40 Years of Airline Deregulation – The Regulated Years

Written by David Keller

This October marked the 40th anniversary of the Airline Deregulation Act, which was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 24, 1978.  The newly-signed legislation would bring a seismic change for US airlines, and would forever alter the course of air transportation.

This article is the first of a series focusing on the impact of Deregulation on the airline industry, which had been molded by the prior 40 years of regulation.

The primary government agency responsible for regulating the airlines was the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) which was created in 1938.  In 1940, some of the responsibilities of the CAA were split off to form a new agency, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB).  Amongst the tasks delegated to the CAB were accident investigation, and approval of fares and routes.

The goal was to create an environment that was conducive to growth of the commercial aviation industry, both by limiting the amount of competition each operator would face and by reducing aircraft accidents.  This meant CAB had to balance competing directives, one to ensure competition (to prevent monopolies), and the other to limit it so airlines could operate profitably.

While accident investigations would later be turned over to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the fare and route approvals would remain in the jurisdiction of the CAB.  This meant that many of the important decisions affecting the growth and financial well-being of the airlines were largely in of the hands of the CAB rather than the airlines themselves.

One of the main tenants of route requests was that the requesting carrier had to show that additional competition on a given route was in the public interest.  Requests to serve new routes became cases, which were subject to delays of months or years, as well as appeals by carriers hoping to limit competition on their money-making routes.

Besides attempting to promote just the right amount of competition, the CAB also made awards with an eye towards keeping individual airlines financially viable.  At the conclusion of World War II, there were 15 domestic trunk carriers (not including Pan Am, which was not allowed to operate domestic services).  While some of these airlines had assembled far-reaching route networks connecting larger cities over long distances, others were geographically challenged, operating short segments in a small area.

Realizing that this would make it difficult for such carriers in the long term, the CAB granted them longer routes to expand beyond their traditional regions.

Colonial Airlines was one such airline, and in the mid-1940s was operating a route system roughly bounded by Washington, D.C., New York City and Montreal.  In 1946 the carrier was given authority to serve Bermuda from both New York and Washington, D.C. to bolster its financial position.

Not having aircraft capable of providing such service delayed the start until the following year, but a few prime routes were not enough to reach a large enough scale to remain consistently profitable.  The illustrated timetable dated April 29, 1956 shows the carrier’s limited route system, despite the Bermuda services.  This was also the final timetable issued by Colonial, as it was merged into Eastern Air Lines on June 1st of that year.

Another small trunk line, Mid-Continent Airlines, operated a limited system between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Tulsa, as depicted on the cover of the January 10, 1945 timetable.  In 1947, the carrier received route extensions to the Gulf Coast, adding Houston and New Orleans to its system. The timetable dated September 24, 1950 shows additional service, this time in the form of an east-west service from Sioux City to Chicago and Milwaukee.  (It appears that a separate aircraft operated one of the eastbound legs from Rockford, allowing “through” service from a single inbound destination to both Chicago and Milwaukee.)

This was another case in which the new routes weren’t enough to stave off the inevitable.  In 1952, Mid-Continent was acquired by Braniff International Airways, which also lacked an extensive domestic network.

However, Braniff did have international service to South America and a route system that combined well with Mid-Continent’s.  As the route map from the Braniff timetable dated September, 1952 illustrates, the 2 systems dovetailed quite nicely.

In the early 1940s, National Airlines operated a route system that snaked its way from New Orleans to Miami, as evidenced by the route map from the July 1, 1941 timetable.  While a number of routes were awarded after the conclusion of the war, National was given authority to compete with Eastern Air Lines on the lucrative New York to Florida run in 1944.

The route map from the timetable dated October, 1946 shows the impact of the new services on National’s network.  Although the map also includes Havana routes, that service was not yet being offered.

The new routes saved National from probable bankruptcy, and with the later addition of routes between Florida and the West Coast, kept the carrier in operation until a merger with Pan Am in 1979.

Although not in as dire a predicament as the aforementioned Colonial Airlines, Northeast Airlines also found itself with a route system wedged largely between New York City and Montreal.  However, having operating rights on the busy Boston to New York route was certainly a difference maker, and the timetable dated September 28, 1947 shows 10 round trips being offered.

Northeast was not a recipient of long haul services immediately following the war, but did find that being confined to a small area was limiting its ability to compete with larger airlines.  In 1957 Northeast began service between New York and Florida, in competition with Eastern and National.  Despite many lines on the route map from the June 1, 1957 timetable connecting Florida with the northeast, the only route being operated at the time was between New York and Miami.

Continental Air Lines developed route system in the south central US, largely serving cities in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. As illustrated by the route map from the timetable dated April 1, 1955, Continental had acquired local service carrier Pioneer Air Lines.  Although this did add Dallas/Ft. Worth to the network, it also added many short segments to stations providing small numbers of passengers.

However, later that same year, Continental was awarded a route connecting Los Angeles and Chicago (via Denver and Kansas City), despite having no presence in either end of the route.  Service began in 1957, once suitable equipment had been acquired. In this case, the route award gave the airline a huge expansion of its area of influence, and Continental steadily filled in the map with routes connecting those new cities to its traditional network.

By 1964, Continental had moved its corporate headquarters from Denver to Los Angeles.  The route map from the October 1, 1978 timetable shows how Chicago and Los Angeles had been incorporated into the route system.  It also shows later route expansion to Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.

Another example of the CAB’s impact on American aviation was the creation of feeder, or local service, airlines.  This was an attempt to bring air service to still more cities than were part of the trunk airlines’ route network.  These airlines required “public service” subsidies to remain financially viable, given the nature of their stated mission.

Over 2 dozen local airlines received certificates to start service, but some never left the ground, and others failed after a short period of operation or were merged into other carriers.

Parks Air Lines was one of those local carriers that failed to launch.  The airline issued several timetables in the summer of 1950, including the illustrated August 1, 1950 issue.  But the company was unable to get started and its routes were awarded to Ozark Air Lines and Mid-Continent Airlines.  (In fact, the new Mid-Continent routes to Chicago and Milwaukee previously mentioned were originally intended to be operated by Parks.)

Ozark Air Lines inaugurated service on September 26, 1950.  As the timetable from that date illustrates, the flight numbers, times, and even local phone numbers were unchanged from those in the Parks timetable.

By 1956, just over 1 dozen local service airlines remained.  Besides opening service to new cities, these carriers also inherited services that the trunk carriers wished to shed so they could retire their DC-3s and concentrate on more profitable routes.

As these airlines grew, they began to explore acquisition of aircraft larger than the DC-3, which made of the vast majority of the combined local airline fleet in the mid-to-late 1950s.  The CAB was not particularly fond of this idea, as larger aircraft would require additional subsidies to operate profitably on routes that were largely low density.

Despite this, several airlines did acquire larger equipment beginning in the mid-1950s.  As this now gave those carriers equipment that was more on par with the larger airlines, they felt prepared to operate routes that had profit-making potential.  This did have an appeal to the CAB (and government in general), since subsidies (although rather modest in dollar amount) were always a hot button political issue.  Convairs, Martins and F27s were incorporated the various airlines’ fleets by the early 1960’s.

However, while the locals added those types, the trunks were busily reequipping with pure jets, which still left the locals behind in the technology curve.  But with the introduction of “small” jets in the mid-1960s, the locals were able to make a sound case to compete on routes previously in the domain of the trunk carriers.

BAC 1-11s, DC-9s and 737s provided the ability to both operate from shorter runways than the first generation 4-engine jetliners, and also to make a profit on short route segments.  The locals placed orders, and all (with the exception Lake Central) were operating jets by the end of 1967.  With the prospect of local carriers truly being able to compete on profitable routes, coupled with the opportunity for those services to reduce subsidies required, those airlines finally began to receive such route authorization.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, the CAB awarded numerous routes the local carriers, which were eager to show off their shiny new jets, and shed their “puddle jumper” image.  And as the routes came, so did orders for additional jets.

Generally, these awards were a combination of new nonstop authority between cities already served by the carrier, and new routes outside of their traditional service area.

The Allegheny Airlines timetable dated April 27, 1969 promotes new services to Nashville and Memphis from Philadelphia.  (Both of those cities had recently been added to the system with service to Pittsburgh.)  In addition to these new cities, Allegheny was operating non-stops from Pittsburgh to points already in the network, such as New York City, Boston, and Louisville.

Frontier Airlines didn’t wait for the twin engine jetliners, as the carrier placed an order for the trijet 727.  The timetable dated July 7, 1969 shows the airline operating jets (which were a mix of 727s and 737’s at that point), on a number of nonstop routes from Denver.  Service was offered to Las Vegas (a new station), as well as Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix, St. Louis and Salt Lake City.

The two illustrated North Central Airlines timetables, from June 15, 1969 and January 1, 1970 show the inauguration of service to a new destination, Denver, as well as between the airline’s 2 largest stations, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago.  North Central would soon receive additional authority to operate from Milwaukee to both New York and several Ohio cities, further expanding the network.

Ozark Air Lines received similar routes, as promoted on the covers of timetables dated December 1, 1968 and October 1, 1969.  The 1968 issue touts service between the carrier’s 2 largest stations, Chicago and St. Louis, while the 1969 timetable features a clean-shaven George Carlin hawking new nonstop service from St. Louis to Dallas/Ft. Worth.  By this time, Ozark had already received new authority to serve some of the most popular destinations for new service, Denver, New York City, and Washington, D.C..


Southern Airways’ timetables dated October 27, 1968 and January 1, 1970 show that most of this carrier’s new nonstop authority was to serve cities outside of its local service area.  The 1968 issue promotes new service to Washington, D.C. and New York City from Columbus, Georgia, Dothan, Alabama and Eglin AFB in Florida, thus eliminating the need to connect in Atlanta.  The route map of the 1970 timetable shows service had already been started to St. Louis, with Chicago and Florida routes beginning shortly.  (Florida was one of the few areas in the country that didn’t have a local service operator providing service throughout the state.)


In Trans-Texas Airways’ timetable dated July 1, 1966, the airline was operating primarily to cities in Texas and bordering states.  A number of the routes in West Texas and New Mexico were being operated by Continental a decade prior.

By the summer of 1970, the route map sported routes to Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Mexico.  To capitalize on its expanded presence, TTA had changed its name to Texas International Airlines the previous year.

Some of the CAB’s attempts to strengthen weaker airlines were questionable at best.  On October 1, 1969, National Airlines began service between San Francisco and Atlanta.  One look at the route map, and it’s difficult to see how this was going to pan out, even in the relatively tame competitive environment of the day.

National started with 2 roundtrips on the route, then pared it back to 1 the following year.  It appears the service was suspended in the mid-1970s, with the single roundtrip returning in the summer of 1976.  By late 1976 the operation was twice weekly, which then dropped to a single weekly frequency.  (In addition to needing CAB approval to start new service, there were also rules on ending service.  An airline wanting to discontinue a route would sometimes reduce the frequency to only 1 per week as they petitioned to stop service altogether.)


In another attempt to assist the oft-ailing Northeast Airlines, the carrier was awarded the highly coveted Miami to Los Angeles route, also with an October 1, 1969 start.  Once again, the route map reveals this to be a questionable decision, although perhaps not as much as the fact that Northeast’s longest range type was the 727-100, which was not designed for transcontinental service.  The airline did have Lockheed L1011s on order, which could certainly make that journey, although the ability to pay for them was in serious doubt.

Northeast was evidently confident of their ability to turn a profit on the route, and started service with 3 daily roundtrips.  That was reduced to 2 by early 1971, and a single roundtrip a few months later.  Northeast finally found its badly-needed merger partner in the form of Delta Air Lines the following year, but Delta did not receive the Miami-Los Angeles route as part of the merger.  The route showed up on Delta’s route maps for several years as “Subject to CAB approval”, and was eventually awarded to Western Airlines in 1976.

One of the last major route cases the CAB handled was finalized in the summer of 1977 and involved service between Denver and the Southeast.  Incredibly, until late July of 1977, it was not possible to fly nonstop between Denver and Atlanta, which even then were 2 of the largest hubs in the US.  The only through service was a long-running Eastern-Braniff interchange service which operated 4 daily services via Memphis.

The CAB designated Delta and Braniff to receive nonstop authority on the route.  Delta was a natural fit, given its strength in Atlanta, but Braniff was not a major player in either market.  Both carriers started service on July 28, 1977 with 4 daily non-stops.  This brought an immediate termination of the interchange service through Memphis.

Eastern attempted to maintain the 4 daily frequencies on the Memphis-Atlanta segment (which was its only route from Memphis), but very quickly ceded the market to Delta, which had a sizeable operation there.  The September 6, 1978 shows only a single weekly frequency on the route and by the December 13, 1978 issue, service was terminated, leaving Memphis as an unnamed point on the route map,


Braniff was struggling with the new route even before Deregulation, cutting back on frequencies, while Delta added new ones.  By late 1979, Braniff was down to a single nonstop plus several one-stop flights, and in October the route was dropped altogether along with many others as Braniff had put itself into a dire financial situation.  The other half of the old interchange service, Eastern Airlines, filled the void, starting flights in December with 4 daily non-stops.


As mentioned, the CAB also approved fares the airlines could charge for each level of service.  Essentially, the fare for a given service (First Class, Coach, etc.) was the same on a specific route regardless of which airline was offering the service.  Continental Airlines has an explanation of this concept in the gatefold of their timetable dated June 30, 1966.

For those who don’t remember pre-deregulation days, it’s probably difficult to grasp that average load factors in the 1960s and 70s were generally in the low to mid 50 percent range.  Fares were set such that airlines only needed to fill just over half of their seats to make a profit, sometimes even less.

As detailed in the annual reports of National Airlines and Texas International Airlines, it was not unusual for airlines to transport more cold seats that warm ones over the course of an entire year.  National’s chart from their 1975 annual report shows their annual load factor exceeding 50% in only 2 of the 5 years encompassing 1971 through 1975.  For one of those years, 1971, the load factor was approximately 40%.

Texas International Airlines’ 1969 statistics illustrate that they never exceeded a 50% load factor during the 1960s, and early in the decade, those load factors were actually in the upper 30s.  Being a local service carrier, much of the lack of revenue from paying passengers was covered by federal subsidies.

This meant that the airline industry, having fare levels set to ensure profits with half empty planes, and being generally protected from unbridled competition, were not the lean and mean organizations they would need to be in order to prosper in a deregulated environment.

The US airline industry arrived at the transition between a regulated industry and a deregulated one with 11 trunk carriers, 8 local service carriers, a few small airlines in Alaska and Hawaii, a number commuter lines, and intrastate carriers in several states (which were not regulated by the CAB as long as they only served destinations within a single state).

Some airlines were confident in their ability to thrive in a deregulated environment and wholeheartedly supported the Act’s passage.  Others, shackled with high costs and fearing additional competition siphoning profits, were opposed, while some airlines had mixed feelings.

Regardless of each airline’s opinion on the matter, they were all thrust into the brave new world on October 24, 1978.

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Timetables from the Past

Written by Lester Anderson

Hindsight is often depressing. I was a commercial aviation enthusiast during my junior high/high school/college years of the 1960’s. During that time friends and I would visit airports and get timetables from the ticket counters, and we were on the mailing list of all the major carriers. But they were tools to see what airplanes we could see, and maybe which ones on which we could get an inexpensive flight. I certainly did not think of them as pieces of history to keep.

Oh, do I regret that I threw away all those Braniff, Northeast, Eastern, Northwest Orient, TWA, Mohawk, Allegheny, Continental, and United timetables. But today’s newspaper does not seem like it is history; you need to wait years, and have the foresight, to preserve these artifacts. Sadly I did not.

But this was the time when jets took over the transcontinental travel (certainly the nonstop travel). There were a few propeller trips left (Northwest had an overnight “freighter” flight on a DC7C that was less expensive than day flights but made a long stop mid route).

Being fascinated with something that did not exist anymore, I wrote to United Airlines asking if they had any old timetables. I was fortunate that someone kind in marketing helped my aviation enthusiasm and sent me a few timetables from the 1946 to 1958 time period. I wish I knew his (or her) name. I am ever grateful because they did preserve a bit of airline history with me and I would like to share some of that wealth of history with you.

In 1946 United flew coast to coast with their ‘Mainliner 180’ (DC-3) and ‘Mainliner 230’ (DC-4) airplanes.
Here is the Westbound schedule for April/May 1946 (15 months before I was born)


Note flight 1 (used by many airlines as their signature flight). It is a DC-3 flight with many stops from New York to San Francisco. Note the small 1 in a circle. That indicates when a meal is served onboard. Then compare it to Flight 3 on the next page, which is a DC-4 and makes stops in Chicago and Denver on the way From New York to San Francisco.

Timetables were also a great marketing tool for airlines. In 1946 United promoted its ‘Air Freight’ services. Reading the description, you can see that 25 pounds from Chicago to San Francisco costs less than a Priority Mail letter does today.

But timetable ads focused on passengers soon followed, as in these two 1950 ads that featured the pinnacle of luxury, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, flying between California and Hawaii.

In 1952 the service expanded and got faster with transcontinental DC-4, DC-6 and DC-6B flights.

And the note on the bottom of the timetable page is a reminder that while an airplane may fly between two cities and carry through passengers, it does not mean the CAB has given route permission for carrying passengers between just those two cities. But the route map grows and the times between cities decrease.


Ads in the timetables were getting to be more what we are used to in airline ads — vacation spots to exotic places, and new airplanes with “more seats and more service”.

Then the last of propeller plane services, DC7 Red Carpet Service, is described in the following December 1958 timetable. Note that not only is a meal service offered, they tell you what you are getting (i.e. Lunch and Snack). The route map has been expanded, and you can see the flight times have shortened compared to 1952.

Flight 703 is a nonstop coast to coast flight New York to San Francisco. Other airports did have DC-7 service, but the flights connected in Chicago (something I did a lot flying United in the 80’s and 90’s).

And looking at the flying time of 8 hours and 45 minutes for a New York to San Francisco flight—think of today. The flying time today is shorter, but between the car-park, monorail/bus to the terminal, security check and then the monorail/bus to the car rental facility—is it really any faster? And you did get Lunch and a Snack in those days!

I hope you enjoyed this trip back in time.
Lester Anderson

 

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The United States Post Office Aviation Hall of Fame

Written by Henry M. Holden
All stamps copyright United States Postal Service

Inaugurated in the early 20th Century, airmail was a premium service which required paying special postal rates. U.S. airmail stamps document the early history of commercial aviation – from biplanes to Zeppelins, flying boats, and jets.

Germany operated a transatlantic Zeppelin passenger service and depending on the route, a one-ounce letter cost $0.65. to $2.60. The Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst N.J. in 1937 ended that type of air travel.

In the Early years of commercial aviation, the revenue from airmail was used to subsidize the airlines who were losing money on the inefficient passenger aircraft.

It took a few years for the post office to realize that certain kinds of stamps were not only to pay postage with but many of the stamps were done so well artistically that people would collect them and build stamp albums where uncancelled stamps would grow in value.

Between 1917 and 1918, there were four airmail stamps issued. One of them was a printing error, where the airplane, a JN-4 Jenny was printed upside down. Today these uncancelled stamps would garner thousands of dollars.

Between 1920 and 1929, eight airmail stamps were issued. As the popularity of airmail began to grow, and the successful solo transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh more commemorative stamps were issued. The decade between 1930 and 1939 which some called the “Golden Age of Aviation”saw 15 airmail stamps issued.

