TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Trans World Airlines

A TWA Lockheed Constellation, affectionately named "Connie." It lives at the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City | Photo provided by JL Johnson of the National Airline History Museum
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A TWA Lockheed Constellation | Photo provided by WikiMedia

TWA, one of the oldest airlines, ceased operations on Dec. 1, 2001, after nearly 76 years. Founded on July 13, 1925 as Western Air Express, it merged with Transcontinental Air Transport just five years later, causing the name to change to Transcontinental & Western Air, or T&WA. It was originally founded to transport air mail, but it soon extended far past it’s intended purpose.

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TWAs former Kansas City headquarters | Photo provided by WikiMedia

In 1929, TWA began to offer air service from New York to Los Angeles. The 36-hour trip included one overnight stop in Kansas City. During the summer of 1931, TWA moved its headquarters from New York to Kansas City. In August 1931, the airline started the first air cargo service in the U.S., transporting livestock from St. Louis to Newark.

In fall of 1932, TWA and Douglas signed a contract to craft an all-metal aircraft with twin engines, planned to be called the DC-1. In December 1933, they accepted delivery of the one and only DC-1 ever built. Then, on May 18, 1934, the DC-2 entered service. In December of that same year, Jack Frye was nominated as the president of TWA. One year later, “air hostesses” started accompanying flights on DC-2’s.

Extra: TBT to Northwest Airlines

One City Center in St. Louis, MO which was TWA headquarters at one point. | Photo provided by WikiMedia
One City Center in St. Louis, MO which was TWA headquarters at one point | Photo provided by WikiMedia

In 1939, Howard Hughes gained control of TWA, and maintained control and ownership for the next 25 years. On July 8, 1940, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized, all-weather airliner was put into service, providing passengers with a coast-to-coast flight in less than 14 hours, a drastic time reduction from previous aircraft.

In 1946, TWA commenced a transatlantic flight service using the Lockheed Constellation, which had recently made record coast-to-coast times in the U.S. In March and May of that year, TWA opened international routes to Rome, Athens, Cairo, Lisbon, and Madrid, earning it the title of an official international airline.

In 1950, TWA officially changed its corporate name to Trans World Airlines.

On March 20, 1959, the airline began flying a route from San Francisco to New York, using a Boeing 707, following its polar 1957 route from Los Angeles to London using the 1649A Constellation.

In 1962, TWA took great pride in operating the first ever transatlantic flight using Doppler radar rather than a professional navigator on the New York to London flight. Two years later, the airline added the Boeing 727 to their fleet. In 1967, TWA retired their fleet of Constellations, becoming the first U.S. airline to have all jets.

Extra: TBT to America West Airlines

In 1969, they inaugurated transpacific and worldwide routes. On Feb. 5, 1970, TWA started non-stop flight service with the Boeing 747, flying between Los Angeles and New York. By doing so, they

TWA 757 in the AA/TWA hybrid livery, post merger. | Photo provided by WikiMedia
TWA 757 in the AA/TWA hybrid livery, post merger. | Photo provided by WikiMedia

became the first U.S. airline to offer 747 service in the U.S. In 1972, they initiated Lockheed L1011 flights. The flights were flown on autopilot from takeoff until landing. In 1985, the Boeing 767’s that became part of the fleet three years earlier began transatlantic flights.

In 1993, TWA introduces “Comfort Class” to provide extra legroom for passengers in the main cabin. In 1996, they announced orders for 20 Boeing 757”s and 15 MD-83”s.

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The tail of “Connie” which lives at the National Airline History Museum | Photo provided by JL Johnson of the National Airline History Museum

On July 17, 1996, TWA flight 800 crashed for reasons that were debated for years, though eventually ruled as a fuel tank explosion.

By January 2000, TWA had acquired 27 757’s and five 767’s. In February 2000, TWA takes delivery of the Boeing 717 and announces orders for 50 more.

However, on January 10, 2001, their future came to an end, as Trans World Airlines signed over all of their assets to American Airlines, including aircraft, routes, and gates at airports. The final

TWA flight was operated on December 1, 2001 as flight 220, flying into St. Louis. It was greeted with a water salute and by many employees waving. Though it was a sad day for many TWA fans and employees, TWA’s 76 year legacy was very prideful and unforgettable.

Editor’s Note: Our Throwback Thursday series revisits many legacy airlines of the past, along with some that weren’t so well known. Join our writers each week as they look back on these airlines by saving this link and following us on Twitter.

Ashley Magoon

Ashley Magoon

Ashley is currently a senior in high school and plans on pursuing a career in aviation or journalism. Her favorite airplanes include the Boeing 777, 737MAX, and Airbus A350. She enjoys taking flights on various airlines to different airports and planespotting at her local airports.
Ashley Magoon