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Interstate Airway Communication Stations (INSACS) Employment

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Last updated 03/18/17

Personal history written by Jim Brown, 2007.

This is Jim Brown's personal story of his work experiences, part 1 of 2.
Part  2 - Combined Station/Tower

On February 6, 1947, I was appointed to the position of Associate Aircraft Communicator, CAF-6, in the Pacific Region of the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA). I was assigned to Honolulu, but detailed to the INSACS at Puunene, Maui, Hawaii. The assignment was “temporary, pending establishment of register” (which took three years) at the salary of $3021.00 + 25% Cost of Living differential. The Interstate Airway Communication Stations (INSACS) had been operating for about two years, as far as I can recall. The first Chief, Carl Gustafson was still there. The staff included Noble and Elizabeth Laesch, who had transferred from Anchorage, Alaska. They were one of the husband and wife teams hired during WWII for duty in the remote stations of Alaska. However, they had remained at the not too remote site of Anchorage for their entire time in that region. Also on the staff were Charles “Shorty” Dawson and Charles R. Smith.  When qualified, I was to replace Mr. Smith, who had been promoted to the OFACS in Honolulu.

At that time there were three INSACS, Lihue, Kauai (LIH), Puunene, Maui (MAU) and Hilo, Hawaii (ITO). There was an OFACS in Honolulu, Oahu (HNL). These were also the identifiers for the associated four course radio ranges. Maui operated on 209kc, the only one I remember.  This seems like short staffing.  It allowed for one Aircraft Communicator (ACCOM) on each of the three shifts, with a “swing shift” ACCOM for two midnight shifts, two evenings and one day. The Chief Aircraft Communicator (CACOM) was available for assistance on the day watch. If any one took annual leave, a relief was sent from Honolulu. The workload was usually not so heavy and one person could handle it. 

Shortly after my arrival, CACOM Gustafson was transferred to the same position on the island of Palmyra (located 960 miles Southwest of Honolulu and a Naval Air Station during WWII). The CAA had a station there and also one on Canton Island, Micronesia.  An interesting detail about Palmyra. It was owned by the Kanehele family of Oahu and leased to the CAA. Eventually it would return to the Kaneheles. Danny Kanehele, who would become the head of the family, was a controller in Honolulu Tower. There were plans to develop the island as a tourist attraction, but during my time it had not happened.

With the departure of CACOM Gustafson, Noble Laesch was promoted to Chief and the vacancy that this caused was filled by Elvin E. Smith, transferred from Battle Mountain, Nevada. From that time, as the workload increased, so did the staffing. I do not recall how many were on the roster when the INSACS was relocated and combined with Kahului Tower on December 12, 1958.  Much more about that as we go down memory lane.

Those four radio ranges were aligned so as to form the low frequency airways. The most common was R87, used for the majority of inter-island flights. It ran northeast from Kaui and southeast to Hawaii. I also recall the north leg of the Maui range was designated A11. The others I no longer recall. Of course, as time went on and very high frequency (VHF) communications became the norm, these Radio Beacons were replaced by VHF omni-directional radio range (VORs) and VHF airways. When that occurred, additional VORs were established on Lanai (LNY) and Upolu Point (UPP) on the northern tip of the island of Hawaii. Both of these were controlled by Maui INSACS, which then broadcast as “Maui Area Radio”.

Back to my own personal experience, which gives an insight into the INSACS way of life in those days. After arriving for duty at the Maui INSACS, I underwent on-the-job training (OJT), but as there was no OKC in those days, it was necessary to qualify by self study. I (and I suppose all others in those days) had to study and pass exams in meteorology, air navigation, Federal Air Regulations, and I do believe there was one other. Perhaps some one else has that in their brain bank. Before the appointment I was required to qualify in Continuous Wave (CW) (the speed of 30 seems to stick in my mind) and typing (was it 55?).   We were given speed tests for sending and receiving in Morse code, and also tested on typing speed on the teletype machine.  Later teletype speed and Baudot perforated tape reading were included. That was a tough one for me!  We were examined on these speeds at yearly intervals, usually by someone from the Regional Office. The Baudot tape was cut on the teletype keyboard and transmitted at continuous high speed, usually faster than a employee could type. All island INSACS were connected by the CW, and later teletype networks.  When all the requirements were met, I was promoted to Aircraft Communicator, CAF-7, on September 7, 1947. The recommendation was to make this retroactive to August 6, which would have been the required six months, but the ever frugal Region decided to use the September date. Just think how much I lost due to the slow wheels in Honolulu! This salary was $3164, plus 25 % Cost of Living benefit.

On August 24, 1956, we were all promoted to GS-8, which meant a salary of $5335 + 25%.  I think all the INSACS went up in grade at that time. In 1958 the INSACS was combined with the Kahului Tower and on June 28, 1959 I was promoted to GS-9, and on November 12, 1961 with approach control being added, the grade went to GS-10. One interesting and little known fact about that 25% COL. I cannot say just when, sometime in the late 1940s, a man in one of the financial offices of the RO in Honolulu did some research and came to the conclusion that taxing this differential was not legal. He submitted this to the IRS, and you can imagine the result. However, he persisted and obtained signatures and a small donation from many of us which would be used to find a law suit. He also advised us to file for refunds on taxes paid during the past three years. I recall going to the IRS office to obtain the forms. I knew the agent in charge, and he said this had no chance, I said “just give me the forms, and it will benefit you also”. He was still laughing as I went out the door. For reasons unknown to us, but very beneficial, the government agreed to skip local filing and appeals and to hear the case in Federal Court in Washington. Our attorney agreed, but one day before the case was to be heard, the IRS threw in the towel and ceded the judgment. All employees benefited, and those of us who had filed for refunds, received the three year overpayments, with interest! Shortly after this Federal employees in places such as Guam and Wake were changed to a “Post Differential” which was declared taxable. So, all Federal Employees who draw, or have drawn the COLA should be grateful to one persistent CAA worker in Honolulu. Now, as Paul Harvey would say, you know the rest of the story.

This document will be rather rambling; there are so many facets of those days to report.  Back to the old radio ranges.  Before they were installed, air navigation was by light beacons (and before that by bonfires, let us not go that far back) In Hawaii these light beacons were aligned to provide an airway the same as that R87. To obtain the proper sighting, on Maui this meant a light beacon at Makena, just beyond what is now the Maui Prince hotel. The property was leased from the Delima family, who had been farming the land and grazing cattle there. Abner Delima was hired to mow the grass, keep the cattle away, maintain the power generator and in the beginning turn the light on and off. The radio range was installed in the same area, and Abner continued to maintain the power supply and the surrounding area. Sometime later he was given some electronics training and after the combined Flight Service Station and Tower (CS/T) was established he went to the teletype maintenance course in Okalahoma City, Oklahoma, and returned to take over that responsibility.

Unlike the other locations, Maui’s range was a long distance from the airport. I believe it would be somewhere in the range of 20 miles. A good portion of the road was unpaved, winding, and subject to flooding during heavy rains. It was impossible to have a maintenance technician (in those days they were called Maintenance Technician In Charge - MTIC) live in the local housing areas and drive back and forth. So, the CAA built a great, three bedroom house near the range. The MTIC lived there and often took work from the INSACS home to his workshop there.  When the control tower was established at Kahului and the Terminal VOR (TVOR) placed there, the electronic technician compliment was increased, and an office and workshop added to the INSACS building, which I forgot to mention, was attached to the baggage claim area of the terminal building. With these changes, the technicians all resided near the airports and the Makena house was surplus. Faced with this fact, the CAA moved it onto a barge and shipped it around to a location where they could sell it. And I am not sure where that house finally did land.

In the beginning, our INSACS was connected to the rest of the stations by radio teletype. This was fairly new and subject to many outages. Originally it was to be backed up by a CW network, but, things were not working out for that system and the CW net was designated the primary communications link.  The teletype, when it worked, became the back up and this configuration lasted for quite a while. Therefore, we had a CW position at the station, and all weather reports, forecasts, flight plans and progress reports as well as administrative messages were handled by this communicator. We also had an air ground, or broadcast position, this is the one that made the familiar 15 and 45 past the hour broadcasts of the island weather.

There was not a great deal of local flying, so the air ground was mostly involved in passing (in the absence of a tower) wind, altimeter, and known traffic to the inbound and departing Hawaiian Airlines flights.  They flew DC-3s in those days.  Whoever was not busy at the time became the weather observer, and on many shifts that was the primary duty. Despite what the various chambers of commerce may say, there are times when heavy rains and storms hit Hawaii. Many times I stood outside with the rain running down the clinometer (determines cloud height) and into my eye as I attempted to get a reading on the ceiling light! I must admit there were times during the dark hours, when the ceiling was estimated from inside the INSACS.

With the advent of the Korean conflict, air traffic in and out of Hawaii suddenly increased. There were many aircraft, mostly from non-scheduled airlines, that were chartered by the government for transportation of personnel and cargo. They would fly from the west coast to Honolulu, refuel and then continue to Wake Island and eventually to Japan. There was also a good deal of traffic flying this route in reverse. Since there were no direct En Route Center/pilot communications in those days, all position reports and clearances were relayed through the appropriate INSACS. It was soon necessary to schedule two and sometimes three communicators on the day and evening shifts. Inter-island traffic also increased with the arrival of Aloha Airlines, only then they were called Trans Pacific Airlines and I think that even today they use TPA as an identifier. Originally non-scheduled air carriers, operating under a different part of the Federal Aviation Regulations - FARs (I think it was part 125) operated almost the same as a scheduled air carrier and eventually were granted that status. An increase was also on the way for general aviation aircraft and for charter flights. But in 1950 (I think) the Navy gave up the Kahului facility and the Territory began the process of obtaining it from the Navy. It took quite a while. The Navy had given them Puunene easily, but this was different. Even before the final release, the Territory was allowed to use certain facilities at the base and we (CAA) were one of the first beneficiaries.

The Navy had some excellent enlisted family quarters, one to three bed room units in blocks of four to eight, and they were administered by the Hawaii Housing Authority. As Federal employees we were the first to move in and these continued to be available to new personnel. The units were fine and the rent very reasonable.  Finally the Territory did get an additional permit and the airlines began to use Kahului. Better facilities and it was closer to the towns. The first FAA facility was a control tower, using the old, somewhat beat up, Navy tower on top of the operations building. In 1957, with full transfer from the Navy to the Territory, the FAA began work on a new building to house the station and the tower creating a CS/T, similar to the one operating in Hilo. In 1958 the facility was commissioned. It was a given that the Tower Chief would be the Chief of the CS/T. Noble Laesch went on a detail and was then transferred to Washington. I became the Acting Chief of the INSACS and was involved in the planning and the move. The fiscally watchful Regional Office was not going to promote me and then let me keep the GS-10 salary when I went into the CS/T as a GS-9!

One last bit of trivia. I was in on the combining of a station and tower. Later, I believe 1969, I was a watch supervisor in the Ontario CS/T when it was de-combined! I remained in the tower until 1971 when I transferred to the San Diego area and finally retired in 1983 as an air traffic controller (ATC) at Lindbergh Tower, San Diego. I continued in aviation, having a California teaching credential I taught air traffic control (ATC) at both Mesa and Southwestern colleges in this area, and also Aviation History at Mesa. I modestly report that several of my students were hired by the FAA.

Jim Brown retired January 1, 1983 after 36 years of service.

End of article by Jim Brown.

Part  2 - Combined Station/Tower

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