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 John Schmidt (dc8schmidt@twc.com) | Home > 
Remembering Capital Airlines 10/18
It is still hard for me to think of Capital in the past tense. The story of Capital's rise and fall is thoroughly documented in George Cearly's excellent 1988 publication. But no book can fully convey the sense of pride felt as Capital led America into the jet age, or the sense of loss as Capital struggled to remain viable in its latter years.
Capital successfully strengthened its system with new southern routes in the 50s , and clobbered their competition with the Viscounts, but a devastating series of crashes in the late 50s and persistant financial problems damaged their prospects, and stifled their recovery.
  Capital aggressively tried to maintain its technological leadership with a Comet 4 purchase in 1956, but it failed to materialize due to delays and finances. Britannias and Electras were built for Capital, but financial issues never allowed their delivery. Finally an order for 7 Convair 880s was cancelled with the announcement of the merger with United.
   Capital was gone, but the distinctive sound of those Rolls Royce Darts were heard for years to come, ghosts of Capital flying in United colors. Following are cards and photos, something of a scrapbook of Capital's evolution from 1930s to 1960s.
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Capital
We'll always remember Capital, whose actual existence was rather short compared to most of the major airlines. It became known as Capital in 1946, and disappeared with the 1961 merger into United. Following is a little postcard history of the Capital Airline, which accomplished so much in a comparatively short time.

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Pensylvania TT 1936
Probably the most brutal airline competition ever was the battle for passengers from Detroit to Washington in the 1930s.

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Central TT 1936
Pennsylvania and Central competed over an identical route until common sense prevailed and a merger was accomplished in September of 1936

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Pennsylvania Boeing 247D
Pennsylvania was flying the new Boeing 247D as shown on this vintage collector card from that time. It carried 10 passengers plus a stewardess at 171 mph

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Central (Pennsylvania)  Stinson A
Central, on the other hand, advertised the speed of the Stinsons,(only 162 mph), and even squeezed a stewardess in behind the aircraft's 8 seats.

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Pennsylvania Central TT 1936
So, in November 1936, Pennsylvania Central was born, soon to become one of the 16 original Trunk Airlines.

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Pennsylvania Boeing 247 #1
Pennsylvania was quick to issue cards of their Boeings. This airliner was a United  aircraft, leased to Western in 1935, and  to Pennsylvania in 1936. This aircraft did not serve with Pennsylvania Central after the war.

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Pennsylvania Boeing 247 #2KCF
This Pennsylvania issue from 1936 shows N13361, another ex United aircraft which was drafted into the war effort, and went to Mexico after. This rare card by courtesy of Kuo-Ching Fu.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #1
Pennsylvania Central was launched with Boeing 247s, but when the DC-3 arrived, the 247s were quickly phased out. Shown is one of a Number of PCA issued DC-3 cards.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #6
In my view, the very best PCA DC-3 card is not a card at all, but an ink blotter. This  unusual item shows NC21786, the first DC-3 received by Pennsylvania Central in October 1939, and unfortunately written off at Birmingham in 1946.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #2
A nice Pennsyvania Central issue showing NC21781, delivered 1 month later, but operating until 1961 as the Capitaliner Detroit. It at one time became a jump plane, and remains airworthy in California.

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Pennsylvania Central Stewardess #2
Pennsylvania Central was very proud of their hostesses and issued 4 postcards featuring them. This lovely lady is featured at the door of a DC-3.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #10 KCF
This is the rare Jumbo Postcard issue of NC 21787 in flight. The airliner operated for PCA through the war, but was sold to fledgling airline Caribbean Atlantic. The airline simply retitled the fuselage and removed the "P" from the logos to make them CA

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #3
PCA's first card to employ some color is this nice view of NC21787 in flight. Delivered in May 1940, it became a Caribair aircraft in 1946, finally WFU in 1977 in Puerto Rico.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #5
This  black and white card of the previous image is  more difficult to find as it was used solely for the return of lost and found items from PCA'S aircraft.

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Pennsylvania Central Stewardess #4
Another charming PCA stewardess gracing the doorway of a DC-3.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #4
A very unusual card for the time is this final PCA issue of NC21787.

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Pennsylvania Central Stewardess #1
This widely circulated card  celebrates an award that most certainly could not exist in today's carefully regimented environment.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-3 #10
A full color linen postcard showing
PCA DC-3 NC45338 at Knoxville. This was an ex Air Force DC-3, delivered in 1946. It apparently operated briefly for United after the merger, but later went to Shawnee Airlines in Florida and finally Aero Virgin Islands in 1978.


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Pennsylvania Central DC-4 #2
This splendid, iconic Jumbo Postcard shows the Capitaliner Washington over the Capital building. Capital's identity was always associated with Washington, and numerous Capital cards and promotions featured airliners over Washington DC monuments.

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Pennsylvania Central Stewardess #3
The DC-4s provided more range and capacity, and had 2 of the PCA air hostesses, as shown on this PCA issue.

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Pennsylvania Central DC-4 #1
One final view of a PCA DC-4 over the Washington monument is provided by this International Airlines Museum issue. The registration shown was not used. The Capitaliner Washington, when delivered became NC86554, and operated until the merger.

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Capital DC-3 #2
As significant as the DC-3 was to Capital, they issued no cards. This vintage Grand Rapids Airport issue shows a DC-3 before application of the white upper fuselage.

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Capital DC-3 #1
An excellent Mary Jayne's issue showing the Capitaliner Cheboygan, N 44993, at the gate. The airliner operated from March of 1945 until written off at Charleston WV in 1959.

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Capital DC-3 #3
This final snowy view of a Capital DC-3 is an early IAWP issue (#8), showing N49553, the Capitaliner Corning, delivered in 1945, and crashed at Martinsburg WV in June of 1958.

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Capital DC-4 #1
An amazingly mint copy of the first (and only) Capital issued DC-4. The Capitaliner Youngstown, NC91069, delivered to PCA in 1948, operated until the merger in 1961. Later sold to Mideastern Airlines, and written off in December 1971.

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Capital DC-4 #5 KCF
This vintage Enell issue, shared by Kuo Ching Fu, also shows NC 91069 in flight, but unlike most views is not over a Washington landmark.

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Capital DC-4 #2
One of my favorite DC-4 cards, this Mary Jayne's issue shows the Capitaliner Newark in gleaming new Capital colors. With this new scheme, the windows were highlighted with squares, to resemble DC-6s. It was delivered in July of 1946, serving until November of 1955, when it was sold to Pacific Southwest. In 1961 PSA sold it to Starways in the UK.

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Capital DC-4 #3
A very nice International Airline Museum issue of Capital's N95410, the Capitaliner Mobile. This airliner, like the previous DC-4 was sold upon arrival of new Viscounts in 1955. It later went to Los Angeles Air Services, Meteor Air, General Airways, American International, Interocean in Luxembourg, and finally Aerovias Panama, where it ditched into the sea in 1963.

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Capital DC-4 #4
One final view of an unidentified Capital DC-4. Card is a Grand Rapids Michigan airport issue, posted in 1956.

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Capital Super-DC-3 #2 EC
Due to Pennsylvania Central's cancellation (perhaps fortuitous), of a large Martin 202 order, Capital was left without a new generation twin engined aircraft. The upgraded Super DC-3 was thought to be a possible remedy, but the 3 delivered were quickly sold and Capital never operated a pressurized twin. This excellent Capital photo is by courtesy of Ed Coates.

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Capital Constellation #2
In my view one of the greatest Constellation cards ever issued, this common card shows N 86531, the Capitaliner United States in flight. This beauty was built for KLM, but joined Capital in 1950.

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Capital Constellation #4
Enell issued this splendid postcard of the Capitaliner United States as well. This airliner served Capital until the merger, when it was sold to Modern Air.

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Capital Constellation #5GS
This rare menu card was kindly shared by Greg Smith, and also shows N86531 in flight. After the United merger it was sold to ModernAir and operated for at least 5 years. It ultimately was used for a restaurant.

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Capital Constellation #4
One final vintage card shows a Capital Constellation at the Raleigh Durham Airport. Card slightly cropped to feature the aircraft

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Capital Viscount 700 #9
One of the earliest Vickers issues featured the Capital Viscount 744. The huge order from Capital and the big competitive advantage it demonstrated certainly helped to facilitate many other Viscount buys.

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Capital Viscount 700 #2
My first Viscount card was this ramp view of N7403 at Washington. Some say it is a Shell issue, but it came from a Viscount flight in 1956. This early 744 model was returned to Vickers in 1958, and later operated for All Nippon.

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Capital Viscount 700 #3
This less common Capital issue features a Viscount over New York City.  The Viscounts hammered DC-6 operations from American and United.

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Capital Viscount 700 #4
This excellent Capital issue was sent to me by a passenger on a "VIP" flight, featuring Filet Mignon and Champaign dinner in route to Chicago from DCA.

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Capital Viscount 700 #5
One of the best postcard views of the Viscount is this vintage Plastichrome issue. Also showing the short lived N7403.

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Capital Viscount 700 #6
The best Capital issue has to be this outstanding in flight view. Capital operated 60 Viscounts, and covered much of the Eastern half of the United States with turbine powered flights.

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Capital Viscount 700 #1
This outstanding Spanjersburg issue shows N 7462, a later Viscount 745D, delivered in March of 1957. It operated less than 3 years before crashing near Richmond in January 1960.

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Capital Viscount 700 #7
This is an excellent Cleveland Airport issue, showing N7418 boarding passengers. This airliner served Capital for only 4 years before sale to Alitalia. Later, in 1968, it went to British Midland

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Capital Viscount 700 #10
A great view of N7443 on the ramp at Milwaukee. Delivered to Capital in 1956, it continued in service with United until 1968

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Capital Viscount 700 #12 KCF
A really nice in flight view of the first Capital Viscount delivered in 1955. N7402 was also returned to Vickers in 1958. It, like 7403 went to All Nippon in 1960, but was written off at Itami Japan on June 12, 1961. Card is an International Airlines Museum issue, by courtesy of Kuo-Ching Fu.

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Capital Viscount 700 #13 KCF
Enell also issued a Viscount 700 card, showing an unidentified aircraft. This card by courtesy of Kuo-Ching Fu

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Capital Viscount 700 #14 KCF
This is a very hard to find vintage card of the Capital Viscount N7444, displaying the airline's short lived final livery. One of the later Viscounts delivered in October 1956, it served with United until 1968. Thanks to Kuo-Ching Fu for this one!

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United Viscount 700 #2a
After the merger, which really helped expand United's marketplace, the Viscounts continued serving most of their regular destinations. Here N7441 is shown on an Asheville Airport issue. This aircraft served through 1968 with United and ultimately arrived at Embry Riddle.

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United Viscount 700 #4A
A great view of N7449 on a vintage Muskegon Airport card. It served United until 1969, and ultimately went to Aerolineas Condor of Ecuador, where it was written off in 1980

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United Viscount 700 #3a
A nice view of N7426 at the Quad Cities Airport. This airliner, delivered to Capital in May 1956, served with United until 1966, when sold to BKS in the UK. BKS retired it in 1970

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Capital Britannia 300
Capital placed an order for 5  New Britannia 300s in 1956 to expand long haul capability, with up to the minute technology. This 1st aircraft wearing Capital colors crashed in testing, resulting in more delays and ultimate cancellation.

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Capital Comet 4
The impact of the Viscount was enormous, and by 1956 Capital was looking toward leading the industry into pure jets. Since the Bank of England was providing financing for Capital, and that was contingent on British Aircraft purchases the Comet 4A was a natural selection. Deliveries, however were delayed to a point that Capital's declining financial condition made the purchase impossible. The custom design for Capital essentially became the 4B.

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Capital Convair 880
In 1958, Capital placed an order for 7 Convair 880s  for delivery in 1961. The order was cancelled upon the agreement with United, and Capital instead operated 2 United 720s shortly before the merger.

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Capital Electra
The final Capital order was for 5 new Electras. This photo (possibly Capital issue?) would presumably have been N182H, built in 1959. Financial crisis prevented delivery, and the airliner went instead to PSA.

   
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