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.
At the end of the 60s the age of the widebody was fast approaching and all the major US airlines went on a new equipment binge. The 747 was the first new widebody and everyone had to have some or suffer the consequences of being left behind.
In the end the attempts to digest the new 747s along, with the oil crisis, was almost terminal for several of the majors. Unable to fill such a large aircraft they were forced to operate piano lounges, multiple bars and other ideas to fill up empty room. Eastern Air Lines however made a better decision than most.
In late 1959 Malcolm MacIntyre became CEO and President of Eastern. By April 1960 it was an airline with 17,800 employees and a huge fleet of piston engine propliners, including 48 DC-7Bs, 38 L-1049s, 18 L-749s, 7 DC-6Bs, 20 CV-440s and 56 Martin 404s as well as 40 turboprop L-188 Electras and 4 DC-8 jets. MacIntyre would go on to have many battles with Eastern's dominant personality, Eddie Rickenbacker, but amongst his many challenges was what to do with such a diverse fleet. The L-1049s were a particular issue.
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: