The last time I saw Pete Goutierre, he joined our DC-3s cockpit for the flight to San Francisco International to participate in the 75th anniversary celebration of China National Aviation Corporation. Then 99, he assumed the co-pilot seat next to me and held the controls like you would hold a loved-one. I “gave him” the airplane. His eyes widened as his left hand instinctively moved to the trim wheel. After a few moments, I asked him “how does it feel?” When I received “thumbs up” in reply, I unfastened my seatbelt and walked to the galley for a cup of coffee. Pete was once again in command of CNAC #100, N877MG.
For those of you new to the world of Pete Goutierre, in 1944 he ferried N877MG from Miami (where Douglas pilots delivered it to CNAC) to Calcutta for its first service providing supplies to our Chinese allies. As a CNAC pilot, Pete flew our DC-3 on as many as 300 flights in and among the Himalaya Mountains, first delivering military goods, then after WWII flying passenger runs to the villages of the Himalayas.
Seeing Pete, now 104 years young, brought me great joy. He joined us for a scenic flight near Oxford, Connecticut, and was a keynote speaker at our D-Day Squadron banquet. He’s lost a bit of weight and his hearing is in short supply, but the eyes still sparkle and he hasn’t forgotten how to flirt, this time with a New York Times reporter who joined us on the flight. His keynote speech mesmerized a banquet audience of pilots, families, friends, and sponsors. About two hundred and fifty people watched Pete speak without notes for thirty minutes. He expressed gratitude for the richness of his life, especially his career as a pilot, and told stories about his exploits in N877MG during the early days of CNAC. He finished to a standing ovation.
Life is not quite as exciting today. Our Squadron leadership concluded not all the planes could leave Goose Bay in one day so we divided into two groups. The weak link is the refueling operation at Narssarssuaq Airport. With about ninety minutes on the ground for each aircraft (the FBO has one truck), it is impossible for the Squadron to reach Reykjavik before the airport closes at 11 p.m. N877MG drew the Tuesday flight giving us a day to enjoy the sights of Goose Bay. Our first stop was the airport to fuel and service the aircraft for an early Tuesday departure.