In the decade that followed the world went to war. Twenty-one stamps were issued with one stamp being issued in seven different colors.

Things began to slow down in the decade of the 1950s with 12 airmail stamps issued.

Things picked up in the 1960s with 20 stamps issued. The end of that decade saw an airmail stamp acknowledging the first man on the Moon. Many more space-related stamps would follow.

In the 1970s 14 airmail stamps were issued but instead of featuring airplanes or famous aviation people, Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and other non-aviation related people and places became part of the philatelic landscape. Only seven stamps featuring airplanes made the hall of fame that year.

In October 1903, Samuel P. Langley made two failed attempts at powered flight in his Aerodrome, from a houseboat on the Potomac River. Langley received $50,000 from Congress to develop his aeroplane, and his years of experiments provided inspiration for later innovators, including the Wright brothers, Glenn L. Martin and Glenn Curtiss.

On Sept. 25, 1911, Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock presided over the first airmail flight, 1.7 miles from Garden City, N.Y., to Mineola, on Long Island, N.Y. A year later, the first aviation stamp, a 20-cent parcel post stamp, was released. It coincided with the first unofficial airmail flight in the nation from one post office to another, South Amboy, to Perth Amboy, in New Jersey, a leap of 3.8 miles.

In May 1988, eighty-five years after Langley’s failed attempts at controlled powered flight, Langley was honored on a postage stamp.

The stamp showed a Curtiss Model D pusher flying over a mountainous area—hardly realistic for the fragile, near-skeleton of a plane.

In 1917, Congress appropriated $100,000 for an airmail service. The first airmail stamp – a 24-cent stamp that covered postage from New York to Washington, – was issued in May 1918. The new stamp was supposed to promote airmail. The rate was 24 cents per ounce, and the stamp received a great amount of publicity—more publicity than many stamps that followed. The stamp pictured a Curtiss Jenny JN-4 that carried the mail. It is widely recognized today because a pane of 100 was accidentally printed and sold with the plane inverted.

New airmail stamps appeared irregularly at first, usually to commemorate a historical event. An 8-cent stamp, appearing in 1923, featured an airplane radiator and a wooden propeller, acknowledging the famous, although unreliable Liberty engine.

Also, in 1923, a de Havilland biplane was pictured on a 24-cent stamp, one of the few times foreign-built aircraft appeared on a U.S. stamp. The Jenny and de Havilland were mainstays of airmail until William Boeing and Donald Douglas introduced their mail-planes.

The Post Office reissued the JN-4 Jenny stamp in 1997; at that time, the plane was flying straight and level.

On July 1, 1924, regular airmail service across the country was established. Airmail was divided into three zones: New York to Chicago, Il. Chicago to Cheyenne, Wy. and Cheyenne to San Francisco, CA. Mailing a letter cost eight cents per zone, so stamps were issued in denominations of 8, 16, and 24.

In February of 1926, the Post Office contracted private companies to distribute airmail. Three stamps were issued for use on these contract airmail routes (CAMs), each depicting the U.S. map.

Charles Lindbergh’s historical flight in May 1927 inspired one of the most popular airmail stamps issued, which featured his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

In 1927, more than 20.3 million copies of the Fifty years later the flight was honored again. Spirit of St. Louis stamp were issued.

The cost of airmail was reduced in 1928, and two new stamps were issued: Beacon on Sherman Hill and the Winged Globe.

By the time of the International Aeronautical Conference in Washington, D.C., in December 1928, high and low-wing monoplanes were in use, but the Post Office chose to mark the conference event with a stamp picturing the Wright brothers’ Flyer. Over the years, the Flyer has appeared on six stamps. The Wright brothers themselves were first honored on a stamp in 1949, and again on a matched set of stamps in 1976.

This stamp was issued on December 17, 1949, forty-six years to the day after the first flight and shortly after Orville’s death.

Airmail service across the Pacific was taken over by the Post Office Department in November 1935, and Pan Am was chosen as the carrier. A stamp was issued for the three trans-Pacific zones: San Francisco to Hawaii, Hawaii to Guam, and Guam to the Philippine Islands. It originally cost 25 cents per zone.

In 1937, a 20-cent stamp was issued and the cost of mailing a letter from the mainland U.S. to the Philippine Islands was reduced. A 50-cent stamp was issued to cover the cost when airmail was extended to Hong Kong.

The Boeing 314 Clipper ships were the mainstay of transpacific airmail and passenger service until the outbreak of World War II. The Martin 314 first flew in November 1935, inaugurating transpacific airmail. A stamp commemorated the event in 1935, and the Clipper appeared again in 1997, as part of the Classic American Aircraft commemorative sheet. On that sheet were also the Ford Tri-Motor, the Lockhrrd Constellation, the Douglas DC-3 and the Jenny.

Cross-Atlantic airmail began on May 20, 1939, as Pan Am delivered mail from New York to Marseilles, France, traveling through Portugal on the way. Although this service didn’t last long because of World War II, a 30-cent stamp was issued specifically for this route.

Between June 25, 1941, and October 29, 1941, a tri-tailed “Twin Motored Transport Plane” was featured on U.S. airmail stamps in 6-, 8-, 10-, 15-, 20- 30 and 50- cent dominations. Each denomination appeared in a different color. The actual plane was only an artist’s conception and is an amalgam of several different designs, but apparently largely based on the Douglas DC-3 aircraft, the Lockheed Electra, and the Beech 18.

After World War II, many commemorative stamps were released, such as a stamp to honor the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union in 1949 and another to honor the 50th anniversary of airmail service in 1968.

Two of the seven variations of this airplane that never was.

The top stamp was issued in October 1949 celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union. The bottom stamp came out a month later featuring Boeing’s Stratocruiser.

As new airplanes were built, some found their way onto stamps, but many did not. The same was true for famous aviators. Women and African Americans have been part of aviation from its earliest days, yet only a few of either have made this hall of fame.

Although domestic air mail became obsolete in 1975, and international ai mail in 1995, when the USPS began transporting First Class mail by air on a routine basis the commemorative commercial aviation stamps continued. .

Amelia Earhart, probably the world’s most famous female pilot, showed up twice; her Lockheed Electra was in the background on her first stamp. Blanche Stuart Scott was the first American woman to solo in 1910; Scott’s 1910 Curtiss pusher was in the background on her stamp, which appeared in 1980. Glenn Curtiss was honored with a stamp that same year.

Harriet Quimby, the first American woman licensed as a pilot in August 1911, appeared on a 50-cent airmail stamp in April 1991. Quimby had been scheduled to fly the first airmail from Boston to New York in 1912 but was killed in an airplane accident the day before she was to fly the mail.

Amelia Earhart

Blanch Stuart Scott

Glenn Curtiss

Harriet Quimby

Bessie Coleman was the first African American in the United States to earn a pilot’s license. Because of racial discrimination at home, Coleman took her flight lessons and earned her license in France in 1921.

Bessie Coleman was honored in February 1995.

Conspicuously absent until 1996 was Jackie Cochran, a controversial woman who held while she was alive, more speed, distance and altitude records than anyone else, male or female. Cochran believed that women were equal to men in piloting skills and promoted women in aviation throughout her career.

Jackie Cochran

More than a dozen men are honored, but William Boeing, designer of the Model 247, “the world’s first modern commercial airliner,” had a long wait (2005) before the 247 made it to the hall of fame. Boeing’s Stratocruiser appears on two stamps in 1947, and again in 1949 at the height of its popularity.

Boeing Stratocruiser over the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge was issued July 30, 1947.

The Lockheed Constellation over New York City, issued August 20, 1947.

The Boeing 247 finally made the hall of fame in 2005 as part of a 20-stamp commemorative sheet of Classic American Aircraft.

The Boeing 707 appeared in October 1960 and the Boeing 747 appeared on a 10-cent stamp marking the 200-year anniversary of the Postal Service. This stamp was not called an airmail stamp.

Donald W. Douglas was responsible for successful commercial airplanes ranging from the DC-1 to the DC-10, and dozens of military planes, but he is also missing from this hall of fame. His Douglas’ DC-4 made it to a stamp at the height of its popularity, in 1945. His DC-3, “The plane that changed the world,” made it to a 36-cent postcard in 1988, 53 years after its birth. The economy of the DC-3 allowed commercial airlines to turn a profit from just passenger fares alone and not have to rely on mail subsidies. However, the subsidies did not stop, and the commemorative stamps continue today albeit fewer in commercial aviation. The DC-3 earned its own stamp in 1997, as part of a 20-stamp commemorative sheet of Classic American Aircraft.

Leonardo da Vinci left drawings of a helicopter, dating back to 1410, yet he never made a stamp. Igor Sikorsky, the Russian emigrant who pioneered the first practical helicopter design, earned a stamp in June 1988. His VS-300, which first flew in 1939, was in the background on his stamp.

The Douglas DC-4 aka the Skymaster DC-3 postcard.

Lawrence and Elmer Sperry were responsible for development of the autopilot and the directional gyroscope in the late 1920s. They were honored in 1985. Alfred V. Verville’s contribution to aviation was a plane called the Packard-Verville with a 638-hp engine, billed as the “wonder plane of the Army.” This low-wing monoplane was, in its day, a leap in technology. In the first Pulitzer Trophy Race in 1920, it averaged 156.5 mph over the 116-mile closed course. Verville was honored with a stamp on Feb. 13, 1985.

In 1933, Wiley Post set a round-the-world speed record of eight days, 15 hours, 51 minutes, beating the Graf Zeppelin’s longstanding record by more than 12 days. Post flew his way onto a pair of stamps in 1979. One stamp showed his Lockheed Vega, Winnie Mae. Because Post was also a pioneer of high-altitude flying, the second stamp showed him in a pressure suit.

Lawrence and Elmer Sperry

Alfred V. Verville

Wiley Post flew his way onto a pair of stamps in 1979.

A stamp in 1927 marked airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh’s first transatlantic flight. But Lindbergh and his aviator wife and flying partner, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, are absent from this hall of fame, although not from stamps in Gambia, Ghana and a few other countries. The Ryan monoplane Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic showed up twice, but the plane’s designer, T. Claude Ryan, is absent from the hall of fame.

1977 USPS First Day Cover issued to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Charles A. Lindbergh flying solo across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. Postmarked May 20, 1977. Glenn L. Martin is also absent but his Martin 202 shows up.

Martin 202 is on a 10-cent airmail stamp flying over the Pan Am Union Building in 1947.

Seemingly, unrelated stamps and events were sometimes tied together. The first flight of commercial helicopter service occurred on Jan. 6, 1947, but instead of a helicopter, the First Day Cover marking the event shows a Douglas DC-4 airmail stamp.

New York City celebrated 100 years in 1948. By that time it had its own airport LaGuardia Airport and New York International Airport, commonly called Idlewild Airport after the Idlewild Beach Golf Course that it displaced. It was renamed John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in 1963 to memorialize the assassinated president.

American Airlines commemorated its first commercial land plane flight overseas in 1945 with a First Day cover. The problem is instead of using a DC-4 stamp, an aircraft which American Airlines used, they used an artist amalgam of several different designs, largely based on the Douglas DC-3, the Lockheed Electra, and the Beech 18. In other words, an airplane that never was.

This hall of fame is far from complete, but it does provide a small overview of aviation history. In the years to come, more aviation stamps will be produced, but some events and persons who justifiably should earn a spot will never be thus honored. Such is life, and aviation history, as told by the U.S. Postal Service.

Rocket Mail – a Postscript

One of the first successful delivery of mail by a rocket in the United States was made on February 23, 1936, when two rocket airplanes were launched from the New York side of the frozen Greenwood Lake and landed on the New Jersey side, less than 100 yards away. This event was preceded by several other successful short range rocket mail experiments in the early 1930s.

The Alaska Statehood airmail stamp did not have an airplane in it so Pan American World Airways created a First Day Issue that celebrated the event.

During the mid-1950s, “amateur” rocketeers flew several solid propellant mail- carrying rockets interstate, from California, across the Colorado River, and into Arizona. The postal covers were printed for each occasion and franked at the nearest destination post office.

In 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the Post Office Department, in its search for faster mail transportation, with the only delivery of “Missile Mail”. On June 8, 1959, Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile — its nuclear warhead having been replaced by two Post Office mail containers — targeted at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Naval Station Mayport in Florida. The Regulus cruise missile was launched with solid-propellant boosters. A turbojet engine sustained the long-range cruise flight after the boosters were dropped. Twenty-two minutes after launch, the missile struck its target.

Robert Goddard is considered the “father of modern rocketry.”

The USPS had officially established a branch post office on Barbero and delivered some 3,000 pieces of mail to it before Barbero left Norfolk, Virginia. The mail consisted entirely of commemorative postal covers addressed to the President and government officials.

Upon witnessing the missile’s landing, Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield stated, “This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation.” Summerfield predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail”, he said.

Despite the Postmaster General’s enthusiasm, the Department of Defense saw the measure more as a demonstration of U.S. missile capabilities. Experts believe that the cost of using missile mail could never be justified especially since airmail crossed the Atlantic Ocean in as little as a day.

 

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Illustrated Airmail Envelopes II

Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.
Please note that this first appeared in the American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine, #97, February 2016
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The designs seem to fall into three basic categories: hand-drawn, those made by airline companies and those either generic or specific to a non-airline company.

Hand-drawn ones have a charm all their own. They are usually made for non-philatelic purposes, manifesting the sender’s imagination. They are direct descendants of the 19th century British pen and ink covers (whose artistry is usually quite a bit more evident). The 1939 cover was carried from Belgium on the first flight from France to the U.S. The use of an air etiquette to help define the shape of the drawing shows some design sense. First flight covers rarely have such flamboyance. (Figures 1a&b)

Cpl. Holmes, stationed at Hawaii, received a rather striking cover from New York. It even has a tied-on Christmas seal. (Figures 2a&b)

A charming pen drawing graced the upper left corner of a 1946 cover from Belgium; the sketch shows a Belgian factory and an American skyline. (Figure 3)

Something seen from time to time is the usual red and blue airmail border being added by hand. That makes sense in this return card for which the sender wanted air service. (Figure 4)

Figures 5-8 show four generic envelope designs: U.S. 1931 (Figure 5), Denmark 1950 (Figure 6), Guatemala 1937 (Figure 7) and Mexico 1945 with extra pizzazz from the censor label (Figures 8a&b).

 

Envelopes produced for use by airlines tend to be a bit more eye-catching: Brazil Condor 1934 (Figure 9), Brazil Panair 1939 of which there are a number of varieties (Figure 10), Paraguay Panagra/Panair carried on first Pan American flight from Asuncion to Rio (Figure 11), Peru Lufthansa 1938 (Figure 12) and Indochina Air Orient 1930 (Figure 13).

Figure 14 is a rather interesting outlier. The Uruguay 1931 envelope specifies that there was an additional fee of 50¢ to Comision Gral. De Aeronautica (General Commission not specifying an airline) for air service. The image at the upper left is typical of the remarkable graphics seen in Uruguay at this time.

 

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American Airlines Dining Items

Written by Dick Wallin

Good day folks, it’s Dick Wallin back here again for some of what I hope will be more new interesting columns on airline ‘DINING ITEMS’. As some of you may recall, I had a column on this subject for approximately 25 years during the period when the Captain’s Log was a printed publication. Strangely, I never received much feedback during this period, which made me wonder if hardly anyone ever read my columns. Occasionally, someone at one of the airline collectible shows would make an offhand comment about having read my columns, but I never got a single email comment or correction. So with this on-line resumption of my columns, I invite readers to email me with your comments, corrections or suggestions.

I will start with china items of American Airlines, an airline familiar to all. I’ve read that, by various measures, it is regarded as the largest airline in the world. But that isn’t the sole reason for choosing it now. I’ll go out on a limb and say that American was one of the first, if not the first, to have marked dinnerware on their flights, and I will also say that I think they had more different patterns of dinnerware than any other airline.

One of American’s dinnerware patterns, the so-called DC-3 Pattern, is the most elusive, most attractive, and most valuable pattern of any airline dishes in the world. I collected about 30 years before I got one of them; value-wise, we are talking in the range of two thousand dollars and up. I was able to obtain a copy of the original order of this pattern from the Syracuse China Co. It details each of the approximately two dozen pieces to be produced, but does not say how many were ordered. After all these years of collecting, I can verify the existence of only ten pieces of this pattern. There are reasons for this rarity; the most compelling reason is that the order is dated two weeks before Pearl Harbor. Once WW-II got under way, airlines found some of their aircraft being grabbed by the government for military usage. Building up business by having attractive dishes on flights was not a priority then!

1. This I believe is the oldest pattern of AA china-no pattern name. I’ve never seen any pieces other than the dinner plate and bowl shown.

2. This is the Shelledge pattern, a name given by the manufacturer, Syracuse China Co. It’s mid-1930’s vintage. Syracuse had a magazine ad showing a number of their railroad china patterns in Shelledge and this AA piece was among them! A dinner plate and side plate are the only pieces I’ve ever seen.

3. Here it is – the most famous, rarest and most valuable pattern of any airline china – THE AA DC-3 PATTERN! According to the Syracuse China order for this pattern, dated two weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, a wide variety of pieces was to be produced, but how many were actually completed is left to conjecture. I had a saucer, and put out a $2,500 offer for a cup, but not one came forth. I know at least one cup exists, as I’ve seen pictures of it-it has a DC-3 on one side and the Flagship logo on the other.

4. Here is a special pattern produced by Syracuse called the Airlite pattern, very thin and delicate pieces. It was just a 3 piece set, a plate of about 6 inches, a coffee cup and a small vegetable dish. The vegetable dish did not have the Eagle and Stars, but all 3 pieces had the AA name and Airlite on the bottom.

5. This is the so-called Cobalt & Platinum pattern, as you can see, a wide variety of pieces were produced, by various china manufacturers. It was used in the 1990’s. As can be seen, the dinner plate was the only piece with the Eagle logo, though all pieces had the AA name on the bottom. It was a widely used and attractive pattern.

6. This was called the “American Traveler” pattern by one source. It was actually a rather bland pattern, with just a thin blue stripe; none of the pieces had the eagle logo. This pattern was also used in the Admirals Club airport club rooms. The small individual creamer is an item that I was told was not used on board, but I claim it is quasi-authentic as I bought it at the AA surplus store in Tulsa!

7. This solid blue tea pot was used as a companion piece to both of the two patterns described in 5 and 6. It had no top markings, but did have the AA name on the bottom.

8. This was a rather obscure pattern, with some pieces having a silver rim and all having a white on white scalloped marking around the edges. Early 2000’s use.

9. Some more pieces of the pattern described in 8.

10. This was a sort of upgrade of pattern 6, with a better grade of china and a more prominent manufacturer.

11. This coffee mug was used as a companion piece with the pattern in 10.

12. In the early 2000’s, American was upgrading their First and Business Class offerings, and came forth with this attractive Silver pattern to be used in First Class. After a couple of years, it came to be used in both First and Business classes. The Eagle logo appeared on several pieces and look at the little salt & peppers, something not seen in any other domestic china pattern!

13. This is the little demitasse cup and saucer used with 12.

14. This is the Business Class counterpart to pattern 12. After pattern 12 began to see use in Business Class, this pattern was relegated to the Admirals Clubs.

15. This plate commemorated the Inaugural flight of the Fokker 100 craft in 1991. I don’t know whether it was AA or Fokker who issued this, but that type of aircraft had a short life on AA.

16. At one time, I think in the 1990’s, AA had some flights called “21” Flights to New York City in honor of the famous restaurant by that name. The restaurant had black iron gates such as shown on this cup. As far as is known, this cup was the only piece of this pattern.

17. A nice little demitasse cup & saucer, probably a sales promo item; not known to be used on board.

18. This is the mysterious non-pattern called the Astrojet “pattern”. It was shown in an AA Annual Report when the jets (called Astrojets) were introduced. As far as could be determined, this pattern was never used on board. But almost every piece I’ve seen had distinctive AA order numbers on the bottom, but no AA name. It is, I think, an off the shelf china pattern.

19. An attractive demi set issued for the American Eagle Saab 340B.

20. A special plate honoring C.R. Smith, long-time AA President; the pattern is mostly that of AA-owned Americana Hotels.

21. These pieces were made for AA’s Admiral Club airport clubrooms.

Just as an after note, I’m now 80 years old and do very little flying now. Back in my younger days, I was cranking out 100,000 or more miles a year. But now I don’t have information on what kind of china AA is using, on board or in their Admirals Club airport clubrooms. My last significant AA trip was a redeye from Rio de Janeiro to Miami in 2005, in business class on a 767, and they were still using the silver trim pattern at that time. If you have photos or descriptions of current usage, I’d be glad to include that in a future column.

My next installment will deal with American Airlines silverware and glassware.

Dick Wallin

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Cooperative Advertising Promotion

Written by Al Meder

Airlines have issued playing cards for promotional purposes since the earliest flights.  This was very logical as the flights were slow with many stops required to get to a distant destination (and of course there was no digital entertainment in those days)  Originally, the airlines promoted their name and sometimes their aircraft on these early decks but in the 1940’s Jack and Heinz, an aircraft equipment manufacturer teamed up with Mid Continent Airlines, to do the first known joint advertising deck of playing cards.

Since then, such “cooperative advertising” has become quite common with many well-known brands including Pepsi, Coca Cola, as well as credit card and auto rental companies partnering up with airlines to provide free entertainment and the chance to promote their product along with the airline.

Sometimes the airline can get double mileage from promoting itself with another well known brand. The earliest joint advertising cards I’m aware of, is from the 1940’s when Jack & Heinz, aircraft equipment manufacturers teamed up with Mid-Continent Airlines based in Kansas City. Missouri with a dec k of playing cards with their details along with the Mid Continent Airlines logo.

For many years cigarette smoking was permitted on aircraft. As a result, it was inevitable there would be some joint advertising issues. Aer Lingus, the Irish airline had several early jet-age aircraft along with cigarette advertising. The top card is joint advertising with Kingsway Cigarettes and Aer Lingus. There were also several with join advertising with Gold Flake and Aer Lingus. Aer Lingus has issued a number of joint advertising cards.

Given today’s thinking, its hard to believe that this advertising was in the 1960’s and 70’s. But smoking was really in then. Today there are collectors who collect airline matchbooks and match boxes, as well as a good market for ashtrays with airline logos on them – all from that by-gone era.

In recent years airlines have teamed up with various companies to promote both the airline and the product.  The most prolific of these are the Coca Cola advertising which has appeared on playing cards issued by South West Airlines   Delta Express has issued three different decks in conjunction with Coca Cola.

A very elusive deck of cooperative advertising playing cards was issued by Continental Airlines “The Official Airline of Broadway” and featuring the Broadway show Forever Tango.   Continental Airlines on this deck of cards was listed as the “The Official Airline of Broadway.”

The cards above show representative examples of advertising that airlines have done in conjunction with advertisers.

The Pan American NFL design shown here is one of three designs that Pan Am did over a relatively short period. The two others promoted that Pittsburgh NFL franchise.

The Thifty Rent-A-Car advertising involved a new livery for the entire Western Pacific Airlines aircraft.

Western Pacific, operating from Colorado Springs is now defunct.

Credit Card companies have issued a number of joint advertising decks with airlines.  Continental Airlines have issued two decks advertising their association with VISA (Check) Credit Card.  Alaska Airlines, South West Airlines and Delta have also issued credit card decks.  Not pictured here are decks from United Airlines, and Frontier to mention a couple more.

While foreign destinations are typically promoted by the airlines to attract fliers to those markets, Cathay Pacific Airlines based in Hong Kong produced two different designs in concert with Ocean Park, and amusement center in Hong Kong.  No doubt trying to get in-bound passengers to visit Ocean Park while in Hong Kong.

Australian carrier QANTAS Airways and the maker of Jonnie Walker Scotch Whiskey coordinated and issued a joint advertising pair of playing card designs in the 1980s   Although there is no mention of the product being advertised the Johnnie Walker trademarked figure is.

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The Electra Enigma

Written by Henry M. Holden

The skies in the 1950s were ruled by the radial piston engine airliners like the Douglas DC-7 and the Lockheed Super Constellation. And although the long-range Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 jets were in production and soon to be enter the market, some airlines felt the need existed for a large, medium range turboprop airliner.

Lockheed began construction of this airliner in December 1955, with two firm orders on the books (one from American Airlines for 35 and the other from Eastern Airlines for 40) In all, 14 airlines U.S and international would order 170 Electras.

On December 6, 1957, the prototype Lockheed Electra flew, two weeks ahead of the initial flight of the Boeing 707.

The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area. (Author’s collection)

The airplane was the second Electra. In the 1930s Lockheed had built an earlier aircraft named the Electra, a twin-engine aircraft that was over shadowed by the Douglas DC-3.

Eastern Airlines flew the Electra, designated L-188A, on its first revenue flight on January 12, 1959, and American Airlines followed on January 23 of the same year. The L-188C, with increased fuel capacity offered greater range, and went into service later in 1959.

An early Braniff example wearing “Electra II” titles added after completion of the LEAP Program. (Author’s collection)

Behind this new airplane were four years of research and more than $50 million in developmental courses. It had gone through 60,000 hours of wind tunnel tests, and everyone was sure it was the safest and best airplane ever manufactured. But nowhere in the 40,000 miles of blueprints and more than 7,000 mathematical calculations did a phenomenon called “whirl mode” appear.

The Electra looked like a regular airliner, except for the thick, 13-foot propeller blades, and the four large engine nacelles housing the General Electric/Allison 501–314 turboprop engines. The large exhaust nozzles extended to the trailing edge of the wings and hid much of the wing area.

The wings look small and stubby [they were only 5 1/2 feet shorter than the fuselage]. The wide fuselage made it one of the roomiest airliners of its time. Pilots soon got used to its appearance and came to respect the airplane. The Electra had incredible reserve power. One pilot said, “it climbs like a damn fighter plane! “

The Lockheed L-188 had excellent cockpit visibility, improved safety features and it was hailed by many as “a pilots airplane.“ Many airline officials considered the Electra a better all-around airplane then the Boeing 707. According to some, the Electra had more reserve power than any transport aircraft build to date.

This shot was taken at World Chamberlin Field, Minneapolis in the winter of 1959. N122US had been delivered the previous July and was one of 18 ordered by the airline. On 17 Mar 1960, N121US, NWA’s first Electra was operating a flight from Chicago to Miami when the starboard wing separated over Tell City, Indiana, during violent thunderstorm activity.  All 63 passengers and crew were killed. (Author’s collection)

Its safety features were state-of-the-art. For example, there was a single control for an engine fire: One pull feathered the prop, shut off the fuel and oil supply, armed the chemical fire extinguisher and discharged the CO2 bottles all in one-second. On older aircraft these four functions had taken up to 10 seconds.

But the promising new airplane begin killing people. On February 5, 1959, an American Airlines Electra crashed into the East River while on final approach to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Sixty-five people were killed. Although the crash was eventually attributed to a combination of pilot error, bad weather and an unfamiliar altimeter, the crash stained the Electra’s reputation. That stain would soon spread.

The Tell City accident did account for NWA’s decision to hold off delivery of the final eight of its 18 until the modifications could be built into the new aircraft. The airline also went out and replaced the publicity shots it had had of N121US with ones showing the last of the first batch, N130US seen here. (Author’s collection)

It was September 29, 1959. Six crew members and 28 passengers, on Braniff Flight 542, from Houston to New York, were relaxing in the new Electra. It was a few minutes after 12 midnight, and a farmer in the rural town of Buffalo, Texas, had just shut off his TV. Suddenly, the sky outside his home turned an eerie yellow, and there was a continuous roar. The farmer and his wife ran out to the pasture, where they encountered small shards of aluminum raining down on them. His wife remarked it was raining.

But it wasn’t raining; it was aircraft fuel. When the farmer shown a flashlight into a tree he could see a large chunk of metal. On it were the words “Fly Braniff.“ What caused this brand-new airplane to disintegrate over Buffalo, Texas?

It was March 17, 1960, and the CAA was still piecing together the tragedy when Northwest Airlines flight 710, another Electra, bound from Minneapolis to Miami, made a routine scheduled stop at Chicago. The Electra took off bound for Miami with 56 passengers, 33 men, 23 women, one infant, and six crew. The Electra had settled into a normal flight, cruising above the cloud cover at 18,000 feet. At 1p.m. over Tell City, Indiana, something happened.

Witnesses on the ground heard tearing sounds in the sky. Several saw the thick fuselage of the Electra emerging from the clouds. The entire right wing was missing, and only a stub of the left-wing remained attached to the fuselage.

The airliner seemed to float for a while, according to some witnesses, defying the laws of gravity. But then it dipped, driving straight down, trailing white smoke and pieces of aircraft. It telescoped into a soybean field at an estimated 618 mph. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, creating a smoking hole that was 60 feet deep. There were no bodies. Rescuers found nothing at the impact site except scraps of metal that were not much larger than a spoon. But 11,000 feet away they found the left wing.

This was, beyond alarming. In a period of less than six months, two brand new Electras lost their wings and disintegrated with much loss of life. Could it have been severe clear-air turbulence (CAT) or was there something drastically wrong with these airliners? One week earlier the airframe, with only 1800 hours had undergone a major inspection. The captain, Edgar E. LaParle had 27,523 hours in his logbook. What had gone wrong?

Meetings were held with the recently formed FAA, which was at the time headed by Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada, the legendary Air Force general, pilot, and aviation authority. The ensuing crisis was fueled by rumor and innuendo, and Quesada was on the hot seat. When he hesitated to ground the L-188 some said it was because of a former employee relationship he had with the manufacturer. Quesada’s actions and inactions would become as controversial as the L-188 itself.

Pressure to ground the airplane mounted quickly, and the flying public avoided the 96 Electras already flying (only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type). The airline experience up to a 35-percent dip in the loads on the aircraft, a catastrophic loss of revenue in an industry where a 10-percent decrease is damaging.

But the Braniff Electra had not disintegrated, and the painful reconstruction had begun. And as they pieced together the wreckage, a clue emerged. It was something alarming. Shards of what appeared to be the left wing were found some distance from the rest of the wreckage. Could this tragedy have been caused by a severe clear air turbulence (CAT)?

The public had lost faith in the Electras and the media was calling for the FAA to ground the airplane, and the sick jokes didn’t help.

“I’d like a ticket on the Electra to New York!” The passenger reportedly said to the ticket agent.

“We don’t sell Electra tickets; we sell chances,” the agent answered, according to the story. And then there was the Eastern AirLines Electra where flight attendants were reportedly wearing phony stewardess wings with the wings broken off.  Or National Airlines: “Look Ma, No Wings!” Electra service to Miami.

N5514 delivered to Eastern Air Lines on February 13, 1959 went through more than eight owners before beings scrapped in March 1979. (Author’s collection)

All tests seem to indicate the Electra was basically safe and airworthy at slow speeds. Three days after that Tell City crash, the Feds instead of grounding the Electras, ordered the Electras not to fly more than 275 knots (316 mph).slowed down to the speed of a Connie or a DC-6. The representatives from the from the Northwest accident investigation team reminded the FAA that 275 knots is the speed at which the Braniff Electra was flying when it broke up. The FAA then reduced its top speed to 225 knots (259 mph). The speed restriction was arbitrary and imposed to give the public more confidence in the airplane. But it didn’t.

It would be an economic disaster to ground the whole Electra fleet. PSA, for example at the time had only four airplanes in its fleet, all Electras. It was an admittedly risky gamble, but the FAA allowed the Electra to fly, but at a much slower speed.

Passenger still hesitated to get on these “flying cylinders of death” as some call them. The airlines tried to get around the bad publicity. Eastern advertised it’s “Golden Falcon Service” and National Airlines advertised its “Jet Powered Service.”

Meanwhile, the investigations continued. Boeing volunteered staff and simulators to Lockheed. Douglas contributed engineers and equipment. The investigation, occurring in the early 1960s, was the first serious use of computer stress analysis in the field. NASA attempted to re-create the conditions in its wind tunnel.

The Electras were flown in every possible form of turbulence. Test pilots rammed it through the Sierra Madre Mountain’s airwaves over and over again. The Electras were put through every possible flight maneuver that may cause a wing failure. Still nothing!

Only one European airline, KLM, initially operated the type. (Author’s collection)

Basically, the problem was a high speed aircraft in a conventional design. The Electra’s powerplants were housed in four enormous engine nacelles protruding far forward of the straight stubby wing. It was the two outboard engines that were involved in the Electra’s destruction.

Then in May 1960, NASA announced the cause of the accident that took 97 lives. Wing vibration, or flutter, is inherent in the design and is expected. In engineering terms, there are more than 100 different types of flutter, or “modes”, in which metal can vibrate. The mode that destroyed the Electra’s wing was called a whirl mode.

Whirl mode was not new, nor was it a mysterious phenomenon. Its a form of vibration inherent in rotating machinery such as oil drills, table fans and an automobile’s driveshaft.

The theory was devastating simple. A propeller has gyroscopic tendencies. Engine turbines spin at 13,820 rpm and the propellers at 1,280 rpm. These forces are designed to stay in a smooth moving plain of rotation unless displaced by a strong external force, (just as a spinning top can be made to wobble if a finger is placed against it).

An early livery on the Department of Commerce P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

Now suppose a force drives the propeller upward. The stiffness that’s part of the nacelle’s structure promptly resists the force in a downward motion. The propeller continues to move in one direction, but the rapidly developing whirl mode is vibrating in the opposite direction. The moment such a force is applied to an engine, it starts a chain reaction. The propellers normal plane rotation is disturbed, sending inharmonious forces back to the wing. The result, if not checked, is a wobbling effect that begins to transmit its motion to a natural outlet: the wing. The wing now begins to flex and flutter, sending discordant forces back to the engine-prop package, which in turn creates more and violent vibrations, feeding the mode new energy. It took less than 30 seconds for the energy to separate the wing.

Whirl mode did occasionally develop in propeller-driven airlines. It was always encountered by the powerful stiffness of the entire package, the nacelles in the engine mounting, and the truss holding the engine to the wing. This usually isn’t a problem. But on examination of the Electras engines, investigators found that something caused the engine loosen and wobble causing a severe whirl mode.

Investigators discovered that the engine mounts weren’t strong enough to damp the whirl mode that originated in the outboard engine nacelle. The oscillation transmitted to the wing caused severe up-and-down vibration, which increased until the wings separated.

Investigators discovered that the engine mounts weren’t strong enough to damp the whirl load that originated in the outboard engine nacelles. The oscillation transmitted to the wing causes severe up-and-down vibration which increased until the wind separated.

On the Braniff Electra, they discovered an over speeding prop that produced a particular sound. When a tape of the sound was played to the crash witnesses they verified the sound. Examination of the wreckage found loose and wobbly prop on the left wing’s outboard engine. The world mode caused from the over speeding prop was unchecked by the engine mount.

The lucky few who deplaned the Northwest Electra in Chicago told investigators about experiencing a “hard landing.” Tell City had reported CAT. Investigators concluded that the combination of the hard landing and the CAT weakened in the Electras outboard engine mounts. When the pilot tried to pull up and compensate for the turbulence a whirl mode followed, tearing off the already weakened wings.

Lockheed began a retrofit program called LEAP (Lockheed Electra Adaptation Program). All Electras had their wings strengthened, the engine nacelles reinforced and mount, which was ordinarily a bar, redesign to a strong “V”-shaped to withstand more stress.

Electras took to the skies with restored confidence. And then on October 3, 1960, an Eastern Airlines Electra departing Boston for New York, crashed, killing all 72 aboard. Again, a cry went up to ground Electras but this crash was different. A large number of English starlings had been ingested into the Electra’s wide engine intakes. This caused the engines to flame out. The plane lost lift stalled and fell into Boston Bay. Although this problem was serious for all airliners it wasn’t associated with the Electra’s design.

But there were more Electra crashes. On September 14, 1960, an American Airlines Electra landing at LaGuardia airport tore across the Grand Central Parkway where it came to a stop, upside down. Miraculously all aboard survived. Then on September 17, 1961, another Northwest Electra crash near Chicago, killing 37 people.

Neither crash was the result of a design or structural flaw. The first involved excessive landing speed and a skid; the second caused by an improperly placed aileron cable.

The majority of the Electras were retired from the major airlines by 1975, but Eastern Air Line’s retired the last one on November 1, 1977. Today the remaining Electras continue as services charters, sprayers and freighters.

In 1958, the U.S. Navy replaced their aging fleet Neptune anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft with the Lockheed P-3 Orion. Name for the winter constellation of the mighty hunter, the Orion was retrofitted from the Lockheed Electra.

A U.S. Navy “slick” version of the P-3 Orion. (Author’s collection)

The initial P-3 was modified from the third Electra airframe. While based on the same design philosophy as the Lockheed L-188 Electra, the aircraft was structurally different with seven feet (2.1m) less fuselage forward of the wings and military additions such as wing hard points, nose radome and a distinctive tail “stinger” for detection of submarines by magnetic anomaly detector.

The Navy still flies the P-3 Orion over the long-range landplane and the antisubmarine platform.

In June 1988, the U.S. Customs Service welcomed to first three Airborne Early Warning aircraft (AEW) into its fleet. They use it as a long-range radar detection platform to perform on the southern U.S. border, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. The aircraft is a distinctive 24-foot diameter rotodome fuselage. It is coupled with an APS-138 radar system. The Customs P-3 also comes in a second variant without the dome (Slick). The dome can detect targets over land and water in an encompassing 196,250 mi.² per 360° sweep. It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

According to Robert Sterling, author of “The Electra Story” Lockheed had made the decision to close the production line March 17, 1960 – just hours before the Tell City crash. Sales had dried up because airlines decided to wait for the short haul pure jets on the drawing board. Once the BAC-111, 727 and DC-9 went into service passengers didn’t want anything to do with props.

The two publicized in-flight breakups in the first 16 months of service – Sept 1959 and March 1960 – gave the plane a similar ‘reputation’ as the Comet, the Electra was in trouble. Initially it did not sell well overseas. There was strong competition for turbo prop airliners from several manufacturers.

A U.S. Customs P-3 “dome’ This photo shows the insignia on the tail of the Department of Homeland Security, formed after September 11, 2001. (Author’s collection)

Lockheed shut down the assembly line after only 170 airframes completed with huge losses, estimated at over $50 million. Production ended in 1961, just three years after introduction.

