Thursday, December 13, 2012

TWA, Jack Frye and the Kelly Act

For more in depth reading, here is a detailed history of TWA's early history by historian, Mr. Gregory Taylor.

History Link courtesy of VIRTUAL TWA and...
Gregory S. Tyler
WA AC Maint/Ground Operations & TWA Executive Vice President/Chief Operations Officer/Historian.

The following is a chronological order of events spanning the history of TWA and it's MAJOR contributions to not only to the development of transportation and air travel but Government safety standards set forth as well that airlines operating today fly under !!!
TWA 1925 - 2001. Gone but never forgotten.

Through my writings I will also attempt to share with you the pride and passion we all shared working here at TWA.

Truly USA's greatest airline and in my own opinion the best airline in the world !!!
TRANS WORLD AIRLINES - That Wonderful Airline - The Worlds Airline - Travel With Angels - Learn the true significance and history of the airline we all love so much !!!

Most of the material I obtained for this primarily came from "Legacy of Leadership" A pictorial history of Trans World Airlines......... My personal life growing up in TWA as my father was a mechanic/supervisor ac maintenance since 1958 and my own working experience with TWA since 1982. Along with an extensive collection of "The TWA Skyliner" ....... I need to acknowledge and thank my father Paul R. Tyler "Pops" Flown west Nov 12, 2003........ Mr. Dan McGrogan Senior Ground School Instructor TWA Flight Operations for his persistent research and collection of material. Captain Edward Betts TWA,
Captain Clarence "Sonny" Powell TWA Cat III Senior Fleet Captain/Flight Instructor B-707, 720, 727, 747, 757, 767, Convair 880, DC- 9 Series 10 - 40, Lockheed Tri - Star L-1011 and MD-80 series aircraft,
Ms. Lynne Marie Tyler TWA Flight Attendant, Mr. Joe Abramski TWA Supv. AC Maint/Mechanic, Mr. Mike Storms TWA Supv. AC Maint/Mechanic, Mr. Rick Hatfield TWA Load planner/Dispatcher, Mr. Brian Hermansader TWA Supv. AC Maint/Mechanic, Dave Searcy TWA Scheduling, Mr. Bob Goetz TWA Supv. AC Maint/Mechanic, Mrs. Kay Haliwell TWA Sec. AC Maint , Mr. Clint Groves TWA Mechanic, Ms. Jan Yanahiro TWA Flight Attendant, Ms. Cynthia Taylor TWA Passenger Services, Milton "Smitty" Smith TWA Mechanic, Jay Dennis TWA Avionics Technician/Instructor, Big John Blye Avionics Technician/Instructor and last but not least Mr. Dave Burgess TWA Passenger Service Agent, for their personal time and materials in order for me to put this all together.

"The Formative Years" 1925 - 1928

The real tap root of air transportation in the United States was carrying mail by air. The seed from which the root grew was sown in 1911. In that year as a demonstration, a Curtiss plane took off with a single sack of mail as cargo and a very jittery Postmaster General Hitchcock as passenger. The mail was flown about seven miles and dropped in the general direction of a group of awaiting post office officials. It was a stunt from which nothing of importance came immediately. After World War I, flyers who stayed in the armed forces also helped to speed up air transportation. They demonstrated the possibility of intercontinental flight and of long range flying with big planes carrying large loads. A few years later, United States Army flyers blazed the first sky trail around the world, following an air path that TWA and other airlines were to follow later in regularly scheduled service. In the mean time, the seed of air mail sown in 1911 had grown into a regular service. An appropriation for carrying mail by air was granted by Congress in 1918. In 1922 Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, called an "Air Industry Congress" in Washington D.C. Out of it came the idea that air mail should be carried by private companies operating airlines under contract with the Government. The next year, Congress passed the Kelly Act. It authorized letting air mail contracts on a bid basis. This was the first practical recognition by our Government of commercial aviation and air transportation. The act was not only a challenge to American industry to provide the ingenuity and initiative to carry the mails but also the doors through which Government would walk out of the air mail business and private enterprise walked in. Western Air Express, a TWA predecessor company, was organized during 1925 and obtained a LAX-SLC mail & passenger route. It began operations April 17 thereby becoming the first scheduled commercial route flown in this country. In 1928 began service from San Diego to Los Angeles and on to San Francisco. During this same time three young flying instructors organized the Aero Corporation which became what is Standard Air Lines, which began service from Los Angeles to Tucson and on to El Paso. The three men were Paul Richter, Walter Hamilton and Jack Frye. In 1927 aviation gained tremendous support from the transatlantic flight of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh. During that same year a man named J. L. Maddux, an auto dealer on the Pacific Coast, secured an exclusive sales agency in the Southwest for Ford Tri motored monoplanes for commercial passenger carrying and private use. Maddux Airlines Inc was started on November 2, 1927 with two Tri-Motors operating out of Los Angeles. Later a line from Los Angeles to San Diego to Agua Caliente, Mexico was established by Jack Maddux. Maddux Airlines 1928. In 1929 Maddux, Western and Standard consolidated and Jack Frye became Director in charge of Operations.

