Capital Airlines

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This article is about the mid-20th century North American airline. For Chinese airline, see Beijing Capital Airlines.
Capital Airlines
Logocap.png
Founded November 1, 1936 (1936-11-01)
(as Pennsylvania Central Airlines)
Commenced operations April 21, 1948 (1948-04-21)
(as Capital Airlines)
Ceased operations June 1, 1961 (1961-06-01)
(merged into United Airlines)
Hubs
Fleet size See Fleet in 1961 below
Destinations See Destinations in 1961 below
Headquarters Washington, D.C., United States

Capital Airlines was an airline serving the eastern, southeastern, and mid-west of the United States. Capital's headquarters, crew training and aircraft overhauls were done at Washington National Airport across the Potomac river from Washington, D.C.[1] In the 1950s Capital was the fifth largest United States domestic carrier by passenger count (and sometimes by passenger-miles) after the Big Four (American, United, TWA, and Eastern).[2] Capital merged with United Airlines on June 1, 1961.

History[edit]

Predecessors[edit]

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 Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio. Clifford Ball Airlines operated from Pittsburgh's first commercial airport Bettis Field, a former farm field which farmer Barr Peat had allowed to be used for Barnstorming.[3] The airplane which flew the first flight from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, the Waco 9 Miss Pittsburgh, is displayed at the Pittsburgh International Airport. Famed humorist and performer Will Rogers was known to be an early and regular passenger,[4] but scheduled passenger service did not begin until April 28, 1928. The following August, they became the first airline to serve Washington, D.C. from the west, offering their flagship "Path of the Eagle" service from Cleveland to Hoover Field across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.[5] A "Path of the Eagle" brochure and schedule are displayed at the Pitcarin Field Web site.[6]

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.[7] In 1934 Pennsylvania Airlines acquired Kohler Aviation.[8]

Central Airlines was founded in 1934 by the men who had formed Pittsburgh Airlines in 1929.[9] Central was notable for hiring Helen Richey, the first female commercial pilot in the U.S.[10] Central Airlines became PAL's main competitor and they engaged in ruinous rate wars with prices well below those charged for railroad seats.[11] [12]

The two companies merged to form Pennsylvania Central Airlines, or PCA, on November 1, 1936.[13][14]

Pennsylvania Central Airlines[edit]

DC-3 of Pennsylvania Central Airlines

The merged airlines flew Stinson As and Boeing B-247s.[15] Early in its existence PCA faced a minor crisis in January 1937 when The Bureau of Air Commerce temporarily grounded the airline's Boeing 247s.[16] The six B-247s were all sold off in 1937. The airline's 15 B-247Ds were all gone by the end of 1942. two remain in museums today — one at National Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Canada, and another, the City of Renton, in flying condition at the Museum of Flight, Boeing Field, Seattle, Washington.[17]

PCA, based at the new Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh, continued to add routes, notably to Chicago in 1938, and aircraft, notably the Douglas DC-3 in 1940.[18] 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."[19] In September 1943 Pennsylvania Central requested the CAB authorize new routes affecting 23 states indicating plans for a major expansion after the war.[20] PCA even had big trans-Atlantic ambitions.[21][22] PCA did see expansion as the war wound down.[23][24]

In 1946 PCA began flying the Douglas DC-4 but found the airplane was unprofitable on some of its low volume short segment routes. One of PCA's DC-4s had been used to transport President Roosevelt to the Casablanca conference during World War II[25] Ten DC-4s still served Capital at the time of the UAL merger. All were immediately disposed of by United.[8]

By 1946 the combination of expansion and post-was inflation were financially pressing United States airlines.[26][27] PCA was facing stronger competition on the essential New York to Chicago route.[28] By the end of the first quarter of 1947 Pennsylvania-Central was in such a bad situation that the President had to seek S.E.C. approval of a refinancing agreement with PCA's bankers.[29]

The crisis led PCA to the election of J.H. "Slim" Charmichael as President, and drastic cuts from 4,800 employees to 3,000.[30] By October 1, 1947 Capital had 25 DC-3s (two cargo only) and 3 DC-4s. "We had a sick airlines on our hands, and we had to get it out of bed, but quickly. We figured our best chance lay in leading not just following the others," Charmichael told the New York Times.[31] The cuts were followed by the acquisition of used, but newer, equipment and the situation was saved.

As by 1947 PCA's route network no longer reflected their name, on April 21, 1948, the airline adopted a new insignia, colors and name: Capital Airlines.[32][33]

Capital Airlines[edit]

In 1948 Capital introduced 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.[2] Each flight left at 1 AM and stopped for ten minutes at Pittsburgh (Allegheny County). Chicago-NY fare was $29.60 plus 15% federal tax; seats on all other flights cost $44.10 plus tax.[32]

Also in 1948 the first airborne television was installed on a Capital airplane.[34]

A Capital Airlines Vickers Viscount at Allentown, Pennsylvania ABE Airport discharging passengers in 1960.

In 1950 Capital Airlines received their first Lockheed Constellations. In 1955 they became the first U.S. operator of the four engine Vickers Viscount, which was the first passenger turboprop airliner.[35] 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.[36][37][38] The CAB also refused Capital a requested subsidy.[39] Still, Capital's passenger-miles in 1957 were 88% more than 1955.

On November 14, 1956 a Capital pilot reported seeing a blue-white ball in the sky.[40] The pilot, Captain William J. Hull, was a senior captain who was hired by Pennsylvania-Central in April 1941. He was the captain in Capital Flight 67 which crashed turning final to Tr-City Airport, Freeland, Michigan on April 6, 1958. At the time he had a total flight time of 16,050 hours, of which 1,702 were in the Viscount.[41]

The airline also encountered labor difficulties when the International Association of Machinists went on strike in Fall 1958.[42] The strike crippled 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.[43][44]

During 1961 Capital had began operating new Boeing 720s leased from United.[13] The cover of the airline's June 1, 1961 timetable proclaimed: New Boeing 720 Jets New York - Atlanta - New Orleans: 2 Round Trips Daily.[45]

The merger[edit]

In the late 1950s, Capital began to struggle financially. In May 1960 Vickers foreclosed on Capital's entire fleet of Viscounts, and bankruptcy for the airline seemed certain.[46] However, on July 28, 1960, a merger with Chicago-based rival United Airlines was announced.[47] The Civil Aeronautics Board had to approve any airlines mergers. United wanted Capital Airlines CAB awarded routes to Florida.[48] When completed on June 1, 1961 of America's second and fifth largest airlines, the largest airline merger in history.[49] Despite a year of planning all did not go smoothly on merger day.[50] United continued to operate 41 of Capital's Viscounts as well 3 of Capital's DC-3s.[51] United soon purchased 6 Viscounts which Capital had returned to Vickers.[52] United operated the 3 ex-PCA/Capital DC-3s for one year after the merger.[53] United, which had retired it's last DC-3s in the 1950s was, because of CAB route awards (AM-34), suddenly became the last major United States airlines to operate the DC-3.[54]

The New Capital Airlines[edit]

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.[55]

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.[56][57]

Destinations[edit]

In 1937, PCA's main route was from Milwaukee to Washington, DC, with stops in Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit, Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh. Spurs ran from Detroit to Pontiac and Flint, and from Pittsburgh to Parkersburg and Charleston.[58]

By 1941, new spurs were added from Grand Rapids to Chicago, Sault Ste. Marie and Traverse City; from Pittsburgh to Erie and Buffalo and from Charleston to Tri-Cities, Knoxville, Chattanooga and Birmingham. New routes ran north from Washington to Baltimore, Harrisburg and Williamsport, and south to Norfolk, then across North Carolina serving Rocky Mount, Raleigh, Greensboro, Hickory and Asheville.[59] Pittsburgh-New York City service was added by 1946.[60]

By 1950 the network extended south to Atlanta, Mobile and New Orleans, and west to Minneapolis.[61] Memphis and Huntsville were added by 1953, along with interchange service on National Airlines to Florida.[62] By 1960, the year before its merger with United, Capital served Florida on its own aircraft with flights to Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg, Tampa and West Palm Beach.[63]

Fleet in 1961[edit]

The June 1, 1961 timetable lists flights on:[45]

Capital operated Lockheed Constellations until 1960. It ordered Bristol Britannias in 1956,[66][67] de Havilland Comets in 1956, Convair 880s in 1958 and Lockheed L-188 Electras in 1959;[68] none of these aircraft were delivered.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

November 16, 1935
A Central Airlines Stinson Model A (NO-15107), forced to land after taking off from Allegheny County Airport when all three engines failed at about 50 feet. The pilot made a wheels up landing straight ahead on an unfinished portion of the runway. There were no injuries but the airplane suffered major damage. The cause was fuel contamination.[69]
August 31, 1940
PCA Trip 19, a Douglas DC-3-313 (NC21789), departed Washington, D.C.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. The crash was the worst American airline accident to that date.[70][71][72]
April 16, 1941
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 143, a Boeing 247D (NC13359), en route 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.[73]
October 2, 1941
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 142, a Douglas DC-3 (NC25691), was involved in an accident at the Municipal Airport, Morgantown, West Virginia. After touchdown the Captain allowed the airplane to roll for approximately 1,500 feet and was within 700 feet of the runway end before applying the brakes. At that time the Captain found that the brakes were not working, or had no braking action. Then the captain unlocked the tail wheel and attempted a groundloop. The groundloop did not salvage the situation and the airplane slid sideways over a 25-foot embankment. The landing gear was sheared off and the airplane came to rest on its belly. Subsequent testing showed no problems with the brakes. The probable cause "was the failure of the captain to apply the brakes in time to permit a successful take-off when they were found to be ineffective."[74]
March 2 16, 1942
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 17, a Douglas DC-3 (NC21788), was involved in an accident while landing at Detroit City Airport, Detroit, Michigan The airplane, approaching fst and high, landed long on a snow-covered runway and bounced repeatedly. The Captain attempted to turn so as not to hit the boundary fence. The airplane went through the fence causing major damage to the airplane. There were no injuries.[75]
April 14, 1945
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 142, a Douglas DC-3-313A (NC25692), crashed against the west slope of Cheat Mountain near Morgantown, West Virginia due to pilot error, killing all 20 on board.[76]
January 6, 1946
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 105, a Douglas DC-3 (NC21786), originating in New York City with stops in Pittsburgh and Knoxville crashed while on 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; several passengers were injured, none fatally.[77]
September 12, 1946
A Pennsylvania Central Airlines Douglas DC-4 (NX91068), landed safely at Washington, D.C. following an engine fire. The crew received minor injuries and the aircraft suffered major damage.[78]
May 8, 1947
A Capital Airlines Douglas DC-3 (NC11917), on a ferry flight from Norfolk, Virginia to Washington, D.C. suffered a failure of the left engine. The propeller could not be feathered and there was severe vibration, leaking oil and sparks were coming from the engine. The crew elected to make a forced landing, wheels up and flaps down. Major damage resulted.[79]
June 13, 1947
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 410, a Douglas C-54 Skymaster (NC88842), crashed into Lookout Rock, West Virginia, about eight miles southeast of Charles Town, West Virginia, while en route from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., killing all 50 on board.[80]
April 27, 1949
Capital Airlines Trip 40, a Douglas DC-3 (NC25689), made a forced landing near Frankfort Springs, Pennsylvania There was only minor damage to the airplane and there were no injuries[81]
August 7, 1949
Capital Airlines Flight 19, a Douglas DC-3 (NC25689), collided with a Cessna 140 near General Mitchell Field, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Cessna was destroyed and the occupants killed. The DC-3 lost 6 feet off thr right wing, and a portion of the right aileron. No one aboard the airliner were injured and the airplane landed at the airport. The probable cause of the accident was the failure of the pilots in the DC-3 to observe and avoid the Cessna aircraft.[82]
December 12, 1949
Capital Airlines Flight 500 a Douglas DC-3-313A (NC45379), stalled and crashed in the Potomac River off Washington, D.C., killing six of 23 on board.[83]
February 20, 1956
A Capital Airlines Vickers Viscount 744 (N7404, c/n 90) was damaged beyond economic repair at Chicago Midway International Airport after a hard landing due to a malfunction of the propeller control switches; all 42 on board survived. Despite this, the aircraft was remanufactured as c/n 301 and entered service with Trans-Canada Air Lines in May 1957.[84][85]
April 6, 1958
Capital Airlines Flight 67, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7437), lost control and crashed on approach to Saginaw, Michigan, resulting in 47 fatalities. The crash was attributed to ice on the horizontal stabilizer.[86][87]
June 22, 1957
A Capital Airlines Douglas C-47 (N88835), which was on a training flight,crashed near Clarksburg, Maryland The aircraft was destroyed and the crew were all killed. The probable cause was loss of airspeed while executing maneuvers, resulting in a stall followed by a spin.[88]
May 20, 1958
Capital Airlines Flight 300, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7410), collided with Air National Guard Lockheed T-33 35966, killing all eleven on board when the Viscount crashed at Brunswick, Maryland, as was one of the two crew members of the T-33.[89][90]
June 4, 1958
A Capital Airlines Douglas DC-3 (N49553), crashed at Martinsburg Airport, Martinsburg, West Virginia. A trainee stalled the aircraft on takeoff, the instructor failed to monitor the situation and airplane crashed off the end of the runway.[91]
May 12, 1959
Capital Airlines Flight 983, a Lockheed L-049E 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 of 44 on board.[92][93]
May 12, 1959
Capital Airlines Flight 75, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7463), broke up in mid-air after encountering thunderstorms. The aircraft crashed at Chase, Maryland, killing all 31 people on board.[94][95]
August 26, 1959
A Capital Airlines Douglas DC-3 (N44993), crashed on landing at Charleston, West Virginia. The pilot flying lost control and the airplane swerved off the runway and plunged down an embankment. The probable cause of the accident was loss of control following a poorly executed landing.[96]
January 18, 1960
Capital Airlines Flight 20, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7462), crashed at Holdcroft, Virginia, after losing power from at first two, then all four engines (although one engine was restarted). All 50 people on board were killed.[97][98]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 8, 1960. 495.
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  3. ^ Rand, Kurt, The Path of the Eagle, Popular Aviation, February 1940, page 13
  4. ^ Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Paptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, lccn 84-070588, page 101
  5. ^ Rand, Kurt, The Path of the Eagle, Popular Aviation, February 1940, pages 14-15
  6. ^ "Clifford Ball". Pitcarin Field. Retrieved 28 November 2015. 
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  9. ^ Bohl, Walt The Aircraft History of Capital Airlines, American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Aviation Historical Society, Huntington Beach, California, Spring 2001, page 11
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  18. ^ Bohl, Walt, The Aircraft History of Capital Airlines, American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Aviation Historical Society, Huntington Beach, California, Spring 2001, page 14
  19. ^ Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Paptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, lccn 84-070588, page 47
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  21. ^ |title=Airline Protests Route Awards |publisher=New York Times |date=19 July 1945 |accessdate=30 November 2015 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9D05EFDE103BEE3BBC4152DFB166838E659EDE
  22. ^ |title=Plans Capetown Flights |publisher=New York Times |date=14 December 1945 |accessdate=30 November 2015 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9F06E2DC1539E23ABC4C52DFB467838E659EDE
  23. ^ |title=New Airline Service New York, Chicago, Birmingham Flights Begin Tomorrow |publisher=New York Times |date=1 July 1945 |accessdate=1 December 2015 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9D05EFDE103BEE3BBC4152DFB166838E659EDE
  24. ^ |title=New Air Route to Open PCA to Operate Lines to Southern and Western Points |publisher=New York Times |date=23 May 1945 |accessdate=1 December 2015 |url=http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9C05E0DD153BEE3BBC4B51DFB366838E659EDE
  25. ^ |title=Airline to Use Roosevelt Plane |publisher=New York Times |date=17 November 1945 |accessdate=30 November 2015 |url= http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9A01E1DD173AEE3BBC4F52DFB767838E659EDE
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  30. ^ Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Paptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, lccn 84-070588, page 11
  31. ^ |title=Slim Charmichael, Air executive, Rose Like Modern Alger Hero |publisher=New York Times |date=10 March 1957 |accessdate=4 December 2015 |urlhttp://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9406E5DF123FE731A25753C1A9659C946692D6CF
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  35. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, Capital Viscounts at Work, October 14, 1955, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 351
  36. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, Capital Comets on Puerto Rico Run?, March 15, 1957, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 351
  37. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, Capital Buy 880s, January 31, 1958, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 157
  38. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, More Multiple Competition, February 14, 1958, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 222
  39. ^ "Capital Airlines Has Stormy Past". New York Times. July 29, 1960. Retrieved November 27, 2015. 
  40. ^ http://www.nicap.org/reports/561114jackson_report.htm
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  42. ^ Lemmon, Captain R.A. "Ray", Not Flying Alone, 2015, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, ISBN 1-888962-25-9, page 141
  43. ^ Patricia Banks collection, 1957–1999, New York Public Library archives.
  44. ^ Rothacker, Pat Powers, White Gloves to Washington — A Capital Experience, 2004, Paladwr Press, McLean, Virginia, ISBN 978-1-4969-7420-4, page 74
  45. ^ a b timetableimages.com, June 1, 1961 Capital Airlines system timetable
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  47. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, August 5, 1960, Capital to Merge With United. Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., pages 576-577
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  51. ^ Lemmon, Captain R.A. "Ray", Not Flying Alone, 2015, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana, ISBN 1-888962-25-9, page 155
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  55. ^ http://www.concord-sots.ct.gov/CONCORD/online?sn=PublicInquiry&eid=9740
  56. ^ "Capital Airlines Virtual Museum, N45032, Captain Milton Marshall, Michael Keilt". Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  57. ^ http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20040721X01019&ntsbno=IAD04FA030&akey=1
  58. ^ "Pennsylvania Central Airlines timetable, May 1, 1937". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  59. ^ "Pennsylvania Central Airlines timetable, April 1, 1941". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  60. ^ "Pennsylvania Central Airlines timetable, August 1, 1941". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  61. ^ "Capital Airlines timetable, June 1, 1950". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  62. ^ "Capital Airlines timetable, July 1, 1953". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  63. ^ "Capital Airlines timetable, October 30, 1960". Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
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  65. ^ Bohl, Walt, The Aircraft History of Capital Airlines, American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Aviation Historical Society, Huntington Beach, California, Spring 2001, page 22
  66. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, Capital Come Shopping, June 6, 1956, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 759
  67. ^ FLIGHT & Aircraft Engineer, Capital Viscounts at Work, November 15, 1957, Dorset House. Stamford Street, London, S.E.1., page 783
  68. ^ baesel.net/caaalumni.htm, Capital Airlines fleet information
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