Problems with the 202
The launch customer for the Martin 202 had been Northwest Airlines, which had picked up the first-in-line privilege when Pennsylvania-Central had to withdraw because of financial stringency. The Minneapolis airline opened service by October, but was to regret the choice. It had a series of accidents, some of which were caused by a weakness in the wing structure. After the first one, on 29 August 1948, the 202 was grounded by the C. A.A.; and thereafter, in 1950 and early 1951, more accidents (not all attributed to the aircraft) resulted in the Northwest pilots refusing to fly them again.
T. W.A/s Choice
The competition between Martin and Convair was intense, as orders for hundreds of aircraft were in their sights. The performance characteristics between the two types (Martin had upgraded the first design with pressurization) were very similar. During 1949, Howard Hughes himself, together with his new president, Ralph Damon, and Bob Rummel, newly – promoted to chief engineer, conducted exhaustive tests on both the Martin 404 and the Convair 240. Hughes liked the Martin better, telephoned Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Air Lines, and ordered 100 404s. 60 were for Eastern (whose route structure was ideal for the 40- seater) and 40 for T. W.A. Hughes took one for himself. T. W.A.’s contract was signed on 22 February 1950. Pending deliveries, which would take a couple of years, Hughes leased a dozen of the earlier, 202s, modified as Martin 202A. During its service life through the 1950s, only one 404 was lost (see fleet list, page 62), and the reason could hardly be blamed on the manufacturer. The 404s followed into service on lONovember 1951, and served T. W.A. well, in the shadow of the Constellations, for a whole decade.
The Martin 404, with one more row of seats than the 202, served T. W.A. throughout the 1950s, starting service on 10 November 1951. This is a picture of Skyliner Baltimore, recognizing the city where it was built.
Ralph Damon joined T. W.A. on 1 January 1949. A veteran airline administrator, he had been president of Curtiss-Wright in 1932, and became vice-president and later general manager and president of American Airlines for 13 years. He was ‘drafted’ in 1941 and for two years supervised production at Republic Aviation. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed him to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, but he did not complete the five-year term. For six years he was the ideal partner for Howard Hughes, complementing, with his managerial experience, the intuition and enterprise of his mercurial chief. During the festive season after Christmas, 1955, he attended a ceremony in Times Square, New York, in bad winter weather. This was to exhibit a huge T. W.A. Constellation replica, floodlit, and with its own lights. He caught pneumonia and died on 4 January 1956. His death was a great loss not only for T. W.A., but for the U. S. airline industry as a whole.