After spending several months concentrating on the airlines of the British Isles, I think we need to get some warmth into our bones with a quick visit to Central America. I might regret this decision because with September temperatures in the nineties and “feel like” temperatures in the hundreds here in Florida we might long for the north again.
I have a few insignia from that part of the world in my collection, but one of the carriers with the most extensive route structures and most colorful insignia is TACA. In the 1930s, TACA (Transportes Aereos Centro-Americanos) was founded by Lowell Yerex. It was started as a cargo carrier and eventually operated flights ranging from Miami in the north to Rio de Janeiro in the south. Most of these services were short-haul, but the presence of TACA touched just about all the countries of Central America, As air commerce developed in Central America, competition arose between TACA and carriers affiliated with Juan Trippe’s Pan American World Airways (PAA). TACA was based in El Salvador and maintains its headquarters there today. Over the years, its fortunes waxed and waned as it formed companies such as TACA of Venezuela, TACA Brasil, TACA de Costa Rica, and TACA de Nicaragua. Pan American-backed companies operated in Honduras (SAHSA), Nicaragua (LANICA), and Costa Rica (LACSA). The backing offered by PAA and TACA generally was about forty percent of the local carriers’ budgets. By the late 1940s the larger carriers had withdrawn their backing of the smaller companies.
Panama wasserved by Aerovias Panama and later Air Panama. Air Panama was backed by Spain’s Iberia and the earlier Aerovias Panama had been aided in operating to the USA by Trans Caribbean Airways.
There were a few independent airlines operating in Central America as well. One of those was Aviateca (Compania Guatamalteca de Aviacion, S.A.) of Guatamala.
I have some photos of one of this company’s Convair 440s taken by my father when he flew from Belize International Airport to Tikal to view the Mayan ruins. He had been serving as a ship’s medical officer after having retired from private practice in New York.
So, here are some Central American airline insignia to check over. All are in my collection, with the exception of TACA Venezuela and Aerovias Panama. The heraldry of the “parent” companies can be seen in The TACA affiliates’ blue parrot and the Pan American style cap badge seen in companies operating in South and Central America, the Caribbean, and even as far as Afghanistan (Ariana). Hope you enjoy them.
If a person about to board an airplane in Omaha were asked where he was flying to and he responded, “Omaha,” he may receive a few perplexed looks and even an audible, “But aren’t you there now?” Yet, when you live in metropolises that support multiple airports, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Tokyo, it is possible to fly from one to the other.
While distances between them may not be that excessive, surface travel, particularly during rush hours, can require excess time, and there is nothing like landing at an airport and proceeding to the next gate for a connecting flight and even having your checked baggage interlined to it.
New York, my hometown, qualifies as having one of these inter-airport networks. At least it has tried throughout the years, but none were successful. Aside from the obvious JFK International, La Guardia, and Newark Liberty International airports, there are secondary or satellite airfields, such as White Plains’ Westchester County and Islip’s Long Island MacArthur Airports, and even a tertiary one, Farmingdale’s Republic Airport. And all this excludes heliports.
Several fixed- and rotary-wing air shuttles were launched over the years, and a recent reflection enabled me to review the ones I took.
New York Airways, one of them, made a valiant, two-decade attempt to offer scheduled, rotary-wing service within the tri-airport network with the Boeing-Vertol V-107-II.
The type, which eventually became its flagship and virtual symbol of it, not only traces its origins to a design, but to the very, manufacturer that created it. Vertol, a Philadelphia-based, rotary-wing company, was concurrently designing two tandem-rotor helicopters—namely, the Chinook for the US Army and the CH-46A Sea Knight for the US Navy and Marines.
The latter, the result of a design competition for a Marine Corps medium assault transport, first flew in August of 1962 and was first delivered two years later, carrying troops and cargo between South China Sea positioned ships and Vietnam. Of its three prototypes, one was modified to civil V-107-II standard and it first flew on October 25, 1960, at a time when Boeing had acquired the company, resulting in the Boeing-Vertol name.
Powered by a 1,250-shp General Electric T58-8 turboshaft engine, it featured a 50-foot rotor diameter. With an 84-foot overall length, it had an 18,400-pound gross weight.
First flying in full production guise the following year, on May 19, it was FAA type-certified in January of 1962 and entered scheduled New York Airway service on July 1. The remaining ten built were sold to Kawasaki of Japan to serve as license-produced pattern aircraft, but that plan never proceeded into production.
Images of the V-107-II taking off from the Pan Am rooftop heliport symbolized skyscraper-stretching Manhattan island and formed an integral part of the city’s culture. They also represented an aspect of urban mobility: subways below its streets and helicopters above its buildings depicted successful technological triumphs over traffic-saturated streets and significantly reduced travel times.
Noise and vibration were counteracted with convenience, speed, travel times that were measured in minutes, and unparalleled views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. Approaches to the encircled “H” touchdown point on the water jutting pier placed the aircraft’s size into perspective when it was virtually swallowed by Manhattan’s monoliths during its alight.
New York Helicopter replaced New York Airways during the 1980s, although it used smaller equipment.
Owned by and operated as a subsidiary of Roosevelt Field-based Island Helicopter, it routed its Aerospatiale SA.360C Dauphin rotary-wing aircraft through the Newark, East 34th Street Heliport, and La Guardia circuit from JFK, operating from the TWA Terminal there.
Designed to replace the Alouette III, the Dauphin, with a fully glazed front nose section; a 980-shp, four-bladed Astazou XVI main rotor turbine; and a Forreston tail, first flew in prototype form on June 2, 1972. After it was retrofitted with a more powerful, 1,050-shp Astazou XVII and new rotor blades, it offered improved performance, along with lower noise and vibration levels.
The first production version, with a stepped nose, a single Turbomeca Astazou XVIIIA engine, and a 37.8-foot rotor diameter, carried eight passengers in two rows. Its maximum takeoff weight was 6,725 pounds.
Although only 34 were built because potential operators considered it underpowered, it served as the foundation of a military version, the SA.361.
One of my JFK-Newark hops entailed a short taxi to the takeoff pad amid the quad-engine widebodies that weighed some 750,000 pounds, causing the Dauphin to comparatively appear like little more than a fly. It generated lift with a full-throttle advance and was leveraged into a nose-down profile as its main rotor, biting the air at the proper angle, induced forward speed.
Escaping the air traffic-saturated maze of runways, it unrestrictedly gained altitude over Brooklyn, cruising over the azure surface of Upper New York Bay with the torch-carrying statue known as “Liberty” always in view in the distance. Making its approach to Newark International, it gently alighted, now at a nose-high angle.
An Air Vermont JFK-Islip flight, part of a multi-sector one that continued to Hartford, Albany, and Burlington, constituted another inter-New York airport journey.
Based in Morrisville and established in 1981, it served 13 northeast cities, according to its October 1, 1983 timetable: Albany, Berlin (New Hampshire), Boston, Burlington, Hartford, Long Island, Nantucket, Newport (Vermont), New York-JFK, Portland, Washington-National, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and Worcester with a fleet of Piper PA-31 Navajos and Beech C99s.
The former, featuring a low wing, a conventional tail, and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, may have been “large equipment” to private operators, but it was dwarfed by the jetliners taxiing to 10,000-foot Runway 31-Left.
Not even using a tenth of it, the twin-engine aircraft surrendered to the sky and surmounted the Queens sprawl, before setting an easterly course and closing the 40-mile gap to Long Island MacArthur in as many minutes.
After a landing and a short taxi to its original oval-shaped terminal, I immediately understood why one of the scenes from the original Out-of-Towners movie was filmed there: it exuded a quiet, hometown atmosphere, especially after the JFK congestion.
Aside from JFK International Airport’s rotary-wing links to Newark, Islip’s Long Island MacArthur provided its own in the form of Continental Express, operated by Britt Airways, whose codeshare agreement enabled passengers to connect to Continental’s mainline flights. It operated ATR-42-300s.
Following the latest intra-European cooperation trend, the French Aerospatiale and Italian Aeritalia aerospace firms elected to collaborate on a regional airliner that combined design elements of their respective, once-independent AS-35 and AIT-230 proposals.
Re-designated ATR-42—the letters representing the French “Avions de Transport Regional” and the Italian “Aerei di Transporto Regionale” and the number reflecting the average seating capacity—the high-wing, twin-turboprop, cross of Loraine tail, was powered by two 1,800-shp Pratt and Whitney Canada PW120 engines when it first flew as the ATR-42-200 on August 16, 1984. The production version, the ATR-42-300, featured up-rated, 2,000-shp powerplants.
Of modern airliner design, it accommodated up to 49 four-abreast passengers with a central aisle, overhead storage compartments, a flat ceiling, a galley, and a lavatory.
Granted its French and Italian airworthiness certificate in September of 1985 after final assembly in Toulouse, France, it entered scheduled service four months later on December 9 with Air Littoral. With a 37,300-pound maximum takeoff weight, it had a 265-knot maximum speed at a 25,000-foot service ceiling.
Continental Express operated four round-trips between Islip and Newark, parking at a Terminal C gate for convenient connections to Continental’s jet flights.
Attempting to establish a link between Farmingdale and Newark International itself, PBA Provincetown Boston Airlines commenced shuttle service with Embraer EMB-110 commuter aircraft, connecting Long Island by means of a 30-minute aerial hop with up to five daily round-trips and coordinating schedules with PEOPLExpress Airlines. It stressed its convenience in advertisements—namely, avoidance of the excessive drive-times, parking costs, and longer check-in requirements otherwise associated with larger-airport usage, and it offered through-fares, ticketing, and baggage check to any PEOPLExpress final destination.
According to its June 20, 1986 Northern System timetable, it offered Farmingdale departures at 07:00, 09:50, 12:00, 14:45, and 17:55.
The EMB-110 itself was a low-wing aircraft.
Named after the Brazilians who explored and colonized the western portion of the country in the 17th century, the conventional design, with two three-bladed turboprops and a retractable tricycle undercarriage, accommodated between 15 and 18 passengers. It was the first South American commercial aircraft to have been ordered by European and US carriers.
Originally sporting circular passenger windows and powered by PT6A-20 engines, it entailed a three-prototype certification program, each aircraft respectively first taking to the air on October 28, 1968, October 19, 1969, and June 26, 1970. Although initially designated the C-95 when launch-ordered by the Brazilian Air Force (for 60 of the type), the EMB-110 was certified two years later on August 9.
Powered by PT6A-27 engines, production aircraft featured square passenger windows, a 50.3-foot wingspan, a forward, left air stair door, and redesigned nacelles so that the main undercarriage units could be fully enclosed in the retracted position.
Designated EMB-110C and accommodating 15, the type entered scheduled service with Trans Brasil on April 16, 1973 and it was integral in filling its and VASP’s feederline needs.
Six rows of three-abreast seats with an offset aisle and 12,345-pound gross weights characterized the third level/commuter EMB-110P version, while the longer fuselage EMB-110P2, first ordered by French commuter carrier Air Littoral, was powered by up-rated, 750-shp PT6A-34s and offered seating for 21.
While load factors failed to support PBA’s 19-seat EMB-110s from Farmingdale to Newark, it continued to operate the service with smaller Cessna C-402s.
First flying on August 26, 1965, the low-wing, retractable undercarriage aircraft was powered by two three-bladed, 325-hp turbocharged Continental TSIO-520-VB piston engines. Although it was smaller than the EMB-110s that it replaced, its appearance at predominantly light Beechcraft, Cessna, Mooney, and Piper characterized Republic Airport next to its single Passenger Terminal and boarded by ticket holders through its port door located behind the wing, gave it a “mini-airliner” command.
Its pilot was just as “single” in number and its flight attendant count was decidedly lower than that, or zero. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the secondary purpose a general aviation airfield could serve, where parking was complimentary and only feet from the check-in counters, congestion was unheard of, and the quick air shuttle flight, replacing the Verrazano-Narrows and Goethals bridges, facilitated a link to the national air transportation system through connecting PEOPLExpress flights.
When Continental later acquired PEOPLExpress, PBA provided the same feed to its route system through Newark.
While there was no scheduled airline service between ten-mile-separated Republic and Long Island MacArthur airports, I created my own, of sorts, with four-place Cessna C-172 Skyhawks.
As a high-wing, four-seat, general aviation airplane powered by a single 160-hp, dual-bladed Avco Lycoming O-320-H2AD piston engine, it offered flight training-consistent performance: a useful load of 910 pounds, a maximum takeoff weight of 2,300 pounds, a 43-gallon fuel capacity, and a 125-knot speed. Its sea level rate-of-climb was 770 fpm; and its service ceiling was 14,200 feet.
Taking the left seat and accompanied by my instructor in the right, I made several flights between the two Long Island airports, performing outside aircraft inspections, starting the engine with the obligatory “Prop clear” yell, requesting permission to taxi, and completing systems checks in the run-up area, before moving on to the runway’s threshold and receiving takeoff clearance.
Opening the throttles and retaining centerline adherence with minuscule rudder pedal deflections, I gently eased back on the yoke, allowing the high wing to peel the aircraft off the ground in a single leap.
The sky is high and in it man is meant to fly, I often thought.
“Airliner realism” increased during approach to MacArthur, as radio transmissions, such as “USAir 1420, cleared to land, Runway 24,” placed my aircraft in the midst of the “real thing.”
Subsequent departures from the same runway entailed maintaining its heading and a visual flight rules (VFR) parallel of the Long Island Expressway below, until my own, “Republic Tower, this is Cessna 734HD, inbound for landing” transmission granted me continued clearance. A turn to base and final preceded a gentle, three-point touchdown.
Scheduled service it was not, but flying it yourself elevated the experience to something higher.
The dense New York airport network may not have offered the most exotic flying experiences, but their operation by several unique fixed- and rotary-wing carriers more than made up for it.
Australia’s QANTAS, a long-standing Boeing customer and leading B747-100 operator, seemed to be a natural SP customer when the type was introduced, but operated only two. The “Stubby Puppies” were most commonly deployed to the US West Coast and Far East.
The airline’s second unit (MSN 22672, 08.03.81, VH-EAB, “Winton”) carried the leasing company’s name and logo, visible in the lower front fuselage (it was renamed “City of Traralgon” in 1991). The classic 1970s livery features the iconic winged Flying Kangaroo logo over the traditional red-colored tail; a light orange cheatline; large red QANTAS titles together with “SP” references (mid-fuselage and upper tail); and the Australian flag above the registration. The special “Official Carrier Brisbane 1982” (Commonwealth Games) titles were applied just after its delivery flight to Sydney. This aircraft flew Pope John Paul II on a special PER-SEY-CIA flight on December 1, 1986. It was leased to subsidiary Australia Asia Airlines in the mid-1990s.
The first unit (MSN 22495, 01.11.81, VH-EAA, “City of Gold Coast Tweed”) also spent some time with Australia Asia Airlines and Australian in the 1990s. The 2000 look, based on the 1984 revamped livery, features smaller QANTAS titles, the airplane´s name in the lower front and “The Australian Airline” legend under the titles; the Australian flag; a modernized, wing-less Flying Kangaroo; and a subtle golden line along the outer edge of an elongated red-colored rear aircraft section. This livery has continued to evolve over the years through different adjustments but still retains, to date, the same basic elements.
VH-EAA and -EAB were retired and scrapped in 2002 at MZJ.
European airlines loved their classic Jumbos but not the SP, except French leisure carrier Corsair. Its only SP (MSN 21253, 08.27.76) was delivered new to South African Airways, leased to Royal Air Maroc in 1985 and subsequently leased to Corsair in 1994. It was first registered in Luxembourg as LX-ACO, becoming F-GTOM in 1996. Based at ORY, its frequent destinations included BKK, RUN, MRU, PPT (via LAX), FDF and PTP. It operated some flights on behalf of Air Tahiti Nui between PPT and NRT. The all-white fuselage featured large titles as well as a light and dark blue sea and sun tail design. The aircraft preserved the original Corsair color scheme until its retirement, unlike the rest of the fleet which migrated to TUI colors in 2004.
F-GTOM was involved in a serious wing-clipping ground incident with a Philippine Airlines B747-400 at LAX on June 6, 1999, sustaining considerable damage to its left wing and fuel tank. It was returned to service after repairs and remained in service until 2002. It was decommissioned and eventually abandoned at CHR.
The SP found a successful niche among private operators, especially in the Middle East, as a luxurious executive aircraft at the service of governments and royal families. A fitting example is Qatar’s Amiri Flight VP-BAT. Originally delivered to Pan Am (MSN21648, 03.09.79, N539PA, “Clipper Black Hawk”) and transferred to United in 1986, it was sold to Qatar and transformed into a flying palace in 1996. The aircraft featured a “Head of State VIP configuration” with 89 seats, several bedrooms , meeting rooms, health care area, and stylish lavatories. The aircraft was based at Doha and Bournemouth and registered in Bermuda. The SP was sold to the government of Yemen in 2018. The 42 year old aircraft is currently on the selling block and in preservation at MZJ.
Another Bermuda-registered SP, Las Vegas Sands Corporation VP–BLK (MSN 21961, 10.30.79, N58201 originally delivered to TWA) was sold to the United Arab Emirates Royal Flight in 1985 (A6-SMR) and converted to executive configuration. In 2007 it was purchased by Sands as a VIP transport for corporate passengers and high roller casino gambling patrons, becoming for many years a familiar sight at LAS. The aircraft has been parked for several months, presumably due to high operating costs and the sale of the Sands Corporation.
The finale takes us to SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), a US-German partnership involving NASA and DLR. Fittingly registered N747NA, the SP was originally delivered to Pan Am (MSN 21441, 04.07.77, N536PA, “Clipper Lindbergh”), then purchased by NASA from United (N145UA) in 1997 and heavily modified into an airborne observatory over a whopping ten-year period. The major structural overhaul included creating a cavity to house an airborne telescope; installing all support systems; and modifying the cabin interior to provide working areas for scientist and educators. A large door in the aft fuselage can be opened in flight, enabling telescopic observations in the stratosphere thanks to the SP´s high cruise altitude capabilities up to 45 thousand feet. This one of a kind aircraft is mainly based in PMD, but also spends some time in CHC. The original Pan Am name was retained and is barely visible in the lower front fuselage.
Boeing manufactured 45 SPs between 1975 and 1989 of which only a handful remain active today. It proved to be an exceptional aircraft performance-wise, setting multiple speed and distance records, and exceeding many of its original design operational parameters. The SP was caught in the middle of rapidly evolving technologies, including the evolution of the B747-100 into the -200 and -400 series, escalating fuel prices, and the demise of Pan Am, its largest operator. The B747SP will certainly be remembered as a pioneering, game-changing commercial aircraft.
Igor I. Sikorsky immigrated from Russia to the US, arriving on American shores with dreams, drive, and aeronautic blood coursing through his veins, but little more than lint in his pockets.
Five years after stepping ashore on this side of the Atlantic, in 1924, he planted Long Island roots that grew into the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation and through it concentrated on one of two aircraft types with which he would become synonymous—the amphibious flying boat, with the other being the rotary-wing helicopter.
Although the first of the former, the S-34, nosed into Long Island Sound near College Point on May 31,1927 (after one of its two engines failed at 800 feet) the succeeding S-38, which was designed between May and July of the following year, fared far better. Functional it was. Art it was not.
Amphibiously ambidextrous—if there is such a term—it was a combined aquatic and air “structure” that displayed the decidedly separate, but somehow connected aspects needed to operate in both realms: a short, hull-shaped fuselage and a high, straight wing, v-strut attached to the smaller, lower, hull-extending one. From the upper were slung two Pratt and Whitney Wasp radials and, from the trailing edge, twin booms that ended at the tailplane itself, consisting of a horizontal stabilizer from which two vertical surfaces extended both above and below.
“While considered an ugly duckling by some, it quickly proved to be one of the most efficient and practical airplanes of its time” according to “The Pan Am Connection” article in the June 2000 issue of the Sikorsky Archives News. “A Navy test pilot of the time called it a better ship than any other of its size and power.”
Despite its $55,000 price tag, the first ten aircraft were gobbled up after the S-38’s May 25, 1928 maiden flight.
Sikorsky, father of his aerial offspring, naturally later lavished it with praise.
“The ship had very good takeoff characteristics from land and water,” he claimed. “It had a climb of 1,000-fpm fully loaded and a maximum speed close to 130 mph. The ship could cruise nicely around 100 mph, and it stayed in the air on one engine.”
It saw considerable airline service.
Because of the S-38’s capability, it was instrumental in Pan American’s Caribbean, Central American, and South American route development, beginning on October 13, 1928. Airfield shortages proved no obstacle. As Andre Priester, Pan Am’s chief engineer, pointed out, “Flying boats carried their own airports on their bottom.”
Pan American ultimately operated 38 of the 111 produced.
The type opened up international passenger service on May 22 of the following year, bridging the 2,064 miles to the Canal Zone during a 56-hour journey, although it required overnight stops in Belize and Managua, both in Central America.
Six months later, Hawaii-based Inter-Island Airways, which was founded in January, commenced scheduled service from Honolulu to Maui, Hilo, and Kauai with two eight-passenger S-38s, effective November 11. Molokai and Lanai were served on request.
Devoid of land-based airports, Duluth, Minnesota, on the mainland, was aerially connected after Northwest brought its own S-38s into bodies of water near the city in 1931, and New York Airways, a subsidiary of Pan American, began service to Atlantic City on June 1 of that year with the type, later extending service to Baltimore and Washington with a motley fleet that also encompassed the Ford Trimotor and the Fokker F-X. The route was ultimately acquired by Eastern Air Transport on July 15, 1931.
The Republic Rainbow was an example of a Long Island-spawned airliner that had significant potential, but never materialized in reality.
The Republic Aviation Corporation itself traces its roots to Seversky Aircraft, which was established by the Russian emigre of the same name. Possessing a sixth sense for high-speed aerodynamic designs, he produced the P-35 fighter that set speed records and won racing awards. He subsequently relocated to Farmingdale facilities.
Despite his design capability, his business and marketing talents were severely lacking, resulting in abysmal sales and prompting his Board of Directors to ironically vote him—the company’s founder—out during a 1938 sales trip to England.
Reorganized and renamed the Republic Aviation Corporation, this action proved the necessary tactic to reverse its fortunes, leading to Army Air Corps orders for its P-43 Lancer fighter. The company was synonymous, however, with the P-47 Thunderbolt, which was nicknamed “The Jug.” Republic produced the first piston aircraft able to achieve a 400-mph speed and notched up sales that almost reached the 10,000-mark, as the company became the second-largest fighter supplier to the Air Corps.
Also reflecting this speed capability was the XF-12 Rainbow. Designed to fulfill the Army Air Corps’ Air Tactical Service Command’s needs for a high-speed and -altitude reconnaissance aircraft, particularly to record enemy installations over Japan, the streamlined, quad-engine, low-wing aircraft, emulating the graceful lines of the Lockheed Constellation, had commercial airliner potential.
“The Rainbow, with a design altitude of 40,000 feet, a payload of 12,000 pounds, and a cruising speed of about 400 mph, held out great promise,” according to R. E. G. Davies in Airlines of the United States since 1914. (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998, p. 328). “Pan American and American Airlines placed provisional orders. But severe problems with the engine and controls caused abandonment of the project.”
First flying on February 4, 1946, the original military version was powered by four 3,250-hp Pratt and Whitney R-4360-61 engines equipped with sliding cowlings that increased their capability by 250 hp at altitude. Lift was provided by high-aspect ratio, straight-tapered, square-tipped wings, which had a 129.2-foot span. Its cabin was subdivided into three aft photographic compartments.
Its statistics were, for the time, staggering: a 101,400-pound gross weight, 5,000-fpm climb rate, 45,000-foot service ceiling, 470-mph maximum speed, and a 4,500-mile range.
The RC-2, its commercial counterpart, would have introduced a five-foot fuselage stretch, a 46-passenger capacity, a lounge, a galley, uprated engines, and an increased fuel capacity. It would have been a serious—and superior-performance—contender as a transcontinental airliner in competition with the Lockheed Constellation itself and the Douglas DC-6.
“Officially designated the Republic XF-12, the Rainbow was a sleek, needle-nosed speedster, whose specifications called for a 400-mph cruising speed, nonstop transatlantic range, a then-unheard-of altitude capability of 40,000 feet, and a passenger capacity of 46,” according to Robert J. Serling in Eagle: The Story of American Airlines. New York: (St. Martin’s/Marek, 1985, p. 197).
The RC-2’s engine difficulties, a rise in its acquisition price, and the lower operating costs of widely available, war-surplus C-54s (the military version of the DC-4), resulted in the cancellation of American’s and Pan American’s provisional orders.
Still-born and little known, the RC-2, like the Lockheed L-1049 and the Douglas DC-7, would have represented the pinnacle of pistonliner development, but its later-than-optimum appearance robbed it of military contract cost advantages, leaving the two XF-12s as the only metal expressions of the design. As a result, Long Island lost its last chance of ever competing with the West Coast aircraft manufacturing giants.
‘Sky Harbor’ Airport, named by the owner of the original Scenic Airways, opened in Phoenix, Arizona, in early 1929 with one modest runway. It was soon nicknamed ‘The Farm’ because of its rural, isolated location. Its first scheduled passenger flight was operated by Maddux Air Lines on 23 February 1929. The City of Phoenix acquired the airport from its developer six years later, on 16 July 1935.
The airport’s first modern terminal was Terminal 1 which opened, together with the first control tower, in 1952. The control tower became an iconic symbol of the airport at that time.
In 1962 Terminal 2 opened, a major and modern addition with 19 gates. That same year Sky Harbor handled one million passengers for the first time. In 2019 more than 46 million passengers utilized the airport.
Terminal 1 was demolished in 1991 (except the iconic control tower was relocated to Cutter Aviation in the general aviation section of the airport), and Terminal 2 was closed on 4 February 2020. The airport’s website states that the noted Coze mural of Terminal 2 was saved for display in the Rental Car Center in 2021.
Terminal 3 with an additional concourse of 23 gates, and a new control tower and large parking garage, all opened in 1979. Since then portions have been modernized, and an additional concourse opened in 2019. In that year Terminal 3 was officially named the ‘John S. McCain III Terminal’.
Terminal 4, the largest of the airport’s terminals, opened in November 1990. Originally having 44 gates, it now has 86, with several concourses. It is also known as the ‘Barry M. Goldwater Terminal’.
Notes: All postcards shown are in the author’s collection except for the Beechcraft and United cards. The Beechcraft postcard is uncommon, and the rest are fairly common.
Best wishes for the success of Airliners International 2021 PHX, Marvin Goldman
Although Long Island indigenous Grumman Corporation never produced a bonafide “airliner,” one of its designs enjoyed limited commercial success.
Founded by Leroy Randle Grumman, who was once plant manager of the Loening Aircraft and Engineering Corporation, the Grumman Aircraft and Engineering Corporation planted its initial roots in Baldwin, NY on January 2, 1930. As the years went by the company moved to progressively larger facilities—first to Valley Stream eight miles away, then to the Fairchild Flying Field, 16 miles away in Farmingdale, and finally to the sprawling Bethpage plant on April 8, 1937. The need for even more space prompted the opening of a secondary location at the United States Naval Air Facility “Peconic River” plant, in 1953.
Principally a supplier to the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, Grumman produced its famous F2F, F3F, F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, F9F Panther and Cougar, F11F Tiger, TBF Avenger, and F-14 Tomcat series, most of which were instrumental in the victorious conclusion of several wars.
The G-21 Goose, the first of its aircraft that saw commercial service, was also the company’s first monoplane.
“In 1936, the Grumman Aircraft Corporation of Bethpage was approached by several wealthy Long Island residents who needed a small plane for personal transportation,” according to Long Island aviation historian Joshua Stoff, “They wanted an aircraft large enough to carry their families and baggage on trips, luxurious enough to fit their business needs, and flexible enough to take off and land either from the land or the sea.”
These residents’ selection of Grumman was the result of a referral. The initial request was to Loening for a successor to its Air Yacht and Commuter amphibians. Since he did not possess the facilities to undertake the project, Loening, who himself was a Grumman consultant, recommended them. Work on Design 21 began in 1936.
Representing transitional technology, the resulting design featured a riveted aluminum structure with a 38.3-foot overall length; a high-mounted wing, which had a 49-foot span and 375-square-foot area (but incorporated aft, fabric-covered sections and control surfaces), two outboard wing floats, and two nine-cylinder, 450-hp Pratt and Whitney Junior radials attached to the wing’s leading edge. Additional design features included a two-step hull for aquatic surface operations; a conventional tail; two single-wheel, upward-retracting main wheels for nesting in the fuselage sides; and a tail wheel.
The enclosed cabin, located behind the two-person cockpit, accommodated up to eight and was entered by an aft, port door. Convenience in flight was provided by a small galley and a lavatory. Baggage compartments were in the nose and behind the cabin.
When it first flew on May 29, 1935, The G-35 “Goose” became Grumman’s first twin-engine, land and water design, and the first with significant civil and commercial application.
The 65-minute inaugural flight from Bethpage, with a Manhasset Bay landing for demonstration purposes, led to type certification four months later, on September 29. The G-35’s max gross weight was 7,500 pounds. The type’s cruise speed was 175 mph and its payload- and fuel-determined range varied from 795 to 1,150 miles.
“The ease of handling, good stability, and satisfactory performance demonstrated during trials soon made the Goose a very popular aircraft with civil and military customers alike,” according to Rene J. Francillon in Grumman Aircraft since 1929. “Moreover, it proved to have a very strong airframe, thus endowing many of the 345 aircraft built by Grumman between May 1937 and October 1945 with a long service life.”
The G-35’s reasonable $60,000 price tag did not deter orders.
Aside from providing, as intended, comfortable transportation from water-front Long Island mansions to Wall Street and being used for similar, private purposes in the rest of the country, Canada, and the UK, this forerunner of the modern corporate jet had commercial application, as indicated by KNILM’s, KLM’s East Indian subsidiary, operation of it in March of 1940.
Bob Reeve, who amassed experience connecting Anchorage and Cold Bay during World War II, began regularly scheduled service to the Aleutian Islands in April of 1948 as Reeve Airways with a motley fleet of Long Island-originating aircraft, including the G-21 Goose and the Fairchild 71, (along with Douglas DC-3s and Sikorsky S-43s).
In the Caribbean, St. Croix-based Antilles Air Boats operated 18 G-21s, linking several islands as of February 1964, with service continuing all the way into the early 1980’s, and Mackey Airlines connected Miami with the Bahamas using its own G-21As until Eastern acquired the company in 1967.
Two carriers also used the type for the short, 21-mile hop from the California coast to Catalina Island—Avalon Air Transport from Long Beach and Catalina Seaplanes from San Pedro Harbor.
The B747SP’s ability to serve very long haul routes made it a natural choice for geographically challenged airlines, such as South African Airways (SAA), one of its earliest and second largest adopters with six ordered. Its long range capabilities were required to overcome political airspace bans imposed by several countries on SAA, implying circuitous routings and technical stops, and enabled nonstop service in key markets, such as JNB-SYD and JFK. SAA performed the world’s first SP commercial flight on 4.24.76, JNB-LIS-ATH-FCO, beating Pan Am by a few hours.
Three generations of SAA liveries were applied while the SP was in use, beginning with ZS-SPF (MSN21263, 12.22.76, “Soutpansberg”), its last unit delivered. The classic white, orange and blue original delivery livery features three distinctive elements: Titles in English (port) and Afrikaans (starboard); an anti-glare elongated “mask;” and the small Flying Springbok next to a reverse L-shaped line. It was sub-leased to Luxair, Air Mauritius, Air Namibia, and Linhas Aereas do Mozambique, and retired in 2008.
SAA’s livery was modernized in the 1980s, preserving the original colors and a larger Springbok, but not the mask, with revised dual language titles, as shown by ZS-SPE (MSN 21254, 10.21.76, “Hantam”), its fifth SP delivered. It flew too under sub-leasing contracts between 1989 and 1993, and remained in service until 2003.
Due to major political changes in South Africa, in 1997 a bold branding makeover took place, with new colors and larger titles, while eliminating “Airways”, the name in Afrikaans and the Springbok. ZS-SPB (MSN 21133, 02.24.76, “Outeniqua”), the second SP to enter the fleet, displays the revamped livery. It was also sub-leased from time to time, including to Air Malawi, Cameroon Airlines and Air Afrique, and sold to Panair in 1999.
In March 1976 ZS-SPA (MSN 21132, 1.27.76, “Matroosberg”), SAA’s first SP, set the record for the longest nonstop commercial aircraft flight upon its factory delivery, from PAE to CPT, which stood until 1989. In 1995 it also gave birth to Alliance, renamed Alliance Air in 1998, a joint venture between SAA and the airlines and governments of Tanzania and Uganda. ZS-SPA’s paint scheme on the model is a slight variation of the original one, which featured “Alliance” titles, a larger lion head and the flags of the founding nations involved. The “Special Performance 747” and “SAA Associate” titles in the lower aft fuselage were preserved. Alliance Air later acquired a stake in the national airline of Rwanda, hence the revised paint scheme featured four flags, all visible under the titles. ZS-SPA was wet-leased from SAA, based in EBB with routes mainly to Europe, and the company’s only aircraft. It was returned to service at SAA after Alliance Air went out of business in 2000 and scrapped in 2002.
