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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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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Musings from a Passenger’s Seat: Eastern Airlines Memories

Written by Lester Anderson

Mel Lawrence Photo-Shea Oakley Collection

I will state, without reservation, that I was a fan of Eastern Air lines and I want to share some of those memories.

My First 727 Flight

I graduated high school in 1965 and (along with my traveling companions, two other high school students graduating the same high school) we celebrated our graduation by taking a flying trip to Hartford from New York.  We had no thoughts of going into the city, we wanted to fly from a NY airport to the Hartford airport, and then fly home.

We planned this through research using the OAG (Official Airline Guide).  This was a book that was about the same size as the New Jersey Bell telephone directory.  For those of you under 40 and have no idea what that means, it was an 8 ½” x 11 book, with soft covers, about 300 pages, printed on newsprint paper.  It listed every flight in the United States, listing the airline, type of aircraft, departure and arrival times, days of travel and fares. It was published twice a month to keep current. We could never afford a subscription, but I had a travel agency that I befriended (Greenwald Travel in Clifton) and they would give me a copy of the expired last issue.

We all had mail subscriptions to the airline timetables, but they were mainly useful to see the flight details.  But the OAG it gave all fares and which airlines were authorized to offer special fares.  In the 1960’s all fares were approved by the CAB, and between city pairs, and unlike today they changed only when the CAB gave the OK. Classes included First on all aircraft (F) and Economy on jets (Y) and Tourist on piston engine (T). But important to us were deeply discounted fares, often on weekends, called Weekend Excursion (YE) fares.

So a month after our high school graduation we flew on an Eastern Air Lines Excursion Fare from JFK to Hartford and return to Newark for the magical fare of $12.00 ($11.43 plus 57 cents tax). (See the Eastern Air Lines ticket image).  The validation franking (even though the official name had changed to JFK) was International Airport, New York, NY.  (As a side note, I was a fan of the James Bond movies, and the airline code for all airline issued tickets by Eastern was 007).

The first flight was on an Eastern DC-7B.  Since my first flight ever was on a DC-6B this was like the big brother of an old friend.  I must admit while I remember taking the flight, I cannot give any outstanding details about either the flight or the aircraft, other than remembering the taxi time at JFK was much longer than LGA or EWR.

The return flight was a major reason for the trip, it was a new Whisperjet 727.  Eastern had begun flying the 727 the year before, so this was a brand new airplane. I sat mid-cabin across from the galley.  My first major memory was that it was far from whisper-quiet.  Engine noise was not there, but the wind noise was even louder!  I was later told that the degree of soundproofing insulation was an airline option

I was over 18 and in those days you could drink alcoholic beverages in NY at 18, so I was interested in the galley liquor display.  Unlike today when everyone gets a small bottle, about 8 full size bottles were mounted vertically on the bulkhead with a dispenser at the bottom. If someone bought a drink the stewardess (yes that is what they were called) put a glass under the spout and the correct amount was dispensed.  Both because it was expensive for us (plus it was a mid-afternoon flight) we passed on buying drinks on the plane.

For all of our flights, leaving JFK, arriving and departing Hartford, and arriving Newark, access to the airplane was outside using steps, not the Jetway that became the standard way of boarding years later.

And one other change—the back cover of the ticket package reminded you that if you were on a round trip ticket and stayed overnight you needed to reconfirm you return reservation.

Ionosphere Club

When they started, airline clubs were the exclusive facilities that only the most valued customers of an airline could visit.  In the 1970’s airlines were forced by congress to open their clubs to any passenger who would pay a membership fee. And for me, that was the golden ticket.  For $25 for a year, I signed up for a membership at Newark Airport.  A few months later they sent me an invitation to upgrade to a 5-year membership, which I also gladly did.  Then a few months later (they had an effective marketing department), I was given the opportunity to become a lifetime member, for me and (eventually) my wife.  The total cost was just about $500, and this has given me club access through all of Eastern’s existence, then Continental’s President’s Clubs (with only a minor requirement of flights to affect the transfer) and now we are lifetime members of the United Club.  When I did sign up for the lifetime membership they send me a wood wall plaque (see picture) attesting to my membership. It is still on my wall (basement wall, but still my wall).

I got a good deal on this and so did Eastern because as I travelled on business, having the advantage of the Ionosphere Club, did get me to book as much travel on Eastern as I could.

As a member of the Ionosphere club, I was also invited to open an account in the Eastern Airlines Credit Union.  While I had no real need for another bank account, the checks on that account were pictures of Eastern airplanes, so how could I say no.  And while I visited only once, I found that the “local branch office” for making deposits and withdrawals was in Eastern Flight-Operations.  In those days of little security, just showing my Eastern Credit Union membership card got me in the door of flight-ops.

Flight  Memories

When I was in the computer business I did a lot of business travel by air.  And although I eventually did have multi-year memberships in the United Red Carpet Club and the Delta Crown room, my favorite was Eastern and the Ionosphere Club. I was never able to convince my employer to pay for the memberships, but I found them invaluable whenever there was a flight delay or cancellation (the line at the counter had 100 people, the club may have had 2 or 3 in line).  Plus in those days, flight changes and sometimes upgrades were at the discretion of the agent, and the club agents were very generous, especially to we frequent travelers.

If you flew south, with Eastern (and Delta for that matter) odds are very high you were going thru Atlanta.  Eastern had a great presence there.   They occupied concourse C fully and split the gates of Concourse B with Delta, and both concourses had Ionosphere Clubs.  And if you were making a connection (as you often were), they had a great “cheat corridor.” There was a passageway built under the tarmac of the gates with a moving walkway between the two Eastern Concourses so you could easily go from one concourse to the next if that was needed for your connection.  From what I can find on the web, the passageway still exists but it is closed off since there is no more need for it.

Airline Food

What is there to say about it.  But two things I can relate about Eastern.  They had what I called their “Apple Snack”, a plastic tray with an apple, two wrapped pieces of cheese, and some crackers, all in a shrink wrapped package the flight attendants (times, and job designations, changed from the 60’s) could easily distribute to the 100-150 passengers even on hour long flights. And it was the perfect snack for an afternoon flight. The regular meals were OK (nothing great, nothing terrible) but Eastern had probably the best selection of “special meals” you could order in advance.  I took advantage of that often, and it gave me a meal of which my seat-mates often would be envious.

Eastern’s frequent flyer program, OnePass, gave each member a book of tickets, about the size of small checks. When you turned in your ticket (all flights used paper tickets), you also turned in this OnePass form which had your information already printed on it, and you just wrote in the date and flight number.  And it worked very well.

Although I traveled a lot (and therefore got my share of first-class upgrades), I never had a position where I was authorized to fly first class on a first class ticket.  But Eastern had a Y-ONEPASS fare which, if the ticket was written as full “Y” fare, you could book confirmed space in the first-class cabin.  A great marketing way around a customer who needed to fly “Y”, but would love to sit in “F.”

And during the times of “saving every dime” Eastern did a power-back at the Atlanta airport gates with the 727 and DC9 aircraft to avoid needing the tug.  My memory of that (and I knew what was coming so I was never concerned) is the aircraft moved forward a foot or so towards the terminal before starting to back up.

Some Sadness

Eastern declared bankruptcy in New York (where Eastern management felt they would have a better chance).  It was a Miami company, but due to the rules of bankruptcy, the first Eastern entity to declare was Ionosphere Clubs Inc. which was a New York corporation. Then Eastern Air Lines could join its sister company in the bankruptcy filing and it would be adjudicated in New York which management thought might be friendlier than if they declared in Florida.   History shows how that worked out.

But my greatest sorrow was going thru the Atlanta Airport after Eastern finally ceased all operations.   The tram that goes between the concourses just bypassed the darkened Eastern only concourse C and the Eastern/Delta Concourse B was partially blocked. I also walked between concourses (ATL has a moving walkway) and it was upsetting to walk past the C entrance with all lights off, and the B entrance partially closed off’ a sad memory of Eastern’s demise.

But I am glad that I have so many more good and vibrant memories of Eastern, and that spirit of the “Wings of Man” still lives on in me.

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Pan Am’s Flying Clippers

Written by Henry M. Holden
henry39holden@gmail.com
www.henrymholden.com

By the mid-1930s, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) used Martin M-130 and Sikorsky S-42 flying boats to cover their their Caribbean and South American routes.

When passenger demand increased for trans-Pacific and Atlantic travel toward the end of the 1930s, Pan Am went to Boeing for a long-range flying boat. In response, Boeing developed the Model 314, nicknamed the “Clipper” after the great ocean-going sailing ships.

Pan American wanted a flying boat with an extraordinary range that could supplement the airline’s trans-Pacific Martin M-130. On July 21, 1936, Pan American signed a contract for six Model 314s. The first deliveries occurred in March 1939. The Model 314 was the largest civil aircraft in service at the time.

NC18602 (No. 18) was the California Clipper. It was the last Pan Am 314 to be retired. By 1946, when it retired, had accumulated more than a million flight miles. (Photo Boeing Archives)

It was twice the size of the Sikorsky S-42, and outweighed the Martin M-130 China Clipper by 15 tons. The Boeing 314 weighed 40 tons and cost $550 000 per copy. Initially it had poor directional control due to the single vertical stabilizer. Boeing eventually settled on the triple-tail arrangement which became a feature of the design.

It had a central hull and adapted the experimental XB-15 bomber’s 149 ft. (45 metres) wing and engine nacelles on the flying boat’s large (for its day), whale-shaped body.

In the place of the traditional floating stabilizers at the wingtips, sponsons mounted on the sides of the hull were used. The sponsons were developed by Claude Dornier, and used on the Dornier Do X and Dornier Do 18. The sponsons also contained fuel tanks, which brought the capacity of the total fuel on board to almost 3,525 gallons (16 ,00 liters).

The new 14-cylinder double-row Wright 1,500 hp. Cyclones were the first to use 100-octane fuel. These engines on the 314A eliminated the lack of power that handicapped and ultimately canceled the XB-15 project.

Behind the upper-level flight deck were crew sleeping quarters and a giant baggage area. Between the two decks was a spiral staircase. The lower deck included a dining salon, cocktail lounge, and separate lavatory-dressing room facilities for men and women. The ultimate bow to the first class traveler was a bridal suite. One less publicized feature was the first flush toilets ever used on a transport aircraft.

On May 20, 1939, Pan American inaugurated the first transatlantic mail service. Almost a ton of mail was carried from Port Washington, N.Y., to Marseilles, France, via the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal, in 29 hours. The same aircraft opened the northern mail service to Southampton, UK on June 24, 1939.

The 314 had a 3,500-mile range and made the first passenger-scheduled trans-Atlantic flight on June 28, 1939. By the year’s end, Clippers were routinely crossing the Pacific. Passengers had a spacious lower deck that allowed seating for 74 daytime passengers on trips less than 1,000 miles over water, or 36 to 40 passengers in reclining seats for long overnight flights.

White-coated stewards served five and six-course meals on china with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314s has not been matched on heavier-than-air commercial transport since then. (Photo Boeing Archives)

Luxury Air Travel

Pan Am’s “Clippers” were built for the “First Class traveler,” a necessity given the long transoceanic flights. It had a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h), but typically flights at the maximum gross weight were flown at 155 mph (249 km/h). In 1940, Pan Am’s San Francisco, to Honolulu, Hawaii, the route took 19 hours.

The 314s had galleys crewed by chefs from five-star hotels. White-coated stewards served five and six-course meals on china with gleaming silver service. The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314s has not been matched on heavier-than-air commercial transport since then. This was travel for the super-rich, priced at $675 from New York to Southampton, UK (comparable to a round trip aboard Concorde in 2006). Most of the flights were trans-Pacific, with a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Hong Kong via the “stepping-stone” islands costing $760 (or $1,368 round-trip)

The 314 proved to be an excellent airplane. The XP–15 wing design increased the range t0 3,500-miles. It was a huge wing that not only gave the 314 the incredible range, but also the capability of making some in-flight repairs on the engines. Like the XP 15, there was a passageway inside each wing through which a crew member could crawl.

The lower deck included a dining salon, cocktail lounge, and separate lavatory-dressing room facilities for men and women. (Photo Boeing Archives)

World War II

On September 3, 1939, the golden age of the clipper ships came to a dead stop with the outbreak of World War II in Europe. The war curtailed Pan American’s opportunity to build on its success, and the northern trans-Atlantic route was abandoned on October 3, 1939.

At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, the Pacific Clipper was en route to New Zealand. Rather than risk flying back to Honolulu, and being shot down by Japanese fighters, the captain decided to fly west to New York. Starting at Auckland, New Zealand, the Pacific Clipper reached New York after traveling over 31,500 miles (50,695km).

The Clipper fleet was pressed immediately into military service for the war effort. The flying boats were used for ferrying personnel and equipment to the European and Pacific Theaters. The aircraft were purchased by the War Department, and leased back to Pan Am for a dollar.

