Transocean Air Lines

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Transocean Air Lines
IATA ICAO Callsign
(none) TL TALOA
Commenced operations1946
Ceased operations1960
Operating basesOakland, California

Transocean Air Lines was established in 1946 as ONAT (Orvis Nelson Air Transport Company) based in Oakland, California. The airline was renamed to Transocean Air Lines the same year.[1] The Transocean name was also used in 1989 by another US-based air carrier, TransOcean Airways, which previously operated as Gulf Air Transport.[2]


At its height, the Transocean organization included ten companies, making it the first aviation conglomerate. The airline employed 1,500 persons. Including the personnel of their subsidiary companies, the total number exceeded 6,700. Transocean's gross annual sales climbed as high as $50 million.[citation needed]

By April 1958, after 12 years of business, Transocean's aircraft had flown a total of 1,290,966,900 passenger miles, 126,990,642 cargo ton-miles, and 66,828,237 aircraft miles.[citation needed] Transocean Air Lines became the largest supplemental air carrier in the world, employing over 6,700 workers at 57 bases around the globe at its peak.[citation needed]


"Word that a new airline was in the offing spread quickly with Captain Nelson's first call, and the response was overwhelming. Looking for employment and happy that the war was over, applicants from all branches of the armed services rushed to the Oakland Airport, hoping to land a job with this fledgling airline. I remember seeing the long rag-tag line that stretched away from the International Terminal Building, out the door, down the steps, and all the way back to the airport restaurant, a distance of a hundred yards or more. Many were in civilian clothes but others, still wearing various military uniforms, were trailing duffel bags.
"Yes, indeed, those were halcyon days. We were all young and overflowing with enthusiasm for what we saw as a chance to break ground with a new airline. We wanted to have our place in the sun as pioneers and innovators. The romance and promise of commercial flying... the excitement and exuberance of this bunch of young hopefuls would provide the spirit that was soon to become Transocean Air Lines."
- Ralph Lewis, By Dead Reckoning, Paladwr Press

"We fly anything, anywhere, anytime"[3] was the motto of Nelson and Transocean. Their expertise in the mass movement of people, freight, and live cargo was developed by creative planning and by trial and error. The successful completion of the first contracts established the airline's reputation as "can do" people.[citation needed]

The first aviation conglomerate[edit]

Known throughout the industry as the flying airline president, Orvis Nelson was the only top executive of a major airline during the late 1940s to hold transport pilot ratings. He spent much time away from his desk in search of business or visiting Transocean's outposts, all while keeping an eye out for profitable enterprises to add to his ever-expanding international business empire, or airplanes to add to the fleet.[4]

Soon after taking to the skies in 1946, Nelson began to expand into other areas. By the mid-1950s and after acquiring several subsidiary businesses, some of the men closest to Nelson began to express concern that perhaps Transocean had overdiversified and that the company was in danger of decline. From their inception in 1946 until as late as 1959, Transocean enjoyed success in most of their endeavors. The airline and its divisions often received commendations from both military and civilian groups for their contributions to aviation.[citation needed]

A crew once left Oakland, California for Taiwan in a DC-4 loaded with 12,000 pounds of gunpowder for General Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Chinese Army, then ferried the airplane to Hong Kong to pick up a load of Chinese cedar chests and fly them west to Rome, Italy. Within hours of the delivery of the cedar chests, the airplane departed full of Italian seamen bound for New York to rendezvous with an ocean freighter.[5]

In the movies[edit]

The 1954 film The High and the Mighty featured a Transocean airliner, albeit thinly disguised. The Douglas DC-4 (N4665V) used to film the daylight flying sequences and the Honolulu "gate" sequence was a former C-54A-10-DC built as a military transport in 1942 at Long Beach, California, by Douglas Aircraft Company. When the exterior and flying sequences were filmed in November 1953, the airliner was being operated by Oakland, California-based non-scheduled carrier Transocean Airlines (1946–1962), the largest civil aviation operator of converted C-54s in the 1950s, and named The African Queen. Ernest K. Gann wrote the original story while he was flying DC-4s for Transocean over the Hawaii-California routes. The film's fictional airline's name "TOPAC" was painted over the Transocean's red, white and yellow color scheme for filming.


