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Flashback Fridays: More of Southwest before June 18, 1971

Aviator C

Anyone who has studied the history of Southwest knows the many legal obstacles we had to overcome just to start service.  But there were other hurdles to overcome before Southwest could fly, and many of those “loose ends” were being tied up 40 years ago in the days before June 18, 1971.  Last week’s Flashback Fridays looked at how to publicize a brand new airline, which was a very rare opportunity to have in 1971.  And this week, we look at one of the operational challenges the new airline had to face before it could fly a single Customer. 

A couple of this week’s photos may be among the least seen visuals about Southwest’s early days, and they concern what we had to accomplish to achieve our Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Operating Certificate.  While it’s true we weren’t subject to the federal Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) for routes, pricing, or other service rules, we always have been under federal safety regulations through the FAA.  One of those regulations is an airline’s ability to rapidly evacuate a cabin in the case of an emergency.  The airplane below is about to undergo that test.

Let’s stop and look at this photo for awhile.  The tests took place during the week beginning June 13, 1971.  In fact, on June 18, the day we began service, the only newspaper mention I could find of Southwest that day wasn’t about our first flights, it was about this test.  The location is the American Airlines hangar at Greater Southwest International Airport, the old Fort Worth airport immediately adjacent to the southern edge of what is now Dallas/Fort Worth International.  The airplane carries our original livery with the “AIRLINES” titling on the tail.  All of the windows have been covered over with paper and tape.  Look how shiny the brand new paint is.  Also, the onlookers are being kept away from the airplane to avoid injury when the slides inflate.  The hangar is of note because it is very similar to the former American and TWA hangars we are using at Chicago Midway.

In the photo below, we see some of the participants in the drill after the slides were deployed.  Each person has a number, and this helps ensure that all the occupants of the cabin have deplaned.  I’m not the best judge of female ages, but some of these girls would appear to be teen-aged daughters of some of our Employees.

For the drill, the FAA required a mix of passenger types and ages, and these boys appear to be somewhere between age eight and 12.  They also are probably the children of Employees.  (Or it could have been a casting call for Lost in Space.)

This photo was in the folder with the other pictures.  I’ve learned to be careful about some of these early photos when it comes to guessing their meaning.  However, if the photo is part of the evacuation drills, it may have been taken before the aircraft left Love Field for Greater Southwest, or it might have been taken upon arrival at Fort Worth before the windows were taped over.  No matter; I include it here because it is a great informal shot from our earliest days.

Oh, about the test?  We obviously passed.  As proof, here’s a photo of FAA Inspector William Moore handing Rollin King and Lamar Muse our FAA Operating Certificate.  If only the legal battles had been this calm.