Category From props to jets




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)

Smaller Jetliners in the mid-1960s

While the brilliant French Sud Caravelle became the Western world’s first short – to medium-range jet­liner in the late-1950s, a new flock of twinjet and tri-jet airplanes emerged in the following decade bringing sig­nificant advances in airframe, powerplant, and systems technology. In 1962 Britain’s Hawker Siddeley Trident became the first new smaller jetliner to take flight after the original Caravelle, but it was another three-engine design from Seattle that truly launched medium-range jet-powered service two years later. Boeing’s 727 was a revolutionary airplane when first flown, bringing jet speed, comfort, and convenience to smaller regional air­ports previously served by DC-6s, Constellations, and even Convair-Liners. With a total of more than 1,800 built in two basic models and operated by major carri­ers all over the world, the 727 was the most successful

airliner ever flown at the time, becoming the undisputed DC-3 of the Jet Age.

After a failed marriage between Sud and Douglas to market the Caravelle in the United States, Douglas developed its own twinjet airliner called the DC-9, which entered service in 1965. Starting as a 100-seater known as DC-9-10, the basic design grew in typical Douglas fashion all the way to the Series 50. The next step was a rather big one, when the latest iteration became the DC-9 Super 80 with larger engines, wings, tail, landing gear, and a stretched fuselage that held up to 165 passengers. The most advanced airliner of its time, the Super 80 was renamed the MD-80 (MD stand­ing for McDonnell Douglas, replacing the classic DC, or “Douglas Commercial” designation) and grew into the MD-90, and the shorter-fuselage MD-87. The final member of the family was originally called the MD-95, a name that morphed into the Boeing 717 when that company acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997.

Meanwhile, in England, the newly established British Aircraft Corporation (ВАС) designed a small twinjet for inter-European routes that eventually became a DC-9 competitor. Called the ВАС 111, it entered service in 1965. Ironically, this airplane was flown in the United States, as well, by American, Braniff, and Mohawk to connect those carriers’ smaller cities to their 707 and DC-8 trunk routes.

By 1968, Boeing was building a shorter, twin – engine feeder liner of its own called the 737, launched by Lufthansa and first operated in the United States by United Air Lines, ironically replacing aging Caravelles on United’s routes. In a classic example of how dramat-

Smaller Jetliners in the mid-1960s

Bringing jet service to the world’s smaller cities was the Boeing 727, which entered service in 1963. With more than 1,800 built, the 727 was to the Jet Age what the Douglas DC-3 was to the late-1930s—a machine that could make a profit for companies flying passengers to destinations all over the world. Many are still flying today. (Boeing/Jon Proctor Collection)

ically things can change in the airline industry, the mod­est and stubby little 737 grew in size, power, range, and passenger capacity over the years, and is now flying in its third design makeover, glass cockpit and all. With more than 6,000 delivered (and another 2,000 currently on order), the 737 has become the most successful single­aisle jetliner in history. To put all this in proper per­spective, the latest version in the 737 series can carry more passengers over longer distances on two fewer engines and with two fewer flight crew than Boeing’s original 707 could when first introduced in 1958!