According to its October 27, 1958 system timetable, Transocean was operating scheduled passenger service with Lockheed Constellation propliners on the following routes:[6]

  • Burbank (BUR) – Honolulu (HNL) – operated three days a week round trip
  • Oakland (OAK) – Honolulu (HNL) – operated three days a week round trip
  • Oakland (OAK) – Burbank (BUR) – Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) – New York Idlewild Airport (IDL, now JFK Airport) – Hartford (BDL) – operated twice a week round trip
  • Oakland (OAK) – Honolulu (HNL) – Wake Island (AWK) – Guam (GUM) – Okinawa (OKA) – operated twice a week round trip


Transocean Air Lines went bankrupt in 1960.[7]

Former staff[edit]

A half-century after the airline's demise, nearly 200 of their former employees – and now their children and grandchildren – are members of the Taloa Alumni Association. The Transocean group meets for a reunion every year.[8] Ernest K. Gann and Slonnie Sloniger worked at Transocean.


Aircraft operated by Transocean Air Lines[9] Total: 146 aircraft, of which 68 were DC-4s.

In addition, Taloa Academy of Aeronautics had a total of 56 single-engined trainers at its peak.[10]

Transocean Air Lines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser

Accident and incidents[edit]

During almost 14 years of continuous airline activity Transocean's total casualties were 90 passengers and 16 crew.[11]

  • August 15, 1949: A Transocean Air Lines Douglas C-54A (N79998) ditched 7 mi off Lurga Point, Ireland due to fuel exhaustion after the pilot overflew Shannon Airport, where they were due to refuel, and attempted to return; all 58 passengers and crew were able to escape, but seven passengers and one crew member either drowned or died of exposure. The aircraft was flying from Rome to New York.[12][13]
  • November 5, 1951: Transocean Air Lines Flight 5763, a Martin 2-0-2 (N93039), crashed in fog at Tucumcari Airport, New Mexico, killing one of 29 on board.[14][15]
  • December 30, 1951: Transocean Air Lines Flight 501, a Curtiss C-46 Commando (N68963), crashed near Fairbanks, Alaska due to spatial disorientation caused by pilot error, killing all four passengers and crew on board; the wreckage was found on January 3, 1952.[16][17]
  • March 20, 1953: Transocean Air Lines Flight 942, a Douglas C-54G (N88942, former USAAF 45-623) crashed in a field 12 mi southwest of Alvarado, California killing all 35 passengers and crew on board. The cause was an unexplained loss of control that may have resulted from wing icing.[18][19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ONAT (Orvis Nelson Air Transport Company)". Airline History. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  2. ^ Airlines Remembered by B.I. Hengi, Midland Publishing, 2000
  3. ^ "Flying "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime"". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011.
  4. ^ "Transocean Air Lines - The First Aviation Conglomerate". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011.
  5. ^ "All Those Wonderful Storiies". Archived from the original on 30 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Transocean Air Lines system timetable". 27 October 1958.
  7. ^ "14 Airliners Sold as Scrap" (PDF). The New York Times. 3 September 1960.
  8. ^ "TALOA Alumni Association". Archived from the original on 30 August 2010.
  9. ^ "Aircraft operated by Transocean Air Lines". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011.
  10. ^ "Taloa Academy of Aeronautics". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011.
  11. ^ "Airline/Operator "Tr-Tz"". Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  12. ^ Keating, James Patrick. "Miracle on Galway Bay". On-line Journal of Research on Irish Maritime History. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  13. ^ Accident description for N79998 at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 12 August 2013.
  14. ^ "AirDisaster.Com Accident Database". Archived from the original on 3 January 2009. Retrieved 2020-09-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  15. ^ Accident description for N93039 at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 12 August 2013.
  16. ^ "AirDiisaster.Com Accident Database". Air Disaster. Archived from the original on 2 January 2009. Retrieved 2020-09-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  17. ^ Accident description for N68963 at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 12 August 2013.
  18. ^ "AirDisaster.Com Accident Database". Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 2020-09-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  19. ^ "The Crash of Transocean Flight 942". Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  20. ^ Accident description for N88942 at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 12 August 2013.
  21. ^ " Accident Database". Air Disaster. Archived from the original on 14 July 2007. Retrieved 2020-09-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)

External links[edit]