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The history of Eastern Airlines

Once considered one of the “Big Four” American airlines, along with American, Delta and United, it had been innovative and highly successful, having evolved to become the second largest airline in the world during its six-decade history.

Following its origins to Pitcairn Aviation, which had been formed on September 15, 1927, it had inaugurated airmail service the following year between Brunswick, New Jersey, and Atlanta with the open PA-5 Mailwings cabin.

But North American Aviation, a holding company for several fledgling carriers and aircraft manufacturers, bought the company a year after that and, changing its name to Eastern Air Transport, inaugurated passenger service with Ford 4-AT Trimotors in the multi-sector jump of Newark to Washington via Camden, Baltimore, Washington and Richmond on August 18, 1930. The acquisition of the Curtiss Condor allowed him to extend the route to Atlanta.

After absorbing Ludington Air Lines three years later, it was able to incorporate a New York-Philadelphia-Washington triplet into its system.

Eastern’s growth, like that of many other carriers, was fueled by the Air Mail Act of 1934, which involved the award of government contracts to private companies to transport the mail, while the United States Postal Service selected them in based on the offer they presented in the competition. with others. Although this prompted the formation of upstart companies to operate the airmail routes in the hope of being chosen, it also required the separation of joint ownership from the then common aircraft manufacturer and carrier.

Bypassing the restriction imposed as a result of its participation in the Spoils Conference with Postmaster General Walter Folger Brown, Eastern Air Transport changed its name in 1934 by what it would be known throughout its history, Eastern Air Lines.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War I flight ace who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, purchased the aircraft carrier from the North American Aviation holding company for $ 800,000 and took over the helm, implementing an aircraft modernization program.

Building his soon-famous Grand Fleet of Silver, he quickly replaced the slow-moving Curtiss Condor biplanes with all-metal Douglas DC-2, one of which became the first to land at the new Washington National Airport in 1941. Leaving its mark on a This expanding coast network, Eastern toured the New York-Miami sector with wider-cabin DC-3s and 21 passengers in 1937.

Like many American airlines, whose growth was interrupted by the need of World War II and the requisition of its planes for military purposes, Eastern began its own military support flights in 1942, connecting the three states of Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. spreading its wings to Trinidad in the Caribbean, and finally forming its Miami-based Military Transportation Division, for which it acquired Curtiss C-46 Commandos.

The seed for its pioneering three-city northeast shuttle was planted two years later when the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) awarded it the New York-Boston route over American.

The technological advancements of the 1950s, expressed as increases in range, payload, speed, comfort, and safety, occurred so quickly that by the time an aircraft was produced, its replacement was already on the drawing board.

The four-engine DC-4 soon supplemented its 39 twin-engine DC-3s, and its network now spans Detroit, St. Louis and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Lockheed L-649 Constellation, which opened in service in 1947, yielded to the larger-capacity L-1049 Super Constellation, which traveled its signature New York-Miami route on December 17, 1951. The 4-0-4 Martins replaced the DC. -3 and, by the middle of the decade, the first DC-7Bs sported the Eastern livery.

The Colonial Airlines acquisition gave it access to New York State, New England, Canada, Bermuda and Mexico City.

The propjet took the form of the four-engine Lockheed L-188 Electra, which was inaugurated on January 12, 1959 between New York and Miami, and the pure jet in the form of the four-engine Douglas DC-8 only. a year later, soon supplemented by the smaller-capacity, but higher-cruising Boeing 720.

Eastern was the first of the four major US airlines to operate the 727-100 tri-jet “Whisperliner” – specifically on the Philadelphia-Washington-Miami route – and the twin-jet DC-9-10.

The famous hourly shuttle New York-Boston-Washington was launched on April 30, 1961 with the L-188 Electra, for which he recommended: “No need to make a reservation. Just ‘show up and go.” All sections have back-up aircraft on standby to ensure a seat for everyone waiting at the scheduled departure time. “

One-way weekday fares were $ 69.00 to Boston and $ 42.00 to Washington, while weekend round-trip prices were $ 55.00 for adults and $ 37.00 for children for both of them.

The shuttle was eventually operated by DC-9-30, 727-200, and A-300 aircraft.

Breaking its shackles on the east coast in the late 1960s, it expanded to Seattle and Los Angeles on the west coast, Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas with the acquisition of Mackey Airways, and several Caribbean islands after buying Caribair. .

Passing the torch to another famous aerospace personality, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker relinquished control to Colonel Frank Borman, who had orbited the earth on Gemini VII in 1966 and the moon on Apollo VIII two years later.

Eastern entered the wide-body era with the Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar in 1972, became the first American airline to operate the European Airbus Industrie A-300 in 1978 when it ordered 23, and was the launch customer of the Boeing 757-200.

After acquiring Latin American routes from Braniff International in 1982 and establishing a hub in San Juan, it became the second largest airline in the world in terms of annual passengers after Aeroflot, establishing hubs in New York, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami and San Juan and carrying his motto “We have to earn our wings every day.”

But, while he may have earned his wings, he didn’t necessarily get the gains to maintain his lift. Debt from aircraft purchases necessary for its expansion and labor disputes necessitated the purchase of $ 615 million by Texas Air Holdings, which also owned Continental, in 1986, and Eastern became a fodder corpse. Airplanes were sold. The employees were fired. The assets were transferred to Continental. And its image quickly deteriorated, especially when it practically eliminated in-flight service to cut costs.

By filing for bankruptcy in 1989 and ceasing operations two years later, on January 19, what were once “wings of man” became the Icarus of deregulation after a six-decade flight.

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