Tag Archive: the International Civil Aviation Organization


Col. C. J. Tippett at his ICAO desk in 1956. His window looks out over Limatambo Airport, in Lima, Peru.

Col. C. J. Tippett at his ICAO desk in 1956. His window looks out over Limatambo Airport, in Lima, Peru.

The International Civil Aviation Organization was formed in 1947 by the United Nations to standardize civil aviation worldwide, primarily for increased safety. In most books about aviation history, or the history of planes, there are few details about how ICAO achieved that mission.

Col. C. J. Tippett was the first Director of the South American Office of ICAO. He had already made great progress standardizing civil aviation in South America, primarily by increasing safety. As he performed his daily work, he knew that he was contributing to the history of aviation, and he kept things. He built an archive.

One of the many fascinating things about Tip’s document archive are the letters, memos, and reports that describe his daily civil aviation work. This letter, written on March 13, 1956, to his air force reserve commander, is one of those details.

(In a previous post, I included the final paragraph, deleted here, which talks about being at the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club during an exciting fishing day.)

The letter, along with some background information gleaned from other documents, gives us an inside look at the workings of ICAO in 1956.

“To Col. Samuel Galbreath,
Director, Operations Headquarters
Caribbean Air Command
Albrook AFB, Panama CZ 

Dear Sam,

I had expected to be up to see you before this but we’ve been overwhelmed by work. We’ve just completed drafting plans for the new communications system for Peru as well as a SAR unit (search and rescue) and ATC procedures (air traffic control). Everyone got the fright of their lives here a week or so ago with a couple of near air collisions between jets and the commercial carriers. Anyway, I’ve been working for CairC through the mission whether you were aware of it or not.

I’m wondering if you are planning to attend the Caribbean Regional Air Navigation meeting at Ciudad Trujillo commencing April 3rd and continuing for about three weeks. I plan to attend for only a few days and I thought perhaps you might be able to go along. It’s a real important meeting for CairC. I plan to come to Panama on an official ICAO mission (and some active duty I hope) arriving about the 7th of next month leaving for Ciudad Truijillo via Miami about the 12th. I can make my schedule very fluid so if you can go we could leave anytime. How’s about setting up a T-bird!  

Hoping to see you soon, best wishes,

CJ Tippett
3 13 1956 ”

The near air collisions that Tip refers to were the result of a new military technology, jet aircraft, crossing paths with established commercial traffic. Tip had already successfully standardized a language for international aviation. He was directly involved in getting South American countries to agree to use English in air traffic communications. He was now working on standardized altitudes for routes in and out of airports throughout his region. But military jets were often using the same airports as the commercial air liners, and their altitude needs were very different.

The speeds that jet aircraft could achieve and sustain threw a loop in air traffic patterns. Several commercial pilots had to unexpectedly change course to avoid jets that were flying any way the pilot chose.  To prevent a mid-air collision, Tip had to develop air traffic procedures not only for multiple civil governments and military installations, but now also for aircraft with hugely different capabilities.

ICAO headquarters had mandated that the worldwide offices focus on solving the safety issue posed by jet aircraft immediately. Tip complied by going to Albrook Air Force Base in the Canal Zone, Panama, and becoming certified in the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. It was his is first jet aircraft certification.

More details and stories of his flights in the T-bird are in the book, When No One Else Would Fly. Tip’s first person account, surrounded and supported by history and research will be available very soon. Sign up here to get the book release announcement – we never sell contact information and we don’t hammer our list with spam of our own.

 

Col. C. J. Tippett and the International Civil Aviation Organization

Col. C. J. Tippett typed up reams of reports on this letterhead from 1948 to 1960. The International Civil Aviation Organization’s logo was based on founding parent, the United Nations. It’s a map of the world circled by two olive branches, to represent global peace, with wings, to represent aviation, and initials intended to represent the languages of the first ICAO convention. After 1960, Cyrillic and Chinese letters were added, but Tip’s tenure was before that much world peace had been accomplished.

My grandfather, Col. C. J. Tippett, was the Director of the South American Office of the International Civil Aviation Organization from 1948 to 1960… but what is ICAO? 

One of the many historically significant things that happened after two atomic bombs ended the Pacific part of World War II was the formation of the United Nations. Two wars had involved enough nations to be named “world wars” and many people felt it was time for some kind of “world government.”  Or at least oversight.

One of the first concerns of the United Nations was regulating nuclear science, since it clearly had already been weaponized. Their next concern was aviation, since the atomic weapons had been dropped from an airplane. Military aviation was not on the UN table, every victorious post-war country made that very clear, but civil aviation was under discussion.

The ready availability of war surplus aircraft was making it possible for almost every country with an organized government to stock up and form commercial airline companies, which were starting to fly all over the world…
And into each other.

So on April 4, 1947, the United Nations formed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to “promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world.”

The organization was headquartered in Montreal, Canada, but all of the plans would be implemented through four regional offices. There would be an office in Paris, Bangkok, Cairo, and Lima. Each office would have a director, and this is where Colonel C. J. Tippett came in.

The Director of the South American office, in Lima, Peru would be responsible for civil aviation policy in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, British and French Guyana, and Surinam.

The United States was only a member nation of the UN, and not officially in a leadership role. But when it came to influencing South America, there was powerful concern in North America, and the US State Department knew exactly who they wanted in charge of the Lima office.

Tip had already been working extensively in Argentina and Brazil. He was well known, and well liked, by many highly-placed people in South American governments, and had ties to so many Washington offices that it was hard to figure out which one was in charge of him on any given assignment. Tip was the only American offered an ICAO directorship, and the rest is history… described in his own words, and in mine, in the book.

He met fascinating people and did amazing things – too many to tell here, but one of his most significant early accomplishments was establishing English as the language of air navigation and communication throughout his region, even before it was adopted as the worldwide official language of civil aviation.

Safety was Tip’s top priority throughout his aviation life, and in his experience, there was no time to reach for a dictionary for a translation of… “Clear the runway, I’m coming in hot!”

Copyright 2012 Corinne Tippett & The Westchester Press
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