According to the Lockheed L-188 Electra Wikipedia.org site, the Electras went on to fly for more than 29 different airlines as freight dogs, sprayers and charters for decades.

On September22, 1978, a U.S. Navy P-3B Orion msn 185-5199 registration 152757 went down because of a suspected whirl mode. It is the only military Orion lost to the phenomenon known as whirl mode.

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The “Queen” at 50 – Early 747 Safety Cards

Written by Brian Barron

September 30, 2018 marks 50 years since the “Queen of the Skies” made her first public appearance at Everett, Washington.  She would take off into the heavens and into our hearts a few short months later.

The 747 would fundamentally change the course of commercial aviation and opened the feasibility of air travel to the masses.  50 years later, the 747 is still an integral part of the world’s Airline and Cargo fleets.

From a Safety perspective, the 747 presented many challenges that had never been considered before.  It was the first double aisle jet, the first to regularly carry up to 500 people.  In order to meet FAA and other world authority certification, a full Jumbo would need to be evacuated within 90 seconds.

A tall challenge for Boeing indeed.  In order to meet the goal, the 747 featured double lane slides as well as the first over wing mounted slide installation.   With 10 main deck doors and 20 slide lanes, this was the only way to meet the strict evacuation requirements

In the early days, 747 Upper Decks were largely limited to lounge use and often were not certified to be occupied by passengers during routine take-off and landings.   All early 747’s featured a spiral staircase to access the Upper Deck.  While these were certainly elegant for the day and age, they were not the easiest to maneuver, especially in turbulence or an emergency.    Primarily installed for Flight Deck crews, 747 Upper Decks did feature a narrow single lane slide exit.  Nearly 5 stories high, using this slide would be a frightening experience for even a seasoned traveler.

We will now explore first/early issue 747 safety cards from the first generation of operators focusing on 747-100/200 aircraft.

Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747 and the first card was appropriately issued in January 1970, the same month of entering commercial service.

This 14 page booklet was mostly text with some graphic illustrations.   This would be the standard until 1975 when Pan Am changed to a more graphics based cards

For a brief time in 1970-71, Pan Am issued a larger and more colorful 747 Safety Card. This illustration from this September 1970 card shows the main level evacuation plan as well as door operation.

National Airlines largely followed Pan Am’s booklet format for its 747 cards

The other launch customer was TWA, and the first to fly the Queen domestically between LAX and JFK in February, 1970.

TWA used the 747 launch to introduce a new safety card design.  Prior to 1970, all TWA cards were text heavy with limited illustrations.

The 747 was a Top hinged plastic folder that was heavy of graphics and limited on text.  This is the January 1970 release.   These cards were used for many years with the same 1-70 date.  A unique collectible is the version of this card Printed In Italy.

TWA’s new graphic style apparently made an impression on other early 747 operators as they decided to adapt the TWA style for their own first issue cards.

This included Northwest Orient, who was the third 747 operator from the U.S. and the first to fly the Jumbo across the Pacific.  In 1989, Northwest would also be the launch carrier for the most popular variant of the 747, the 747-400.

Others to use the TWA style include Aer Lingus –Undated card – from ca 1971 [all 4 panels shown]

Air India – Undated ca 1972.   Note the Flight Attendant in Indian dress

Braniff International – which christened their Jumbo as 747 Braniff Place. This card is dated August 1975

EL AL – Undated ca 1972

Other early U.S. operators generally stayed fairly close to their established Safety Card formats

Delta Air Lines – October 1970 issue.  Delta first flew a 747 in late 1970 and flew the last passenger flight by a major U.S. Carrier in December 2017.   However, Delta’s 747 operation is not continuous, operating -100’s from 1970-1977 and then not again until flying -400 series from 2009-2017 following its acquisition of Northwest Airlines

United Air Lines – July 1970 issue – United had the longest continuous 747 operation of any U.S carrier from 1970-2017.

Continental Airlines – May 1970 issue.  Like Delta and National, Continental’s initial 747 operation lasted only for a few years.   The 747 proved too big for these smaller legacy carriers and they quickly found out that tri-jets such as the DC-10 or L-1011 were a better fit for their operations.

American Airlines first 747 card touted the Queen as the “Astroliner”.  This terminology would later be changed to LuxuryLiner. This card is undated from ca. 1970

Air Canada issued their 747 in the same format as its other cards of the time, although the 747 was a smaller sized Tri-Fold than that used on the DC-8’s .  This card was issued March 1971.

We now cross the Atlantic and review the first issue of Europe’s national carriers.

Lufthansa was the first foreign airline to receive a 747 in spring of 1970 and now holds the title of longest continuous 747 operator.  A title it will likely keep as it operates the newest member of the 747 family, the 747-8i.  This card is from 1972

Lufthansa’s first card was interesting as it featured black and white demonstration photos, including the then unique two lane and over wing slide utilization

Next up is BOAC, the predecessor to today’s British Airways.  This undated ca. 1971 card is a large A4 folder with thick loose lamination.

Air France’s first 747 card would follow their common format of the era.  These early cards were printed on Thick Vinyl making them very sturdy.

Two of my favorite 747 cards are the first issues from Alitalia and Iberia.

Alitalia introduced its iconic livery in conjunction with the 747 entering service.  It also changed its Safety Card format to a heavily graphic style.  This card is from July 1970

Iberia’s first card was an 8 panel plastic bound safety card featuring colorful illustrations. Iberia would continue to use this unique design until shortly after their livery changed in 1977. This card is ca. 1971

Iberia was one of the few early 747 operators to show detailed instructions for the Upper Deck door operation.

TAP Air Portugal top-folding card ca. 1972.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, SAS, Swissair and KLM had a collective maintenance agreement for their new widebody 747’s and DC-10’s.   Unfortunately, for the collector this agreement resulted in the very generic Safety card without airline name or logo used by all three carriers.   These cards are known among collectors as the KSSU Format (KLM, SAS, Swissair union)

We move now to Asia.  While 747-400 operations were dominated by the Asian carriers, the early 747 was not in high demand and early operators only ordered a few examples until the economic boom of the mid 80’s

Japan Air Lines was the first Asian based carrier to fly the 747.  Their safety cards of this era had a detailed floorplan as evidenced by this ca. 1970 example

Korean Air Lines would introduce the 747 in 1972.   Their card was similar in design to JAL but without the detail.  A unique feature of Korean’s early 747 operation was the location of a Cargo compartment in the last section.  As such exit from door 5 was only possible on the right hand side.

In 1972, Singapore Airlines was a new airline from a very small country.  Their acquisition of 747’s was considered a big risk for such a small country.  Needless to say, the risk worked out and SIA is now one of the most prestigious airlines in service today.  The naming of type as 747B was commonly used by early -200 operators.

Next we move down under to QANTAS.  QANTAS was unique in that it operated an exclusively 747 fleet between 1979 and 1985.   This card is undated and would be from ca. 1972-74

In the early 1970’s, the only airline in Africa that had the traffic to justify a 747 operation was South African Airways.   They would be the only 747 airline based in Africa for nearly a decade and the only African airline to operate 4 versions of the Jumbo.  Their first 747 safety card (ca. 1972) was this large placemat sized example.

Thank you for reading this brief history of early 747 safety cards and celebrate the airlines that flew the Queen from the beginning.

I am always looking for ideas/themes for upcoming Safety Card articles.  Input from the Safety Card community is always welcome.

Thank You

Brian Barron

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Illustrated Airmail Envelopes II

Please note that this first appeared in the American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine, #97, February 2016
Written by Arthur H. Groten M.D.

It is no secret that I am enamored of all things related to commercial aviation. In the May 2013 issue of American Stamp Dealer & Collectors Magazine #70, I wrote about U.S envelopes preprinted to indicate airmail service. I can show some more, this time adding foreign ones. They speak for themselves and I will let them do that after a few brief comments.

The designs seem to fall into three basic categories: hand-drawn, those made by airline companies and those either generic or specific to a non-airline company.

Hand-drawn ones have a charm all their own. They are usually made for non-philatelic purposes, manifesting the sender’s imagination. They are direct descendants of the 19th century British pen and ink covers (whose artistry is usually quite a bit more evident). The 1939 cover was carried from Belgium on the first flight from France to the U.S. The use of an air etiquette to help define the shape of the drawing shows some design sense. First flight covers rarely have such flamboyance.

Figure 1a

Figure 1b

Cpl. Holmes, stationed at Hawaii, received a rather striking cover from New York. It even has a tied-on Christmas seal.

Figure 2a

Figure 2b

A charming pen drawing graced the upper left corner of a 1946 cover from Belgium; the sketch shows a Belgian factory and an American skyline.

Figure 3

Something seen from time to time is the usual red and blue airmail border being added by hand. That makes sense in this return card for which the sender wanted air service.

Figure 4

Figures 5-8 show four generic envelope designs: U.S. 1931, Denmark 1950, Guatemala 1937, and Mexico 1945 with extra pizzazz from the censor label.

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8a

Figure 8b

Envelopes produced for use by airlines tend to be a bit more eye-catching: Brazil Condor 1934 (Figure 9), Brazil Panair 1939 of which there are a number of varieties (Figure 10), Paraguay Panagra/Panair carried on first Pan American flight from Asuncion to Rio (Figure 11), Peru Lufthansa 1938 (Figure 12) and Indochina Air Orient 1930 (Figure 13).

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 14 is a rather interesting outlier. The Uruguay 1931 envelope specifies that there was an additional fee of 50¢ to Comision Gral. De Aeronautica (General Commission not specifying an airline) for air service. The image at the upper left is typical of the remarkable graphics seen in Uruguay at this time.

Figure 14

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Art Deco of LaGuardia Airport – Time Travel to the Past

Written by Henry M. Holden

Municipal poster showing the iconic DC-3 and Boeing 314 Clipper Ship advertising the only two airports in the New York City area at the time, Floyd Bennett Field, and North Beach Airport. (author’s collection)

Hardly more than a decade after Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris, the world’s first Transatlantic passenger flights were regularly departing LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Terminal. Designed in the Art Deco style, the terminal is a “modern” example of travel prior to World War II.

The Airmail Act of 1925 created a revolution in mail transport and led to what would be called “The Golden Age of Aviation.” By the early 1930s, commercial airlines and airports were being developed, the result of the Federal government’s use of commercial airliners and private contractors for mail transport.

The history of the Marine Terminal coincides with that of commercial aviation in United States. Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947) had been an enthusiastic advocate of aviation from its earliest days. While in private law practice, he had as a client, Giuseppe Bellanco, a pioneering aviator and flight instructor. LaGuardia took flying lessons in 1913, in Minneola, Long Island.

The outside of the Marine Air Terminal sports the flying fish on the upper portion of the building. The flying fish represented the Boeing 314 Clipper ships. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

When the United States entered World War I, although LaGuardia had been recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps. He served in the Eighth Aviation Instruction Center in Fogia, Italy. He also flew as a pilot/bombardier with the Fifth Squadron on the Italian-Austrian Front, reaching the rank of Major.

LaGuardia was an early proponent of military of aviation, and also recognized the potential of commercial passenger airlines. The airport, which became his namesake is a tribute to this aspect of the career of one of New York’s most colorful and inspirational political leaders.

In the fall of 1933, now New York City’s mayor, LaGuardia was flying home from a vacation in Florida. On the final leg of his journey from Pittsburgh to New York, his TWA DC-2 landed at the only commercial airport to serve New York City; Newark Airport, in New Jersey. Insisting his ticket said New York, LaGuardia refused to get off the plane. LaGuardia demanded to be flown to New York City’s Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, which then had no scheduled airline service. TWA relented, and the plane flew on to Brooklyn. LaGuardia had dramatically made his point. One of the world’s great cities needed an airport closer to Manhattan than the commercially unsuccessful Floyd Bennett Field. Incredibly, New York City, an epicenter of global business, and culture, was not served by any airline.

The Boeing 314 is shown docked outside the Marine Air Terminal with the landplane airport in the background. (photo author’s collection)

Floyd Bennett Field was difficult to get to, and from, due to the distance, approximately 15 miles from New York City on the poorly kept, mostly dirt roads. Floyd Bennett Field led some planners to look at a parcel of land called North Beach, in Queens County, closer to mid-town Manhattan.

North Beach Airport

In 1929, North Beach was home to a private airport, built by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss. The Depression had forced the closing of the airport.

Mayor LaGuardia realized the need for an airport for one of the world’s great cities. LaGuardia campaigned relentlessly for a new airport, and North Beach seemed ideal. The airport was small, about 100 acres, but only five miles from Manhattan, on a main highway, and had unobstructed water approaches, critical for the flying boats of the era.

The landplane terminal lobby circa 1940 shows some of the Art Deco architecture sans murals popular at the time. Around the perimeter are the airline ticket and check-in counters. LaGuardia Airport was one of the first airports to have shopping, kiosk although it appeared it was for the wealthy passengers. The stairway leads to the departure area. (PANYNJ)

Plans for the airport, which was to be federally sponsored and funded through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), were approved by President Roosevelt on September 3, 1937. Just six days later, the Mayor presided over groundbreaking ceremonies and construction began.

Construction begins quickly

Construction at North Beach proceeded rapidly. First came the land-filling of a portion of Bowery Bay, the Rikers Island channel, and Flushing Bay, which more than doubled the acreage of the original site. Initially some 5,000 men were employed, but when building construction began the work force gradually increased to 23,000 workers by 1939. A 558-acre airport with almost four miles of runways and taxi strips emerged. Not only was LaGuardia the largest airport in the world at the time, it was also the costliest at $40,000,000, the greatest single undertaking of the WPA in those days.

This section of the Brooks mural shows navigators plotting a course with a slide rule for the next clipper flight. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

The original buildings included the landplane administration building, six hangers, office buildings, and a seaplane hangar at the Marine Air Terminal.

The airport officially opened on October 15, 1939 with a crowd estimated to be more than 325,000 just as the World’s Fair was opening a short drive away. It had a circular rotunda, restaurants, customs facilities, and a control tower. Today, only the Marine Air Terminal remains of the original buildings.

Among the 150 airplanes which took part in the festivities were three that circled overhead as the mayor made his address, skywriting “Name it LaGuardia.” This inaugurated a campaign to rechristened it, and on November 2, the City Council officially agreed upon New York City Municipal Airport LaGuardia Field.

By 1940, LaGuardia eclipsed Newark Airport. In March 1940, the Marine Air terminal was dedicated. At the ceremony two new Pan-American Boeing 314 clipper ships were on display. The clipper ships represented both the culmination of the development of seaplanes, and also the inauguration of a new era commercial flying.

The narrative of the mural begins with the mythology of Icarus and Daedalus. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

The clipper ships caused a genuine sensation and were described in the New York Herald Tribune as “breathtaking” in size. Clare Booth Luce in a Life Magazine article made a prediction, “Fifty years from now, people will look back on the Clipper flights of today as the most romantic voyage of history.”

The accommodations aboard these planes were indeed luxurious by today’s standards. The two deck interior featured dining rooms, private compartments, and sleeping sections.

But this glamorous era was brought to an abrupt end by World War II. The clippers were pressed into war service and functioned as passenger planes on government missions and cargo carriers.

The Marine Air Terminal today is a reminder of its original use. The building was planned for convenience of both passengers and crew. The clippers taxied in from Long Island Sound pulled by small motorboats and docked outside the terminal. For maintenance, they were hauled out of the water and moved along special railroad track into a nearby hangar.

Although a very large airport for the era in which it was built, by the late 1940s it was the world’s busiest airport, and clearly too small for the increasing amount of air traffic. Through the years, its runways were lengthened, and facilities were improved to handle larger and faster aircraft and more people.

Art Deco Rules

The Marine Air Terminal is a Art Deco masterpiece. It is rich colors, bold geometric shapes, and lavish ornamentation. The exterior boasts two cheerful frieze of flying fish intended to represent the flying-boat clippers of that era. The terminal is facing brick, originally buff colored with black brick detailing, but stainless steel, one of the new materials favored in the Art Deco circles, makes a sleek appearance on the exterior and interior of the building. Faceted circles, again a nod to the Art Deco style, were created by setting the black brick in vertical, angled courses between the banks of windows. The apparent simplicity of the Marine Terminal design is deceptive. It is a building of subtle interlocking geometric relationships, well scaled, well-balanced, and well-planned.

The mural pays homage to DaVinci, the Wright brothers and ends with the pre-World War II Boeing 314 Clippers. The display beneath the mural tells the story of the terminal in photos. Publisher and historian Geoffrey Arend, who was responsible for the mural’s restoration used the display to gin up interest in the mural’s restoration. (photo by Henry M. Holden)

Murals tell the history of flight

The Marine Air Terminal’s mural measures 12 feet (3.7m) in height and 237-feet (72m) in circular length, called “Flight,” and divided into three sections, that had a very specific focus according to artist James Brooks. “The aim of the design,” said Brooks, “is to identify the spectator with the broad scope of man’s yearning for flight and its final recognition.”

This was the last and largest mural produced under the WPA. The WPA, a key part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Administration, was the nation’s largest employer in the years leading up to World War II.

Almost anyone can recognize the references to Icarus and Daedalus, to DaVince on the mural; and the prewar aviators who navigated the seas with little to guide them but a compass, dead reckoning and the stars.
The mural tells the story of the global desire to fly from humankind’s earliest dream of becoming airborne, to the visions of Leonardo Da Vinci. It shows the flight of Icarus and Daedalus, in Greek Mythology. The Wright brothers are pictured and the mural ends at the point in aviation history where Pan American Airways’ flying boats were dominant.

But artistic and political tastes can deviate and change. In the early 1950s, just a decade after Brooks finished the mural, someone at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered that the mural be painted over. There was no official reason ever given for covering the mural, but the widely repeated story is that, in the anti-Communist fervor of that era, someone saw left-wing sympathies in Brooks’ mural.

The Bowing 314 Clipper ships was one of the latest aerial technological advances in 1939. It was the zenith of man’s dream and the golden age of the ‘flying boat. (Photo by Henry M. Holden)

In the representation in the mural of an ordinary man and woman, with the woman holding binoculars, it is possible to see why someone might have felt uneasy amid the Cold War paranoia. Brooks portrayed flight as being important for the common citizen, and not just society’s military, business and political elites.

What James Brooks left for us was the ability to travel through time: first, back to when air travel for the masses was a glittering promise, and then to when it became a subversive idea.

By the end of the war, technological advances in airplane design had made the Clippers obsolete. The terminal was closed for airline traffic in the 1950s (though it was still used as a waiting area for passengers who were bused to the main terminals) and it fell into a state of disrepair. In 1966, it was renovated and reopened for corporate jets.

It was only in the late 1970s, when publisher-historian, Geoffrey Arend, launched a campaign to restore the mural did many become aware of the mural. Arend published Air Cargo News and had an office in the terminal building. To attract attention to the “missing” artwork, Arend placed old photos of the mural in the terminal lobby, in sight of travelers who used the building to board corporate and private aircraft. Eventually he was approached by Laurence Rockefeller, and Reader’s Digest founder DeWitt Wallace, who agreed to finance the restoration. After an extensive restoration project headed by Arend, the mural was rededicated on September 18, 1980.

The Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport remains the only active airport terminal dating from the first generation of passenger travel in the United States, the “Golden age of the flying boat.”

In 1982, the terminal was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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