Jumbo Stopgap: Eastern's 747s
At the end of the 60s the age of the widebody was fast approaching and all the major US airlines were on a new equipment binge. The 747 was the first new widebody and everyone felt they had to have some or suffer the consequences of being left behind. In fact all the trunk airlines operated Jumbos (except for Northeast and Western) although, considering only Pan Am, Northwest and TWA had international routes, they mostly lacked sensible ways to utilise them. Eastern, unusually, went down a more considered path than everyone else but still ended up with 747s for a time.
Earning Their Wings: Eastern 757s
Eastern struggled through the deregulation era, even prior to the Lorenzo led Texas Air takeover, however one of the few bright spots for EAL was the acquisition of the new Boeing 757-200, which proved itself a fine acquisition to the fleet right up until the airline’s final closure. Even so, despite the need for the type the introduction of the 757s coincided with the period that marked the beginning of the end of the 'Great Silver Fleet'.
By the 1970s it had been years since the US majors had bought any foreign aircraft and the new Airbus consortium was struggling to sell its A300 to anybody, let alone the Americans. Eastern, cash-strapped and inefficient, needed a new aircraft and it was Frank Borman's airline that would give Airbus the opportunity that perhaps more than any allowed it to be taken seriously on the world stage.
Nowadays if you are an airline operating within the US domestic market and you wish to serve a route pair you simply do just that, after relatively little fuss and bother, but prior to 1978, when the US market was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Bureau (CAB), starting new routes was a marathon process. Indeed, most of the time getting permission to start a new route, especially if there was any competition involved, was a non-starter. Whence the regulated period threw up a selection of idiosyncratic practices that made sense then but look a bit weird today. One of these was the concept of interchange services.
Eddie Rickenbacker was a strong and decisive leader but also a frugal and dictatorial one. He often focused on cost savings and operational reliability over customer service and marketing. The example of Eastern's purchase of its first pure jets is a great example of these aspects of Rickenbacker's Eastern, whereby the airline got a better financial deal but at a price in other areas that could hardly be justified.
The Douglas DC-4 originated from the unrelated first DC-4 (which was renamed the DC-4E) that had proved too complicated and lacking in performance prior to World War Two. The advent of the war interrupted the new DC-4s use as a commercial airliner and after the first prototype was constructed nearly 1,170 came off the production lines for the military in a large number of variants. The basic types were named the C-54 Skymaster (for the USAAF) and the R5D (for the US Navy).
In the late 1940s the first batch of DC-3 replacement aircraft were coming onto the scene. With Lockheed and Douglas pre-occupied by their long-haul types the main competition in the USA was between the Glenn L. Martin company's Martin 2-0-2 and Convair's CV-240. The unpressurised Martin got into service first, in 1947, but was soundly beaten by the pressurised Convair. Only 47 2-0-2s were sold and the type quickly became a disaster when design problems caused major structural failings in the wings (which were literally torn off). The 2-0-2s issues left Eddie Rickenbacker's Eastern in serious trouble since it had invested $11 million in its development. Rickenbacker rallied and found a way to save Martin from collapse whilst enabling them to redevelop the 2-0-2.
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: