Good morning and “Happy Thanksgiving.” It is time to escape the turbulence of modern day life and enjoy the smooth air found at the third dimension blog where we will be continuing our story on Continental Airlines; however, I first want to talk about the DC-1, DC-2, and the DC-3.
Donald Douglas was initially reluctant to participate in the invitation from TWA to build a new airplane. He doubted there would be a market for 100 aircraft which was the number of sales necessary to cover development costs. Nevertheless, he submitted a design consisting of an all-metal, low-wing, twin-engine aircraft seating twelve passengers, a crew of two, and a flight attendant. The aircraft was insulated against noise, heated, and fully capable of both flying and performing a controlled takeoff or landing on one engine.
Only one aircraft was produced and it made its maiden flight on July 1, 1933 flown by Carl Cover. The plane was given the model name “DC-1”. During a half year of testing, it performed more than 200 test flights and demonstrated its superiority over the most used airliners at that time. In addition, a new speed record was set when the DC-1 was flown across the United States in a record time of 13 hours and 6 minutes.
TWA accepted the model, see photo above, with a few modifications—mainly increasing seating to 14 passengers and adding more powerful engines—and ordered twenty aircraft. The production model was called the “DC-2”.
The DC-2 was an instant hit. In its first six months of service, the DC-2 established 19 American speed and distance records. In 1934, TWA put the DC-2 on overnight flights from New York to Los Angeles, CA. and called the service The Sky Chief. The flight left New York at 4 p.m. and after stops in Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque, it arrived in Los Angeles at 7 a.m. For the first time the air traveler could fly from coast to coast without losing the business day.
The DC-2 was the first Douglas airliner to enter service with an airline outside the United States. In October 1934, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines entered one of its DC-2 aircraft in the London-to-Melbourne air race. It made every scheduled passenger stop on KLM’s regular 9,000 mile route—1,000 miles longer than the official race route— carried mail and even turned back once to pick up a stranded passenger. Yet the DC-2 finished in second place behind a racing plane built especially for the competition. After that, the reputation of the Donald Douglas creation was assured and it became the airplane of choice for many of the world’s largest airlines.
Early U.S. airlines like United, American, Eastern and TWA ordered over 400 of the Douglas Airliners and it is these fleets, and these carriers, that paved the way for our modern air travel industry in the United States quickly replacing trains as the favored means of long-distance travel across the country.
Douglas continued to improve their product and after the DC-2 came the DC-3, and then in 1950 Douglas produced the Super DC-3 (DC-3S); however, although the airplane was fitted with new wings, engines, and more seats Douglas was unable to compete successfully with the Convair series of aircraft. An interesting footnote for the Douglas Airliner is that there are more DC-3s flying today than Convair 240/340/440 series aircraft, or any other round engine aircraft for that matter, which I believe might be the last word required to qualify the success of the Douglas Airliner.
At the end of World War II, all of the major airlines in the United States were left with hundreds of planes in their fleet that were soon to be obsolete because of the jet engine. The rapid growth in jet power was spurred by a new revolution in the electronics industry and airplane manufacturers had taken the lead on creating aircraft designed with the new engines, advanced avionics systems and new airframes. This new lineup of high-performance planes made long-distance travel easier and airlines, including Continental, soon focused their efforts in building up a fleet of high performance jet aircraft.
Right after Continental merged with Pioneer, and extended its route to 16 more cities in Texas and Mexico, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) stepped in to streamline the airlines routes. Bob Six was not happy with this new limitation and he even petitioned the CAB requesting long-haul routes to the larger cities. He wanted to change his regional airline into a trunkline such as United Airlines, American or TWA and was also discussing the launch of the 707 jet aircraft with Boeing. The new routes would help Boeing justify the launch of the 707 jet aircraft and make Continental a pioneer in the increasingly competitive industry.
By the late 1950s, and early 1960s, Bob Six had succeeded in expanding routes for Continental. His petitioning efforts had paid off as the CAB had responded by allowing Continental to forge ahead with the expansion. Six had reinforced the idea that “the airline needs to grow” and continued on his mission to keep building out more routes and making sure that the airline could also offer nonstop service to some of the major cities in the US.
Efficiency was a priority, and the CAB went as far as allowing Continental to drop service to some of the smaller cities so that it could focus its efforts on the longer haul routes. Before Continental had even introduced the Boeing 707 jet aircraft, it had already acquired a pair of DC-7s to operate nonstop routes from Los Angeles to Chicago, Denver to Los Angeles and Chicago to Kansas City.
By 1960 Continental Airlines had successfully tripled its passenger miles from four years prior, was becoming one of the country’s leading airlines, and soon also became known as a premier low-fare airline.
In fact, Six soon established himself as a lower-fare advocate and predicted that the airline industry needed to increase traffic instead of raising its fares. He took the lead in introducing an economy fare from Chicago to Los Angeles, one that no other airline had anticipated or been courageous enough to do. He also started offering other low or discount fares to major cities, making airline travel more affordable for those who could previously not afford it. Continental Airlines was a pioneer in cutting fares well below the competition and one of its early innovations was a system-wide economy fare that allowed for a 25 percent reduction in coach fares.
Continental had to step things up and make some radical innovations to its 707 program. The airline was successful in developing an innovative “progressive maintenance” program that allowed the airline to fly the 707s seven days a week for 16 hours a day. This allowed the airline to become much more efficient with operations and make full use of its larger aircraft – so much so, that it out-performed all of the other jet aircraft operators in the industry at the time.
Still, Bob Six was not satisfied with the 707 service alone and decided that Continental would have to set itself apart with other amenities. He worked on introducing the “luxe cuisine” and other innovations that promised a more luxurious experience while traveling. By the 1960s, Continental had been able to add routes from Los Angeles to Houston and provide nonstop, one-stop and two-stop services to Houston from several other major cities.
By 1963, the company’s headquarters were ready to move again. The headquarters moved from Denver to Los Angeles and traffic continued to grow rapidly. In fact, the total passenger miles traveled on Continental Airlines in 1967 was five times greater than it was in 1960.
Continental Airlines was one of the first U.S. airlines to dispose of its turboprop and piston-powered aircraft entirely. The airline replaced its Viscount fleet and chose to use the DC-9 and B-727 aircraft throughout the late 1960s, and for the next twenty years. In 1968, Continental Airlines launched its new look – a black “jetstream” logo with orange and gold cheatlines and an eye-catching graphic on the jets’ tail. It was soon awarded routes to New Zealand and Australia, but these were soon cancelled by the Nixon Administration. By 1969, Continental had managed to secure the coveted route from Los Angeles to Honolulu/Hilo. A year later, it was awarded even more routes in rapidly-growing airline markets.
Continental Airlines Headquarters in Houston, TX
(Image courtesy of: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ContinentalHQHoustonTX.JPG)
Continental was a trail blazer in many areas of air transportation and also suffered some major setbacks during the 80s but we will talk about that next week. I have a link below that will take you to photo gallery of nothing but DC-3 photos for your viewing pleasure and l look forward to having you back with me next Friday as we continue our story and highlight another Boeing product. Until then—take care, enjoy your Thanksgiving, and remember the need for all Aviators to be “Gatekeepers.”
November 25, 2011