How was a pilot able to call his wife's telephone from a plane in 1969?

In 1969, a US Airman named Paul Meyer, stationed in England, commandeered a C-130 by impersonating a senior officer, and flew it towards the English Channel, crashing two hours later. Here’s the BBC article about it. The plane was only just now discovered, by a diver, resulting in renewed interest about the mysterious circumstances of the incident, and has received coverage in the news recently.

What puzzles me the most is the fact that he was apparently able to call his wife from the plane while he was in flight.

How was this accomplished? Was there some kind of system in place for patching a radio transmission from a plane to a telephone line?


Yes. The military used telephone lines for internal communication.

In 1969 in England, I would be extremely surprised if he was able to dial home from in-air, I would expect that he would have to request a line. But the USA military undoubtedly had the technology to do that in 1969, I just don’t think they would have installed it in bombers.
In my limited civilian experience, you used separate telephone systems for internal and external communications, and in Aus it was not legal for civilians to patch through private radio calls into the state telecomunications system, but technically it was easy: you ran a “patch cord” from one socket to another socket, just like making an ordinary (manual exchange) telephone connection. If there were two panels, they were adjacent to each other, and operated by the same staff group.

In England in 1969, the military was still using the civilian telephone system for at least some communications, and the military did not have separate international cable connections: if the pentagon wanted to talk to a US airbase in Britain, they used the same phone system as everybody else.

So if patching through was not routine, it was at least trivial.

There are HF radio systems that allow for a phone patch. My memory is hazy on the specifics but as late as 2003 I was regularly using HF radio to call a landline from an aircraft. From my perspective I was using radio, from the other end it came through as a poor quality phone call.

IIRC, wasn’t the technology similar to the “carphones” of that era whereby it was basically a radio communication from the car/airplane to the operator who patched through the communications to the phone system. I believe it was half-duplex as well like a CB radio.

Possibly via MARS, which was in use at least as far back as the Korean War. I remember using it in the 70s to make calls home from Guam.

I remember calling an intercontinental long distance via ham radio back in 1961. My dad went to a ham operator’s place, he connected with a ham operator in the other continent who then connected to a phone. Whether this was as simple as holding a phone in front of speaker and microphone or some electronic connection - this was state of the art back then. He got someone to dial the phone call while connected to the radio connection.

I used a Motorola mobile phone with a rotary dial while patrolling pipelines in 70-71. Only way to connect with company dispatchers from 50 feet above ground in the middle of nowhere. They had been in use from 1965 at least.

When I was going to the Maritime Academy the training ship had a ham radio shack. It was normal to run phone patches. I could have called home from the middle of the ocean. The TSGB would connect with a ham radio operator in Santa Cruz and they could call home to the ranch in Watsonville and run the patch.

The articel does say: “Babe,” said Meyer across the radio he’d patched through from the cockpit to the phone network. “I’ll call you back in five. I got some trouble.”

There’s a recording of a conversation between Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One and John F. Kennedy’s mother in Massachusetts after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

True, AF One had the finest communication system of any airplane in the world, but the radio/phone interface was probably just regular military technology at a base somewhere.

Interesting story. Never heard about this before.