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Capital Airlines

Capital Airlines
Founded November 1, 1936 (1936-11-01)
(as Pennsylvania Central Airlines)
Commenced operations April 21, 1948 (1948-04-21)
(as Capital Airlines)
Ceased operations June 1, 1961 (1961-06-01)
(merged into United Airlines)
Fleet size See Fleet in 1961 below
Destinations See Destinations in 1961 below
Headquarters Washington, District of Columbia, United States

Capital Airlines was an airline serving the eastern United States that merged into United Airlines in 1961. Their primary hubs were National Airport near Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh. In the 1950s they were the largest US domestic carrier by passenger count (and sometimes by passenger-miles) after the Big Four (American, United, TWA, and Eastern). Their headquarters was in Washington, D.C.[1] On June 1, 1961, Capital Airlines merged into United Airlines.


  • History 1
    • Predecessors 1.1
    • Pennsylvania Central Airlines 1.2
    • Capital's last decade 1.3
  • Destinations 2
    • Alabama 2.1
    • Florida 2.2
    • Georgia 2.3
    • Illinois 2.4
    • Maryland 2.5
    • Louisiana 2.6
    • Michigan 2.7
    • Minnesota 2.8
    • New Jersey 2.9
    • New York 2.10
    • North Carolina 2.11
    • Ohio 2.12
    • Pennsylvania 2.13
    • Tennessee 2.14
    • Virginia 2.15
    • Washington D.C. 2.16
    • West Virginia 2.17
    • Wisconsin 2.18
  • Fleet in 1961 3
  • Accidents and incidents 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
  • External links 8



Clifford A. Ball, a McKeesport, Pennsylvania, automobile dealer and owner of a controlling interest in Bettis Field near Pittsburgh, won airmail contract route No. 11 on March 27, 1926. In April of the following year, The Clifford Ball Airline began operating between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, Ohio. Famed humorist and performer Will Rogers was known to be an early and regular passenger,[2] but scheduled passenger service did not begin until April 28, 1928. The following August, they became the first airline to serve Washington, DC, from the west, offering their flagship "Path of the Eagle" service from Cleveland to Hoover Field across the Potomac River.

Ball sold his interests in November 1930 to Air Mail scandal of the early 1930s. Central Airlines, otherwise notable for hiring Helen Richey, the first female commercial pilot in the U.S., became PAL's main competitor after their founding in 1934. The two companies merged to form Pennsylvania Central Airlines, or PCA, on November 1, 1936.

Pennsylvania Central Airlines

DC-3 of Pennsylvania Central Airlines

PCA, based at the new Allegheny County Airport near Pittsburgh, continued to add routes, notably to Chicago in 1938, and aircraft, notably the Douglas DC-3 in 1939.

In 1941 PCA moved their headquarters to the new Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, becoming one of its three original tenants; PCA had been consulted during the airport's design. The row of office buildings next to its hangars became "mahogany row" and the airline adopted the slogan "The Capital Airline," with its aircraft dubbed "Capitaliners." By 1947 their route network no longer reflected their name, and on April 21, 1948, the airline adopted a new insignia, colors and name: Capital Airlines.

In 1946 PCA began flying the Douglas DC-4. In 1948 they created the "Nighthawk," one of the first coach class services, to compete with the railroads between Chicago and New York City and the dominant airlines on the route, United, TWA and American. Each flight left at 1 AM and stopped for ten minutes at Pittsburgh (Allegheny County). Chicago-NY fare was $29.60 plus 15% federal tax; seats on all other flights cost $44.10 plus tax.

Capital's last decade

In 1948 the first airborne television was installed on a Capital airplane.

In 1950 Capital Airlines received their first Lockheed Constellations. In 1955 they became the first U.S. operator of the four engine Vickers Viscount, which was the first passenger turboprop airliner. The Viscounts were deployed on the flagship Washington-Chicago route and the airline hoped to use them on expanded service, but they were mostly stymied by the Civil Aeronautics Board. Still, Capital's passenger-miles in 1957 were 88% more than 1955.

