National Airlines (IATA code NA, ICAO code NAL) was a US-based scheduled airline inaugurated in 1934 based in Miami, Florida. This airline should not be confused with present-day Orlando-based National Airlines (IATA code N8, ICAO code NCR). The full-service carrier operated both US domestic and international routes. However, a takeover by Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) in 1980 brought an end to its operations and dispatched another famous airline brand to American aviation folklore. Let’s take a further look at this iconic airline’s history.
The dawn of an icon
The airline was founded by George T. Baker in St. Petersburg, Florida, and began operations in October 1934. It initially flew passengers and mail to destinations within Florida using a fleet of Ryan ST monoplanes. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the airline’s fleet and route network expanded. A critical development was the introduction of the Douglas DC-4, which in 1946 allowed the inauguration of the first non-stop flights from Miami (where the airline had since moved their operations and maintenance bases) to New York.
National also used a varied fleet of other classic prop-liners on its route network, namely Lockheed Lodestars, Electras, and Constellations, as well as Convair CV340s and CV440s. The Douglas DC-6, the airline’s first pressurized airliner, was introduced in July 1947. Introducing this aircraft type reduced the flight time on the airline’s flagship Miami to New York route from seven to five hours.
Embracing the jet age
The 1950s brought further expansion and saw the airline enter the jet age. In October 1958, National became the first airline to operate a domestic US jet service, using a Boeing 707-120 leased from Pan Am on its Miami to New York route. By this time, the airline had expanded its route network to Houston to the west and Boston in the northeast.
The company also revealed a unique and eye-catching livery with the introduction of its first jet aircraft. The new color scheme featured full-length fuselage cheatlines in yellow and orange, paired with a smiling sun logo adorning the tail (branded the ‘Sun King’) – all reflecting the airline’s Floridian heritage, the so-called ‘sunshine state.’
The 1960s saw further rapid expansion with the award of traffic rights to fly to key points on the West Coast, namely Los Angeles (LAX). and San Francisco (SFO). Following a change in airline ownership of the airline in 1962, the airline introduced other jets in the form of the Douglas DC-8 and the Boeing 727-100. These aircraft allowed the airline to open up new markets, launching hubs in Houston and New Orleans.
By 1968, the airline operated an all-jet fleet and served many both non-stop and multi-stop transcontinental routes across the USA. In late 1969, the airline ordered ten new McDonnell Douglas DC-10 series 10 tri-jets directly from the manufacturer. These new aircraft were brought in to replace the DC-8 fleet to increase capacity and passenger comfort on its transcontinental services.
As the airline expanded in the 1970s, National developed international aspirations. It introduced direct non-stop service from its Miami hub to London (Heathrow) with its DC-10 series 30 aircraft on June 16th, 1970. National joined TWA and Pan Am on this route. The airline was also one of the first carriers in North America to introduce the Boeing 747 in October 1970. These were initially used on the high-density Miami to New York and Miami to Los Angeles routes.
By 1973, National was operating widebody service to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), San Diego (SAN), Las Vegas (LAS), Houston (HOU), New Orleans (MSY), Orlando (MCO), Tampa (TPA), West Palm Beach (PBI), Miami (MIA). It also served all three airports in the New York area – John F Kennedy (JFK), La Guardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR). With the introduction of the upgraded DC-10 series 30, the airline took the opportunity to expand further into Europe, serving Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Zurich.
A diverse fleet
According to rzjets.net, between 1958 and 1980, National operated the following aircraft types:
- Boeing 707-120 (1 leased from Pan Am)
- Boeing 727-100 (21)
- Boeing 727-200 (27)
- Boeing 747-100 (2)
- Douglas DC-8 (19 including 3x -20, 6x -30, 9x -50, 2x -60)
- McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (15 including 11x -10, 4x -30)
National became a cash-rich and dominant player in both the US domestic market and from the US to Europe throughout the 1970s. As such, the airline became attractive to its competitors. Following deregulation of the US airline industry in 1978, Texas international Airlines bought a 24.6% share in National Airlines in 1978. However, this company had its initial offer to purchase the remainder of the shares in National turned down.
An opposing offer from Eastern Airlines, a local Miami-based competitor, also failed, by which time Texas International Airlines had lost interest and since sold its shares to Pan Am. This carrier had long desired a more significant foothold in the Florida market, and the acquisition sowed the seeds for National’s eventual demise.
The Sun King finally sets
On January 7th, 1980, Pan Am acquired the remaining shares in National, and the takeover was complete. The National fleet was quickly absorbed into that of its new owner. However, many aircraft were quickly put up for sale due to conflicting fleets within the Pan Am stable. The Boeing 727-100s and the DC-10s (Pan Am already operated the Lockheed L1011 TriStar) were the first to leave. Within months, the distinctive livery and branding of National Airlines had disappeared, and the iconic ‘Sun-King’ logo had set for the final time.
What are your memories of National Airlines, or did you ever fly on one of their aircraft? Please let us know in the comments.
From zero to Europe’s biggest, in just a decade.
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