North Central Airlines

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North Central Airlines
Founded 1944
Ceased operations July 1, 1979
(became Republic Airlines)
Fleet size 50
Destinations 92
Headquarters Minneapolis, Minnesota
Key people Francis Higgins (President)
Hal Carr (Vice President)

North Central Airlines was a regional airline in the midwestern United States. Founded as Wisconsin Central Airlines in 1944 in Clintonville, Wisconsin, they moved to Madison in 1947. This is also when "Herman the duck" was born on Wisconsin Central's first Lockheed Electra 10A, NC14262, in 1948.[1] Following a merger with North Central and Southern Airways in 1979, became Republic Airlines. North Central Airlines had a few ICAO codes. When they started operations, their ICAO code was "NOR" later changed to "NCA". ICAO a few years later went from 3 to 2 characters with North Central taking "NC", which is the same as their IATA code. ICAO later on went back to 3 letters, however, that was after North Central Airlines was defunct.

North Central's headquarters was in Minneapolis–St. Paul.[2]


Early history[edit]

In 1939 the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD), a major manufacturer of four-wheel transmissions and heavy-duty trucks based in Clintonville, Wisconsin, opened a flight department and traded a company truck for a Waco biplane for their company's use.[3] In 1944 company executives decided to start an airline. In 1946 service started between six Wisconsin cities. This led the company to buy two Cessna UC-78 Bobcats, and, soon after, three Lockheed Electra 10As. Certificated flights started with Electras to 19 airports on 25 February 1948; more revenue allowed three more Electra 10As, then six Douglas DC-3s.

Post Wisconsin Central history[edit]

In 1952 the airline moved their headquarters from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and that December their name became North Central Airlines.[4] Soon the airline ran into financial trouble when President Francis Higgins left, making Hal Carr the president. Carr quickly got the company out of debt and made it more reliable. Over time the company expanded their fleet to 32 DC-3s.

A growing airline[edit]

Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles (scheduled flights only)[5]
Year Pax-Miles
1951 15
1955 67
1960 169
1965 268
1970 778
1975 1029

In October 1952 Wisconsin Central scheduled flights to 28 airports, all west of Lake Michigan, from Chicago to Fargo and Grand Forks. It added Detroit in 1953, Omaha and the Dakotas in 1959, Denver in 1969 and a nonstop Milwaukee to New York LaGuardia in 1970. It added five Convair 340s from Continental Airlines to its fleet of DC-3s, the first entering service in 1959. In 1960 North Central hit the one million passenger mark; in May 1968 they flew to 64 airports, including two in Canada.

North Central DC-9-31 at Toronto's Malton Airport in 1971

Like other Local Service airlines North Central was subsidized; in 1962 its "revenue" of $27.2 million included $8.5 million "Pub. serv. rev."[6]

The airline even worked with the U.S. government to aid troubled airlines in South America. The first of five Douglas DC-9-31s entered service in 1967; the Convair 340s were converted to turboprop Convair 580s. The airline bought more DC-9s and had 29 Convairs;[7] the last DC-3 flight was in 1969.

In 1969 North Central Airlines moved their headquarters to the south side of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; in 2009 the building was the Building C Maintenance and Administrative Facility of Northwest Airlines.[8] It is now used by Delta Air Lines after their 2008 merger with Northwest.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) classified North Central as a "local service carrier," flying to cities within one region and feeding passengers to larger "trunk airlines" that flew nationwide. North Central eventually was allowed a few routes outside the Midwest: to Washington, D.C.-National, New York-LaGuardia, Boston, Denver, and Tucson.


