The seven-seat aircraft lined up behind the behemoth Boeing 727 and patiently waited its turn to leave National Airport. Finally, the words cracked over the cockpit radio from the air traffic controller who weaves the single-and twin-engine props in with the jumbo jets.
Cleared for departure, the small plane turned onto the runway, taxied its length and took off into the hazy humidity over Washington. The four passengers sat at ease as pilot William S.D. Newman Jr., sunglasses in place, steered the plane toward the Eastern Shore.
Maryland Airlines was heading home.
Newman, the man at the controls, a product of the barnstorming era, does not aspire to head a large airline providing steerage service for the airborne masses. He is content to be president of a small airline, carrying a select few on short trips that matter.
"You do all right," he says. "We don't really call it a schecule."
His small, Easton-based airline nonetheless provides what has evolved into a more-or-less regular if unscheduled shuttle service between the Eastern Shore's land of gracious living and the fast-paced world of Washington.
It ferries the rich and the powerful who live two lives. They spend nights and weekends in large homes on big estates that have names but lack addresses. They are the part-time country squires of Talbot County whose high-powered jobs in the corporate and political realms require frequent trips to the nation's capital and beyond.
Stephen N. Connor is one. He says he spends upwards of $10,000 a year on Maryland Airlines flights.
Connor's life includes a wife and three children, four horses "at the moment," an 83-acre farm planted in corn and soybeans, a 13-acre estate with 758 feet of Miles River shoreline, $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE a new barn, a pool, a "big old house" built in 1720, Labrador retievers and bird shooting for sport.
It also includes a job as lobbyist, consultant and foreign agent for the Saudi Arabian government. "I have to spend a great deal of time in Washington,;" says Connor, 39, a former Wall Street executive. "I spend a lot of time on the Hill."
Connor knows he has a good thing going. And he knows something else. "Maryland Airlines," he says, "makes my life possible. I use them for everything. Seldom does a week go by..."
In one recent week, Maryland Airlines flew Connor to New York's Kennedy Airport to catch a Concorde to London. Maryland Airlines met him three days later at Dulles to bring him home. Connor flew the airline the next day to Washington and back. The following day, Thursday, the airline flew him to Washington to meet his son returning from camp, then flew both back. On Friday, Connor and his wife were to fly Maryland Airlines to National Airport to board a scheduled flight to Lexington, Ky., for the "Summer Select Sale of Yearling Thoroughbreds."
While most Washington commuters curse the high cost of gas, worry about odd and even or struggle with whimisical farecard machines, the Eastern Shore puddle jumper jet set rests secure.Washington, to them, is just a 20-minute flight away.
Maryland Airlines has flown from Easton's small airport since 1946. The field was built for the Army Air Corps and used as a prisoner of war camp during World War II. Since 1949, it has been owned by Newman, a soft-spoken man of 63 who traces his family on the Eastern Shore to the 1700s. His company features nine planes, eight pilots and two mechanics.
Newman lives in a modest brick house without a swimming pool, tennis court or boat dock. He seldom sees the homes of his passengers, except from a cockpit.
"We don't go their cocktail parties," he said. "Somebody's got to work, you know."
Some of the people Newman has worked for are pictured behind his desk in a portrait gallery of the high and the mighty: Nelson Rockefeller, Rogers C. B. Morton, Barry Goldwater, Charles McC. Mathias, Joe Tydings, Ambassador Gerard C. Smith, Admiral Charles K. Duncan and others.
The flight to or from Washington cost $18 per person, but there are package deals. An entire airplane can be chartered for the trip at a cost of $45 for a single-engine four-seator or $85 for a seven-passenger twin-engine plane.
Maryland Airlines offers a regular, although unofficial, run to and from National Airport - leaving Easton on Monday through Friday at 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and departing from National on those days at 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. If these trips were officially scheduled, the planes would be obliged to make the trips with or without passengers.
Maryland Airlines does not fly empty.
Nor will it leave you at the gate. Timing is flexible enough to accomodate jet straggllers from "scheduled" carriers.
One recent afternoon, the short, crewcut Newman appeared at National's Page Airways terminal half an hour early but left 15 minutes late. Alex Ray's Northwestern flight from Pittsburgh had been delayed.
Ray is a political consultant for the Republican National Committee who lives in Neavitt southwest of St. Michaels. He boarded the plane with this admonishment to Newman: "No dog fights on the way over."
The other Easton-bound passengers were Lyle Graham, a former vice-president of Philip Morris, and Charles E. (Ted) Taylor, a lawyer specializing in real estate and banking.
Graham, formerly of New York, now lives on the Tred Avon River. He remains a company consultant and flies Maryland Airlines to Washington weekly.
"If time means anything to you, " he said, "it's a very valuable thing."
Ted Taylor moved two years ago from Northern Virginia, where he still practices law, to a spot on the Wye River where his wife "raises a few horses." Taylor regularly commutes between his country home and his Alexandria office.
"I leave the house at 10 to 8. I'm in my office by a quarter to 9," he said. "That's not bad, is it? Everybody asks me why I don't fly my own plane to Washington. Well, its a real job coming in and out of National, it's real hectic."
With Newman at the controls, the seven-seat Aero Commander ascended to 1,400 feet, far below the jet stream of traffic.
The plane flew east at 180 miles an hour passing Andrews Air Force Base and Upper Marlboro, then flying over North Beach on the Western Shore into the thick haze above the Chesapeake.
The mist cleared enough for a gauzy, bird's eye view of the necks, islands, rivers and estates of Talbot County.
The haze was heavier two days later and Newman, again at the controls, was forced to fly above the clouds. With him was a first-time passenger, Albion W. Knight, a retired Army brigadier general with homes in Bethesda and Bozman, at Duxbury Point, and a consulting office in Rosslyn, Va.
"I got sick and tired of driving back and forth," he said. "No matter how you slice it, it's two hours.
Knight returned to Talbot that night, a well-satisfied customer. "We flew over Kenilworth Avenue," he said. "I looked down and saw three miles of cars below. I saw none of them moving. But I was home at 6 p.m. So I came to the conclusion, I'm gonna do that flight again." CAPTION: Picture 1, The seven-seat Maryland Airlines Aero Commander is dwarfed by American Airlines jetliner at National Airport, but it "makes life possible" for some Eastern Shore residents. By Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Maryland Airlines' William S.D. Newman Jr.: "Somebody's got to work." By John McDonnell - The Washington Post