After a long but pleasant trans-Atlantic flight, a plane change in Frankfort, and a very expensive taxi ride, Harry, Joe and Charley checked into the Norum Hotel in Olso. Harry and Charley were dead-tired. Joe was feeling no pain from some serious bourbon inhalation and during the taxi ride, he had begun speaking in a strange language that the driver told Harry was some kind of Norwegian. He could barely understand, he said, but “That is for sure Norwegian.” When Harry, the next day, said, “Hey, Joe, I didn’t know you could speak Norwegian,” Joe answered with a blank stare.
“I can’t,” he said, “not one single word.” When Harry recounted the taxi conversation, it struck a chord with Joe.
“Damn,” he exclaimed, “my parents were from Norway and they spoke it at home. I must have learned some I don’t even remember learning. I sure as hell can’t speak any this morning.” Joe, it would turn out, was full of surprises.
Later that day, the fourth member of the crew arrived at the hotel. He was also an ex-Navy pilot and his name was David Warner. Harry had not met him before. That afternoon, a meeting was arranged for the four of them with the president of the new company.
Thor Larsen turned out to be both pleasant and serious about his new airline. He was tall and rangy with a shock of blonde hair that sometimes fell over one eye. He seemed confident and capable. Let’s hope he’s as capable as he is confident, thought Harry. Thor had lived in the U.S. for a few years and it was obvious that he liked Americans. He spoke English fluently, but with an unusually strong accent. They would quickly learn that his accent got worse as his anger rose, and when his face reddened to full flush, he was almost incomprehensible.
He had bought an old Boeing 707 from Eastern Airlines at a bargain basement price. He named his new company Trans Polar.
“Why call it Trans Polar?” Harry asked. Thor explained that he and a friend had once tried to circumnavigate the earth, over both poles, in a small, twin-engine airplane. Harry was pleased to learn that Thor was a pilot, and that he had the stuff to attempt such a remarkable feat. They had crash-landed somewhere in Canada, survived, and Thor had become something of a national hero. That name, and the company logo showing a plane flying over both poles, would look strangely out of place in the warm weather airports of the world his airplane would soon be in.
After a few minutes of introductions and polite conversation, Thor ordered coffee and snacks, saying, “I would order drinks but they are very expensive here, and we must be careful about our money.” The four new employees smiled and nodded in agreement. Now the conversation turned serious. It was about money.
After some very low-key negotiating, Charley Dunlap tore a page from a spiral notebook in his flight bag and began to put down the terms of employment. It did not take long, as Joe Thomas did not need the money and the others badly needed a job. The going rates for crews in 1970 were well known and they settled for $25 per hour for captains and $15 per hour for First Officers and Flight Engineers. They would be provided with hotel rooms and $15 daily for expenses. For Harry, that was one room and $25 per day more than he was getting now. All agreed it was a fair contract.
To celebrate the signing, Thor ordered a bottle of wine, which quickly arrived. Thor filled their glasses.
“Well, gentlemen,” -- he pronounced it ‘yentlemen’ -- “I believe we are off together on a great adventure,” Thor announced as he stood and lifted his glass. After a first sip, he raised his glass once more. “To adventure. And to Trans Polar. Long may she fly.”
Oslo in the summer was a fairy tale place. Beautiful countryside, friendly citizens, all of whom spoke English almost as well as Harry, great food, and, of course, plenty of pretty Norwegian girls to melt his heart. Oh, they looked even more delicious than those in New York. He would meet them soon enough, as the first flight of the new company would take place in just three days.
As far as Harry could see, Oslo’s only fault was the high price of its beer. It was available with several different levels of alcohol content, including one version with almost none. Harry tried them all. The pilots’ first task was to get Norwegian licenses. That meant a written test and a medical examination. They were assigned a Norwegian pilot to teach them the national flight regulations and after one day of intensive cramming, they all passed through with flying colors. They knew most of the answers even before they saw the questions. They were issued not a license, but a validation; a temporary Norwegian license based on an American one.
That Thor was not very knowledgeable about running an airline would become painfully obvious as the days passed. But he seemed to know very well the ways around the rules that got in his way, and the people to help him do it. That ability would prove to be a lifesaver in the weeks ahead. The first demonstration of Thor’s talents came as they were preparing the first flight of the new airline. Thor had decided that the first few flights would operate with two captains, Joe being the captain in command. That would turn out to be less than a great decision as problems arose during the next few months.
The passengers were on board, and Joe and Harry were in the flight operations area trying to figure out how to fill in the blanks on an international flight plan. Company staff had always filled them out for them and they had never even seen one before. After a long struggle, they finally had it filled in and Harry handed it to the agent behind the counter. He glanced at it and then very politely told them that he had been instructed not to accept their flight plan.
“Sorry, Captain,” he said almost apologetically, “but my orders are clear. I shall not accept your flight plan.”
Just then, Thor came in looking cross and asked about the delay. “The passengers are all on board and we are ready,” he said. “What is the problem?”
Joe gestured to the agent behind the counter. “He won’t take our flight plan,” Joe said. There followed a brief but intense discussion in Norwegian. Thor’s face began to flush. He picked up the phone, dialed, spoke for a minute or two, then handed the phone to the agent. He said nothing, only listened, then hung up and asked for the flight plan.
“Captain,” he announced with a smile, “I am most pleased now to accept your flight plan.”
Trans Polar was about to launch its maiden flight carrying 155 tourists to Palma de Majorca in Spain.
Later, after getting airborne, Harry leaned back towards the jump seat behind the captain where Thor had stationed himself. Over the next few weeks, he would almost never leave that seat.
“Thor, what was the problem back there?” Harry asked.
“No problem,” he said, and explained that he did not yet have the authorization to land in Spain.
“Wow,” Harry whistled, “how did you get around that one?” “Easy,” he replied with a grin. “I just told them it was not a commercial flight, that I was taking some of my friends to Spain for the weekend.”
Harry was impressed. “They bought that? You’re flying one-hundred and-fifty-five of your friends to Spain for a weekend holiday?”
“Oh, sure,” he said with a grin. “I am a very popular fellow.”
As if to underline his statement, he picked up the microphone and made an announcement in Norwegian which brought down the house. Harry heard the cheering through the closed cockpit door.
“Now what?” Harry asked. “What was all that?”
Thor leaned back in his seat and winked. “I just told them it was a private flight,” he said, “and they would all get their money back.”In the weeks ahead, that announcement would cost Thor dearly. But Harry was impressed. Here is a man who can get things done. He had to do them all over again when the Spanish authorities refused to let the flight depart from Palma; but Thor and his magic telephone came to the rescue again, this time by calling the Norwegian ambassador at his home on a Sunday afternoon.
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