Most of the local service airlines when thinking about their turboprop needs into the late 1960s/early 1970s were looking at the re-engining of their existing Convair 240/340/440 fleets to create xx powered CV-640s or Allison powered CV-580s. The CV-580 conversion especially created a powerful and capable, not to mention robust, aircraft but the CV-580 usually seated from 48-52 passengers and was a little on the small side for Piedmont's needs. Piedmont had a presence at slot restricted Washington National that meant it required greater capacity plus of course unlike most of the other local service airlines Piedmont had no existing fleet of Convairs from which it could source frames to be upgraded.
In addition Piedmont had already decided to replace its F-27s with the larger Fairchild Hiller FH-227B and the CV-580 offered no commonality with the FH-227B's Rolls-Royce Dart engines. The Dart engine was also more fuel efficient than the Allisons on the CV-580. Piedmont's 10 FH-227s arrived from November 1966 to August 1968 and provided extra capacity over the F-27s they replaced, but they could not operate into all the short field destinations (like Bluefield and Beckley, WV, Hot Springs, VA, London-Corbin, KY and Rocky Mount, NC) that the Martins could so were not a suitable 404 replacement.
The NAMC YS-11 could operate into the short strip fields the Martins used and at the same time and carried a greater passenger load. The YS-11 programme was an amazing feat for Japan in the 1950s and rife with issues especially from an international sales perspective. For example no English language promotional material or manuals were initially produced! That Piedmont saw the value in the aircraft was a major leap of faith by them and an impressive victory for NAMC. Though the YS-11 programme itself remains controversial for Piedmont the aircraft would do everything they needed of it.
Piedmont placed an order for 10 NAMC YS-11s, with ten further options, on August 24, 1967 at a cost of $22.5 million including spares, ground equipment and training. By that time the Piedmont fleet stood at 10 FH-227Bs, 32 Martin 404s and a single Boeing 727-100. There were 6 737s on order.
The first YS-11 entered scheduled service on May 19, 1968. Piedmont's YS-11s were initially delivered in a 2x2 configuration to seat 60 passengers using the same seats as on the FH-227Bs. The original seats offered, and used for the Japanese market, were too slim for American passengers. Seating was reduced to 58 with the installation of a forward coat closet. Piedmont would eventually acquire 19 YS-11s up to February 1970 with a further pair that had seen service in Peru joining in 1975.
The YS-11s were popular with pilots but less so with flight attendants due to the air conditioning units, which were never very successful and made the aircraft freezing in the winter and boiling in summer. The aircraft was also impacted by turbulence over both the mountainous terrain of the North and down in the hot South. During their Piedmont service the type acquired many nicknames, some less politically correct than others. Rice Rocket, Weed Eater and Yokohama Mama were but three.
The YS-11s gave good service to Piedmont for 14 years during which it changed from a well run if conservative local service airline into a deregulation darling aggressively expanding its services. With increasing numbers of 737s joing the fleet and shorter services being dropped the YS-11s were no longer suitable and the last, N259P 'Shenandoah Valley Pacemaker', was retired on March 14, 1982. As pilot Ted Restel, manager of YS-11 training, said at the time:
"It did what it was designed to do - carry out heavy loads from mountainous airports with short runways and in all kinds of weather."
1967. YS-11 Breaks Into US Market. Flight Global
1982. YS11 Takes Its Last Flight for Piedmont. Washington Post
1982. Rugged, dependable YS-11 Retires from Piedmont Duty. The Up-and-Coming Airline
Eller, R. Piedmont Airlines: A Complete History, 1948-1989. McFarland, 2008.
Lehman, W. US AIrways. Arcadia Publishing, 2013
2013. A few questions about the YS-11. Airliners.net
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: