Thursday, July 7, 2011

Airliners & Airlines I've Known...

I started flying on commercial airlines in 1958…mostly back and forth from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to Buffalo, New York.   I attended DeVeaux School in Niagara Falls, a Episcopalian college preparatory school for boys.  It was located adjacent to the State Park by the Niagara River’s Whirlpool.  (The school is long gone…too bad, as I have some great memories of the 4 years I attended classes there)

I must admit that I loved flying in those days…  Each trip was an adventure and the ‘stewardesses’ were very appealing, especially to a young male between the ages of 15 – 18!  Then there were the planes!   Unlike today’s aircraft, they truly differed in style and character.  Here are 4 different aircraft I flew on and 3 airlines that no longer exist, that I was able to experience in my early years of flying…

This is the American Airlines version of the Lockheed Electra.  It seated between 66 and 80 passengers, depending on the configuration… Unfortunately, it acquired a rather negative nickname…the ‘flying cylinder of death’. (Early on, not long after the plane debuted, they experienced 3 separate fatal crashes in a 14 month period from 1959 to 1960)

For its day, this was a very nifty looking airplane.  Lockheed built the Electra as its successor to the Constellation, which certainly was one of the most aesthetically pleasing airplanes ever built.  However, given its negative beginnings, the Electra never really caught on with the airlines or the public.  Only 170 L-188 Electra Passenger aircraft were ever built.  As of this year, only 9 are left in service…with Buffalo Airways in Canada flying 2 of them. (Seen on the National Geographic Channel’s TV show, ‘Ice Pilots’)

Note: It’s quite interesting to note that the US Navy bought 734 P-3 Orions, the military version of the L-188…and some of them are still in service!

This picture from my collection of old postcards, pretty much tells its own story!  I flew on Mohawk Airlines…in a Convair Metropolitan 440’s that looked just like this one.  Mohawk was founded in 1945 and it served the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.A., primarily focused on New York and Pennsylvania.  In 1958, it became the first US airline to hire an African-American woman as a flight attendant.  Mohawk was acquired by Allegheny Airlines in 1972.

The term ‘Convair’ is an amalgamation of the Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft Company…in its day a well known and respected manufacturer.  The Convair 440 was an evolutionary development that started with the Convair 240.   American Airlines had requested that Consolidated-Vultee design a new aircraft to replace American’s aging fleet of Douglas DC-3’s.  The 440 was the final piston-powered upgrade of the Convair 240.  It carried 44 – 52 passengers.  In total, 1,181 Convair 240, 340, 440 (and other lesser variations) were built.  They’re still in use in many countries around the world.

This was my favorite airplane back in the day…It’s a Vickers Armstrongs Viscount…the first passenger turboprop aircraft ever developed.  It had 4 quiet engines, (compared to the US piston-driven aircraft), and it carried 48 to 53 passenger.  It was first introduced in 1950…and Capital Airlines was the only US Airline that purchased the plane.  Capital bought 40 Vickers Viscounts 745D’s.  A total of 445 of the Viscounts were built… There are no more than 4 Viscounts left…and only 2 may be flyable.

Note: The Vickers Viscount's very best feature was its windows!  They measured an incredible 19” wide by 26” tall… Compare that to the little portholes we have to look out of today!

Capital Airlines began life as Clifford Ball Airlines…with its first scheduled passenger service in 1928.  In 1936, Ball merged with Central Airlines and then in 1948, it became Capital Airlines.  At one point, Capital Airlines was the 5th largest domestic carrier in the US.  The airline served the Eastern US until it merged with United Airlines in 1961.  

And yes…I did fly on one of these great airplanes!  This is a Douglas DC-3 and I actually flew on one with Lake Central Airlines from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to Erie Pennsylvania and then on to Buffalo New York.  It was like a flying history lesson…even in 1959!

The DC-3 is the most successful airliner and all around airplane that has ever been built.  They would hold 32 passengers and cruise at 150 mph.  Top speed was 237 mph and they have a service ceiling of 24,000 ft.  They’re still popular and in use in many 3rd world countries.  One reason is that they can land on grass or dirt runways.  A total of 16,079 DC-3’s were built and the first one went into service for American Airlines in 1936.  December of 2010 marked the 75th anniversary of the first flight of a DC-3.   My favorite description of the DC-3 is that its ‘a collection of parts flying in loose formation”. 
Note: Buffalo Airways, as featured on the National Geographic TV Channel's show, 'Ice Pilot', also flies DC-3's on their routes. 

Lake Central Airlines operated from 1950 to 1968.  It started out 3 years earlier in Indianapolis Indiana as Roscoe Turner Airlines.  After being purchased and renamed, it expanded into a 6 state area…gained popularity for it’s prompt and on-time service and slowly expanded through out the mid-west.  It became famous for it’s 4 minute turn arounds.  They would leave one engine running on the DC-3’s and quickly unload and reload the passengers.  In 1961, Lake Central was flying 23 DC-3’s and 5 Convair 340’s.  Of interest is the fact that this airline was the first employee owned airline in the US.  Lake Central flew their last DC-3 flight in 1967 and the airline flew into oblivion in 1968 when it merged with Allegheny Airlines.

Thanks to and Bob Gabbard for the non-commercial use of the Lake Central Airlines D.C.-3 photo.  For the airline/airplane enthusiast, this is a terrific website …check it out!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them… Have a great day!

No comments:

Post a Comment