Note: The “We Remember Blog”, is published on a regular basis by Pat & Frank Fleming. In it they remember growing up in small town America during the 1940s and 1950s.
This is the first post in a series of posts in which Pat & Frank Fleming recall air travel in the 1940s and 1950s.
Aircraft & Airline Routes
- In those days airline travel was somewhat unusual. Because of the war and its aftermath, air travel for civilians in the early to the late forties was for all practical purposes non-existent and when it did resume after the war it was on a very limited basis until the mid fifties.
Both of us were the first members of our immediate families to travel by plane. Frank never flew until 1959 – after he was out of college and had a job that required him to do fly on a frequent basis. Pat’s first flight was to Miami for her honeymoon in 1960.
- The aircraft flown when we were growing up were quite different from today’s wide bodied jets. Airlines flew only propeller driven planes until the very late 50s when jet aircraft were introduced into commercial service. Even when the jets came into service, they were primarily used for international or transcontinental flights.
- In the forties and fifties U.S. and most foreign airlines primarily flew planes manufactured by American companies including:
- The Douglas Aircraft company that produced hundreds of short-hop, two engine DC3s. These were the commercial versions of military’s workhorse C-47. This so-called “Gooney-Bird” was used both as a cargo plane and a transport during WW II and was similarly utilized by commercial aviation after the war.
Throughout the late 40s and 1950s, Douglass also supplied commercial airlines with their larger and more efficient DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7 multi-engine aircraft. These larger planes were utilized on the longer haul and transcontinental routes.
- Lockheed Aviation’s Constellations and Super Constellations with their distinctive triple tail rudders were used for longer haul flights – both overseas, and domestically for transcontinental service. The Super “Connies”, as they were called, when configured for First Class travel were in the minds of most travelers probably the most luxurious of the 1950s airliners.
- Surprisingly, Boeing was not a major player in the commercial aviation market until 1958 when it introduced its first commercial jet – the famous 707. Prior to that, the company’s most successful and noteworthy plane was the Boeing 314 Clipper – a luxurious, long-range flying boat that landed on water. Operated exclusively by Pan Am on it’s over water, long haul routes, the Clippers accommodated 30 some passengers and a crew almost half that size. The Clippers had seats that converted to Pullman type beds as well as a lower deck lounge. These aircraft were in service from 1938 until World War II with a Pan Am Clipper actually completing the first around the world flight in January 1942 – several weeks after the US entered WW II. After that, ownership of all of the Clippers was transferred by Pan Am to the U.S. Navy.
Post-war Boeing produced a series of Boeing Stratocruisers. These were modifications of the B-29 bomber design, but these were never really commercially successful.
- Both the Convair & Martin companies were very active in the post-war airline business manufacturing mainly smaller, two engine planes (similar to the Douglass DC3) that were used on short-haul and feeder routes.
- Up until the jet age, U.S. airlines operated separate First Class and Coach Class flights
using differently configured aircraft for each of these services. The First Class planes had larger seats and the passengers flying First Class had many more amenities and services than those flying in the coach class planes.
At that time, it was not unusual for an airline to have both a First Class flight and Coach Class flight flying the same route and departing from the same airport within minutes of each other. However, although the First Class flight usually left after the coach flight, it always arrived at the destination a few minutes before the Coach flight which had departed earlier. Rumor had it that the airlines purposely throttled back the speed of their Coach flights so that the First Class flight would pass them en-route and get to their mutual destination first. Maybe that’s why they called them flights First Class!
- Although we never flew internationally in the 50s, overseas flying started gaining wide acceptance after the war. Since before the age of jet travel, the fuel range of the aircraft utilized was relatively short, international flights required several re-fueling stops. European flights primarily departed from New York or Boston and always stopped at Gander, Newfoundland for fuel before starting across the Atlantic. Their first stop in
Europe, again to refuel, was always Shannon Airport on the west coast of Ireland. At that time, Shannon was the busiest airport in the world. On the way back to North America the procedure was reversed with planes topping off their fuel at Shannon before starting back across the Atlantic. While the planes refueled, passengers on western bound flights would also top off their European purchases with low-cost purchases of cigarettes, liquor, perfume, jewelry, etc. at Shannon’s massive “Duty Free Shop”. At that time Shannon’s was the largest “Duty Free Shop” and likewise one of the busiest retail outlets in the world.
- Although the major airlines had none stop flights between the major cities such as New York and Chicago or Atlanta and Dallas, they serviced the smaller cities with what were affectionately called “Puddle Jumper” flights. These flights would originate in one of the major cities serviced by non-stop flights and fly a route that stopped for a brief time at six, eight or sometimes 10 smaller cities before returning to the originating city. Hence, the name – “Puddle Jumpers”. Much like Greyhound buses, these flights dropped off and picked up passengers and cargo at each stop.
These “Puddle Jumper” flights were slow, bumpy and time consuming. Frank remembers a Southern Airways flight he took in 1959 from Atlanta, GA to Memphis, Tenn. That flight that today takes 56 minutes. But, when Frank took it on a “Puddle Jumper”, the flight lasted practically all day with stops in Gadsen, Alabama; Birmingham, Alabama; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Columbus, Mississippi; Tupelo, Mississippi and finally, Memphis, Thankfully, Frank could get off at this final stop, but the crew after a brief rest got back on and flew the same route in reverse order. Frank at least stayed in the Memphis area for a week and didn’t have to endure the seven stop flight back to Atlanta until the end of the week.
Southern Airways’ Route Map showing Atlanta to Memphis route Frank flew in 1959
Pat & Frank Fleming
NOTE: Frank Fleming is a retired businessman who, with his wife of 50+ years Pat, have put together this website and blog to share their “war stories” and memories of places and things that are no longer here and about their lives growing up in 1940s and 1950s.
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