Republic retained
"Herman the duck" and
North Central's colors

Following North Central's success, they moved to buy Atlanta-based Southern Airways. The two airlines formed Republic Airlines in July 1979, the first merger following airline deregulation.[9] Republic soon targeted San Francisco-based Hughes Airwest for acquisition,[10] and the deal was finalized in October 1980 for $38.5 million.[11] Saddled with debt from two acquisitions and new aircraft, the airline struggled in the early 1980s,[12] and even introduced a human mascot version of Herman the Duck.[13][14]

Republic kept North Central's hubs at Minneapolis and Detroit, and Southern's hub at Memphis. Within a few years they closed Hughes' former hub at Sky Harbor at Phoenix; reduced North Central's sizeable station at O'Hare at Chicago; and reduced Southern's sizeable station at Hartsfield at Atlanta. Republic also quickly downsized North Central's operations to and among smaller airports in the upper Midwest, concentrating their fleet at the Minneapolis and Detroit hubs.

In 1986, Republic merged with Northwest Orient Airlines,[15] which was also headquartered at Minneapolis and had a large operation at Detroit, which ended the legacy of Wisconsin Central and North Central. Following the merger, the new airline became Northwest Airlines (dropping the "Orient"), which merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010. Northwest Airlines became part of the Delta name.


Two North Central CV-580 at Chicago Airport in 1973.

Accidents and Incidents[edit]

  • August 4, 1968 – North Central Airlines Flight 261, a Convair CV-580, collided with a Cessna 150 11.5 miles (19 km) miles southwest of Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee[16][17] at 2,700 feet (820 m), as the northbound Convair from Chicago descended for an approach to runway 7. The cabin section of the northwest-bound Cessna embedded in the Convair's forward baggage compartment. The Convair lost electrical power and the right engine was shut down due to a damaged propeller, but the captain completed a successful emergency landing six minutes later. All three teenagers aboard the Cessna were killed and the first officer on the Convair had serious leg and head injuries, but the other 3 crew and 8 passengers were uninjured. Heavy accumulation of insect debris on the windshield was cited as a contributing factor.[18][19][20]
  • December 27, 1968 – Flight 458, a Convair CV-580, crashed into a hangar while attempting to land at O'Hare International Airport at Chicago, Illinois, killing 27 of the 45 people on board and killing one and injuring six people on the ground.[21][22]
  • April 23, 1970 – Flight 945, a DC-9 destined for Sault Ste. Marie Airport, was hijacked shortly after departure from Pellston Regional Airport. The hijacker demanded to be taken to Detroit. The hijacker was soon taken down, and there were no fatalities.[23]
  • June 29, 1972 – All five aboard (3 crew, 2 passengers) Flight 290, a Convair CV-580, were killed when it collided with Air Wisconsin Flight 671, a de Havilland Twin Otter, with eight aboard (two crew, six passengers). Both crashed into the north end of Lake Winnebago, 3 miles (5 km) east of Neenah, Wisconsin, with no survivors from either plane.[24] The collision occurred at 2,500 feet (760 m) on a mostly clear but hazy late morning as 290, two hours late, approached Oshkosh from Green Bay. The Air Wisconsin air taxi flight originated in Chicago and was set to arrive at Appleton from Sheboygan; both were operating under visual flight rules.[25][26][27][28]
  • December 20, 1972 – Flight 575, a DC-9-31, was cleared by an air traffic controller for takeoff at O'Hare in Chicago, while recently arrived Delta Air Lines Flight 954, a Convair CV-880, was instructed to taxi across the runway to a holding area. The DC-9 had just started to climb in the heavy fog when it clipped the tail of the CV-880.[29] Ten of the 45 people on board the North Central DC-9 were killed in the resulting collision and crash and 15 were injured; there were two minor injuries on the Delta CV-880.[30]
  • July 25, 1978 – Flight 801 departed Kalamazoo-Battle Creek International Airport in Kalamazoo, Michigan at 7:00 am EDT in fog. The Convair 580 struck a bird immediately after takeoff frum runway 17 and lost power in its left engine. It flew an additional 79 seconds, banking left, then crash-landed into a cornfield east of the airport. Of the 40 passengers and three crew on board, 2 passengers and a crewman had serious injuries, but there were no fatalities.[31][32][33] (photo)[34] The NTSB report attributed the cause of the crash to the captain's failure to follow proper emergency procedures.[35][36]


  1. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 20, 1975."482.
  2. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. 22 April 1978. p. 1181. "Head Office: 7500 Northliner Drive, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55450, USA."
  3. ^ Northwest Airlines - About Northwest - NWA Up Close
  4. ^ "Nort-hwest Historical Timeline 1950's." Northwest Airlines. Retrieved on December 30, 2009.
  5. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication)
  6. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  7. ^ Gradidge, 1997, p. 105
  8. ^ "Northwest Historical Timeline 1960's." Northwest Airlines. Retrieved on December 30, 2009.
  9. ^ "North Central, Southern Airlines merger gets final OK from Carter". Milwaukee Senitnel. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. 5-part 2. 
  10. ^ "Republic looking at Airwest". Milwaukee Journal. (Los Angeles Times). March 12, 1980. p. 17. 
  11. ^ "Republic Airlines takes over Hughest Airwest on Oct. 1". Deseret News. UPI. September 18, 1980. p. 10B. 
  12. ^ Sussman, Lawrence (December 15, 1981). "Republic's financial woes leave Milwaukee vulnerable". Milwaukee Journal. p. 12-part 2. 
  13. ^ "Duck the issue? Airline promoters try anything". Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA). Associated Press. April 8, 1982. p. 5. 
  14. ^ Ehrenhalt, Lizzie (December 19, 2011). "The amazing journey of Herman the Duck, Minnesota's goofiest historic artifact". Twin Cities Daily Planet. Minnesota Historical Society. 
  15. ^ "Northwest-Republic merger creates third-largest carrier". Miami News. Associated Press. August 1,page=9A.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ "Midair crash kills 3 near Mitchell Field". Milwaukee Sentinel. August 5, 1968. p. 1-part 1. 
  17. ^ Williams, Edward D. (August 5, 1968). "US begins to probe midair crash here". Milwaukee Journal. p. 1-part 1. 
  18. ^ NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-69-04, July 8, 1969, p. 1-2
  19. ^ "Bugs hurt visibility, air crash pilot says". Milwaukee Journal. August 6, 1968. p. 1-part 1. 
  20. ^ Roesslein, Kenneth (August 6, 1968). "Heroic pilot confident of safe landing". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1-part 1. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-70-27, November 12, 1970, p. 6.
  23. ^ "Hijacking Description 19700423-0". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  24. ^ Lubenow, Thomas G. (June 30, 1972). "Why did 2 planes collide over lake?". Milwaukee Journal. p. 1-part 1. 
  25. ^ Aviation Safety Network: ASN Aircraft accident Convair CV-580 N90858 Appleton, WI
  26. ^ National Transportation Safety Board Report Number NTSB-AAR-73-09 “Aircraft Accident Report North Central Airlines, Inc., Allison Convair 340/440 (CV-580), N90858, and Air Wisconsin, Inc., DHC-6, N4043B, Near Appleton, Wisconsin, June 29, 1972,” adopted April 25, 1973
  27. ^ "Witnesses describe June air crash". Milwaukee Journal. September 20, 1972. p. 11-part 1. 
  28. ^ NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-73-09 (Report). National Transportation Safety Board. April 25, 1973. Retrieved February 16, 2013. 
  29. ^ "11 are killed in crash of Airliner in Chicago". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. December 21, 1972. p. 1. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ "AAR-79-04". NTSB. 
  32. ^ "43 survive plane crash". Spokesman-Review (Spokane). Associated Press. July 26, 1978. p. 2. 
  33. ^ "43 survive North Central plane crash". Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA). UPI. July 25, 1978. p. 13. 
  34. ^ "Photo: No fatalities in plane crash". Gadsden Times (Gadsden, AL). July 25, 1978. p. 1. 
  35. ^ "Blame pilot in North Central crash". Milwaukee Sentinel. February 24, 1979. p. 7-part 1. 
  36. ^ NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-79-04, February 22, 1979


  • Gradidge, J.M., The Convairliners Story, 1997, Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, ISBN 0-85130-243-2

External links[edit]