On July 20, 1952 a Capital pilot reported seeing a blue-white ball in the sky. This was one of a series of sightings that month known as the 1952 Washington D.C. UFO incident.[3]

The airline also encountered labor difficulties. Maintenance personnel went on strike in 1958, crippling operations for 38 days. On April 1, 1960, the New York State Commission Against Discrimination faulted Capital Airlines for failing to hire Patricia Banks, an African-American woman who had been denied employment as a flight attendant despite meeting all job requirements. She became one of only two black flight attendants in the country.[4]

These problems compounded slow revenue growth in the late 1950s, and the airline began to struggle financially. In May 1960 Vickers foreclosed on Capital's entire fleet of Viscounts, and bankruptcy for the airline seemed certain. However, on July 28, 1960, they announced a merger with Chicago-based rival United Airlines, saving them from that fate. When completed on June 1, 1961, it was the largest airline merger in history.[5] United continued to operate the British-built Viscounts that had been flown by Capital. In 1961 Capital had begun operating new Boeing 720s owned by United. The cover of the airline's June 1, 1961 timetable proclaimed: New Boeing 720 Jets New York - Atlanta - New Orleans: 2 Round Trips Daily.[6]

In 1981 former employees formed the Capital Airlines Association to preserve their memories of the old carrier. A retired United Airlines pilot, Milt Marshall, bought the Capital trademark and operated a charter business under the Capital name out of Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Connecticut.[7]

In a bizarre final chapter to the brand's story, in July 2004 Capt. Marshall was transporting a passenger in a Capital Airways life insurance policy just prior to the flight, killed the pilot and himself causing the crash. The bodies were so mutilated that no official cause of death was determined and the case was closed. This marked the last chapter in the tragedy-strewn history of Capital Airlines.[8][9]


In June 1946 PCA flew to 38 airports; in December 1959 Capital flew to 56. The June 1, 1961 timetable shows flights to:[6]


  • Birmingham
  • Huntsville
  • Mobile


  • Jacksonville
  • Miami
  • St. Petersburg
  • Tampa
  • West Palm Beach
  • Fort Lauderdale


  • Atlanta



  • Baltimore


  • New Orleans


  • Detroit
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids
  • Lansing
  • Muskegon
  • Saginaw/Bay City/Midland
  • Traverse City


  • Minneapolis/St. Paul

New Jersey

New York

  • Buffalo
  • Elmira/Corning
  • New York City LaGuardia Airport and Idlewild (now JFK)
  • Rochester

North Carolina

  • Asheville
  • Charlotte
  • Greensboro/High Point
  • Raleigh/Durham
  • Winston-Salem


  • Akron
  • Cleveland
  • Toledo
  • Youngstown


  • Harrisburg
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Williamsport



  • Newport News
  • Norfolk
  • Richmond

Washington D.C.

West Virginia

  • Charleston


  • Milwaukee

Fleet in 1961

The June 1, 1961 timetable lists flights on:[6]

Capital operated Lockheed Constellations until 1960. It ordered de Havilland Comets in 1956, Convair 880s in 1958 and Lockheed L-188 Electras in 1959;[10] none of these aircraft were delivered.

Accidents and incidents

August 31, 1940
PCA Trip 19, a Douglas DC-3-313 (NC21789), departed Washington, DC into an intense thunderstorm. Probable cause was the disabling of the pilots by a severe lightning discharge close to the plane, which caused a sudden dive from 6,000 feet (1,800 m), killing all 25 aboard. The crash was the worst American airline accident to that date.[11][12][13]
April 16, 1941
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Trip 143, a Boeing 247D (NC13359), en route from Charleston, West Virginia (Wertz Field) to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, crashed into the hills near St. Albans, West Virginia after the right engine failed just after takeoff. One member of the crew and two passengers suffered serious injuries. One member of the crew and the other four passengers suffered minor injuries. There were no fatalities.[14]
April 14, 1945
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 142, a Douglas DC-3-313A (NC25692), crashed on Coopers Rock Ridge near Morgantown, West Virginia due to pilot error, killing all 20 on board.[15]
January 6, 1946
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 105, a Douglas DC-3 (NC21786), originating in New York City with stops in Pittsburgh and Knoxville crashed while on an instrument approach to Runway 18 at Birmingham Municipal Airport in Birmingham, Alabama. The pilot, first officer, and a check airman who occupied the cockpit jump seat perished; several passengers were injured, none fatally.[16]
June 13, 1947
Pennsylvania Central Airlines Flight 410, a Douglas C-54 (NC88842), crashed into Lookout Rock, West Virginia, about eight miles southeast of Charles Town, West Virginia, while en route from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC, killing all 50 on board.[17]
December 12, 1949
Capital Airlines Flight 500, a Douglas DC-3-313A (NC25691), stalled and crashed in the Potomac River off Washington, DC, killing six of 23 on board.[18]
February 20, 1956
A Capital Airlines Vickers Viscount 744 (N7404, c/n 90) was damaged beyond economic repair at Chicago Midway International Airport after a hard landing due to a malfunction of the propeller control switches; all 42 on board survived. Despite this, the aircraft was remanufactured as c/n 301 and entered service with Trans-Canada Air Lines in May 1957.[19][20]
April 6, 1958
Capital Airlines Flight 67, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7437), lost control and crashed on approach to Saginaw, Michigan, resulting in 47 fatalities. The crash was attributed to ice on the horizontal stabilizer.[21][22]
May 20, 1958
Capital Airlines Flight 300, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7410), collided with Air National Guard Lockheed T-33 35966, killing all eleven on board when the Viscount crashed at Brunswick, Maryland, as was one of the two crew members of the T-33.[23][24]
May 12, 1959
Capital Airlines Flight 983, a Lockheed L-049E Constellation (N2735A), was intentionally ground looped by the pilot, after a landing on a short, wet runway at Charleston, West Virginia. It caught fire as it skidded and slid down a steep embankment, killing two of 44 on board.[25][26]
May 12, 1959
Capital Airlines Flight 75, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7463), broke up in mid-air after encountering thunderstorms. The aircraft crashed at Chase, Maryland, killing all 31 people on board.[27][28]
January 18, 1960
Capital Airlines Flight 20, a Vickers Viscount 745D (N7462), crashed at Holdcroft, Virginia, after losing power from at first two, then all four engines (although one engine was restarted). All 50 people on board were killed.[29][30]

See also

  • Miss Pittsburgh – preserved historic aircraft flown by Clifford Ball
  • researched Gendisasters|Charleston Daily Mail and The Evening Standard, Uniontown, Pa.|physical copy of old print April 16, 1945


  1. ^ "World Airline Directory." Flight International. April 8, 1960. 495.
  2. ^ Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Paptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, lccn 84-070588, page 101
  3. ^
  4. ^ Patricia Banks collection, 1957–1999, New York Public Library archives.
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c, June 1, 1961 Capital Airlines system timetable
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^, Capital Airlines fleet information
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^


  • Charles Baptie "Capital Airlines a Nostalgic Flight into the Past" Charles Baptie Studio, Annandale, Virginia, 1984, L.O.C Number 84-070588
  • Airline History: Capital Airlines ( copy)
  • Lloyd, Kristin B. "Flying the Capital Way, Part I" (PDF), Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Winter 1997
  • Lloyd, Kristin B. "Flying the Capital Way, Part II" (PDF), Historic Alexandria Quarterly, Spring 1998

External links

  • Capital Airlines timeline,
  • Memorabilia related to Capital Airlines and its predecessors,
  • Images of Capital Airlines timetables and route map,
  • [1] has several Capital timetables from 1937–60, showing where they flew, how often, how long it took and how much it cost.
  • Capital Airlines history,
  • Clifford Ball Airline history,
  • Southwestern Pennsylvania aviation from 1919 to 1930, ( copy)
  • Fleet listing of Pennsylvania Central aircraft
  • Fleet listing of Capital Airlines aircraft
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