THE FLYING FINN TWINS AIRLINE
by Karl E. Hayes
Not many readers will have heard of this airline, which is hardly surprising, as it never got going! However the story of its attempts to become operational is a fascinating one, and has the added benefit of providing new information on a pair of Curtiss C-46 Commandos.
The Air Britain monograph on the C-46, published in 1978, remains the definitive work on the subject, but there is always room for more detailed history on individual aircraft.
The story is set in the immediate post-WW2 years, an exciting time in the development of air transport. With the ending of the War large numbers of military aviators were demobilised, many of whom wished to continue with careers in aviation. The availability at the same time of war surplus transport aircraft facilitated the formation of many new airlines and support businesses.
The Finn twins were identical twins George and Charles, who came from the Hollywood area of Los Angeles. They were both veterans of the War, George as a flight instructor and Charles as a decorated bomber pilot, having flown 63 B-17 combat missions over Europe.
The brothers remained in the Air Force after the War and flew on the Berlin Airlift and so it was not until 1951 that they began formulating plans to start their own airline.
Another character in this story is George Batchelor, who in later years would become famous as an aviation entrepreneur and the founder of Arrow Airlines of Miami. He too was an Air Force veteran, having flown C-54s, retiring with the rank of Major at the War’s end.
He started his civilian career with the purchase of a surplus C-47 located in Hawaii, which he refurbished, ferried to Los Angeles and sold on. It was the start of a long career of trading in aircraft. The sale proceeds allowed him to buy some more DC-3s and soon Californian Arrow Airlines was born. The airline was originally based at Torrance Municipal Airport in Los Angeles, but moved to the Burbank Airport, which became George Batchelor’s base.
California Arrow Airlines operated a schedule with its DC-3s linking Oakland and Sacramento with Burbank, as well as flying charters. George Batchelor also formed a company called International Airports Inc., which was based at Burbank and which bought, sold and overhauled transport aircraft.
Although he would in 1964 move his entire operation to Florida, all Mr Batchelor’s early aviation activities took place in Los Angeles, California.
Our story is located in and around the greater Los Angeles area.
This massive urban sprawl on southern California’s Pacific coast is sandwiched between the ocean and the Mojave Desert to the east. The Burbank Airport, home base of Lockheed, will feature in our story and is to be found in the northern suburbs. In the San Bernardino valley to the east was a military training airfield known as Ontario AAF during the War years, also known as Cal Aero Field.
After the War this airfield was one of five large airfields selected by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) as the sites for storage, sale or scrapping of war surplus aircraft. This airfield is today known as Chino Airport.
About one hundred miles north of Los Angeles is the city of Bakersfield in Kern County, and which will also feature prominently in the story.
One of the types selected for storage at RFC Ontario was the Curtiss Commando, and as these aircraft were withdrawn from military service, they were flown to Ontario and parked there.
The C-46 is a large and imposing aircraft and the sight of many dozens of them parked in long lines awaiting their fate was an impressive one. C-46s also went to the other RFC depots, but among the aircraft arriving in Ontario were 42-96563 (c/n 30225), which arrived in October 1945 and 42-3645 (c/n 26778) which arrived in March 1946.
There were many rules regulating the disposal of military surplus aircraft, but one category authorised to receive such equipment were schools, where they would be used to instruct students on aviation engineering and repair.
A very important proviso however was that, as the schools were only paying a nominal amount for the aircraft, they were not allowed to sell them on and make a profit. When a school no longer required the aircraft, it was to be scrapped.
On this basis, in July 1946, both of these C-46s were allocated to the Vineland Elementary School district of Kern County for $200 a piece and were flown the short distance north from Ontario airfield to the School, located just outside of Bakersfield, landing on a makeshift strip beside the school. There they were put into use as Ground Instructional Airframes and would continue as such for the next six years.
THE FINNS ARRIVE
Perhaps by 1951 the supply of C-46s at RFC Ontario had been exhausted, because it was to the Bakersfield school that the Finn brothers came looking for C-46s to start their airline. They had carried out some legal research and it appeared that the law had been changed and that as the school had owned the aircraft for more than three years, the school was entitled to sell them. There was however doubt about this.
In any event, whatever discussions went on, the school agreed in February 1951 to sell the two C-46s to the Finns. 42-3645 was still in good shape and a price of $21,000 was agreed. 42-96563 had not fared as well and was only a hulk, and a price of $500 was agreed for this one. Both aircraft were still in the all metal schemes they had worn as military aircraft.
42-3645 was to be the first in service and was named 'Patricia Lynn' after a well-known actress of the time. It was registered N111H in the name of the Finns, after some amount of arguing with the Civil Aeronautics Authority and 42-96563 was registered to the Finns as N111E.
Having spent all their available money on the purchase of these aircraft, the Finns needed finance to get their airline up and running. They approached George Batchelor at the Burbank Airport and in August 1951 an agreement was signed with his company International Airports Inc. The company would loan $15,000 to the Finns, which would be used to overhaul N111H and get it ready for service as a civilian aircraft. The money due to the company was secured by a mortgage on the C-46.
The 19th October 1951 was to be a big day at Bakersfield, the day N111H would leave its home of the previous six years. The gravel strip on which it had landed years before had been much shortened. The Finns had never flown a C-46 before.
Newsmen came out to photograph the impending crash. Fire trucks and ambulances stood by.
However, all went well and the Finns managed to take off and fly N111H the short distance from the school to the Bakersfield airport. Here they fuelled up and continued on to the Burbank Airport, where the aircraft went into the hangar and work started on its refurbish.
This work continued over the following months but during this period trouble was brewing...
The US Federal Government had taken an interest in the case, and whatever about the legal opinion of the Finn brothers as to their right to buy the C-46, the Government was of the view that the school had no right to sell the aircraft, which they maintained had now become government property!
DISPUTE WITH GEORGE BATCHELOR
Trouble was also arising with Mr Batchelor. According to the Finns, work on the aircraft was taking too long, although Mr Batchelor countered that this was because the Finns were to have supplied certain parts, which they hadn’t.
In any event, on 18th April 1952 the Finns arrived in the hangar at Burbank with some of their own men and proceeded to do work on the aircraft to make it flyable.
What happened next is best described in the words of the subsequent court case: "On 25th May ’52 N111H was in the International Airports hangar at Burbank. That day a man driving a truck came onto the airfield and unloaded some radios. He opened the gate and allowed in another truck with the Finns and three other men. The C-46 was towed to the west side of the hangar and the engines started. It was then taxied to the north end of the runway and parked. The men returned to the truck and drove out the gate. A few days later the plane took off and headed north".
Very put out by these events, Mr Batchelor, acting through his company International Airports Inc, immediately started court proceedings against the Finn brothers, claiming the money his company had spent on the aircraft and an order for the sale of the C-46 on foot of the mortgage which the company held over the aircraft.
In the meantime, N111H was parked at the Bakersfield Airport, to where it had been flown by the Finns.
THE GOVERNMENT SUES
To add to the woes of the Finn brothers, on 3rd July 1952 the United States Government started court action against them, also suing the Bakersfield school and International Airports Inc, the George Batchelor company.
In its case the Government claimed that the school had no right to sell the C-46 and as it had done so in breach of a condition, it lost ownership, the Finns did not get any ownership, Mr Batchelor’s mortgage was void and N111H belonged to the government. They sued for the return of the C-46 or $198,000 in lieu, which was the estimated value of the aircraft and damages for loss of its use.
Pending the hearing of the court case, on 18th September 1952 the US Marshall seized the C-46 then parked at the Bakersfield airport and put it under arrest.
The Finns however hatched a plan to recover possession of their beloved C-46 'Patricia Lynn'.
As far as they were concerned, they owned the aircraft, for which they had paid good money and thus they could not be accused of stealing their own aircraft. They claimed the government’s seizure of the C-46 was illegal. It was however impounded at Bakersfield by officialdom, but they were determined to take the aircraft and brazen it out later with the government. It took a while but by January 1953 they were ready...
A contemporary account of the liberation of the C-46 from government custody is worth quoting:
"The twins had to smuggle provisions aboard the Patricia Lynn, without being seen by the airport manager. In the dead of night they backed a truck up to the far side of her middle and stuffed her with food, heavy duty clothing, camping equipment, a stove, flashlights, guns and ammunition. A few nights later the weather favoured them with a California fog, a real pea souper. They borrowed a gasoline truck, crept through the fog and fuelled the C-46. They couldn’t take off before dawn in this muck, so they waited and the chill of the morning ate into their bones.
They saw the mists turn purple, blue, charcoal, grey, dishwater and then they could see the whale-like bulk of the Patricia Lynn looming through the fog, like a big, soft, friendly ghost".
"They fired up her engines and taxied down the runway to perform the run up. By this stage the airport manager had woken up and driven his car towards the C-46. Charlie Finn opened the throttles and veered off across a pasture, over ploughed ground, bumping and bouncing the aircraft like a pogo-stick!
With the airport manager giving chase in his car, the C-46 staggered off the ploughed field, taking off cross-wind. They hedge-hopped right along the deck, so that the airport manager could not keep them in view.
They headed south and when they reached the mountains turned east, went through the Tehachapi Pass and coasted along under the brow of the mountains. Then they took a heading towards Death Valley and just over the border in Nevada they found the abandoned airstrip, which they had been thinking would make an ideal Shangri-la in which to hide a fugitive airplane".
The date of this flight was 18th January 1953.
A friend of the brothers arrived in a light aircraft, collected George Finn and flew him to Los Angeles where he was to appear on a TV show that evening to gain public support for their cause. Charles Finn remained to guard the C-46.
The government officials were livid at the theft of 'their' aircraft and arrested George Finn for contempt of court, for breaching a court order by removing the aircraft from government custody. The FBI were called in and after a huge search, eventually located N111H at the disused airstrip in Nevada. Two agents arrived and saw Charles Finn sitting on the wing. "His gun stuck out handily. He’d been alone in the wilderness for eight days. He had a long growth of beard. His clothes were dirty. His looks, combined with that pistol on his hip, made him look like an old time desperado".
The two agents weren’t about to take him on, so they withdrew but returned in force and heavily armed the next day.
They arrested Charles Finn and arranged for US Air Force pilots to fly the C-46 from the Death Valley airstrip to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada where it was put into government custody and from where the Finns had no hope of stealing it again.
THE FINNS ARREST A STRATOCRUISER
When the trial of the Finn brothers on the charge of stealing a government airplane was heard on 30th March 1953, the court decided that the government did not in fact own the C-46 and found the Finns not guilty!
They hoped that the government would then give them back their plane, but this did not happen.
By this stage the Finns had spent all their money and could no longer afford lawyers for the many court cases they were involved in. Ignoring the old adage that a lawyer who acts for himself has a fool for a client, they decided to represent themselves and took to studying the law. They discovered that under Californian law, a person can sue a non-resident who has injured his property and pending the outcome of the case, can seize the Californian property of the non-resident by attaching it...
Armed with this information they went before Judge Charles MacCoy of the Municipal Court of Los Angeles, who was sympathetic to their case. He declared the Government of the United States was not a resident of California and as the government had taken the Finn’s C-46, on 28th August 1953 he made an order permitting the Finns to seize all US Government property located in the Los Angeles Judicial District.
The Finns started looking around for what they could seize. There were many US government buildings, but they would be somewhat difficult to seize.
They went up in their friend’s light aircraft and flew around the Los Angeles area looking for something else to seize. They decided that as the government had taken their C-46, they would seize a government aircraft.
Their attention was eventually drawn to a USAF Boeing C-97 Stratocruiser, parked on the Lockheed ramp at the Burbank Airport, its metallic fuselage glistening in the Californian sunshine. They decided this would be ideal, landed at the Burbank Airport, found the local sheriff, walked up to the Stratocruiser and slapped the arrest warrant on it. The sheriff was then stationed at the aircraft to guard it. Some time later, Colonel J.L. Ulricson and his crew arrived at the C-97 to prepare for departure. As a senior Air Force pilot he had dealt with many difficult situations over the years, but having his aircraft arrested by the local sheriff was a first! A huge row developed but the Finns, with the sheriff backing them up, held the C-97 for three days. The newspapers plastered pictures of the Finns and the Stratocruiser all over page one. The audacious idea that a private citizen could seize government property had never occurred to anybody before. It only lasted the few days, until the case was moved to a federal court and the arrest warrant against the C-97 dismissed.
THE FINNS ARREST A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL
By this stage the Finn brothers were major celebrities in the Los Angeles area, with TV appearances and newspaper coverage of their exploits.
They portrayed themselves as innocent citizens wronged by the government, fighting for their rights. The government portrayed them as deranged, publicity-seeking troublemakers.
Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the situation, their next antic was to be their undoing.
Still no closer to getting their C-46 back, which remained impounded at Nellis Air Force Base, they found out that the government official in charge of the case was US Attorney Laughlin Waters. They decided to arrest him, swearing out complaints alleging that Mr Waters had "wilfully joined with others in the unlawful seizure and detention of a certain C-46A aircraft N111H from the rightful possession and use of George C.Finn".
On 21st January 1954, as Mr Waters came out of a Los Angeles restaurant after his lunch, the Finns accosted him, told him they were making a citizens arrest, handcuffed him and took him to the nearest police station. All this was recorded by press photographers arranged by the Finns.
Such an act was bound to have consequences and they weren’t long in coming. The federal government quickly secured their Attorney’s release and both Finns were arrested for impeding, threatening and assaulting a Federal Officer, and were thrown in jail. At their trial they were found guilty, and both were sentenced to one year in prison.
In the meantime, the various court actions which had been started concerning C-46 N111H were coming on for hearing.
In November 1954 the government’s case that it was the owner of the aircraft was heard, but the government lost, the court ruling that the government had no interest in the aircraft.
In April 1955 the action by International Airports Inc ( George Batchelor’s company) was dealt with by the Court, which found that the Finns owed $10,014 to the company for work done on the aircraft, that the company had a valid mortgage on the aircraft to secure the amount due and that the C-46 should be sold so that money could be realised to pay the company its judgement.
The Sheriff was given a writ of enforcement, allowing him to take possession of the C-46 and sell it for the benefit of creditors.
HUNGER STRIKES AND PERJURY
While all this was going on, the Finns were in jail in Los Angeles and decided to go on hunger strike, which they reckoned would attract publicity to their cause. "Fast to death pledged by jailed Finn twins" ran the headlines.
Their hunger strike lasted 23 days, before they were allowed out of jail pending an appeal. Their relief however was short-lived, as when their appeal was heard, they were found guilty again of assaulting the federal officer and sent back to jail, this time in Springfield, Missouri in the insane ward.
They went on hunger strike again, this time for 35 days.
They were eventually released from jail later in 1955.
The wheels of the law were turning slowly, and while all this was going on, the Sheriff had taken possession of C-46 N111H and was preparing to sell it by auction to pay the creditors, principally George Batchelor. After further delay, the sale was eventually set for 30th December 1957. The Finn brothers however were far from finished with their meddling.
Mr Batchelor was now a very well known and respected person in aviation circles in California. His lawyer was a man named A.J.Blackman, also something of a 'heavy hitter' in legal circles.
On 28th October 1957, as the sale of the C-46 was imminent, the Finns swore a complaint that George Batchelor had given perjured evidence in the course of the legal proceedings and that his attorney Mr Blackman had helped him in this.
The Finns went before judge Charles MacCoy, the judge who had earlier allowed them to arrest the C-97 and who appeared very sympathetic to their case. He issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr Batchelor and his attorney Mr Blackman but they moved quickly in reply and on 1st November ’57 had that warrant dismissed. They subsequently obtained a higher court order against Judge MacCoy, prohibiting him from any further involvement with the Finns or Mr Batchelor on the grounds that he was biased and prejudiced against Mr Batchelor.
This was another setback for the Finns, and allowed the sheriff’s sale of the C-46 to proceed.
C-46 N111H was sold by the Sheriff to Texaco. After overhaul and paint into Texaco’s corporate colours, it was registered HK-489E in March 1959, supporting Texaco’s operations in Colombia, one of a number of C-46s flying for Texaco in that country.
Alas, HK-489E did not survive for too long, being written off in an accident at Calderon, Colombia on 8th April 1961.
THE OTHER C-46 N111E
As mentioned earlier, at the same time as the Finn brothers bought C-46 N111H from the Bakersfield school in February 1951, they had also bought a second aircraft, 42-96563, which had been registered to the Finns as N111E. This was only a hulk for which they had paid $500.
Just as they had entered into an agreement with George Batchelor, to put N111H into flying condition, in November 1951 they had also made an agreement with him in relation to N111E. The deal was that Mr Batchelor would buy a half interest in N111E for $10,000, which he paid to the Finns. They were supposed to use this money to buy a 'school' Douglas C-47 which was sitting at Roosevelt Field, New York, of which Mr Batchelor would also get a share.
However their efforts to buy the C-47 were not successful.
When in May 1952 the Finns saw fit to fly off in C-46 N111H out of Burbank, without paying Mr Batchelor the money they owed him, that put an end to their co-operation with him.
When the government sued the school alleging they had no right to sell N111H, that put an end to the school’s hitherto amicable relationship with the Finns.
By 1953 therefore the relationship between all the parties had also soured in relation to the other C-46 N111E.
The dispute rumbled on for a few years, but in 1956 the School, claiming to have taken ownership of N111E back from the Finns because of their breach of agreements, put the C-46 up for sale by public auction.
George Batchelor was the highest bidder at the auction, with a bid of $6,110 and N111E was sold to him by Bill of Sale dated 19th June 1956.
He took possession of the aircraft, which had been in store at Burbank since the Finns bought it, and tried to register it in his name. He was unsuccessful, as the Finns were claiming they owned the aircraft. He then sued the Finns, starting his action on 26th September 1956, claiming an order from the court that he was the owner. The Finns did not defend this action within the required time limits and Mr Batchelor got his court order on 21st November ’56.
On the strength of that court order he succeeded in becoming the registered owner of N111E.
During 1957 and 1958 he spent $200,000 in rebuilding the C-46 and putting it into an airworthy condition. While the rebuilding was going on, the Finns tried to appeal previous court orders, so that they could claim ownership of N111E, but the court made its final ruling on 7th April 1959 dismissing their appeals and bringing all the litigation to an end.
Finally the undisputed owner of the now airworthy C-46 N111E, George Batchelor arranged a lease of the aircraft to Sourdough Air Transport, which had previously operated C-46 N95451 (c/n 441) and also flew DC-3s and a DC-4, based in Seattle but primarily operating in Alaska.
The extent of N111E’s use by Sourdough however may not have been very much, as it was still at Burbank on 21st August 1959 when it ground-looped during an emergency landing, striking Martin 202 N93202...
It was a substantial crash, as the Martin (which had recently been bought from TWA by California Airmotive for lease to Pacific Airlines) was a write off. The crash also brought the lease of the C-46 to Sourdough Air Transport to an end.
The C-46 was repaired and sold by Mr Batchelor in July 1960 to National Bank of Los Angeles in connection with its acquisition by Seven Seas Airlines Inc.
At the same time, Seven Seas also acquired a second C-46 N9841F (c/n 26812).
Both N111E and N9841F were to be used on the company’s contract with the United Nations in the Belgian Congo and for tramp freighting around Europe, alongside its fleet of Skymasters.
Sadly the company encountered financial difficulties and closed down in September 1961.
N111E passed through Prestwick on 11th April 1962 on its way to Miami, in full Seven Seas Airlines white and blue livery and named 'Africa Queen 2'.
The aircraft’s subsequent career is as detailed in the Air Britain monograph. In Miami it was converted to 'Super 46C' configuration by L B Smith Aircraft Corp and delivered out of Miami on 12th November 1962 to Transair Sweden as SE-EDS.
It returned to the Congo, where Transair were flying under contract to the United Nations, before coming back to Europe. It was leased by Tor Air during summer 1966. Its time in Europe came to an end when it was sold to Paraense of Brasil as PP-BUD (image @Airliners.net), being delivered out of Malmo via Las Palmas on 5 November 1966 to its new base at Belem.
It was one of a number of Paraense C-46s traded in to Fairchild Hiller in October 1969, against their purchase of six Fairchild FH-227s, and was flown to Miami where it was put into store.
The Brazilian registration was cancelled on 19 December 1969. It was sold to TABSA/Bolivian Airways as CP-940 in March 1971 and was destroyed in a crash at El Desengano, Bolivia on 22nd April 1972.