One of the issues was Rickenbacker's complete lack of time for the all powerful CAB, which in the days of regulation controlled the award of routes to airlines. Rickenbacker's unwillingness and inability to play the political game meant that Eastern wasn't able to fight off route awards that introduced competition on its network, whilst at the same time it was rarely awarded new routes itself. Rickenbacker was also a miser who ran a very tight ship with no spending on things like customer service.
These issues led Rickenbacker to make the decision to convert half of his fleet (and all his Super Connies) to coach configuration - though dissenters said that Eastern's five abreast L-1049s were already the equivalent of coach. Rickenbacker belatedly realised that Eastern needed to up its game and in 1955 he ordered 20 new DC-7s at a cost of $40 million.
Rickenbacker had been a strong Douglas customer in the past but had never thought much of their DC-6, however his main rival National already had DC-7s and they were beating his L-1049s on the New York-Miami route by fifteen minutes each trip. Eastern's DC-7s were to be known as DC-7Bs which was purely a marketing name at the time. Its usage was contested by both earlier DC-7 operators American and National, however the CAB let it go this time based upon the new interior fit. Interestingly Eastern tried the same trick later with their DC-8s and the CAB was a lot less lenient second time around.
Marketing was something that Rickenbacker traditionally scoffed at and Eastern had built all its previous campaigns on its safety and reliability. Now for the first time they could attempt luxury as Rickenbacker finally listened to his marketing team and allowed an impressive internal blue and gold fit to be designed (with the help of Harley Earl - the head of General Motors styling division).
Eastern went on an enormous equipment binge in the 1950s - almost all of which was for piston L-1049s/DC-7s/CV-440s or turboprop Electras. In total they ordered 50 DC-7s though only 49 were delivered as one, N846D, was written off prior to delivery. The first aircraft, N801D, was delivered in June 1955 and the last, N850D, didn't arrive until May 1958. Though a fine aircraft, albeit one dogged with unreliable engines, the huge DC-7 (and L-1049 fleet, and even the Electras), couldn't compete with pure jets and Eastern found itself badly out of touch with both Delta and National Airlines. Regardless the DC-7s soldiered on into the 1960s with most of the fleet not being disposed of until 1965. The last aircraft was retired in October 1966 (some L-1049s made it into 1968 on the shuttle). They were finally replaced by the plane Eastern had helped design - the Boeing 727.
Most, including N836D, were sold to California Airmotive. Nomads Inc, a Detroit based travel club, bought this aircraft in 1966 but by 1971 it had been replaced by a Lockheed Electra and was parked at Detroit. Joe Kocour, a St. Paul native, founded the Twentieth Century Travel Club and purchased N836D in 1972. For 32 years he kept the aircraft essentially sound and in 2003 it was bought with the idea of restoring it to flying condition. This was finally achieved on 4th July 2010 and the aircraft became a regular at airshows. Following her airworthiness certificate expiring in 2013 she now resides at Charlotte Douglas Airport on display.
Five aircraft were lost in service with Eastern including one in 1964 and two in 1965, however despite the type’s retirement, by late 1966, several aircraft did make it into the New Mark colours and most made it into the Fly Eastern "720" scheme of the early 60s. N823D was sold to ONA in May 1965 with whom she served until 1967. By 1973 she had passed to the Gordon Cooper Travel Club. At some point she was converted to an aerial fire tanker but ironically was destroyed by fire herself in May 1982 at Glendive, Montana whilst owned by Kinney Aviation.
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: