Western Airlines


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Western Airlines began on 13 July 1925 as Western Air Express - WAE - operating mail services with a single Douglas M-2 biplane. The airline had been awarded the Salt-Lake City to Los Angeles segment of the trans-continental US Air Mail Route on 7 October 1925. WAE flew the route from April 1926 and apart from carrying mail it flew with passengers. This was so successful that within a month of the new route opening WAE made US history when it started America's first scheduled and sustained passenger service.

In 1928 WAE acquired control of the Fokker Aircraft Company. The US Postmaster General forced a merger between two of the airlines flying his mail routes, WAE and TAT - Transcontinental Air Transport - and the two airlines formed a new airline called Transcontinental & Western Air - TWA

For a time after this Western Air Express operated under the name General Airlines.

In August 1931 WAE purchased two routes owned by Mid-Contenental Air Express. These were both from Pueblo in Colorado to El Paso and to Fort Worth which linked with the TWA trans-continental route from New York to Los Angeles.

In 1937 the airline bought out National Park Airways giving WAE a route from Great Falls, Montana to Salt Lake City.


On 11 March 1941 WAE was renamed Western Airlines.

Douglas DC-3s were in use prior to the war but were taken over during the war with Western flying the difficult routes between Great Falls and Edmonton to points in Alaska on behalf of the US Government. Western purchased Inland Air Lines giving Western a circuitous route to Minneapolis. Douglas DC-4s were introduced during this war period.

In 1943 Western came into competition with T.W.A. on a route from Los Angeles and San Francisco and by 1946 Western was flying twelve non-stop flights a day on this route. A new coach-class Seattle-Los Angeles route in competition with United Air Lines .

During the post-war years Western introduced the Lockheed L-749a Constellation which was still flying ten years after the first jets.

L-749 Constellation in 1969

Lockheed L-749 Constellation N1552V in Seattle 1969 - Mel Lawrence

By 1951 Douglas DC-6B airliners were introduced on the West Coast routes.

Douglas DC-6B in postwar Western livery

Douglas DC-6B in 1950s Western livery

1959 saw the introduction of turboprop Lockheed Electras on the Seattle to Los Angeles route. The photo below shows the Native American Indian head on the front of the cheatline. Western used this image of America's original people because it was the first airline in the US to begin scheduled and sustained air routes.

Electra in 1968

Lockheed L-188 Electra N9744C at SFO in 1968 - Mel Lawrence

1961 saw the introduction of a fleet of 13 Boeing 720Bs which were introduced in the current livery of the time. They would remain in service into the 1970s.

Boeing 720B in original 1961 livery

Boeing 720B in original 1961 livery - AirNikon

1967 the airline merged with PNA - Pacific Northern Airlines who flew routes throughout Alaska with a fleet of Constellations and Boeing 720B jets. Both the jets and the routes were incorporated into Western.

In 1968 Boeing 707-320C jets were purchased as Western moved toward an all-jet fleet ideal.

Boeing 707-320c in 1970 'W' livery

Boeing 707-320C N1541W in 1970 livery - SFO 1974 - John P Stewart

1968 also saw the purchase of a fleet of Boeing 737-200s. These 737s would take over from the fleet of turboprop Electras.

Boeing 737-200 in 1970 'W' livery

Boeing 737-200 in 1970 'W' livery - AirNikon

Boeing 727-200 jets were also ordered in 1968.

Boeing 727-200 in 1970 'W' livery

Boeing 727-200 in 1970 'W' livery - AirNikon

A fleet of Douglas DC10-10s were delivered from April 1973 and named ' Spaceships ' by Western. Toward the end of the- 1970s an international service to London-Gatwick was introduced using Douglas DC10-10s.

DC10-10  N915WA at Gatwick in 1980

DC10-10 N915WA at Gatwick in 1980- Sarah Ward

During the 1980s Western experimented with a new all-silver livery. This allowed the aircraft to fly with less paint and therefore more cheaply.

Boeing 737-200 in sliver livery

Boeing 737-200 in all-silver 'W' livery 1980s - AirNikon

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