DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Delta Air Service operated its first passenger flight from Dallas, Texas, to Jackson, Mississippi, US, in 1929.
Delta Air Line’s (DL) history begins with a crop-dusting adventure in the US and Peru. Huff Daland Dusters, the predecessor of Delta, was the first commercial agricultural flying company, and Huff Daland’s 18 planes became the largest privately-owned fleet in the world.
Delta Air Service’s first appearance dates back to 1928 when C.E. Woolman returned to Monroe (MLU) from Peru with enough funds to create the airline with US$40,000 from Monroe’s community investors.
To switch from crop dusting to passenger transportation, C.E. Woolman acquired Fox Flying Service and its two six-seater Travel Air Model S-6000B, pilot included. The first online service took off from Dallas Love Field (DAL) on June 17, 1929, with a destination of Jackson (JAN) via Shreveport (SHV) and MLU.
Becoming Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Service had to face harsh competition when the carrier attempted to enter the lucrative airmail service created by the postmaster General, Walter Folger Brown, in 1930. The nascent airline did not possess the capacity nor the night flying qualifications to obtain the service that was given to American Airlines (AA), one of the big four, Eastern Airlines (EA), Trans World Airlines (TW), and United Airlines (UA).
In 1934, Delta Air Service changes its name to DL and acquires six trimotor Stinson SM-6000B or Stinson T aircraft. In 1935, an MLU banker, Clarence E. Faulk, took control of DL, becoming the first Chairman of its Board, a position he held until 1951 when he passed away from natural causes.
C.E. Woolman considered that DL did not operate a competitive and modern fleet and, in 1935, issued a company policy that became an integral part of DL until today. The carriers chose rising aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed, and purchased five Lockheed Model 10 Electra. These were the first “all-metal” aircraft in the DL fleet, entering service at the end of 1935.
Early Delta Air Lines Fleet
The fleet again evolved in 1940 when four Douglas DC2 aircraft, seating 14 passengers, were purchased from AA, just in time for DL to take advantage of the rapidly evolving air transportation within the US, with a new crew member on board, the first DL flight attendant. The DC2 did not live long, as it was replaced by the DC3 type on Christmas Eve of 1940.
After WWII, DL started switching to four-engined aircraft with the arrival of seven DC4, previously C-54B Skymasters with the Air Force, a giant step forward with an aircraft capable of carrying 44 passengers and flying non-stop from Chicago (ORD) to Miami (MIA).
Delta’s Douglas Aircraft
The DC4 was soon followed by the larger DC6 and DL entered into Interchange Services Agreements with TW, AA, and National Airlines (NA), and inherited the Chicago & Southern one when a merger took place. The agreement allowed DL to enter markets previously not available due to CAB’s restrictive regulations. The merger opened the door for DL expansion on international routes to the Caribbean, now operated by Lockheed 749 Constellation.
Delta continued to show its preference for Douglas aircraft and ordered ten DC7 and in 1956 was given permission to fly from ATL to New York-Newark (EWR), a big win for DL which had long struggled against the “big four” to serve the Big Apple. Another change took place in 1959 when DL entered the jet age and put in service a 119 seats Douglas DC8-11.
The jet age continued with the arrival of the Convair 880 aircraft, the DC8-61, the DC9 workhorse, followed by the first widebodies, with the Jumbo Jet Boeing 747 starting service to London (LHR) in January 1970, a short-lived episode since the aircraft was withdrawn in 1977. DL gave preference to the tri-jet Lockheed L-1011 Tristar or to the Douglas DC10, the latter on lease from UA.
Start of Transpacific Routes
A trans-Pacific route was opened in December 1984 using Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, and the first Boeing 767 arrived in December 1982 thanks to US$30m raised by DL employees through pay reduction.
In 1984, DL became the world’s largest operator of the Boeing 757, a replacement for its Boeing 727s and DC9s.
In 1990, DL became the first U.S. airline to operate the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 aircraft, leasing two from Mitsui. In addition, the carrier expanded dramatically by purchasing most of Pan Am’s European routes after the latter declared bankruptcy in 1991.
Featured image: Delta Air Service TDelta Air Service. Photo: Delta Flight Museum. Article source: “The Illustrated History of a Major US Airline and the People who Made it” by R.E.G. Davies and Mike Machan.