Few other aircraft of the day could meet the wartime distance and load requirements. President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled on Dixie Clipper to meet with Winston Churchill at the Casablanca conference in 1943.

On the Marine Air Terminal interior wall is a mural representing the history of flight. The last mural depicts the Clipper ships and the crew plotting their flight. At that point, 1939, the Clipper represented the latest in aviation technology. (Photo Henry M. Holden)

The Clippers had long legs. American military cargo was carried via Brazil to Liberia, to supply the British forces at Cairo, and to the Russians, via Teheran. The 314 was then the only aircraft in the world that could make the 2,150-statute-mile (3,460 km) crossing over water, and was given the military designation C-98. Since the Pan Am pilots and crews had extensive expertise in using flying boats for extreme long-distance over-water flights, the company’s experienced pilots and navigators continued to serve as a civilian flight crew.

Success breeds more

With the success of the Boeing 314, Pan American ordered six more aircraft with increased engine power and passenger capacity, as the Boeing 314A, to be delivered in 1941.

Initially, the goal was to double the service on both the Atlantic and Pacific routes. However, the fall of France, in 1940, caused some doubt about whether the Atlantic service could continue. Passenger numbers were declining due to the war, and if Spain or Portugal joined the Axis, then the flights to Lisbon would end.

LaGuardia Airport, in New York City, was the clipper’s east coast operating base. A special building, the Marine Air Terminal, built in 1939, was for clipper passengers. The flying fish on the side of the building represented the Clipper ships. (Photo Henry M. Holden)

The 314A was a great improvement, it had increased fuel capacity of nearly,1 000 gallons (4,500 liters). The first 314A flew as a prototype on March 20, 1941, but with WW II raging, only half the order went to Pan Am. Three were bought by the British government and allotted to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for use as transport aircraft, primarily intended for the UK – West Africa route. The sale made a small net profit for Pan Am – priced at cost plus five percent – and provided a vital communications link for Britain. Churchill later flew on Bristol Clipper and Berwick Clipper, which he praised strongly, adding to the Clippers’ fame during the war.

They faded quickly

Twelve Boeing 314 Clippers were produced by the Boeing Airplane Company between 1938 and 1941. Of the 12 three were lost to accidents, although only one of those resulted in fatalities: 24 passengers and crew aboard the Yankee Clipper died in a landing accident, in Lisbon, Portugal, on February 22, 1943. Among the fatalities was a prominent American author, and war correspondent, Benjamin Robertson. American singer and film actress Jane Froman was seriously injured. Two more Clippers were sunk in collisions with rescue ships after being forced to land due to engine trouble.

Three Pan American Airways S-42s over Miami Beach, Florida. When passenger demand increased for trans-Pacific and Atlantic travel toward the end of the 1930s, Pan Am went to Boeing for a long-range, four-engine flying boat. (Photo Florida State Archives)

The last Pan Am 314 to be retired, the California Clipper, in 1946, had accumulated more than a million flight miles. All Pan-Am’s 314 were removed from scheduled service in 1946, and five serviceable B-314s were purchased by the start-up airline New World Airways. These sat at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field until 1950 when all were sold for scrap. The last of the fleet, the Anzac Clipper, was resold and scrapped at Baltimore, Maryland in late 1951.

BOAC’s 314As were withdrawn from the Baltimore-to-Bermuda route in January 1948, replaced by Lockheed Constellations flying from New York and Baltimore to Bermuda.

The Boeing clippers served Pan Am and BOAC well during their short careers. The advent of the four-engine land planes, which traded luxury for speed and greater operating economy, doomed the flying boats. The passing of the flying boat, however, was inevitable even before war broke out. The same Boeing engineering capability responsible for the advanced technology found in the clippers made their extinction predictable. For even as the 314 was being developed, so too was another prewar airliner with technology even more cutting edge, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner.

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

Written By Lester Anderson

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

First Flight

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

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

Airplane-Cab-Airplane

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

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

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

Weekends Unlimited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lester Anderson

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The Soaring Sixties: Airline Marketing in Changing Times

Written by Shea Oakley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an era never to be repeated.

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

Written by Lester Anderson

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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

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

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

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

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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

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

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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

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

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

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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

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

About the Author – Lester Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

Photographs by Mel Lawrence via the Shea Oakley Collection.

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