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Delta Stories: Our First Jet Arrives

Sep 19, 2014

55 Years of Delta Jets! Delta launched the world's first Douglas DC-8 service on September 18, 1959, from New York to Atlanta. To celebrate, here’s eye-witness stories from several Delta people who took part in that that amazing transition from piston-powered to jet transportation.

 

Jim Diffley joined Delta as an analyst in the Methods Department in 1959, just in time to see that first jet delivered.  Before he retired as Manager of Technical Operations Employment in 1999, he also saw Delta's first Boeing 777 arrive. He recalled:

We were the first to introduce the DC-8  into service. I never will forget when Capt. “Pre” Ball flew the DC-8 across the back ramp. He was down around 500 feet. He got special permission to fly across the ramp. And, of course, you were probably standing out there along with me and several hundred, or a thousand, people back there, and that was a tremendous thrill. That was something I truly remembered. It’s just — it all came back when the 777 was delivered. I stood out on the ramp behind the Jet Base and watched it fly over, and it was a very similar feeling.

Nelson “Nip” Hill, Delta’s first 50-year employee, shown here with that first DC-8 just after it landed, also remembered:

One of my happiest days at Delta is when they got the first big jet. And that airplane flew across the field with all the employees out there yelling and hollering. . .  I was so thrilled to know that we were going to be in a position to compete with the competition.

C.E. Woolman, Delta's principal founder and first CEO, spoke of the air industry's growing pains from props to jets, telling Aviation Week magazine in 1957: 

 We are buying airplanes that haven't yet been fully designed with millions of dollars we don't have and are going to operate them off airports that are too small, in an air traffic control system that is too slow and we must fill them with more passengers than we have ever carried before.


Photo credit: The Miami Herald.

But, Woolman was confident in the abilities of Delta's people to meet the new challenges of the Jet Age. Speaking to employees in 1959, he said:

Each of the many forward steps in aviation which have occurred since your company first began passenger service 30 years ago has been accompanied by its own unique problems, and the forthcoming jet era will be no exception. Delta personnel, experience, and equipment enable us to face the future with confidence, and we look forward to continuing full participation in this new chapter in aviation history.

It's been an exciting Jet Age, as Mr. Woolman predicted! To explore the big events, see our Delta Timeline. See all Delta's jet types flown since 1959, in our Jet Gallery.

Happy jetting!

Marie Force
Archives Manager

6 comments

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  1. Jennifer Stokely | Dec 27, 2015

    My mother was a stewardess for delta airlines from late 50's through mid 60's.she has amazing stories of meeting and serving many people. Celebrities,civil rights leaders , future presidents.she flew all over the world, and still has her original uniform( size o!) and matching luggage! There is a picture of her on on the first commercial "jet"from Atlanta to Shreveport.i am not sure who the man is, I think he is the mayor of Shreveport or Monroe? My mother is the pretty brunette 3rd from the left in the back.

  2. Jack A. Underwood | Nov 24, 2015
    I was standing between Runway 3R and the taxiway at Detroit Wayne County Airport (DTW) when the first Delta DC-8, ship 801, landed for the first time.  I was filming the landing with my 8mm camera.   The was in September 1959 and was for employee training.  I filmed the landing, events at the gate, and the departure.   I am presently making a movie of my years as a Delta employee.  Aircraft included are the Convair 440, DC-6, DC-7 and 7B, DC-8, and Convair 880.
  3. philip | Sep 23, 2014
    I bought a edith head vintage  pillbox hat bag iam looking for the hat and the outfit.  are they around? iam really into  I hope someone can help me.
  4. Denny Croft | Sep 20, 2014

    My dad was a Delta pilot and he called my Mom and I to say the DC-8 was inbound from Long Beach. We watched the approach from our house in College Park. Later we drove over to the old Rainey Ave parking lot across from hangar 1. The DC-8 was there with steps at the front and rear doors. There was a line of people waiting to look inside. At 8 years old I could not imagine an airplane any bigger. I later joined Delta and got to witness many more first. I was part of Flight Training on the 777 start up program and the 767-400 start up program. My Dad retired as A DC-8 Captain in 1977. 

  5. Eric | Sep 20, 2014

    What was Mr. Nip Hill's position at Delta? Thanks!

  6. Herbie Ryland | Sep 20, 2014
    I was 16 and our Neville High School class was at the Monroe Airport--Selman Field--in October 1959 when Mr. Woolman arrived and deplaned from a DELTA Convair 440 for the annual Delta stockholders meeting to be held that day at Central Bank. When he saw the group of students, he walked directly to us and showed us a picture of the DC-8 Jet and told us about the initial passenger flight from Atlanta to New York  in September.  I have a picture of this meeting which was published in the Monroe News Star the following day.

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