22 April 2015

Texas International's Peanuts Fares and the Rise of Frank Lorenzo

Houston-based Texas International Airlines began in 1944 as Aviation Enterprises and in 1947 with a fleet of surplus Douglas DC-3s, renamed itself Trans-Texas Airways. As Trans-Texas grew as a local service carrier (what we would today call a regional airline only without the affiliation to a major airline like today), Trans-Texas expanded services beyond the state as it added Convair 240 piston twins. The Convairs were later re-engined with Rolls Royce Dart turboprops to become Convair 600s. By the start of the Sixties, the airline flew as far west as Albuquerque and El Paso and Memphis, Jackson, and New Orleans in the east. To maintain its competitive edge with the other Texas-based airline of the day, Braniff International, Trans-Texas added the Douglas DC-9 Series 10 to its fleet starting in 1967. Route expansion continued steadily and with the addition of a small handful of destinations in northern Mexico, the airline re-branded as Texas International in 1970, later unveiling a patriotic Lone Star livery in 1973 prior to the opening of the new DFW Airport. Unfortunately, Texas International's upgrades to jet equipment had saddled the airline with quite a bit of debt, not unlike what had happened to Mohawk Airlines just a few years earlier. Through the 1960s, Texas International and its larger rival Dallas-based Braniff International had more or less comfortably existed in a duopoly in the Texas airline market. That secure operating climate was upended in 1971 with the arrival of Southwest Airlines. Texas International had joined Braniff in the legal battle to quash the nascent upstart and lost, putting Texas International in the new position of having to compete to a degree it had not had to in its history. Combined with its mounting debts from the expansion in the 1960s and the upgrade to a jet fleet, the Houston-based operation was in need of help. 

N94205 TTA Trans-Texas Airways
Trans-Texas Airways (TTa) Convair 600 at Dallas Love Field

I had posted previously how in a similar financial situation, New York-based Mohawk Airlines had turned to the services of a small consulting firm called Jet Capital that was headed by a young and quite brash individual named Frank Lorenzo. Lorenzo and his primary business partner, Bob Carney, a fellow Harvard Business School classmate, had become a bit of an upstart darling on Wall Street for their financial wizardry in creating Jet Capital. In their stock offering, Lorenzo and Carney sold shares to the public at 10 cents each, but before the IPO for Jet Capital, they sold shares to friends at $3.50 each but more importantly, they sold shares to each other for 12 cents each. Investing only $44,000 of their money, the Jet Capital IPO netted them $1.5 million yet they controlled 75% of Jet Capital's shares. It was that seed money that Lorenzo used in his failed bid to takeover Mohawk Airlines. At the time of his Mohawk venture, Lorenzo had made friends with Don Burr, a mutual fund manager that had made a name for himself on Wall Street with some very astute aviation stock picks. With his clout as a mutual fund manager that held shares in Texas International, Burr convinced the airline to engage the consulting services of Jet Capital to effect a turnaround. Lorenzo arranged to have the airline's debt refinanced with Burr offering the injection of $5 million from his mutual fund. The result, of course, like their proposed Mohawk deal, was to take control of the airline, and like the Mohawk board several years earlier, the Texas International board was suspicious of Lorenzo and they might have scrapped the deal had it not been for two individuals that entered the ring to try to acquire Texas International themselves- Howard Hughes and Herb Kelleher. 

Ever since Hughes relinquished control of TWA in the late 1960s, he had been craving to get back into the airline business and got that chance with his acquisition of the local service carrier AirWest in 1970, immediately rebranding the airline has Hughes Airwest. But Hughes wanted something on the scope of TWA and his new airline only gave him the West Coast. Acquiring Texas International would get him 2/3 of the way across the country on his goal of recreating a transcontinental airline. For Herb Kelleher, getting Texas International would not only knock out a competitor who only recently tried to put Southwest out of business through legal action, it would also give Southwest the operating certificate of Texas International which permitted flights beyond the states of Texas, something Southwest wasn't able to do at the time. Faced with someone known to be eccentric and someone who they felt was bent on revenge for their failed bid to quash Southwest, the Texas International board sold the airline to Lorenzo in 1972. Like his structuring of Jet Capital, even though he controlled only 24% of the shares in Texas International, Lorenzo structured the deal to give him majority voting control of the airline. At only 32 years of age, Frank Lorenzo became the youngest airline chief since Juan Trippe at Pan Am. And he did it by defeating Herb Kelleher *and* Howard Hughes. Who wouldn't be on top of the world in those shoes?

Frank Lorenzo at the time he took control of Texas International
Don Burr left Wall Street in 1973 to work with Lorenzo in Houston running Texas International. At the time Southwest was adding its fifth and sixth Boeing 737-200 to its nascent fleet and even though Texas International had routes outside of the state of Texas, it was beginning to lose market share within Texas to Herb Kelleher's operation. It was at Texas International that Lorenzo began to earn his reputation as a union-buster- in order to better compete against Southwest, Lorenzo began making deep cuts in labor costs that sowed discord among the employees at Texas International. With labor contracts up for negotiation, the atmosphere became contentious at Texas International. In a pattern that set Lorenzo's pattern for negotiations with both unions and investors, he would often add or change at the last minute agreed-upon terms for the contract. This angered the unions at Texas International and they struck, the very first strike in the history of the small airline. The airline was grounded for four months, but back then in the days before deregulation, there was a mutual aid pact in place where other airlines gave financial support to airlines that were grounded by labor actions. As a result (and much to the other airline's chagrin who felt Lorenzo could have prevented the strike), Texas International got millions under the pact and the strike eventually ended. 

N3508T Texas International Airlines
Texas International Douglas DC-9 Series 30, the airline's largest aircraft

Having got his labor concessions the way he wanted, Lorenzo could now turn his attention to competing with Southwest. At the time, Southwest operated within the "Texas Triangle" of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, the state's three largest cities. Kelleher had engaged the services of a seasoned airline executive, Lamar Muse, to guide Southwest's growth. Muse picked the agricultural town of Harlingen in the Rio Grande Valley as Southwest's next destination. The city was ripe for the picking- being at least a seven hour drive from the nearest large city, Harlingen was dependent upon air services from Texas International and the four month strike at the airline had hurt the city economically. Muse had also astutely noted that Harlingen was a short drive from South Padre Island which was at the cusp of starting its tourist boom as a Gulf Coast beach destination. While Texas International would have charged a one way fare of $40 for Harlingen, Southwest charged only $25 and traffic soon boomed with thousands of passengers filling Southwest flights whereas the year prior, Texas International would have only had a few hundred a month. Before long, residents from northern Mexico were crossing the border to also take Southwest flights. Texas International tried various approaches, but it was painfully clear to Lorenzo that he wasn't able to compete head-to-head with Southwest. 

In the days before deregulation, airline fares were set by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in Washington. Any airline that operated beyond a single state was an interstate carrier and would fall under CAB regulation as was the case with Texas International. Southwest, however, only operated in Texas and therefore was free to set its fares whatever it wished as long as the state authorities in Austin had no objections, which was rarely the case. In November 1976, Lorenzo petitioned the CAB to be allowed to cut its fares- and not just to match Southwest, but to undercut Southwest with a 50% discount- what Lorenzo called "Peanuts Fares" since you could "fly for peanuts". For years airlines had been allowed to implement fare discounts by the CAB, but these were usually for charter flights, holiday flights and red-eye flights and were rarely ever long-term and only applied to a few flights. What Lorenzo was petitioning the CAB to be allowed to do was unprecedented in the airline industry- he was asking for individual authority to set his own ticket prices across the board based on market conditions. This had never been done in forty years, but there were already deregulation forces at work in Washington on the heels of Jimmy Carter's election to the White House. The CAB approved Lorenzo's petition and the Peanuts Fare" were introduced not just to Harlingen, but across Texas International's route system. By the end of the first week, passenger loads on the airline had shot up an astounding 600 percent. 

Peanuts Fares didn't just apply to routes where TI competed with Southwest
Peanuts Fares were a success for the airline and Frank Lorenzo was hailed as a hero by consumer advocate groups. But there was a catch that gnawed at him despite being flush with success at such a young age with such a small airline- the fare experiment suggested strongly that airlines were more than able to manage their own fares without the bureaucracy of the CAB. To the advocates of deregulation, it was ammunition in the battle to eliminate the CAB and deregulate the US airline industry. Just a few years earlier an airline executive could face criminal charges for setting fares without the approval of the CAB, now here was Texas International doing just that and making a huge pile of money in the process and stimulating a boom in passenger traffic. Lorenzo didn't want deregulation, though. Texas International at the time was only the 20th largest airline in the United States. He knew he could be crushed instantly by the Dallas-based giant Braniff International should deregulation happen. Even bigger American Airlines was growing its presence at the new DFW Airport as well, and American had resources and deep pockets that would make Texas International a quick snack in a fully free-market environment. During press interviews at the time, Lorenzo was quick to point out the experimental and temporary nature of the Peanuts Fares. For the time being, the CAB's bureaucracy did shelter him from being crushed by larger airlines for the time being, giving him time to plan his next move. 

But that'll be a blog post for a later date..........

Source: Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos by Thomas Petzinger. Times Business/Random House, 1996, pp 38-50. Grounded: Frank Lorenzo and the Destruction of Eastern Airlines by Aaron Bernstein. Beard Books, 1999, pp 11-15 Photos: Wikipedia, Flickr/Bob Garrard Collection


17 April 2015

The Last Savoia-Marchetti Airliner

Italian aeronautical engineer Alessandro Marchetti
The Italian aircraft manufacturer Savoia had a history dating back to its founding in 1915 by Umberto Savoia and after the end of World War I, it merged with SIAI (Società Idrovolanti Alta Italia), another firm known for its seaplanes. The company became Savoia-Marchetti (sometimes also referred to as SIAI-Marchetti) when the designer Alessandro Marchetti became its chief engineer in 1922 and quickly became famous for his work on the S.55 twin-hull flying boat. Many of Marchetti's designs during the interwar period would set speed and endurance records in flight. Most of what Alessandro Marchetti is best known for, though, was his line of three-engined aircraft that began with the SM.79 Sparviero that first flew in 1934 as a fast eight-passenger transport capable of air racing. With the storm clouds of war fast coming to Europe, the Sparviero became Italy's primary bomber aircraft and one of the few Italian designs produced in significant quantities during the Second World War. The trimotor layout of the Sparviero set the pattern for a whole seriesof aircraft from Savoia-Marchetti, In 1934 the Italian airline Ala Litorria asked Marchetti for a modern long range airliner to which the SM.75 Marsupiale transport resulted. The Marsupiale had its inaugural revenue flights with Ala Littoria in 1938 with the Italian air arm, the Regia Aeronautica, taking interest in the aircraft as a transport. 

With war embroiling Europe in 1941, Marchetti began work on a four-engined derivative of the SM.75 that accommodated 18 passengers on long-range flights. It was a departure from Marchetti's land plane designs which were nearly all trimotors save the obscure SM.74 of which only three were built of this pre-war shoulder-wing airliner. The new aircraft was designated the SM.95 and a prototype and two pre-production examples were built in 1942. In addition, work began on a long-range bomber version designated SM.95B. The original design called for either 14- or 18-cylinder Piaggio radial engines, but wartime availability meant that Marchetti had to settle for a 9-cylinder Alfa Romeo engine producing 780 horsepower. Typical for Marchetti's designs of the period, the SM.95 was of mixed construction with a welded steel tube fuselage with metal alloy skin for the nsoe section and underside and fabric covering for the rest of the fuselage. The wings were plywood-skinned with three wood wing spars. The mixed-material construction likely also made the aircraft much lighter given the fact that lower-powered engines were used instead of what was originally planned. 

The prototype first flew on 8 May 1943 and was immediately impressed into transport service by the Luftwaffe. The fate of the first pre-production aircraft is unknown but is believed to have also been impressed into Luftwaffe service. The second pre-production aircraft was stretched and designed SM.95GA for "Grande Autonomia", featuring increased fuel capacity and revised cockpit instrumentation. Work on the SM.95 was soon hampered by the Italian Armistice in September 1943, but work was completed on the SM.95B bomber prototype with had the wings, engines, and empennage of the transport variant married to a new fuselage that was deepened to allow a bomb bay below the wing spar carry-through structure. A glazed nose accommodated the bombardier with the flight deck moved forward with defensive armament consisting of 12.7mm Breda guns in a turret aft of the flight deck and lateral positions in the aft fuselage and a ventral position forward of the bomb bay. No known photographs of the SM.95B are known to exist though the bomber prototype did fly at least once in 1945. 

Alitalia's SM.95 I-DALL "Marco Polo"
The third SM.95, the SM.95GA, finally made its first flight on 28 July 1945. It and the next aircraft built were put into military service with the Aeronautica Militare. The stretched fuselage of the SM.95GA became the production standard, the nine-foot fuselage stretch allowing for the carriage of 30 passengers in three-abreast seating. The military transports entered operational service starting in May 1946. The new Italian flag airline Alitalia had just been established in September 1946 and orders for six SM.95s were placed. The first two were I-DALJ "Cristoforo Colombo" and I-DALK "Amerigo Vespucci", delivered at the end of 1947 to Alitalia and promptly put into airline service. The production SM.95s had upgraded 9-cylinder Alfa Romeo radials that had increased power output from 780 horsepower on the wartime prototypes to 930 horsepower to accommodate the increased weights of the increased fuel and stretched fuselage. The balance of Alitalia's order, though, was completed with British Bristol Pegasus engines that delivered 1,000 horsepower- these aircraft were I-DALL "Marco Polo", I-DALM, I-DALN "Sebastiano Caboto" and I-DALO "Ugolino Vivaldi". The first two Alitalia SM.95s were subsequently re-engined with the more powerful Bristol Pegasus. It was I-DALN "Sebastiano Caboto" that inaugurated Alitalia's first postwar services to Great Britain on 3 April 1948. 

One of LATI's three SM.95s, I-LATI "San Francesco"
Another Italian airline also ordered the SM.95- Linee Aeree Transcontinentali Italiane (LATI), which had operated air services between Italy and South America prior to the Second World War. LATI had ordered three SM.95s which were all delivered by 1949- I-LAIT "San Antonio", I-LATI "San Francesco" and I-LITA "San Cristoforo". When LATI ceased operations in 1950, their three SM.95s were assumed by Alitalia. Interestingly the only other airline operator of the SM.95 was SAIDE of Egypt, which operated three aircraft to connect Cairo with European capitals. While Alitalia configured its aircraft for 20 passengers, LATI flew shorter routes than Alitalia and configured its aircraft for 26 passengers but SAIDE operated even shorter routes and packed in 38 passengers on their aircraft. Both LATI and SAIDE's aircraft were powered not by the Pegasus radial engine but Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder engines producing 1,200 horsepower. 

Only a total of 12 production SM.95s operated commercial services out of a total of 20 airframes built including the prototypes. The mixed material construction wasn't terribly robust with the rigors of scheduled passenger services and lacking pressurization also limited their usefulness. Compared to the Douglas DC-4 and the Lockheed L-749 Constellation of the time, the SM.95 was an outdated design. The last passenger flights took place in 1950 less than a year after the last production aircraft was completed. 

Interestingly, there was a plan by the Regia Aeronautica called "Operation S" prior to the 1943 armistice that would have used a modified SM.95GA to fly at very long ranges to bomb New York City. Benito Mussolini, however, would only allow the mission to drop propaganda leaflets as he didn't want to alienate the large population of Italian-Americans in the city. The mission was under preparation when the 1943 armistice occurred. 

Source: Air International "Plane Facts" Volume 10 Number 2, February 1976. Photos: Wikipedia, Alitalia, Air International

12 April 2015

The Barrier Patrols: Extending the US Radar Net Out to Sea

The three main continental radar picket lines of  the Cold War
As early as 1946, the US Navy was already examining the possibility of large aircraft equipped with airborne radar as a means of extending the early warning detection times of fleets at sea. American defense planning in the early days of the Cold War assumed that whatever strike capabilities the United States had, the Soviets also had an equivalent. Since intercontinental ballistic missiles had yet to be fielded in significant numbers at the time, long range bombers like the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, its successor the B-50 Superfortress and the massive Convair B-36 Peacemaker formed the main strategic nuclear strike force of the United States. The assumptions of Soviet capabilities were validated with the unveiling of the Soviet reverse-engineered B-29, the Tupolev Tu-4 "Bull". With jet bombers on the drawing boards of US manufacturers, it was assumed that intercontinental jet bombers were also under development in the Soviet Union. Since the predominant Soviet bomber at the time was the Tu-4, its range meant that it would have to come over the North Pole to strike US targets. In November 1950, the United States and Canada agreed to build three lines of radar stations across the northern reaches of North America. The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line formed the northernmost chain of stations that stretched from Alaska across the Canadian Arctic coast. The second line was the Mid-Canada Line that stretched across the northern parts of the Canadian provinces. The third line of radar stations was the Pinetree Line that stretched across the US-Canadian border. Several major defense studies at the time expressed concern that air refueling by the Soviets or use of bases secured in Alaska or Greenland and Iceland would allow Soviet bombers to fly around the three radar lines across Canada since they ended at the coasts. There was no doubt that there would be a need for a sea-based radar picket line in the Pacific and Atlantic, the problem was who was going to fund it and who was going to run it and on this count, the US Navy and the USAF couldn't agree on anything useful. Each service tried to push off the seaborne radar picket on the other- the Navy felt air defense as the USAF's job, so it should fund and run the system, but the USAF felt since it was sea-based, it should be the Navy's responsibility. 

Both services did come around the need to contribute to some sort of sea-based radar picket to extend the three radar lines in Alaska and Canada to prevent Soviet bombers flying around the land-based radars and approaching towards the west and east coast. The Navy's recommendation was for a combination of radar picket ships and airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft maintaining a barrier line in the mid-ocean in both the Atlantic and Pacific called SEADEW (SEAward-extension of the DEW Line). The AEW aircraft would fly racetrack orbits over the line of radar picket ships. When needed, both the picket ships and AEW aircraft could be called upon to support fleet operations. The USAF recommendation was slightly different, with AEW aircraft orbiting preset locations off the coasts and tied in by data-links to the land-based radar net. While similar in principle, the issue came down to funding as well as control. The Navy favored semi-autonomous ships and AEW aircraft that could also be used for fleet operations, offering flexibility. The USAF's Air Defense Command wanted a system that was tied into the existing radar net. Quite obviously, the Navy didn't want to fund and operate a system that was controlled by the USAF and vice versa. 

US Navy WV-2 Warning Star flies over a DER radar picket ship
Feeling that the USAF was dragging its feet and wanting a system operational that was flexible enough to support the fleet when needed, the Navy went ahead and proceeded to get the SEADEW operational during the Korean War. The Navy converted a number of destroyer escorts to destroyer escort radar (DER) vessels along with putting back into service some wartime radar picket destroyers. The Navy also procured the Lockheed WV-2 Warning Star, an AEW aircraft based on the Lockheed Super Constellation. Airborne early warning squadrons were established for the Atlantic and Pacific. The first units were multi-tasked with not just SEADEW missions but also fleet support and weather reconnaissance. VW-1 and VW-3 were assigned to the Pacific Fleet while VW-2 and VW-4 were assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. It was VW-4 that would become well known as the original "Hurricane Hunters" before the mission was transferred to the USAF. In addition to these initial Warning Star squadrons, additional units were stood up devoted primarily to flying the radar barrier patrols- VW-11, VW-13, VW-15 and a training unit were assigned the Atlantic barrier and the VW-12, VW-16, VW-16 and a maintenance unit were assigned to the Pacific barrier. The Pacific Barrier was headquartered at NAS Barbers Point in Hawaii with the barrier line running between Midway Island to the Aleutians in Alaska. The Atlantic Barrier was based at NAS Argentia in Newfoundland and ran from Newfoundland to the Azores. The DER picket ships patrolled those lines as well. Because the Navy's barrier lines were further out, they offered anywhere from 2-4 hours advance warning time of a Soviet bomber attack. 

A USAF RC-121D Warning Star with two F-104 Starfighters
Despite competing with the Navy, the USAF's AEW line complemented the Navy barrier patrols as it was closer to shore and formed a second radar line behind the SEADEW. The USAF also procured the AEW version of the Lockheed Constellation with the designation RC-121C which was based on the L-749 Constellation and the RC-121D which was based on the longer L-1049 Super Constellation. Called the Contiguous Extension, the RC-121 fleet was the USAF's first organized airborne early warning endeavor. On the West Coast, the USAF Contiguous Extension was based out of McClellan AFB near Sacramento and the East Coast operation was headquartered out of Otis AFB on Cape Cod. Since the Navy was first out of the starting blocks and was further ahead in its AEW operation, until sufficient RC-121s arrived, the USAF had to send its personnel to train with the Navy. At Otis AFB, the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing had three squadrons and the 552d AEW&C Wing at McClellan AFB also had three squadrons. In less than two years, the USAF had six squadrons of fifty AEW aircraft and over 5,000 personnel operational! 

The Lockheed WV-2/RC-121s had a combat radius of over 1,000 miles which allowed them to patrol for 16 hours before returning to base. Five officers and thirteen enlisted made up the crews, but the aircraft had the room for up to 31 personnel on longer missions needing an augmented crew. Behind the flight deck were five radar stations. There was no automation or filtering of the radar information- what was seen on the scope was the raw feed and it was up to the skill of the operator to sort through the mess to determine what was significant. Each radar station was manned in just one hour stretches to prevent fatigue and inattention. The radar system and its associated electronics had over 3,000 vacuum tubes and two enlisted in the crew were devoted just to inflight maintenance of the electronics. Most of the electronics were in the aft cabin and generated a tremendous amount of heat- it wasn't unusual for the temperature inside the cabin to hit 100F! Weather rarely scrubbed a mission- the joke was that "If you can taxi, you can fly!" Often times USAF or US Navy crews departed in such atrocious weather that they had to divert to an alternate field on return from patrol. 

The Navy's aircraft did a lot of their data interpretation aloft as they operated on the barrier lines autonomously and would radio any findings by HF. The USAF's aircraft were tied in by datalinks to the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) system used by NORAD and operators ashore would sort through the radar data. Despite this level of automation, USAF RC-121s were staffed with full crews in the event the data links went down as well as have onsite personnel who could interpret radar data without waiting for the SAGE operators ashore. The USAF's RC-121s were later re-designated EC-121s and they flew their patrols around 15,000 feet. The Navy's WV-2s flew their patrols at lower altitudes between 5,000 to 8,000 feet. The strategic imperative of these radar missions was such that spare aircraft and crew were often prepared to be able to depart at a moment's notice should an aircraft en route to its patrol area had technical issues- and those were common given the cantankerous nature of the Constellation's Wright R-3350 engines. While the US Navy did its best to keep its barrier lines fully covered, the USAF settled on randomly patrolling parts of its Contiguous Extension, and more so as the main threat to the United States shifted from bombers to ICBMs. Each coast had nine patrol stations, odd numbered 1 through 9 in the Pacific with 1 near the Aleutians and 9 off the coast of Baja California. In the Atlantic, even numbered patrol stations 2 through 8 in the Atlantic were used. Each patrol station was a 100 mile racetrack orbit. In low tension periods, USAF EC-121s would only operated on one station and the station was randomly decided, the crew finding out which station once they had taken off. During periods of higher tension, more stations would be active. During such periods, all of the USAF stations were operated on both coasts and this meant every four hours an EC-121 departed from McClellan AFB and Otis AFB. 

Despite the maximum effort expended by the US Navy and the USAF, several air defense exercises in the late 1950s showed the barrier patrols weren't as effective as hoped. Electronic failures were the most common cause of a degraded mission with engine problems a distant second. At one point in 1959 the USAF's Air Defense Command had gotten so frustrated with electronic and engine issues with the EC-121 fleet a proposal was floated to transfer the Contiguous Extension operation to the US Navy! Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the USAF wasn't allowed to give its AEW experience. But the strain on men, aircraft, and budgets began to take its toll on both services. In 1960 the US Navy disestablished some Pacific Fleet squadrons, merging them into other units. During the FY1961 budget debate, questions arose as to the wisdom of continued funding of the barrier patrols in light of the shift in Soviet threat from bombers to ICBMs. The USAF and the Navy had other funding priorities and gradually, both the Navy and USAF barrier patrols were wound down. The Atlantic barrier line was pushed further east centered on a Greenland-Iceland-UK axis with the base of patrols at NAS Keflavik in Iceland. On 8 September 1965, the last AEW barrier mission was flown by a Navy EC-121P (in 1962 the Navy and USAF went to a unified designation system) out of Argentia, ending 10 years of barrier patrols over the Atlantic and Pacific by both the USAF and US Navy. 

So was it worth it? That's a tough question. In the 1950s the bomber threat was still the main nuclear threat and certainly there was deterrent value in the barrier patrols as potential adversaries were put on notice the great lengths the US military was taking to insure vigilance. Perhaps more importantly, it gave both the US Navy and USAF practical airborne early warning experience that laid the foundations for modern aircraft like the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and the Boeing E-3 Sentry. 

Source: AWACS and Hawkeyes: The Complete History of Airborne Early Warning Aircraft by Edwin Leigh Armistead. Motorbooks International, 2002, pp 21-40. Photos: Wikipedia

Flying High This Past Week: 5 April-12 April

A continued thank you to all my readers and visitors with a special shout out to those who have added comments. When I first started this blog in 2009, the articles were really just short paragraphs on some part of aviation history I had come across in my reading that I wanted to share. Those posts were daily- a trip through the archives shows that to be the case- but as my family grew, there was less time to do daily posts, so I shifted over to more detailed articles that were posted every several days which is the current format. I have been considering adding shorter articles that would be on a more frequent basis or as a filler in between the five day interval of my longer articles. I certainly don't think it will be daily, but I'd like to have more frequent additions to the blog that at least dovetail with my current work and family obligations. We'll see, stay tuned for what I come up with. In the meantime, my more in-depth articles will continue to be posted here every five days. Without further ado, here's what's been getting a lot of hits in the past week here at TAILS THROUGH TIME:
  • The Development of the Boeing Flying Boom: Quite obviously the most recent article usually tops our weekly round up and my most recent posting on how Boeing came up with the flying boom for aerial refueling certainly continues that trend. What I found most fascinating out of my reading for that posting was not just Boeing's process for determining the best positioning for aerial refueling, but that at one point Boeing considered for commercial jetliners as well.  
  •  The Early History of the Air Line Pilots Association, ALPA: The previous article to the one on the Boeing flying boom still continues to get plenty of hits! The early history of Northwest Airlines is weaved into the early history of ALPA as the founder of the union, Dave Behncke, was Northwest's first pilot and flew its first passengers in 1927. The early history of ALPA gives us a good look at the state of the airline industry in the 1920s which was just on the cusp of making the leap into greater technologies led off by the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3. Despite the landmark in aviation history those aircraft were, flying for many professional pilots was still a hazardous profession in the years prior and many airline heads of the day tried to do what they could to stamp out ALPA in its early days. Fortunately a strike at a small airline that ran between St. Louis and Chicago thrust ALPA into the national spotlight and won it friends in high places.
  • Vought's Not-So-Fearsome F6U Pirate: The Pirate was the first of setbacks that put Vought on the ropes as a fighter manufacturer for the US Navy. A series of misfortunes, the significant of which was its weak Westinghouse J34 engine, hit the program and by the time the F6U was ready for service, it was quickly overshadowed by superior aircraft like the McDonnell F2H Banshee and the Grumman F9F Panther. Some believe Vought over-compensated for the failures of the F6U Pirate with its next fighter, the F7U Cutlass. But they most certainly hit it out of the park with their third try that resulted in the F8U Crusader. 
  • The A-6E TRAM: Making the Grumman Intruder More Lethal: The A-6E was the first major design upgrade of the Intruder over the A-6A that was introduced into combat in Vietnam. Many of the advances of the A-6E were in the miniaturization of its electronics and that created an opportunity to utilize the space created to add full all-weather/night attack capability in the form of TRAM- Target Recognition Attack Multi-Sensor.
  • Lockheed's Own L-1000 Jet Engine: Believe it or not in the waning days of the Second World War, Lockheed was developing its own jet engine that, when compared with the current state of the art in jet turbines of the day, was quite advanced. The L-1000 would have had the service designation J37 had it been launched into production in 1947. 
The next article goes up later tonight, it will cover the origins and history of the barrier airborne early warning patrols over the Pacific and Atlantic that extended out the US radar fence from the continental United States to try and provide as much lead time as possible for a Russian bomber attack. Stay tuned! 

07 April 2015

The Development of the Boeing Flying Boom

World War II USAAF tests with B-24 tankers and B-17 receivers
Though the United States had explored using air refueling to extend the reach of strategic bombing missions during the Second World War, nothing operational had come of the work by the time the war ended in 1945. In the immediate post war years, the newly independent United States Air Force and its nuclear deterrent arm, the Strategic Air Command, had both the weapons and the aircraft to carry out nuclear strikes, but what was lacking given the technology and geopolitical climate of the day was overseas bases that would allow SAC's bombers to reach the Soviet Union. As it was, the Boeing B-29 Superfortresses that were the main strike force of SAC lacked the range to hit Soviet targets nonstop from bases in the United States. While the US government placed priority on securing overseas bases for SAC, the USAF made inquiries to the leading experts of air refueling of the day, Flight Refueling Limited in Great Britain. It was Flight Refueling that consulted with the US Army Air Forces during the Second World War and assisted with several trials using B-24 Liberators as tankers and B-17 Flying Fortresses as receivers. Several sets of air refueling equipment were procured from Flight Limited and installed on a very limited basis on several B-29 Superfortresses to get crews trained on the procedure. However, the USAF was dissatisfied with the system as it took time to rendezvous and get into the proper position, change positions, and then transfer fuel. Using Flight Refueling's method, the receiver trailed a hauling line with a weight and hook at the end. The tanker approached from the side and below and deployed a contact line that crossed over the hauling line of the receiver and engaged the hook. The tanker then moved above the receiver, pulling in the hauling line with the contact line. The refueling hose was then attached to the hauling line and it was then pulled down to the receiver which had a refueling receptacle in the tail gunner's position and refueling commenced. The lines and refueling hoses used created tremendous drag that imposed air speed restrictions that may have been acceptable for a piston-engined bomber but wholly impractical for a future jet-powered bomber. 

The USAF contacted Boeing in November 1947 if they would be willing to look at the air-refueling problem within the purview of the company's ongoing research programs. In the following month, the Preliminary Design Group and the Experimental Manufacturing Division at Boeing formally signed a contract with the Air Force to work on improving air refueling. Boeing's first step was to determine what formation can two Superfortresses operate most closely for an extended period of time safely to conduct air refueling. Boeing's engineers figured the refueling solution would be easier the closer the aircraft could fly to each other and not have to do the position changes that the Flight Refueling method entailed. To this end, in May 1948, the USAF ran a series of tests out of Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, using B-29s flown in every possible formation and relationship to each other. Escorting aircraft photographed the formations from every angle and Boeing's team would then analyze the photographs to determine their three-dimensional relationship to each other. For every possible formation, the flight crews involved were also queried on things like workload and visibility in maintaining the formation. As a result of these test flights, it was determined the optimum position that provided a relatively low workload with good visibility was to put the aircraft in trail formation with the trailing aircraft vertically displaced 25 feet and longitudinally displaced 10 feet. This gave the flight crew in the trailing aircraft the best view of the lead aircraft with the closest possible distance. Pilots in the trailing aircraft found that if they flew less than 25 feet vertically displaced below the lead aircraft, they got buffeting from the wake of the lead aircraft which gave the formation an inherent safety feature. 

After determining the most optimal close formation, the next step for the Boeing team was to figure out the best fuel transfer method. Five different refueling systems were explored. The first three systems were probe-and-drogue applications with the tanker trailing a hose with a drogue at the end with the receiver flying a probe into the drogue to make the connection. Though this method is used today by the US Navy and US Marine Corps as well as a large number of air arms like the RAF, the Boeing team felt that the hose movement could be unpredictable in rough air and required too much maneuvering by the trailing aircraft to make hose contact. Such maneuvering might be fine for a smaller tactical aircraft, but Boeing was less than thrilled about the prospect of a large receiver aircraft having to maneuver frequently before contact so close to the tanker. 

The imaginative fourth proposed system involved a gun-turret like assembly on the tanker's forward dorsal fuselage. The tanker would take the trailing position and the turret would deploy a rigid boom up and forward to engage a receptacle on the underside of the tail of the receiver. The boom would be maneuvered like a gun turret by an operator aboard the tanker and when not in use, the boom would slew 180 degrees and stow atop the dorsal fuselage of the tanker. While imaginative, it was soon realized the aerodynamic loads on the boom would be significant. But what if their positions were reversed? What if the tanker lowered the boom aft and down to the receiver who had a receptacle on the top of the fuselage? This way the operator did all the work from the tanker and the receiver flight crew could focus on holding the prescribed position in trail behind the tanker. Flight test personnel with experience with the flight refueling systems of the day were consulted and all agreed that a boom lowered from the lower aft fuselage of the tanker to the top of the fuselage of the receiver would be the most ideal. A rigid boom would allow fuel transfer rates much higher than a hose system and small aerodynamic surfaces would be used on the end of the boom to maneuver it to the receptacle of the receiver- which is how Boeing came to call it the "flying boom". 

B-50 "Lucky Lady II" taking on fuel from a KB-29 hose tanker
While Boeing's engineers in Seattle worked on the flying boom concept, the Air Force's first secretary after its creation, Stuart Symington, had testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 1948 that the latest air refueling systems would allow the new Boeing B-50 Superfortress to reach any part of the Soviet Union, but the reality of it was that all the USAF had were the first Flight Refueling hose units on a handful of B-29s and that the flying boom was still a paper project. Quite literally on the following day, the USAF instructed Boeing's Wichita division to get as many hose units onto KB-29 tankers as possible and get the new B-50s up to speed as receivers with an interim system until the flying boom was operational. The first operational installation was ready in less than 30 days and by the end of 1948. On 26 February 1949, the B-50 Superfortress "Lucky Lady II" took off from Carswell AFB in Fort Worth, Texas, and flew around the world nonstop in 94 hours, taking fuel from hose-equipped KB-29s four times during the record-breaking flight. 

The flying boom equipped KB-29P Superfortress tanker
Despite this very public success, Boeing continued to develop the flying boom and interestingly, had funded the development internally without outside USAF funds. Two dry booms were built for KB-29s as proof of concept. Though not able to transfer fuel (hence the term "dry booms"), the dry booms were actually installed on KB-29s in June 1948, a full seven months before the circumnavigation flight of "Lucky Lady II". Dry receptacles for the purposes of flight test were installed on a B-47 Stratojet and an F-86 Sabre. Flight tests using the dry boom were conducted through the summer of 1948 out of Seattle, Wichita, and Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. The tests were successful and the USAF requested Boeing transfer the flying boom work to Curtiss Aircraft. As the company had an absence of work postwar, the USAF wanted to keep Curtiss in business, but quite obviously, Boeing wasn't happy with that request, particularly since development had so far involved company funds without any USAF funding. By April 1949, Boeing was already constructing wet booms (flying booms able to transfer fuel) and was resisting USAF pressure to transfer the program to Curtiss Aircraft. Boeing won the dispute with the USAF by insisting its flying boom work was proprietary and would have commercial applications in refueling jet airliners. Since no USAF funds had been used in development so far, the USAF found it didn't exactly have financial clout to compel Boeing to transfer the program to Curtiss. Up to this point, the flying boom program was classified and the USAF had insinuated that the program's classified status meant that it couldn't be used for commercial applications. But the flight test program had already been publicly revealed by the USAF itself in an October 1949 press release! Boeing did finally get its contract for the flying boom. From 1950 to 1951, the Boeing Renton plant converted over 100 B-29 Superfortresses into KB-29P flying boom tankers with the first tanker delivered to SAC in March 1950. A fixed cradle structure supported the flying boom when it was raised. A hemispheric plexiglass dome replaced the tail turret and laying in a prone position, the boom operated "flew" the boom to the receiver. Boeing had always considered the KB-29P an interim tanker and soon enough was working on a tanker version of the C-97 Stratofreighter- not only did a tanker version of the C-97 offer more fuel carrying capability, it could also carry cargo when not being used for air refueling, offering mission flexibility for the USAF. The first flying boom-equipped C-97 was flight tested by Boeing in September 1950 and so impressed the USAF that all remaining orders for the C-97 were to be completed as KC-97s. In fact, the first KC-97 was delivered to the USAF only eight months after the KC-97 contract was signed with the first units operational in July 1951. Boeing then suggested a turboprop-powered KC-97 to the USAF, but the military was ambivalent to the idea, but by that point, Boeing was already working on a new breed of transport that would eclipse even the turboprop powered KC-97. But I'm pretty sure you know how that story ends! 

Source: Passing Gas: The History of Inflight Refueling by Vernon B. Byrd. Byrd Publishing, 1994, pp 123-136. Photos: National Museum of the United States Air Force.

06 April 2015

Flying High This Past Week: 30 March-5 April

A day late on posting the latest edition of Flying High This Past Week, but no worries, here's what's been getting a lot of hits lately here at TAILS THROUGH TIME:
  • The Early History of the Air Line Pilots Association, ALPA: Quite obviously the latest article on TAILS THROUGH TIME is going to be getting the most hits in the past week! The early history of Northwest Airlines is weaved into the early history of ALPA as the founder of the union, Dave Behncke, was Northwest's first pilot and flew its first passengers in 1927. The early history of ALPA gives us a good look at the state of the airline industry in the 1920s which was just on the cusp of making the leap into greater technologies led off by the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3. Despite the landmark in aviation history those aircraft were, flying for many professional pilots was still a hazardous profession in the years prior and many airline heads of the day tried to do what they could to stamp out ALPA in its early days. Fortunately a strike at a small airline that ran between St. Louis and Chicago thrust ALPA into the national spotlight and won it friends in high places. 
  • Francis Gary Powers: After the Return: Best known as the Lockheed U-2 pilot that was shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960 that ended US overflights of the USSR, his return to the United States was less than hospitable as the Director of Central Intelligence sought to blame Powers for any number of error that resulted in his shoot down despite being cleared by a CIA damage assessment team, the USAF, and a formal board of inquiry. Recognition of Powers' integrity and bravery were finally acknowledged posthumously in 2000 on the 40th anniversary of his shoot down. Note the comment at the bottom of my article by Powers' son, Francis Gary Powers Jr, who is the founder of the Cold War Museum
  • The First Steps to a Turboprop Transport, Part Two: The Boeing YC-97J was a Stratofreighter that was modified with Pratt & Whitney T34 turboprops so the USAF could gain operating experience with the new class of engines before the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and Douglas C-133 Cargomaster become operational. Two KC-97Gs were converted to use the same engines and propellers as what would be used on the upcoming C-133. 
  • Soviet Wild Weasels, Part One: Doctrine/Tactics: This was the first part of a three article series I did back in 2010 on the differences between American and Soviet SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) doctrines. The second part looked at the aircraft that functioned as the Soviet equivalent of the Wild Weasels and the third part looked at the missiles used by those aircraft. 
  • Frontier Airlines and the Boeing 737-200: In the 1970s, Denver-based Frontier Airlines (the first incarnation, not the current one flying) became one of the most significant operators of the Boeing 737-200. Originally investing in the Boeing 727-100/200, the switch to the 737-200 and its better operating economics for Frontier's route system undoubtedly helped the airline weather the economic roller coaster that buffeted the US economy in the 1970s.
The next article will be posted tomorrow night and it will cover the development of the Boeing flying boom used in air refueling. Remember, every five days a new article is posted here at TAILS THROUGH TIME and you'll never be quite sure until then where in aviation history we'll be flying!

02 April 2015

The Early History of the Air Line Pilots Association, ALPA

David L. Behncke, founder of ALPA
The early history of the Air Line Pilots Association union is singularly identified with David Behncke. Born on a farm in Wisconsin to immigrant German parents in 1897, Behncke joined the Army in 1916 and would get his pilot wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in 1917. Following his Army service, he flew around the Midwest and Great Lakes region in the 1920s with his own barnstorming outfit as well as participating in air races. To supplement his income, he made a bit of a local name for himself in Illinois flying custom tailored suits from Chicago to various cities. It was in this capacity he came to the attention of a Minneapolis businessman, Charles Dickenson, who had just been awarded a lucrative air mail contract between Minneapolis and Chicago. Behncke became Dickenson Airlines' first pilot in 1926. Designated Air Mail Route 9, Dickenson had trouble with his nascent operation and was threatened with the loss of his air mail contract. A syndicate of Detroit and Minneapolis businessmen led by Lewis H. Brittin bought Dickenson out and reformed his airline as Northwest Airways, Northwest Airlines' predecessor. Northwest moved into passenger transport like many of the air mail carriers of the day and it was David Behncke who flew Northwest's first passengers on 1 February 1927. 

An airline pilot's fortunes in those days waxed and waned often at the whim of the airline owners and before long, Behncke changed jobs and by 1928 was flying for Boeing Air Transport out of Chicago, which later become United Airlines. It was during this transition period that Behncke starting contemplating organizing airline pilots into a union which wouldn't be limited to one airline, but encompass pilots from other airlines as well. Flying professionally in the 1920s was still a hazardous job and for many airlines, the attitude of the owners was typical for the 1920s that espoused an accumulation of wealth with little regard for the workers. For the airlines of the day, this meant the pilots were often low paid on top of what was already considered a hazardous job. There were two main factors that led to Behncke to move forward with his plans for a pilots' union. The first one was off course the "robber baron" attitudes of the day. Even though passengers were increasing in numbers, it was the air mail contracts that made money and the US Post Office paid airlines by the pound. It wasn't unusual in those days for airlines to mail heavy useless items to pad their bill and get more from the Post Office. Many individuals who ran airlines became quite wealthy as a consequence and for a average low paid pilot who routinely saw the sorts of things done to boost air mail profits, it was unsettling. Many of the pilots of the day served in the First World War and rightly proud of their services and felt that what was going on in those days was contrary to how they ended up with their pilots' wings. The industrialist E.L. Cord who was an early owner of what become American Airlines, for instance, wasn't shy about stating his low regard for the pilots of the airlines he owned. "Any normal person can handle an airplane" he declared in 1930. 

The practice of pilot pushing was the second factor. Even with the carriage of passengers, there was tremendous pressure on pilots to fly with poorly repaired aircraft or in unsafe weather conditions. Many airlines offered financial incentives to pilots who would take a flight that had been turned down by a fellow pilot. With the Depression underway, there were plenty of out of work pilots to replace pilots who refused for fly for safety or weather reasons. In the 1920s there was a social organization of pilots called the National Air Pilots Association, NAPA. In 1928 while still working for what become United Airlines, Behncke was elected to a high position in NAPA and he urged the organization to take a vocal stand against pilot pushing by adopting the slogan "Don't overfly a brother pilot!". Unfortunately only a small fraction of NAPA's members were professional pilots and Behncke's proposals fell on deaf ears. Behncke felt the financial incentives to fly in unsafe conditions were the worst evil of the profession. In fact, in 1928 most air mail pilots only had about a 25% chance of surviving several years flying the line. For many airline owners, the loss of an aircraft and pilot were easy costs to absorb given the lucrative air mail rates of the day. 

Behncke decided he had to form a union on his own and by early 1931 word was out what Behncke was up to. Many of the airline heads that would later have formative roles in the US airline and commercial aircraft industry were quite intense in their anti-union opinions. The iconic head of United Airlines, for example, Pat Patterson, quite openly declared that "Nobody can belong to a union and fly for United!". Gathering up twenty four trusted fellow pilots from other airlines, Behncke and the so-called "Key Men" met at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago on 27 July 1931 to form the Air Line Pilots Association, ALPA. Because of the intense dislike of their activities by their respective employers, the "Key Men" were referred to by letter codes in an attempt to hide their roles from their employers. Bryon Warner of United, for example, was known as "Mr. A". While that date is considered the birth of ALPA, a year prior Behncke did meet with a closed inner circle from three different airlines to set the wheels in motion for the 1931 meeting. They were Walter Hallgren and Lawrence Harris from American, R. Lee Smith of Northwest, J.L. Brandon of United, and another United pilot whose name is lost to history as he had switched over to management not long after the 1930 meeting- the so called "Lost Founder" of ALPA. 

As membership of ALPA grew in that first year, Behncke had to move the operation out of his home and into a two-room suite at a Chicago hotel. Many pilots were tired of how they were treated at their respective airlines but many airline managers were quite open in their threats to fire anyone joining ALPA. Many of the "Key Men" from the 1931 meeting did end up losing their jobs. And if the airline didn't fire you for joining ALPA, they certainly did what they could to make you miserable. TWA, for example, often shuttled pilots among different crew bases at short notice in an effort to make their families' lives difficult as well. Schedules were often used punitively against anyone even suspected of ALPA membership. Many pilots who weren't fired found themselves demoted from airliners to open cockpit biplanes flying mail at night. Many airline managers felt they needed to stamp out ALPA quickly before it gained momentum. Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Air Lines in particular became a lifelong foe of the union. 
E.L. Cord from the 18 January 1932 cover of Time

In 1932, Behncke was working on getting ALPA affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) when a strike at a small airline thrust him and ALPA into the national spotlight. E.L. Cord was an aggressive businessman that in a few short years via acquisition headed an impressive industrial and transportation conglomerate that started out with automakers of the day given his background as an auto salesman for Auburn Auto. In fact, Auburn Auto was one of his first acquisitions in 1924, turning the company around to the point it was introducing several new models a year, but this was accomplished by a ruthless attack on labor costs that would set the pattern of his business dealings in future corporate acquisitions. In short order, he acquired Dusenburg Automobiles as well as both Yellow Cab and Checker Cab. He then moved into aviation, acquiring Stinson Aircraft (he was a private pilot who owned a Stinson Detroiter) and Lycoming Engines. Cord owned Stinson Aircraft when the company produced the Stinson Trimotor. It competed for airline orders with the Ford Trimotor, which cost $40,000. Cord's eye towards draconian cuts in labor costs meant he could offer the Stinson Trimotor for only $25,000. In 1930 he decided to get into the airline business seeing the profit potential with air mail subsidies. He started Century Airlines which began flying in March 1931 with three daily round trips between Chicago and St. Louis via Springfield and three daily round trips between Chicago and Cleveland via Toledo. And quite naturally, Century Airlines flew Stinson Trimotors. He then set up other similar airlines around the nation, all with "Century" as part of their name. In addition, he acquired other smaller carriers like a small Texas-based outfit called American Airways. Lacking a lucrative air mail contract, Cord cut costs as far down as he could, reasoning that if he could operate his airlines at half the cost of the established airlines, air mail contracts those airlines had would be canceled and given to him. With lower costs already, he stood to make a significant profit as a result. He had figured out he could pay pilots as little as $150/month at his Century Pacific operation between San Francisco and Los Angeles and still find pilots willing to work for him. Century Airlines based in Chicago had higher paid pilots at $350/month which was still quite a bit lower than the industry standard of the day. Since he was getting away with only $150/month with Century Pacific, Cord cut the salaries of the 25 pilots working at Century Airlines to $150. The chief pilot at Century, Duke Skonning, called the rates "starvation wages" and wanted to bargain with Cord. Cord agreed to a 10-day period before instituting the new wage cut, but he had no intention of bargaining with the pilots who already held in disregard. At the end of the 10-day period, as each Century flight arrived at Chicago Midway (it was called Chicago Municipal back then), each pilot was escorted off the plane by Cord's guards and made to sign a new agreement to $150/month. Every single pilot refused, setting off the first strike in the airline industry. Those pilots now locked out, showed up at Behncke's door led by their chief pilot, Duke Skonning, who told Behncke "Well, here we are. We have been locked out. What is the Association going to do about it?"

Behncke's work to get affiliated with the AFL paid off quickly. Immediately the AFL had its Chicago chapter work with ALPA and the striking pilots. Behncke asked each ALPA member at other airlines to chip in $25 to help pay the bills of the striking Century pilots. Soon radio spots were airing throughout Chicago to bring attention to the Century strike. Cord quickly hired strikebreakers but before they could show up for work, ALPA members would meet with them to explain what was stake. Most still went to work with Cord, but some stayed with ALPA with the promise of help finding a non-strikebreaking flying job. This infuriated Cord who then sequestered his new hires under armed guard at the airport. This in turn angered the City Council of Chicago who didn't like Cord treating city property as a prison. He was subpoenaed to appear before the council but Cord snubbed them, which further hurt his cause. The AFL made sure Congress knew of Cord's actions and this was how ALPA gained its first political ally- Representative Fiorello La Guardia from New York emerged to champion ALPA's cause in Congress. It spawned a friendship between David Behncke and La Guardia that lasted long after La Guardia become mayor of New York City. With congressional pressure on him, Cord sent a letter to each member of Congress referring to ALPA and the Century pilots on strike as communists- since most pilots had military backgrounds, this backfired on Cord and set many Congressional officials against him to side with ALPA. Cord's luck was running out fast and in 1932 he gave up control (but not ownership) of his airline ventures. They were all folded into holding company and in short order a few years later rebranded as American Air Lines. Cord dispatched one of his young executives to Texas to run the airline for him- an accountant named C. R. Smith, who would come to lead American Airlines until 1968. Putting Smith in charge was his concession to Congress to avoid getting American's air mail contracts canceled as a penalty. 

By 1936, Behncke found pilot jobs for all of the striking pilots from Century Airlines. He also made sure all the strikebreakers at Century were exposed. It was in an editorial that Behncke first used the term "scab" in reference to airline labor practices. Many of those strikebreaking pilots found it difficult to find jobs in the industry and Behncke did agree to take them into ALPA for assistance finding work provided each striking pilot from Century Airlines found work first. The Century Airlines strike gave ALPA national recognition which wouldn't have been possible without the help of the AFL and the friendship of Fiorello La Guardia. But with a newfound stature and friends in all the right places, many of the airlines that only a few years earlier tried to stamp out ALPA now quietly acquiesced its presence among its pilot ranks. 

Source: Flying the Line: The First Half Century of the Air Line Pilots Association by George E. Hopkins. The Air Line Pilots Association Press, 1982, pp 10-53. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame http://www.wisconsinaviationhalloffame.org/. Photos: The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, Time magazine.




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.