Category From props to jets

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jon Proctor, a seasoned veteran of the airline industry, served in various positions with Trans World Airlines (TWA) for 27 years and comes from an avia­tion family; his father was a pioneering pilot for American Airlines and his brother flew for TWA. He has written two books and numerous magazine articles on commercial aviation over the years and is also the former editor of AIRLINERS magazine. Jon con­tributed many of his stunning original airline pho­tographs for use in this book.

Mike Machat is a former aviation artist and staff illustrator for the Douglas Aircraft Company, and served as editor of Wings & Airpower magazine. Known for his love of commercial aviation, Mike has also designed airline color schemes for DC-9 and

DC-10 aircraft, painted airliner-model boxtops, and illustrated numerous books on airliners and airline his­tory. Having flown in every type of airliner from the Ford Trimotor to the Concorde, Mike brings a wealth of commercial aviation experience to this project.

Craig Kodera has lived a life immersed in aviation as the son of an engineer for Douglas Aircraft. Craig realized his dream of becoming an airline pilot having flown for both Air California and American Airlines, and also served as a transport and tanker pilot in the U. S. Air Force. Additionally, he is a world-class avia­tion artist whose artwork has been published by The Greenwich Workshop and who counts among his com­mercial aviation clients McDonnell Douglas and Airbus Industrie.

The MartinUners

The Baltimore, Maryland-based Glenn L. Martin Company first flew its Model 202 four months after the Convair 240 and launched the type with orders for 35 airplanes. The 40-seat variant was not pressurized and suffered from design problems early on. However, the first 202 entered service with Northwest Airlines in October 1947, eight months ahead of the Convair 240’s debut with American Airlines. Utilizing Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines, the 202 claimed a maximum speed of slightly more than 300 mph, and cruised at 277 mph.

Despite an early order book that at one time totaled 270 airplanes, the 202s found a home in large numbers with just one U. S. carrier (Northwest); only six more airframes were purchased, split between two South

American carriers, Linea Aerea National (LAN-Chile) and Linea Aeropostal Venezolana (LAV). Northwest, the only major 202 purchaser, almost immediately removed four seats from the airplanes to eliminate problems with insufficient galley and carry-on luggage space. A fatal accident caused by wing failure, along with four unrelated accidents and the subsequent refusal of Northwest’s pilots to fly the type, was cause for the airline to ground its Martin fleet in March 1951. Eight airplanes were sold and the remaining 12 leased to other operators.

A pressurized 202 version, the Model 303, was launched to better compete with the Convair 240. But redesign and production delays prompted customers, including United Air Lines, to cancel orders; the pro­gram was shelved in October 1947, even after two prototypes were built.

Martin instead chose to press ahead with the further – improved Model 404 that would comfortably seat 40, thanks to a 39-inch fuselage stretch. Uprated R-2800-

CB-16 engines and an improved landing gear design made the 404 a more competitive product against Convair’s new twin, and the 404 cruised at 280 mph with a top speed of 312 mph.

Eastern Air Lines and TWA became the 404 launch customers with large orders after Convair declined a request to improve the 240 design. In 1950, TWA agreed to buy 30 new 404s (10 more were ordered 16 months later). It then leased and later purchased 12 uncompleted 202s after Martin offered modifications to bring them up to an improved “202A” standard, and began receiving the type in July.

Eastern, which had earlier canceled its 202 order, signed up for the 404 with a contract for 35, later boost­ing the total to 60 airplanes. Both carriers placed the type into service in December 1951. As with the Convairs, the new Martins replaced DC-3s and even TWA’s five Boeing 307 Stratoliners in feederline service.

The MartinUners
Despite the best efforts of Martin’s salesmen, the 404 only attracted the two launch orders. Howard

Hughes coupled the contract for TWA with one air­frame for his personal use, and two RM-1 military vari­ants. The last two airplanes off the assembly line went to the U. S. Coast Guard.

Produced in greater numbers than the 202, Martin’s 404s found second careers with several airlines and cor­porate operators, mainly in the United States.

Air Routes of the Time

Traveling across the United States between major cities was relatively simple in the early 1950s. Trunk

carriers American, Northwest, United, and TWA offered direct, one-plane service to and from major des­tinations between the East and West Coast as long as one stayed within the central and northern states. Up and down the West Coast, travelers could choose between United and Western, while East Coast passengers, for the most part, relied on Eastern Airlines between New England and Florida. Delta operated a smaller route map, chiefly in the south, and Northeast Airlines, for the most part, served New England destinations.

