The San Antonio Sewer Pipe. When I first started working for American Eagle, we flew Swearingen Metroliner II and III aircraft. The crews called them the Sewer Pipes. They were 19-passenger aircraft with no lavatory, but with lots of cargo space. Granted, the cargo space was largely unusable because of the aircraft’s center of gravity, but that’s just a detail. The aircraft were effective for what was needed in the market at the time. That being said, we were all glad to see them phased out of the fleet in favor of British Aerospace’s Jetstream 31 and Super 31 aircraft.
Where the Metroliner looked like a huge mosquito, the Jetstream looked like a pregnant guppy with its little belly pod. I don’t recall passengers referring to the Metros as Puddle Jumpers, but they frequently referred to the Jetstreams that way. In fact, as we were walking towards the plane in Lexington one day, a passenger who regularly flew out of there asked, “Do I get a real plane today or just this puddle jumper?” May I be honest here? I was a little offended on behalf of the little airplane.
I worked with Jetstreams at Eagle, at Vee Neal Aviation in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and here at CFM. And, I still believe that Jetstreams are unbeatable aircraft when used for missions they were designed to complete. They were designed to go coast to coast – in the UK. They were designed to haul up to 19-passengers at or near sea-level and in relatively cool temperatures. They are the perfect high-density, short-haul aircraft. If you want to take 12 golfers from Indianapolis to the Greenbrier, they’re just for you. If you want to take 12 skiers from anywhere to Telluride, we’ll need to find something else for you.
The aircraft was first designed by Handley Page, which eventually became British Aerospace. After several variations, the company finally produced the Jetstream 31. Further development improved the aircraft’s performance with different engines, added an additional overwing exit and the new model, the Super 31, or the Jetstream 32 was born. Ultimately BAe produced 386 of them. In the United States, these aircraft were used extensively by American Eagle, United Express, TWA Express and USAir Express. The aircraft are far from glamorous, but they are reliable little work horses that are still used in both civil and military applications around the globe.
Larger regional carriers in the United States today operate regional jets and most passengers seem to like them better. They look like big airliners on a smaller scale, which makes many passengers feel more comfortable. But, for me, I miss the Jetstreams, the Twin Otters, the Saab 340s, even the Shorts 360s. Those aircraft opened up new markets to airline service – markets which since been abandoned. So, maybe it’s one or the other – turbo-prop service in many markets or regional jet service in fewer of them. I wonder if passengers who once complained about puddle jumpers miss them at all as they have to drive further to catch their flights.
As for the passenger in Lexington, I told him that for that day only, exclusively for him, we had secured Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. He could ride to Nashville in speed and comfort - he just had to find it on the ramp.