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40 Years in 40 Days: Class of 1973

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In March 0f 1971, Purdue Airlines decided to shut down its charter operation with DC-9s.  Capt. Jerry Steele discovered a new airline was starting up in Texas and requested an application and advised the rest of the airline.  When Capt. Don Ogden received a number of pilot applications, he called our VP Flight Operations to find out why he was receiving so many applications from a small airline.  After talking to Capt. Goldman, he came to West Lafayette, IN and hired all the pilots but the VP Flight Operations and the Chief Pilot.  Inflight and MX also hired some Purdue employees.   I remained at Purdue Airlines as a F/O on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy DC-9 until the contract expired.  My initial training was conducted by United Airlines in Denver in January 1973, and when I returned to Dallas, Rollin King called me into his office.  Rollin wanted to know if I had used any simulator or flight time above the contract requirement.  I replied, “No, Sir.”  “Good, we only have $10,000 left in the budget,” Rollin replied. Fortunately, the infamous $13 fare war had started and Southwest was starting to get a positive cash flow.  However, I told my wife that we better rent rather than buy a house.  A brand new Fox and Jacobs home was $19,995.  

Since most of the Pilots at Southwest had come from Purdue Airlines, I felt very comfortable on my first trip from Dallas to Houston with Captain Emilio Salazar who had given me my type-rating ride in a DC-3 at Purdue.  Unfortunately, there was a severe line of thunderstorms between Dallas and Houston, and after three attempts at penetrating the line of thunderstorms, we returned to Dallas with our six passengers.  Dispatch cancelled our remaining two legs and the Crew went home with no pay for the day.  I decided I better get a second job.

Our corporate HDQ was the second floor of a building on the northwest side of Love Field between Runways 13L and 13R.  The square footage was about the same square footage as the main entrance atrium at our current HDQ.  On the floor were Corporate Management, Finance, Reservations, Inflight, Flight Ops, and Dispatch.  Although pay was minimal and benefits meager, it was (and still is) fun! You knew practically everyone and their families. 

We were David fighting Goliath, and we had nothing to lose.  Jet fuel was 11 cents a gallon, and the name of the game was to go as fast as we could to be on time and make a ten minute turn.  We were young and” no” was not in our vocabulary.  We always seemed to find a way to make it work and accomplish our mission.  As Colleen has always said, “We have a Warrior Spirit.”  I can still remember the excitement when we carried over 1,000 Customers on one day.  I also remember the first time I had a full airplane during the middle of the day.  It was the day Bobby Riggs played Billie Jean King in tennis at Houston.

One day, many years later, I told Herb that after we started HRL service, my F/O and I decided that someday we could be flying between DAL, HOU, SAT, HRL, CRP, MAF, LBB, AMA, AUS, ELP and maybe BPT.  We could have 20 airplanes and over 1,000 Employee Shareholders.  Wow!  Herb’s reply: “I never thought we would have that many airplanes.”

We have come a long way from a three-airplane airline with less than 300 people serving three cities in Texas to an integrated airline with almost 700 aircraft with over 43,000 People serving over 100 cities including near international destinations.

Thank you Rollin, Herb, Colleen, Lamar, Gary and all the People of Southwest, Transtar, Morris, and AirTran who have helped make us who we are and who we are going to be.  What a ride!

1 Comment
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Bob...great story! I can remember many similar stories that you told me when I was flying as your F/O. Those were great days for all of us and I have many treasured memories. "What a ride!" is exactly right.