Tuesday, December 11, 2012

TWA in Brief

Frye, along with Charles Lindbergh and D.W. Tommy Tomlinson were a special committee to evaluate and order a modern airliner. A letter by Frye, dated August 2, 1932 was circulated to certain aircraft manufacturers with T&WA's specifications. Donald Douglas met the challenge with a revolutionary design for the prototype DC-1 and production model DC-2.

DC2 with DC3 in tow

On February 18, 1934, Frye, Edward Rickenbacker and a team of T&WA pilots flew the mail from Burbank to Newark, with three stops in the record time of 13 hours and two minutes. When the mail contracts were re-awarded to the airlines in May of 1934, Frye again made headlines when he piloted a Northrop Gamma with a load of mail across the country, with one stop in a new record (commercial) time of 11 hours 30 minutes! At the end of 1934, Jack Frye was elected president of TWA and Paul Richter VP-Operations. Later, Walter Hamilton was promoted to VP-Maintenance and Overhaul.

Jack Frye piloting the GAMMA

In January of 1936 the Air transport Association of America was formed and Jack Frye was among the original directors. Others included such well known airline presidents during the '30s as C.R. Smith, Bill Patterson, Edward Rickenbacker, Tom Braniff and Bob Six. Also in 1936, Frye was a VP with the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.
Under Frye's leadership, TWA was an industry leader with regard to researching the problems and benefits of high-altitude flying. The DC-1 was used for a while, flown by Tommy Tomlinson. In June of 1939 the trio of "Jack, Paul and Ham" was broken when Hamilton resigned to accept an executive position with Douglas Aircraft Company.

Howard Hughes and Frye disembarking a "Connie"
Photo courtesy John Underwood collection

Jack Frye personally induced Howard Hughes to secretly purchase the majority of TWA's outstanding stock in early 1939. Although five of the Stratoliners were due for delivery in mid-1940, Hughes and Frye were negotiating with Lockheed for the proposed 300-mph Constellation. Due to the war emergency, production of the Constellations was delayed and it wasn't until early 1944 when the prototype C-69 was completed. On April 17, 1944, Hughes and Frye set a new cross-country speed record when they flew the C-69 from Burbank to Washington D.C., in six hours 58 minutes! Frye kept a separate office in Washington during the war and was a strong lobbyist on behalf of TWA.
Later after disagreements with Hughes, Frye and Richter resigned from TWA in 1947. Jack went with General Aniline and Film Corporation as president until he resigned in 1955 to form a new aircraft manufacturing company. This was tentatively known as the "Frye-Robertson Aircraft Company", based in Fort Worth, with plans to build the Frye F-1 transport. Later he would begin developing a new commuter plane called the SAFARI.
Walt Hamilton returned to TWA in early 1946, but in March of that year passed away at the age of 44. Paul Richter passed away in May of 1949 at the age of 53. In February 1959, Jack Frye was killed in an auto accident near the entrance to the Tucson Airport. He was age 54. The Three Musketeers of aviation had passed on.
On June 20, 1992, Jack Frye was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. TWA Senior VP-Flight Operations Capt. J.G. Colpitts accepted the award on his behalf. Jack joined a very exclusive group of airline presidents who were previously honored: William Patterson, United (1976); Edward Rickenbacker, Eastern (1965); Robert Six, Continental (1980); C.R. Smith, American (1974; Juan Trippe, Pan Am (1970). They were fierce competitors back in the formative years of the nation’s major airlines.

Thanks to Mr. Ed Betts and the American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS) for this brief historical content of Jack Frye's story and facts.

Excerpts taken from AAHS Journal, Vol 39, Number 3,  Fall 1994, used by permission.

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