The SP found great popularity in Asia. Iran Air, then a top Boeing customer, was an original proponent of the type and the first operator in the continent, with a fleet of four. EP-IAB (MSN 20999, 12.16.75, originally named “Kurdistan”) shows the airline’s 1990s livery. It features a dark blue cheat line; the iconic “Homa” Iranian mythical bird; the name “Khorosan” (adopted in 1992) in the lower front fuselage; and titles in Arabic in the front and back. The SP enabled the airline’s first nonstop JFK-THR service (eastbound only). It was stored in 2012 after close to four decades in service as a pillar of Iran Air’s fleet.
Further East in Taiwan, in 1991 China Airlines set up subsidiary company Mandarin Airlines, as a political workaround to the PRC’s boycott of China Airlines, due to its display of the ROC flag. China Airlines transferred several aircraft to Mandarin, including B747SP B-1862 (MSN 21300, 2.28.77) in 1993. The flag-less livery features Chinese and occidental titles, light and dark blue cheat lines, and as a stylish Chinese mythical gyrfalcon. It was deployed primarily in long haul sectors such as TPE-SYD and YVR, in lieu of China Airlines, until 1999. The aircraft operated with six different airlines and was last spotted in derelict condition in Sharjah (UAE) wearing Kinshasa Airlines’ livery.
Stay tuned for the final chapter of my SP tribute trilogy ….
The Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, reflecting the name of its founder, Glenn Hammond Curtiss, produced a handful of passenger-carrying transports on Long Island, after it established a research and development facility there in 1918. One of them was the Condor.
Its two major versions represented transitional technology, serving as bridges between the bi-plane and monoplane airliner (examples of the latter including the Boeing 247 and the Douglas DC-2).
“In most respects, (the Condor) was a step backwards in aircraft design—a twin-engine biplane whose forest of struts and wires provided built-in headwinds,” according to Robert J. Serling in Eagle: The Story of American Airlines (New York: St. Martin’s/Marek, 1985, p. 55).
In the early 1930’s Eastern Air Transport (later Eastern Air Lines) was expanding. This expansion included the acquisitions of New York Airways in 1931, along with its Atlantic City route, and Ludington Air Lines two years later, in 1933, with its own New York-Washington route authority. Eastern inaugurated a New York-Miami through-service with the very first Model 18 Condor to see commercial service on January 7, 1933. Differing from the later Model 32, it featured twin vertical stabilizers. Eastern used it to funnel winter-weary passengers to Florida’s sunbaked beaches. The Model 18 was also operated by National Air Transport.
Although the new type was slow and lumbering it was considered the first sleeper transport, whose comfort emulated the railroad’s Pullman berths, a necessity on stretches that required the morning set of the alarm to reach throughout the night.
Advancement occurred on many levels in the later Model 32 of 1933. The 32 was powered by two 710-hp, nine-cylinder Wright SCR-1820-F3 radials that turned three-bladed, variable-pitch propellers. This reduced the noise and vibration that otherwise propagated through the cabin like a tuning fork. The Condor II, as it was also known, was the result of frame-and-fabric construction, had a 49.6-foot length (actually shorter than its Condor I predecessor), and an 82-foot wingspan built with a tubular spar. Only a single vertical and horizontal tailplane was employed.
Drag reduction, attempting to compensate for that generated by the wing struts, was to some degree achieved with a retractable undercarriage.
Accommodation in a cabin blanketed with 70 pounds of soundproofing material was for 15 day or 12 night-berth passengers, who were attended to by a single “stewardess.”
First flying on January 30, 1933, the 32 had a 17,500-pound gross weight, an 840-mile range, and a 22,000-foot service ceiling.
American Airlines, which placed a $500,000 order for ten model 32’s, placed them into sleeper service between Ft. Worth and Los Angeles, which constituted a portion of its transcontinental route, on May 5, 1934, offering a competitive advantage over TWA and United. Neither of these competitors could not offer comparable comfort with their existing equipment. The 32 was also used to increase AAL’s daily round trip frequencies between New York and Chicago in September, advertising in its June 15, 1934 system timetable, “The world’s first complete sleeper planes.” One such route included Dallas, Ft. Worth, Abilene, Big Spring, and El Paso in Texas, Douglas, Tucson, and Phoenix in Arizona, and Los Angeles in California.
While The Condor Model 32 rarely achieved its 145-mph maximum speed and had a penchant for icing, it was otherwise popular.
Passengers loved the Condor’s roomy cabin,” according to Serling (ibid, p. 56). “In American’s configuration, the big biplane carried 18 passengers by day and could accommodate 14 in the surprisingly spacious berths. Compared to the noisy, rattling Fords and cramped Stinsons and Vultees, the Condor interior was palatial and compensated for the airliner’s abysmal performance.”
Of the 45 produced, not an insignificant quantity for their time, wore the colors of Swissair in Europe and Avianca and LAN-Chile in South America. They also served in military roles with the Army Air Corps, the Navy, and the Marines in the US, and with the air forces of China, Colombia, Honduras, and Peru, among others.
Few “airliners,” regardless of size, emerged from aircraft manufacturers located on Long Island. Even fewer were operated by the likes of American Airlines. However, the American Airplane and Engine Corporation Pilgrim 100 was one of them.
Conceptualized by Fairchild, but subsequently continued by the American Airplane and Engine Corporation, the new company planted its roots in the former Fairchild factory at Republic Airport in 1931. It represented, to a degree, the influence an aircraft manufacturer could exert on an airline.
William Littlewood, General Manager of the original Fairchild Engine factory, and Myron Gould Beard, a pilot and engineer there, ultimately took up employment at then-named American Airways. The former’s first significant assignment was to develop specifications for a cost-effective airliner. An “Airliner,” then, signified no more than a dozen passengers.
“Out of this assignment came the Pilgrim, the first commercial transport to be designed according to an airline’s specifications,” according to Robert J. Serling in Eagle: The Story of American Airlines (St. Martin’s/Marek, 1985, p. 19). “It was a single-engine plane carrying nine passengers and flown by a single pilot. The cockpit was inaccessible from the cabin; messages to the passengers were passed through a sliding panel in a bulkhead.”
Principally designed by Fairchild Chief Engineer Otto Kirchner and Project Engineer John Lee, the Pilgrim was the result of an Aviation Corporation’s (Avco) $35,000 study to replace existing single-engine types that proved too small for American’s needs, (AAL’s existing trimotors offered too much capacity). The initial, 15-aircraft order supplied the carrier’s Embry-Riddle, Southern, and Universal divisions.
The prototype aircraft was powered by a 575-hp Pratt and Whitney, nose-mounted R-1340 Wasp engine. The Pilgrim featured a high, straight, fabric-covered wing; three passenger windows and a fourth at the top of the exit door on either side of its fuselage; two single-wheel main undercarriage bogies truss-rigged from the wing; a tailwheel; and an enclosed, single-person cockpit and nine-passenger cabin. The production 100A version was equipped with a 575-hp Pratt and Whitney Hornet B-16 engine, which was replaced by the equally rated Wright Cyclone R-1820 radial on the later 100B which also introduced a larger vertical tail. American operated both variants.
Featuring a 39.2-foot overall length and a 57.5-foot wingspan, the Pilgrim carried a 2,150-pound payload and had a 7,100-pound gross weight. Range was 510 miles. Cruising speed was 118 mph and its service ceiling was 13,600 feet.
Of the 26 Pilgrims produced, American operated 22 100As and 100Bs, and the US Army Air Corps flew four designated “Y1C-24,” employing them on light cargo and supply missions. In their later aeromedical evacuation role, they accommodated four litter patients.
“Pilgrim aircraft were a favorite among Alaskan bush pilots during the time when air transportation was establishing superiority over dog teams, steamboats, and railroads in transporting passengers and freight in the territory of Alaska,” according to the National Register of Historic Places’ Inventory Nomination Form.
Because of their rugged reliability, they helped establish an intra-state aerial infrastructure. More than half of the civil and military Pilgrims provided passenger, cargo, supply, and mail lifelines to remote outposts and isolated communities surrounded by terrain inaccessible by ground transport. They operated in harsh climates, often alighting on ill-equipped fields with wheels and aquatic surfaces with floats. Bush pilots flew them well into the 1960s.
Pacific Alaska Airlines introduced the type on November 1, 1935, after American replaced its fleet with larger equipment. The carrier supplemented its existing Lockheed L-10 Electras with the type and used the Pilgrim to inaugurate a scheduled Juneau-Fairbanks service.
Aircraft N709Y, the only one remaining from those days, was acquired by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
“The Pilgrim N709Y is significant for its historic role in the development of aviation in Alaska,” according to the Inventory Nomination Form. “This aircraft was the first Pilgrim flown to Alaska and was one of approximately 13 Pilgrims (out of the 26 that were built) that served as the workforce of Alaska aviation in the late 1930s and early 1940s.”
The museum’s example was constructed on September 4, 1931. N709Y, serial number 6605, had a 3,247-pound payload and a 7.750-pound maximum takeoff weight, receiving its commercial aircraft license (the former equivalent of today’s airworthiness certificate) before being delivered to American Airways on November 21. With a full passenger complement and baggage load, it had an 86-gallon fuel capacity. Converted to Pilgrim 100B standard in 1934, it introduced the aforementioned larger vertical tail and 1820-F Cyclone engine.
Acquired by Alaska Air Express, it was operated until 1940, after which it wore Star Air Services’ colors, and served Anchorage and Juneau, as well as the Kuskokwim and Iditarod regions. Purchased by Alaska Airlines, it was deployed on scheduled routes from Anchorage, Cordova, and Valdez, and it provided feeder links from Juneau, Petersburg, and Sitka. Alaska Airlines reacquired it on November 11, 1970, for public relations purposes, since it represented part of its historic fleet.
Ball Brothers Seafood was this example’s last operator and one of more than a dozen others owned by the company. More than a million pounds of fish were transported by this single airplane from Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska, usually directly from the beach, before Anchorage’s Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum took possession of it on November 5, 2001.
Subjected to a ten-year, $1 million refurbishment program in Montana, San Francisco, and Anchorage, aircraft N709Y, the last known Pilgrim in existence, saw the replacement of most of its fuselage wood supports; the recovering of its wings, ailerons, horizontal, and vertical stabilizers, and elevators and rudder. Also included was the installation of a newly-constructed fuel tank and tailwheel, clearing it for sightseeing flights.
“Flying people, cargo, cows, and fish, the Pilgrim was key to the development of commerce in Alaska,” the nomination form concludes. “It is powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-1340 engine that gave it the thrust needed to lift and haul equipment, boilers, and fish from gravel strips and beaches. Due to its unique specifications and accessories, this aircraft is registered on the National Registry as the first to have a washbasin and toilet for inflight bathroom use.”
Because of the Great Depression, the American Airplane and Engine Corporation ceased operating in mid-1932 and once again reverted to its Fairchild foundation.