The Heyday of Propeller Airliners(1941-1958)

World War II and the Airlines

Airlines worked closely with the military during World War II, furthering the war effort by transporting people and material.

The airlines were well prepared to play their part in the war effort. Plans for their wartime mobilization had been drafted in 1937 by Edgar Gorrell of the industry's Air Transport Association.

When the United States entered World War II four years later, the plan was smoothly put into action, and the airlines immediately began working closely with the military. The Air Transport Command (ATC) was formed in 1942 to coordinate the transport of aircraft, cargo, and personnel throughout the country and around the world.

"Is Your Trip Necessary?" Poster
Illinois Digital Archives

Casual air travel virtually ceased in the United States. A tight priority list ensured that only those serving the war effort flew. As a result, aircraft flew more than 80 percent full, 20 percent higher than before the war. The military requisitioned 200 of the nation's 360 airliners, along with airline personnel.

TWA Navajo
National Air and Space Museum Archives

TWA transferred its entire fleet of five Boeing 307s, along with their flight crews, to the Air Transport Command. The airline opened regular transatlantic service in 1942.

Lockheed Lodestar
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Pilots and crewmen wearing the distinctive Air Transport Command  logo on their jackets walk past a Lockheed Lodestar on the way to their aircraft in 1942.

United Airlines Hawaii
National Air and Space Museum Archives

The Air Transport Command contracted with airlines to fly wherever they were needed. Pan American's vast overseas experience became an especially valuable asset. But to Pan Am's eventual dismay, other airlines also received overseas routes. Northwest flew to Alaska and the Pacific, United to Hawaii and the Pacific, Eastern and Braniff to Latin America, TWA across the Atlantic, and American to Africa, India, and China.

L. Welch Pogue
National Air and Space Museum Archives

L. Welch Pogue

At the Chicago Conference in 1944, the Allies drew up plans for postwar civil aviation. They established the "Five Freedoms of the Air," permitting reciprocal flyover and landing rights to international airlines, and created the International Civil Aviation Organization as part of the United Nations to regulate safety and set standards for international air travel.

L. Welch Pogue, chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, played an instrumental role in drafting these agreements. He also helped shape the Bermuda Agreement of 1946, which detailed routes, rates, and air rights between the United States and Great Britain. After retiring from his law practice, Pogue served as a docent at the Museum until his death in 2003 at the age of 103.

First President to Fly
FDR Library

First President to Fly

Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to fly while in office. He flew to the 1943 Casablanca Conference in Morocco to plan the Allies' European strategy in World War II. The threat from submarines made air travel the preferred mode of transportation.