Specialty planes decorated as State Flags, painted in Classic colors, or painted like a giant killer whale are common here at Southwest Airlines. I always love seeing one come in for a landing.
The Flagship planes are, of course, the easiest to spot, but there are a few planes that simply have a name signed on the sides of the planes’ noses. These are part of the Signature Series, which include “The Herbert D. Kelleher,” “The Rollin W. King,” “The Donald G. Ogden,” “The Fred J. Jones,” “The Jack J. Vidal,” and “The June M. Morris.” I’m starting this two-part series with the Southwest Airlines Founders’ planes: “The Herbert D. Kelleher” and “The Rollin W. King.”
“The Herbert D. Kelleher”
Even before Southwest Airlines was Southwest Airlines, Herb earned his right to have a plane named after him. Starting in 1967, Herb fought to take Air Southwest off the ground. After many legal battles, and far less sleep, Herb gave Southwest the victory and the right to fly. In March 1971, Air Southwest became Southwest Airlines just in time to begin service in June 1971. However, that did not stop the other airlines from trying to keep us from flying.
Herb continued his legal battles up to June 17, 1971, only a day before our inaugural flight. Without Herb’s skill as an attorney, Southwest would never have gotten off the ground and accomplish all the Company has over the years. Herb continued to be involved with the Company after its inauguration. Starting in 1978, and over the next three decades, he held the positions of President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors—sometimes holding all three positions at once. In 2008, he was named Chairman Emeritus.
On October 31, 1978, Herb was the first Employee to be acknowledged with a plane with his name signed on the side. Imagine his surprise when he arrived at the hangar and noticed a huge red cloth covering the aircraft’s nose. Initially, he thought it had been damaged and wondered why in the world he was coming out to look at it. But then, his concern became happiness when the red cloth was removed, displaying a pristine nose with the writing, “The Herbert D. Kelleher.”
Herb’s wife, Joan, and their four children, greeted him for the ceremony and each were presented a model replica of “The Herbert D. Kelleher” plane.
"The Rollin W. King”
The second plane dedicated to an Employee was our 22nd plane and the first 737-200 to be completely owned by Southwest Airlines. It was dedicated to our Cofounder, Rollin King. Notably, the plane’s number was N-67. The number matched the year that Rollin came to Herb with the idea of starting a low-cost airline that would transport people between Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Rollin was with Herb throughout the arduous four years it took to get Southwest Airlines off the ground.
The Rollin W. King plane was dedicated to Rollin on December 3, 1980 for all his hard work with the Company. During his time at Southwest Airlines, Rollin served as a Pilot, Executive Vice President, and Director. In addition to his duties as a Special Advisor, which was his role at the time of the plane’s delivery, he served on the Board of Governors of the Southwest Outward Bound School in New Mexico. After 1981, he limited his role within Southwest, but continued to serve on the Board of Directors until 2006 when he retired.
Joining Rollin King at the dedication ceremony was his wife and children. Rollin was also surrounded by a number of original Employees, including Herb and supporters of Southwest during the early years.
These two great men established the foundation of Southwest Airlines, which has grown impressively over the last 42 years and now serves 85 cities across the United States. Herb and Rollin did not do it alone, but their hard work and dedication helped take us to where we are now. Next week we will take a look at the four remaining Signature planes.