In almost every respect Pan Am was a picture of conservatism. This was most visible in their livery which since 1958 had featured the Globe on the tail and had stayed virtually unchanged throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The introduction of the 747 had seen the Pan American name shortened to Pan Am however the rest of the livery was unaltered and didn't fit the 747 well with the tiny titles. In 1976 this had been rectified with larger titling and a modified slanting flag however it was still effectively the same scheme introduced on the first 707s. Into the 1980s and it was finally time for a change...
Rarely has a single aircraft been so famous and at the same time so notorious as the Pan Am 747-121 N736PA 'Clipper Victor'. No other airline has done so much to change long-haul aviation as Pan Am however in the swansong of his career Juan Trippe bit off more than his airline could chew with the Jumbo. In April 1966 Pan Am placed an order for twenty five 747s at a cost of the staggering sum of $525 million. The huge debt this created for Pan Am was something that exposed the airline when the expected growth in passenger numbers failed to arise and the Oil Crisis struck. And so began the long decline of the world's greatest international airline.
Pan Am hedged their bets with their first jetliners ordering 20 B707s and 25 DC-8s on the same day in October 1955. Boeing’s willingness to widen the 707 fuselage and offer the stretched 707-320 successfully countered the Douglas product and subsequently Pan Am ordered a huge number of 707s whilst only taking nineteen of their DC-8 order (several went to their Brasilian airline Panair). The first DC-8 eventually arrived in February 1960, more than fourteen months after the first 707 deliveries.
Pan Am had been on a long downward slide since the early 70s and by 1985 it was in a right mess. It had managed to lose $762 million between 1980 and 1985, including a whopping $206.8 million in 1984 alone. Huge debt from overspending on 747s, inefficient operations, an aging fleet , the disastrous National takeover and industrial action had all contributed.
United Airlines on the other hand was on the up having recorded sizeable profits in both 1983 and 1984. It had long desired an expanded international network and was in a good position to take advantage of Pan Am's weakness.
National Airlines was a well run Trunk airline during the 1970s and like Continental built its fleet around two types in that decade - the DC-10 and 727. In 1970 National gained the rights to service Europe and opened a Miami-London route, initially with 747s. European services expanded and the 747s were gradually replaced by the long-range DC-10-30 – National already being a DC-10-10 customer since 1971.
Pan Am's dalliance with widebody three-holers isn't an entirely happy one (in keeping with the airline's general malaise of its last 15 years or so). First up in 1978 PA caused some consternation by ordering 12 of Lockheed's rather desperate shortened Tristar the series 500.
Now Delta had never been much interested in the Connie itself having been a loyal Douglas customer and having opted for the DC-6, DC-7 and DC-7B. However the 1953 takeover of Chicago & Southern (see http://www.diecastaircraftforum.com/...air-lines.html ) saw Delta receive six L-749As from C&S. Not fitting with Delta's fleet they were disposed of in under a year.
Soon afterwards however the airline had the need for aircraft to operate new vacation package coach services and the Connie was ideal.
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: