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Photos from the Archives Vault

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It’s been awhile since we opened the Southwest archives vault, but we have some goodies for you today.  We found these large format black and white air-to-air photos of our very first aircraft, N20SW.

At first glance, the scenery below the aircraft looks like a typical North Texas landscape.  However, a closer look at the photo of the aircraft banking to the left reveals mountains and heavily wooded areas.  It appears that all three photos were taken during the same photo sortie.  Could these scenes be in eastern Washington?  In the banking photo a small town appears under the big white cloud, and it looks like a big river or lake is at the top of the cloud.  This may have to remain another mystery from the early years.

Airline geeks will notice that the airplane wears our very first livery:  The word “Southwest” appears on the rear of the left fuselage while “Airlines” is placed on the vertical stabilizer.  On the right side of the aircraft, “Southwest” runs down the tail as it does today, and “Airlines” appears above the rear windows. 

As to the aircraft, N20SW, Boeing serial number 20369, was a Boeing 737-214, which identifies that it was built to PSA’s (Pacific Southwest Airlines--no relation to us) specifications.  PSA didn’t take delivery on this aircraft, and it was one of the trio offered to Southwest by Boeing to provide our initial service.  It was delivered to us prior to beginning service on June 18, 1971.  I flew on this aircraft in July 1971, and I remember that inside, it still had the PSA sidewall decorations consisting of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International, a movie set, and others that I can’t remember.  Ironically, it was this aircraft that led to Southwest's famous ten-minute turns.  In 1972, Southwest had acquired a fourth aircraft to operate both scheduled service and charters.  The Civil Aeronautics Board ruled that we weren’t certified to operate interstate charters, so we had to sell one of the four aircraft.  N20SW was that aircraft, and it was sold to the original Frontier Airlines and became N7381F (I originally had the wrong number here).  When Continental acquired Frontier, the aircraft moved into Continental’s fleet.  After N20SW left Southwest, we faced the problem of operating a schedule designed for three and one-half airplanes with just three airplanes.  The ten-minute turns allowed us to accomplish this, and the rest is, as they say, “history.”

Incidentally, in 1977, Southwest acquired a second, N20SW, Boeing serial number 21337, and this airframe was a 737-2H4, built to our specifications.  The second N20SW had a long and productive Southwest career.  As far as I can tell, this is the only example of our reusing an N-number.   Photo and slide collectors who think they may have a photo of our first aircraft need to be careful with their identification.  Unless the shot was taken between June 1971 and June 1972, it will be the second N20SW.

71 Comments
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WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE FLIGHTS OUT OF ATLANTA SO WE CAN ENJOY FREE CARRY ONS
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I think it would be great if one of the old 737-200s--preferably one of the original three--were to be restored by Southwest for a museum display, either at your headquarters or at one of the Dallas-area museums. Thanks for the look back!
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wow, thanks for sharing! a very cool piece of airline history...uh THE airline!
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gee anonymous, that's kind of random for this post. I'm not aware of any plans to serve Atlanta at the time being. It doesn't mean that we won't. Keep watching the blog here. Incidentally, it isn't just carryons that are free, the first two bags on Southwest are also free.
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Would love it if Southwest would fly out of Portland, Maine...Any chance of that happening???
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My husband thinks you're the best (after me) !!
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It looks like the number on the plane in the center is N(single number)SW, i cant make the number out but it doesnt look like 20. jeff
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I LOOOOOOVE SOUTHWEST! I DON'T FLY ANY OTHER AIRLINE! I HOPE SW KEEPS UP WITH THEIR GREAT SERVICE AND FREE BAGS! IT MAKES PEOPLE LIKE ME HAPPY TO SPEND MY MONEY WITH THEM AND ONLY THEM!
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What is a "10 minute turn" ? Is that a literal maneuver or is it airliner lingo? Explain...
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Please go back to Intercontinental/Bush Airport in Houston. HATE the drive thru downtwon Houston from the North side OR how sweet would it be to go into College Station? WHOOP!!!
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I'm a proud Southwest customer. I fly frequently between San Antonio and Oklahoma City and won't choose any other airline. Any news on the lifting of the Wright Amendment to get rid of the required Dallas stop?
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I heard that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport would luv to add Southwest Airlines. The problem is with Delta and AirTran. They underutilize their gates, but lease more gates than anybody at HJIA. There are also the so-called "generic" gates that practically anyone can use, but Delta, AirTran, and the other airlines use them during peak hours. They are cheap to use, and Atlanta is a cheap airport to land at. Our airport costs more to take off from due to the additional fuel to take off from our altitude, we are one of the highest airports on the East Coast). HJIA is a 24x7x365.25 airport so theoretically, SWA could use those gates in the middle of the night, but nobody wants those kind of flights. There is also a consensus in the airline industry that fares are competitive in Atlanta. However, I don't buy that information from Delta or AirTran, as they charge for bags and everything else (which equates to $100 a ticket, plus the misery of flying them). Personally, as a college student, I think they are too high. When I was a Disney College Program student in Orlando I loved to fly Southwest. Maybe with the construction of the south gate complex (years to come), this will change. I would luv to see SWA in Atlanta one day. I have no affiliation with any airline, airport, or airport vendor/merchants.
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Any pix of ASH, BEE or "Salvage One"?
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What I would like to get in my SWA collection is a set of those plastic number cards that were used in the early days of loading on Southwest flights. Please look around the warehouse and see if you have a set.
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People will spend $60 on a cab to the airport, and then complain their ticket cost $79 and they had to pay to check a bag. Call Greyhound or Amtrak - it's cheaper to fly!
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The pictures are amazing. I am flying with you guys tonight and I can't tell you how I enjoy the peace of mind of being on one of your planes. 8 flights a year and I am never dissapointed!
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What happen to your plan to code share with west jet is it really in the back burner or is it dead?
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When are you going to have non-stop service to Houston from West Palm Beach, Fl. What a market- you just don't know! So many people are waiting for it, Ft Lauderdale is just to far to drive, and people dont want to sit in Tampa for 45 mins to an hour when you can be in Houston in 21/2. Think about it- you can really give Continental a run for its money....
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Here's a nice color shot from 1971 from airliners.net. I'm really glad ya'll decided to drop the AIRLINES lettering from the tail/fuselage. Much cleaner look after the change, esp on the RH side of the aircraft. http://www.airliners.net/photo/Southwest-Airlines/Boeing-737-2H4/0111315/&sid=e65f527a315db0bbecc70324a38e7a10 Those -200s look sort of funny now that they're all retired from SWA (and virtually all retired from N America) and all we see are the CFM56s of the later models. Thanks for the nostalgia moment!
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WOW...Raleigh is a big success for Southwest. Why not pull from the Charlotte Markets of the other airlines and fly out of PTI/ Greensboro? USAIR is cutting flights and their service sure can't compete in the air or on the groud with SOUTHWEST.
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Flight is a beautiful thing. Those pictures look really peaceful. Thanks for sharing.
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That is ONE reason why I LOVE SOUTHWEST! You keep it real! Thank you for keeping the first 2 bags free! In this economy, it is sometimes hard to have to pay all the extras that other flights make us pay! Not everyone has Lots of money to spare! But, that is only ONE reason why I like Southwest! I like the curtious stewards and stewardess's. I like it when the Pilot talks to us in a calming voice and tells us where we are when we are so high off the ground! It makes us all feel good when they say " It's nice out there so lets have a great flight!" I like the comedic Stewards/stewardess's! Or the ones that sing or just are plain nice! Being nice usually makes others feel comfortable and want to be nice back! I realize there are occ. a bad apple among the passengers that sometimes make for a bad time. But, you guys always seem to handle the situations. By right, there should NOT be any situations! Sometimes I think people aught to be screened for there "Mental" attitudes as well as whole body screening! Bad attitudes and Nasty mouth people should not be allowed to fly! Especially on the plane that I am flying on! ( LOL ) Great Attitudes and Nice People make for nice flights! LOVE THAT SOUTHWEST!
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i love the fact of cheaper flights and no food but most of all no charging for bags great job those kind of actions are what has kept you alive still in this economy
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Oh Dear Southwest Airlines, I sit here in the very cold Kansas City and dream of you taking me away to the warmer Southwest, say Las Vegas? Yeah I would trade my 1 degree temp here for a warmer what 50 degrees there? I'll keep dreamin. Later.
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I hope you will be coming to Pensacola.
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Love SWA!!! Recently flew with a competitor ~ Yikes!!! Definitely missed the free luggage (it cost a small fortune for 2 bags) and missed that Happy, Cheerful SWA crew!!! Can`t help but love & apprecciate SWA!!!!
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What was she named?
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so looking forward to flights to and from Panama City Florida! any specials like those currently for Boston Logan? Love flying my Southwest!!! take me home Southwest, take me home!!! so ready to trade this white snow for white beach sand!!!! Lou in cold Denver!
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I've always had a good travel experience with Southwest. And the 2 free checked bags are great too. Keep it up
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I would say you assesment of Central to Eastern Washington is quite probable. Having flown that area a good deal it does look indicative of the landscape around the Moses Lake area where many of the Boing test flights are conducted.
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"Pacific Southwest Airlines--no relation to us" -- well, in the family sense, there's no relation. However, PSA's business model and practices were a model for Southwest.
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I just had to look up the full history of this jet, just in case it was now serving as a diner in Bullhead City or something. Unfortunately, it looks like after six years of Continental service, it went into storage at Mojave in January 1993 and was broken up at the Maxton, North Carolina scrapyard on 1 July 1993.
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I'm a student pilot at daniel webster college, and I love looking up to see the Southwest 737s' red bellies on their way to KMHT
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Why do you have so many hot flight attendants? When I fly on S/W all I can think about is the mile high club... LOL
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Brian, this is a fascinating bit of information. Being an "airplane geek" I can only wish I had a camera far back enough to have a shot of the first N20SW! When was the placement of the titles on the tail changed from that shown to what it is today? Thanks for sharing (and thanks to Beth for pointing me here)!
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If Southwest flies there, I fly Southwest. No complaints; at least not yet anyway. Keep it up....
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Is Southwest the old Trans Texas Airlines(Tree Top Airlines)? Just curious. That was a "fun" flight.
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Hey, thanks for the response, even the off-topic ones. Sean Rouse, you are correct in that our Founders did, to use a current term, "benchmark" with PSA. Some folks do get the names confused though. Jason, that was what I was thinking. I guess great minds think alike. Lori, What was who named? RalfW, You are right, but still, I do miss the -200s. They gave you a real kick in the seat type of feeling. shuttlebuggy, it is (or was) an actual procedure. In those early days, we would have the flight pushed back from the gate ten minutes after the airplane had arrived. One factor was that the FAA let us push back then while people were still finding their seats. Of course, we don't do that today, but the majority of our flights turn in around 25 minutes still. Andrew A: totally agree. Incidentally, the Frontiers of Flight Museum here at Love does have a forwsard fuselage of one of our old -200s. Brian
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Please to enlighten us: When is the Wright Amendment nonsense overwith?
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Hey glad to see y'all like the history post. Jeff, please reread my post, I identified the aircraft as N20SW. LUV WN, Thanks for filling in the "rest of the story." I would have been amazed if this aircraft had still been flying because it had the older version of the JT-8D engines with blow-in doors. George, No, Continental is the old Texas International (Trans Texas). They bought Continental in the early 80s. We have always been Southwest. Lois, all the Wright provisions go away in late 2014. Sunil, as far as I can tell the "Airlines" part of the livery disappeared very quickly, probably sometime around the first anniversary.
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Wish you would fly to Burlington Vermont and Portland Maine!
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student pilot i agree with you my friend own a cessna 172m out of nashua N29HL. anyways its not that far out from manchester....where the "red bellys" dominate Manchester!
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Please start flying to Guadalajara Mexico from Phoenix!!!!!!
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Boeing does most of their air-to-air flights in Washington. Either around the Cascades or up in the Olympics or over in eastern WA. I'm not sure that was the case back in the 70s, but it's the case now. I miss PSA. That was one awesome airline: hot pants on really good lookin' FAs, free drinks on the intra-CA routes etc. I saw a bev cart with the PSA placard on an Alaska flight about 5 years ago. Had to do a double take! I still have a PSA luggage tag on my carry on (along with my "Grab your bag, it's on" tag).
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tusphotog, I did know Boeing does most of their photography in Washington, usually using "their" mountain, Mt. Ranier. However, we have the negatives for these three photos, so I am not sure if they are Boeing shots or not.
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Speaking of old Southwest aircraft, when flying out of Indianapolis Wednesday afternoon, I noticed a plane in Southwest livery (but which may have had the Southwest name removed--I couldn't tell) sitting on the tarmac adjacent to Concourse C of the old airport terminal. I was wondering if anybody knew whether this is an active plane still owned by Southwest which happened to be parked there (and if so, why), or if this plane had been sold and was parked there by some other entity.
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If the Southwest name is painted out, it is no longer in our service. Without knowing the registration (N-) number, its hard to know the specifics.
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i fly southwest all of the time out of midway and your airline is wonderful . you are the best
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Great pics, thanks for posting them. As long as people are asking you to come to their local airports, I'll throw one in. . . MLI. We need low cost air service to the nation. Thanks for listening.
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There is an old 737-2H4 on display at the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita. The tail number is N29SW. I worked on the aircraft in the late 90's in Everett, WA before SWA sold it to Ryan International Airlines.