Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Excursion Fares and Flights

Written By Lester Anderson

My first experience with airplanes and airports was when my grandmother flew from Minneapolis to Newark in July of 1961 on a Northwest DC-7C. My brother, father, and I met her at the airport, and I fell in love with airplanes and flying. In those days EWR had a great observation deck, and you could watch the flight activity at the airport (the main runways were right in front of you) and you were above and very close to the airplanes at the gates. Her return was on a United Viscount to Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti, a Detroit suburb, to visit my father’s uncle. The flight was scheduled about 11 PM but you could still get a good view the boarding and take off from the observation deck.

First Flight

My first set of flights was on May 5, 1962. With two friends (my frequent flying companions and high school friends, both named Jim) we flew from LGA to PHL on a Northeast DC-6B. It was a clear day and LaGuardia was under a major construction program (isn’t it always), but the flight down to Philadelphia was great. We flew at 5,000 feet (I know because I asked the Stewardess as they were called then). The plane was mostly empty so we could move around. My first seat was a window on the left near the engines. Later we moved to the “lounge”, actually 8 revenue seats in front of the engines where we could look back and see the propellers head-on. I remember looking down and seeing the cars and houses, and thinking they looked just like the miniature ones from my model train set.

We landed in Philadelphia (I don’t recall a lot about that airport, but it did have an observation deck where we could easily photograph both airplanes we flew on that day) and we waited a few hours to return, this time to EWR.  It was a shift in gears, because we were returning on a United Caravelle, a very different flight experience.  I remember the take-off was a very steep climb—either because my only other point of reference was a -6B, or because we were in a light, almost empty aircraft.  Due to clear air turbulence, it was a roller coaster ride, but I loved it.

Airplane-Cab-Airplane

Another early flight experience was exciting but interrupted. We booked a TWA L-749 Constellation from Newark to Harrisburg; with one stop in Allentown (we liked the idea of an en-route stop). The flight was early and there was a breakfast meal served, and I remember that it came with a small box of 4 cigarettes on the tray. When we landed at Allentown, the Trans World agent told us that because of a mechanical problem, the aircraft would over-fly Harrisburg. They would get us there, but in a cab. The cab ride (I think there were enough passengers for two cabs) took a couple of hours, but we got there in time for our next flight.

That return flight was a United Viscount. It was a wonderful airplane, quiet, fast to take off, very comfortable. Again a light load allowed us to move around the cabin. I remember looking at the engines which were constant speed, and there was a mark on the prop and the hub indicating the pitch of the propeller. We could watch the propeller pitch change so we could get the thrust for takeoff power and latter resume with a pitch to close to neutral for cruise.

Although not exactly the itinerary we planned, we enjoyed the day and the flights. And considering we were paying less than $10 a person for the flight, I am sure TWA lost money when they had to pay for the cab fare.

Weekends Unlimited

Back when the CAB regulated airlines and their fares, there were often excursion fares (most often on weekends) that were very inexpensive. In the days of my youth (when working part time for $1.25 an hour), that was essential to my ability to fly. One of the best excursion fares was Mohawk Airlines Weekends Unlimited. Fly all you want on a Saturday and Sunday for $25.00. And we did.

All three of us started out early from Newark then flew from Newark to Ithaca, then Rochester, then Elmira, then Detroit. All on Fairchild FH-227 prop jets. And some flights having one or more intermediate stops.

Plan was that we would have dinner at the airport in Detroit, then my two companions were going to stay the night in Detroit and I would fly back to Newark. We would all meet in Albany the next day to fly back to Newark on a BAC-111.

As could be expected there were flight delays. We were clocked-in almost 2 ½ hours late arriving at Detroit, which cut out any idea of a dinner at the airport. I found I was not at risk for missing my return to Newark flight since the inbound aircraft on which I was flying did the turnaround for the Newark flight. We got off the plane, I said “see you tomorrow” to my traveling companions and I re-boarded the aircraft to return to Newark.

The kind stewardess (whose name I should know but don’t) saw I was returning and she told me there was no food on the plane, but she had a sandwich (which she said was bread and butter) which she would gladly split with me. I thanked her profusely, but passed on it. I am sure I had a candy bar or two in my pocket, and could survive the 3 stop flight back to Newark.

When I arrived, my parents greeted me with a strange look in their eyes and asked where my friends were. I said, calmly, in a hotel in Detroit. This was the weekend of July 22-23, 1967. My parents told me that Detroit was in flames and that riots had broken out “all over town”.

Since I was not staying I did not know which hotel Jim and Jim were in so we could not call to see if they were OK. I could only wait for Sunday.

I don’t know if it was being tired from a very long Saturday or a little nervousness wondering about the fate of Jim and Jim, but I did not take the first set of flights booked for that morning a round trip to Binghamton. (This was in the days when missing a flight segment did not automatically cancel the balance of your itinerary. And I still have those two Mohawk flight coupons – see image)

Sunday, I flew directly to Albany where I did meet up with my traveling companions.  They had stayed in a hotel at the airport, and watched the riots on TV most of the night.  We were all happy to fly home to Newark on that BAC-111.

Over the years I have had my share of travel mishaps, many flight delays and rerouting, but because these happened early in my flying “passenger career” (as well as my being a teenager) they are memorable.

Lester Anderson

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The Soaring Sixties: Airline Marketing in Changing Times

Written by Shea Oakley

The tumultuous decade of the 1960’s is best remembered as a time of great change in the social fabric of the United States. Among the institutions radically altered by this troubled yet dynamic era was “Corporate America,” of which the airlines were no exception. As with other industries, air carriers emerged at the end of this period quite unlike their former selves a mere decade before. There is, perhaps, no better way to track these changes than by examining the corporate image-making and print advertising that embodied the marketing of the domestic airlines in “the Soaring Sixties.”

At the opening of the decade, the “Jet Age” was still dawning. As each airline introduced more of the swift, new, pure-jets, impressive color ads would invariably accompany them, extolling the airplane’s virtues. What is notable about the marketing of this time is that the airlines were not just trying to sell speed or smoothness of flight, but confidence in the minds of their customers. In today’s era of wide-bodies and regional jets, it is easy to forget that in 1960 the jetliner was a completely new and somewhat frightening machine for passengers accustomed to large propellers spinning outside their windows and pulling them through the air. However such fears rarely lasted beyond a person’s first flight in these new giants. In 1958 Pan American had become the first American airline to put a jetliner, the Boeing 707-121, into service. Glowing descriptions of these “Jet Clippers” soon inspired international travelers to flock from the company’s piston-equipped competitors. Contemporary Pan Am ads showed the aircraft soaring high above the clouds and oceans, purposefully angled in such a way as to accentuate the sharply swept-back wings and sleek jet-engine pods. This sort of graphic profile soon became the norm in several other airlines’ introductory jetliner advertisements.

Pan Am’s principal American competitor, Trans World Airlines (TWA) had to wait over a year before it could acquire its own jets. In the meantime TWA was able to lease a single 707 to start transcontinental service in earnest. In 1961, when TWA began receiving fan-jet powered 707-131B’s and 331B’s, it introduced a new class name for them: “StarStream.” The Boeings were soon complemented by slightly faster, but smaller Convair 880’s for medium-range services. Both aircraft wore their StarStream titles just aft of the characteristic TWA red arrow window stripe. The word “StarStream” seemed to connote all the cool elegance of the Jet Age. The slogan “Route of the Starstream Fleet” was created and soon found its way into much of TWA’s advertising in the early to mid-Sixties.

Throughout most of the decade American Airlines billed itself as “America’s Leading Airline.” A cornerstone of this claim were their famous “Astrojets,” Boeing 707-123B’s, 720B’s and Convair 990’s that boasted a new class of jet engine, the turbo-fan, introduced in 1961. These power plants were about 30% more powerful than the earlier, straight turbo-jets which they often replaced. Turbo-fans allowed for shorter take-off and landings as well as slightly faster cruising speeds. American was the first U.S. carrier to re-engine its entire fleet with these fans and with them came the Astrojet moniker. Many other airlines promoted new names for similarly-equipped aircraft as they came on-line, but none of them garnered the same public recognition as the Astrojet. For much of the Sixties almost every American Airlines ad mentioned the Astrojet somewhere in its copy along with the slogan “America’s leading Airline.”

Eastern Air Lines was somewhat of a latecomer in regards to jets. Eastern’s Douglas DC-8-21’s were delivered well after most other carriers had introduced their own jetliners and its Boeing 720’s came even later. However, once EAL had the airplanes they were lavishly promoted, especially in the case of the DC-8. Eastern introduced the both the DC-8’s and 720’s as “Golden Falcon Jets.” The “DC-8B Golden Falcon Service” was among the most luxurious of the era and was marked by an in-flight lounge and interior designed by Harley Earl of Cadillac fame. Multi-color spreads described its pleasures in major national magazines like Life and Look. Eastern’s most memorable early-Sixties slogan was introduced somewhat later: “The Nation’s Most Progressive Airline.”

Tiny but aggressive National was the first domestic carrier to begin pure jet service, in December 1958, with leased Pan Am 707’s. By 1960 “The Airline of the Stars” had its own DC-8’s. The aircraft was promoted as “The Brightest Star on the Airline of the Stars.” This slogan was dropped in late 1962 and replaced first with “National goes where the nation grows” and a few years later by “Coast to Coast to Coast.”

Dallas-based Braniff International Airways purchased a special variant of the 707, the –227, with higher performance turbo-jet engines. Named “El Dorado Super Jet’s,” these were among the world’s fastest airliners throughout the decade. Their chief competitors on Texas routes were Delta’s Convair 880’s and, later, American’s Convair 990’s. None of these three aircraft were particularly profitable to operate, however, due to their high specific fuel consumption. A more important aspect of Braniff’s advertising during the early 1960’s was its stress on new jet service for South American routes as well as on-time performance. Additionally the airline took delivery of BAC One-Eleven’s for short to medium range services. They were known as “Fastback Jets,” referring to the swift football players. The One-Eleven’s were much more efficient on these types of segments than larger airplanes like the Boeing 720 and the Convair’s.

No discussion of how airlines introduced their jets would be complete without mention of United Air Lines. UAL took the already established “Mainliner” aircraft designation and added “DC-8 Jet” to make “DC-8 Jet Mainliner.” The red, white and blue Douglas’s were advertised with much talk of their “vibrationless flight,” always a sore point with the old prop-liners.

The smaller local-service carriers took special pride in their jet equipment when they received them a few years after the majors. A good example was Mohawk Airline’s “Upstart!” ads featuring the new BAC One-Eleven climbing skyward. Ozark Airlines talked often of “Jet-Power” in marketing its Douglas DC-9-14’s during the mid-sixties under the slogan “Go-Getters Go Ozark”. The regionals of the time might have been late in receiving pure-jets, but they made the most of what they had once they got it.

As the initial fascination associated with jets began to wear off, the airlines started to look for other ways to get their share of the era’s soaring traffic. Starting in the middle of the decade advertising began to promote new concepts in service including novel seating configurations and in-flight entertainment systems that were coming on line with the “trunk” carriers. While the colors and artwork were similar to that of the early-sixties, the emphasis began to change.

Normally conservative United led the way with two different service experiments in as many years. The first came in 1963 when the airline introduced single-class 5-abreast “Red Carpet Service” on transcontinental routes in DC-8s built for 6-abreast seating in coach and 4-abreast in first class. This egalitarian approach was a flop, however, and was soon replaced in 1965 by a 3-class layout consisting of 4, 5 and 6 across seating. This service, also called “Red Carpet,” failed as well. Both services had been hawked by glossy red, white and blue ads in national magazines, but these did not seem to help them catch on.

A much more successful enterprise was in-flight entertainment or, more simply stated, movies. TWA led the industry in 1961 making first-run films part of its new “Royal Ambassador” coast-to-coast service. United introduced “Jetarama Theater” in 1964. Around the same time American launched its own unique system called “Astrovision” which put movies on television screens dispersed throughout the cabin. Later American renamed an updated system “Astrocolor” which continued to be used into the Seventies.

As the U.S. carriers entered the middle of the decade there seemed to be a need for a new visual image. With the ongoing phase-out of the last propeller-driven equipment, the airlines began to think about adopting a new look and feel more suited to the awe-inspiring “jumbo-jets” and supersonic transports (SST’s) which were projected to begin entering service around the end of the decade. Airline historian R.E.G Davies put it this way in his Airlines of the United States Since 1914:

“In the 1960’s most of the major companies went through the (new image) process once again, with special emphasis on extravagant paint schemes to identify their new jet fleets, as a way of obliterating memories of the prosaic piston-engine past.”

While the liveries of aircraft were the most obvious indicator of this image makeover, they were not the only things to change. Advertising became much bolder, and in some cases almost esoteric. The colors were brighter, the prose more purple, and the message perhaps more enticing than ever before or since. A large part of this new approach to public image was related to what was going on in America at that point in our history. The late-sixties were, after all, an almost unreal time of outrageous philosophies, fashions, music and lifestyles. The “high”-flying airlines simply began to reflect the times, along with many other consumer-oriented American businesses.

As mentioned, the first sign of change the airlines underwent concerned aircraft exterior color schemes. Most domestic carriers introduced streamlined and/or brightly hued new looks. If a company was seen as having a stodgy or outmoded image, such highly visible schemes could transform it into a perceived trendsetter almost overnight. Along with the revised look there was often a new class-name for jetliners. The traveler of the late-sixties could ride in Funjets, Arrowjets, Whisperjets, Pamperjets, Fiestajets, and Vistajets. Perhaps never before had flying seemed like so much fun.

Braniff was one of the first airlines to introduce a radically revised paint job, one that was arguably the most radical of all. In 1965 noted designer Alexander Girard created innovative aircraft exteriors and interiors. The fuselages of the entire fleet were repainted in several solid pastel hues with names like “Periwinkle blue” and “Ochre” while the wings, tail and engines were finished in solid white. Cabins received similar color treatments and the stewardesses who graced them wore flamboyant uniforms by Emilio Pucci. Braniff’s new slogan “The End of the Plain Plane” aptly described the changes that were about to take place throughout much of the industry.

Once almost sedate Eastern Air Lines now employed the avant garde New York design firm of Lippincott and Margulies to redesign its corporate image. The result was the “New Mark” scheme, one of the more attractive liveries of the period. Eastern aircraft received two-tone stripes in “Ionosphere” and “Caribbean” blue that swept up the tail to form a sort of “hockey stick.” The engine nacelles on new Boeing 727’s and Douglas DC-9’s were also painted in these colors with the top of the fuselage a bright white. The Eastern falcon logo was revamped with a simple, streamlined design. The above-mentioned rear-engined equipment was given the class-name, “Whisperjet” to promote their relatively low interior noise level. Towards the end of 1969 the airline introduced one of the most memorable U.S. ad campaigns of all time, “The Wings of Man,” conceived by agency Young and Rubicam. This would be EAL’s slogan for nearly 10 years. The ads focused on the more ethereal aspect of flight as evidenced in this ad copy from December of 1969:

“Come.
We will be your wings. We will set you free.
Free beyond the heights of man. Free
To chase the sun.
Hug a cloud.
And, though you were born on earth.
To live on earth. You will be
At home, here in the sky.
The comfort and ease you own on
Earth, you will have up here.
And, Eastern will make it so.
It shall be a most natural
Thing. For you. To fly.
Eastern. The Wings of Man.”

Before the perennially struggling Northeast Airlines was merged into Delta in 1972, it adopted one of the more striking new themes of the late-sixties. Its “Yellowbirds” jet fleet was painted in a vibrant yellow and white. A typical advertisement from 1967 encouraged passengers to “Catch a Yellowbird and Let Luxury Happen to You,” referring to such NEA on board amenities as steak broiled to order and real woolen blankets. Unfortunately Northeast had a dismal earnings record for most of its history which the best visual image in the world would not change.

In late 1967 National Airlines introduced a look that, along with shrewd marketing tactics, kept it competitive in the Northeast-Florida market for a long time. NAL’s aircraft were repainted in orange and yellow, topped off by a stylized sun-god logo called the “Sun King.” Stewardesses received solid orange, lemon and lime-colored uniforms and National’s transformation into “Florida’s Own Airline” was complete. National was able to build this “Instant Florida” image largely just by changing the way it visually presented itself to the flying public. In many ways it was a textbook case of what was happening with domestic carriers during the closing years of the Sixties.

In the West, Continental Airlines introduced Red, Orange, and Gold “competition stripes” and a new logo by Saul Bass. Its “Proud Bird with the Golden Tail” advertisements were among the best-recognized of the era. Employee pride was the main selling point since the company was generally recognized as having higher than average service. Continental was one of the most profitable carriers of the period, largely because of aggressive leadership under its long-time President Robert F. Six.

While Trans World Airlines did not introduce a new look in the late-sixties, it did introduce a great, if short-lived, slogan, “Up, Up, and Away.” This was taken from the title of a popular tune by the group, “The Fifth Dimension.” The slogan was a Wells, Rich and Green suggestion (the ad agency that created “The End of the Plain Plane” campaign for Braniff.) It was during this time that TWA began its “Foreign Accent” flights featuring flight attendants dressed in outfits representing various European countries. TWA was always known as one of the more glamorous airlines in the industry, and this well-deserved reputation continued throughout the decade.

One of the last carriers to affect a change was American Airlines. Its bare metal with Orange lightning-bolt scheme finally gave way in late 1968 to broad, patriotic red, white and blue stripes and a stylized “AA” service mark. The designer was Henry Dreyfuss. Cabin crews were dressed in new “Americana” knit uniforms and the old slogan “America’s Leading Airline” became “Fly the American Way.”

A few companies refused to join the trend and kept their fleets’ liveries as well as their ads more conventional throughout the decade. Pan Am, for instance, retained its 1957 era blue globe logo and “World’s Most Experienced Airline” slogan from 1960 to 1969 when “Pan American” titles were shortened to “Pan Am” on aircraft fuselages, and the ad tagline was finally changed to “Pan Am Makes the Going Great.” Southern-based Delta Air Lines’ ads were usually of the homespun, conservative variety and the famous “Widget” insignia first introduced in the late 1950’s continued for the duration. Both before and at the beginning of “The Friendly Skies” era, United Air Lines image was positively conventional, though the carrier rarely failed to make a profit. The companies’ overwhelming size helped, with over 350 jets in its fleet. But, overall, these cautious approaches were the exception to the rule.

So the watchwords for this dynamic decade were change, innovation, service and image. The airlines mirrored the nation in some of these respects. Yet, once the decade was over, both seemed to settle down into uncomfortable middle age. The Sixties were the last years that America seemed young, and so it was with the airlines of America. Deregulation, oil-crises, fare-wars and terrorism were all, as yet; unknown and the sky literally seemed to be the limit. The vibrancy of the time was palpable and shone through the airline’s marketing.

It was an era never to be repeated.

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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Memories of Idlewild and Kennedy Airport visits

Written by Lester Anderson

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

When I was in high school I had the airplane/airport bug. Fortunately, two friends also had it, so I was not alone in my quest to see airplanes during the early 1960s.

Idlewild airport was the destination of many weekend trips to the airport. We started the trip (from NJ) on the bus into the Port Authority bus terminal. We then took the 15 cent subway ride, the Independent line (IND) E 8th Avenue subway, from 42nd street to the Kew Gardens stop in Queens. Although local in Manhattan, it was known as the 8th Avenue Express once it got into Brooklyn and Queens.

At Kew Gardens we went up to street level and took the Q10 bus (subway token or 15 cents coin) which about 25 minutes later dropped us at our destination, Idlewild Airport.

Idlewild was heaven for airplane fans. You could easily walk between the terminals. The Port Authority had buses (Mercedes buses-the only Mercedes busses I had ever seen) between terminals for a 25 cent fare. Almost all of the time we walked and “smelled the occasional whiff of kerosene” from airside when the wind was in the right direction.

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

The Pan Am Worldport was a major attraction. It had the first “air door” I had ever seen or walked thru. It had a great view of the airplanes that were parked at the terminal for boarding. As high school students we often used our “juvenile status” to ask for things—and I remember during one Pan Am Terminal visit a gate agent allowed us to go aboard a 707 before the passengers went on, so we could see what it was like inside. We did have to put blue cloth protectors on our shoes so we would not get the rug of the plane dirty.

The IAB (International Arrivals Building) was a necessary stop since it had the best and biggest observation deck (for 10 cents). You could look at the airplanes below, and got to see things you would not see at Newark or LaGuardia like VC-10’s and Bristol Britannia’s as well as familiar airliners (DC-7Cs DC-6Bs and Constellations) from foreign exotic carriers. We also saw a lot of international 707’s and DC-8’s but our fascination was mostly with airplanes with propellers at that time. You also looked up and saw the building-wide sign “NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT”. You also had a great view of airplanes taking off and I remember a number of jets with heavy black smoke that I later found out might have been water injection take-offs.

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

They were building terminals right and left at that time, but I fondly remember the field in front of the IAB with the infrastructure power plant with pipes and valves (probably for HVAC – my father’s occupation) that instead of being hidden in a nondescript brick building, were there in a building with glass window walls, and all of the pipes and valves painted in exciting different colors. In the same oval grassy field there were also three religious chapels. As teens who had just taken their first flights, we probably could not understand anyone’s fear of flying, but looking back, they were probably a great comfort to travelers who, in the back of their mind, began their worries with “If God had meant man to fly ….”

Probably the most moving visit to Idlewild was Christmas Eve in 1963. John Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963 which was an event that profoundly affected everyone I knew. Moving faster than government and agencies normally do, the decision was made to rename New York International Airport to John F Kennedy International airport.

The dedication ceremony was on Christmas Eve in 1963. I don’t know if my parents would have allowed me to take the day off from school, but since school was on vacation, I took the bus and subway and bus to the airport to see the dedication. It was in the International Arrivals building and I was on an upper level, but could see the entire ceremony. Ted Kennedy spoke briefly (as probably others who I don’t remember), then they drew the curtain and you saw the letters JFK. They said they did not have enough time to get the entire building-wide sign done for that day, but these were the letters everyone wanted to see.

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

A few years later when I was student teaching, I saw a newly published American History book, and reading it, I saw printed in the book pictures from that ceremony that I attended. I must admit I felt I was too young to be a witness to an event published in a history book.

The other memory of Idlewild I can remember and express was that while the National Airlines terminal was being built, National used a temporary terminal. And that terminal had a food vendor that my friends and I thought had the best hamburgers at IDL.

About the Author – Lester Anderson

I am not a typical author for an airplane/airline publication. I have never piloted a plane (once, actually, for about 5 minutes in France—but that is a story for another day). I have never worked for an airline. I have never worked at an airport.

However since the early 1960’s I was a frequent visitor to airports, mostly in the NY area but if my family ever visited relatives or friends in a far city, I would beg them to visit that airport.

Some pleasure travel but mostly business travel allowed me the honor to achieve Million Mile status on United Airlines (by flying on United as well as its two predecessor carriers, Continental and Eastern).

Now retired, I fly much less, but as the shirt my daughter gave me last Christmas proudly says, every time I hear an airplane overhead, I stop and look at it. And with today’s iPhone technology, I can identify it as to carrier, origin and destination, which I do and often bore those around me telling them that wealth of knowledge.

I am a volunteer at the Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey. One of my greatest joys is giving tours of the last Martin 202 passenger plane, and have children (and often their parents younger than me) sitting in the plane, and my explaining how different things were at the time the 202 was flying with passengers.

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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From Props To Jets

Written by Shea Oakley

The post-war period in commercial aviation saw the advent of the fully developed piston-powered airliner. This included short to medium range twin-engine transports like the Convair 240/340/440 and the Martin 202 and 404, all designed to fill the pre-war DC-3’s large shoes. Handling the longer haul services were the Douglas Commercial series of four-engined airliners; the DC-4, 6 and 7, Lockheed’s classically beautiful triple tail Constellation and Boeing’s Luxurious B-377 Stratocruiser. These longer-ranged pressurized aircraft made the first U.S. transcontinental, and eventually transatlantic, nonstop flights possible. Among the many innovations these planes introduced onto the civil scene were tricycle landing gears, airborne radar and coach class seating. They were also considerably faster than any transports developed prior to World War Two.

By the middle of the Fifties piston-engine design had reached its technical zenith. Late model DC-7’s and L-1049 Constellations equipped with turbo-compound power-recovery systems were capable of maximum speeds in the 350 to 375 mile per hour range but this was effectively the practical limit for aircraft equipped with reciprocating engines. The power levels required from these increasingly complex motors to attain such speeds led to sometimes-spotty reliability. In-flight engine failures became an increasingly common problem. Moreover an inherent problem with any “propliner” of this era was the noise and vibration associated with 18 to 28 pistons firing in sequence. To achieve the next level in speed and comfort a whole new kind of power was necessary. The answer would come in the form of the turbine.

The second stage of the pure jet age was heralded by fanjets including the American Airlines Convair 990 “Astrojets”, in scheduled service starting in 1962.

While the first jet planes were introduced during the late thirties and early forties in Britain, Germany and America they were initially all small single-engined military machines. It was not until May 1952 that the first pure jet airliner entered service with the British flag carrier, B.O.A.C. This was the DeHavilland Comet 1, a beautiful but ill-fated design that developed fuselage metal fatigue problems after only a year in service. This flaw led to two catastrophic in-flight airframe failures and the grounding of the aircraft, but not before giving the public an early taste of the pleasures of jet flight.

Supreme on the North Atlantic route, but only for a year. BOAC introduced the Bristol Britannia propjet on the LHR-IDL route in 1957. Pure jets made it obsolete in 1958.

Four years later in 1956 the state carrier of the Soviet Union, Aeroflot, introduced the twinjet Tupelev 104 medium range transport on the Moscow-Irkutsk route. It’s 477 mile per hour cruising speed cut eight hours from the previous schedule. Service to cities in Western Europe followed sometime later. A not so thinly disguised commercial version of a Russian bomber (made obvious by the “bombardier glass” surrounding the nose), the TU-104 was the second jetliner to fly in regularly scheduled service and a major propaganda tool for the U.S.S.R. at the time.

After a long and expensive re-design DeHavilland and B.O.A.C. inaugurated the world’s first transatlantic jet service on October 4, 1958 with the Comet 4. Only a few weeks later, on October 26, Pan American World Airways followed with the first of the American jetliners, the Boeing 707-121, on the New York Idlewild-Paris Le Bourget route. In 1959 and 1960 the longer ranged 707-320 “Intercontinental” and the first of the Douglas DC-8s began nonstop service between the United States and Europe From this point forward the fate of the piston-engined propeller plane was effectively sealed.

A transitional aircraft in the early days of jet power the turboprop Lockheed Electra remained in service with launch customer Eastern until 1977.

The new jets required radical changes in all aspects of airline and airport operations as well as ATC procedures and sometimes there was a lag in the learning curve. For instance some captains who were still “thinking prop” while “flying jet” were involved in several early crashes. At first, pilots tried to make approaches and landings like props, often from circling traffic pattern maneuvers. The problem with this was that pure-jets do not spool up as quickly as a piston engines do and this led to accidents in which rate of sink could not be corrected in time. Also, the higher speeds called for a greater ability to “stay ahead of the plane”. Better standardization of training and procedures, coupled with a new emphasis on stabilized straight-in approaches, became the new norm.

Lockheed’s zenith in piston transports was reached in the form of the 1649A Starliner. Lufthansa is currently restoring one to flying condition.

Air Traffic Control went from mostly non-radar to mostly radar, because the jets were faster in nearly all flight regimes and pilots therefore had less time to see-and-avoid other aircraft. On the ground virtually all purely civilian airports had to extend their runways. Most of the early four-engine jetliners used on domestic services required 7000 feet and intercontinental flights required at least 10,000. On hot and humid days that grew to 10,000-12,000 feet. Screaming water-injected turbo-jets made airport noise a major issue, and some airport communities enacted tough restrictions. The courts later overturned some of these rules, but others were upheld. Meanwhile, at the terminal ramp, evolutionary change from “power-in, stair unload, power-out” to “power-in, jet-bridge unload, pushback-out” occurred. In the area of baggage loading the larger jets brought in a change from bulk-baggage to containerization.

Pacesetter of the American Jet Age, the Pan Am Boeing 707-121 in delivery colors.

Cabin service was also greatly altered now that stewardesses had to deal with halved flight times. This was especially true on the shorter hops that even the early jets sometimes flew. Block to block times of 15 minutes on flights of 150-200 miles meant that they had to hustle just to get a drink service in. Both cockpit and cabin-crews had to contend with the increases symptoms of “jet-lag” that resulted from flying across multiple time zones at 600 miles per hour.

Concurrent with the advent of the pure-jet engine was the so-called “prop-jet” or turboprop power plant. This hybrid of the turbine and the propeller was viewed at the time as the perfect engine for short to medium ranged aircraft; the reason being that the early four-engined pure jets could not operate efficiently at the lower speeds and altitudes routes of such distance entailed. The first commercial airframe to receive this form of power was the ground-breaking Vickers Viscount of Great Britain which entered service in 1950 with British European Airways (B.E.A.) In the United States Lockheed followed almost a decade later, in early 1959, introducing the L-188 Electra with first services by co-launch-customers Eastern and American. During this period an attempt was also made by the British to produce a successful long-range turboprop in the form of the Bristol Britannia, which began transatlantic nonstop service with B.O.A.C. and El Al Israel Airlines in December of 1957. Unfortunately for Bristol and both carriers the Britannia was the fastest airliner to Europe for less than a year before the new Comet 4 and Boeing 707 jets made it obsolete virtually overnight.

Within a year of the October 1958 inauguration of jet service Pan Am added the stretched 707-321 to their fleet.

From the late 1950’s onwards the world’s airlines began retiring their fleets of propliners. They might have remained in service longer on the shorter, less glamorous routes but for the introduction of yet another progression in engine technology, the turbofan. Introduced by American Airlines on their 707 “Astrojets” in 1961 this quieter and more powerful development of the pure jet made it possible for the U.S. airframe manufactures to design and build shorter haul aircraft like the Boeing 727 and 737 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9, some advanced versions of which remain in service today.

The ultimate Douglas propliner, the DC-7C, in Swissair colors at New York International Airport at Idlewild.

By the middle of the prosperous 1960’s all of the big American domestic carriers had embarked on huge jet re-equipment programs with the stated goal being the retirement of all propeller-driven aircraft of any type. The early advent of the turbofans resulted in even relatively new turboprops becoming obsolete in the public’s perception. By the early 1970’s not a single western airline was left with piston-engined passenger equipment in their inventory and only one company, Eastern, retained any turboprops. Then, in late October of 1977, EAL retired the last of its once mighty fleet of Electra’s from New York/Boston/Washington Air-Shuttle back-up duties bringing to a close the use of propeller airplanes on mainline routes by all U.S. trunks and the vast majority of major foreign carriers. The transition from props to jets was complete.

All Photos by Mel Lawrence, Shea Oakley Collection

 

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Trans World Airlines A Book of Memories

This review column focuses on both current and older books on commercial aviation topics.
Written by Shea Oakley.

Trans World Airlines A Book of Memories: TWA Employees and Friends Tell the Story of an Iconic Company

By Jon Proctor and Jeff Kriendler
Bluewater Press
ISBN 13:978-1-60452-122-1
265 Pages

Recent years have seen a number of books of this type published. They belong to what might be considered to be a new genre that I call, “employee –driven airline histories.”  In addition to the volume being reviewed here, there have been two other books produced in the same basic format on Eastern and Pan Am by separate publishers. The co-author of this one, Jeff Kriendler, was also co-author for the Pan Am history. The TWA book is the latest of the three having been published earlier this year.

What sets these books apart from other printed chronicles of major airlines is the fact that each chapter is a separate story about some aspect of the company told by either a former employee or a “friend”, often a passenger, of the subject airline. Two other distinctive aspects of the genre are the choice of only defunct carriers as subject matter and the presence of a large number of color images sourced from one or two well-known longtime airliner photographers (this book’s co-author Jon Proctor and/or George Hamlin being the photographers in question in at least two of the three books mentioned).

After 75 years of continuous operation, TWA was the target of a successful 2001 takeover attempt by American. It was a logical early subject for an employee-driven airline history as it was one of the original “Big Four” U.S. trunk carriers. Also, for many years, it was the only domestic company that had an extensive international route system. Beyond those claims to fame additionally Trans World was an airline known to have a certain glamour and spirit that set it a bit apart from other pioneering carriers.  This was often rightly or wrongly attributed to TWA’s longtime owner, a man who was at least as iconic as the airline he ruled for many years-the eccentric and reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.

The book’s 61 chapters cover a myriad of stories told by Trans World insiders. Just a sampling of subjects include encounters with Hughes, flying famous passengers (including the Pope), operated aircraft types, hijackings, accidents, humorous stories from both flight and ground crews, and a number of pieces about upper management from the perspective of TWA executives through the years. Also included is plenty of material pertaining to the one larger carrier that was acquired by TWA, St. Louis-based Ozark, and even coverage of its hotel subsidiary of many years, Hilton.

If you have an interest in this historic and storied airline, it is fair to say that this book should become part of your library. About my only two caveats would be that I would have preferred it to be printed on glossier stock for better photo reproduction (though this is, admittedly, an expensive proposition for independent publishers) and copy-editing for grammar errors might have been tighter. Happily, a planned further print run will give the authors the opportunity to fully perfect what is otherwise a book well worth owning.

Availability: Copies of this book can be ordered for $29.95 each from Jeff Kriendler, 5600 Collins Avenue, Suite 14P Miami Beach, FL 33140. Shipping and handling are included.

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