By William Lehman - US Airways Flight Attendant
Founded in 1937, Allegheny Airlines started its life as All-American Airways. Like several other airlines, it began by carrying airmail for the United States Post Office. All-American started airmail service on March 12, 1939, using the single-engine Stinson Reliant aircraft serving several small communities in western Pennsylvania and the Ohio valley. All-American crafted a unique tail-hook, which hung beneath the aircraft to pick up the cloth mail bags, using the same techniques that the railroads had developed in the late 19th century.
After the end of World War II, with a huge surplus of military aircraft that could quickly be converted to carry passengers, the Civil Aeronautics Board started getting swamped with applications from the airmail carriers to be allowed to carry passengers.
All-American was no exception, which was now designated as a local-service airline. The C.A.B. issued All-American a three-year temporary certificate to carry passengers in January 1949; however, passenger service did not begin until March 7, 1949, using a recently acquired Douglas DC-3 which was configured to carry 24 passengers, 2 pilots, and a stewardess. The C.A.B.’s authority for All-American covered Maryland, New York, Ohio, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania.
Already, as of November 1949, All-American was flying 28 flights a day to 36 cities in six states. All-American decided that Pittsburgh would be a good home base for this local-service carrier, which was becoming one of aviation’s early success stories thanks to a route system centered around heavy industry and the East Coast, which was the most densely populated part of the United States. At the time, because of where All-American flew, passengers and employees alike starting calling it “the Allegheny Airline” or “Route of the Allegheny’s.”
On January 1, 1953, All-American officially became Allegheny Airlines, with 13 DC-3’s making up the fleet. As the 1950’s marched on, Allegheny’s growth continued, but the DC-3’s were limited in range. Allegheny needed another type of aircraft that was capable of flying farther. At the same time, two airlines – California Central and Pioneer Airlines – put several used Martin 202 aircraft that had flown earlier for TWA and Northwest Orient Airlines up for sale. Acquiring the Martin 202’s became the focus of Allegheny’s expansion plans.
The first Martin 202 began service with Allegheny on June 1, 1955. The Martin 202, like the DC-3, was unpressurized, but the “Martin Executive,” as they were called, quickly became a favorite among businessmen. On January 1, 1956, Allegheny was issued a permanent certificate to carry passengers by the C.A.B. By now, Allegheny had expanded to sixty cities with a fleet of 14 DC-3’s and 5 Martin 202’s; the airline was so happy with the performance and range of the Martin 202 that it would eventually acquire and operate a total fleet of 18 aircraft.
Toward the end of the 1950’s, several local-service airlines needed to move beyond the piston airplanes that had faithfully and safely carried thousands of passengers to the more powerful and reliable turbo-props, and Allegheny Airlines was no exception.
Earlier, Convair Aircraft Corporation of San Diego had produced the popular Convair 340 and Convair 440 aircraft. Due to the arrival of the Lockheed Electra plus the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707 jet aircraft, several Convairs were being parked and stored in the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona. The Napier Engine Company in England recognized this as an opportunity and immediately began work on converting the reciprocal piston engines to turbo-props for the Convair aircraft. Allegheny management quickly seized this opportunity and leased the aircraft now called the Convair 540, which began service with the carrier on July 1, 1959. Allegheny leadership realized that the Convair 540 was the right choice for replacing the DC-3’s. The Convair 540’s were pressurized, a first for Allegheny, carried 44 passengers, flew faster, at greater attitudes, and had higher daily utilization than the DC-3’s and the Martin 202’s.
Allegheny had decided that it was time to start retiring the DC-3’s and Martin 202’s as they were starting to show their age, so an aggressive program to acquire more Convair 340 and 440 aircraft was started with eventual plans to convert all aircraft to Convair 540 standards with the turbo-prop conversion. At the same time the Board of Directors for Allegheny decided to change the corporate logo from a “boomerang” to the “speed wedge,” which would stay with Allegheny well into the 1970’s. In addition the operations and maintenance base was moved from Washington National Airport in Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh.
However, across the pond in England, Rolls Royce acquired Napier Engine Company. Immediately, Rolls Royce decided they would discontinue the conversion program after only seven aircraft had been delivered to Allegheny. This forced Allegheny to convert some of the Convair 540’s back to piston-driven Convair 340 or 440’s. At the same time Allegheny acquired additional Martin 202’s and Convair 440’s so that the DC-3’s could be phased out and removed from the fleet.
In 1965, United States-based Allison Engine Corporation, which had been already providing turbo-prop engines for the Lockheed Electra and military C-130 aircraft, offered the power plant for retrofitting existing Convair airframes. Called the Convair 580, it had powerful four-blade turbo-prop engines that quickly shaved minutes off of the piston driven Convair 340 and 440’s. The Convair 580 captured the attention of Allegheny management in Pittsburgh. Without hesitation, Allegheny added this “new” turboprop to the fleet. Allegheny would eventually operate 44 Convair 580 “vistaliner” aircraft.
Later that same year, Allegheny also acquired the first of ten brand new Fairchild F-27J aircraft. With its Rolls Royce Dart turbo-prop-powered engines, high wing, and large oval windows, it was an instant hit with passengers and crews. With the introduction of the F-27 Allegheny started retiring the Martin 202 aircraft. Three Martin 202’s would be reconfigured to carry freight aircraft only.
Allegheny Airlines knew that the jet age had arrived for local-service carriers. West Coast-based Bonanza Airlines needed to lease out a Douglas DC-9 series 14 aircraft that had been recently delivered to them due to a downturn in traffic. Allegheny entered into a one-year lease agreement with Bonanza with the first Allegheny jet flight taking place on September 1, 1966. Allegheny would receive their first DC-9 series 30 “vista-jets” in mid 1967 and immediately place the aircraft into service. This would be the first of more than 70 of the popular twinjet and the start of a long and positive relationship with Douglas and its successor McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation.
In September 1967, Allegheny retired the last of the piston powered Convair 440 aircraft. For the first time, Allegheny operated a pure turbo-prop and jet aircraft fleet, made up of Convair 580’s, Fairchild F-27’s, and Douglas DC-9’s.
The first of what would be several mergers occurred on March 14, 1968, when the Civil Aeronautics Board approved the acquisition of Lake Central Airlines by Allegheny. (Lake Central will be featured in a future article) Allegheny was able to further expand the route system and with the merger pick up important new cities in Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois. The merger also brought more Convair 580’s, plus a new type of aircraft not previously flown by Allegheny called the Nord 262 aircraft. The twelve 29-seat French built Nord 262’s would become a huge headache for Allegheny Operations and Maintenance personnel, due to continuous issues with the Turbomeca Bastan turbo-prop engines that then proved to be very unreliable. Eventually Frakes Aviation in the United States would work to convert the engines to the much more reliable Pratt & Whitney PT-6 engines to finally solve the problem. At the same time the Nord 262 was renamed the Mohawk 298. Allegheny made a bold experiment with Mohawk 298 aircraft by repainting nine of the twelve aircraft in a purple and gold paint scheme and naming them after flight attendants. The plan was to promote a business atmosphere with select wine and cheese on flights targeting the business community. While this did not last long it did prove to be very popular with passengers. The Mohawk 298 would go on to faithfully serve Allegheny and the spin-off of the nations first organized commuter feeder to mainline airlines called Allegheny Commuter.
After the merger with Mohawk Airlines, and with the final phase-out of the Martin 202 aircraft, Allegheny found that several cities could not support the larger turbo-prop and jet aircraft due to either small populations or small airports. In 1967, with approval from the C.A.B. the Allegheny Commuter network was set-up. Allegheny Airlines set up marketing agreements with several small commuter airlines that included one-stop check in and seamless travel from the commuter network to mainline Allegheny flights. This included painting aircraft similar to Allegheny as well as providing advertising and marketing.
By mid 1970 Allegheny purchased two brand new Boeing 727-200 aircraft to add capacity to the fleet. However, with the addition of a Flight Engineer, and the high cost of maintaining just two aircraft, Allegheny sold both aircraft to Braniff International as the home office had decided to stay with the twin jet DC-9 and found other airlines willing to lease their DC-9 series 30 aircraft at very reasonable lease rates.
The second merger with Mohawk Airlines (Mohawk Airlines will also be featured in a future article) was approved by the C.A.B. on April 12, 1972. In the merger Mohawk brought to Allegheny twenty-three BAC-One Eleven’s and seventeen Fairchild-Hiller –FH-227. At the time Mohawk was in deep financial trouble and needed the merger to survive. Shortly after the merger was approved, Allegheny purchased additional BAC One-Eleven aircraft from Braniff International, which was phasing out that aircraft type.
By late 1973, Allegheny had continued to grow to become the sixth largest airline. Allegheny leadership continued to aggressively pursue new route opportunities and had a constant presence in Washington D.C. to push for more cities to be added to Allegheny’s network. At the same time, Allegheny was able to purchase additional DC-9 series 30’s from Delta Airlines, which had earlier merged with Northeast Airlines.
By 1974 Allegheny decided that a new paint scheme and rebranding was in order. The current paint scheme was worn out and dated. Gone was the speed-wedge and blue cheatline that had faithfully served Allegheny for over thirty years. The bold new paint scheme featured a large stripe that went from red at the nose to maroon by the tail, with a three-stripe tail in bright red, dark red, and maroon. At the same time, while other airlines were introducing First Class on their DC-9’s, Allegheny decided against it. Instead, Allegheny used the “Custom Jet Class” to promote the all-coach configuration with new interiors that provided ample legroom with new seats, and overhead bins to give the aircraft a “wide-body” look.
The new look premiered with a new aircraft type: the DC-9 series 50 aircraft in 1975. This new airplane provided more capacity, and kept costs down as it was simply a stretch of the DC-9 series 30 aircraft. Allegheny thought this would achieve the balance in higher density markets that had been tried five years earlier with Boeing 727-200’s. However, shortly after delivery of eight aircraft, the DC-9 series 50 was severely weight-restricted in several key Allegheny markets. What was originally thought would be a benefit was now another headache; reduced passenger capacity, and less ability to carry mail or airfreight made the aircraft too expensive for Allegheny’s needs.
Allegheny and Eastern Airlines entered into an agreement to swap Allegheny’s DC-9-50’s for an equal amount of Eastern’s DC-9-30’s. The final transaction was completed in 1978.
Also in 1978, Allegheny phased out the last Convair 580. While the Convair 580 continued to serve the airline well, a decision was made to have a pure jet fleet and have Allegheny Commuter continue to operate the 580’s. Allegheny was now a pure-jet airline flying BAC One- Eleven and DC-9 series 30 aircraft, with the exception of the 12 Mohawk 298’s.
Allegheny continued to push the C.A.B. for more routes in the midwest and west. While frustration was mounting over lengthy hearings and long delays in being awarded new routes or raising airfares, the mood in Washington D.C. was changing. Airlines such as Texas International, Ozark, Piedmont, Hughes Airwest, and Allegheny called for the end of a regulated market, and lobbied heavily for full deregulation of the airline industry.
In late 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the “deregulation act,” which would forever change the industry. Allegheny no longer needed permission or approval to start or stop service and for the first time could set its own fare structure.
As deregulation marched forward United Airlines starting parking older Boeing 727-100 aircraft. Allegheny acquired eleven of the popular tri-jet, while at the same time aggressively ordering additional DC-9-30’s from McDonnell Douglas and new 727-200s from Boeing.
At the same time, then Chairman and President Ed Colodny decided the name Allegheny Airlines sounded too regional, especially with planned expansion to the west, which had been a long-time goal of Allegheny. After receiving board approval, Mr. Colodny announced to the world that Allegheny Airlines would become US Air on October 28, 1979. The new US Air would retain the Allegheny paint scheme, and proudly have the new name placed on the upper forward fuselage and tail. However, the white fuselage would give way to a polished aluminum aircraft, which would weigh less, and save money, a technique used successfully for many years at American Airlines. For US Air, this was just another chapter in the story of a great airline.
The Allegheny Airlines Fleet:
Douglas DC-3 24 -- 1953-1966
Martin 202 5 -- 1959-1963
Convair 340 17 -- 1960-1967
Douglas DC-3 11 -- 1948-1962
Convair 440 27 -- 1962-1974
Convair 580 40 -- 1965-1978
Fairchild F-27/Fairchild-Hiller FH-227 27 -- 1965-1974
Nord 262 13 -- 1968-1977
Mohawk 298 9 -- 1975-1979
Douglas DC-9-14 1 -- 1965-1966
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 70 -- 1966-1979
Boeing 727-100 11 -- 1978-1979
Boeing 727-200 2 -- 1970-1971
BAC One-Eleven 31 -- 1972-1979
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