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Flashback Fridays: Oakland International in the late 1970s Part One

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For the next two holiday editions of Flashback Fridays, I thought I would share some photos that I took back when I was the youngest instead of oldest in my work group.  At the start of my airline career, I worked several years in Oakland for Delta.  We only had three flights a day, so there was a lot of free time, even after we cleaned the layover aircraft’s interiors from stem to stern and top to bottom.  I kept my camera in my locker because the Oakland Airport (OAK) was an amazing place.  You quite simply didn’t know what airplanes would show up on the ramp from day to day.  In 1979, there was only what is now known as Terminal One, and its concourse was a single level with outside boarding.  There were four distinct patterns to flights at OAK:  The largest frequency were intrastate flights of Air California and PSA; then longer haul ”SFO-reliever” flights of American, Delta, Hughes Airwest, United (the largest in this category) and Western (with Braniff arriving later); followed by charter flights from Europe and Hawaii; and finally tramp freighters serving the GM plant in Fremont.   At the time these photos were being taken (March and April 1979), Southwest was preparing its first interstate service from Texas to New Orleans, and within a decade it would be the major player in OAK.

As the largest of the “CAB carriers” (interstate carriers governed by the Civil Aeronautics Board), United had two gates in prime, close-in positions on the concourse.  The big square part of the building above the nose was the main lobby, and the enlarged portion of the tower was the OAK Club, a private, membership-only lounge, where you could see the SFO Airport and downtown San Francisco.  The airplane is United N7084U, a short-bodied 727-22, and most United flights from OAK used the smaller 727s.  The building behind the tail is part of the international wing of the building.  (Unlike the other photos on the page, this one was made in June 1978.)

Delta operated the larger 727-200s at OAK, and the airplane above is a historic one.  It is 727-295, N1939, the first “stretch 727 to enter airline service.  Northeast Airlines was the launch customer for the larger 727-200, and they merged with Delta in 1972.  We used Gate 9, just outboard of the two United gates, and our operations offices were inside a house trailer just in front of the nose.  Our initial three daily departures were an originating morning flight to San Jose (SJC) and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), an early evening flight to Las Vegas (LAS) and DFW and a nonstop red eye to DFW.  Oddly enough we didn’t have an inbound flight from LAS; instead we had two inbound flights from DFW via SJC and one via SFO.  We weren’t allowed to carry local passengers between either SFO or SJC an OAK, but United and Air California did.

Speaking of Air California, OAK was their maintenance base.  Their primary aircraft was the 737, and two of their three main routes from OAK were to Orange Country and Ontario.  Their third main route was unique, and it went to Lake Tahoe.  Because the Lake Tahoe airport had strict noise rules and jet aircraft at the time were severely performance limited by the altitude and mountains surrounding the airport, Air California operated a small fleet of Lockheed Electras for the service.  Above is N123AC, which was originally delivered to Northwest.  It had long-range fuel tanks, and it was also used for some of Air California's charter flights.  (It had been the team airplane for the San Diego Padres their first year in the National League.)  Behind the Electra is a 727 of the airport’s busiest operator, PSA, which flew to Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, and Burbank.  Behind the camera location is the location where Terminal 2 would be built.  All of Southwest's arriving flights taxi by this location.  I don’t know if it is still located there, but the former ground level PSA gates housed our OAK Pilot Base.

Auto parts charters for the GM Fremont Assembly Plant created a large demand for ad hoc cargo charters, usually from Willow Run Airport near Detroit.  The types of aircraft used on these charters ranged from old DC-6s above to modern purpose-built freighters, like the civil version of the C-130 Hercules.  Actually the DC-6 (N3022F) is an ex-Navy R6D-1 (C-118).  The crew let us go on board, and the flight engineer had just finished pumping about 50 gallons of oil into the oil tank on top of the wing.  He confided that one of the engines had a major oil leak, and they had feathered it en route.  As far as I know, the airplane made it safely home to Willow Run.

Four days later on April 9, this Trans International Hercules (N20ST) was operating the auto charters.  Although it may look like a C-130, it is actually a Lockheed L100-30, the civil version of the Hercules.  This airplane had an interesting history.  It was delivered originally to Saturn Airways before going to Trans International.  It was leased to Southern Air Transport in 1987, and then to a series of owners.  It was shot down by Angolan rebels while on a United Nations mission the day after Christmas in 1998.  While the freight building shown in both of the above photos is still standing, the area behind the camera has changed a great deal.  In 1979 that area was open land, filled with jackrabbits, but today it is filled with ramp and cargo operators like FedEx. 

Next week, we will take a look at OAK’s charter operations, DC-8s, and the first days of deregulation, so stay tuned. 

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