Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
The Manila Connection
Transocean's first commercial contract was a round-trip charter between the U.S. mainland
and the Philippines in June 1946, not long after the start of the ATC contract. Nelson negotiated
with a Filipino newspaper publisher, a Dr. Yap, to fly to Manila a group of his countrymen who
wanted to participate in the first Independence Day activities on the Fourth of July, 1946. But the
modification center in Van Nuys, California, was unable to finish on schedule the conversion
from cargo to passenger configuration of either of Transocean's two aircraft. As a consequence,
TAL lost the job. The Philippine contingent had to find its own transportation to Manila. With help
from Washington, D.C., most were able to hitch rides on ATC planes.
Around the World With Transocean Air Lines
Finally, the conversion work on one of the C-54s was completed during the first week in July.
Nelson sent it to Manila to bring the Yap Group back to the states. It turned out that Colonel
Andres Soriano, president of Philippine Air Lines and owner of the San Miguel Brewery, had seen
the TAL DC-4 leave Manila with Dr. Yap's passengers, and he called Nelson from Manila to find
out if he would set up a transpacific charter service with him under Philippine Air Lines
sponsorship. After Nelson paused briefly to contemplate the proposal, he and Soriano agreed on
two trips. An extension of the contract would have to be preceded by further discussion.
Colonel Soriano wanted to start the charter service immediately. This news touched off a flurry of
activity at Transocean's headquarters in Oakland. The airline's second C-54 was still undergoing
modification to DC-4 standards in Southern California. The first aircraft, now back from Manila,
was still equipped with bucket seats, and there was insufficient time to install regular passenger
On the night of July 22, the TAL employees were in high spirits as they set out to fix up the plane
for the first trip under contract to Philippine Air Lines. Bill Rivers, the airline's new purchasing
agent, spent the night on his knees padding the seats with foam rubber while Flight Engineer Jim
McCoy fastened the headlining. People from administration, operations, maintenance, and
several flight crew members assisted as needed. When their work was nearly completed, they
put air mattresses aboard so the passengers could spread them out on the cabin floor and
stretch out to sleep. Because Colonel Soriano would be meeting the flight, Nelson decided to fly
the DC-4 himself. It would be a good time to cultivate their relationship and develop more
business with Philippine Air Lines. His wife, Edie, accompanied him on the trip and served as
It was morning before the last of the work had been finished on the DC-4, and it was ready to fly.
Nearly every employee-even their husbands, wives, and children - showed up to give an
enthusiastic send-off to the DC-4, which had been named Miss Independence for the Yap charter
flight, now renamed Taloa-Manila Bay to honor the new service. The load consisted of thirty-five
passengers and a small quantity of freight.
Transocean's first commercial flight gave the Philippines its first post-war air link with the United
States. Edith Nelson had the distinction of being the first stewardess to complete the Pacific
crossing for a commercial airline as Pan American employed only male stewards at the time.
Later, after Transocean sold PAL two DC-4s in return for a considerable block of stock in the
Philippine airline, PAL canceled a contract it had given Trans World Airlines for the management
of PAL's domestic runs on the islands and gave the contract to Transocean. United Air Lines lent
to Transocean John Hodgson, one of their captains, who had been manager of United's Alaskan
operation during the war, to go to the Philippines and establish the domestic division of PAL. He
was in Manila for a year when Nelson sent Sam Wilson to take over the operation. Eventually,
Nelson, Sherwood Nichols, and Ed Ringo worked out a contract with Soriano for the
establishment and operation of a Philippine Air Lines international service to the United States,
the Orient, and Europe.
In the months following those first flights to the Philippines, however, N66635, referred to within
the airline as 635, was the most widely known and flown aircraft in the Pacific. During the late
summer and fall of 1946, Aircraft 635 was the only commercial channel of communications
between the United States and the Orient. This was because Pan American had suspended its
operations and a maritime strike put the ships at anchor. That single DC-4 played a dual role
carrying the flags of both the United States and the Philippines.
Adding to the mystique already surrounding Transocean were the quick-change paint jobs given
635 every time it arrived in Manila. As soon as the engines were shut down, a crew of painters
would rush to paint over the TAL lettering to read "Philippine Air Lines" before departure time to
the Orient. This created the impression along the route that Transocean had an entire fleet of
aircraft servicing the South Pacific.
The TAL-PAL combination began service to Shanghai in September of 1946, and to Bangkok in
November. On this route between Honolulu and Manila, Nelson used double crews, each crew
consisting of captain, copilot, radio operator, navigator, and flight engineer. The first crew would fly
the aircraft from Honolulu to Wake Island, where the second would take over en route to Guam.
Then the first flight crew would again take command for the journey to Manila. After a 24 to 48 hour
layover at each station, the two crews would alternate in flying the aircraft. Some flights would
continue on from Manila to Shanghai, Bangkok, or Karachi. The double crew concept was a novel
idea later to be used by other airlines.
Images taken from By Dead Reckoning by Ralph Lewis