Smaller cities and towns were the domain of 13 local service, or “feeder” carriers, that served a dual purpose. This second-level airline classification was established in 1944 on an experimental basis. Government-subsidized flights linked towns with populations as small as 5,000 inhabitants to major connecting cities. Permanent certification was finally granted to the 13 surviving operators (down from 20) in 1955. By the end of 1955, local service airline traf­fic had grown from 25,000 passengers in 1946 to nearly 3 million.

Local service carriers gradually added nearly 200 new destinations, a number that increased to 380 by 1957. Many were low-traffic stations taken over from trunk carriers that wanted to shed shorter routes. With these handovers, the local-service airlines continued to expand fleets, usually with DC-3s acquired from the same trunk carriers that surrendered the newly acquired towns and routes.

A large percentage of travelers utilized two airlines, and sometimes three, to reach their destinations. Trunk airlines formed “joint” fares with the locals and offered luggage checked through to the final destination, although passengers were obliged to check in again when changing carriers. Unlike today, the local carriers retained unique identities. United Express, Delta Connection, and similar monikers were unheard of in the 1950s.

Even some routes between major cities required the use of more than one airline, a constraint ignored by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which had sole authority to award new routes. Until the Southern

Air Routes of the Time

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Air Routes of the Time

This local-service carrier began upgrading its DC-3 fleet with second-hand Convair 240s in mid-1955, offering its customers pressurized-cabin comfort and increased speed over the prewar fleet. (Jon Proctor Collection)

 

Air Routes of the Time

Transcontinental Route case granted broad single-carrier rights in 1961, air travel between Los Angeles and Florida required two or three carriers to complete the trip.

Some relief was offered on this and similar routes, in the form of “interchange” flights, where two or three airlines jointly operated single-plane, multi-stop service over a route. At intermediate points, one airline’s flight crew would turn the aircraft over to another. On the Los Angeles to Miami run, for example, American operated as far as Dallas, where Delta crews took over for the segment to New Orleans, only to be relieved by National pilots and stewardesses, who took their pas­sengers on to Florida. Separate ticket coupons were required for each carrier, but were taken by the origi­nating carrier’s boarding agent, thus giving the illusion of a single-carrier flight, although passengers were often startled to see a National Airlines DC-7 at Los Angeles, or an American Airlines Flagship at Miami.

WELCOME ABOARD THE FAIRCHILD F-27

Подпись: In the Hawaiian Islands, Aloha Airlines began replacing its DC-3s with Fairchild F-27s in 1959. (Allan Van Wickler)

By Craig Kodera

From the moment you entered the new airplane, you were impressed with its self-contained air conditioning and smart, modern interior. Perhaps the biggest revolution in the cabin was the use of very large elliptical windows; installed to take advantage of the captivating aerial views this high-wing airplane afforded its passengers. Every seat was a good seat for enjoying these inflight vistas. One of the thrills about flying in the F-27 was the ability to watch the tall main landing gear retract and extend right outside your window.

In all the years of airliner history, truly, there was

nothing similar to the Rolls-Royce Dart engine. It had a screech, a warble, that filled ones entire body with a humming sensation unlike anything ever experienced in piston-engined aviation. From the ever-increasing whine during start-up, to the instantaneous applica­tion of takeoff power, the consistent, smooth pull of the Dart was more like driving one of today’s electric cars versus one run by pistons. The airplane didn’t pound its way into the air, but rather seemingly rode on a rail. Once airborne, flying in the Fairchild had a different “seat-of-the-pants” feel to it. Hanging from a wing rather than riding on top of the wing made for a unique and improved passenger experience. It always felt somehow smoother in that airplane.

T

WELCOME ABOARD THE FAIRCHILD F-27
he Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8, and Convair 880 enter commercial service by the end of the 1950s, and the traveling public begins to experience the wonderment and excitement of jet flight for the very first time. Speeds and altitudes that were once highly coveted world records set by high-performance experimental military aircraft are now the domain of traveling businessmen and families going on vacation. The Jet Age has arrived.

The Commercial Jet Age Begins

As Boeing began delivering its 707 jetliners to the airlines, the type began route-proving flights to the first

cities scheduled to receive jet service. These operations were designed to familiarize not only flight crews but ground staff as well. Pan American Airways, which had the distinction of being the first carrier to have its livery appear on a 707, accepted the initial airplane on September 29, 1958, and began training flights carrying cargo and mail between New York and San Juan under the type’s provisional airworthiness certificate.

Noise restrictions at Idlewild Airport limited ini­tial flights to daylight hours and limited the type’s maximum takeoff weight to 190,000 pounds, well below its 247,000-pound capacity. Similar restrictions were imposed at London’s Heathrow Airport and

noise regulations forced Pan Am to initially use Le Bourget Airport at Paris rather than the preferred Orly.

Even as Pan Am managers were preparing for jet ser­vice, they began discussing a lease arrangement with National Airlines that would allow National to operate Pan Am s 707s on a turnaround arrangement between New York and Florida during the winter months, with Pan Am gaining the right to lease future National DC-8s for transatlantic flights. With word of a possible stock exchange as part of the deal came rumors that it would be the first step in an eventual merger of the two airlin­ers. Such speculation, as it turned out, was premature.

Although Pan Am became the first 707 operator, it was briefly upstaged by BOAC and its smaller de Havilland Comet 4s, which began operating between London and New York-Idlewild on October 4, 1958, a scant two weeks ahead of its U. S. competitor. As we learned earlier, neither the Comet 4 nor the 707-120 had reliable nonstop transatlantic range, but even with fuel stops, they shrank the travel time sufficiently to justify replacement of piston-engine nonstop service. Several months passed before larger 707-320s began crossing the Atlantic uninterrupted.

Over at American Airlines, managers were so eager to begin turbine-powered flights on long-haul segments that they contemplated interim transcontinental flights utilizing turboprop Lockheed 188 Electras until 707s could begin flying the routes. However, the plan was negated by a pilot strike that delayed service entry by both types, which then made their debuts within only three days of each other in January 1959.

Jet service was gradually added by other carriers as 707s continued to roll off the production line at Renton, Washington. Douglas DC-8s began serving the airlines in September 1959. By the end of December, the Jet Age was in full swing, with 75 pure-jet airliners in service, along with an even greater number of turboprop air­craft. Even factoring in the cost of new equipment, the jets could produce more airline revenue by completing four trips in the same time it took propliners to com­plete three, while easily enjoying double the passenger and cargo capacity.

Aircraft floodgates opened at manufacturers Boeing, Douglas, Fairchild, and Lockheed in order to more than triple the population of turbine fleets world­wide. Air travel was about to expand tremendously.

INTRODUCTION

T

he 1950s was an incredible decade to be living in America. With World War II fading into distant memory, the country entered a prosperous and momen­tous era with a clear emphasis on the future. Military supersonic flight was now a matter of routine and visions of manned space travel entered the public con­sciousness for the very first time, but the most revolu­tionary aspect of all this futurism was the turbine engine. Just mentioning the word “jet” conjured up visions of great speed and power or snow-white con­trails seen against a stratospheric blue sky, and the mass public seemed suddenly swept up in the great expecta­tions of the new futuristic Jet Age.

Before World War II, the mere thought of an airline passenger purchasing a ticket and boarding a jet – powered airliner to fly to some exotic far-off locale at nearly 600 mph would have been pure science fiction. Then, in May 1952, Britain’s elegant de Havilland Comet 1 boarded its first passengers and took to the European skies. Although the commercial Jet Age didn’t begin in earnest until 1959, the die had been cast and airline passengers were soon flying at speeds and alti­tudes once strictly the domain of record-breaking mili­tary test pilots, little more than a decade earlier. A major
difference, however, is that these lucky passengers were dining on four-star cuisine surrounded by sublime lux­ury while flying at speeds approaching Mach 1!

This book celebrates the magical years from 1952 to 1962 with an in-depth look at the amazing machines that made commercial jet flight possible, as seen from the perspective of the propeller-driven aircraft that were in worldwide service prior to the introduction of the jets. The span of time from the zenith of piston-powered luxury airliners to the world’s first intercontinental jet­liners was only five short years, but this paradigm shift in powerplants, speed, and luxury revolutionized air travel forever.

So fasten your seatbelt, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as authors Jon Proctor, Mike Machat, and Craig Kodera take you along for literary flights in the world’s most luxurious propliners and pioneering first – generation jetliners, using magnificent original color photography from their respective collections coupled with industry-wide photos and memorabilia. It will be a memorable journey steeped in airline nostalgia and history, and will probably make you long once again for this incredible era in aviation that is, sadly, now gone forever.

INTRODUCTION

Distilled water, injected into the Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbojets to augment thrust, produces heavy black smoke as a brand-new American Airlines 707 Jet Flagship lifts off the runway for another transcontinental flight in 1959.

(Charlie Atterbury)

 

Safety and Reliability—Not Quite There Yet

Perhaps the greatest impediment to the widespread acceptance of air travel as the key mode of transportation in this country, and around the world for that matter, was the ever-present perception of the danger of flying. During the 1920s and 1930s, survival in air transporta­tion was almost akin to living in the Wild West of the nineteenth century, comparable to traversing the coun­try in covered wagons through Indian territory. Airliner crashes became constant newsreel fodder, and mothers begged their sons to take the train and not fly. The Fokker Trimotor or Curtiss Condor seemed like lumbering box kites just waiting to be swatted out of the sky by a fierce storm.

However, each successive decade following World War I did indeed manage to see incremental and then quantum advances in aircraft design, and as a conse­quence, airframe and systems reliability marched steadily forward. Compare the change from the wooden Fokker X to the all-metal Ford Trimotor. It was a wooden-wing spar in a Fokker that broke apart in a thunderstorm killing famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne and galvanizing public sentiment against air travel. It was nothing less than a tectonic shift from the corrugated Ford to the sleek monocoque Boeing 247, and then the grand DC-3 in 1936.

These aircraft brought new standards of flying safety and reliability, but all things remained relative, and airplanes still had a nasty tendency to crash. As dis­cussed later, the airlines of the 1930s were obsessed with advertising campaigns aimed at bolstering the safety of flight and the quality of their product. American Airlines even went so far as to broach the subject of safety in their ads. That frankness seemed to have a pos­itive effect overall, but flying was still not like taking the old, dependable train.

Following World War II, four-engine transports like the Lockheed Constellation and Douglas DC-6, along with the new twins from Convair and Martin, launched the next refinement of the technological base featuring pressurized passenger cabins and strong all – metal construction utilizing new advanced aluminum materials. Augmenting this were radio navigation aids, a flight engineer to handle the new complex technolo­gies, weather mitigating devices such as heated wing and tail leading edges and propeller deicing systems, and of course, the obvious redundancy of two more engines on the larger transports.

And yet, airliners kept running afoul of consistent safety records. Airplanes still crashed often enough to give many folks a fleeting second thought before board­ing a “giant silver bird” or “queen of the sky” bound for points near and far. Train service continued to main­tain its passenger appeal even throughout the 1950s. So what was causing that persistent, albeit lowered, sense of worry when it came to flying commercially?

The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) mandated that all Low – and Medium-Frequency (LMF) radio ranges be decommissioned in favor of new the technology, Visual Omni Range (VOR). Lighted air­ways were nearly a relic of the past, leftovers of the air­mail open cockpit days. Most major airports were now equipped with Instrument Landing System (ILS) preci­sion approach aids, and en route traffic radar centers popped up across the nation to separate airplanes from one another along the airways. Aircraft were flying higher and avoiding more weather, flying faster to stay ahead of that weather, and flying with greater fuel range

Safety and Reliability—Not Quite There Yet

As the airline industry matured and grew, new modern "super airports" came into existence to serve the equally new and modern airliners carrying more and more pas­sengers every year. Here we see a gleaming new LaGuardia Airport terminal and tower with a United DC-3 flying overhead in 1939. The terminal building contained a glamorous restaurant and sweeping obser­vation deck back in the day when a trip to the airport was considered an exciting excursion for the entire family. (Mike Machat Collection)

so as to be able to go around that weather. Advanced weather radar onboard the DC-6B, DC-7 series, and 1049/1649 Constellation series (covered in Chapters 3, 4, and 5, respectively) all added more margins of dependability to daily airline operations. So why were airliners continuing to fall out of the sky?

For all the technology invented to improve piston – powered airplanes, and as the working and regulatory environment for fast aircraft continued to grow (although always seemingly behind the latest speed and efficiency of the airplanes it served), it appeared that two chronic problems kept hampering a better safety record for airliners in the late 1940s and the 1950s: unre­liable technology and weather.

Piston engines such as the Wright R-3350 Turbo Compound or Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Double Wasp certainly marked the pinnacle of reciprocating power – plant technology and made possible the advancements noted above, but the very complexity of these engines was also their Achilles heel. More complex than a Swiss watch, these engines required as much maintenance per – flight-hour as several fleets of DC-3s combined! They certainly were not reliable. How many DC-7s landed at their destinations with one engine shut down, its pro­peller feathered? How often did contemporary films characterize airliner engines as being temperamental and cantankerous devices that came apart in flight, threw propellers, and then burned up, terrorizing all passengers onboard?

