by Davide Montebruno
In December, 1972, Lambair manager Jack Lamb, son of famed company founder Tom Lamb, received an offer he could not ignore. Ariana Afghan Airlines was selling a fully operational DC-3 cheap, the only problem: the plane was in Kabul, Afghanistan. “It was our intention to add a couple of DC-3s to replace our two aging Bristol Freighters, which were getting too costly to keep airworthy”, Jack writes in his autobiography, My Life in the North. With no company pilots available to accompany him, Jack invited his wife Barbara to accompany him on the odyssey from their home in Thompson, Manitoba, to the other side of the globe, and back again.
After a quick hop to London, Ariana ferried the couple the remaining distance high into the Hindu Kush Mountains of central Asia. Jack was initially disappointed to find the plane dilapidated by dust storms and home to a flock of sparrows. The Chief of Maintenance assured Jack that the plane was serviceable, and promised to return it to pristine condition. After running up the engines Jack was satisfied, and gladly paid the $35,000 price tag.
Jack had hoped that Airana would assist with transport home, but they had no personnel to spare. Having never flown such a large plane himself, Jack needed to find another pilot. On their way to the hotel Jack spotted the US embassy, “I’ll bet there is a Major in there who has flown a DC-3,” he thought to himself, and ordered the driver to pull over.
Sure enough Jack was introduced to Major Carter. “You have a ‘GOONEY BIRD’!” the Major exclaimed, “I haven’t flown one of those since Korea.” He eagerly agreed to check Jack out on the controls. After a circuit over Kabul and a few touch and goes, the Major assured Jack that he had made a good purchase. That night he and Barbara ate a feast of barbecued goat with Major Carter, and planned their route home across three continents and an ocean. Jack reassured Barbara of his confidence in making the trip without a trained co-pilot, “the way I figure it the miles in this part of the world are the same as they are between The Pas and Moose Lake.”
“Well, I’m game if you are.” Barbara agreed.
In the morning Airana loaded the plane with whatever spare parts they had and the couple were on their way to Tehran. Jack talked Barbara through the takeoff procedure, and as she held the throttle steady Jack noticed her knuckles going white. He feared that despite her show of support, Barbara’s nerves might not survive the journey. It was six days before Christmas when they arrived in the Iranian capital, so Jack booked Barbara a ticket home and once again inquired after a qualified pilot.
This time Jack was in luck, while pondering his predicament over coffee the next day he was approached by a thin, neatly dressed man with several thousand hours flying time on DC-3s. Mohammad Hassani had been looking for an opportunity to move to North America for some time and was ready to leave immediately. Before long they were on their way from Tehran through Ankara, Athens, Nice, London and finally Reykjavik, before preparing for the longest leg of their journey, a six-hour flight over oceans and icecaps to Sonde Stromfjord, a military base on Greenland’s west coast.
The Greenland ice sheet is 10,000 feet thick, Jack writes, “it was weird to have the altimeter showing thirteen thousand feet and yet the ice cap was going by just below us.” They arrived at Sonde Stromfjord at 9:00 pm on New Year’s Eve, and accepted an invitation to the officer’s party already in progress. Jack used the opportunity to collect contact information for the airbase ground crew, and in the morning called on a few new friends to help warm his engines for the last leg home.
After quick stops at Frobisher Bay and Churchill, Jack was finally reunited with Barbara and their family in Thompson, Manitoba. Mohammad Hassani had proved himself a worthy pilot, and took a job with Lambair flying their newly registered DC-3, CF-DBJ. CF-DBJ operated with Lambair for more than a decade and was eventually sold to Aeroejectutivos in Venezuela. The 72-year-old airplane continues to ferry tourists between Miami to Caracas to this day.