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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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Brian, Thanks for posting the information about Southwest, please keep up the great posts! Personally, I think the posts about the company's history and operational posts that Ray Stark posts are the best. Also, since others have brought up the topics of Southwest service to new cities, do you know of any plans to begin service to DCA? Thanks, Rich
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im really satisfied with the way southwest air runs its airline .my friend and i had a horrible experience with american air because of their error we ended up taking a bus from miami tto orlando and our letters went un answered as to why we had to take a bus and werent re-imbursed for the air trip we would have gotton if the a irliner if it hadnt left a few minutees before we got to miami phooey on american artie leporin & diane watson praises for southwest yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!
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Sadly, here's a pic of the airplane in 2005. Hopefully, it got a home.
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OK so I did some photo enhancement of the first image and found that one area of cloud, approximately half way between the tail and the left edge of the picture is interestingly solid white, as in that of a snow covered mountaintop. Possibly this could be Mt Rainier. When you contrast the picture, this area of white never changes. All the clouds dimmed down, but this area maintained it's white state. Otherwise, I couldn't find anything in the picture to further locate on.
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We always fly Southwest if there is a flight available to our destination..cheaper, comfortable and courteous. I recall several years we had a landing that was a bit bumpy. The cute attendant asked the passengers if they had noticed. YES! She said, "Well, that wasn't my fault. That wasn't the pilot's fault. It was the asphalt 's fault! May not have been original that day but it sure got a laugh out of us and I have always remembered. Do not think I have ever encountered an attendant who was not pleasant and helpful. Keep up all the good work and keep adding destinations. PS Were you flying out of Las vegas when that photograph was taken? WE have mountains, Lake Mead and surrounding area was much less developed then. Normalee Moreno 1 "Well" '
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Your "ten minute turns" sound an awful lot like the "turns" of the original Southwest Airways in the 1950s when they were flying DC3 planes. The old DC3s from WWII had a door that swung open to the side and then someone had to push a short stairway up to the plane to board the passengers (and let them off). Someone in Southwest Airways decided that this took too long so they designed a new door that layed down and had a stair built into it with a handrail that popped up. This speeded up the process. My Dad (who used to fly for the old Southwest) used to complain that when they showed a DC3 in a WWII movie they usually showed one with the fold down door that wasn't developed until after WWII. The old Southwest changed it's name to Pacific (no relationship to PSA - Pacific Southwest Airlines either). Then Pacific merged with Northwest (not the Northwest that Delta just bought - that was called Northwest Orient at that point) and Bonanza to form AirWest which was bought by Howard Hughes and became Hughes Airwest which was bought by Republic which was bought by Northwest (yes, now the Northwest that was just bought by Delta).
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Glad to have put in 27 years of service with Southwest.....You guys still make me proud. You are still the LOVE MACHINE!
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Love you guys!!!!! Sadly, when I go to South Carolina (family is there) I must fly another line:( Come guys need you there!!!!!
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Gary, that is some amazing research, thanks. You might be right. Normalee, thanks for the praise. No when that picture was taken we were only flying (or planning to fly, more likely) between Dallas and Houston and San Antonio. Barb, I am familiar with Southwest Airways and Pacific. I remember Pacific's Martin 404s. Incidentally, Marie Force at the Delta Museum is looking for Southwsest/Pacific memoribilia.
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I will never, ever forget my first flight on SWA. My first reaction was pure gut-wrenching-down-to-my-toes fear. Who in their right mind would get on a plane that was neither silver (AA) or white(Continental)? Something had to be downright wrong about an aircraft that was pea-soup green, right? Still, coming from old El Paso, where the only options were the two airlines above, I fell in love with SW and to this day - would rather lose a foot than to choose any other airline. Keep it up, gang. And thanks for being the corp you are, just not showing it.
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Sure wish SW flew into Rochester, NY. Any chance they will soon? Hate driving to Buffalo, NY especially in the winter and when it is so cold and snowy out............Love the flights and the service too. Love the no charge for baggage too! Keep up the good work.
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One of my favorite things on my regular non-stop flights from FLL to BNA is the view of Atlanta from somewhere between FL350 and FL410. That's as close as I want to get to ATL. PLEASE don't start flying there! (or MIA either) Many of the most pleasant flights I've been on in almost 50 years of flying have been on SWA. All of the bad ones have been on the big airline that can't go by ATL without stopping there.
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LUV Southwest. The engines in the photo are "pure" jet. Is that correct? Wow, that's some fuel consumption compared to today. You all operate the best Airline period!
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Brian...Actually N20SW went to The old Frontier as N7381F, not N7391F... The Rickster
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The photo posted on 1-8-2010 was the second N20SW...The first N20SW was broken up in Continental colors as N7381F... The Rickster
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Rickster, you are right. I misread it, but N7381F was the right number. I will update the post. Thanks. Brian
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I FLY TO THE SARSOTA AREA(WHEN ARE YOU COMING THERE)?
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I too wish SWA would have flights out of Atlanta. I just moved here from Orlando and there is something wrong when I can fly Delta from Orlando (stopping in ATL) to Harrisburg PA cheaper than from ATL to Harrisburg PA...
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Wow Brian, great post and great pictures. To all of the commenters - great research, very informative! The picture that was linked from airliners.net has the aircraft type mis-identified as a 737-2H4 instead of 737-214 like Brian had mentioned in his post. That's a very interesting history. George Binkley - TTA became Texas International when they started service to Mexico and eventually bought Continental Airlines, taking on their name. If I may make a shameless plug, The 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport in Houston has a nice collection of TTA/TI memorabilia, and one of our volunteers is one of the 16 original pilots that started TTA! We also have a good bit of SWA memorabilia, including a 737-200 Level D flight simulator which eventually will be put on display and lit up for people to sit in and check out (though we will not be connecting the hydraulics). Come check it out! http://www.1940airterminal.org I too love flying SWA over other airlines, and I love your company's corporate culture as well. Simply having things like this blog, your Facebook page, and your Twitter feed say a lot about your company. Keep it up!
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When we had a death in the family, Southwest came to our aid, and helped fly my sister in from California quickly, and at a reduced flight. She could never been able to come on her own. And for that we always try to fly Southwest!!!!!
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Just happened by this old post, very good read. But the random comments about SWA servicing Atlanta ... y'all got your wish! :))