TWA 1937 Trans-Continental Routes

These twenty TWA Coast-to-Coast scheduled flights were created using the best available resources I could find. Using today's VORs and NDBs, they follow as accurately as possible the 1937 air routes of long-range (200nm) Long-Wave four-course radio beacons, the 1937 TWA route schedule, and the airports then in use.

The twenty scheduled routes include 112 individual "flights" or "legs". Some of these legs are flown in one route and then again flown as part of another scheduled route, but by a different airplane.

In 1935 TWA flew the DC-2 on these routes using "Sky-Sleeper Service." But the DC-3, which Douglas was already promoting in "Aviation Week" magazine, soon replaced the DC-2. For the first time ever, with the "Sky Chief" one could leave New York at the end of one business day and arrive in Los Angeles the next morning in time for a business meeting.

For accuracy, I consulted with a retired TWA pilot who flew the routes in a DC-3, beginning in 1946 after leaving the military. (He retired in the 1970s as a Boeing 747 Captain!)

He wrote me:

New Nav facilities were constantly being installed. New and/or relocated radio facilities often meant a new airway or straightening a jog in an older one. Also before long, if not at first to some extent, there were alternate 'side routes' for weather deviations. Therefore the best that you can do is 'to go' with the 'Main' or usual route, since there was no, 'must use' route. The shortest set of airways was used when there was no need for deviations. [By the way, the VOR came along in the late '40's.]

The "Sky Chief" was the name of a route that was originally flown by the DC-2, and later the DC-3. The TWA pilot told me that the airline dropped the name "Sky Chief" after WW2 as it was too similar to that of the railroad's "Super Chief." They no longer wanted any resemblance or any comparison to the railroads.

The schedules include actual TWA Departure and Arrival times should you desire to set your time-of-day to that of the original flight. Or, you can fly the route at any time you wish and enjoy the ever-changing cross-country scenery!

I plotted and flight-tested them using FS2002 and FSNavigator ... I used "Real Weather," too, and was able to meet the schedule times – as was Dave Arnold, DCA-520!


Jay Schneider, DCA523
November 2003


Here is some interesting reading I found about the TWA route:

"Surely, silently, swiftly, this mighty monarch of the air glides across the central trans-continental skyway, offering the utmost in comfort and security. Here is speed – the fastest mode of transportation – yet smooth and motionless beyond comparison."

"Mile after mile of soft, fleecy clouds unfold in all their splendor, a sea of cotton tinted with the hues of the setting sun. The air castles formed by the billowy clouds often separate to disclose the world below. Restless cities and the winding trails of a former day pass in review before those who have chosen this supreme achievement in transportation – the criterion for all air travel – The Sky Chief."

In the late 1930s TWA's "Sky Chiefs" chugged from Newark to Chicago to Kansas City to Albuquerque and then on to LA on a pretty regular basis. The 17 hour and 39 minute journey carried 17 passengers and 3 crew:

Newark's Eastern Terminal of the Lindbergh Line was the place where they started. Every day at 4:45pm (ET) TWA flight #5 started the long journey west. Chicago's Municipal Airport was touch-downed just shy of five hours later, at 8:30 (CT) that same night. Thirty minutes after that the "gigantic monster of the air ... eight tons of metal" left for Kansas City. After a 27 minute-long near-midnight refueling stop in Missouri the "mighty monarch of the air" continued west into "Indian country" and landed at Albuquerque at 4:17am (MT). A little more than four hours later, at 7:30am (PT), saw the DC-2 hangared at Los Angeles's Grand Central Airport in Glendale. Thereafter, from LA you could connect upward to San Francisco on a United Air Lines flight (adding another 159 minutes to your travel day), or to San Diego or Palm Springs via other airlines. Twelve hours later the same crew flew the same plane back to Newark.

In-flight meals, 'laptop' typewriters, reclining seats, fluffy pillows were the norm.

This 1937 TWA "Sky Chief" guide to your transcontinental flight pretty much told you what to expect:

"A short trip from the center of town to the airport, with a careful driver in a modern limousine ... The air terminal – a veritable hum of activity – uniformed attendants – baggage checked – telegrams sent – magazines bought ... And then the thrilling call, 'All Aboard' – the two engines roar in perfect unison ... From city to city, from coast to coast a message is flashed – 'Sky Chief departed on time' – Seventeen people and a thousand pounds of mail rise to the skyway. The mighty liner gains altitude charting its course for the first of five stops between New York and California ... "

"Up front, seated side-by-side two thoroughly trained pilots study their maps – keep a watchful eye on their instruments – while the plane, powered by two 710-horsepower engines and guided by a gyro pilot, never deviates from its charted course ... "

"Hello Chicago – First Westbound Sky Chief calling – we are now flying 10 miles west of Plymouth at eight thousand feet – ceiling unlimited, visibility 10 miles – will be landing in Chicago in 25 minutes. What is your wind and weather? ... "

" ... Chicago calling First Sky Chief – wind here 10 miles per hour southwest – barometer thirty ten – weather clear and unlimited ... "

"A dinner served above the clouds is so tempting – so appetizing. Just to breathe the clean, fresh air aloft seems to stimulate an appetite that only a tasty fried chicken dinner can satisfy ... "

"The lights of a city ahead – the flash of a beacon – and the skyliner begins its slow descent to the airport of another city ... "

"The skyliner takes a long drink of gasoline – 510 gallons – enough to fly over a thousand miles without refueling ... "

"In ten minutes the plane is off to a fresh start – next stop Kansas City – half way across the continent ... "

"The air is still and calm. There is no perceptible motion and the cabin is very quiet. The watchful hostess notes a nod of the head – suggests a more comfortable position – adjusts the chair – adds a pillow or two for perfect comfort – draws a curtain – and hundreds of miles slip by unnoticed as sleep creeps across the passenger ... "

"In another part of the cabin a bridge game is in progress – two chairs having been reversed to face two others... "

"And as the journey draws to a close the passengers, refreshed and relaxed and with renewed energy, reluctantly leave the skyliner. Quiet, luxurious parlor cabins – freedom from dust and dirt and the smooth swift flights place TWA unequaled by other means of travel. Weary travel hours and days were for pioneers – while today's passengers enjoy the energy saving, time saving and economical air transportation ... "

"It is a story to tell – the story of the Sky Chief." - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

From ON TIME – THE SKY CHIEF, Copyright 1937, Transcontinental & Western Airways, Inc.

This booklet was given to all passengers who traveled on TWA's "Sky Chief" service.

The TWA logo remained intact with the renaming in 1950 to Trans World Airlines.

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