When one examines hull loss statistics in the United States from 1946 to the present, the overall number of accidents still falls within a pretty narrow range. The negative trend, however, existed in the types of hulls destroyed. A striking reality found in the probable cause of each accident in the prop era identifies the air­craft more often than not as a commercial transport. As years pass with the world’s airlines fully transitioning to all-jet fleets, the same number of accidents then begins shifting more to general aviation or small regional air­craft. Today, air safety for commercial transports around the world, and especially here in the United States, is enviably exemplary, with more people flying per-airplane, per-day, and on more airlines and air­planes than ever imaginable in the early 1950s.

Although technology has truly made a life-sustaining difference to air travelers today, aviation still suffers the occasional grandiose air accident with its attendant headlines, especially those involving large jetliners with hundreds of passengers aboard. What is the explana­tion? Many times we still see weather as a culprit, for we just cannot surmount every single type of atmo­spheric disturbance Mother Nature sends our way. Mighty jet airliners have been ripped apart by thunder­storms, and ice is still the largest operational problem faced by the air transport industry. Let’s flash back to earlier times and imagine flying in a Constellation somewhere over the East Coast in February.

The airplane is flying in ice more than in the clear; and because the Connie uses rubber deicer boots on its leading edges, you can actu­ally see the wings icing up, then the boots expanding to break sheets of it loose. It even shears off the prop blades and slams against the fuselage. The weather is abysmal all the way down to a near zero-zero landing and you’re landing at a field without an ITS, so the Captain is conducting a VOR, or in really tough situations, an ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) approach.

Landing minimums are higher for these non-precision approaches, which means you may or may not see the ground from those slightly higher altitudes. Hopefully the wind isn yt so strong that you are blown completely off course, placing you farther away from your missed approach point, where you either see the runway or have to execute a go-around and try again, or even divert to your landing alternate.

Our pilot has flown into this airport “a mil­lion times" and he’s sure he knows where he is by looking straight down at the ground. If only he can get a few feet lower and sneak into the clear to be able to see the runway straight ahead. As he gingerly continues to feel for clear air; the copilot suddenly screams, “Pull Up!”

But with engines snarling with increased power to escape impending disaster, the ground rushes up to meet the aircraft, the left wingtip contacts the earth, and the rest of our story becomes tragic front-page news the next morning.

More the exception than the rule, the above sce­nario focuses again on an inherent complexity, and how this aspect of postwar propliner operational capability affected air safety. Flying a large, piston-engine airliner, already an extremely complex system, within another incredibly complex system (radio navigational aids) while at the mercy of a precocious and unpredictable weather phenomena is just begging for the ominous chain of events found in all air accidents to be forged, several links at a time.

It is, therefore, a vast tribute to the men we called aviators in those days that many a safe trip was con­cluded at their hands despite all the challenges. By the late 1950s, these incredibly talented and wise individuals began to experience first-hand the almost unbelievable improvement in safety standards, and the simplicity of flight operations made available to the airlines when the world finally transitioned from props to jets.

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Meanwhile, over in Burbank, the folks at Lockheed were crafting their own “perfect” airliner of the times, known as the 1049 G Super Constellation, or simply, Super-G.

When one thinks of the Connie, one of the strongest details associated with any airplane comes to mind remembering the G model’s optional and removable wingtip tanks. Lockheed certainly had a penchant for these types of auxiliary fuel tanks, and the Super-G was the best application of this technology ever used on a passenger airplane. Combined with a radar nose and the stretched fuselage of the earlier 1049, the Super-G pack­age was by far the quintessential Constellation in terms of both style and practical design.

The G model’s gross weight climbed to 137,500 pounds, which included 609 gallons of fuel housed in each of the wing tanks. Range, even at this weight, was a few hundred miles more than the DC-7B, giving the Connie a small leg up on its Douglas competition. The amount of fuel carried in the G airplane was an amazing two-thirds again as much as the original Model 49 from just 10 years prior. This is the type of refinement of

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Not to be confused with today’s Southwest Airlines, Southwest Airways was later renamed Pacific Air Lines and served local towns on the West Coast until it merged into Air West in 1968. It began operations in 1946. One of Southwest’s original DC-3s is seen taxiing at Santa Maria, California. (William T. Larkins)

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Two local-service carriers are represented in this picture taken at Kansas City in June 1962. Frontier would later acquire Central in a merger. Both airplanes are converted C-47 transports with original cargo door installations. (Bob Woodling)

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Toward the end of its working life, an American Airlines DC-7B arrives at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, shortly before sunset on December 29, 1960. Boeing 707s and 720s were already quickly replacing Douglas propliners across America’s system. (Jon Proctor)

 

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3u Appmiatum

 

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Certificate provided to Eastern passen­gers during the DC-7B’s first year of service stated, "In appreciation and recognition of your flight on Eastern Air Lines’ new DC-7B luxury airliner, the ‘Golden Falcon.’" (Mike Machat Collection)

 

Lockheed 1049 Super G ConstellationLockheed 1049 Super G ConstellationLockheed 1049 Super G ConstellationLockheed 1049 Super G ConstellationLockheed 1049 Super G ConstellationLockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

design and growth-of-concept that we have referred to, and the manufacturers had really hit their strides with both the 1049G and DC-7B.

A total of 102 1049Gs were produced, with more than half being delivered to overseas carriers such as

Lockheed 1049 Super G Constellation

This July 1956 photo shows the passenger’s-eye view while boarding a brand-new Eastern Air Lines DC-7B Golden Falcon preparing to depart from Miami International Airport for New York’s Idlewild Airport.

(Sykes Machat photo)

KLM and Air France. In January 1955, Northwest Orient Airlines began transpacific service using G mod­els to fly to Tokyo from Seattle via Honolulu and later, to Anchorage over the great circle route. On the other side of the globe, Lufthansa was having marvelous suc­cess with “The Senator Service” with its twice-weekly flights to the United States. Lufthansa configured its Super-Gs in a deluxe 32-seat cabin layout and this ser­vice was later extended to the airline’s South American routes. For air passengers, this was undoubtedly the best time in the world to be flying aboard a new airliner from Douglas or Lockheed.

The Learning Curve

With every major step forward in aviation comes a learning curve in the form of incidents and accidents from which new aircraft design features and operational proce­dures emerge to prevent recurrences. It is an unfortunate but inevitable step in the advancement of progress during which valuable machinery and precious lives are lost, but life-saving improvements in safety and performance are the valuable results of this process. Perhaps only in retro­spect can we understand just how safe and reliable today’s modern airliners have become. Unlike in the early 1960s, it is now a rarity to have a news bulletin suddenly inter­rupt a radio or TV program blaring out that there was another major airliner crash with the loss of all onboard.

Подпись:Complete with all the associated pomp and circumstance, Pan American’s first Boeing 707 service from New York to Paris prepares to receive its passen­gers at Idlewild on a rainy autumn night, October 26, 1958. Although a BOAC Comet 4 snuck under the wire two weeks earlier to beat the 707 to the punch inaugurating the world’s first transatlantic jet service, Pan Am

The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve

Saturday, October 4, 1958, saw the world’s first two jet airliners together for the very first time at New York International Airport. On the observation deck of the International Arrivals Building a crowd of nearly a thousand spectators greeted the BOAC Comet that had just flown the world’s first commercial revenue passenger service across the Atlantic in a jet transport. Not to be outdone, Pan Am’s Juan Trippe ordered one of his new 707s, in New York that day on a route-proving flight, to be parked at the adjoining gate when the Comet arrived from London. The 707 simply dwarfed the smaller British jet, its fuselage polished to a mirror finish. Excitement filled the air along with the new scent of kerosene, and the piercing jet-engine noise was simply deafening. No one in attendance really cared, however, for this was the moment that signaled the official start of the Jet Age. (Sykes Machat photos)

As the first new jets entered service in 1958 and 1959, they were flown by seasoned airline veterans con­sidered by their companies to be the “best of the best” in terms of piloting skill and ability to command a $5 million aircraft with up to 150 souls on board. New onboard systems, powerplant management, flight char­acteristics, and operating procedures had to be learned, and emergency procedures were practiced incessantly, committed to memory, and then mastered in the air. With this new breed of airliners, jet-age training and methodology was required to bring its veteran prop-era pilots up to speed. Classroom training could only go so far, however, and because full-motion simulators had not yet come into the ground training fleet, real aircraft were taken off the line and used for flight crew assimi­lation and pilot checkouts.

February 3, 1959, was a particularly black day in aviation history. On that cold winter evening, American Airlines’ first Lockheed Electra —an airplane in service for only 10 days —crashed into the upper East River while on approach to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. In Clear Lake, Iowa, that night, a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza crashed on takeoff killing rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly and fellow rockers Ritchie Valens and “The Big Bopper.” Midway over the North Atlantic on a routine passenger flight from Paris to New York that same evening, a Pan American Boeing 707-120 experienced autopilot failure while flying at cruise altitude, causing commercial avi­ation’s first recorded “jet upset” where the airplane unexpectedly departed straight-and-level flight and plunged 29,000 feet toward the ocean.

