Southern Airways’ history dates back to 1936, when Frank Hulse and Ike Jones purchased a controlling stake in flight school Southern Airways of Georgia. In 1944, the regional carrier finally received certification to operate as an airline. On June 10, 1949, Southern Airways officially took flight. Deemed to be the “Route of the Aristocrats,” the popular and passenger friendly carrier would go on to serve much of the south and central US for the next 30 years.
Referred to at the time as a local service air carrier, Southern Air initially maintained operations using DC-3s, eventually expanding their fleet to include several variations of the DC-9. They also operated the Martin 4-0-4 and the Metroliner, or Metro II. They first incorporated the DC-9 into their fleet in 1967. Some of these airplanes were new, while some were purchased from Eastern Airlines and Delta Airlines.
By 1955, the Georgia-based airline’s south-central route network covered various cities, including Memphis, Jacksonville, and New Orleans. Following the acquisition of an abundance of DC-9s, the carrier was able to expand their coverage of smaller cities, including Albany, Georgia, Meridian, Mississippi, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They even served one international destination over the course of their history. In total, they served 64 destinations.
Southern Airways was also popular for the passenger experience. They adopted the slogan, “Nobody’s Second Class on Southern.” The company was famous for their promotional shot glasses. At one point, they even released a new shot glass design every year.
Despite their plentiful success, Southern suffered a blow to their nearly spotless safety record in the 1970s. On November 14, 1970, Southern flight 932 crashed into a hill short of the runway, taking the lives of all 75 people on board, including the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team. Though the exact reason for the early descent was not determined, instrumentation was a contributing factor, whether caused by pilot error or system failure.
Then, in 1977, Southern flight 242 crashed after attempting an emergency landing on a highway. The DC-9 flew through a powerful storm, subsequently suffering a dual engine flame out and severe hail damage. The pilots were given weather data which was several hours old, leading them to enter the storm. Of the 85 on board, only 22 survived.
Southern Airways flew into the sunset on July 1, 1979. The airline executed a merge with North Central Airlines, effectively eliminating the carrier. Presently, Delta Airlines has a historical connection to Southern. Southern’s merge with North Central Airlines resulted in the formation of Republic Air, which later acquired Hughes Airwest. Northwest acquired Hughes Airwest, and was then folded into Delta. Despite having been tragically merged out of existence, Southern Airways’ rich 30 year history in the skies primarily above the southern US is sure to not be overlooked.
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