Despite introducing 727s and swallowing several smaller Alaskan operators, the early 1970s was another difficult time for Alaska Airlines, which had been leading a hand to mouth existence for many years.
The crash of a 727 in late 1971 only piled on the pressure further and by 1972 the airline owed $22 million to its creditors. Finally, president and chief executive officer Charles "Chuck" Willis was deposed in 1972 by the airline's board and replaced by Ronald F. Cosgrave, a board member who had gotten his start in business providing Alaskans with mobile homes. He would see an overhaul of Alaska's poor image including its livery.
When Cosgrave tookover Alaska in 1972 the airline was in dire straits and this necessitated the cutting of flights and staff and the closure of the entire cargo division. The airline was also known unflatteringly as 'Elastic Airlines' due to its poor schedule keeping. As soon as 1973 however things had improved and a small profit was made.
The Willis era Golden Nugget was retired and replaced by the Alaskana Graphics - one of the first attempts to have a different scheme in a similar style (as pioneered by Braniff and later tried by BA, Mexicana, JetBlue and others). As it happens however the Alaskana graphics had actually been designed prior to Cosgrave's ascendancy and had been the idea of Willis and his marketing man Bob Giersdorf.
There were four variants highlighting four different Alaskan themes:
The scheme was designed by Vic Warren a graphic artist from Seattle and I really like the four variants. The original Eskimo had no smile and looked kind of stern though. This scheme lasted until 1976 when the airline standardised on the Eskimo who gained his smile at the same time! It simply didn't make much sense to have a variety of liveries with such a small fleet.
As well as the small fleet of 727s (four in 1974 with two more arriving in 1975) several other types wore the Alaskana graphics too including Grumman Goose and Boeing 707:
At least one Convair-liner (N81237) also wore the Prospector scheme too and several 720s wore non-standard versions:
I really like the Alaskana graphics and think they'd make very impressive retrojets on some 737-900s!
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: