SATA in the 50s and 60s

Stories do more than portray events from the past and entertain. If we listen or read them carefully, we are swept away to a place where events have very particular magic and where even the challenges of the past lend a poetic character to routine activities.

The story we bring you is in the book “Tu És Livre” by Isabel Portugal, who worked at SATA for many years, and was written by her father, Viriato Portugal, who started working at SATA in 1948 – in the early days of its foundation – and whose life was never dissociated from the company he was so proud to work for.

We invite you to travel with us to SATA in the 50s and 60s.

“Santa Maria Airport – 1950s

I remember that flights started at 8:00 am with the S. Miguel/Santa Maria route. The offices at Rua dos Mercadores 7-11 opened at 6:00 am for dispatch and reception of mail and goods, transported in a SATA private vehicle between Ponta Delgada and Santana. Employees on duty in Ponta Delgada had to get up very early because they walked from their homes to the office!

In a very special way, I remember the departure of emigrants to the USA, with harrowing scenes of screams and some fainting when they said goodbye to their families!

Later, we started to watch their visits in a nostalgic pilgrimage for the Festas do Senhor Santo Cristo, arriving in Santa Maria on the PAA planes DC6B and DC7 (Seven Seas). The emotions were now of great joy.

SATA had the DH104 DOVE CS-TAB and CS-TAC with 9 seats and a capacity/weight of 700 kg, which did not allow more than 8 adult passengers and their luggage, or 9 as long as they included children (2/ 12 years).

It was the traffic officer who boarded the passengers and fastened their seat belts, especially for those who didn’t know how to do it! Only then, he would close the plane’s door and signal the captain to take off.

These planes were beautiful and elegant. The chairs – armchair type – were quite comfortable, and had extraordinary visibility, with reasonable pitch. All passengers were subject to weighing!

Another important detail was the fact that these planes, when not carrying passengers or cargo, always had to have a certain weight in ballast (I believe that around 200 kg in the rear luggage compartment) taking into account their balance. When traffic was intense between S. Miguel and Santa Maria, on the way back the sands of that island were used to transport sand properly accommodated in bags of 50 kg each!

I made my debut in the cockpit of these planes! I remember that sensation of extraordinarily pleasant lightness when flying in the nose of an airplane! In the cockpit door, there was a small hatch, through which the second crew member checked that the passengers were all right. Passengers generally traveled with their eyes closed … pretending to be asleep!

In 1958, already on duty in Santa Maria, I had the pleasant surprise of, under the protection of a passenger, opening the door of the plane and receiving my 5-year-old son António, who really wanted to visit and meet me at father’s work! We both returned to S. Miguel after 2 weeks.

Only in 1964 and 1965 were the DC3 CSTAD and CSTAE acquired, refurbished, and improved. Passenger traffic increased a lot!

In August 1969, when Santana Aerodrome closed and the Ponta Delgada Airport was inaugurated, one of SATA’s DOVE aircraft had to wait in flight for about an hour or so, to give time to the only air traffic controller – which witnessed the take-off and landing operations – to travel the distance between Santana and Ponta Delgada by car!

I was a passenger on that flight – together with 7 other colleagues, the oldest at the time – crewed by Captain Augusto Galhardo and Mechanic M. Carvalho, where we had the pleasure of restating the qualities of such an extraordinary pilot, who graced us with his fantastic skills, such as passing through the hills of Mosteiros or descending and almost docking in Sete Cidades Lake!

Later, as the only passenger from Santa Maria to S. Miguel, and now with Captain J. Tércio, we flew at low altitude trolling, like someone fishing!

Santa Maria was, without a doubt, the true school and pioneer of commercial aviation. In addition to Pan American and, later, TWA and Canadian Pacific, as well as TAP itself, these companies operated with regular schedules; many other charter companies also passed through there – Los Angeles Air Service, Capitol Airlines, Slick Airways, Flying Tiger Line, Airlift, Seabord & Western, etc… These companies, when originating from Europe to the USA, used to stopover in Santa Maria. The other route, further north, and a little shorter used Shannon/Ireland and Gander/C airports.

It was then that I watched, for several times, right after the invasion of Hungary, a few dozen planes passing with fugitives from that country and bound for the USA!

A little later, on board planes of the Cuban Aviation Company, I knew hundreds of Cubans, who were also fugitives from their land and headed for Spain!

Viriato Portugal, October 2001”

This text is taken from the book “Tu És Livre” by Isabel Portugal.

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