From its inception, TWA, or at least its predecessor, was ambitious, transcending the traditional concept of mail-only airmail transport with the addition of passengers, incorporating intermodal means combining surface or rail segments and setting its sights on the West Coast. from the east, to significantly reduce transcontinental travel using wings and wheels.
Originally known as Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), which was formed on May 16, 1928 by a conglomerate of prominent business interests, it inaugurated service on the route traced by Charles Lindbergh, taking to the skies by day in a Ford TriMotor and the rails at night, allowing passengers to retreat in the comfort of the Pullman bedroom. But the company turned out to be less than lucrative.
The mail, as had already been proven, would continue to be the financial support of the plane, albeit in much shorter segments, and dependent on the authority of TAT for it by Postmaster General Walter Folger Brown was his suggestion that it merge. with another competitor, Western Air Express (WAE). , to avoid duplicate government payments.
Redesignated Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) after its merger on July 24, 1930, it was awarded the contract by mail for the 36-hour trip that stayed true to its “transcontinental” name, but with an overnight stop midway through. on the way, specifically in Kansas City.
Despite their heartless status, airlines invariably assumed the persona of their owners and leaders.
John “Jack” Frye, a Hollywood stunt aviator and the airline’s first director of operations, was instrumental in determining the specifications for TWA’s 12-passenger, low-wing, all-metal Douglas DC-1 and its successor, the 14-passenger DC-2, aeronautical responses to Boeing’s B-247, whose narrow cabin was hampered by the wing spar running through it. A licensed pilot, he flew the first Douglas design, while the DC-2 was launched into service on May 18, 1934 from Columbus, Ohio, to New York.
The even larger and wider DC-3 entered the route system three years later.
Flamboyant to the point of being eccentric, but full of money, Howard Hughes was drawn to the fledgling airline, which became its largest shareholder in 1939.
Its first pressurized aircraft, the four-engine Boeing 307 Stratoliner, entered service on the transcontinental route from one stop from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago on July 8 of the following year.
Although the military pause necessary for World War II robbed him of equipment and route development, its end marked the beginning of another battle, with American and United over the transcontinental crossing, which had given rise to his name. Instrumental in designing the Lockheed L-049 Constellation, with its distinctive aerodynamic fuselage and triple tail, Hughes secured TWA’s competitive advantage with an aircraft that was superior to United’s DC-4s, which entered service on March 1. 1946. But Lockheed’s counterpart allowed the carrier to spread its wings across the Atlantic, with a New York-Gander-Shannon-Paris route, which was later extended to Rome and Bombay, breaking Pan Am’s international monopoly after the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). he had given him route authority.
Four years later, its abbreviation “TWA” represented its now official designation of “Trans World Airlines.”
However, the war of the aircraft manufacturers – for sales – continued to rage. While American and United introduced higher-capacity Douglas DC-6s, TWA, leveraging Hughes’s influence, responded with the Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation, which offered a 35 percent passenger capacity increase over the previous model, and facilitated the opening of the first non-stop transcontinental sector, from Los Angeles to New York, on October 19, 1953.
The final L-1649A Starliner, which introduced a longer wing and the greater range provided by its fuel capacity, opened the Los Angeles-San Francisco-London polar route in October 1957.
Despite Hughes’s positive influence on the airline’s expansion and modernization, he was involved in few corporate decisions, fired Frye, fell into seclusion, and allowed him to go into debt, prompting the airline’s lawsuit against him. which forced him to give up his majority control. . He sold his remaining shares in 1965.
Entering the jet age, TWA launched Boeing 707-120 service on the transcontinental route between New York and Los Angeles on March 20, 1959, and the guy entered the international arena nine months later, on November 23.
Mid-range domestic routes were served by the four-engine Convair CV-880 when it was introduced on January 12, 1961 and was soon replaced by the three-engine Boeing 727-100 in 1964 and the two-engine Douglas DC-9. . 10 in 1966.
Upon receiving its first wide-body Boeing 747-100 on December 31, 1969, the year it usurped Pan Am as the largest transatlantic airline in the US, it became the first airline to offer domestic service in the US. In his signature Los Angeles-New York Segment on February 25 of the following year. The Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar, its second widebody, followed in 1972.
Establishing hubs in New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City, it served 49 US domestic destinations and 16 European destinations by the end of the decade, the latter including Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Frankfurt, Lisbon, London-Heathrow. , Madrid, Malaga, Milan, Nice, Paris, Rome, Santa Maria, Shannon, Terceira and Vienna, along with Cairo and Egypt in North Africa and Tel Aviv in the Middle East. As the world’s seventh-largest airline, it carried more passengers between the United States and Europe than any other, including the Los Angeles-London polar route, and counted a total of 22,653,000 in 1979.
While Hughes ultimately proved detrimental to the airline, another famous figure, Carl Icahn, a corporate raider who bought the majority of TWA’s stock in 1985 when financial dangers brought on by deregulation left him few options if he wanted to stay in the air, left his own image tarnished. on it, taking the once-illustrious international carrier and turning it into a low-cost rag.
A brief respite was a sign of promise when it acquired Ozark Air Lines, granting it a monopoly at its St. Louis hub, and similarly spiraling Pan Am’s precisely chosen international routes offered it assets at attractive prices. But its precarious financial burden broke its back, causing it to slowly sell off its own strengths, particularly its London routes from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York to the United States for $ 445 million in 1991, a year before she was forced. file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Another purchase of the route authority, by USAir for service to London from Baltimore and Philadelphia, infused their coffers with a little more cash.
An August 24, 1992 agreement with TWA’s top three unions traded concessions for a 45 percent stake, and Icahn resigned as president the following January, leaving the bird a plucked carcass.
The promise peaked again when it emerged from bankruptcy on November 3, 1993, having now counted the twin-engine wide-body Boeing 767-200s, narrow-body MD-80s and Boeing 757-200s in its fleet, but he re-entered less than two years later, in June.
However, the wings, once trimmed by deregulation and a tarnished image associated with low-cost airlines, were virtually impossible to restore, leaving AMR Corporation’s American Airlines to acquire most of its assets and provide financing for its bankruptcy filing on January 10, 2001. after a three-quarter century flight as one of the “big four” airlines after Eastern, United and the one that kept its spirit in the skies.