Houston's Aviation History Timeline
The year is 1910. Horses still provide the primary mode of transportation in Houston. A troupe of Frenchmen led by Louis Paulhan visit Houston to demonstrate their Bleriot monoplane. 2,500 people pay $1 each to watch Paulhan fly the fragile Bleriot. When Paulhan decides the winds are too strong, the crowd becomes unruly. The next day they watch Paulhan make short, straight flights.
February 18, 1910:
Louis Paulhan makes first airplane flight in Houston.
November 27, 1917:
Ellington Field opens to train pilots for World War I.
The year is 1920. The Great War has ended. Train loads of unused aircraft are shipped to Houston’s Ellington Field, which serves as a depot for disposing of surplus property. Aspiring barnstormers buy crated Curtis JN-4 Jennies and assemble them outside at Ellington. Many then teach themselves how to fly.
Ellington Field is closed.
June 4, 1927:
Houston Airport Corporation, owned by W.T. Carter, Jr., opened a 193 acre airfield on Telephone Road. Lt. Frank Hawks was the first tenant. Mr. Nelms was the first airport manager and Mr. Neuhaus was the assistant manager.
February 6, 1928:
Contract Air Mail Route 21 is inaugurated by bus pioneer Temple Bowen’s Texas Air Transport, bringing air mail service from Houston to Galveston and Dallas using Pitcairn Mailwings.
January 23, 1929:
Contract Air Mail Route 29 is inaugurated by Gulf Coast Airways between Houston and New Orleans.
Texas Air Transport and Gulf Coast Airways merge to form Southern Air Transport.
The year is 1930. Houston now enjoys scheduled airmail service, thanks to men in leather jackets and helmets flying open cockpit biplanes through the night. The airmail pilots are beginning to learn how to utilize Howard Stark’s 1-2-3 method of employing new gyroscopic instruments to fly for prolonged periods in clouds without a visual horizon for reference. Just a few years earlier, anything more than a momentary brush through clouds meant a certain loss of control and frequently death. Although the instrument flying techniques are welcome, the only navigational aids are still strings of lighted airway beacons along the airmail routes. To use the beacons, pilots must still fly low enough to see the lights. The contract air mail carriers are beginning to offer passenger flights during the day to a few brave souls. While most major American corporations have written policies specifically forbidding their executives from traveling by air, Houston oil companies use airplanes to traverse the distances between offices, refineries and oil fields.
Southern Air Transport is acquired by American Airways.
October 1, 1930:
Temple Bowen makes a second attempt at the aviation business by starting Bowen Air Lines, which inaugurates passenger-only service from Houston to Dallas and Fort Worth with Lockheed Vegas. Bowen’s operation is unique at the time because it does not seek a subsidized airmail contract and instead attempts to survive solely by flying passengers. As a jibe at rival Long & Harmon’s slogan “Fly with the Mail”, Bowen’s slogan is “Fly Past the Mail”.
May 17, 1931:
Bowen Air Lines adds Lockheed Orions to its routes.
June 4, 1932:
American Airways inaugurates Trimotor service on Contract Air Mail Route 29, offering passenger service from Houston to Beaumont, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Montgomery and Atlanta.
April 29, 1933:
The Houston Combination Adcock Four Course Radio Range and Broadcast Station, providing navigational and weather information to aircraft in flight in the Houston area for the first time.
April 20, 1934:
New Orleans-based Weddell Williams Air Service is awarded Contract Air Mail Route 29 from New Orleans to Houston as a result of air mail contract re-bidding used to resolve “Spoils Conference” air mail scandal. Weddell-Williams employs Lockheed Vegas on this route.
Dallas-based Long & Harmon, Inc. AIR LINES is awarded Contract Air Mail Route 21 from Dallas to Houston and Galveston as a result of air mail contract re-bidding used to resolve “Spoils Conference” air mail scandal. Long & Harmon employ Ford Trimotors on this route.
January 1, 1935:
Braniff Airways purchases Long & Harmon, Inc. AIR LINES, to acquire Contract Air Mail Route 15 from Dallas to Fort Worth, Waco, Houston and Galveston.
April 17, 1935:
Braniff Airways adds Lockheed 10A Electras to its routes.
Braniff Airways acquires Bowen Air Lines and its passenger routes.
Eastern Airlines purchases Weddell-Williams Air Service to acquire Contract Air Mail Route 29 from New Orleans to Houston.
The City of Houston purchases W.T. Carter Field with a $500,000.00 bond issue and $150,000 in cash and renames it Houston Municipal Airport. Mr. Louis Hobbs is named airport manager.
June 12, 1937:
Braniff Airways adds Douglas DC-2s acquired from Transcontinental & Western (TWA) to its routes and hires its first stewardesses.
November 23, 1937:
Eastern Air Lines station manager Art Furchgott, Jr. and Braniff Airways station manager Charles Wolber formulate an agreed procedure for airliners to use when making instrument approaches to Houston.
After setting a new speed record flying his Lockheed 14 Super Electra around the world, Howard Hughes visits Houston for a 3 day celebration. During a banquet at the Rice Hotel, the City announces that Houston Municipal Airport will be renamed Howard Hughes Municipal Airport. A few months later, it is learned that the airport will be disqualified for Federal grant money if it is named after a living person and the name is changed back to Houston Municipal Airport.
America Airlines resumes, then discontinues service from Houston to Galveston, Beaumont, Brenham, Austin, Corpus Christi, Bryan, the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville and Laredo.
Essair launches first experimental local service route from Houston to Abilene and Amarillo.
Essair’s service is suspended because of Braniff Airways appeal to Civil Aeronautics Board.
The year is 1940. Houston’s two airlines, Eastern and Braniff, both now serve the City with the sleek new Douglas DC-3. The DC-3 is the first airplane to allow its owners to make a profit flying passengers. The City of Houston opens a grand art moderne air terminal, to welcome the wealthy and powerful who can afford to travel by this very exclusive means of transportation. Passengers on Eastern’s Douglas Sleeper Transport flight to New York board at the Terminal in the early evening. They are served dinner in route and then retire to Pullman-style berths for the evening. The next morning, still in flight, the passengers awake and are treated to breakfast over the Nation’s Capitol. A few hours later, they arrive at Newark Airport. Major companies in Houston use fast ships like the Spartan Executive, the Northrop Delta and the Fairchild 45, along with surplus airliners like the Lockheed 12 and the Boeing 247 to speed executives throughout the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma. Local flight schools, like the Cliff Hyde Flying Service, are training an ever-increasing number of new pilots under the Government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program. Houston fixed base operators like the Cliff Hyde Flying Service and Aviation Enterprises, recently formed by former Houston Transportation Company corporate pilot Earl McKaughn and former Republic Oil Company corporate pilot Henry Erdman, sell and service new Stinsons, Fairchilds and Spartans to local oil industry companies. The Southern Aircraft Company plans to open a Houston plant to build training planes for the military.
February 3, 1940:
Braniff Airways adds Douglas DC-3 “Super B-Liners” to its routes.
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST) sleeper flights from Houston to New York.
Tony McKay becomes Houston’s first air traffic controller.
September 28, 1940:
The 1940 Air Terminal is dedicated, along with a new hangar. A public ceremony features an Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-2, along with a Braniff Airways DC-3 and Douglas DC-2, along with private and corporate aircraft based at Houston Municipal Airport. The public tours the gleaming airliners on the ground and some win chances to take a local flight. Designed by architect Joseph Finger, the Terminal serves as the administration building for the airport and supports airlines operations and air traffic control functions. The airline tenants are Eastern Airlines and Braniff Airways. The hangar is leased to Aviation Enterprises, a fixed base operator run by Earl McKaughn and Henry Erdman.
Ellington Field is reopened as an Army Air Field.
Chicago & Southern inaugurates service to Houston using Douglas DC-3s.
Houston’s Aviation Enterprises FBO successfully bids to organize the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) for the US Government. The first three classes of women aviators are trained at Aviation Enterprises’ hangar at Houston Municipal.
Paul Koonce becomes the manager of Houston Municipal Airport.
Essair wins the Civil Aeronautics Board appeal filed by Braniff Airways in 1939.
Howard Hughes’ 1938 Sikorsky S-43 flying boat is sent to the Hughes Tool Company hangar at Houston Municipal Airport. It has just been rebuilt after it was crashed in Nevada’s Lake Mead, and Hughes orders it kept ready for flight at a moment’s notice. The flying boat does not fly again until after Hughes dies in 1976.
7,335 airline flights to and from Houston carry 85,167 passengers.
August 1, 1945:
Essair resumes service from Houston to Amarillo with stops at San Angelo, Abilene, and Lubbock using Lockheed L-10A Electras.
12,977 airline flights to and from Houston carry 136,059 passengers.
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Douglas DC-4 service on its routes.
May 15, 1946:
Essair changes its name to Pioneer Airlines.
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Lockheed L649 Constellation service on its routes.
June 15, 1946:
Braniff Airways inaugurates Douglas DC-4 service to Houston from Chicago.
June 18, 1946:
Chicago & Southern Airlines attempts Houston to Chicago speed record with Douglas DC-4 flown by Jimmy Doolittle.
October 24, 1946:
Mercury Airlines is founded in Houston by Temple Bowen’s successful Trailways Bus Company using Douglas DC-3s. Bowen, who has twice before lost money in the airline industry, sees mercury as a means of absorbing Trailways’ profits which would otherwise be subject to the wartime Federal Excess Profits Tax. Mercury caters to newly discharged servicemen returning home after the war. When the Excess Profits Tax is abolished in 1947, Bowen immediately dissolves Mercury, which had been ironically profitable.
Chicago & Southern Airlines inaugurates service from Houston to Havana and San Juan using Douglas DC-4s.
December 15, 1946:
Pan American World Airways inaugurates international service from Houston to Mexico City, Mexico using Douglas DC-4s.
22,353 airline flights to and from Houston carry 246,456 passengers.
February 1, 1947:
Mid-Continent Airlines inaugurates service to Houston from Tyler, Texas as an extension of Air Mail Route 80 using Douglas DC-3s and Lockheed L-18 Lodestars.
Pioneer Airlines inaugurates DC-3 service on its routes with an airplane named David Crockett.
October 11, 1947:
Houston FBO Aviation Enterprises starts Trans-Texas Airways using Douglas DC-3s.
November 5, 1947:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates Douglas DC-6 service to Houston from Chicago and Dallas.
Ellington Army Air Field becomes Ellington Air Force Base.
7,086 airline flights to and from Houston carry 382,667 passengers.
June 4, 1948:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates service from Houston to Habana (Havana), Cuba and Balboa, Canal Zone, and Guayaquil, Ecuador on Foreign Air Mail Route 34 with the Douglas DC-6.
June 18, 1948:
Braniff International Airways extends service from Houston to Lima, Peru along Foreign Air Mail Route 34.
Chicago & Southern Airlines extends service from Houston to Caracas, Venezuela through Havana and San Juan using Douglas DC-4s.
Chicago & Southern Airlines inaugurates Lockheed L649 Constellation service on its routes.
The new Instrument landing System is commissioned in Houston, which provides pilots with both vertical and horizontal precision guidance towards the runway in instrument conditions.
34,518 airline flights to and from Houston carry 417,344 passengers.
Houston oilman Glenn McCarthy buys Howard Hughes’ Boeing 307 Stratoliner corporate airplane and uses it to fly celebrities from Hollywood to Houston Municipal Airport for the opening of McCarthy’s new luxury hotel, the Shamrock. The $1 million grand opening party became the inspiration for the novel and movie Giant.
June 3, 1949:
Pan American World Airways inaugurates Boeing 377 Stratocruiser service.
Pioneer Airlines moves its headquarters from Houston to Dallas after losing the use of the National Guard hangar.
Houston adds an international wing to the 1940 Air Terminal, along with a new fourth floor, containing air traffic control offices and a new, larger control tower cab, which are designed by architect Roy W. Leibsle. The 1940 Air Terminal is retrofitted with air conditioning.
41,989 airline flights to and from Houston carry 464,719 passengers.
The year is 1950. Air travel has grown exponentially after the end of the war. The City continues to appropriate more and more ramp space from the FBOs and corporate operators in Houston, but the airline traffic continues to outpace the available facilities. Airline flights now arrive in Houston with the benefit of Instrument Landing System (ILS) precision approach equipment. Houston’s airport is a gateway to Mexico, Central and South America. Major Corporations in Houston take advantage of extensive modifications to convert war surplus transports and bombers, including Douglas DC-3s, Lockheed L-18 Lodestars, and Douglas A-26 and B-23 bombers into big, fast and luxurious executive transports which are every bit as capable as the airlines’ best equipment. General aviation is still struggling to emerge from the “crash of 48”. Aircraft manufacturers had hoped to convert wartime production capacity into a general aviation renaissance by building new light aircraft for the hundreds of thousands of pilots trained to fly during the war. A recession and a desire on the party of many military pilots to return to more terrestrial pursuits resulted in thousands of unsold airplanes by 1948. Many long established aircraft makers, as well as aspiring new makers, go out of business or merge to survive. Despite this, in Houston the Anderson-Greenwood Company is working at Sam Houston Airport to create a new four place single it hopes will revolutionize the industry. J.D. Reed, a former Hooper Oil Company corporate pilot and long-time friend of Walter and Olive Beech, has established a successful fixed base operation (FBO) and one of the country’s first Beechcraft dealerships at Houston Municipal Airport. The Cliff Hyde Flying Service FBO and flight school has moved its operation from Houston Municipal to Sam Houston Airport, located south of downtown.
June 1, 1950:
Mid-Continent Airlines adds Convair 240s acquired from Pan American World Airways to its routes.
November 1, 1950:
Continental Airlines inaugurates service to Houston using Douglas DC-3s and Convair 240s.
44,033 airline flights to and from Houston carry 538,399 passengers.
December 17, 1951:
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Lockheed L1049 Super Constellation service on its routes.
December 20, 1951:
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Martin 4-0-4 service on its routes.
46,811 airline flights to and from Houston carry 667,231 passengers.
June 2, 1952:
Pioneer Airlines inaugurates Martin 2-0-2 service on its routes.
August 16, 1952:
Braniff International Airways merges with Mid-Continent Airlines.
November 1, 1952:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates Convair 340 service on its routes.
49,362 airline flights to and from Houston carry 733,798 passengers.
May 1, 1953:
Delta Airlines merges with Chicago & Southern Airlines.
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker celebrates Eastern Airlines’ 25th Anniversary with a dinner dance in Houston at Glenn McCarthy’s Shamrock Hotel.
51,734 airline flights to and from Houston carry 787,117 passengers.
November 4-5, 1954:
Dedication of new Houston International Airport Terminal. The dedication is marked by a two-day festival. General Ira Eaker is the keynote speaker, the US Navy Blue Angels perform and the public waits in long lines to tour airliners on static display, like Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377 Stratoliner.
53,640 airline flights to and from Houston carry 910,047 passengers.
April 1, 1955:
Continental Airlines and Pioneer Airlines merge.
53,517 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,065,787 passengers.
October 20, 1956:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates Douglas DC-7C service to Houston from Chicago and Dallas.
December 10, 1956:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates Convair 440 service on its routes.
56,614 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,223,401 passengers.
American Airlines resumes service to Houston. American provides service from Houston to *** using ***.
National Airlines inaugurates service from Houston to *** using ***.
September 6, 1957:
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines inaugurates the first European service from Houston with its DC-7C flights from Amsterdam via Toronto.
Continental Airlines inaugurates Vickers 812 Viscount turboprop service on its routes. Continental Viscounts are the first turboprops to serve Houston.
65,102 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,356,652 passengers.
October 26, 1958:
Pan American inaugurates Boeing 707 service.
65,580 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,274,760 passengers.
April 26, 1959:
Not yet generally perceived as a Communist dictator, Fidel Castro arrives at Houston International Airport aboard a Cubana Britannia turboprop as part of a tour of the United States and Canada. On departure, the heavily laden Britannia uses all of Runway 3 to become airborne and barely clears the telephone wires at the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Monroe.
September 25, 1959:
King Cruse, a fixed base operator (FBO) and Houston’s Cessna dealer, opens a new $325,000.00 business aviation facility at Houston International Airport.
October 1, 1959:
Braniff International Airways inaugurates Lockheed L188 Electra II turboprop service to Houston from Chicago and Dallas.
66,470 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,374,093 passengers.
The year is 1960. First Continental, and then Braniff and Eastern have introduced Houston to turboprop airliners. Eastern plans to introduce Houston to the jet age with its new Douglas DC-8s, but Delta steals Captain Eddie’s thunder by flying one of its new Convair 880s to Houston unannounced. Houston corporations have also welcomed the jet age with Lockheed’s Jetstar, and anticipate the announced turboprop Gulfstream and pure jet which Bill Lear is designing from a Swiss fighter. General aviation has recovered and is thriving. Many light aircraft are now all-metal and some feature tricycle landing gear. The radial engine is disappearing from new general aviation aircraft, just as it has disappeared from new airliners. J. D. Reed is now the elder statesman of general aviation in Houston and King Cruse’s Cessna dealership is doing a brisk business selling the growing line of Wichita-built light aircraft. A group of investors is planning to put a new version of the Navion into production in Galveston and the Cameron Iron Works is modifying earlier Navions into twin engine aircraft.
January 24, 1960:
Eastern Airlines inaugurates Douglas DC-8 service on its routes.
May 15, 1960:
Delta Airlines inaugurates Convair 880 service on its routes.
Lone Star Airlines inaugurates service from Dallas to Houston using Martin 2-0-2As.
63,316 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,409,346 passengers.
62,245 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,485,039 passengers.
Glenn McCarthy’s Boeing 307 Stratoliner is sold to Florida Jet Research and is flown out of Houston for the last time. The new owners narrowly escape disaster when an electrical fire breaks out in the cockpit during the ferry flight over the Gulf of Mexico. Later damages in a hurricane, the 307 is converted into a houseboat.
60,515 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,618,694 passengers.
67,811 airline flights to and from Houston carry 1,896,377 passengers.
78,080 airline flights to and from Houston carry 2,174,080 passengers.
A new control tower is completed at Houston International and tower operations are moved from the 1940 Air Terminal.
81,641 airline flights to and from Houston carry 2,599,561 passengers.
90,679 airline flights to and from Houston carry 2,982,634 passengers.
Houston International Airport is renamed William P. Hobby Airport.
103,976 airline flights to and from Houston carry 3,404,721 passengers.
121,140 airline flights to and from Houston carry 4,059,021 passengers.
June 8, 1969:
All scheduled airline service moves from Hobby Airport to Houston Intercontinental Airport.
156,966 airline flights to and from Houston carry 4,501,362 passengers.
The year is 1970. The recently renamed Hobby Airport is a ghost town with a questionable future. General aviation continues to use the field, as do a variety of “corrosion corner” operators who fly anything from oil field equipment to cattle out of Hobby in once-proud propliners, like the Lockheed L1649 Starliner Constellation. A San Antonio lawyer named Herb Kelleher has obtained Texas Railroad Commission approval to begin interstate passenger service from Hobby to Dallas and San Antonio using Lockheed L188 Electras, but is now defending a lawsuit brought by Braniff and Texas International to bar the new service.
Southwest Airlines begins service from Hobby Airport to Dallas and San Antonio using Boeing 737s, after winning the appeal of the lawsuit brought by Braniff International and Texas International before the US Supreme Court.
September 5, 1978:
The last tenants in the 1940 Air Terminal vacate and the building is abandoned. Unable to find new tenants for the 1940 Air Terminal, Hobby Airport manager James DeLong proposes demolishing the building to make room for potential ramp tenants. DeLong is opposed by acting aviation director Bill Brackley and J.D. Reed, the Beechcraft dealer who has been a pillar of the Houston aviation community since the 1930s.
Republic Airlines begins service to Hobby Airport.
The year is 1980. The recently deregulated airline industry is thriving at Hobby Airport. Led by Southwest Airlines, low cost carriers, and carriers aspiring to be low cost offer never before imagined discount fares to the masses. General aviation enjoys its best days yet. Fueled by a red-hot oil based economy, Houston does its part to support a general aviation industry that turns out over 10,000 personal and light business aircraft a year.
Ozark Airlines begins service to Hobby Airport.
Frontier Airlines begins service to Hobby Airport.
Ellington Air Force Base is turned over to the City of Houston.
Continental Airlines pledges to restore the 1940 Air Terminal for the City of Houston.
The City of Houston undertakes a preservation program to arrest the deterioration of the 1940 Air Terminal to preserve it for future restoration.
The year is 1990. The airline industry still struggles to come to terms with the post-airline deregulation world. Many established airlines, such as Braniff International, as well as post-deregulation startup airlines have failed. Many more have merged. The future looks grim for one-time aviation giants Eastern and Pan Am. Southwest thrives in the new environment and has been consistently profitable for years. General aviation has been decimated by products liability lawsuits, but business aircraft manufacturers are designing state of the art jets.
Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society formed to save and restore 1940 Air Terminal.
The year is 2000. The airline industry is enjoying unprecedented health and growth. This is no where more evident than Hobby Airport, home to more Southwest Airlines flights than any other airport in the nation. A major expansion of Hobby’s 1954 terminal begins which will double the number of gates. Resurgent airline traffic is matched by thriving business aviation traffic, now served by US Customs at the major Hobby FBOs. Even general aviation is enjoying a resurgence, evidenced by existing aircraft manufacturers re-starting production of light aircraft and new manufacturers offering new designs. Cliff Hyde Flying Service has moved its flight school to Ellington Field. The airlines, business aviation and general aviation can now use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers to make precision approaches to Houston Intercontinental, Hobby, and virtually every airport in the Houston area. The Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society is hard at work seeking funds to implement its plan to restore the 1940 Air Terminal as a civil aviation museum.
April 1, 2003:
Buoyed by support from the Houston Endowment, the Fondren Foundation and a variety of grass roots supporters, as well as Southwest Airlines and Continental Airlines, the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society leases the 1940 Air Terminal from the City of Houston and commences its restoration.
December 17, 2003:
The 100th Anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. Houston celebrates the Centennial of manned Flight by reopening the North wing of the 1940 Air Terminal to the public as the first phase of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum.