A great story from a pilots view about Central Airlines
A Pilot Remembers
by Harry Logsdon
From the September 1964 CN SKYWRITER newsletter
Today I felt a lot like the little old lady who watches her only son graduate from college at the head of his class. This spine tingling pride was precipitated by Chairman of the Board A. A. Bradford’s announcement that Central Airlines has entered the jet age.
As I pondered (from a pilot’s viewpoint) the many wonderful possibilities and capabilities of turbine-powered Conair’s, I could not help but compare them to our equipment of fifteen years ago this month.
I remember that rainy day in September when our pre-inaugural flight only reached Dallas because of bad weather. We were flying single engine Beechcraft Bonanzas with no company communications and with no navigation aids except a manual loop and a small range receiver. With only these aids, we still flew lower minimums on a strict VFR basis into many airports than did the trunks with all their sophisticated equipment.
Our route of flight was conducted along railroads, highways and telephone lines. With no company communications, we tried to keep track of other Central flights on ground control frequency to avoid collision in the murky weather. We only had to worry about our own flights because other planes would be either high above us on an instrument clearance or would be waiting it out on the ground.
This was how it began.
Many changes have improved our airline over the years. To me, these changes were milestones; important steps up the ladder to our airline of today. Since it is obvious that many of our employees have not been here since the beginning, I will attempt to list for you what I think are some of the important milestones in our company’s growth.
THE BIRTH OF AN AIRLINE
September 15, 1949 – Our first scheduled flight. This first flight was piloted by Captain Gordon Bourland from Fort Worth to Dallas, Gainesville, Ardmore, Ada, Shawnee and Oklahoma City. Although Captain Bourland made the first flight I made many of Central’s Flights 1 and 2 before additional service was inaugurated.
THE ARRIVAL OF DC-3’s
By late 1950, we were operating two round trips daily from Fort Worth to Tulsa and Amarillo with DC -3 equipment. It was a big step up for we were no longer a make-believe airline. We flew night and instrument schedules and proudly carried in the cabin of our airplane the forerunner of today’s stewardess. There was a difference though; they were male.
1951 – 1952— KOREAN WAR YEARS
In 1951 Central went to war. We assigned three leased C-46s and two DC-3’s to the Air Force for the movement of troops. I was a member of that little group of pilots based in San Antonio who made Central Airlines planes a common sight on every airport in the United States. With double crews, we averaged two hundred hours per month in the air, and coast to coast shuttles were routine with our pilots.
Our first stewardess, although we had used stewardesses on some of our military flights, it was late 1952 when they replaced our pursers on the line. How many of you remember the pillbox hats and the long green skirts so filled with pleats that it cost $5 just to have them pressed?
Every expansion has been a milestone. We extended our routes into Colorado and Missouri and continued to provide additional service in our original four-state area. Our fleet of DC-3’s grew from 3 to 18, and the ranks of our employees continued to swell — Central Airlines was growing up.
In 1954 Congress authorized permanent certification for the locals. This permanent certification was possibly the greatest single factor in the growth and expansion of not only Central but of all the other local carriers in the country. We now had status, permanency and the ability to obtain financing that had been so difficult before.
ACQUISITION OF CONVAIR EQUIPMENT
In late 1960 we signed a contract with American Airlines for six of their retiring Convair 240’s. These airplanes began service in March of 1961. Our pilots began talking of things they hadn’t thought of since they left the trunks to help start up a little airline. Radar, BMEP, pressurization and other half-forgotten items soon became the general subject of conversation. In July of this year DME was added and the airline became a little more sophisticated.
THE JET AGE
When Mr. Bradford announced the conversion of our Convair fleet to all turbine power, he opened up new frontiers for Central Airlines. I for one am grateful for management with the vision to plan for the future.
We are not a foundling airline any more. We are growing up.
As one who has been here since the beginning, I am mighty proud to have been a small part of its growth. I do not plan to write another article until the 25th birthday of Central. It is my earnest hope that at that time, I can write about the day we added our first pure jet. Until then, just let me say that I am very happy with the first fifteen years.
It’s a good airline, let’s all keep it that way.
We are close to the final steps in the DC-3 project, so we need your help. It’s time to “get around to it” meaning you’ve thought about donating to the NAHM DC-3 but just have haven’t got around to it yet, “Get around to it”…Friends we are close, with your help we can get Dougy flying real soon. So for Christmas let’s do this together and get this bird back in the air. Be a benefactor; buy a membership whatever you can do now is the time. Let’s not let a few $1000 dollars strand this bird before she even has a chance to fly. Let’s “get around to it”
PS “Hurry and donate before the end of the year and take advantage of a tax deduction.”
An amazing thing happened the other day and I almost missed it,1st a couple retired TWA guys came down to volunteer to work on Duggy (DC-3) and one of them has experience working on the DC-3 so I was all ears, but what I should have been was all eyes, the look of adoration that I saw in on this gentleman was a look of a love once lost, it’s hard to explain in simple words but I will try, kind of like the long lost love coming back to you or the familiarity of that once close friend coming back into your life.
That day I watched my 2 year old run down the aisle of the Connie with a look of WOW gleaming in his eyes, and I remember thinking and hoping that these beautiful planes are here for my grandchildren.
NAHM is such a diamond in the rough for KC, and we appreciate all that you have done to keep Dick McMahon and Larry Brown a dream alive to have a” flying museum” to inspire and keep these wonderful marvels of flight to inspire and relive the great moments of air travel.
Central Airlines was founded by Keith Kahle in 1944 to operate charter and fixed base services in Oklahoma. Due to financing difficulties, it did not begin scheduled air service until September 15, 1949 just before its original certification expired. Headquarters were at Meacham Field in Ft. Worth, Texas. Central was sold and merged into Frontier Airlines on October 1, 1967.
Frontier Airlines was formed by a merger of Arizona Airways, Challenger Airlines, and Monarch Airlines on June 1, 1950, with headquarters at Stapleton Field in Denver, Colorado.
The new airline served 40 cities in the Rocky Mountain region with 12 DC3s. There were 400 employees. By 1979 the airline had 5100 employees and operated 35 Boeing 737-200 and 25 Convair 580 aircraft while serving 94 cities in 26 states, Canada and Mexico.