Category From props to jets

State of the Industry in 1954

By 1954, air travel had permeated the awareness of the general public. No longer only for the rich, travel­ing aboard a modern airliner was now a concept embraced by more and more of the U. S. and interna­tional populace. America’s favorite pilot, Arthur Godfrey, loved to talk about the safety and reliability of modern airliners on his TV shows, and it seemed as if every ad for a new car featured a giant silver Constellation flying gracefully overhead. When com­pared to today’s statistics, however, the percentage of people in the United States who had actually experi­enced flying aboard a commercial airliner in 1954 seems staggeringly low—only three percent, with the notice­able majority of these travelers being businessmen.

Be that as it may, people could now board a DC-7 or Super Constellation and travel across the United States in pressurized comfort at speeds of 300 mph and altitudes in excess of 20,000 feet. For regional or local service, the new and improved Convair 340 would probably be the aircraft of choice. Airlines even struc­tured their routing to combine the best of both worlds; you could fly coast-to-coast in the DC-7 and then con­nect to your final destination in the Convair. Businessmen flying on regional airlines could now leave
on their sales calls or attend that big meeting across the state in the morning, and be home easily in time for din­ner that evening.

Vacation travel abroad, although becoming more prevalent by air, was still considered something done more suitably by steamship than by airplane. This was understandable considering the number of elegant new ships taking to the oceans in 1954. The magnificent S. S. United States was breaking transatlantic speed records nearly every time she sailed, while the smaller S. S. Independence and Constitution were equally majestic. Cunard’s glorious Art Deco twins, the HMS Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth handily proved the adage “Getting there is half the fun!” The brand-new (and ill- fated) Italian Andrea Doria and her sister ship Cristoforo Colombo looked like floating art museums on the inside. Passengers didn’t mind spending the bet­ter part of a week getting to Europe from the East Coast (or to Ffawaii and Asia from the West Coast) by ship because of the sumptuous level of service.

Подпись: Supplemental carrier Transocean Air Lines flew DC-4s to the four corners of the world, both in cargo and passenger configurations, from its Oakland, California, base. TALOA was an acronym for Transocean Air Lines followed by the two-letter Oakland airport code. This operation was the spawning ground for the Ernie Gann story that led to the epic Warner Brothers motion picture, The High and the Mighty. (William T. Larkins)
When the modern propeller-driven airliner is entered into the equation of vacation travel in 1954, we see the factors of pure speed versus luxurious service being prevalent. European cities were 10 or 12 hours away from New York by airplane rather than five or six days by ship; getting there quickly was the clear priority.

Still, this time period represented the heyday of modern ocean liners, and nothing from commercial aviation could stop it. What would be required to greatly impact oceanic travel was a radical new powerplant that could propel commercial airliners to almost the speed of sound, much like Great Britain had attempted with its pioneering Comet, but with much greater range and larger passenger capacity. Although military aircraft were reaping the benefits of this new powerplant, the reality of 600-mph airliners was still many years away.

The radical new powerplant necessary to take com­mercial aviation to the next level and eradicate the com­petition for long-range travel from ocean liners was called, quite simply, the modern turbojet engine.


By Mike Machat


or some reason you can tell quite a lot about an airplane just from the way it rides while taxiing on the ground. The loping and almost floating sensation of the great Douglas propliners was decidedly differ­ent than the stiffer ground ride of the Constellation with its tall, slim nose gear for instance. But all that gave way to a more “riding-on-rails” sure-footedness when the new jets entered service. Taxiing along in the Sud Caravelle felt like the best of both worlds, as the ground-handling attributes of the low-slung jet­liner were enhanced by its rugged four-wheel-bogey main landing gear. The airplane feels well planted on the ground; much the way a wide-track luxury sedan feels at speed on a freeway or autobahn.

With its low wing and ample flap area, the Caravelle s takeoff is nothing less than regal. The air­plane’s large semi-swept wing has an “iron leading edge” (meaning no lift-enhancing leading-edge flaps or slats), yet the Caravelle handles beautifully at approach speeds and all the way down to the runway. Slotted sailplane-like spoilers also give the pilot pre­cise control for the airplane’s rate of descent without appreciably adding to or depleting its airspeed. The

Caravelle was always a favorite with its pilots, from the original “steam-powered” models, as they were affectionately called, to the more advanced version flown by United Air Lines. Passengers benefited from this new jet experience as well, with a significantly quieter cabin, thanks to the aircraft’s rear-mounted engines, and of course, those huge triangular-shaped windows placed strategically at every seat row.


Passengers board a Finnair Caravelle on a regional flight from an outlying smaller city to Helsinki, Finland. (Mike Machat)

WELCOME ABOARD THE CARAVELLEWith the original Caravelle cockpit and nose section having been literally grafted onto the fuselage from Britain’s de Havilland Comet, French engineers at Sud-Est realized that a modernization was required as the aircraft became more advanced in the early 1960s.

With United’s order for the Vl-R model, a new enlarged wind – shield and improved instrument panel lay­out was designed,

and here are the results. Cockpit visibility was nearly doubled, and cockpit ergonomics were enhanced greatly as well. Pilots the world over loved to fly the airplane. (Mike Machat)



grew up in an airline family. My father was a pio­neering airmail pilot, taking advantage of his World War I flight training to secure a job with the then-new Colonial Western Airways, which eventually melded with what we know today as American Airlines. As a young lad riding on passes with my family, I remember the look on ticket agents’ faces as they noted Dad’s pay­roll number: 02.

I absolutely owe my love of the industry to him, along with my desire to write; Dad had a great way with words and wrote stories for several publications. I recently discovered the first two chapters of a book he was planning to author but never finished. What I wouldn’t give for a chance to sit down with him today and fill in the missing holes.

To a greater degree, my brother Bill, a retired TWA pilot, and his wife Ann, get most of the credit for encouraging me to pursue my own airline career. Bill loaned me aviation books, paid the extra ajet surcharge” so I could take my first ride in a Boeing 707, and has provided so much support and answers to my endless questions. Many thanks go to him, my best friend.

Although Robert Serling refers to me as his mentor and role model, it really has been the other way around. Bob is a true inspiration to all aviation writers, and always finds time to take my calls and provide sage advice. He readily shares a wealth of knowledge and can be counted on for straightforward responses when act­ing as a sounding board for my book and story ideas. But above all, he is a treasured friend.

In addition to Bob, I was fortunate enough to meet three of my biggest aviation heroes who are no longer with us: Jimmy Doolittle, C. R. Smith, and Paul Tibbets. Close friendships formed with people in the airline industry are too many to list here, but each has been an inspiration, adding to a wonderful career in aviation.

Finally, special thanks are offered to the co-authors I am so lucky to have as great personal friends.

— Jon Proctor


s with any labor of love, there are many people who helped along the way, and without whom, a project such as this simply would not have been possi­ble. Starting with the “big picture,” my thanks to Donald Wills Douglas for all his great airliners, and to my father for cherished memories of a flight aboard an Eastern DC-7B Golden Falcon, which planted the seed. Coming West from New York to California to work as a young artist for the proud company Mr. Douglas founded was nothing less than the fulfillment of a life­long dream.

I also would not have had the career I enjoy today without the inspiration of my uncle, George Hildebrand. His 32-year career as a chief engineer and program manager with Republic Aviation Corporation served as the ultimate source for my insatiable desire to become part of America’s burgeoning aerospace indus­try. As a proud designer of military jet fighters, he held airliners in a different regard, but gained new and heart­felt respect for commercial aviation when my budding career at Douglas began to emulate his own.

The man to whom I owe a large debt of gratitude for connecting me with the literary world is R. E.G. Davies, former Curator of Air Transport for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and one­time member of the marketing analysis team at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach. Ron and I have worked together on 15 airline history books, and he has written many of the definitive reference works on the history of the world’s airline industry. Ironically, many of Davies’ books served as invaluable and ironclad ref­erence sources for this project.

My admiration, respect, and thanks to John Wegg, world’s foremost authority on the magnificent Sud Caravelle, for years of collaboration on many inspira­tional projects together, and for setting the gold stan­dard in modern airline writing. The late Terry Waddington showed me how pure passion for a prod­uct and deep love for the airline industry translated into impressive sales of McDonnell Douglas jetliners. Special thanks to Tony Landis, Dennis Jenkins, and Joshua Stoff. Finally, to my two cohorts, Jon Proctor and Craig Kodera, go heartfelt appreciation for a col­laborative effort on this project that has exceeded expectations. I am most grateful to have aviation friends of this caliber.

— Mike Machat


ver the years I have had the uncommon privilege of being associated with the world of aviation and, in particular, that of commercial aviation. My uncle Harry Botterud was maintenance supervisor for Los Angeles Airways in the 1950s; my father spent a lifelong career in the aerospace industry, the last half of which was at Douglas Aircraft in the Commercial Division at Long Beach. I managed to work at Douglas myself after college and prior to joining the Air Force Reserve, thanks to Dad.

Our neighborhood was filled with airline pilots, one of whom was Gary Ferguson of Continental, who bought me my first instructional ride in a Cessna 150 at Meadowlark Airport in Huntington Beach. This led to my licensure to fly airplanes at age 17. My mentor and guide into the life of aviation, Bob Brandt of L. A. Airways (1960s version), introduced me to his old flying buddy, Scott Bergey, who was late of Air California.

Thanks to these two men, I managed to find myself fly­ing at Air Cal, later to be merged with American Airlines, thus fulfilling my long-hoped-for childhood dream. Nine thousand hours of flying time later, here we are.

Meadowlark has since been turned into homes. Douglas is now Boeing, and both Dad and Gary Ferguson have flown west. I no longer inhabit the cock­pit of an airplane, but to have witnessed what I have in my lifetime… the grandeur of proud people crafting entire industries for the betterment of all on this planet, and the momentous positive change among its peoples, I am fortunate. To be able to now write about what I have known all my life makes me humble. So my thanks extend to you, our special readers.

And most significantly, thanks of a very special kind to my dearest of friends, the co-authors of this book.

— Craig Kodera

Convair 440

Minor modifications to Convair s Model 340 design brought about the Model 440 “Metropolitan,” offering a slightly higher gross weight, reduced interior noise lev­els, and optional weather radar. Its exterior measure­ments were identical to the 340, and Continental Airlines introduced the type on March 8, 1956. Convair sold 100 modification kits to Model 340 operators in order to bring the earlier models up to near-440 standards.

With 199 civil and military 440 sales, Convair-Liner production ended in early 1958 after 1,076 units were manufactured, including the prototype Model 110. Among the last built were several airplanes that did not find buyers until 1960. Adapting turboprop engines to the type’s airframe created the 500 and 600 series, stretching the aircraft’s useful life by many years. Some are still flying today, more than 50 years later, a hearty tribute to a sturdy, well-built airframe.

Convair 440

The typical DC-7 main cabin provided passengers with all the comforts of home: curtained windows, wood paneling, plush seats, fresh fruit, and even pillows and blankets for taking an inflight nap. Note the Club Lounge at the extreme rear of the cabin, and the natty attire of the traveling public in the heyday of the propliner era. (Craig Kodera Collection)

Convair 440The last and most suc­cessful Convair-Liner variant, its Model 440 Metropolitan reached civil and military sales of 199 airplanes. In addition 100 Model 340s were upgraded to 440 standards. A brand-new Metro­politan appears adja­cent to the Convair plant at San Diego, apparently ready for a flight to Atlanta. (Convair/Jon Proctor Collection)

BOAC Comet 1: From Triumph to Tragedy

The riches-to-rags story of Britain’s de Havilland Comet 1 has been told countless times. A sleek new air­liner powered by turbojet engines is unveiled to an expectant industry in England in 1949. By the summer of 1952, this acclaimed new jetliner is in passenger service on routes throughout Europe and Africa, and a postwar world exults in wonderment at this new technological breakthrough. The joy is short-lived, however, when in January 1954, a Comet 1 disintegrates in midair after tak­ing off from Rome and plunges into the Mediterranean Sea with the loss of all passengers and crew.

Before a curious and grieving world can even understand what happened, a second Comet 1 crashes three months later also after taking off from Rome and under the same mysterious circumstances with the loss of all on board. This was the fifth crash of a Comet in its first two years of commercial operation, and now the race is on to find the technical culprit that is destroying Britain’s newest, most modern, and most celebrated air­plane. With the second inflight breakup accident comes the immediate grounding of the type, and a loss of face and confidence in Britain’s aviation supremacy. What
kind of insidious inflight occurrence caused two of the world’s most modern jet aircraft to experience catas­trophic structural failure and literally explode in midair? Was it a bomb? Was it human error? Or was it possibly a design flaw in the aircraft itself?

After complex underwater salvage operations aided by the Royal Navy recovered major portions of the air­frames from both Rome crashes, the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough launched an investigation of never-before-seen proportions. The hunt began for the cause of the accidents with the reconstruction of actual aircraft wreckage on an arma­ture that indicated beyond any shadow of a doubt the airplane had indeed disintegrated in midair. Then an Italian fisherman’s net yielded the “smoking gun” that confirmed the solution to the mystery. A frame from one of the Comet’s square passenger windows found in the fisherman’s net showed that the fuselage had rup­tured from metal fatigue at a point near the corner of the window, extending upward to an equally rectangu­lar Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) antenna housing on the top of the fuselage. The rupture caused an explo­sive decompression of the cabin, leading to immediate catastrophic structural failure of the rest of the airframe.

Подпись: Profile artwork depicts the classic lines of BOAC's color scheme as applied to the pioneering Comet 1. (Mike Machat)

In historical hindsight, this fact would seem to indi­cate that de Havilland had not tested its new airplane sufficiently, but nothing could be further from the truth. Knowing full well this airliner would be operat­ing at speeds and altitudes twice that of existing piston – powered aircraft, de Havilland engineers proceeded with fatigue testing of every minute facet of the Comet’s design and construction. With untiring effort, struc­tures were put to the test where engineers attempted to duplicate the rigors of countless aircraft “cycles,” that is the series of structural loads resulting from a takeoff, climb to altitude, descent from altitude, and landing. Exhaustive testing at Hatfield simulated an aircraft ser­vice ceiling of 40,000 feet. What couldn’t be duplicated, however, were the severe temperature differentials from sea level to 40,000 feet, and as a result of these accidents, new methods of load simulation were devised at Farnborough for use on future aircraft designs.

With a complete Comet fuselage immersed in a giant tank of water to simulate pressurization forces on the cabin at altitude, patterns now began to emerge that led to the possibility of metal fatigue in the outer skin of the fuselage. When the test cabin itself ruptured inside the water tank, the pattern of metal fatigue was conclusively established. Further study and matching of wreckage fragments from the first Comet lost revealed that the explosive decompression forces were so great that dark blue-black paint from the letter “C” in the BOAC title above the windows was found in a deep gouge on the leading edge of the right wing indicating violent span-wise or lateral impact. This clue graphically showed that the explosive force of the rupture was so great that it exceeded the forward velocity of the air­plane at that moment.

As with any aviation accident, tragedy yields infor­mation and knowledge so that a particular problem can be avoided in the future. In the case of the Comet, met­allurgy techniques, manufacturing methodology, and aircraft skin structural properties were modified to include an integral reinforcing framework built into the
skin itself much like “quilted” aluminum foil used in common households today. Additionally, the passenger windows on all British airliners built after these acci­dents were manufactured in the shape of an ovaloid to eliminate the smaller-radius corners from which the fatal fatigue cracks emanated on both Comets that dis­integrated.

Although the reputation of Britain’s commercial aviation industry was tarnished by the discovery of the design flaw that led to these accidents, de Havilland went back to the drawing board and developed improved and more advanced versions of the Comet which eventually reentered passenger service in 1958 and flew successfully well into the latter part of the twentieth century. But the story of the Comet deserves closer scrutiny than just the crash investigation, as this airplane represented the great hope and rebirth of Europe’s proud aviation industry rising from the ashes of World War II’s destruction, and was intended to show the world that England was once again a leader in aircraft design.

Evolving from design studies in 1944 for a small jet – powered mail airplane with a canard wing planform, the original de Havilland Comet was envisioned as a small high-speed, six-passenger transport powered by three turbojets buried in the aircraft’s tail section. As further marketing studies clearly indicated the need for a larger – capacity aircraft, the DH-106 emerged as the final con­figuration, featuring four 5,000-pound-thrust de Havilland Ghost turbojet engines buried inside the wing root with a slightly swept wing and conventional straight tailplanes. This new aircraft would carry 44 passengers at speeds of 490 mph on route segments of up to 1,500 miles. With its bare metal skin gleaming in the hazy summer sunshine, the formerly secret jetliner was rolled out of the factory hangar on July 27, 1949.

First flown at Hatfield later that very same day by de Havilland’s Chief Test Pilot, John Cunningham, the Comet wowed all observers although most of the crowd, including the British Press, had already gone

Подпись: Good intentions but false hopes are represented in this photo of a model of the advanced Comet III ordered by Pan American World Airways. The new jet was expected to enter Pan Am service in 1956, but became eclipsed by the development of larger and faster American jetliners following the Comet 1 accidents. (Craig Kodera Collection)

home thinking the flight would be scrubbed due to typically inclement British weather. As word spread of this new airplanes successful and impressive flight tri­als, the traveling public began to anticipate a sense of futurism at the thought of being able to actually fly around the world in a jet-powered commercial airliner. Such an expectation was especially pervasive consider­ing that only the Canadians had a competing design with their smaller Avro Jetliner, and that the American aviation industry didn’t even have an airplane on the drawing boards to seriously compete for the Comet’s pride of place.

Ordered initially by BOAC, the Comet 1 soon began to attract the attention of other world airlines, and tentative orders followed from Aeromaritime, Air France, Canadian Pacific, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Britain’s Royal Air Force. With the promise of even larger and longer-range Comet versions, Pan American World Airways and Capital Airlines in the United States proudly added their names to de Havilland’s order book. By the time BOAC’s first Comet 1 entered passenger service on the London-South Africa route on May 2, 1952 (via Rome, Cairo, and points south), the airplane was firmly expected to be a world beater, bringing deluxe passen­
ger service and significantly reduced travel times to routes emanating from Europe, and eventually other continents as well.

To put the Comet’s operational service into per­spective, simply read about the other airliners flying at this same time. In 1954, Lockheed Constellations along with the Douglas DC-6 and DC-7 were the pressurized “queens of the skies” throughout the world, offering new levels of passenger comfort, speed, and range to the world’s airlines. This was especially true when com­pared to the unpressurized 200-mph Douglas DC-4s that entered service immediately following the war. With the Comet, the world had a brand-new airliner capable of more than doubling all of these operational parameters in the same time period.

By the beginning of 1954, BOAC’s Comet routes had expanded to include the Middle East, India, Singapore, and Japan. As was inevitable with any new paradigm, however, accidents began to occur that, in all fairness, could have happened with any aircraft. On October 26, 1952, a Comet was damaged after stalling on takeoff in Rome. On March 2, 1953, another Comet was destroyed while taking off from Karachi, and then on May 2, 1953, a third Comet was lost in a raging thunderstorm near Calcutta. These accidents did not go

unnoticed, but when Comet G-ALYP mysteriously fell from the sky near Alba, Italy, on January 10, 1954, the world took special notice. BOAC temporarily grounded all of its Comets until it was determined that what had occurred was strictly a one-time happenstance, and the type was returned to service on March 23. Then, only two weeks later on April 8, Comet G-ALYY repeated the Alba tragedy, and the Comet Is brief but supreme reign was over.




