Edward J. Daly, however, is
thought of as World's founder. He bought the airline in 1950 for $50,000. In
1962, World became the first U.S. charter airline to enter the jet age with the
acquisition of new Boeing 707s.
By the late 1960s, World Airways had broken
ground on the World Airways Maintenance Center at Oakland International Airport,
where the airline was then headquartered. The Maintenance Hanger could store
over four Boeing 747s. Following deregulation of the airline industry in 1978,
World became one of the first scheduled low-fare airlines, operating
transcontinental and international routes for six years from its headquarters
and hub at Oakland Airport.
World incorporated first-class lounges, stylish
flight attendant uniforms and a marketing program featuring celebrity George
Burns. The company returned to charter-only service in 1987. World transferred
its headquarters from Oakland in 1988. World Airways was most recently a subsidiary
of Global Aviation Holdings. The airline ceased operations in June 2014.
World Airways Oakland
the help of a $10 million federal grant, World Airways built a giant
180,000 square foot hangar at Oakland International Airport.
complete, the facility could hold four Boeing 747s. It opened in May
The Vietnam Era (1960-1976)
More so than any other
airline, World Airways played a major role during the Vietnam conflict by
moving military personnel and materiel across the Pacific. World shuttled
thousands of military passengers through Oakland to their bases in Southeast
Asia. In March 1975, Ed Daly took two 727s to Saigon to make 20 evacuation
flights from Da Nang under government charter. When the U.S. Embassy canceled
the contract after only three flights, Daly directed the 727s to Da Nang to
rescue women and children, although only one 727 was able to land. Thousands
rushed the airplane and it took off on a taxiway under heavy fire. The aircraft,
with Daly aboard, started its takeoff roll with the 727's back airstairs still
down with Daly fending off additional people trying to clamor aboard the
overcrowded plane. When the airplane landed at Saigon, there were 268 people in
the cabin and possibly 60 or more in the cargo holds. The "Last Flight
From Da Nang" garnered worldwide media. A week later, Daly directed a
daring rescue of 57 Vietnamese orphans aboard a World DC-8 cargo aircraft,
carrying them from Saigon to Oakland. The arrival was greeted with a sea of
media, and President Gerald Ford immediately implemented "Operation Babylift,"
which utilized charter, scheduled airline and military aircraft to bring
approximately 3,000 Vietnamese orphans to safety in the United States.
Of the tens of thousands of Asian refugees that immigrated
to the United States following the end of the Vietnam War, the most dramatic
evacuations involved orphaned babies and abandoned children.
During the final
weeks of the war, humanitarian organizations were asking the U.S. government to
formulate a program for the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans. Despite these
pleas for help, nothing seemed to be happening. The process was completely
entangled in a sea of bureaucratic red tape. Something significant needed to
happen to break the stalemate.
On April 2, 1975, Edward
Daly, the colorful non-conventional president and owner of World Airways, made
the extreme decision to use one of his DC-8s to airlift orphaned children out
of Saigon. As the day progressed, it didn't appear any progress was being made.
Neither the South Vietnamese nor U.S. governments sanctioned Daly's flight. For
one thing, the DC-8 was configured for cargo and it had no seats. Government
officials were telling the various organizations wanting to evacuate children
that the plane was unsafe.
Ross Meador, the 20-year-old co-director of overseas
operations for the Friends of Children of Vietnam, came out to the airport to
meet with Daly. Meador hoped to get some of the orphans in his care on the
flight to Oakland. Daly offered to take the children, but the main concern was
whether the South Vietnamese government would let them leave.
It was early evening and there were rumors that the Viet
Cong might attack the airport. Daly had Meador contacted, advising him that he
was going and Meador needed to get the children out to the airplane. The
orphans arrived at the DC-8 singing a new song that Meador had taught them in
route to the airport, "California Here I Come."
The floor of the DC-8 cabin, covered with blankets, pillows and
cardboard, would soon be a giant playpen in the sky. South Vietnamese soldiers
came aboard the DC-8 and took off two of the orphans who appeared to be at
least 14 years old and consequently eligible for service in the Army. Daly
tried to buy the children with a hundred dollar bill, but the soldier wouldn't
take it. Jason Gahr was one of the
orphans that the soldiers removed. Daly tore the bill and gave Jason half as a
souvenir. Jason made it to the U.S. on one of the subsequent evacuation
flights. All these years, he kept the souvenir. He had it laminated and brought
it with him on the commemorative flight.
The first Operation Babylift flight took off from Saigon in
darkness; the airport had turned the runway lights off. The DC-8 departed
without a formal clearance to take off or a flight plan filed. Oakland Aviation
Museum Life Members Bill Keating and Ken Healy piloted the flight. Ed Daly paid
for the flight out of his own pocket.
On June 13, 2005, World Airways commemorated the historic
airlift that the company made 30 years earlier with a special flight,
"Operation Babylift - Homeward Bound 2005", that would return 21 of
the former orphans for a visit to the country of their birth. A World Airways
MD-11, freshly re-painted in the same red and white company colors worn by the
fleet in 1975, landed at Oakland International Airport and taxied to KaiserAir,
across from Hangar 5, World Airways' original hangar when the company first set
up operations at Oakland’s North Field in the 1950s.
The Last Flight From Da Nang
During the final weeks of the Vietnam War, thousands of
refugees tried to escape from Vietnam and the advancing communist troops coming
from the north. In Saigon, Edward Daly heard that there were refugees roaming
around the airport in Da Nang. So, on March 29, 1975, pilot Ken Healy and Daly
departed Saigon for Da Nang. Healy talked to the tower before landing and was
advised that the airport was peaceful. However, once on the ground and taxiing
to the ramp, the aircraft was mobbed, mostly by deserting South Vietnamese
soldiers who were dressed in civilian clothing. The officers had fled, leaving
the young enlisted men to fend for themselves. Healy kept all three engines
running as Daly blocked the rear entry stairs, trying to stop the soldiers and
pick up women and children. Men driving trucks, cars, jeeps and motorbikes
chased the 727, desperate to get on the aircraft.
Overhead, an Air America helicopter pilot advised Healy over the radio that the
runway was blocked with vehicles and he needed to take off on the taxiway,
which was 7,000 feet long. A newsman who had gotten off the 727 had to be left
behind because the crowd pushed him out of reach of the plane. Healy asked the
Air America pilot if he could pick him up later.
A grenade went off, damaging the left wing, and the plane had to dodge bullets
as angry men left behind fired at the plane. As the airliner started its
takeoff roll on the taxiway, soldiers climbed into the luggage compartments,
leaving the doors open. The rear stairs were damaged and couldn't be raised all
the way. Fuel lines had been hit and the aircraft was leaking fuel. As Healy
continued his takeoff roll, he realized that he would have to go around a
vehicle that was parked on the taxiway in front of him. A quick detour through
the grass and he was back up on the taxiway with everything fire-walled for the
balance of the takeoff. He pulled back on the control column, but the nose
wouldn't come up. "I waited until there was no pavement under me, then gave the controls one
last pull," he said.
The stick shaker went off as the plane finally rotated and started a slow
climb. Several men clinging to the open stairs fell to their death. At least
one person was crushed in the wheel well doors. The flight to Saigon was flown
at low altitude and with its landing gear down. Captain Healy, not knowing the
conditions of the landing gear, carefully put the 727 down on the runway. The
plane, which normally carries 125 passengers, had a total of 268 in the main
cabin. Additionally, the cargo compartments were full of stowaways. It's
estimated that the last flight from Da Nang carried over 330 people -
undoubtedly, the world record for the number of passengers ever carried on a