Technically, Western Air Express was born on July 13, 1925, when articles of incorporation were filed in Sacramento, California, but airlines traditionally mark inaugural service with their first flight. Western first took to the skies on April 17, 1926. On that day, two members of Western's original quartet of pilots inaugurated mail service from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City where the mail was turned over to Postmaster P.P. O'Brien. The newly formed airline won its first government contract just nine months after Congress passed the "Kelly Act" Western oredered six open cockpit two place Douglas M-2 bi-planes for it's first fleet and leased it's first airport at Vail Field. A converted motion picture studio served as Hanger No. 1, and the first runway was a 4000 ft. oiled strip through a hay field. Five weeks after initial service was started the new airline carried it's first passengers. Ben Redmond of Salt Lake City purchased ticket No.1 and was joined on May 23, 1926 on a flight to Los Angeles by J.A. Thomlinson, a fellow Utahn. First passengers to board at Los Angeles were A.B. Denault and Charles Kerr, the latter of Pasadena California. At the close of 1926, the airline had carried 209 passengers, established a perfect safety record despite 38 forced landings along the rugged route, and made a net profit of $1,029, accomplishments that were regarded with wonder at the time. Providence smile on Western Air Express during those early days. What was the secret of their success? Since mountain and desert terrain discouraged the rapid development of ground transportation, the West and air transportation were designed for each other. In 1927 Western enjoyed it's first expansion by taking over air mail services between Cheyenne, Wyoming and Denver and Colorado. To serve this route the company introduced a second type of aircraft to carry the mail. Three Stearman Junior Speedmails Model 4-D's were assigned to the route to augment the M-2 equipment. In 1928 the company purchased Pacific Marine Airways which had operated 22 mile excursion flights between Wilmington Harbor and Santa Catalina with three flying boats. The channel fleet was expanded with a Sikorsky S-38 amphibian, two Loening amphibians and a Boeing 204 flying boat. Late in 1927, Western was selected by the Daniel Guggenheim Fund to operate a "model airline". Early in 1928 the fund granted $180,000 for the purchase of three 12-passenger Fokker F-10 Tri-Motor aircraft for use on the LAX - SFO route. The youthful airline learned quickly, and many revolutionary practices were adopted which since have become standard procedures for the nations airlines. Westerns greatest expansion during this period was along two routes stretching from Los Angeles to the East, one route as far as Kansas City and the to Texas. The route to Missouri resulted in a race to provide transcontinental air routes before eastern rivals could step into the picture. The Texas route came from the purchase of Standard Airlines in 1930. Rapidly expanding into untapped regions, Western's route system had grown to over 7000 miles.

"Coast to Coast in 48 Hours" 1929

The conception of a transcontinental system of transportation which would combine railroads and airplanes in a service to reduce by at least half the time required by an air mail journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast occurred in the dawn of the renaissance of commercial aviation in 1927. The idea was generally common property among persons who were then giving serious consideration to the practical employment of the airplane. Both East and West Coast men in aviation were talking and discussing the problem. The Pennsylvania Railroad officials were the first to establish relations with an important aviation group. After a period of preliminary discussions, a working agreement with the Curtiss-Keys aviation group was drawn up. The Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe was invited into the group to form the western rail link to which a new company name was born "Transcontinental Air Transport". Mr. Keys and his associates put the task of building up the idea of air rail into young and enthusiastic hands. This group of young men went to work on a herculean task with spirit and determination !!! The obtaining of airport sites, selection and testing of equipment, the formation of flying and ground personnel, coordinating rail and air schedules, building of air stations, air depots, terminals and weather stations !!! All of this was a mammoth undertaking and with proper prodding from the young enthusiastic backers and their chief, Charles A. Lindbergh, who served the line as chairman of the technical committee the system was at last ready for operation and on July 8th 1929, Secretary of Commerce Robert P Lamont pressed a button in his Washington office signaling the take-off of the first Ford Tri-Motor carrying ten passengers and with that TAT was a reality..................Through this unique service, westbound passengers would go overnight by train from New York City to Columbus, Ohio where they boarded a TAT airliner to St. Louis, Kansas City and Waynoka, Oklahoma, back on a train to Clovis, New Mexico, and back in the air, on to Los Angeles, CA.

Paul F. Collins was General Superintendent of TAT and in charge of pilot personnel. He flew during WWI and was a veteran air mail pilot......... John A. Collings was assistant to Paul, and was head of the Eastern division with headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. At one time John was known as the "barnstormer deluxe" as he conducted his own air tours in a Ford Tri - Motor. He was one of the first pilots to fly the Tri-Motor when he worked as chief test pilot for Ford Motor Company during the development of the airplane.......... Max Cornwell was Superintendent of the Western division of TAT. Formerly he was chief of motor overhaul for the army repair depot in Dayton , Ohio and was also a general manager for an airline in San Francisco, CA........ The very important task of selecting pilot personnel was divided between Paul Collins, John Colling, and Col. Charles A. Lindbergh. The pilots selected after a nationwide survey, at the time, constituted the finest group of flying men ever assembled. They were divided into two classes, First & Second Pilots. The First pilots were recruited from the Air Mail Lines, aircraft manufacturing, and the military. Second Pilots were graduates from the army training center at Kelly Field, Texas. Of the pilots selected, Col. Lindbergh said in a report to the technical committee: "TAT has exercised the greatest possible care in selecting it's pilots, and the final appointments have been made after a study of several months. The entire nation was included in a survey of personnel. As a result, the average flying time of our pilots is about 3,000 hours, including an average of 500 hours on Tri - Motors alone. We have assigned these pilots to the particular parts of the country with which they are familiar, both as topography and weather conditions. A thorough study of weather conditions over a given period of time is an important asset to any pilot and to this company"................

TAT's Ford Tri - Motor "City of New York" was christened by Amelia Earhart......
Prominent movie stars of the time Gloria Swanson christened the Tri - Motor "City of Philadelphia" and Mary Pickford christened Tri - Motor "City of Los Angeles"..........The Ford Tri - Motor was quite the luxury aircraft of it's day. Complete with wicker seats, the windows could be opened for ventilation, and there were heat registrations in the floor....... In flight it was the duty of the courier to attend to the wants and comforts of the passengers. He would explain how to adjust the seats, safety belts, ventilators and heaters as well as point out points of interest along the route. He also served lunch and on the ground he assisted with loading/unloading passengers, baggage, mail and express.......... Today in flight movies are considered the norm however on October 8 1929 TAT passengers on the west bound leg from Columbus, Ohio to Waynoka, Oklahoma witnessed the first in flight motion picture in aviation history. The watched the current weekly news reel and cartoons.................................

"The Earliest of the Mergers" 1930 - 1931

1930 was a year of mergers. Postmaster General Walter F. Brown decided that the air transportation industry was progressing too slowly. To realize his dream of a superior air service for the U.S., the McNary-Watres Bill was passed1930. The main provisions reduced the maximum payment to the airlines to $1.25 a plane mile and provided for route certificates, the forerunner to the modern franchises. Brown reasoned that this would encourage the development of larger aircraft and that the passenger, mail, and freight volumes would increase. As these increased, the mail rate could be further reduced; and it was. Under another provision of this bill Brown changed face of the air routes map. With these wide powers granted him by the McNary-Watres Act, Brown announced that he would award an airmail contract to only one company for the entire cross country air route. He recommended that Westerns President Hanshue merge his company with Trans Continental Air Transport.

In choosing companies with the best financial structure and best aircraft equipment, the Postmaster General decided natural candidates for a central trans-continental system were Western Air Express and T.A.T.

