The Autograph
Posted by: W.E. Sebastian (
Date: February 23, 2002 09:13PM

It was sometime in July, 1967, the Piedmont Airlines 727 A/C, N68650, was sitting at the gate in LGA, having just arrived from Charlottesville. The inbound flight had been late and everyone was trying to make up some time to get back on schedule. This A/C, referred to as "650" was one of the two 727-100 A/C that Piedmont had leased from The Boeing Aircraft Co. to enter the "pure" Jet age. These two aircraft were the "Darlings" of the fleet and everyone associated was proud of the success Piedmont had made in expanding its routes and growing its fleet of aircraft.

One of Piedmont's most "colorful" (some might say controversial) and legendary pilots was sitting in the captain's seat, his name was Forrest "speedy" Shelton. Also in the ****pit were the first officer, the flight engineer, and jump seat rider, W.E. (Bill) Sebastian. Bill, most often referred to as "Sebo," was an Avionics (radio man to some) supervisor/trainer on board to observe the weather radar system. Although Piedmont had weather radar on some of its other aircraft, the type on the 727 was quite different and pilots were squawking the radar system very frequently. Sebo had been requested to ride jump seat on the two 727 A/C to try to sort out the problems.

Having known Captain Shelton for some time, both personally and on a professional level, Sebo felt very comfortable around him. Although, occurring several years ago, he has not forgotten his first "encounter" with Captain Shelton. He remembers this first encounter vividly, having witnessed an incident that was typical of this pilot's reputation.


The year was 1958, in the late Fall, slightly over a year since Sebo began his career with Piedmont (September 1957). Having been assigned to the fixed base "radio shop" at the Winston Salem airport, he was in close proximity to the airport runways, taxiways, and ramps. While working at the radio shop, it was routine to listen to the radio "traffic" on the shop VHF radio receiver. On this day, Sebo heard the captain of an A/C - telling the control tower that this was one of Piedmont's new planes, an F-27, and asked for permission to make a low approach fly by. Wishing to witness the flyby, Sebo decided to go outside and look for the A/C. Walking out onto the ramp (outside the fixed base hangar), he was surprised at the large number of Piedmont (Airline) personnel already gathered on the ramp. Sebo joined the crowd, recognizing that most of the people were from the Airline offices and maintenance hangar just across Liberty St. It was obvious that these people had been made aware of the significant event that was about to take place. The crowd was a "buzz" of excitement, anxiously awaiting the aircraft's arrival. Everyone was looking skyward, trying to be the first to spot the expected aircraft and call out its appearance.

Suddenly, someone shouted, "Here he comes," "Where is he?" Another asked. "Runway ‘three'," Someone replied.

Now all eyes were at the intersection of the runways "one five"and "three" (the only place to get an unblocked view). What a sight - the high wing, two engine propjet was literally skimming the runway..."wide open," with its gear up, only a few feet off the runway surface. Then upon reaching the runways intersection, the pilot yanked the A/C almost straight up into a severe climb attitude. This surprise maneuver, seemingly dragging the tail of the A/C on the tarmac, stunned the spectators. Many in the crowd gave out gasps, groans, "oohs" and "ahs," and then the questions, "Who is flying that plane?" When someone answered, "Forrest Shelton" and someone else replied, "Well, we should have known," Sebo told himself that maybe he should remember that name.

Later in Sebo's career, while working in the Avionics A/C overhaul group, he rode with Shelton on many maintenance test flights and ADF certification flights on the Martin 404 and other A/C. Sebo's personal relationship with Forrest resulted from his many visits to a friend's "summer" cabin at Lake Hickory. There he met Captain Shelton who also had a cabin nearby, and they spent many summer weekend days, boating and having fun, doing the things people do at summer lake cabins.


Since everyone was working hard to get the LGA outbound flight back on schedule, and time was of essence, Captain Shelton had elected to stay in the ****pit to expedite a quick departure. While the A/C crew waited for the ground crew to get the flight readied, an operations agent entered the ****pit. His mission was to order dinners for the flight crew to be ready when the flight arrived at its next turnaround stop, Atlanta. In those days, meals were quite even had a choice of entrees. As the agent was taking the orders, it was obvious who was "in charge"... Captain Shelton. He was taking the orders from the crew and telling the agent the type of meal and the person's name. When giving the meal choice for Bill Sebastian, the agent didn't seem to understand the name Sebastian.

Captain Shelton looked at the agent with disdain, and said loudly, "SEBASTIAN... like SEBASTIAN CABOT... the TV STAR." (For those not familiar, a weekly TV show with an actor named Sebastian Cabot was popular at this time)

Now the agent seemed to understand, as his eyes surveyed the ****pit and with a slight smile he said, "OK ...I got you ... Sebastian Cabot."

Shortly, the operations agent brought the "papers" on board and the A/C was readied for the push back. Soon the A/C was rolling down the runway on take off, headed for Atlanta.

This trip had pretty much been a bust for Sebo and his radar watch as the weather was fairly mild. During the initial climb-out, Sebo mentioned that the night was clear and wasn't much to see on radar.

Captain Shelton said, "but there's a lot to see out, let me show you."

Forrest then reached up to the overhead panel, flipped the landing light switches a couple of times and then the whole sky lit up. Just after nightfall was a busy time at the LGA airport and when Shelton flashed "the signal" every A/C in the vicinity turned on their landing lights. (This was long before regulations required the use of landing lights as they are required today.) This spectacular light show was the "Collision Avoidance system" of this era. Seeing just how many aircraft were in close proximity to them amazed Sebo, and he wondered how the ATC controllers kept these A/C separated.

Shortly afterward, ATC cleared the flight to its assigned altitude and Forrest lived up to his reputation..."speedy." The seasoned flight attendants who flew regularly with Forrest were still belted in, ready for Forrest's usual practice. That is, to activate his "petal to the metal" engine power setting, and the abrupt increase in climb attitude, once he had been cleared to his assigned altitude. After reaching altitude, the rest of the flight was routine and landed at Atlanta right on schedule.

Shortly after arriving at the gate, the catering personnel arrived with the flight crew's meals, and brought them to the ****pit. Anticipating a fast turnaround for their next flight, the crew members began to eat their meals in a hurry. They were in good spirits, having a good laugh over the name written on Bill Sebastian's dinner..."Sebastian Cabot." As was usual (when crew members were eating), the ****pit door was closed, and during the boarding process, someone knocked on the ****pit door. Being closer, the flight engineer opened the door and there stood a young male "gate counter" agent.

The young man said, "please pardon me for disturbing you, but, uh,... I, uh, wondered if I,... uh, could get Mr. Cabot's autograph?"

Most in the ****pit looked at each other, dumbfounded...except Captain Shelton, who (as those that knew him - would agree) never let an "opportunity" to pass.

Forrest answered, "sure," and asked, "what's your name?"

"Charles," answered the young man, and handed the flight engineer a Piedmont flight schedule and a pen.

Forrest said, "We'll be right with you in a moment."

He then motioned for the flight engineer to give him the schedule and pen and to close the ****pit door, leaving the young man outside the ****pit.

While the rest of the ****pit "gang" were grinning at each other, and shaking their heads in disbelief, Forrest showed his true colors.

He said, "Hey fellas... listen, he'll never know the difference... let's make his day for him." With that Forrest wrote (with a flair):

"To Charles, best wishes," and signed it, "Sebastian Cabot."

He handed the autographed schedule and pen to the flight engineer who opened the ****pit door, and handed the signed schedule and the pen to the young agent. The young man thanked everyone and departed the A/C.

Someone in the ****pit laughingly said, "Forrest, I'm not believing that you did that." Captain Shelton just grinned.

Sebo says he has thought about this little incident often throughout the years. He wonders (hopefully, the young man has aged gracefully) how many times that "young man"...has shown his autographed flight schedule to his friends and family members.

Sadly, Forrest is no longer with us, having passed away in 1999. But for many of us "old timers," we will always remember Captain Shelton. Being like most of the "Old Piedmont Pilots," he seemed to have had a special personality. That's one of the many reasons Piedmont Airlines was such a special company.

W. E. Sebastian - Feb. 6 2000

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/08/2005 06:24AM by barrys64.

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