Capital Airlines was an airline serving the eastern United States that merged into United Airlines in 1961. Their primary hubs were National Airport near Washington, D.C., and Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh. In the 1950s they were the largest US domestic carrier by passenger count (and sometimes by passenger-miles) after the Big Four (American, United, TWA, and Eastern). Their headquarters was in Washington, D.C.
- 1 History
- 2 Destinations in 1961
- 3 Fleet in 1961
- 4 Accidents and incidents
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
- 8 External links
Clifford A. Ball, a McKeesport, Pennsylvania, automobile dealer and owner of a controlling interest in Bettis Field near Pittsburgh, won airmail contract route No. 11 on March 27, 1926. In April of the following year, The Clifford Ball Airline began operating between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Famed humorist and performer Will Rogers was known to be an early and regular passenger, but scheduled passenger service did not begin until April 28, 1928. The following August, they became the first airline to serve Washington, DC, from the west, offering their flagship "Path of the Eagle" service from Cleveland to Hoover Field across the Potomac River.
Ball sold his interests in November 1930 to Pittsburgh Aviation Industries Corp., and the airline became Pennsylvania Air Lines (PAL). PAL was reorganized as Pennsylvania Airlines after the Air Mail scandal of the early 1930s. Central Airlines, otherwise notable for hiring Helen Richey, the first female commercial pilot in the U.S., became PAL's main competitor after their founding in 1934. The two companies merged to form Pennsylvania Central Airlines, or PCA, on November 1, 1936.
Pennsylvania Central Airlines
In 1941 PCA moved their headquarters to the new Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, becoming one of its three original tenants; PCA had been consulted during the airport's design. The row of office buildings next to its hangars became "mahogany row" and the airline adopted the slogan "The Capital Airline," with its aircraft dubbed "Capitaliners." By 1947 their route network no longer reflected their name, and on April 21, 1948, the airline adopted a new insignia, colors and name: Capital Airlines.
In 1946 PCA began flying the Douglas DC-4. In 1948 they created the "Nighthawk," one of the first coach class services, to compete with the railroads between Chicago and New York City and the dominant airlines on the route, United, TWA and American.
Capital's last decade
In 1948 the first airborne television was installed on a Capital airplane.
In 1950 Capital Airlines received their first Lockheed Constellations. In 1955 they became the first U.S. operator of Vickers Viscounts, the first passenger turboprop. The Viscounts were deployed on the flagship Washington-Chicago route and the airline hoped to use them on expanded service, but they were mostly stymied by the Civil Aeronautics Board.
The airline also encountered labor difficulties. Maintenance personnel went on strike in 1958, crippling operations for 38 days. On April 1, 1960, the New York State Commission Against Discrimination faulted Capital Airlines for failing to hire Patricia Banks, an African-American woman who had been denied employment as a flight attendant despite meeting all job requirements. She became one of only two black flight attendants in the country.
These problems compounded slow revenue growth in the late 1950s, and the airline began to struggle financially. In May 1960, Vickers foreclosed on Capital's entire fleet of Viscounts, and bankruptcy for the airline seemed certain. However, on July 28, 1960, they announced a merger with Chicago-based rival United Airlines, saving them from that fate. When completed on June 1, 1961, it was the largest airline merger in history. United continued to operate the British-built Viscounts that had been flown by Capital. In 1961 Capital had begun operating new Boeing 720s owned by United. The cover of the airline's June 1, 1961 timetable proclaimed: New Boeing 720 Jets New York - Atlanta - New Orleans: 2 Round Trips Daily.
In 1981 former employees formed the Capital Airlines Association to preserve their memories of the old carrier. A retired United Airlines pilot, Milt Marshall, bought the Capital trademark and operated a charter business under the Capital name out of Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut.
In a bizarre final chapter to the brand's story, in July 2004 Capt. Marshall was transporting a passenger in a Capital Airways Piper PA-31 Navajo from Waterbury to upstate New York. The plane crashed as it made an approach in clear weather near Lake George. Both pilot and passenger were killed. Their bodies were mangled and burned in the wreckage. A pistol magazine with two missing rounds was found at the crash scene but no gun was ever found. Many people believe that the passenger, a businessman who was facing both bankruptcy and indictment for fraud and who had attempted to buy a large life insurance policy just prior to the flight, killed the pilot and himself causing the crash. The bodies were so mutilated that no official cause of death was determined and the case was closed. This marked the last chapter in the tragedy strewn history of Capital Airlines.
Destinations in 1961
The following destination information is taken from the June 1, 1961 Capital Airlines timetable:
- St. Petersburg
- West Palm Beach
- Fort Lauderdale
- New Orleans
- Grand Rapids
- Saginaw/Bay City/Midland
- Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Newark - Newark Airport
- New York City - Idlewild Airport (now JFK Airport) and LaGuardia Airport
- Greensboro/High Point
- Bristol/Kingsport/Johnson City - Tri-Cities Regional Airport
- Newport News
Fleet in 1961
The following fleet information is taken from the June 1, 1961 Capital timetable:
- Boeing 720 (only jet type operated by the airline]
- Douglas DC-3
- Douglas DC-4
- Douglas DC-6 (DC-6B model)
- Vickers Viscount (only turboprop type operated by the airline)
The airline had previously operated Lockheed Constellation aircraft and had also ordered Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprops. However, the Electra aircraft were never delivered to the airline and were thus not operated.
Accidents and incidents
- August 31, 1940 – Douglas DC-3A NC21789, operating under the PCA name, departed Washington, DC into an intense thunderstorm. Probable cause was the disabling of the pilots by a severe lightning discharge close to the plane, which caused a sudden dive from 6,000 feet (1,800 m), killing all 25 aboard. That Lovettsville Air Disaster was the worst American airline accident to that date.
- April 16, 1941- A Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 143, a 247D, NC13359, enroute from Charleston West Virginia (Wertz Field) to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, crashed into the hills near St. Albans, West Virginia after the right engine failed just after takeoff. One member of the crew and two passengers suffered serious injuries. One member of the crew and the other four passengers suffered minor injuries. There were no fatalities.
- April 14, 1945 Pennsylvania Central Airlines DC-3 crashed on Coopers Rock Ridge near Morgantown, West Virginia killing 20 people (all on board)
- On January 6, 1946, a Pennsylvania Central Airlines Douglas DC-3 (Registration NC21786), flying as Flight 105 originating in New York City with stops in Pittsburgh and Knoxville crashed while attempting to make an instrument approach to Runway 18 at Birmingham Municipal Airport in Birmingham, Alabama. The pilot, first officer, and a check airman who occupied the cockpit jump seat perished in the crash; several passengers were injured, none fatally.
- June 13, 1947 – Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 410, NC 88842, crashed near a point known as Lookout Rock, West Virginia, approximately eight miles southeast of Charles Town, West Virginia, while en route from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D C. All 50 occupants were killed on impact and the Douglas DC-4 was destroyed as a result of the crash and subsequent fire.
- February 20, 1956 – Vickers Viscount N7404 (c/n 90) was damaged beyond economic repair at Chicago Midway International Airport after an extremely hard landing due to a malfunction of the propeller control switches. Despite this, the aircraft was remanufactured as c/n 301 and entered service with Trans-Canada Air Lines in May 1957.
- April 6, 1958 – Vickers Viscount N7437, operating Capital Airlines Flight 67 stalled and crashed on approach to Saginaw, Michigan, resulting in 49 fatalities. The crash was attributed to ice accretion on the horizontal stabiliser.
- May 20, 1958 – Vickers Viscount N7410 was involved in a mid-air collision with a Lockheed T-33 of the Air National Guard. All eleven on board were killed when it crashed at Brunswick, Maryland, as was one of the two crew members of the T-33.
- May 12, 1959 – Lockheed Constellation N2735A, was intentionally ground looped by the pilot, after a landing on a short, wet runway at Charleston, West Virginia. It caught fire as it skidded and slid down a steep embankment, killing two.
- May 12, 1959 – Vickers Viscount N7463, operating Capital Airlines Flight 75 broke up in mid-air after encountering thunderstorms. The aircraft crashed at Chase, Maryland, killing all 31 people on board.
- January 18, 1960 – Vickers Viscount N7462, operating Flight 20 crashed at Holdcroft, Virginia, after losing power from at first two, then all four engines. All 50 people on board were killed.
- Miss Pittsburgh – preserved historic aircraft flown by Clifford Ball
- researched Gendisasters|Charleston Daily Mail and The Evening Standard, Uniontown, Pa.|physical copy of old print April 16, 1945
- "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 8, 1960. 495.
- Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Paptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, L.O.C Number 84-070588, page 101
- Patricia Banks collection, 1957–1999, New York Public Library archives.
- "United Airlines – Timeline – The Jet Age and Corporate Expansion 1959–1969". united.com. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
- timetableimages.com, June 1, 1961 Capital Airlines system timetable
- "Capital Airlines Virtual Museum, N45032, Captain Milton Marshall, Michael Keilt". Retrieved December 17, 2009.
- baesel.net/caaalumni.htm, Capital Airlines fleet information
- "Death in the Blue Ridge". TIME. September 9, 1940. Retrieved 2009-04-14. "The news of the worst crash in the history of U.S. aviation ended 17 months of safe operation."
- "Accident description for Douglas DC-3 NC21789 on August 31, 1940". PlaneCrashInfo. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- "Accident description for Vickers Viscount N7404 on February 20, 1956". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- "Accident description for Vickers Viscount N7437 on April 6, 1958". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- "Accident description for Vickers Viscount N7410 on May 20, 1958". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- "Accident description for Lockeheed Constellation N2735A on May 12, 1959". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- "Accident description for Vickers Viscount N7463 on May 12, 1959". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- "Accident description for Vickers Viscount N7462 on January 18, 1960". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved September 6, 2009.
- Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Baptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, L.O.C Number 84-070588
- Airline History: Capital Airlines (archive.org copy)
- Lloyd, Kristin B. "Flying the Capital Way, Part I" (PDF), Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Winter 1997
- Lloyd, Kristin B. "Flying the Capital Way, Part II" (PDF), Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Spring 1998
- Capital Airlines timeline, baesel.net
- Memorabilia related to Capital Airlines and its predecessors, baesel.net
- Images of Capital Airlines timetables and route map, airtimes.com
-  has several Capital timetables from 1937–60, showing where they flew, how often, how long it took and how much it cost.
- Capital Airlines history, century-of-flight.net
- Clifford Ball Airline history, oldbeacon.com
- Southwestern Pennsylvania aviation from 1919 to 1930, stvincent.edu (archive.org copy)
- Fleet listing of Pennsylvania Central aircraft
- Fleet listing of Capital Airlines aircraft[dead link]