Southwest Airways era (1941–1958)

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Southwest Airways 1940s logo

Founding and wartime operations

In early 1941 Air Service veteran John Howard “Jack” Connelly and noted Hollywood agent/producer Leland Hayward formed a business partnership that five years later would evolve into a scheduled commercial airline. Neither man was a stranger to aviation; Connelly was also a former test pilot, airplane salesman, Civil Aeronautics Administration instructor pilot, and inspector for the 1930s-era Soviet Union. Hayward was an active private pilot and was on the board of directors of Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA). The two men enlisted the support of commercial pilot and photographer John Swope to oversee the training of aviation cadets.  Together, they founded a maintenance depot for overhauling training aircraft, a wartime air cargo line, and a military pilot training complex consisting ofThunderbird Field No. 1Thunderbird Field No. 2, and Falcon Field in Arizona.  By the end of World War II, Southwest Airways was the largest training contractor in the United States, and trained more than 20,000 pilots from over two dozen countries.

Start of scheduled service

After the war Connelly and Hayward raised $2,000,000 (in 1946 dollars) from investors, including Hollywood notables such as James Stewart and Darryl Zanuck, to expand Southwest into the airline business, pending government approval. They were awarded a three-year experimental charter from the Civil Aeronautics Board on May 22, 1946 for their feeder service.

Scheduled passenger service under the name Southwest Airways began on December 2, 1946, using plentiful and affordable war surplus C-47s, the military version of the Douglas DC-3, converted for civilian use.  The initial routes were situated along the Los Angeles to San Francisco corridor, including stops in Santa BarbaraPaso RoblesMonterey, and San Jose, with Medford, Oregon added later.

No-frills spirit and quick turnarounds

Connelly serves no food (“let them bring their own”), provides no chewing gum (“we never fly high enough to need it and besides it sticks to the floor”) or magazines (“takes too long to unwrap them”)

TIME, October 18, 1948

Connelly, president, and Hayward, board chairman, were the majority owners of the airline, and as such could hold sway on how the company would operate. Running on slim operating margins, Southwest Airways was a no-frills airline decades before low-cost carriers became common.

To increase revenue the airline optimized ground operations to the point where a DC-3 could discharge passengers, load new ones, and begin taxiing to take off again 90 seconds after coming to a stop (adding six more minutes if refueling is required).  In a cost-saving move, the airline had their own pilots do the refueling instead of paying airport personnel to do it.  Time on the ground was reduced by keeping one engine running while a male purser hurried passengers off the plane, and the DC-3s were modified to include an ‘air stair’, a door that doubled as a staircase for the passengers. The air stair eliminated waiting for a ground crew to roll a wheeled staircase up to the plane.

Pioneering instrument landings

The airline’s innovative spirit extended into air safety as well; in December 1947 a Southwest Airways DC-3 flying into the coastal town of Arcata, California made the world’s first blind landing on a scheduled commercial airliner using Ground-Controlled Approach (GCA) radar, Instrument Landing System (ILS) devices and Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO) oil-burning units adjacent to the runway.  By the following year the airline had made 1,200 routine instrument landings at the often fog-shrouded Arcata airport.

Southwest had a fleet of ten planes by 1948, all of them DC-3s, flying between 24 California and Oregon small towns, becoming the second biggest feeder airline in the United States.

Crash of Flight 7

The airline flew without any fatal mishaps until the evening of April 6, 1951, when Southwest Airways Flight 7 crashed, killing all 19 passengers and 3 crew members aboard, including 12 military personnel.[The DC-3 was flying a 20-minute route between Santa Maria, California and Santa Barbara. It was flying too low and struck a ridge in the Refugio Pass region of the Santa Ynez Mountains at a height of 2,740 ft (835 m), far below the minimum nighttime altitude of 4,000 ft (1,219 m) prescribed for the plane’s route over that rugged stretch of mountains. An investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Board was unable to determine why the plane’s altitude was too low.

Fleet expansion

To handle the post-war increase in passenger travel, by late 1952 the airline’s inventory had grown to include eight secondhand piston-engined Martin 2-0-2s, which were faster and carried more passengers than the DC-3,[ and also had air stairs.[ In the 1950s the airline’s literature stated it was serving 33 California locales (i.e. about 24 airports), and flight timetables published by the company in the mid-1950s boasted that Southwest Airways “serves more California cities than any other scheduled airline.”

Note: The above information is from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia