24 July 2010

Alaska Airlines' First Jet, "Seventy-Seven Hotel"

Throughout the 1950s, Alaska Airlines' propliners wore a very elegant blue scheme with a golden eagle logo on the tail. The services from the lower 48 states to Alaska as well as on internal Alaska routes were advertised as "Golden Nugget" service in reference to Alaska's rich prospecting history. But despite popular services, Alaska in the 1950s was financially strapped and woefully unable to finance new equipment. At one point, Howard Hughes even offered to lease Alaska up to six Convair 880s to get into the jet age at very reasonable prices that unfortunately, were still too stiff for Alaska's austere budget.

But jets were what were needed and Alaska's competitor, Pacific Northern Airlines, had just ordered the Boeing 720 for delivery in 1962. There was simply no way for Alaska's DC-6s to compete with PNA's 720s on the Anchorage-Seattle run.

Charlie Willis, then Alaska's president, approached Convair to plead for very favorable financial terms to get jet equipment as Alaska saw the greater speed of the CV-880 as one way to meet the threat to market share posed by PNA's Boeing jets. Fortunately for him, Convair's sales team was desperately looking for a sale as the Convair jet was facing tough competition from the larger Boeing 707s and Douglas DC-8s. Willis returned to Anchorage with a contract for one Convair 880M, which boasted a whole range of improvements over the first baseline 880 model.

Of course, Convair was more than happy to be able to place one of their jets right in Boeing's hometown of Seattle where Alaska had a large presence in the late 1950s and early 1960s. N8477H (often called Seventy-Seven Hotel by Alaska crews) inaugurated Golden Nugget Jet services between Seattle, Anchorage and Fairbanks on 30 August 1961 and the service was cleverly pitched as "Four Jets Daily to Alaska".

Alaska's single CV-800 had high utilization as it was Alaska's only jet until the first Boeing 727s arrived in 1966 and Seventy-Seven Hotel was sold to Cathay Pacific. At one point, Alaska's sole 880 even carried cargo in the lounge area of the aircraft when demand was down in the winter months. The livery Alaska used on the CV-880 was based on the stylized eagle logo used on the DC-6s, but instead of blue, a very attractive red/gold scheme was used that was unique to Seventy-Seven Hotel and was not used on the rest of Alaska's fleet. The 727s that replaced the 880M had a Golden Nugget "meatball" style logo on the tail instead of the eagle on a red field. So not only was Alaska's 880 unique, it also wore a livery unique to it as well.

Source: Convair 880 & 990 (Great Airliners Series, Volume 1) by John Proctor. World Transport Press, 1996, p27.


  1. That colour-scheme was a beaut'.



  2. Was impressed with the livery, but more impressed with the Barbary Coast interior with the stand-up bar, electric candles, brass rail and frocked wallpaper. One of a kind in so many ways.