I had never seen anything like it - vast swathes of woodland, stretching from horizon to horizon, resplendant in a staggering spectrum of autumnal browns, golds and oranges, and going on for mile upon mile, as the Boeing 767 descended into a 'sea of warmth' over the Piedmont region of the eastern USA at sun-set on the penultimate day of October 1987. Just one of those many, truly vivid memories of my 'formative years', and their regular visits to the magnificent continent of North America.
Piedmont Airlines had provided significant moments during two of my early visits to the USA in the late 1980s, moments which I had cause to recall following a particular Cessna 310 visitor to Newcastle Airport, and its 'P' registration, during April 2011 (see page JUN254). Piedmont Airlines was founded in 1948 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and subsequently flew a mixture of prop (including such relative oddities as the Martin 4-0-4, Fairchild FH.227 and NAMC YS-11) and early jet types, although the carrier grew rapidly following the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, developing a hub-and-spoke system with its hub at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.
The carrier had provided one of those moments of surprise now sadly so missing from aeroplane spotting in the 'information age' (when one knows just about everything that is going to be seen at any given airport before getting there) when on my second visit to the USA in the spring of 1987, and my first visit to Boeing-Seattle, the first two Boeing 767-200s destined for Piedmont Airlines were present at the manufacturer's 'wide-body' production site - I'm not even sure we knew at the time Piedmont had ordered its first 'wide-bodied' aeroplanes. The first Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767-200 N603P 'Pride of Piedmont' is seen here on the flight-line at Everett/Paine Field on 29th April 1987, still just five days away from its first flight. The 173rd Boeing 767 built, the aircraft became N645US following the absorption into US Air, and still flies to this day as N245AY of US Airways.
I was to experience a closer encounter with Piedmont Airlines at the end of my next trip to the USA during the fall of 1987; in those glorious days when rebated 'staff travel', on a 'subject to load' basis, was still a viable option for those fortunate enough to qualify, three colleagues and I planning a week touring Florida, based around 'industry discount' tickets booked with Continental Airlines. It wasn't unusual to additionally apply for 'back-up' tickets for such trips, on different carriers/routings, as they could always be 'put in for a refund' if not used, there being none of the now seemingly endless round of taxes, fees and charges back then. Piedmont Airlines had commenced service from their home at Charlotte to London-Gatwick with their brand new Boeing 767-200s on 15th June 1987, and therefore two of us thought it would be fun to hold that routing as an option, particularly as the 767 started its journey in Florida itself at Tampa International Airport. With the Gatwick 'connection', Piedmont Airlines standby tickets were available to Dan Air employees so these were indeed applied for, as well as the 'connecting' sector from Miami, where 'Plan A' had us departing for home once again on 'CO', the short distance up the west coast of Florida to Tampa.
Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767-200 N607P at London-Gatwick on 5th May 1988 - still only one of a pair of 767-200s I have ever flown on, the aeroplane became N647US following the US Air take-over, and now flies as EI-DBW of Transaero Airlines.
Presumably the Continental loads were looking full from Miami to Gatwick on 30th October 1987, or maybe my colleague and I just fancied something different, but 'Plan B' came into being, and we departed Miami early (very early looking back at the flight times now!) on the morning of Friday 30th October on Piedmont Airlines Boeing 737-300 N335P - thirty-six minutes later we arrived at Tampa, set for a day's viewing from the airport's central car park structure. PI160, "Piedmont Airlines jet service from Tampa/Charlotte to London's Gatwick Airport", departed Tampa at 1510 on 30th October 1987, the equipment being Boeing 767-200 N607P, the carrier's third 767, appropriately named 'City of Charlotte' - I remember being most concerned that we might be 'off-loaded' in Charlotte, and effectively stranded in what was then regarded as very 'out of the way' North Carolina (indeed I have a photo taken by my travelling companion of myself sat in the departure lounge at Tampa, studying intently our tickets/terms of conditions etc. !). One hour and eight minutes later, and after my first staggering sight of the beauty of 'the Carolinas', I was met with my similarly impressive, first first-hand experience of a single carrier-dominated hub in full flow (albeit not to the same scale as a Dallas or Chicago), as our 767 taxied past line after line of Piedmont Airlines Boeing 727s/737s, Fokker F-28s, Jetstream 31s and Shorts 360s. We weren't of course off-loaded and instead enjoyed a very pleasant 7hrs 25mins to Gatwick, courtesy again of N607P, and what would be my last flying experience with Piedmont Airlines. The carrier was absorbed into US Air in August 1989, although Piedmont Airlines still exists as a brand within US Airways, the former Henson Airlines doing business as US Airways Express with a fleet of DHC.8-100/300s along the eastern seaboard of the USA. As with an earlier article published regarding another US airline which was absorbed into US Air (PSA - published October 2010), the Piedmont Airlines colour-scheme lives on to this day thanks to another US Airways 'retro jet', Airbus A.319 N744P.
Representative of the Piedmont Airlines Boeing 737-300 that took us from Miami to Tampa, sister-ship N323P is seen here flaring over Miami International's runway 09 on 26th October 1987 - the aircraft now flies as a freighter with Swiftair in Spain as EC-LJI, whle 'our' 737-300 N335P is also now a cargo-configured machine, operating with Northern Air Cargo in somewhat colder climes as N360WA.