Sporting an updated //very, PSA Electra N172PS boards passengers on a sunny morning at Los Angeles during a typical 10-minute stopover. Expedited boarding utilized both the forward and aft doors. (Jon Proctor)


By Jon Proctor


ost first-time travelers aboard the Electra were, like the airlines, transitioning from aircraft such as the DC-6 and Constellation plus, to an extent, Convair and Martin twins. With the Electra’s self – contained boarding stairs forward of the wing, one had a chance to get up close and personal with the air­plane before even stepping aboard. Compared to the older piston-powered airliners, the Electra looked big, in part because it sat higher off the ground. Its larger passenger windows and fatter fuselage were noticeable, but what really impressed me upon step­ping toward the air stairs were the engines and abso­lutely huge propellers, which reeked of power even while resting at the gate.

Stepping into the airplane, I was impressed with the softer, indirect lighting and a cabin design that gave it a roomy appearance. Soft background music added to the contrast between old and new. Designed for short – to medium-haul routes, most Electras featured carry-on luggage compartments near the forward door. It was almost like boarding a Convair-Liner, yet as I looked aft, the rear lounge mimicked a DC-6 or DC-7, as did the galley adjacent to the second door behind the wings, where I was used to boarding a Douglas.

My first Electra flight was on Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), from San Diego to Los Angeles in December 1959, only two months after the type entered service along the California coast. Even in its
98-seat, all-coach layout, it felt roomy, probably enhanced by the six-seat lounge one would not expect to see when riding on a $5.45 ticket.

I chose to sit in the last row of the forward cabin, just ahead of the prop line, so I could see those mighty Allisons fire up. From my window seat, I watched as the props blended into what looked like two giant saucers. Expecting a higher noise level as we pulled away from the gate, I was surprised to feel the brakes release and no increase in propeller rotation, only a slight engine-pitch adjustment. Welcome to the world of constant-speed propellers.

After a short taxi to Runway 27, and no pause to run up engines, the propeller pitch changed again and I was pushed back into my seat as the Electra acceler­ated rapidly. Unlike the longer takeoff roll I was used to, this bird literally jumped into the air and climbed through the marine cloud layer at a steep angle, burst­ing into bright sunlight.

PSA kept the cockpit door open in flight (those were the days!), with a red cloth rope across the open­ing, giving passengers a peek at the front office. Although the flight engineers seat partially blocked the view, one could see the wide work area that required separate throttle quadrants for the captain and co-pilot.

Although this first flight was smooth, I later found that the Electra s relatively stiff, stubby wings made it more susceptible to turbulence. Its cabin noise level close to the engines was higher, much like the propliners it replaced, but even attached to the

propeller, the turboprop engines featured much lower vibration levels, adding to overall passenger comfort.

My PSA flight touched down at Los Angeles International barely 20 minutes after liftoff from San Diego. A propeller-pitch change brought the Electra
to a quick stop on the runway, followed by a short taxi to the terminal on Avion Drive. The use of both doors allowed a less-than-10-minute turnaround, yet another Electra feature that made it attractive to air­lines, and an ideal fit for PSA.


Here is another example of a prop-era color scheme being applied to a new jetliner still years away from rolling out through the factory doors. Eastern’s classic "meatball" scheme, as it was popularly referred to, is applied to a DC-8 in this artist’s rendering, and doesn’t look all that bad. The large underwing lettering might not have been very effective when the jet was cruising at 35,000 feet. (Mike Machat Collection)


Factory brochure prepared for customer airlines by Boeing details the technical aspects of the new 707, although the jet’s final color scheme had not yet been defined. Here we see a DC-7-style paint job as it would have looked on the 707, but American’s first airplane was still several years away from reality when this book­let was prepared. It is interesting to note that American was the only U. S. airline to have the engine nacelles painted to match the fuselage markings. (Craig Kodera Collection)


Another clean and classic Raymond Loewy color scheme was developed for application to United’s new Douglas DC-8s and Boeing 720s. Nicely complementing American’s bare-metal-with-orange-striping motif and TWA’s striking red arrowhead design, the red, white, and blue of United’s new look was worn on its vast fleet of jets all the way into the mid-1970s. (Mike Machat Collection)

Jetliners on the Distant Horizon: USAF Enters the Turbine Age

In the 1930s, there existed a dichotomy within the aeronautical engineering world that had a profound effect on future aircraft in the United States and Britain: Civilian airplanes, especially air racers (and those were mostly built by entrepreneurs in small out buildings or garages), were more aerodynamically advanced, mean­
ing faster and more maneuverable, than our frontline fighter aircraft in the military services! This differential had an enormous effect on aircraft design during the World War II era, as shapes and capabilities were forced to advance in large increments. It took several years to match and then eclipse the German design geniuses.

By the end of the war and the late 1940s, momen­tum was clearly accelerating aviation technology at a near-quantum pace. Aircraft were advancing and eclips­ing concurrent design studies by the day, not the decade. Given the notion that the United States had sur­vived the war without destruction to any of its infras­tructure, the country was leaping ahead in manufacturing and development of cutting-edge air­craft designs. In an ironic twist, the Cold War was now advancing the state of the art in aviation to favor the military airplanes rather than the civilian types. The dichotomy of the 1930s had reversed itself.

By 1954, the United States Air Force was flying large, heavy aircraft like the Boeing B-47 Stratojet at routine speeds of nearly 600 mph and altitudes exceed­ing 40,000 feet. Their range was spectacular as well, especially in the developing B-52 Stratofortress. The globe was rapidly beginning to shrink. However, the

Jetliners on the Distant Horizon: USAF Enters the Turbine Age

Boeing’s revolutionary B-47 Stratojet set the standard for Jet Age design when it first flew in 1947. Powered by six General Electric J47 turbojets and capable of being refueled in flight, the B-47 projected American aerial might dur­ing the early years of the Cold War. The big jet also gave Boeing a tremendous advantage in structural engineering and manufacturing prowess that would lead to the development of a new company-funded four-engine jet trans­port. (National Archives via Dennis R. Jenkins)


Jetliners on the Distant Horizon: USAF Enters the Turbine Age



t happened every Monday through Friday at pre­cisely 5:00 PM at United’s new terminals at both Chicago’s O’Hare and New York’s Idlewild Airport: Marching in single file to board the rear stairs of the sleek French twinjet SE 210 Caravelle VI-R was a conga line of nattily dressed businessmen carrying leather briefcases and wearing gray flannel suits with white button-down shirts and skinny black ties. It was the beginning of the hip 1960s and the dawning Kennedy era of America’s greatness, and what better way to show the world what this country was all about than having airline service for men only!

Yes, as unique and politically incorrect as that may seem today, United’s famous “Men Only” ser­vice was perceived as a special perk for successful businessmen heading off to, or returning home from, important business meetings in a time before women CEOs, astronauts, and race car drivers, as well as video conferencing. In another seemingly astonish­ing move, cigars were not only permitted on those flights, but were provided to passengers by the stew­ardesses themselves —the only two women aboard the aircraft. With its four-abreast seating and large triangular windows, the 64-seat jetliner was an instant hit with passengers, and United’s New York Executive and Chicago Executive men-only flights


Historic photo of an actual United Caravelle at Idlewild Airport in 1962 awaiting its passenger mani­fest that will be comprised of "men only." The 5:00 pm departure headed for Chicago, while a similar flight left Chicago at the same time destined for New York, and carrying men only. In tribute to their home­land, the elegant-looking aircraft were named for cities in France, the one pictured here is Ville de Lille. (Mike Machat)

were an instant success with business clientele. United’s men-only flights continued until January 1970 when the newly formed National Organization for Women (NOW) took legal action, and filed suit to officially end the service.

Effectively filling the void in aircraft size at the beginning of the commercial Jet Age, the Caravelle offered short – to medium-range service on routes more suited to the aging propliners remaining in operation, as larger four-engined jets began to com­mand the trunk lines. American Airlines, United’s chief competitor, maintained Douglas DC-6B and Lockheed Electra turboprop operations to smaller cities on its route map (the new “CVL” code began to appear on United’s timetables in the column showing aircraft type). Perfectly suited to stage lengths from 800 to 1,200 miles, United’s pure-jet Caravelles soon became a familiar sight in the skies over the eastern half of the United States.

In retrospect, history now regards United’s Caravelles with somewhat mixed results after that fleet carried more than 10 million passengers over more than 117 million miles from July 1961 to October 1970. Although passengers favored the diminutive jetliner, the same could not be said for United’s maintenance staff, which had to deal with the aircraft’s cantankerous Rolls-Royce Avon 532R engines surrounded by an all-Pratt & Whitney – powered fleet. From both an operational and training standpoint, having mixed engine types, cockpit logic, and cabin layouts within the same airline always added complexity and cost, but in the Caravelle’s case, the trade-off was that United was able to beat its competition on short – and medium-range routes with pure-jet service until the advent of the Boeing 727 and Douglas DC-9 in the mid-1960s.

United announced its groundbreaking $60 mil­lion order for 20 Caravelle VI-Rs in February 1960 as the first foreign-built jet transport ever adopted by a U. S. airline. Ironically, they entered service on July 14, 1961—Bastille Day in France. As so often hap­pens in aviation, history repeated itself; in November 1993 United once again broke ranks and selected the Airbus A320 as its mainstay medium-range jetliner, opening the door to more North American Airbus customers in following years. Once again, an advanced twin-engined jetliner flown by two pilots and built in Toulouse, France, was proudly plying American skies.


s good as the new jetliners were for transporting passengers on worldwide routes at 600 mph, these first-generation aircraft gulped copious amounts of fuel and produced noise levels that were almost painful at close range. A further improvement to the turbine pow – erplant ensues with the development of the “fanjet” engine, which not only helps solve the fuel and noise issues, but generates even more thrust than before.

Commercial Jetliners Reach Maturity with True Intercontinental Travel

The path to full intercontinental jet travel was paved with many small steps. A dream of airline pas­sengers and airline managers alike, round-the-world passenger jet service indeed originated from humble beginnings. Remember Britain’s pioneering Comet 1?

That airplane’s first intercontinental route for BOAC in 1952 spanned from London to Johannesburg, connect­ing northern Europe with Southern Africa. As impres­sive as that might have seemed at the time, with the Comet’s modest 1,500-mile range, the trip had to be made in six legs with stops to refuel along the way. By 1954, BOAC’s jet routes extended eastbound all the way to Tokyo, but again that trip had to be flown in 10 segments with the longest single leg from Rome, Italy, to Beirut, Lebanon.

When improved models of the Comet entered air­line service in 1958, the airplane’s range had been extended to as much as 3,225 miles, allowing BOAC to “steal a march” and beat Pan American to the punch with the world’s first transatlantic jet service in October of that year. Still, the airplane had to stop and refuel in Gander, Newfoundland, on westbound flights if winds

aloft were less than optimal. Other foreign carriers used several different long-range Comet 4 models to fly on stage lengths as long as Mexico City to Chicago (Mexicana), Bombay to Bangkok (United Arab Airlines), and Paris to Beirut (Kuwait Airways).

With the first Boeing 707-120 and DC-8-30 mod­els, ranges of up to 3,000 and 3,500 statute miles were made possible, respectively. Although a significant improvement over the earlier prototype models they superseded, these gas-guzzling first-generation jets were still restricted to routes where alternate refueling stops were available. Nonstop flights from Europe to the U. S. West Coast or from Tokyo to Honolulu were still only a fantasy in the minds of airline planners every­where. For now, commercial jet aviation had arrived, and flying aboard a jet airliner was as futuristic as it got, but there was one more step to be taken to advance the art and science of jet-powered commercial air travel to its highest level —the truly intercontinental jetliner.

First to answer that need was Boeing with a new, larger, and more powerful version of its 707 simply called the Intercontinental. Formally known as the 300 series, this new queen of the skies not only made the aforementioned long-range routes possible, but carried higher passenger loads as well. When airline planners factored in the ever-important seat-mile costs (the cost of moving one passenger seat over a distance of one mile), the numbers were quite favorable and airlines


Passenger’s-eye view of the forward fan sections of engines three and four on an American Airlines Boeing 720B Astrojet. (Jon Proctor)

were able to pass those cost savings along to their pas­sengers. This factor then drove up demand, and long- range air travel was suddenly becoming more affordable for the casual traveler or family going on vacation.

Boeing 707 Intercontinental service was inaugu­rated by Pan Am in July 1959, and within one year, many if not most of the world’s foreign airlines were introducing either the 707-320 or improved DC-8-30 and -40 series into long-range service. While Pan Am could now fly anywhere on its Pacific routes, rival U. S. flag carrier TWA employed its 707-320 series both domestically and across international routes. European carriers such as Lufthansa employed their Rolls- Royce-powered 707-420 Intercontinentals on routes from Germany to the United States, South America, and the Far East.

These new long-range versions of the first-generation jets proved to be the answer to many international air­lines’ prayers, but they still operated close to their design limitations as far as engine power and inflight performance were concerned. The longer-range aircraft also consumed copious amounts of fuel as they plied the world’s air routes. Would airframe and power – plant technology and innovation result in even better versions of these new airplanes? The answer to that question came only one year later.



his book is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Terry Waddington, aeronautical engineer, Douglas Aircraft Company salesman par excellence, and one of the last of the true believers.



o one is better qualified to write the dramatic story of air travel’s transition from propellers to jet-power than Jon Proctor, Mike Machat, and Craig Kodera. They constitute a trio of respected chroni­clers of aviation history. Forgive me, however, if I emphasize that Jon Proctor has been my mentor and role model for many years, someone to whom I have turned to many times for help with my own historical research. What is more important is that this talented trio has fashioned a work that is factually honest, scrupulously objective, and blessed with a rare “we – were-there” insight.

From Props To Jets takes us back to what arguably was the most dramatic and significant decade in civil aviation history: the saga of the 1952 to 1962 techno­logical revolution that literally shrank the world by measuring distance in terms of hours rather than days and miles traveled. This brilliantly researched and writ­ten contribution to aviation history could not come at a more appropriate time, for it injects into the doom-and – gloom atmosphere of today’s air travel difficulties and complaints, a reminder of accomplishments that we now take for granted. It also accents the positives instead of the negatives, something that is rare and sorely needed in this era of adversarial journalism. For as the authors point out, this was also the decade during which the air­plane itself supplanted the family automobile, bus, train, and ship as the single most dominant provider of long-distance travel.

I owe these fine writers my gratitude for producing not merely a fascinating book but an important one. The airline world that people like Jon, Mike, Craig, and I respected and loved, even when we criticized it, exists no more. This book, therefore, comes poignantly close to being a kind of requiem, a magnificent and justified tribute to an industry that has always taken ten steps forward for every step backward, and ultimately deserved a far better fate.

— Robert J. Serling Former Aviation Editor, United Press International



Not a pasted-up or retouched image, this photo shows a well-staged scene with a Sabena Belgian Airlines DC-6 making a low high-speed pass over the main terminal building at New York’s Idlewild Airport in the early 1950s. Carey bus at right provided convenient commuter service to the East Side Airline Terminal in Manhattan only 18 miles away. (Enell photo/Mike Machat Collection)



espite Britain’s false start with the Comet 1, and Boeing’s new 367-80 jet transport being only a “proof-of-concept” prototype at this point, the promise of jet-powered commercial flight was becoming closer to reality with each passing week. As modern and accommodating as major U. S. airports may have been at that time, the need for expansion, improvement, and modernization for the new breed of jets was becoming increasingly apparent, as their unique operating requirements came into focus. First and foremost on this list were longer runways, requiring either expansion of existing facilities, or construction of a brand-new and much-larger airport farther away from the city center. This latter option, although more costly, allowed designers the distinct advantage of starting from scratch with whatever new design best suited local needs.

By taking a virtual tour of U. S. airports of this time period, we can see that the Northeast segment of the country provided the necessary passenger and cargo gateways to Europe and points east. For
domestic travel, these same cities were the origins for trips westward all across the country to California and even Hawaii. Moving in a clockwise direction, we begin our tour with Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts (BOS). Located on the tidal flats east of downtown Boston, this airport and its neighbor to the south, Idlewild Airport in New York (IDL), had nowhere to expand but outward on land­fill built into adjacent bays. New terminal complexes and vast ramp areas would be added to both these great airports within a decade.

Moving down the East Coast we come to National Airport in Washington, D. C. (DCA). Having opened in 1941, the airport had nowhere to expand geographically for the new jets. However, this scenario presented a brand-new opportunity for air­port planners in the Washington and Virginia metro – plex to consider—the design and construction of a brand-new mega-airport intended specifically for the Jet Age. Occupying more than 10,000 acres of virgin woodland located 45 minutes west of downtown

Washington, the new and futuristic Dulles International (DIA, later I AD) opened in 1962 with an average of only one or two aircraft movements per hour, a scenario that has changed dramatically since those early days.

Flying southward, we come to Atlanta, Georgia, where the local airport began life as Chandler Field. This airport remained quite adequate to accommo­date the first generation of new jets, but then grew into the grand multi-terminal Hartsfield International (ATL) in the 1970s. Down in sunny southern Florida, Miami International (MIA) provided America’s gate­way to South America and the Caribbean, having done so since the 1920s. By 1959, the facility had expanded to absorb a neighboring Army airfield to the northwest, and soon became one of the largest jet – ports in the southern United States.

As we move toward the upper Midwest, we come across yet another example of a small, local, and con­venient city airport that opened in 1927, but then had no physical room for expansion for the new jets. This airport would eventually give way to a new mega – jetport that would have to be built from scratch. Originally named Chicago Municipal Airport, Midway Airport (MDW) served as Chicago’s home airport for decades, but was overshadowed by O’Hare International Airport (ORD). Originally built during World War II and opened for commercial traffic in 1955, O’Hare’s new, larger, and vastly more modern terminal complex opened in 1962.

Following the Mississippi River southward, we come to a host of other mid-size city airports that began as waypoints for fuel and rest stops on transcontinental mail and passenger flights. These were Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri (STL), Kansas City in Kansas (KSC), and Love Field in Dallas, TX (DAL). These airports were eventually either augmented or replaced by larger complexes built on open land to the west.

Flying westward, perhaps one would stop at the Rocky Mountain home of Stapleton Field in Denver, Colorado (DEN), or Sky Harbor in Phoenix, Arizona (PHX), airports that both had room to grow for the big jets. Arriving on the West Coast we find Los Angeles International (LAX) and San Francisco International (SFO) in California, and Seattle/ Tacoma’s SeaTac in Seattle, Washington (SEA). All three of these airports expanded outward from their more modest 1950s configurations as the new jets entered service, with LAX moving to adjacent land immediately to the west, SFO expanding out into San Francisco Bay, and SeaTac growing on available open land to the north.

In all, America’s major airports represented a host of problems and solutions for the geographic, logisti­cal, and operational challenges posed by the worlds’ first generation of modern jetliners. In the chapters that follow, we will see in more detail how new Jet Age terminals and airport layouts accommodated the needs of a new breed of air traveler and aircraft alike.


A typical busy morning scene at LAX reflects the pre-jet era of open concourses and loading steps. Taken in 1958, this photo reflects the epitome of the Golden Age of Air Travel. This exact location now serves as a main­tenance and cargo area for a number of airlines serving LAX today, with the main airport having been extended to the west when the new jets arrived. (Los Angeles World Airports)







Evening Star, a TWA Lockheed 1049G Constellation in 1956. (Mike Machat)



he American public is now awash in an exciting new world of science fiction, military jets, experi­mental rocket planes, and the coming space age. Aircraft manufacturers and airport planners alike are bracing for a new paradigm in air travel —the 100- passenger jetliner. Passenger travel by air is now being accepted as the norm and not the exception, and expec­
tations run high for a day-and-age of jet-powered airliners.