By mid-1950 Braniff had acquired permission from the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to compete head to head with Pan Am and the Grace Shipping Company's airline Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) on long-haul services to destinations as far south as Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. This direct competition was far cry from the sedate anti-competitive nature of domestic US services and necessitated the best levels of service and equipment. At the same time it also created serious enmity between the two airlines.
Braniff's route stretched from Dallas to Buenos Aires or Rio via Houston, Havana, Panama, Guayaquil, Lima, La Paz and Asuncion. By October 1951 departures were daily - three times weekly to Argentina and four times weekly to Rio. Braniff's equipment was initially the same as Panagra's, Douglas DC-6s but this changed in late 1956.
Panagra itself was not idle. It had already in 1955 enraged its co-owner, Pan Am's Juane Trippe, by initiating a thru-plane interchange agreement with National to New York from Miami connecting with its own long-haul services. In June 1955 it introduced a new type of its own, the Douglas DC-7B, to operate its luxurious all first class 'Interamericano' services and became the first airline to operate the type between the USA and Argentina. Indeed Panagra had been a pioneering trendsetter for many years and would go onto be the first to operate the DC-8 to South America also. Braniff countered the Panagra inter-change with its own using National's rival Eastern Air Lines from Miami to New York.
Panagra's DC-7Bs were registered N51700-51704 and replaced the standard DC-6s - three of which were leased to Pan Am from 1956-1958. Braniff fought back, going one better by introducing the ultimate piston-liner. It became the first airline to use the new DC-7C in scheduled commercial service in the USA on October 20, 1956. The Douglas prop-liner began its service life on routes between Texas and New York and Texas and Chicago, however they were bought not for domestic services but to operate on Braniff's hard won Latin American network.
The DC-7C in Braniff service was known as the 'El Dorado' (it's DC-6s operated the tourist class El'Conquistador). The DC-7C introduced titanium in civil aircraft construction for the first time and also was equipped with a Bendix C-Band weather radar. As importantly the 10 foot increased wingspan on the Seven Seas over the standard DC-7B significantly increased range (through increased fuel load) and improved take-off performance - especially important from hot and high destinations like La Paz.
The seven aircraft delivered to Braniff were registered N5900-5906 and arrived over the course of eight months from September 1956 until May 1957. Unfortunately one of the aircraft, N5904, was lost after less than a year's service when she crashed on take-off from Miami on a schedule to Panama. The Wright engines of the DC-7C were always temperamental and on this occassion a fire in the no 3 engine forced the crew to attempt a return to the field. Sadly the aircraft didn't make it and lost control in a right turn, crashing into marshland killing 9 passengers of the 24 aboard. The crash was put down to pilot error caused by his pre-occupation with the fire.
"The word came down, "do not co-operate in anyway." One night a Braniff DC-7 was coming in to Guayaquil and the Panagra senior operations man took the instructions literally and he would not let the tower turn on the runway lights. The weather was bad and Braniff ended up landing in Talara, Peru. The Ecuadorians owned the airport and Braniff protested to the Ecuadorian Aviation Authority, who informed Panagra that the next time this happened; they would send the army to turn the lights on."
In Mexico Pan American put construction equipment on the runway after their flight departed so Braniff couldn't land!
N51700 actually found herself being used as a Steak House restaurant well into the 1980s located near Interstate 75 near Byron, Georgia. She was known as the DC-7 Steak House but appears to have been broken up in late 1989.
DuBois, Arthur W. Behind the Facade and A Peek at Panagra
Oct 1956. Chicago Tribune. Braniff Puts New DC-7C Into Service
Sept 2009. Braniff DC-7Cs mid-1960s. Airliners.net
JPB Transportation Blog: The Pan Am Series – Part XXIII: Panagra
Aviation Safety.net - N5904
Aviation Safety.net - N5905
Timetable images are as always from the excellent http://www.timetableimages.com