Written by Charlie Dolan
My connection with American Airlines began on November 9, 1954 when I took my first ride in an airplane between New York City (KLGA) and Washington, D.C. (KDCA) It was my tenth birthday (shared with my twin brother) and our father took us to the nation’s capitol to soak up some history. I forget which aircraft took us south and then north, but one was a Convair and the other a Douglas DC-6. The result was immediate and the aviation bug had bitten.
I began working on my private pilot license while in college and enjoyed “commuting” between home on Long Island and Buffalo, NY with American Airlines doing the lion’s share of my transportation. The routes were operated by various aircraft between 1963-1967 with rides taken on DC-6s, Lockheed Electras, Boeing 727s and the “Pocket Rocket” BAC 1-11 known to AA as the BAC400.
While I was stationed at Montreal’s Dorval Airport (CYUL) I began to collect the insignia of airline “front-end” crewmembers after the demise of Braniff International Airlines. Shortly after I began asking crews how I could go about obtaining wings and cap badges, I was contacted by Captain Dick Koran of AA. In no time at all, a long lasting friendship developed.
Dick was a wealth of information and we spent many evening together, swapping brass and lies, whenever he had a Montreal RON.
Now to the topic of American Airlines insignia. Recently, AA switched to a new set of wings and cap badges to replace the silver insignia which had been in use for just over fifty years.
I have not had an opportunity to closely examine the new pilot wing and cap badge, but my natural resistance to change left me less than enthusiastic. They seem small in comparison to the last issue, but I may get used to them.
I believe that American’s first wings were the generic U S Air Mail wings worn by many carriers which transported the mail. There was also a “MATE” wing worn by co-pilots.
The first American Air cap had A”AMERICAN AIRWAYS” embroidered on the headband just below the A A and eagle gold badge. This was later changed to “AMERICAN AIRLINES”
During this period American issued its first AA wing which had a flat disc under the A A and eagle.
In 1934, AA issued wing insignia which designated pilot qualifications (pilot, captain, supervisory captain / check pilot) until 1946 the eagle was facing to the left as you looked at the wing.
In 1946, the eagle was reversed and began facing right as you looked at the wing.
As American began operating larger, more complex, aircraft a flight engineer was added to the crew.
During the war years, American Airlines pilots assisted the military by operating ferry flights and non-combat missions in support of the war effort. There is a photo of Ernest K. Gann, wearing an Army air Force leather flying suit with the American Airlines cap. It was shortly after this photo was taken that Capt. Gann left AA to join the short lived Matson Line.
The hat was changed in 1949 and removed the “AMERICAN AIRLINES” from the headband and added a gold bullion wreath to surround the now gold bullion thread eagle. These insignia lasted into the jet-age, when the gold gave way to the silver insignia.