Miraculously, the crew of the Boeing 707-120 was able to wrestle the controls and pull out of the nearly inverted dive a scant 6,000 feet above the waves, thank­fully saving all onboard including famed American dance legend, Gene Kelly. In testimony to the big Boeing’s rugged construction, the airplane held together through the ordeal, but suffered minor structural damage as a result of heavy g-loads induced during the recovery. And speaking of recovery, only three weeks later, another Pan Am 707 shed an entire engine and pylon during a minimum-control airspeed demonstration while on a training flight from Le Bourget Field in Paris. The crew managed to regain control and land at London’s Heathrow Airport where Pan Am had better maintenance facilities than at Paris.

The learning curve also applied to the news media and how they dealt with Jet Age emergencies. In July that same year, another Pan American 707 lost two wheels from its left main landing gear while taking off from New York and, after burning off enough fuel, returned to Idlewild Airport to make a successful emergency landing on a foamed runway. Unbeknown to airport authorities, however, news of the impend­ing emergency was being broadcast “live” via local TV and radio stations. By the time the crippled jet landed, a crowd of more than 50,000 curious onlook­ers had invaded the airport grounds in order to see the expected crash. They stood literally by the side of the runway, much to the chagrin of rescue crews trying to reach the jetliner!

In August, the first fatal training accident of the Jet Age occurred when an American Airlines 707-120 rolled inverted at low altitude and crashed into a field after executing a two-engine-out missed approach to Calverton Airport on eastern Long Island. The practice crew of three pilots and two flight engineers were killed. Similar training accidents claimed a Braniff 707 later that same year, a Delta Convair 880 in 1960, a TWA 880 and another American 707 in 1961, and a Western Airlines Boeing 720B in 1963. These tragic losses made a compelling case for the development of more-sophisticated cockpit simulators to replace inflight training whenever possible.

By the end of 1962, operational turbine-powered airliners that crashed while in passenger service included a United DC-8 in Brooklyn (midair collision), an Eastern Electra in Boston (bird ingestion on takeoff), a Braniff Electra in flight over Texas (wing separation), an Aeronaves de Mexico DC-8 in New York (runway overrun), a Northwest Electra in flight over Indiana (wing separation), a United DC-8 in Denver (emergency landing), an American 707 at New York (rudder mal­function on takeoff), a Sabena 707 on landing at Brussels, Belgium, an Alitalia DC-8 landing in Bombay, India, a Varig 707 landing in Lima, Peru, and two Air France 707s —one on approach to Paris and the other landing in bad weather at Guadeloupe, West Indies.

When examined in historical perspective, these 18 accidents exacted an exceedingly high toll in terms of human life and machinery lost. However, because they occurred at the beginning of the learning curve, signifi­cant knowledge was amassed and equally significant improvements were made in aircraft design, operating procedures, and even air-traffic control. For instance, leading-edge slats and other high-lift devices were added to the Boeing 707, allowing lower landing speeds and better maneuverability. Ventral fins were also added to the 707 to allow greater inherent stability at low speeds and high angles of attack during landing. To reduce the risk of midair collisions, aircraft speeds were reduced to a 250-mph maximum below 10,000 feet.

As other lessons were learned from subsequent accidents and incidents over the years, continual improvements in airframe and powerplant design, onboard systems technology, and operational proce­dures were made that eventually led to the impressive safety record we enjoy for all types of commercial air­liners today.

Подпись: American Airlines' Chairman C. R. Smith made the cover of TIME magazine in recognition of his efforts to launch transcontinental jet airliner service, thus cutting travel time in half. This is symbolically represented in this masterful portrait by artist Boris Artzybasheff with the depiction of a watch literally being sliced in half by the jet exhaust at upper left. (Craig Kodera Collection)

Подпись: New DC-8s line the West Ramp at Douglas Aircraft Company's Long Beach plant in this photo taken on December 30, 1959. Aircraft being delivered to Delta, United, and Pan American are prepared for their shakedown flights before entering passenger service, and the tail of DC-8 prototype Ship One can be spotted third from the end. The DC-8 production line remained active until May 1972 when the 556th transport was delivered to long-time Douglas customer SAS. (Mike Machat Collection)

(1946-1950)

(1946-1950)

Flagship Knoxville, an American Airlines Douglas DC-3 in 1939. (Craig Kodera/The Greenwich Workshop)

 

A

fter World War II ended, the world entered an era of recovery and rebuilding. Commercial air trans­portation began to expand using fleets of surplus military transports and leftover prewar passenger aircraft. Despite
there being a number of false hopes with giant new air­liner concepts that never came to fruition, the promise of bigger and better airliners was looming on the distant horizon. Maybe someday, there would even be jets.

