Captains sit in the
left seat. First Officers are in the right, hoping to one day move to the
Moving over was First Officer Joe Donnelly's dream. In fact, he was well on
his way to becoming a Mohawk Airlines captain.
Donnelly started flying with Robinson Airlines in 1951, when the small
company was based in Ithaca. Robinson became Mohawk Airlines and moved its
headquarters to the Oneida County Airport in Oriskany, a move at the
beginning of Mohawk's rapid growth.
Donnelly was growing with the company, living the life he had dreamed about
since he was a kid. But the dream was to be cut short.
The first hint of trouble came in the summer of 1953. Donnelly was in the
right seat of the Mohawk airliner which had just taken off from Boston's
Logan Airport. His vision got blurry, his limbs cramped.
Tests would later show he had polio. Donnelly was only 30 years old. He
would spend the rest of his life in bed, needing equipment to help him
But family, friends and Mohawk Airlines, especially its pilots, rallied
around him. They supported Donnelly in every way they could.
"His friends at Mohawk were so good to him," said Caryl Donnelly, his widow.
"They thought so much of him."
Caryl's maiden name was Satterly, one of nine kids. Satterlys have roots in
Boonville, so it was great for everybody when Joe Donnelly got a job
managing the Boonville Airport in 1948, giving flying lessons to build up
his flight hours to get an airline job.
Joe and Caryl Donnelly's daughter, Kathy, was 15 when her father died. "He
had an awesome presence," she said of her father.
Everybody held Joe Donnelly in high regard. As his daughter said, he was
He devised a pulley system so he could feed himself, and he wrote numerous
articles and worked on a book. And he worked on projects for Mohawk such as
doing a study on the causes of flight delays and cancellations. He did all
this from bed in between his physical therapy.
In an email, Kathy, now a Duffy, wrote, "I lived in Boonville for 13 years
with my family (my husband Chris, myself, my two daughters Karen (now
deceased) and Susan. I was co-owner of Apple Blossom Floral Shoppe with
Diana Trainor for 10 years before we moved to Boca Raton, Florida in 1999."
She also wrote, "There will always be a special place in our hearts for
Mohawk Airlines. When I was in second grade, the pilots all chipped in and
purchased a brand new piano for me. (Don't all second graders take piano
lessons?) My kids learned to play on that same piano, which I still have to
Joe Donnelly's health continued to decline. But he would get one more time
in the sky.
A new Mohawk BAC 1-11 was taken out of service for one day, September 11,
1968. Caryl recalls it was a beautiful day.
Mohawk Airlines had an ambulance come to Donnelly's house in Syracuse and
bring him to Hancock Airport. With him came portable, battery powered
equipment to help him breath. They got Donnelly on board the jet, along with
his two sisters, Caryl and their three kids, Rory, Christopher and Kathy.
Also on board were Mohawk executives, pilots and their wives.
"We had an airplane full," Caryl said.
It was the first time Donnelly had been on an airplane since getting sick, a
long time to be grounded for someone who loved flying so much.
The Mohawk jet flew east over Oneida Lake and then to Rome and Utica before
turning north to Boonville, so that Donnelly could see where he once lived
and the airport he once managed. They flew low and slow. People must have
wondered why an airliner was circling Boonville. (Continued on Page 10)
"Oh he loved it," Caryl said of the flight. "He was so happy that day."
Two months later on Nov. 21st, Joe Donnelly died. He was 45.
Three months after that, Mohawk named its newest BAC 1-11 jet, registration
number N1128J, the "Captain Joe Donnelly," a first for Mohawk. Until then
all Mohawk's jets were named after states or Canadian provinces served by
Yes, I said to his widow, but he was never a captain. He got close, but he
got sick before he got his captain's rating. Why name it the CAPTAIN Joe
"Mohawk made him an honorary captain," she said. "Wasn't that a nice thing
Indeed it was, I said, and asked her if she knew what happened to the
"Captain Joe Donnelly," registration number N1128J.
Caryl said she didn't know, but would like to. So would I.
Most BAC 1-11s went to "boneyards," cut up for scrap and parts, years ago.
But who knows. DC- 3s are much older and some of them are still flying.
I'll try to find out what happened to the Captain Joe Donnelly. It would be
wonderful if N1128J was still flying
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and