Mohawk Airlines has always been one of my favourite airlines. It achieved a lot with little and its Indian head motif, although nowadays politically incorrect, was evocative and stylish. The airline's history can't be untwined from the brilliant, but ultimately tragic, leadership of Robert "Bob" English Peach - clearly one of the most impressive figures in aviation in the 1950s and 60s. It was towards the end of Mohawk's existence that the airline rebranded, introducing a radically more modern image.
The 'Route of the Air Chiefs' was created to serve the New York state area under the name Robinson Airlines in 1945. In 1948 Bob Peach, became general manager (he was formerly a pilot) and in 1954 President. By then the carrier had been renamed Mohawk Airlines, since it served major cities in the Mohawk valley.
The airline achieved many firsts and under Peach's leadership grew impressively so that by the end of 1960 470,000 passengers were being carried annually using a mix of Convair 240s and 440s as well as the ubiquitous DC-3s.
Mohawk was the first local service airline to acquire jet equipment when Peach successfully fought his board and the CAB to acquire British BAC One-Elevens. The jets were introduced a year before any other local service airline got pure jets, on July 15, 1965. They were a massive success and proved Mohawk's doubters wrong when they enabled a 27% increase in passengers during the first quarter of 1966.
The fleet was almost completely renewed with Fairchild Hiller FH-227s and more One-Elevens, replacing almost all the Convairs. Despite the growth, there were 8 One-Elevens in service by the end of 1966, the airline was still profitable, but by 1968 things weren't as rosy.
Mohawk suffered from a perfect storm of events - some out of its control. There was a two month Air Traffic Controller Strike in 1968 and also strikes at General Electric - an employer of tens of thousands in upstate New York and a major driver of travel demand. The economy in general was in a malaise. Losses amounted to $3.3 million in 1968 and $5 million in 1969.
The airline had grown its reach substantially by this point with the CAB granting authority to serve major cities like Washington D.C, Philadelphia, Chicago and Minneapolis. This led to competition with the majors but Mohawk's black and gold One-Elevens competed well.
Peach had become board chairman and CEO in 1968 but he was suffering personal and medical problems and stood down in early 1970. It appears to be a decision he would regret as although he remained on the board he lost the control he once had.
Above: Buckskin timetables from the superlative timetableimages.com
It was towards the end of 1970 that the carrier optimistically introduced a new corporate image. Gone was the Indian Chief replaced with a new arrowhead on the tail and tan and orange colours. The scheme was called the "Buckskin" but the airline's travails meant it was only applied to four aircraft.
The four Buckskin jets were a trio of ex-Braniff BAC One-Elevens, acquired on lease in September 1970, plus N1120J. By this point the fleet stood at 23 One-Elevens and 16 Fairchild Hiller FH-227Bs.
Peach had previously had a somewhat difficult relationship with unions and the airline had experienced strikes before. These would be nothing though compared to what the airline would experience in November 1970 when the entire pool of pilots walked off the job. Their issue was related to Mohawk setting up a Mohawk commuter service using small airlines. The pilots' union ALPA didn't like the idea of replacing union personnel with non-union. It didn't help that there had already been ongoing pay disputes which led to them having not had a contract for over a year already.
The board's refusal to accept a 'scope clause' led to the strike but it appears it had been coming for a while. The company laid off almost its entire staff and was closed down until April 1st! The result was devastating, not only on the airline's profits (although joining the Mutual Aid Pact helped) but on the airline's soul too.
By this time the airline was in negotiations with lenders and other airlines. A non-cash agreement was reached with fellow local service airline Allegheny Airlines whereby shareholders would be compensated with Allegheny stock. Allegheny would takeover the fleet and routes, and replace most executive roles. The board felt they had little choice as they wouldn't be able to restructure the airline's huge debts without losing control and voiding the current shareholder's stock.
Bob Peach disagreed. He walked out of the board meeting that voted on the takeover on April 5th and 9 days later resigned from the board. He had built the airline into one of the most successful and well thought of US carriers and couldn't take it. On April 20 he killed himself with a shotgun at his home. He was only 51.
Ultimately the merger went through in April 1972 but during its last year Mohawk showed that it could still succeed. It recorded a profit of $3 million and paid off $3 million of debt. Allegheny didn't need to advance the $4 million working capital it had expected to and by the time of the merger Mohawk had twice the cash it was expected to.
With the takeover imminent no further aircraft were painted into the Buckskin and instead the fleet gained Allegheny Airlines stickers. It was a valiant if bittersweet end to a proud airline, but at least the majority of its employees would retain their jobs under Allegheny and the One-Elevens would once again prove their worth under the new carrier.
Erickson C & Proctor, J. Mohawk Airlines: Route of the Air Chiefs. Airliners No: 50
Mohawk Airlines fleet. Aeromoes
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: