29 March 2015

Flying High This Past Week: 23 March-29 March

Don't forget that the new URL for TAILS THROUGH TIME is now www.tailsthroughtime.com. The old blogspot URL will still work, though. Consider it a quick NOTAM! I suppose a sign you've moved up in the blogosphere is when a Wikipedia article lists one of your articles as a source! It was an Wikipedia entry on the Pratt & Whitney J58 engine that powered the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and my blog article on the Mach 3 Phantom proposal is listed as a reference in the sources. This past week was one of the unusual weeks that two articles get posted in a week, so obviously we'll lead off with those two articles on this week's edition of Flying High This Past Week: 
  • The Rise and Fall of Mohawk Airlines and Opening the Door for Frank Lorenzo: Mohawk Airlines began operations in 1944 as Robinson Air Lines, connecting Ithaca, New York, with Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. By 1952 one of the pilots at Robinson eventually took over the airline and renamed it Mohawk following an employee contest for a new name. Mohawk and its new president, Bob Peach, were legendary among local service carriers as they were the first of the second tier of airlines to operate pure jet equipment and it was Peach's determination to operate pure jets that gained him the respect of his peers in the industry. Unfortunately circumstances would doom Mohawk to the point that it had to choose between joining its long time rival, Allegheny Airlines, or a young smooth talking New York businessman whose name became infamous in the US airline industry- Frank Lorenzo. 
  • Proving the Harrier Carrier: The idea of a V/STOL equipped light carrier that is sort of like the modern day equivalent of the light escort carriers of the Second World War had its genesis in the austere budgetary environment that came at the end of the Vietnam War. The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, championed a cheaper alternative to the supercarrier called the Sea Control Ship that would use the new AV-8A Harrier as the sharp point of its spear. While the Navy never went forward with the SCS concept, many of our allies paid close attention and the US Marine Corps in particular would use the experience to base the Harrier and now Harrier II aboard the big deck amphibs of the "Gator Navy".
  • Two's Company and Three's A Crowd: The Boeing 737-200 Flight Crew Controversy: This article from the week before last is still getting plenty of hits. I suppose that we are all looking at the number of crew in the flight deck with a different eye these days in light of the Germanwings tragedy. 
  • Operation Teaball: Network-Centric Real-Time Intelligence in Vietnam: While the tools the US military used to restore the fighting effectiveness of its combat pilots are varied, one of the more interesting tools in the renaissance of the fighter pilot in the skies over Vietnam was the use of real-time intelligence to increase the situational awareness of pilots who were operating in the skies over North Vietnam.
  • The Early Days of Airbus Industrie and How the A300 Got Its Name: I don't know what interests me more- the political machinations of 1960s Europe that led to the formation of Airbus or the fact that the A300 designation sprang out of a light hearted joke. Given the juggernaut that Airbus has become in the world commercial aircraft market, it's beginnings were much less assured and much more tenuous at best. 
  • How American Airlines Shaped the A300: Related to the prior linked article on the early days of Airbus Industrie, even though American Airlines didn't operate the Airbus A300 until April 1988 as the launch customer for the A300-600R variant, one of its VPs, Frank Kolk, back in the 1960s had a tremendous influence in shaping the final design of the A300. The A300 was much closer to Kolk's specification for a widebody twin that he authored in 1967 than the eventual aircraft that sprang from Kolk's requirements, the Douglas DC-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. 
  • The Ryan FR-1 Fireball and F2R Dark Shark: An Evolutionary Dead End: Probably the pinnacle of mixed-propulsion fighter aircraft, these two Ryan fighter designs of the Navy represented a rather simple but effective remedy to the shortfalls of jet engines in the immediate postwar era.
Remember that new blog articles are posted every five days. The next article will be going up on April 2nd, so stay tuned. And for those who missed it, this is last week's edition of Flying High This Past Week

28 March 2015

The Rise and Fall of Mohawk Airlines and Opening the Door for Frank Lorenzo

Robinson DC-3 crew with Robert Peach on the far right
In the days following Pearl Harbor, the US Civil Aeronautics Board suspended all awards for new air services given the wartime situation. However, the CAB soon realized that air services would need to expand the support the growing production effort for the war. On 11 July 1944 the CAB issued an judgement that created a new category of airline called a feeder or local service airline that would funnel passengers and goods from smaller communities to larger cities for connections to the large established trunk airlines of the day like the "Big Four" of United, Eastern, American, and TWA. One of the early pioneers to take advantage of the CAB's decision was an aerial photographer and inventor named C.S. Robinson in Ithaca, New York. His work with aerial photography before the war led him to developed a metal spring like shock mount for his cameras that was superior to the rubber mounts of the day that became hard at high altitude. Robinson's factory to support the war effort was in Teterboro, New Jersey and he commuted between Teterboro and Ithaca in his Fairchild 24. Finding a constant stream of people who wanted to hitch a ride with him to New Jersey, he decided to start his own airline to connect upstate New York to the New York/New Jersey area and on 6 April 1945 Robinson Airlines began airline services from Ithaca and New York City using three Fairchild 24s. With traffic growing, Robinson expanded to larger aircraft and hired pilots as fast as he could to meet demand. One of his new hires was a former Navy patrol pilot and lawyer named Robert Peach. 

Peach was decorated Navy pilot in the Pacific with two Distinguished Flying Crosses and at the time he joined Robinson Airlines, he was finishing law school at Cornell and wanted to get back into flying part-time. With the rapid growth of demand out of Ithaca, Robinson's laid back management style wasn't conducive to a growing airline and the finances according suffered in the immediate years after the end of the Second World War. Edwin Link, the developer of the Link Simulator that was vital to training pilots, had a factory in Binghamton, New York and was willing to invest in Robinson if there was a change of leadership to assure a return on his investment. Link provided the seed money to allow Robinson to upgrade to Douglas DC-3s and by 1952 Robert Peach had risen through the ranks to Robinson to gain the attention of outside investors. He ended up buying Robinson Airlines outright which assured Link's continued investment in the airline. One of his first acts as head of the airline was to hold a contest to rename the airline and that's how it became Mohawk Airlines. 

Robert Peach at the christening of Mohawk's first One-Eleven
Link's investments weren't enough for Mohawk as Peach pushed for an increase in the usual subsidy the CAB gave to local service airlines. It was a role that raised Peach's prominence in the airline community as he advocated for more support for the smaller airlines. In those days, the CAB had a subsidy given to airlines for routes they flew and Peach pushed for the CAB to treat local service airlines like Mohawk on the same basis as the large established trunk airlines. At the time the Eisenhower Administration wasn't too keen on the idea of increasing subsidies to local service carriers, but Peach and the other local service carrier heads had two important allies- one was Donald Nyrop, the head of the CAB at the time (who later became the head of Northwest Airlines) and Texas Democrat Representative Lloyd Bentsen. When the CAB opened up for applications for local service carriers in 1945, certification was provisional. Bentsen's proposed legislation would make certification of the local service carriers permanent, placing them on better footing with the established trunk carriers and opening the door to increased subsidies from the CAB. President Eisenhower signed the bill after it was unanimously passed by both houses of Congress in 1955. 

Mohawk's BAC One-Elevens increased its stature in the industry
Beginning 1962 Mohawk under Peach's leadership grew tremendously. I had previously written about Mohawk's fight to acquire jet equipment in the form of the BAC One-Eleven that culminated in Peach winning the fight and the first Mohawk BAC One-Eleven, christened "Ohio" flew its first revenue services on 25 June 1965. In addition, Fairchild-Hiller FH-227 turboprops were also put into service to replace the piston twins with Mohawk reaching its zenith in 1967 with route awards from the CAB to Detroit, Cleveland and Boston. The floor fell out from underneath Robert Peach and Mohawk Airlines in 1968. On 23 June that year, the BAC One-Eleven "Discover America" crashed on a flight from Elmira, New York, to Washington, DC. The cause was a valve failure in the APU that resulted in an inflight fire that compromised the tail structure. Two weeks later, a new air traffic controllers union called Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) that started in New York City staged a slowdown to protest inadequate staffing and excessive overtime. Working to the letter of the rules, air traffic back up around numerous chokepoints that led into the New York City area. From July to August, the PATCO action proved disastrous to many airlines, but more so to Mohawk given its route structure. Peach even tendered a bill to the FAA for costs incurred during the PATCO slowdown as a protest. In the following year, a general downturn in the economy then hit Mohawk's passenger numbers. By 1970, the nation was in recession and every airline was losing money and this further added to Mohawk's woes. To save costs, many local service carriers were handing off services to smaller cities to commuter airlines with the CAB subsidy "flowing through" from the local service carrier to the commuter airline. Mohawk's rival, Allegheny Airlines, was already doing this with their "Allegheny Commuter" brand. The CAB permitted this as long as the local service airline would step back in should the commuter airline cease services to any of the communities. 

Frank Lorenzo at the time of his takeover of Texas International
At Mohawk, the pilots saw the outsourcing to commuter airlines as a threat to their jobs (some things in the airline industry never change and this is still a contentious issue in airlines today). One minute before midnight on 12 November 1970, the pilots went on strike after the failure of negotiations and Mohawk was essentially shut down as an airline. The debts that Mohawk incurred upgrading to the BAC One-Eleven and FH-227 aircraft were piling up against declining traffic. The pilot's strike was a nail in Mohawk's coffin as the management turned to a small New York City aviation consulting firm to assist with a turnaround. This small firm was Jet Capital, founded in August 1966 by two Harvard business school graduates, Frank Lorenzo and Bob Carney. With a small office in the prestigious Pan Am building in Manhattan, Lorenzo and Carney had a stock offering in January 1970 that netted them $1.5 million in "seed money". They had earlier provided financial consulting to Detroit-based cargo airline Zantop  that got their name out in the industry. Lorenzo met with Robert Peach on numerous occasions and Jet Capital offered Mohawk a restructuring plan that essentially resulted in Lorenzo controlling Mohawk Airlines. At the time, Lorenzo was only 30 years old- and his plan to take over Mohawk was a bit much for the Robert Peach and the board to swallow. With the airlines' fortunes waning quickly, Peach instead allowed his long time rival Allegheny Airlines to purchase Mohawk. By this time the slow slide of Mohawk meant that Peach had less control over Mohawk than what was the case in 1967. On 20 April 1970, he had lunch with Frank Lorenzo thanking him for his services and offer but that the board had decided to sell to Allegheny. After lunch, Robert Peach went home to prepare for a speech he was to give that night, but instead shot himself in the head, the loss of Mohawk too much to bear for him. 

Robert Peach wasn't only airline boss to kill himself after dealing with Lorenzo. That will be the subject of a future post on this blog as we track Frank Lorenzo's rise to prominence in the airline industry. The sale of Mohawk to Allegheny left Jet Capital with its seed money from its stock offering burning a hole in their pockets. Lorenzo came tantalizingly close to getting control of an airline, something he had long wanted since he was a teenager. In 1971, Mohawk wasn't the only airline in need of a financial turnaround. Based in Houston was Texas International and it wasn't long before they engaged Frank Lorenzo's services that year. But you'll have to wait for another blog article to find out how that went.....

Source: Airline Executives and Federal Regulation: Case Studies in American Enterprise from the Air Mail Era to the Dawn of the Jet Age by Walter David Lewis. Ohio State University Press, 2000, pp 295-318. Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos by Thomas Petzinger. Times Business/Random House, 1996, pp 38-43. Photos: Historical Images (historicalimages03 on eBay), Wikipedia, PostcardPost.com

23 March 2015

Proving the Harrier Carrier

Admiral Zumwalt, CNO 1970-74
When Admiral Elmo Zumwalt become the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) in April 1970, it was a time of looming fiscal austerity as the Vietnam War commanded the resources of the Department of Defense. In the background of the attention Southeast Asia required of the US armed forces also came a significant build up of the Soviet Navy's submarine fleet. In the event of any outbreak of war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Europe, the North Atlantic sea lanes would be a vital logistical link between the United States and its forward deployed forces in Europe. Lacking a significant blue water projection force like the American carrier battle groups, the Soviet Navy embarked on a massive submarine build up to not only counter the carriers but also provide a stealthy means of cutting the North Atlantic sea lanes to disrupt the supply of NATO forces in Europe. When Admiral Zumwalt become the CNO, he was juggling both the Soviet submarine threat as well as the Vietnam War. The election of President Nixon meant that an eventual draw down in Vietnam was coming and that Navy needs needed to focus on future threats like the Soviet submarine force. There was a considerable debate on how to do this in light of the massive budgetary drain Southeast Asia had been on the nation. The three previous officers to hold the CNO position were naval aviators- Zumwalt was a surface combatant officer who saw antisubmarine warfare as the key to offsetting the Soviet submarine threat. Some wanted expansion of the super carrier fleet, others like Admiral Hyman Rickover pushed for expansion of the American nuclear submarine fleet. The problem was that all those options were expensive. 

Zumwalt championed what was called the Sea Control Ship (SCS) which was a modern equivalent of the escort carriers of the Second World War. Initial naval studies had looked at destroyer-sized vessels with small flight decks, but by 1972 the SCS concept had evolved into 17,000 ton vessel just under 700 feet in length that could embark sixteen ASW helicopters and five Harriers for self-defense. The SCS would not have catapults or arresting gear as these would drive up the expense as well as the size of the SCS concept. Like an aircraft carrier, there would be a spacious hangar deck but the cost of the SCS would be capped at $100 million which in those days was about a tenth the cost of the new Nimitz class super carriers. The lower cost meant a class of eight could easily be built and quickly to take up ASW patrols in the North Atlantic. 

The USS Guam under way with her Harriers
With the support of the Secretary of Defense, Zumwalt had the helicopter assault ship USS Guam (LPH-9) transformed into an interim Sea Control Ship to demonstrate the concept in 1972. The USMC's recent acquisition of the AV-8A Harrier for close air support dovetailed perfectly into Zumwalt's SCS concept. Given that one of the major reasons the Marines wanted the Harrier was for its flexible basing away from air base runways, the deck of an amphibious assault ship was just as good as any dispersed basing scheme for Marine Harriers. VMA-513, the first Marine Corps Harrier squadron, became operational with the AV-8A the year prior and were selected to form a detachment to deploy on the USS Guam. The pilots working with naval engineers working on the SCS program created a Frensel lens landing aid that floated in oil for self-stabilization and projected a glideslope from the deck of the Guam. The Harrier detachment operated off the Guam for a total of over 170 sorties in day and night with the initial workups taking place off the coast of South Carolina near VMA-513's base at MCAS Beaufort. After this first phase, the Guam then deployed to the rough sea conditions of the North Atlantic and the AV-8As performed flawlessly. Despite being primarily close-air support tasked, VMA-513 worked on air combat tactics including the use of vectoring the nozzles in forward flight (VIFFing) to increase the maneuverability of the AV-8A in a dogfight. Wired to also carry AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the AV-8As during the Guam deployment to the North Atlantic even made intercepts of Soviet Tu-95 Bear and Tu-16 Badger maritime reconnaissance aircraft. 

Though the deployment aboard the USS Guam was successful in proving the SCS concept, it was Admiral Zumwalt's retirement in 1974 that ended the SCS program despite preliminary contracts being issued to shipyards for SCS vessels. Zumwalt's replacement, Admiral James Holloway, was a naval aviator and Rickover student. Given Admiral Rickover's tremendous influence in the Navy, his opposition to the SCS concept ended the program in 1974. Despite the end of the SCS, the Marines continued to send Harrier detachment to sea to gain shipboard operating experience. In 1976, for example, Harriers embarked with the air wing of the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt to develop ways of integrating V/STOL operations during launch and recovery operations. 

AV-8A Harriers on the aft of the flight deck of the USS Nassau
But that wasn't quite the end of the Sea Control Ship concept in the United States even though the Royal Navy commissioned the Invincible class V/STOL carriers, with the lead ship HMS Invincible launching in 1977. In early 1981, the NATO allies had pointed out that US wasn't honoring its defense commitment to have two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. Tensions in the Middle East at that time meant one of the Mediterranean carriers was in the Indian Ocean, leaving on a single carrier in the Mediterranean. At a meeting on an unrelated matter in Washington, the Secretary of the Navy, Commandant of the Marine Corps and the CNO came to discuss issue and the question arose if the defense commitment could be met if some Harrier squadrons were deployed on one of the new Tarawa-class amphibious assault carriers. VMA-231 had just returned from a shipboard deployment during a NATO exercise when they got word they'd be heading back out on the USS Nassau (LHA-4). They were paired up with another Marine Harrier squadron, VMA-542, that was recalled in short order from training at Twentynine Palms in California. With VMA-231 having recent shipboard experience, they took the lead in transforming the USS Nassau into a big Harrier carrier. Since no previous vessel since the USS Guam SCS trials in 1972 had operated so many Harriers as an air wing, the Navy augmented the deck crew of the Nassau with those with experience on the super carrier fleet. The notice for the two squadrons to deploy was short (the commander of VMA-231 told his superior that they could go to sea in 48 hours or as soon as an amphibious assault ship was available) that the whole concept was worked on at sea as the USS Nassau transited the Atlantic for the Mediterranean. By the time the reached their operational patrol area, the crew could launch eight Harriers in only 100 seconds and recover the same number of Harriers in just over two minutes. Because the Harrier wasn't as dependent upon the wind over the deck as conventional aircraft on a large super carrier, the Nassau's battle group had a great deal of tactical flexibility for maneuver during the flight operations than what would normally be the case for a conventional carrier battle group. The Sixth Fleet that was in charge of Mediterranean operations was impressed with the Marines' work and the ad hoc air wing spent 103 days on patrol before being relieved by a conventional carrier battle group. During the patrol, the Nassau's air wing screened for the USS Saratoga off the coast of Libya and participated in exercises to demonstrate the Harrier's ability to surge sorties against land targets. Using a bombing range in Tunisia, the two Marine Harrier squadrons surged sixty sorties in eight hours. The Nassau deployment had a great influence on two NATO allies that would eventually get their own Harrier carriers- Spain and Italy. Today, Marine AV-8B Harrier IIs routinely deploy as part of the Aviation Combat Element (the air wing of an amphibious assault ship) at sea. 

Source: Harrier II: Validating V/STOL by Lon O. Nordeen. Naval Institute Press, 2006, pp 33-38. Aircraft Carriers: A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events 1946-2000 by Norman Palomar. Potomac Books, 2008, pp 294-295. Photos: Wikipedia, Rolls Royce, USMC.

22 March 2015

Flying High This Past Week 16 March-22 March

First a bit of housekeeping. This week I switched this blog over to have its own domain name at www.tailsthroughtime.com. The previous address of aviationtrivia.blogspot.com still works and you'll get a redirect notice if you use the old link that will take you to the new URL. Now, without further ado, here's what's been getting a lot of page views this past week here at TAILS THROUGH TIME:
  • Two's Company and Three's a Crowd: The Boeing 737-200 Flight Crew Controversy: Quite naturally the latest post to the blog would be the most popular in the past week! The question of whether the 737-200 required two flight crew or three created quite a bit of acrimony in the late 1960s when the aircraft was introduced. Nowhere else was the dispute more pronounced than at United Air Lines, one of Boeing's key customers for the new jet.
  • The Crazy Cats: The Lockheed Neptunes of the US Army: Yes, you read that right. The *Army*. In Vietnam, the Army found that it needed a bigger and longer ranged aircraft for the SIGINT/COMINT role that today's Guardrail aircraft perform. Intraservice rivalries being what they were then, the Navy stepped up to help the Army and offered some P-2 Neptunes from stateside Reserve squadrons for modification so the Army wouldn't have to deal with what was then a very prickly USAF. The AP-2Es (a spurious designation to avoid antagonizing the USAF) were the heaviest and most complex Neptune variant to take to the skies. Many of the SIGINT/COMINT equipment used on the Army Neptunes would influence the development of the Guardrail system used today by the Army. 
  • The N-20 Program: Switzerland's First Indigenous Jet Aircraft: The Federal Aircraft Factory (FAF) N-20 Aiguillon was an attractive flying wing fighter design that only got as far as taxi tests and some very short hops short of a true first flight before being canceled. The Aiguillon had two flying forebears, though, that contributed to the flight test program and development of this aborted fighter design.
  • Tupolev's Own Tristar Design: It's not unusual for the Russian design bureaus (called OKBs) to reuse designations. The Tu-204 that flies today is actually the third use of that designation. The first use was for an enlarged T-tailed jet development of the Tu-134/Tu-154 and the second use of the designation was for a widebody trijet that looked very much like the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. 
  • The Rocket-Boosted P-51 Mustang: In 1945 the USAAF's Mustangs were besting the Messerschmitt Me 262 jets over their German bases where the jets were most vulnerable. As a result of augmented airfield defenses, work turned to a rocket-boosted P-51 that would have the speed to catch the Me 262 at altitude and not have to run the gauntlet of airfield defenses.
  • The Legend of Half-Moon Bay: In this day and age when most of us are jaded to air travel and complaints about airlines are the norm, from the 1962 Christmas season is a unparalleled story of ingenuity and a can-do spirit by airline employees to go the extra mile. I won't spoil it here, but let's just say we'd all be hard pressed to come up with anything that equals what a small California airline pulled off that year, creating the "Legend of Half Moon Bay"!
The next TAILS THROUGH TIME article goes up tomorrow night, 23 March. Stay tuned! 

18 March 2015

Two's Company and Three's A Crowd: The Boeing 737-200 Flight Crew Controversy

In the late 1950s and early 1960s propliners still served a lot of the shorter routes in the US domestic market as jets were becoming the fashionable on the longer routes where the time savings of the jets over propliners was most apparent. However, the travelling public was irreversibly enamored with jet aircraft for travel and soon shorter domestic routes would be singing with jet noise- the first designs for the medium-range domestic routes, the Convair 880 and the Boeing 720, were too large and uneconomical to operate on short-range routes. Boeing responded with the 727 which would prove to be one of its outstanding commercial successes, but airlines were looking for an even smaller jet. By the early 1960s the Douglas DC-9, BAC 1-11, and the Sud-Aviation Caravelle were established in the market and Boeing's smallest offering, the 727-100, was too big for most short-range routes. When long-time Boeing customer American Airlines turned to Great Britain for the BAC 1-11 for a short-range jet to complement its 727 services, the engineers at Renton got yet another kick in the pants to produce an offering to compete with the twin-jets. 

With the first generation of twin-jets disproving the skeptics that thought short-range routes would too uneconomical for jets, Boeing designers aimed for a small twin jet that was more flexible than the existing competition that could not only fly into smaller communities and smaller airports, but would blend seamlessly with larger jet operations at major airports. Key in making this possible was the decision by 737 lead engineer John Steiner to make the new 737 the same cross-section as the 707 and the 727. This would give the 737 the lead in comfort by offering 3-3 seating whereas the competition could only offer 3-2 seating. For the first time, big jet comfort was possible on shorter sectors. 

N9052U United Airlines
A United Boeing 737-200 in its delivery livery, the Mainliner scheme.

But the design decision had an unforeseen consequence that would result in considerable controversy between the pilots, the airlines, and the FAA who would be certifying the aircraft. At the time, the FAA had imposed a limit on the size of aircraft that could be operated by a two-man flight crew- it was set at 80,000 pounds maximum takeoff weight (MTOW). This limit dictated the size of the first DC-9s and as the BAC 1-11s were below the limit, Braniff and American who had ordered One-Elevens operated them with two-man crews. Aircraft over the 80,000 pound limit required three crew in the cockpit. Boeing's original 737 proposals weighed in at 79,000 pounds, but potential customers found the design too small. Eastern and United in particular wanted a larger aircraft. Even despite a rule change by the FAA raising the two-man crew limit to 90,000 pounds, the revised 737 design needed a three-man crew as it tipped the scales at 93,000 pounds. 

In April 1965 the FAA announced that it was abolishing the weight limit criteria and from then on, aircraft would be certified for two-crew operation on an individual basis. This followed two years of deliberation and consultations with the pilots' unions, airline managers, airframe manufacturers and human factors studies. 

Of the four major airlines in the US at the time ("The Big Four"), three had already made their choices in the short-range jet category. Eastern and TWA ordered the DC-9 and American ordered the BAC 1-11. That left United as the only major interested in the 737. Of the early orders for the 737, only United's order was sizable (40 -200s ordered in 1965). Lufthansa also had a significant order, but they weren't encumbered by the FAA-mandated weight restrictions on two-man crew operations. However, United's managers found the 737 to have a political disadvantage since the pilots' unions at the time felt that as the largest of the twin jets available, it should be operated with a crew of three. While expensive for the airlines in terms of labor costs, the 737 design from the outset was intended for a two-man crew. Only a small jumpseat was available on the flight deck.

Now the third crew issue had already been visited previously before the introduction of aircraft like the 737. In the late 1950s the Lockheed Electra sparked considerable debate among its customer airlines. However, in each of the three cases, the issue was deferred- Eastern's dispute revolved around whether or not the third crew should be a pilot or a flight engineer. In the cases involving National and Western, ALPA used the two-crew issue as a test case to set a precedent (even though the Electra was never intended to be used by two pilots). National put the issue in arbitration that deferred the issue. Western's management was more inflexible and for four months a pilots' strike nearly grounded Western until it was agreed by both parties to defer the issue. So from a precedent standpoint, the impending dispute over the 737 flight deck had no prior rulings or standards to build upon for either side involved. 

In late 1965 Boeing showed a mockup of the 737 cockpit to representatives from United's ALPA union, the FAA, and airline managers. While the FAA felt that the mockup was inconclusive from a certification standpoint, the pilots' union disapproved of the two-man cockpit. A year later, a working mockup that was "functional" and more detailed to test workloads was presented and again the United pilots balked at the layout for two-crew. Not long afterward, ALPA's leadership made it the union's official recommendation that the 737 be operated with a three-man crew at all times. During this same time, the pilots' contract at United was up for negotiation and the 737 crew issue became a major stumbling block in the discussions for a new contract. To further complicate the picture, the FAA at the same time also tentatively approved two-man operation of the 737 pending the start of flight testing in 1967. 

By 1967 the dispute at United still had not been settled and a presidential mediation board was convened to help in reaching a compromise between ALPA and United's management. That summer the board failed in reconciling both sides and a strike vote taken showed 92% of United's pilots in favor of striking if the 737 couldn't be operated by a three-man crew. As an effort to reach out for a compromise, ALPA proposed to the FAA that the 737 as well as the BAC 1-11 and DC-9 be operated with a three-man crew. This proposal provoked the ire of the airlines that already had the One-Eleven and the DC-9 in service and the proposal was quietly shelved with the assent of ALPA members at those other airlines. By this point the dispute was discouraging further US sales of the 737 and indirectly helped Douglas with it's DC-9 which now offered increased capacity versions to regional airlines since it had already set the precedent for two crew operations with the first DC-9 Series 10 models. 

N9013U United Airlines "Mainliner City of Charlotte"
N9013U "Mainliner City of Charlotte"

The 737 made its maiden flight in April 1967 and over the Thanksgiving holiday week of that year, the FAA decided to run a series of tests to put the crew number issue to rest. One of the 737s was borrowed from Boeing and two-crew operations would be tested in the busy Boston-New York-Washington corridor. One pilot was from Boeing, the other pilot from the FAA. Two round-trips were made each day that week in both day and night conditions, both VFR and IFR weather conditions, as well as operations below minimum landing conditions, diversion operations, simulated instrument failures and even simulated crew incapacitation (could one pilot fly the 737 to safety). As a result of these tests, the FAA issued the following statement:

"The far-reaching evaluation of the Boeing 737 was started in September 1965, with the evaluation of the cockpit mock-up. Continuous evaluations over the past two years included regular operations of the aircraft in a high-density air traffic environment to determine workload, complexity, and safety of operations in a fail-safe concept. These flights were part of a very extensive flight-testing programme accomplished by the FAA and Boeing personnel. The technical findings coming out of these evaluations are that the aircraft can be safely flown with a minimum of two pilots."

Certification by the FAA of both the 737-100 and 737-200 followed in December 1967 for full airline operations. 
The third flight deck crew sat on the jumpseat on United 737-200s
Despite the issue being settled by the FAA, several airline pilot unions continued the crew issue as a bargaining chip in labor negotiations with airline management. Anxious to avert a strike in 1967, United reached an agreement with ALPA as part of a broader contract agreement to crew the 737-200 with a crew of three. Western Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Wien Air Alaska were the only other US airlines bound by contract agreements with the pilots' union to use three crew in the flight deck. Frontier and Wien switched to a two-crew flight deck in 1976 and 1979 respectively. It wasn't until 1981 (ostensibly due to the impending introduction of the 737-300) that United finally went to a two-crew operation on the 737-200. At United, the third crewman sat in the jumpseat which is sited immediately in front of the cockpit door. Duties of the third crewman included preflight, performing the checklists, performance calculations (weight, balance, takeoff and landing distances, etc.) and company communications. All the relevant controls such as radio, electrical, hydraulic and other functions necessary were reachable from the jumpseat. Once United reverted to a two-crew flight deck in 1981, no modifications were necessary to the -200 cockpits.

Source: Boeing 737 (Crowood Aviation Series) by Malcolm L. Hill. Crowood Publishing, 2002, pp 23-31. Photos: Bob Garrard Collection/Flickr, JP Santiago

15 March 2015

Flying High This Past Week (Spring Break Edition): 1 March-15 March

I was on the road last week on Spring Break (at least here in Texas last week is our Spring Break), so there wasn't an installment of Flying High This Past Week last week. I'll thrown in a bit extra this week! So here's what's been getting a lot of page views this past week here at TAILS THROUGH TIME:
  • The 24th Combat Mapping Squadron: Unsung Heroes of the Pacific War: The crews of the 24th CMS fought their battles not with bombs but with rolls of film. They were instrumental in getting good quality maps made of the China-Burma-India theater but also participated in postwar mapping efforts for several nations.
  • The US Navy's First Nuclear Bomber: From 1948-1951 the strategic deterrent of the US Navy rested with three-plane detachments of Lockheed P2V Neptunes aboard the three aircraft carriers of the Midway-class. Their crews were tasked with essentially one way missions should the balloon have gone up and they had to strike Soviet targets. There was no recovery back aboard the carrier- the P2Vs lacked the provisions. The crews were to make for a shore base or bail out. After 1951, the North American AJ Savage took over the role and it wasn't until 1958 that the Navy had a submarine based deterrent when the first Regulus patrol went to sea.
  • The Birth of Indian Commercial Aviation and Its Father: Unsually amongst Britain's colonial possessions in the 1920s and 1930s, commercial aviation development was neglected in India. Imperial Airways was only concerned with connecting India with London and it would take a growing merchant class in India to nuture airline development with J.R.D. Tata, head of the Tata Sons industrial conglomerate, to lead the way. Tata Air Lines became Air India International in 1946 with the technical assistance of TWA.
  • Fox Two! The Birth of the AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile: Probably one of the most significant air combat weapons since the gun, the Sidewinder's simplicity stemmed from its humble beginnings as a free-time project by small group of engineers at China Lake. The push for simplicity made the Sidewinder successful and its operating principles influenced a generation of heat-seeking air to air missiles as a result. 
  • The Story of "5 Grand", the 5000th B-17 Flying Fortress Built: A flying tribute to the employees of Boeing that made their contribution to the war effort building the B-17, sadly the aircraft was lost to history out of penny-pinching by government officials. 
Now for the special Spring Break edition, here are five articles from the archives you may have missed or might be of interest to new readers to my blog: 
  • The Cadillac of the Constellation Line: In my opinion, one of the most graceful airliners built along with the Vickers VC-10 is the Lockheed L-1649 Starliner. The Starliner's new wing gave it the highest aspect ratio (12:1) of any propliner along with 2,000 lbs more fuel than the Super Constellation. In a lot of ways, the Starliner was the propliner counterpart of the Boeing 747SP as few airlines in the world of the day had routes long enough with demand for nonstop service that dovetailed with the Starliner's performance. 
  • Foxbats Over the Sinai: From 1971 to 1972, Russian-operated Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbats reconnoitered Israeli defenses in the Sinai that assisted with Egyptian planning for the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Sinai deployment proved the Foxbat's capabilities in an operational environment, convincing the Soviet Air Force to accept the aircraft for service. 
  • The Australian Canberra in Vietnam: From 1967 to 1971, No. 2 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force flew combat missions all over South Vietnam from Phan Rang AB. The Aussie Canberras got very good at visual bombing from altitude and as a result, the RAAF Canberra force was the only combat unit to routinely use level bombing with visual bombsights from altitude.
  • The L-1000: Lockheed's Own Jet Engine: Probably one of the more interesting turns in aviation history would have to be when Lockheed was developing its own jet engine that compared to contemporary engines of the day, was quite a bit more advanced.
  • Martin, the Titan I and the Titan II Ballistic Missiles: The Titan program started out as a back up to the Convair Atlas ICBM but soon become an advanced successor to the Atlas. The modular design of the Titan and its rock-solid reliability led it to become a stalwart of the space program starting with Project Gemini and its use as a heavy-life satellite launcher until the last Titan IV launch in 2005.


13 March 2015

The N-20 Program: Switzerland's First Indigenous Jet Aircraft

In May 1948 the Swiss government issued a contract with the Federal Aircraft Factory in Emmen for a single-seat, multirole jet fighter called the N-20 Aiguillon ("Stinger") which was a moderately swept delta flying wing powered by four jet engines. The FAF staff had been working on a jet fighter design since the end of the Second World War and it was this work that spurred on the Swiss government to give the go-ahead for a production design based on the FAF's work. The original N-20 design called for indigenous Sulzer D45 engines of 1,600 lbs thrust buried in the wings, two on each side with its own intake on the wing leading edge. The engine air flow and wing design was unique in that bypass air could be ducted direct to the afterburner or deflected through large slots in the upper and lower wings to act as ailerons to enhance the aircraft's maneuverability or even be used as thrust reversers to operated off short runways in the mountainous valleys of Switzerland. The use of bypass air in this manner was novel for the time and was called "durchströmte flügel" which literally means "flowing through wing". Two of the engines could be shut down to increase range and weapons were to be carried in an underfuselage pack that could be swapped out depending upon the mission. 

The N-20-1 glider
Given the complexity of the design and that nothing of this scope had ever been tackled in Switzerland, it was decided to approach the project in stages with two research aircraft. The first aircraft was a 3/5 scale glider to study the aerodynamics which was designated N-20-1. The glider was made out of wood with fabric covered control surfaces and had a retractable undercarriage using the nose gear from a De Havilland Vampire and the main gears from a Messerschmitt Bf 109. It had provision for a JATO rocket to boost it for takeoff, though in practice the N-20-1 was usually towed to altitude for its flight test program. On 17 April 1948, the N-20-1 made its first flight at Emmen with the chief test pilot of the Swiss Military Technical Branch at the controls. Sixty-nine flights were made to validate the N-20 aerodynamics before the glider was heavily damaged in a landing accident on 1 July 1949. 

The N-20-2 Arbalète in front of the N-20 Aiguillon
The N-20-1 was then replaced by a similarly-sized test aircraft called the N-20-2 Arbalète ("Crossbow"). The Arbalète had its own jet power, though, in the form of four French Turbomeca Piméné turbojets, each pair mounted above each other at the trailing edge of the wing. The upper engine's intake was above the wing and the lower engine of the pair had its intake below the wing. The Piméné engine was a very small powerplant, developing only 220 lbs of thrust with a fan diameter of only about 15 inches. The Arbalète made its first flight on 16 November 1951 in a 16-minute test hop, become the first jet aircraft to be designed, built, and flown in Switzerland. Despite the low power of the engines, the N-20-2 reached a top speed in level flight of 345 mph at 13,000 feet and in a dive, reached a maximum speed of 447 mph. The generous lift from the broad wing of the Arbalète gave it a stalling speed of only 87 mph, remarkably low for jet aircraft of the day. With a fuel capacity of 52.8 gallons, the aircraft had a range of 155 miles or endurance of 40 minutes.  

The sole N-20 Aiguillon prototype on musuem display
Parallel to the flight test programs of the N-20-1 and N-20-2 Arbalète, work on the definitive N-20 Aiguillon fighter progressed. The Swiss firm Sulzer which was developing the D45 engines for the Aiguillon had numerous technical obstacles with only two prototype engines for bench testing having been built by 1948. Since the design needed slim jet engines to fit in the wings, a change was made to using a modified Armstrong Siddeley Mamba turboprop. Two Mamba engines coupled together to make the Double Mamba powered the Fairey Gannet ASW/AEW aircraft for the Royal Navy. The Swiss Federal Aircraft Factory modified the Mamba engine by replacing the propeller gearbox with a new low pressure fan to become the SM-1 engine (for Swiss Mamba) with 1,400 lbs of thrust. With its low pressure fan, the SM-1 was first flight tested on a De Havilland Mosquito in 1948, becoming one of the earliest turbofan designs to fly. The N-20 Aiguillon prototype began taxi trials on 8 April 1952 and it was soon realized the SM-1 engines didn't provide enough thrust despite being able to make a few short hops just shy of an official first flight. The SM-1 engines would need rework to a two shaft design designated SM-5 which would have generated 3,300 lbs of thrust, but the funding for the engine upgrade wasn't forthcoming from the Swiss government. The FAF tried to salvage the N-20 program with a redesign to what was called the N-20.20 Harpon which used a much more powerful Rolls Royce Avon turbojet in each wing root and dispensed with the novel air ducting in the wings. Wind tunnel models were tested before the Swiss government canceled the N-20 program, the Aiguillon prototype never having taken to the air. 

Despite the cancellation of the Aiguillon fighter, the N-20-2 Arbalète continued to make research flights until 1954, having completed a total of ninety-one flights. It was retired to join the Aiguillon prototype in the Swiss Transport Museum where they can be seen today along with both the Sulzer D45 jet engines and the Swiss Mamba powerplants. 

Source: X-Planes of Europe: Secret Research Aircraft from the Golden Age 1946-1974 by Tony Buttler and Jean-Louis Delezenne. Hikoki Publications, 2012, pp 92-97. Photos: Wikipedia

08 March 2015

The Crazy Cats: The Lockheed Neptunes of the US Army

The Army Lockheed AP-2E Neptune on display at Fort Rucker
During the Vietnam War, the Army had a whole host of aircraft for signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic warfare based on general aviation aircraft. These aircraft were loaded with electronic equipment and studded with external antennae and fairings to house the sensors. Operated by the Army Security Agency, missions flown by these unusual aircraft were to detect, identify, and localize enemy radio transmitters and then use electronic warfare to disrupt the networks. The most common types in use for this role were based on the U-8 Seminole (itself based on the Beech Twin Bonanza), the U-21 Ute (based on the Beech King Air 90) and the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk. These three airframes formed the backbone of Army Security Agency SIGINT/EW aircraft in Southeast Asia. However, as early as 1965, the Army realized that bigger aircraft would be needed, particularly as operations expanded in scope to include Laos and Cambodia. A bigger aircraft offered a greater payload capacity as well as more range to cover an expanding theater of operations. At first, thought was given to modifying the De Havilland CV-2 Caribou for the signals intelligence role, but given that these transports were soon to be handed over the USAF, it made little sense to fund the modification of an aircraft that would given to the USAF as the Army shifted focus on heavy-lift helicopters like the CH-47 Chinook from fixed wing transports. 

The US armed forces during Vietnam was a different organization in many ways from what it is now with a stress on joint operations with the different branches contributing to common goals. Inter-service rivalries were much more pronounced in those days and went back to the Second World War. With the Army losing fixed wing aviation to the newly independent United States Air Force in 1947, the USAF wasn't exactly who the Army wished to turn to in a need for a larger aircraft that could be modified for signals intelligence, particularly since the USAF had been lobbying hard to take over the Army's Caribou transport fleet. Throughout the postwar period up to Vietnam, the Army's various attempts at developing its own aviation resources had an unlikely ally in the US Navy. So when the Army needed a larger aircraft for the SIGINT mission that wasn't going to provoke the USAF, the Navy was ready to help with the offer of Lockheed P-2 Neptunes. The Neptune had been in service with the Navy since 1946 and over a thousand had been built by the time the Army was looking for a new platform. The aircraft had already flown intelligence and electronic warfare missions for the Navy and even the USAF in limited numbers. With several Navy patrol squadrons in Southeast Asia still using the Neptune for maritime patrol, the logistical and maintenance infrastructure was already in place. Given that Neptune was a lot larger and more complex than any other fixed wing type the Army operated, Navy assistance was vital. As several stateside Naval Reserve squadrons were already operating the Neptune, several could be "loaned" from those units without adversely affecting frontline readiness in Southeast Asia. 

Twelve P-2E Neptunes were passed to the Army by the Navy for use in Vietnam with the first aircraft delivered to the Army Security Agency in 1966. The aircraft were extensively modified in the interior to house the necessary electronic equipment with the only external clues to their role being extended wingtip tanks to house sensors, some extra antennas, and a solid nose in place of the usual transparent observer's compartment. The white over gray colors was kept with only "ARMY" titles aft of the national insignia. The aircraft were designated AP-2E, but if the Army were following the designation rules correctly that had been established in 1962, the Army Neptunes should have been RP-2E given their intelligence tasking, but the Army designated them AP-2E to avoid attracting the ire of the USAF. With a crew of 15 and jammed with electronic equipment, the Army AP-2Es were the heaviest and most complex of the Neptune variants to fly. 

1st ASA Company's "Crazy Cat" emblem
The Neptunes were based at Cam Ranh Bay where the air base there already had a sizable Navy presence, so the Army Neptunes wouldn't have attracted much attention. From July 1967 to April 1972, they were operated by the 1st Army Security Agency Company which had the cover designation 1st Radio Research Company. Many sources refer to the unit by the cover designation, but they were officially the 1st ASA Company and were nicknamed the "Crazy Cats". The unit also operated RU-8 Seminoles and RU-21 Utes, which led to the the AP-2Es to be fitted with some of the same equipment as well as early versions of later SIGINT/EW suites. For what I can determine, some of the equipment included what was called "Left Foot"- this was a 360-degree SIGINT system that started out in 1970 under the code name Left Bank which then was improved to be come Left Jab on the RU-21s. Left Jab was the first airborne SIGINT system to use a digital computer and combined both intelligence and navigation in the same system to enhance its accuracy. Left Foot came next and combined the digital computer from Left Jab with the direction finding system from what the RU-21s used which had the code name Laffing Eagle. 

Another system installed on the Neptunes was called CEFLY Lancer. CEFLY stood for Communications and Electronics Forward Looking Flying. CEFLY Lancer was also used on the RU-21s, but it's believed that the increased room on the Neptunes, development work on CEFLY Lancer took place during the missions. This sensor suite was designed to intercept communications. It's also believed that the early versions of another system called CEFIRM Leader also flew on the Neptunes. This system was designated AN/ULQ-11 and was a direction finding and communications jamming system. Officially CEFIRM Leader didn't become operational until 1973 as the Army's first multi-mission intelligence and electronic warfare suite, but early versions were likely test flown in Vietnam. 

At the end of 1972, the last of the AP-2Es were returned to the Navy with a single example going on display at the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker. By that point, developments in signals and communications intelligence as well as electronic warfare as well as the end of US involvement in Vietnam made the AP-2Es redundant. Many of the systems used on the Army Neptunes laid the groundwork for the later multirole Guardrail system that's still in use today by the Army. 

Source: US Army Aircraft Since 1947 by Stephen Harding. Specialty Press, 1990, pp 171-173. Photos: Wikipedia. 

03 March 2015

David Neeleman's First Venture in the Airline Business

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue
Three years after the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act in 1979, the US airline industry was in the midst of upheaval as many of the legacy carriers that long dominated the commercial skies since the second decade of the century were under siege from free market forces. Unshackled from the strict regulation of the Civil Aeronautics Board, airlines now had a free hand to adapt and adjust to the demands of the US travel market. Now you would think this would be a great thing, but a lot of the majors weren't adapting. And their attempts to adjust to the market were under attack from a new legion of airlines that hadn't been seen in the US market before- the start up. 

National Airlines found itself swallowed up by a now-bloated Pan Am in an effort to build an instant domestic network for what was once America's "Chosen Instrument". Eastern Airlines found itself under attack by a brash low-cost upstart called PeoplExpress. American began to build the first "fortress hub" in the industry at its new base at Dallas/Fort Worth. Western and United found themselves under attack by PSA's breakout of the intrastate market in California. Labor strife reigned at Texas International and a resurgent Air Florida found its operation cast into doubt after a tragic crash in a blizzard at Washington National Airport. And most telling of what the next several years would bring, Braniff International Airways shut down for good that same year, a victim of over-expansion and bad business decisions reaching back into the 1970s. An airline with a storied history and legacy going back to the 1920s simply shut down to the shock of the industry.

It was amidst this chaotic marketplace that a bored and poorly performing college student in accounting at the University of Utah sensed opportunity. In 1982 David Neeleman had been reading pieces in the Wall Street Journal regarding Braniff's shutdown as the first convulsion to wrack the incumbent airlines in a newly deregulated market. Long an under performer in school (thanks to what we now know today as attention-deficit disorder), Neeleman did have a gift for numbers and customer service groomed from his earliest years working for his grandfather in a small Salt Lake City market. With a shift in the airline marketplace, Neeleman found there were opportunities for smaller carriers like Southwest and Midway Airlines who as smaller entities, were nimble to adjust to marketplace and could operate tightly-knit employees for lower costs. He approached his father, Gary Neeleman, telling him "Dad, I think we should get into the airline business." To which the elder Neeleman responded "How on Earth do you think we could do that? Airplanes cost money!"

Neeleman pointed out that his father was absolutely right- to start an airline is a insanely capital-intensive venture. What Neeleman proposed to his father was to get into the airline business via the back door through the package tour business. Arranging packaged tours was far less capital intensive as the various parts of the package, from airfare, hotel, and so on, were already out there, they only had to be combined in a single package to make it easy for the consumer to travel to exotic locales for vacation with the least amount of hassle possible. In the days before internet booking, package tours were usually the most convenient way for the average American to jet away for a few days or more. 

Developing his business plan and arranging for investors, Neeleman found out from a college classmate that she know someone who bought four hotels in Hawaii and converted them into condominiums. However, with a recession taking place, the owner found it difficult to sell the units- Neeleman saw an opportunity- he could rent out the condos for customers wanting a quick escape. He literally cold-called the owner with a sales pitch: pay me your maintenance fee, $100 per empty unit per week, and I'll fill them all up with vacationers. He would mark up the price for renting them and collect the difference. Neeleman then placed an ad in the Salt Lake City papers that brazenly pitched "$50 a night for your own condo in Hawaii!"

The response was amazing, the condos were getting filled and David Neeleman was getting $250 a week off each rental he set up. Making $1000 a day, school got very uninteresting, very quickly, so he dropped out during his junior year at the University of Utah to run his business full time. Although his condo rental business was booming, there was one problem that always nagged at him- his customers always had a difficult time getting good airfares out of Salt Lake City to Honolulu via the various Pacific gateways of the established majors. Figuring he could do better buying blocks of seats on charter or budget airlines, he set out see which airline could best meet the needs of his customers for an inexpensive flight to Hawaii. The cheapest he could find? 

One of The Hawaii Express's two Douglas DC-10s.
Enter The Hawaii Express. They were a small charter that flew only 2 DC-10s (and at one time a single 747) out of LAX to Honolulu. The Hawaii Express was founded and run by a Hawaii-based businessman, Michael Hartley. Hartley had his start in the airline business going back to 1975 when he started an intrastate commuter airline in Hawaii, Island Pacific Airlines. Island Pacific operated a small fleet of Cessna 402s out of Honolulu and in 1978, his airline was acquired by fellow commuter rival Air Hawaii. During the same period, Hartley and his wife also ran a large FBO operation at HNL. In 1981 he seized upon the opportunity brought about by deregulation start The Hawaii Express to offer cheap fares between Honolulu and Los Angeles. 

Travel poster for The Hawaii Express
Neeleman now had a cheap condo in Hawaii and a cheap airfare to Hawaii for his customers and he formed a travel company called Independent Flight Services to handle the booking arrangements with The Hawaii Express (or "Big Pineapple" as it was billed in its ads). All his customers had to do was find a way to Los Angeles from Salt Lake and the overwhelming number of them would make the long drive to LAX since Neeleman's package was so inexpensive. In less than a year, he was doing eight million dollars in sales and had 20 employees. He upgraded from his modest family car (he had two children at that point) to a BMW sedan. Each flight had a sizeable block of seats set aside just for Neeleman's customers.

In 1983, barely over a year after he began, it all unravelled with little warning. United Airlines and Western Airlines both had the lion's share of passenger traffic between California and Hawaii for quite some time and both took a very dim view of Michael Hartley's low-fare interloper that was skimming increasing amounts of traffic from their flights. A vicious price war ensued and a dissident board ended up sacking Michael Hartley for failing to respond aggressively and wisely to the onslaught by United and Western. In less than eight months, The Hawaii Express shut down in bankruptcy and with the airline went hundreds of thousands of dollars of deposits Neeleman's company put down for seats on each flight. He had no money left to refund his customers' deposits and he in turn had to declare bankruptcy. 

In the book Blue Streak Neeleman states "And I had a hundred thousand dollars in the bank and no debts and if I only had several thousand dollars more, I could have saved the company." Neeleman was also on the verge of signing on with a different charter airline fly direct from Salt Lake City to Honolulu. The need for a large cash cushion definitely made a powerful impression on the 24-year old David Neeleman. Overnight, the Neelemans lost everything. Home, assets, car. He went back to working as a cashier in his grandfather's small store, stocking shelves at night- the very job he held before going to college. He resolved to never go back to the airline business again. David's father, however, saw that his son was probably meant to do more and introduced him to a family friend, June Morris. She owned the largest travel agency in Utah. She made him a deal- work for me for six months, if you don't like it, no hard feelings. 

The rest, is history. With June Morris he ended up founding Morris Air (which ironically had Salt Lake City-Los Angeles as its busiest route) and when Morris Air was bought by Southwest in 1993, Neeleman ended up working with the one man who he admired immensely- Herb Kelleher. After leaving Southwest amidst a personally conflict with everyone at Southwest except Herb, Neeleman went on to found Westjet in 1996 and you know where he ended in 2001- launching JetBlue. After JetBlue, he headed to Brazil to found Azul Brazilian Airlines in 2008.

Neeleman's experience with The Hawaii Express was formative, though. He vowed to never be undercapitalized again (when he launched JetBlue, it had amassed an industry-leading over $100 million in capital before even leaving the ground). He learned that the deregulated marketplace, while it favored start up carriers, also gave the legacy carriers the ability to respond aggressively. Michael Hartley established ticket consolidator Cheaptickets.com. June Morris still sits on the board of Southwest Airlines. JetBlue has definitely made a mark on the industry. And it all began with some empty Hawaii condos and a little known charter airline.

Source: Blue Streak: Inside JetBlue, the Upstart That Rocked an Industry by Barbara Peterson. Portfolio Publishing, 2004. Photos: Wikipedia, Frank Duarte/Airliners.net.

01 March 2015

Flying High This Past Week: 22 February-1 March

So here's what's been getting a lot of page views this past week here at TAILS THROUGH TIME:

  • The Boeing PBB Sea Ranger: The Best Flying Boat at the Worst Possible Time: Quite naturally the most recent aviation history article for this blog is going to lead things off on this installment of "Flying High This Past Week". One of the most fascinating areas of aviation history for me are those aircraft that either never went into production like the Sea Ranger or those that never left the drawing boards like the Focke Wulf Ta 183 "Huckebein". Look for more articles in the future from me that cover either unbuilt aircraft designs or aircraft that never went into production. What are often aviation dead-ends often leave a legacy for future designs. In the case of the Boeing PBB Sea Ranger, it left an unexpected legacy with Boeing that still plays a big part of the company today. 
  • Tactics Over Technology: The Thach Weave: There's no argument that first six months of the Second World War in the Pacific that the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero was ascendant as one of the aircraft apex predators of the skies. The Battle of Midway wasn't just a turning point in the Pacific War but it also represented a turning point in the fortunes of the Zero even though the stubby Grumman F4F Wildcat was still the main fleet fighter of the Navy and definitely not in the same class as the Zero. At Midway, the skipper of VF-3, Lt. Commander Jimmy Thach, instituted a new tactical maneuver called the "Thach Weave" that gave Wildcat pilots a fighting chance against the Zero.
  • The Most Ambitious UAV Ever: Quartz/AARS: In the 1980s over $1 billion was spent on a stealthy UAV called the Advanced Aerial Reconnaissance System which was code named Quartz. It was a flying wing UAV that would penetrate Soviet airspace in times of war and search for the road and rail mobile ICBMs of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces. Boeing won the contract for the AARS over Lockheed but in 1992, Quartz was canceled, but it's believed the work that went into the design may bear fruit with a next-generation bomber to succeed the B-2A Spirit should the joint Lockheed/Boeing team be selected over Northrop Grumman. 
  • The Ultimate Superfortress: The B/RB-54: This was the ultimate evolution in the Superfortress design lineage as a longer legged, faster, and even bigger version of the B-50 Superfortress which was itself quite an improvement over the wartime-era B-29. While it never flew let alone enter production as it came on the scene just as jet aircraft like the B-47 Stratojet were entering the picture, it did leave the drawing board. The B/RB-54 prototype was 75% complete when the program was canceled with its funding shifted to the Stratojet program. 
  • One Powerful Helicopter Gunship: The ACH-74A "Guns A-Go-Go": Only four of these gunship Chinooks were built and flown into combat in Vietnam 1966-1968. To the best of my knowledge, these beast machines are the only helicopter gunships to ever go into combat with an unobstructed 360-degree field of fire.
That's all for this installment of "Flying High This Past Week". Stay tuned to TAILS THROUGH TIME- there will be a new aviation history article posted here every five days. The next one will be going up on 3 March. And don't forget last week's installment of "Flying High This Past Week"!