The Lockheed Vega
was considered the fastest airplane of the early 30s. Lockheed was formed
in 1921 by the "Loughead" family from Ireland. Pronounced "Log-head" in
Irish, Loughead was changed to Lockheed. Lockheed would produce some of the
best commercial airliners from the 1930's to the 1970's (with the fantastic
L-1011). However, Lockheed moved its focus from commercial to miltary in
The first Vega carried
the name "Braniff" with a "B Line" and arrow insignia. On the tail were
painted the first cities served by Braniff: Tulsa, Oklahoma City and
Wichita Falls, TX. Later, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas and Fort Worth
were added to one of the last Lockheed "Vegas," NC-8495 which,
unlike previous "Vegas," was all metal. NC-8495 was aquired in 1934,
and sported a red solid color scheme with a yellow stripe, white wings
and tail. (See "1965" "Then end of the plain plane")
Tom Braniff was
elected President of the new venture (since he knew the business side
of things), and Paul would become Executive Vice-President of Operations.
(although technically, Paul owned the airline). Paul increased Braniff's
fleet in the 30's by purchasing practically new aircraft from disgruntled
aviation enthusiasts. Paying a third to a half of the original costs,
he picked up Stinsons, Ryans and Travelairs. All 5/6 passenger cabin
1930 also was one of
the lowest points in American History. The stock market had crashed in
1929, leaving many people who once had money penniless. Over 33% of Americans
were out of work. While most airlines still catered to those who had money, Braniff
Airways offered air travel on a barter basis. Paul would even take hamburgers
as payment for an air ticket. The Charity of Braniff was unlike any other
airline of the depression.
Braniff almost succumbed to The Depression. "We were on our last legs, carrying on
only by the grace and generosity of Frank Phillips," Paul R. Braniff. (Braniff actually shut-down operations for a few days) In fact, some Braniff pilots (including Capt. S.T. Stanton pictured on the right with Will Rogers) actually paid for aircraft fuel at a stop, and was never reimbursed.
The "Frank Phillips"
Mr. Braniff was referring to was the Phillips in "Phillips 66" Oil and gas. On one flight
in the early 30's, there wasn't enough revenue from the fares and mail for the flight back.
Frank Phillips started an open line account, drawing up a guaranty agreement with Braniff Airways.
The telegram sent from Bartlesville, Oklahoma from Phillips to Braniff is on display in
an Oklahoma museum.
"The investors were only interested in money (including Tom)", said Marie Braniff, "Paul loved aviation, and kept the airline going."
picture of letter from Paul Braniff to The Chicago and Alton Railroad.
Asking for Railroad support.
In 1931, Braniff
lost two Vegas. They both crashed near Chicago. Braniff would also lose
a few other Vegas in its early years.
"Paul Braniff, Lockheed factory," a telegram from Tom Braniff reads, "The plane accident in which five peole were killed including Knute Rockne (a famous sports fiqure) will doubtless have adverse effect on air travel for some time. Perhaps you had better purchase only one plane noe and await developments before making further commmitment. We can buy any time, but selling is hard."
Paul ignored his brother's telegram.
BRANIFF'S FIRST PILOTS
Captain Ray Schrader was considered the very first Braniff "Chief" Pilot. He had known Paul and Tom Braniff
in the 1920s. He retired from Braniff in the 1960s as an Operations Vice President.
Because of Tom's reluctance to spend any money on the airline, Shrader invested $4,000 of his own money in the airline. (He did get it back later).
According to Paul's widow, Marie, the pilots cut their own salaries from $300 a month to $100.
Other First Pilots included: R.V. Carelton (who would also retire as a Braniff Vice President in the late 60s)
Maurice Marrs (who flew on the very first "Paul R. Braniff, Inc." flight in 1928), Chester Raines, Frank Hoover, Wyle V. Moore and Stanley Stanton.
Click Here For More of Stanley Stanton
By 1931, Braniff Airways was flying to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Chicago, Wichita Falls and St. Louis.
AND THAT'S THE WAY IT WAS...
The most famous American broadcaster of the Twentieth Century had a brief stint
with Braniff in the 1930's. Walter Cronkite was a station manager at Kansas City.
To help sell seats on a 3:30 am flight from Kansas City to Chicago, Cronkite hired
Burlesque Star Sally Rand to pose with the Braniff pilots making the Chicago flight.
More proof that Braniff was "colorful" way before "The end of the plain plane."
Noted American humorist
and icon, Will Rogers, often chartered Braniff aircraft for his personal
use. His preferred destinations included: Tulsa, Claremore and Wichita, KS.
Will paid his own way and insisted on paying full fare. (Even though
he could have flown free because of the publicity he brought along with
1932 Additional Lockheed Vegas were added, and the following cities: Bartletsville, Coffeyville, Chanute and Springfield.
Famous aviator Wiley Post made the Braniff hangars his home in
the early 30's. In 1933, Wiley decided to fly around the world in a
Lockheed Vega called "Winnie Mae." On the initial flight, the aircraft
cracked up in flight over eastern Oklahoma. Neither the Braniff pilot
flying the plane or Mr. Post were hurt. The "Winnie Mae" was trucked
back to OKC by Braniff. With Paul's and R.V. Carelton's help, the aircraft was
repaired, and Wiley Post made his 'round the world flight. He re-payed
every cent he owed Braniff for fixing the "Winnie Mae."
1933 Things had gotten so bad, because of no mail supplement income, that the 33 member staff worked for a percentage of ticket sales , and met at Tom Braniff's home in Oklahoma City. (This would change after Paul won an airmail contract in 1934)
Post made an appearance at the 1934 Oklahoma State Fair (shown on the
right) with his famous Lockheed Vega. Police had to keep the crowds back.
In 1934, Tom went on vacation to Italy, and told his brother "no more money from me." The airline was $40,000 in debt. Paul knew he had to save his airline. Paul flew
to Washington D.C. to testify before the Senate about air-mail contracts. Paul didn't even have enough money for a hotel, so he stayed in a boarding house while in Washington.
Airlines at this time needed mail contracts to help suppliment passenger
service. The Senate decided that any airline associated with an aircraft
manufacturer could not apply. (American Airways changed its name to
American Airlines, and eliminated its manufacturer connections because
of this legality). Braniff won the right to carry mail on the North-South
route. Braniff had no manufacturer connections in 1934, and so it had
no problem securing the needed contracts. Paul not only represented Braniff
in Washington, but all the smaller independant airlines flying the nation's
airways. In short, through Paul R. Braniff's efforts, small independant
airlines were able to compete for air mail contracts.
On May 8, 1934, the first mail flight, Chicago-Kansas City was flown
and on May 31st, the first passenger service began. Airmail service
between the two cities was inagurated June 15th.
Over the next two
years, Braniff grew thanks to Paul mostly, and Paul made a trip to Brazil to survey the possibilities
of establishing routes in South America.
On January 1, 1935, Braniff
aquired Long & Harmons Texas operations and extended its service to
Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Brownsville in anticpation of an expansion
to South America.
Along with the merger, Braniff aquired two 110 mph Ford Tri-Motors. These planes carried a two-man crew and twelve passengers. They were retired in the Spring of 1935 when Braniff took delivery of the Lockheed "Electra 10."
aquired the Lockheed Electra 10 in March 1935. This was Braniff's first twin-engine
aircraft capable of going greater distances and at greater speeds. Chief
Pilot Ray Shrader ( see Braniff's "First Pilots" above) flew a fleet of seven new Electra 10s early in 1935
from Lockheed's Burbank Plant. By June, all seven Electra 10s were in
service on Braniff's growing route system. This
plane basically doubled Braniff's capacity.
The "Electra 10" was capable of speeds in excess of 160 mph and could seat 10 passengers very comfortably. It was publicized by Braniff as the plane with "Two Motors," two-way radio, two pilots and two rudders for smoother flying.
The inagural "electra" flight was 17 April 1935 from Dallas to Corpus Christi.
Braniff's first in-flight meal service was inaugurated that September on the Brownsville to Corpus Christi and Tulsa to Kansas City routes. It consisted of a "box lunch of cold sandwiches" given out in-flight by the co-pilot! (Sort of like today...boy have we regressed.)
Tom Braniff with
"Electra 10" at Fort Worth's Meacham Field
supplemented its Electra and Vega fleet with Douglas Transports with
Wright-Powered Cyclone Engines during 1935. In November, 1935 a Braniff
Lockheed Vega 5C crashed into downtown Fort Worth killing its pilot,
Cliff Maus. (An airport in Corpus Christi, TX is named after this heroic
Also in 1935, Charles Beard (who would later become President 1954-1965) joined Braniff as General Traffic Manager.
By 1936, Braniff had a fleet of Seven Lockheed Electras, four Lockheed Vegas, two Tri-motored Fords and one Stinson Reliant.
Bowen Air Lines
Fort Worth, Texas based Bowen Air Lines started in 1930 flying "Vultees" and Lockheed Vegas from Texas to New York.
This is a quote from a Bowen Brochure: "World's Fastest Transport, flies the level Texas routes of Bowen Air Lines, cruising comfortably and smoothly at 190 miles an hour. Carrying eight passengers and crew, this highest speed plane is doing more than anything else to further popularize air travel between the Great Lakes, the Gulf and the Mexican border."
In Early 1936, they were aquired by Braniff and the Vultees were sold. By 1936, they were no longer the "fastest airplane." Braniff's planes were faster and could seat more passengers. Bowen also did not have an air-mail route.
TRADEGY TAKES TWO BRANIFF ICONS
Braniff lost two of its
greatest supporters on August 15, 1935. Both Will Rogers and Wiley Post
were on an aviation expedition in Alaska. Wiley Post had secured a Lockheed
"Orion" mounted on a Sirius wing and pontoons. Rogers and Post set off for
the Orient via Siberia. Post encountered mechanical problems, and had to
land near Point Barrow, Alaska. (see picture on right) Post made some repairs, but in vain. The plane
took off and rose 50 feet in the air before plunging in the icy Alaska waters.
Both perished. All of Braniff and the world mourned the loss of a great aviator
and the 55 year old Mid-Western Humorist "who made laughing at ourselves important."
-Plane Crashes by Beryl Frank
In 1935, Paul was forced out of
Braniff Airways, Inc. by his brother Tom Braniff and Tom's wife's father Judge Thurman. Tom, allegedly, wanted the airline to himself now that it was making money. Bess Thurman, Tom's wife, also didn't like Paul's popularity. Paul R. Braniff picked himself up and established Braniff Engineering. The result would be a family rift that would cause Braniff Airways to be relocated in Dallas. (Source "The Daily Oklahoman's" interview with Marie Braniff)
Paul was a pioneer once again by bringing the first Lennox air conditioning
and heating units to Oklahoma in the late 30's.
Paul went on and did GREAT things
for our country during World War II as a senior advisor to the war department.
As early as 1937, Washington called Paul to come to the Defense Department.
In 1940, Paul trained at Kelly AAB (next to Lackland) in San Antonio. His son, John Paul Braniff, Sr. was with him in San Antonio.
Tom Braniff started to eye Dallas as a new home base as well as aquiring
new DC-2's and DC-3's. He also needed a new Executive Vice-President of Operations, so he promoted Charles "Chuck" Beard in 1935.
Continue to 1936
- Braniff Airways, Inc.