Maddux was flying nearly parallel routes so Brown's insistence on a merger finally led Hanshue, so on July 15 1930 an agreement was signed forming Transcontinental and Western Air Inc.. with T.A.T. and Western each holding 47.5 per cent of the stock and Pittsburgh Aviation Industries Corporation holding a key 5 per cent. This company was included in the merger because of its ground servicing and flying experience across the Allegheny Mountains and could claim the pioneer rights in that area. Western turned over to TWA its Los Angeles - Kansas City and Los Angeles San Francisco routes. Thus on October 1, 1930 Transcontinental and Western Air Inc., was born, destined to become one of America's greatest airlines and a leader in the aviation industry. Harry M. Hanshue became the first President, Jack Frye became Vice President in charge of operations, and Paul Richter was made Superintendent of the Western Division. On October 25, 1930, less than a month after its birthdate, TWA established America's first all air coast-to-coast passenger service. Planes simultaneously departed from Los Angeles and New York, marking the real start of modern passenger airline service. The pilots were John Collings, Vice President in charge of Operations and H.G. Andrews, then Assistant Superintendent of the Western Division in Albuquerque. The flights were made during the daytime with a stopover in Kansas City and an over-all travel time of 36 hours. Thus TWA operations over the shortest transcontinental air route had begun - serving New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Winslow, Kingman, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By an alternate rout between St. Louis and Amarillo, TWA also served Springfield, Missouri, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. The newly born company started out with two flights a day each way. Passengers remained overnight in Kansas City, arriving at 10:12 PM and departing at 08:45 AM the following day. The freshly combined fleet was made up of Ford Tri-Motors, Fokkers, Lockheed Vega's and Northrop "Alpha's" airplanes. Among the Fokker aircraft were nine F-10's, four F-14's and two F-32's, which were the first four engined transports built in this country. The carriage of air mail was the opening chapter in the air trans-port industry. Even after the advent of the Tri-Motor and the Fokkers, air mail continued as an important phase of airline operation as it was a pure economic necessity. Initially two groups of pilots were employed, one group to fly passengers and the other group to fly mail. The receipt of mail pay required that the mail reach its destination and that a satisfactory level of performance over the awarded route be maintained. The mail pilots relying on basic instruments available, developed virtually an all weather operational record. In order to survive, an airline had to maintain its mail contract.

Because the Ford Tri-Motors and the Fokkers were originally restricted to daytime operations it was necessary to to conduct dual operations. Eventually a system of upgrading from co-pilot on passenger flights to night mail flights to captains on day passenger was evolved. This system would prevail until weather flying techniques indicated that both services could be conducted satisfactorily combined into a single operation. Once this was accomplished, TWA would close the book on another chapter of aviation history.

Spectacular early success of TWA is credited to the company's remarkable safety record and a determined management in an era when aviation had captured the imagination of the public.

Growing Pains and Progress

It was March 31, 1931, at the airport in Kansas City Missouri. The west bound plane, a Fokker tri-motor, was still on the ground. On this particular morning there was a VIP on the passenger list, Knute Rockne of Notre Dame. He was flying to Hollywood, California to serve as technical adviser for a feature film. Rain was falling and there were thunder clouds in the sky; but the sun was shining bright in Wichita, Kansas, the next scheduled stop. Captain Bob Frye and Co-Pilot Jessie Mathis boarded their plane, mechanics took their positions and passengers began loading. There were six including Rockne. The door was closed, engines started and the ground crews began to pull away the wheel chocks. The plane taxied out to the runway. After the engines were checked, the Fokker Tri-Motor F-10 began the take off and was airborne at 09:15 am. Less than an hour later the airliner was a twisted mass of steel, wood, fabric and aluminum in a wheat field near Bazaar, Kansas. All on board were dead. The death of Rockne was a staggering blow to the newly born company. Newspapers across the nation blamed the airline and the manufacturers relentlessly. Under the air commerce act of 1926 the bureau of air commerce crash investigators had jurisdiction over all private and commercial aviation. For days and weeks following the Rockne accident, the wreckage was probed, searching for clues that might lead to the cause of the crash. Government investigators found what they believed to be a structural failure in the wing. Their official report said that there were signs of rot in the wooden spars and wing ribs. As a result the government required all aircraft of this type to undergo a periodic inspection of the internal wing construction. This was the end of the Fokker airliners. In order to complete such an inspection it was necessary to remove the thin plywood covering the wings which meant a major repair of the wing. The time and expense would have put the airline out of business. Jack Frye, then VP of operations was a man with unlimited vision. He was responsible for finding a different kind of airliner to replace the Fokkers. The type that he had in mind was entirely new and a revolutionary commercial transport. It would be bigger, faster and designed especially with passenger comfort in mind. In Seattle, Washington, home of the Boeing Company, a new low wing all metal aircraft capable of carrying 10 passengers in a sound proof cabin at speeds of 190mph, was under construction. Frye heard about it and contacted Boeing to see if TWA could buy the new plane Model 247. He was told that United Air Lines had ordered sixty and TWA would have to wait until that order was completed.

United's transcontinental route from New York to San Francisco was in direct competition with TWA, and both airlines would do anything to get passenger business away from one another. Getting the lead with faster and better equipment was one way to do it. TWA was in a predicament. Frye called a meeting of the engineering staff, operations and sales people to put down on paper the requisites that should go in to an ideal transport. By the end of July 1932 the specifications were finalized and letters were mailed out to manufacturers. One such letter reached the Douglas Aircraft Company, and the result was an airliner that would change the whole concept of air travel: the Douglas Commercial, known simply as the DC-1.

The single most important date in the history of the Douglas Aircraft Company is August 2, 1932. It was at this time that President and CEO Donald W. Douglas received a letter from Jack Frye ordering a minimum of 10 of the new transport planes. TWA specifications were clearly stated and ended with one simple question, when will the first planes be ready for service tests? Donald Douglas called the letter from Frye "The Birth Certificate of the DC Ships" and deservedly so. As soon as he digested its contents, he called in his staff of engineers and production men. In just 10 days of round the clock figuring, Douglas and his men concluded that not only will they meet Frye's specifications but could exceed them. Two weeks after Douglas received Jack Frye's letter, he presented the design to Frye, TWA President Richard W. Robbins, and Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh Chief technical adviser for TWA. The group was fascinated with the design sketches. It was not only a new plane but a new concept in aircraft design as well. Colonel Lindbergh recommended that the airline accept the concept with one additional guarantee; The airplane should be able to take off with a full load from any one point of TWA's route system on one engine. Douglas said "we'll do". The contract between TWA and Douglas was signed on Sept 20, 1932 . Nine months later on June 22, 1933 the first DC-1 was rolled out of the hangar. But as big and beautiful as it was, one question still remained: will it fly? On Saturday, July 1, 1933 Carl A. Cover, a teat pilot, and Fred Herman, project manager and co-pilot, made the first test flight of the DC-1. The wheels left the ground at 12:36 however it almost ended in disaster. The experimental carburetors were to blame, but the problem was corrected. During the next six weeks the DC-1 was subjected to the most intensive testing any Douglas aircraft had ever went through. Test pilots, TWA pilots and even Jack Frye himself, a fully qualified airline pilot wrung it out so much they were amazed that no structural failure showed up. Test after test after test to the point of abuse and still she passed them all !!! Then came the day for the plane top pass the test that Colonel Lindbergh added - the single engine take off. On September 11, 1933; Eddie Allen was pilot and D.W. Tomlinson was the co-pilot. It was 96 degrees in Winslow, Arizona. The highest field elevation airport in TWA's system. Just as the wheels left the ground on takeoff, one engine was shut down as she climbed to 8000 feet and leveled off. They flew to Albuquerque, NM - 240 miles away and in doing so, removed any and all doubt concerning the aircraft's performance. TWA accepted the one and only DC-1 ever built and placed an order for 25 more with slightly modified structural changes designating it the DC-2.

There can be no doubt that Postmaster General Brown used every device possible through various interpretations of the Watres Act to build a stable airline system. Time has shown that his plan was sound and he was sincere. Under the Republican administration a Post office committee, headed by J.M. Mead, had probed into alleged irregularities but exonerated Brown. The Democrats swept the election of November 1932 thus bringing about an end of the Brown Regime. President Roosevelt's new Postmaster General James A. Farley called for an investigation. Farley charged that routes had been awarded at a series of secret meetings held in "Spoils Conferences". The result of these charges was a special committee to investigate the air mail and ocean mail contracts. Under the Chairmanship of H.L. Black, the hearings began September 28, 1933 and were ended a month later.
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