North Central Airlines

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
North Central Airlines
North Central Airlines (logo).png
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded1944 as Wisconsin Central Airlines
Ceased operationsJuly 1, 1979
(became Republic Airlines)
Fleet size50
Company sloganGood people make an (our) airline great [1][2]
Route of the Northliners [3]
HeadquartersMinneapolis, Minnesota
Madison, Wisconsin
Clintonville, Wisconsin
Key peopleFrancis 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, the company moved to Madison in 1947. This is also when the "Herman the duck" logo was born on Wisconsin Central's first Lockheed Electra 10A, NC14262, in 1948.[4] North Central's headquarters were moved to Minneapolis–St. Paul in 1952.[5]

Following a merger with Southern Airways in 1979, North Central became Republic Airlines, which in turn was merged into Northwest Airlines in 1986. Northwest Airlines was then merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010.


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.[6] In 1944 company executives decided to start an airline, and service started between six Wisconsin cities in 1946. 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; that December their name became North Central Airlines.[7][8] 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)[9]
Year Pax-Miles
1951 15
1955 67
1960 169
1965 268
1970 778
1975 1029

In October 1952, Wisconsin Central had scheduled flights to 28 airports, all of them 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 nonstop flights from Milwaukee to New York LaGuardia in 1970. It added five Convair 340s from Continental Airlines to its fleet of DC-3s, the first ones entering service in 1959. In 1960, North Central hit the one million passenger mark; in May 1968, it flew to a total of 64 airports, including two in Canada.

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

Convair 340s were added to the fleet as well.

Like other Local Service airlines North Central was subsidized; in 1962 its "revenue" of $27.2 million included $8.5 million "Pub. serv. rev."[10]

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 September 1967 and the Convair 340s and Convair 440s were all converted to Convair 580s; the airline acquired more DC-9s and had 29 Convair 580s.[11] The last DC-3 flight was early 1969; NC was the last local service carrier to use it.

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.[12] 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 in 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. After deregulation of the airline industry North Central expanded and got McDonnell Douglas DC-9-50s, its largest aircraft.


North Central purchased Atlanta-based Southern Airways and the two airlines formed Republic Airlines in July 1979, the first merger following airline deregulation.[13] Republic soon targeted San Francisco-based Hughes Airwest for acquisition,[14] and the deal was finalized in October 1980 for $38.5 million.[15] Saddled with debt from two acquisitions and new aircraft, the airline struggled in the early 1980s,[16] and even introduced a human mascot version of Herman the Duck.[17][18]

Republic kept North Central's hubs at Detroit and Minneapolis, and Southern's hub at Memphis. Within a few years they closed the former Hughes Airwest hub at Phoenix and also largely dismantled the Hughes Airwest route network in the western U.S.; they also reduced North Central's sizeable station at Chicago-O'Hare. Southern's sizeable station was also reduced 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 Detroit and Minneapolis hubs.

In 1986, Republic merged with Northwest Orient Airlines,[19] 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 2008. Once the merger was finalized in early 2010, the Northwest Airlines brand fully retired with the Delta Air Lines name surviving as the successor to North Central Airlines.


When North Central Airlines started operations, the company's ICAO code was "NOR"; this was later changed to "NCA". When ICAO went from 3 to 2 characters, North Central became "NC", the same as its IATA code.[citation needed]


Two North Central CV-580 aircraft at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1973.
North Central Airlines historical fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Remark
Cessna UC-78 Bobcat 2 1946 1946 NC51401, NC63662
operated by Wisconsin Central Airlines[20]
Lockheed Model 10 Electra 6 1948 1951 operated by Wisconsin Central Airlines[21]
Douglas DC-3 32 1951 1969 [22]
Convair CV-440 34 1959 1969 32 aircraft were converted to Convair CV-580[23]
Convair CV-580 35 1967 1979 [24]
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 22 1967 1979 [25]
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51 19 1976 1979 [26]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • June 24, 1968 – A North Central Airlines plane clipped a guy wire on the 2,032-foot (619 m) tower for KELO-TV (Sioux Falls, South Dakota). The tower in Rowena was in service less than a year and was completely destroyed. Luckily, the plane landed safely with no injuries.[27]
  • August 4, 1968 – Flight 261, a Convair CV-580, collided with a Cessna 150 11.5 miles (19 km) southwest of Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee[28][29] 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; 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 Cessna's windshield was cited as a contributing factor.[30][31][32][33]
  • December 27, 1968Flight 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.[34][35]
  • 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.[36]
  • 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 Canada DHC-6 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.[37] 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.[38][39][40][41]
  • December 20, 1972Flight 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.[42] 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.[43]
  • July 25, 1978 – Flight 801 departed the Kalamazoo airport in Michigan at 7:00 am EDT in fog. The Convair 580 struck a bird immediately after lifting off from 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.[44][45][46] (photo)[47] The NTSB report attributed the cause of the crash to the captain's failure to follow proper emergency procedures.[48][49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Smile, Milwaukee..." The Milwaukee Journal. February 25, 1970. p. 13, part 1.
  2. ^ "New Philadelphia non-stop". Milwaukee Sentinel. (advertisement). December 29, 1978. p. 7, part 2.
  3. ^ "Go North Central". Milwaukee Sentinel. October 19, 1955. p. 4, part 1.
  4. ^ World Airline Directory. Flight International. March 20, 1975."482.
  5. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. 22 April 1978. p. 1181. "Head Office: 7500 Northliner Drive, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55450, USA."
  6. ^ "Northwest Airlines – About Northwest – NWA Up Close". Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  7. ^ "Right off the tape". Milwaukee Sentinel. February 17, 1953. p. 5, part 2.
  8. ^ "Northwest Historical Timeline 1950's." Northwest Airlines. Retrieved on December 30, 2009.
  9. ^ Handbook of Airline Statistics (biannual CAB publication)
  10. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual 1964
  11. ^ Gradidge, 1997, p. 105
  12. ^ "Northwest Historical Timeline 1960's." Northwest Airlines. Retrieved on December 30, 2009.
  13. ^ "North Central, Southern Airlines merger gets final OK from Carter". Milwaukee Sentinel. UPI. June 5, 1979. p. 5-part 2.
  14. ^ "Republic looking at Airwest". The Milwaukee Journal. March 12, 1980. p. 17.
  15. ^ "Republic Airlines takes over Hughest Airwest on Oct. 1". Deseret News. UPI. September 18, 1980. p. 10B.
  16. ^ Sussman, Lawrence (December 15, 1981). "Republic's financial woes leave Milwaukee vulnerable". Milwaukee Journal. p. 12-part 2.
  17. ^ "Duck the issue? Airline promoters try anything". Free-Lance Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia. Associated Press. April 8, 1982. p. 5.
  18. ^ Ehrenhalt, Lizzie (December 19, 2011). "The amazing journey of Herman the Duck, Minnesota's goofiest historic artifact". Twin Cities Daily Planet. Minnesota Historical Society.
  19. ^ "Northwest-Republic merger creates third-largest carrier". Miami News. Associated Press. August 1, 1986. p. 9A.
  20. ^ "Cessna Bobcat". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  21. ^ "Lockheed Model 10 Electra". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  22. ^ "Douglas DC-3". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  23. ^ "Convair 440". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  24. ^ "Convair 580". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  25. ^ "McDonnell Douglas DC-9". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  26. ^ "McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  27. ^ KELO-TV Website – Our History ( )
  28. ^ "Midair crash kills 3 near Mitchell Field". Milwaukee Sentinel. August 5, 1968. p. 1-part 1.
  29. ^ Williams, Edward D. (August 5, 1968). "US begins to probe midair crash here". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 1-part 1.
  30. ^ "NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-69-04, July 8, 1969, p. 1-2" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  31. ^ "Bugs hurt visibility, air crash pilot says". The Milwaukee Journal. August 6, 1968. p. 1-part 1.
  32. ^ Roesslein, Kenneth (August 6, 1968). "Heroic pilot confident of safe landing". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1-part 1.
  33. ^ Thien, Alex (November 21, 1968). "Midair crash 'was avoidable'". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 5, part 1.
  34. ^ "". Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  35. ^ "NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-70-27, November 12, 1970, p. 6" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  36. ^ "Hijacking Description 19700423-0". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  37. ^ Lubenow, Thomas G. (June 30, 1972). "Why did 2 planes collide over lake?". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 1-part 1.
  38. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Convair CV-580 N90858 Appleton, WI". Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  39. ^ "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" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  40. ^ "Witnesses describe June air crash". The Milwaukee Journal. September 20, 1972. p. 11-part 1.
  41. ^ NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-73-09 (PDF) (Report). National Transportation Safety Board. April 25, 1973. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 4, 2012. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  42. ^ "11 are killed in crash of Airliner in Chicago". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. December 21, 1972. p. 1.
  43. ^ "Aircraft Accident Report...Dec 20, 1972" (PDF). NTSB. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  44. ^ "AAR-79-04" (PDF). NTSB.
  45. ^ "43 survive plane crash". Spokesman-Review. Spokane. Associated Press. July 26, 1978. p. 2.
  46. ^ "43 survive North Central plane crash". Telegraph-Herald. Dubuque, Iowa. UPI. July 25, 1978. p. 13.
  47. ^ "Photo: No fatalities in plane crash". Gadsden Times. Gadsden, Alabama. July 25, 1978. p. 1.
  48. ^ "Blame pilot in North Central crash". Milwaukee Sentinel. February 24, 1979. p. 7-part 1.
  49. ^ "NTSB Accident Report NTSB-AR-79-04, February 22, 1979" (PDF). Retrieved 26 June 2017.


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

External links[edit]