By the end of World War Two the Japanese state had been effectively destroyed by the onslaught of Allied forces, which had obliterated most of the Japanese cities and industry, and reduced the population to near starvation. Nonetheless the successful, if at times controversial, American occupation had created a new Japanese state to which sovereignty could be passed back by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
This allowed Japan to begin its recovery and the 1950s saw the beginning of what has been dubbed the Japanese economic miracle, whereby Japan was able to become the world's 2nd biggest economy by the mid-60s. Obviously this rehabilitation required aviation to play its part and Japan Air Lines (JAL) was formed on August 1, 1951. Services began domestically in October but had to use American pilots and aircraft flown under charter from Northwest Airlines (3 Martin 202s and a DC-4). The destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy's carrier forces at battles like Midway, the Philippine Sea and Okinawa meant that finding Japanese pilots in postwar Japan was far from an easy task.
To operate the new route 5 DC-6A/Bs were on order with the first arriving in January 1953. These were not cheap however especially as to get the type at short notice JAL had to buyout other airline's orders. Maintenance was also to be undertaken by United Airlines until JAL's own staff could be trained.
February 5, 1954 saw the launch of the 'Pacific Courier' service to the West Coast. The DC-6s also enabled a Tokyo-Okinawa route, which was gradually expanded as Japan reconnected with Asia. In 1955 the extension was to Hong Kong, 1956 to Bangkok and in 1958 Singapore.
Almost as soon as international services had begun JAL was looking at new equipment for its primary routes and settled on the pinnacle of piston liner development the Douglas DC-7C. Four aircraft were delivered from December 1957 to April 1958. They helped enable expansion to Taipei in 1959 and a second US destination, Los Angeles. As with all DC-7Cs their front line careers were short as they were merely a stopgap until jets arrived.
Two of the DC-7Cs were converted to freighters in 1961 and replaced the DC-6As on the Tokyo-San Francisco freight service. The rest of the piston liners were transferred to the domestic network when new Convair 880s displaced them from the Asian routes from October 1961. They supplemented the DC-4s and weren't finally replaced until the mid-60s by new 727s. The tri-jets took over the domestic trunk routes from Tokyo-Sapporo, Tokyo-Fukuoka and Tokyo-Osaka-Fukuoka from August 1, 1965. In fact JAL actually acquired an extra DC-7C in late 1962 albeit at the cost of one of its own in a swap deal with SAS. I'm not sure what the reason was behind that.
Despite the acquisition of the Convair 880s JAL's long haul future was firmly grounded in the DC-8 and deliveries of improved series 53s began from March 1963. Twelve series 53/54/55s arrived before new deliveries switched to the super 60 series and the DC-8s would be the foundation of the fleet into the early 1980s.
The growth of JAL's fleet and services in the decade after it was created mirrored the magical rise in Japanese industry that would send the country to the pinnacle of economic measures. It was a startling recovery for what had been a broken country and was empowered with the use of Douglas aircraft. As Douglas themselves used to say you can 'Go Further with Douglas'.
Airplane Issue 17. Orbis Publishing, 1992
Japan Air Lines Company History. Fundinguniverse.com
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: