Archive for Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pilot who flew with Pope John Paul II in 1979 still awed by ‘tremendous experience’

Nelson Krueger, Lawrence resident, was on the flight crew for Shepherd I, Pope John Paul II's aircraft for his first visit to the United States in 1979. The Pope is set to be beatified on May 1, the last step before he's able to become a saint.

April 23, 2011


1979 trip memorable for many

Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1979 was historic. Two Lawrence residents recall the moment.

Karen Pendleton, co-owner of Pendleton’s Country Market

Pendleton was working in Lincoln, Neb., when Pope John Paul II landed in Des Moines, Iowa. Her parents were making the drive up from Iola, and her sister was traveling from Manhattan. Pendleton couldn’t make the trip because she had no vacation time at her new job.

Pendleton’s boss let her work in his office for three days so she could watch the ceremonies on television.

Despite not being there to see the pope, Pendleton was inspired.

“The fact that he came to the heartland and being in the ag community, I think that meant so much to people in agriculture,” she said. “The Midwesterners really appreciated it.”

Joe Flannery, president of Weaver’s

Flannery’s brother, Bob, was an ordained Catholic priest when Pope John Paul II visited. Bob traveled to Chicago to see the pope in Grant Park.

Flannery, then 28, recalled the visit being dramatic because of the pope’s status as a world leader of peace.

“It just reaffirmed my faith in Catholicism and how much it’s meant in my life,” Flannery said. “He was so well-loved.”

Nelson Krueger was passing time in his hotel room in St. Louis that September in 1979. He was on a layover while working his job for Trans World Airlines, or TWA. Then the phone rang.

Little did Krueger know, the phone call would lead to what he calls “a treasured experienced and the privilege of my lifetime.”

Krueger, now 63, had been chosen to be on the flight crew for Shepherd I, the airplane that carried Pope John Paul II on his first trip to the United States.

Krueger was joining about 60 others who crewed this plane and two others for a six-day trip, during which the pope gave 67 speeches to more than 5 million people.

On May 1, John Paul II is set to be beatified, the last step before being canonized as a saint.

With the honor coming only six years after the pope’s death, it’s one of the shortest tracks to sainthood in recent memory. Krueger said the honor is deserved.

“If there ever is an appropriate term for somebody being a saint, it would be John Paul II,” he said.


Krueger, of Lawrence, was hired by TWA at age 21, the company’s youngest pilot at the time. He instructed pilots on the 727 and did some test flying.

He was 32 when he joined Sal Fallucco, a Roman Catholic and captain of the flight, and Clarence Powell as the third pilot and flight engineer on the crew.

He found the pope to be friendly, down-to-earth and intelligent.

“The six days we were together were so exhilarating,” he said. “It’s changed my life. I hope that I was somewhat sensitive before, but it gave me eyes that see. I’m far more aware of noticing a human need and remembering the needs of others than I ever was before this experience.”


Krueger’s first encounter with the pope was as unexpected as it was damp. Rain swamped Boston, and as the flight crew waited for the pope’s party to board the aircraft, a man entered the cockpit.

“I don’t know how, or if, I was expecting to meet the pope, but seeing him standing there, face-to-face, wet, in the cockpit, left me dumbfounded,” Krueger said.

The pope was dripping wet in his cape, but he gave Krueger a hug, remarking how young Krueger was.

Krueger could only respond, “You are so wet,” and offered his crew coat hanger for the pope’s cape so it could dry on the way to New York City.

The pope exhibited this relatability throughout the trip.

“When we arrived at each destination as he deplaned, he would stop and look into the cockpit, posing with downward extended arms with palms up looking quizzically, as if to say, ‘How do I look?’” Krueger said. “He made us feel a part of his journey.”

New York City

While at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the pope showed once again how he cared for all people. A young priest was tasked with carrying a heavy light to illuminate the pope’s way along a carpet. The pope left his path just to wipe the priest’s brow with a handkerchief, something no one else had done.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” Krueger said.

Later, on the plane out, the Secret Service agents along on the trip advised them of a bomb threat on the plane. Fallucco considered it a hoax, but the threat would hold up the trip at each stop.


The pope’s departure was delayed from the city while drug-sniffing dogs checked all the luggage, including the flight crew’s. Krueger had brought along his guitar because he’d heard the pope liked to play. During the break, the pope pulled out the 12-string guitar and started singing “Silent Night” in his native language, Polish.

“It was a holy moment. All was calm for just a moment,” Krueger said.

After the song, the pope noticed Krueger’s TWA sticker on the guitar.

“He said, ‘TWA means traveling with angels,’” Krueger recalled.

Des Moines, Iowa

The original travel plan deviated when the pope decided only weeks before his trip that he wanted to visit Living History Farms in Iowa. The state closed 50 miles of interstate to use for parking, and 400,000 people showed up for Mass. A stop that was supposed to take two hours ended up taking six.

“He was magnetic — far and away the most charismatic person that I have ever met,” Krueger said. “I thought he was going to try to say hello and touch every one of them, and he would have.”


After a night landing in Chicago, the Mass the next day in Grant Park was one of the largest gatherings in Chicago’s history.

“I’ve never seen anything even close,” Krueger said.

More than a million people filed into the park after John Paul II and his 350 bishops.

“When asked what was so special about this pope, the people waiting for just the thrill to catch a glimpse of him said, ‘He’s the people’s pope, a simple priest, he’s one of us,’” Krueger said.

Washington, D.C.

On the last leg of the trip, the pope made his longest visit to the cockpit, sitting on the jump seat signing family Bibles and blessing special items. He listened to the radio on the speaker and gave tokens of appreciation to the crew.

Once they arrived in Washington, the crew took pictures with the pope and then flew the planes back to Kansas City to change them back to regular passenger airliners.

It was back to business as usual, but the effect of the trip has never worn off Krueger.

“I’m certain that it’s taken 32 years for it to sink in,” Krueger said. “I am just now beginning to realize and appreciate what a tremendous experience that was.”

Google Map

Shepherd I's route

View Nelson Krueger's trip with Pope John Paul II and Shepherd I in a larger map

Nelson Krueger, Lawrence resident, was on the flight crew for Shepherd I, Pope John Paul II's aircraft for his first visit to the United States in 1979. The trip lasted six days.


flybynite 7 years, 1 month ago

How many times do we need to read about Nelson Krueger? For those of us who actually flew for TWA we are a proud group and Nelson Krueger was NOT a pilot for TWA! He was a flight engineer NEVER a pilot. He might be a private pilot BUT NEVER A TWA PILOT and certainly not for the Pope,we are sick of you carrying stories that he has once again inflated about himself. There is a very large difference between being a TWA PILOT and being a FLIGHT ENGINEER-I am a Catholic and lies should not be in the same article that mentions a very important Pope. This is not the first story that Nelson has alluded to being a TWA pilot, lets get the TRUTH just once from under Nelson's inflated ego-no wonder he went into politics!

mickey1454 7 years, 1 month ago

Whatever his "aeronautical title", his was a life, a non-Catholic life at that, that was changed by The Holy Father. I hope the same can be said of yours and mine. Happy Easter,,, Alleluia!

Scott Tichenor 7 years, 1 month ago

Jealousy backed up by the anonymity of the web. The bravest kind of soul, for sure.

Nelson is a world class guy, and certainly someone that would never stoop to the level of this pathetic kind of comment.

compmd 7 years, 1 month ago

Because anonymous accusations are silly, here are some facts:

DOI: 2/25/2008 Certificate: AIRLINE TRANSPORT PILOT Rating(s):

Seems to me that yes, he was a flight engineer. However he's also certified as an airline transport pilot, which means the story is plausible.

I don't know they guy, I just want to put some hard facts down here.

GUMnNUTS 7 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like flybynite woke up the jealous side of the bed.

blindrabbit 7 years, 1 month ago

Don't think he is a self promoter, get proof by visiting the waiting room, lounge and pilots day room at the Lawrence Airport. From the predominance of Nelson pictures there, the place could serve as a shrine to him!

Joe Blackford II 7 years, 1 month ago

Burt used to tell Loni about flying with Sally, up until their divorce.

Jill Lee 7 years, 1 month ago

It is a pretty interesting story, and pilot or not, I'm thinking it was pretty great to be a part of the crew and tasked with the job. I'm betting all of us blogging don't have that experience anywhere on our resume, regardless of role. Wow, flybynite, you do apparently and blindrabbit, you are. Such gracious comments on Easter................Hope you got that out of your way.........move along.

flybynite 7 years ago

Or maybe we know the actual pilots that never have sought attention because it was such a personal spiritual experience and not something to be traded on. They were so moved by this event that they became stewarts of their faith after serving on these fllights. Maybe you should check the facts of the others on board and what they have done with their lives to help those in their communities and the world because of this experince, you might be in awe. Jealousy has nothing to do with this-this is not the first time Krueger has been mentioned in LJW as "pilot of" and yes Easter is a wonderful day for truths and admiration for those who did pilot and whose lives were changed enough to do good for their fellow man.Lets not throw religious stones today of all days, I too converted to Catholisism after the Pontiffs visit, thanks and happy Easter to you

Keith 7 years ago

"I too converted to Catholisism after the Pontiffs visit, thanks and happy Easter to you"

See if they offer some continuing ed courses, maybe a refresher on envy.

hawkchamps5 7 years ago

I know Nelson personally and he is one of the greatest and nicest people i know. Hes amazing private pilot and TWA pilot. Most importantly hes an amazing and inspirational instructor. Love this article!

Roger Dreiling 7 years ago

A great story about a great man from a great pilot. Flybynite needs to play the part of a Catholic and not just profess to be one. Roger J. Dreiling MD

GovJunkie 7 years ago

Nelson, thanks for sharing your inspiring history flying Pope John Paul II around. I always enjoy hearing about it and with the Pope being beatified, it is a wonderful revisitation of an exciting time in our country for Catholics and non-Catholics alke.


Bruce Liddel 7 years ago

Whether Krueger actually flew SR-71 blackbirds or not, he is certainly a master at self promotion, and at making snap judgments about people, and at making lifelong enemies by vilifying anyone who dares to disagree with him.

I just have to wonder about someone who has a "Jet fuel Only" placard ring on his personal auto fuel tank, when I've personally seen him put regular gasahol in it.

He cannot possibly be as perfect as he thinks he is. Too bad more of the Pope didn't rub off on Krueger's demeanor.

softglow 7 years ago

AirlineRecords says…

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, III, the “Hero of the Hudson” and author of “Highest Duty” joined Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) as a Flight Engineer on the Boeing 727 equipment where he served five years before moving up to co-pilot and Captain. He served on many accident investigation teams and earned a Master’s degree in industrial psychology from Purdue and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Northern Colorado. He is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley – Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. He and his wife Lorrie have two adopted daughters. He will serve as the “Grand Marshal” of the 2010 Rose Parade. November 20, 2009 at 7:11 a.m.

AirlineRecords says…

TWA Pilot Class 68-20 1307 Baltimore K.C., Mo. Nelson Lytle Krueger 020029 Flight Training Records: hired 9-13-68. First logged flight training @ age 13 - 2-16-63; solo @ 16; Private Pilot @ 17; Commercial Pilot @ 18; CFI@ 19; CFII @ 20; F/E Boeing 727 @ 21. Initial FAA designation as Check Airman on Boeing-727 equipment by Air Carrier District Office #33 Principal Operations Inspector on 10-16-76 having previously served as Captain for Central Air during Arab Oil Embargo. Pilot qualified F/E on “Shepherd One” for Pope John Paul II, 10-79. FAA designated International Check Airman on Lockheed L-1011 by Flight Standards District Office #63 on 2-24-88 and designated Examiner CE-63-49 on Lockheed L-1011 equipment on 9-27-88. FAA International Check Airman on Boeing 747 equipment 9-6-89. Flight Test Engineer Rolls Royce RB-211 and Pratt & Whitney JT-9D. Boeing 747 volunteer pilot flying soldiers into declared war zone in Desert Storm. USAF Award ceremony 4-15-93 at JFK International Airport. Current flight instructor holding Airline Transport Pilot Certificate; Certified Flight Instructor – Airplanes and Instruments (exp. 11-30-2011) Ground Instructor - Advanced and Instrument; Flight Engineer Turbo-Jet Powered. Current Cessna designated factory flight instructor CFIA – Hetrick Air Services – Lawrence, KS – LWC.

Education B.S.- Business Administration: Fort Hays State University. M.S.- Business Administration and Physics Fort Hays State Phi Kappa Phi - National Scholastic Honor Society Sigma Pi Sigma - National Physics Honor Society American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Distinguished Alumni – Fort Hays State University November 20, 2009 at 7:22 a.m.

Dateable_Shelter_Dude (anonymous) says…

But can he do the Hokey Pokey? Cuz thats what its all about. November 20, 2009 at 11:27 a.m.

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