Airline Expansion and Innovation (1927 - 1941)

Fly or Drive?

In 1929 a one-way ticket across the country cost $338, more than half the price of a new car. A Ford Model A cost $525; a Chevrolet Coach cost $595.

Cross-Country by Air and Rail

Coast to Coast
Reprinted courtesy American Airlines, Inc.

In 1929, Transcontinental Air Transport (T.A.T.) began providing passenger service between New York and Los Angeles using airplanes by day and trains by night.

Night flying was hazardous, so passengers rode the Pennsylvania Railroad's night train from New York to Port Columbus, Ohio. There they boarded a Ford Tri-Motor and flew to Waynoka, Oklahoma, where they transferred to a Santa Fe Railway night train. At Clovis, New Mexico, they boarded another Tri-Motor for the final leg to Los Angeles.
T.A.T. air-rail service took a day less than by train alone, but a one-way ticket cost a whopping $338.

Anne Lindbergh
Reprinted courtesy American Airlines, Inc

"I am simply amazed at the detail that has gone into this TAT line. They give so much care to comfort and luxuries... And an aero-car to take you from plane to train for your night rides... And a map given to each passenger so he may study the country."
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Lindbergh Line
Reprinted courtesy American Airlines, Inc

T.A.T. did not have an air mail contract; it depended strictly on revenues from carrying passengers. Although well run, the company was soon in desperate financial shape.

Colonel Lindbergh
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Transcontinental Air Transport hired Charles Lindbergh as a technical advisor. Lindbergh selected the aircraft, chose and planned T.A.T.'s cross-country route, and oversaw the creation of all the necessary airfields and installations. T.A.T. and its successor, Transcontinental and Western Air (T.W.A.), became popularly known as "The Lindbergh Line."

Clement M. Keys
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Far-sighted investment banker and Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company president Clement Keys started T.A.T. to demonstrate that flying passengers was now practical. Earlier, he created National Air Transport to fly the mail between New York and Chicago, then formed a holding company called North American Aviation, which grew to include Eastern Air Transport and T.A.T. He also merged the assets of Curtiss Aeroplane and Wright Aeronautical into another holding company known as the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in 1929.

Curtiss Carrier Pigeon
National Air and Space Museum, photo by Eric Long

Curtiss Carrier Pigeon

Powered by the venerable Liberty engine, the Curtiss Carrier Pigeon was designed to carry mail along National Air Transport's lucrative New York-Chicago route. Both Curtiss and National were owned by pioneer aviation entrepreneur Clement Keys.
Gift of the Great Lakes Expositio

Curtiss Condor
National Air and Space Museum, photo by Eric Long

Curtiss Condor

First flown in 1932, the Curtiss Condor could carry 14 passengers and had sleeping berths for night flight. Although comfortable and fast, it was expensive to operate. Eastern Air Transport and American Airways flew the Condor, but newer designs soon replaced it.
Gift of David M. Shipton