Evolution of Post-World War II Airliners—

USAAF Surplus

The end of World War II saw a massive transfer of aircraft to the airline industry, mostly Douglas C-47s reconfigured to passenger layouts. In addition to civil DC-3s returning from military service, more than 9,000 C-47s were available to choose from, at prices less than $10,000 each.

In addition, 1,100 Douglas DC-4s, built as C-54s for the Army and R5Ds for the Navy, became available and were purchased by airlines in large numbers. American Airlines acquired 50 C-54s at the standard government price of $90,000 each, and spent an addi­tional $175,000 per airplane to install passenger interi­ors. Pan Am, which had ordered DC-4s in 1940, went on to fly 90 of the type, while other carriers purchased smaller numbers.

Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines, the DC-4 rumbled along at a maximum speed of 227 mph and possessed near-transatlantic range, but was chiefly used on shorter domestic routes, carrying 44 passengers in a standard configuration, plus two pilots and one or two flight attendants. In addition to American, surplus DC-4s were acquired early on by Delta, Eastern, Northwest, Pan Am, TWA, and United.

Подпись: A crowd gathers around this TWA-painted Constellation after its record-breaking, 6-hour 58-minute flight from Burbank to National Airport in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 1944, with Howard Hughes and Jack Frye at the controls. Although it was scheduled for handover to the War Department, Hughes was allowed the airplane for the cross-country flight and, without permission, had his airline's colors applied to complete the publicity coup. The loading steps, made of wood, were specially constructed and painted for the event. This would be the only Constellation to wear Transcontinental Line markings, and it never flew in revenue service with TWA. (TWA/Jon Proctor Collection)

Подпись: In 1948, LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, drew thousands of weekend onlookers with its panoramic observation deck. (Peter Black Collection)

As the war ended, Douglas built a small batch of civil DC-4s before concentrating on production of its new DC-6, which airlines would begin receiving in

Подпись: April 16, 1944, Las Vegas, Nevada. TWA Treasurer John Lockhart, acting on behalf of the U.S. Army Air Force, accepts the flight manual and paperwork as the first Lockheed Constellation is turned over to the airline. A variation of the Constellation logo, with added stars, is visible on the Connie, along with a tailskid that was only fitted on the first few airplanes. Wearing military registration 310310, the airplane was immediately flown back to Burbank and prepared for its record-breaking flight to Washington, D.C., the following day. Note boarding ladder. (Craig Kodera Collection) Подпись: A Pan American World Airways Stratocruiser; its landing gear already retracting into the wells, departs from Los Angeles on June 23, 1950, bound for Honolulu. At the west end of Runways 25-Left and -Right, traffic on bordering Sepulveda Boulevard was stopped for long-range takeoffs in the days before a tunnel was built under the runways to allow extension of the strips. The Stratocruiser remains to this day the most successful adaptation of a military transport (the C-97) into a luxury airliner. (Los Angeles World Airports)

1947. Western Air Lines was a factory-delivery DC-4 customer. At Burbank, California, Lockheed began producing civil variants of its Constellation after divert­ing the type to the military during the war. C-69 Constellations were handed over to TWA and Pan Am, both hungry to replenish their small fleets and add capacity as postwar prosperity began rapid growth in air travel.

On U. S. domestic routes, TWA gained a significant advantage over its domestic rivals, as even the ex-military Connies were on a par with the DC-6s yet to arrive. Fifteen of these larger, more-modern airliners required less modification work than the C-54s and had the advantage of pressurized cabins that allowed them to cruise at higher altitudes to avoid bad weather. Eighteen-cylinder, Wright Cyclone R-3350 radial engines permitted cruising altitudes of 21,000 feet. Accommodations for up to 57 passengers were provided on daylight flights, with sleeping berths added for longer night and transatlantic flights.

The type was used to inaugurate TWA’s transat­lantic service in February 1946 and quickly spread to domestic routes as well, supplementing five four-engine Boeing 307 Stratoliners that were returned to TWA from military duty in 1944. The C-69s were followed by civil-built Model 049 Connies. TWA also acquired 15 C-54s for transatlantic use through purchase and lease contracts.

(1952-1954)

(1952-1954)

Puddle Jumper, an American Airlines Convair 240 in 1954. (Craig Kodera)

 

T

he piston-engine airliner evolves and matures to new and impressive levels, bringing greater speed, longer range, and increased passenger capacity as well as true transcontinental travel. Aircraft performance
increases, and so does the level of operational safety and reliability. International air travel also comes of age as airline routes expand and more passengers take to the skies than ever before.