- Capital Airlines
Capital Airlines was an
airlineserving the eastern United Stateswhich was merged into United Airlinesin 1961. Its primary hubs were National Airport near Washington, DCand Allegheny County Airportnear Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At its peak it was the fifth largest domestic carrier.
Clifford A. Ball, a
McKeesport, Pennsylvania automobiledealer and owner of a controlling interest in Bettis Fieldnear Pittsburgh, won airmailcontract route #11 on March 27, 1926. In April of the following year, Clifford Ball Airline began operating between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Will Rogerswas known to be a regular passenger, but scheduled passenger service did not begin until April 28, 1928. The following August, it became the first airline to serve Washington, DC, from the west, offering its flagship "Path of the Eagle" service from Cleveland to Hoover Fieldacross the Potomac River.
Ball sold his interests in November 1930 to Pittsburgh Aviation Industries Corp., and the airline became Pennsylvania Air Lines (PAL). It was reorganized as Pennsylvania Airlines after the
Air Mail Scandalof the early 1930s. Central Airlines, otherwise notable for hiring Helen Richey, the first female commercial pilot in the U.S., became PAL's main competitor after its founding in 1934. The two companies merged into Pennsylvania Central Airlines, or PCA, on November 1, 1936.
Pennsylvania Central Airlines
PCA, based at the new
Allegheny County Airportnear Pittsburgh, continued to add routes, notably to Chicagoin 1938, and aircraft, notably the Douglas DC-3in 1939.
In 1941, PCA moved its headquarters to the new Washington National Airport in
Arlington, Virginia, becoming one of its three original tenants; PCA had been consulted during the airport's design. The row of office buildings adjacent its hangars gained the nickname" mahoganyrow" and the airline adopted the slogan "The Capital Airline," with its aircraft dubbed "Capitaliners." By 1947 its route network no longer reflected its name, and on April 21, 1948the airline adopted a new insignia, colors, and name: Capital Airlines.
In 1946, the airline became the launch customer for the
Douglas DC-4. In 1948 it created the "Nighthawk," the first coach class service, designed to compete with the railroads between Chicago and New York Cityas well as the dominant carriers on the route, United, TWA, and American.
Capital's last decade
In 1948, the first airborne
televisionwas installed on a Capital airplane.
In 1950 Capital Airlines received its first
Lockheed Constellations, enabling it to compete more effectively on longer distance routes. In 1955 it became the first U.S. operator of Vickers Viscounts, the first passenger turboprop. The Viscounts were deployed on the flagship Washington-Chicago route and the airline hoped to use them on expanded service, but they were mostly stymied by the Civil Aeronautics Board.
July 20, 1952, a Capital pilot reported seeing a blue-white ball in the sky. The Unidentified Flying Objectreports caused a sensation in the Washington area.
In the late 1950s, Capital experienced a string of accidents. On
April 6, 1958, Capital Airlines Flight 67stalled and crashed on approach to Saginaw, Michigan, resulting in 49 fatalities. On May 20of the same year, 15 were killed when another Viscount collided with an Air National Guardtraining jet over Maryland. And two accidents occurred on May 12, 1959: a Constellation rolled off the runway and down a mountain in Charleston, West Virginiaand Capital Airlines Flight 75crashed during a thunderstorm near Baltimore. On January 18, 1960 Capital Airlines Flight 20crashed in Virginia.
The airline also encountered labor difficulties. Maintenance personnel went on strike in 1958, crippling operations for 38 days. On
April 1, 1960the New York State Commission Against Discrimination faulted Capital Airlines for failing to hire Patricia Banks, an African-Americanwoman who had been denied employment as a flight attendant despite meeting all job requirements. She became one of only two black flight attendants in the country.
These problems compounded slow revenue growth in the late 1950s, and the airline began to struggle financially. In May 1960, Vickers foreclosed on Capital's entire fleet of Viscounts, and
bankruptcyfor the airline seemed certain. However, on July 28, 1960it announced a merger with Chicago-based rival United Airlines, saving it from that fate. When completed on July 1, 1961it was the largest airline merger in history.
In 1981, former employees formed the Capital Airlines Association to preserve their memories of the old carrier. A retired United Airlines pilot, Milt Marshall, bought the Capital trademark and operated a charter business under the Capital name out of Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut.
In July of 2004 he was transporting a passenger in a Capital Airways Piper Navajo from Waterbury to upstate New York. The plane crashed as it made an approach in clear weather near Lake George. BOth pilot and passenger were killed. Their bodies were mangled and burned in the wreckage. An ammunition clip with two missing rounds was found at the crash scene but no gun was ever found. Many people believe that the passenger, a businessman who was facing both bankruptcy and indictment for fraud and who had attempted to buy a large life insurance policy just prior to the flight, killed the pilot and himself causing the crash. The bodies were so mutilated that no official cause of death was determined and the case was closed. THis marked the last chapter in the tragedy strewn history of Capital Airlines.
* [http://airlines.afriqonline.com/airlines/547.htm Airline History: Capital Airlines]
* Lloyd, Kristin B. [http://oha.ci.alexandria.va.us/oha-main/haq/pdfs/haqwin97.pdf "Flying the Capital Way, Part I"] (PDF), "Historic Alexandria Quarerly", Winter 1997
* Lloyd, Kristin B. [http://oha.ci.alexandria.va.us/oha-main/haq/pdfs/haqspr98.pdf "Flying the Capital Way, Part II"] (PDF), "Historic Alexandria Quarerly", Spring 1998
* [http://www.airtimes.com/cgat/usa/capital.htm AirTimes images of Capital Airlines timetables and route map]
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