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Northeast Airlines

Northeast pioneered service from its Boston base throughout the New England states and into Canada in the 1930s. By the time Northeast merged with Delta on August 1, 1972, its famous "Yellowbirds" were jetting to Florida, the Bahamas and Bermuda, and across country to Los Angeles, California. 

Learn more about Northeast's four decades of service. Check out resources below.

Pictorial History of Northeast Airlines, 1933-1972

Lively 66-page commemorative booklet published by Northeast for its employees on July 31, 1971, the day before officially merging with Delta. Features many black & white photos of personnel, advertising and operations.

  See Pictorial History 

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Northeast Airline Aircraft

Stinson T SM-6000 8 passengers, 120 mph, 1933-1941
Lockheed 10A Electra 10 passengers, 150 mph, 1936-1942
Douglas DC-2-112 14 passengers, 165 mph, 1942-1946
Douglas DC-3 24 passengers, 160 mph, 1941-1966
Stinson SR Reliant Various models used for instrument training in World War II; one now restored and housed at Delta Museum.
Douglas DC-4 60 passengers, 185 mph, 1946-1950, Summer 1952 (leased)
Douglas DC-6B 76 passengers, 245 mph, 1956-1968
Curtiss C-46F Air freighter, 12-13,000 lbs. payload, 250 mph, 1954
Curtiss C-46A 44 passengers, 230 mph, 1958-1963
Vickers 798D Viscount 40 passengers, 230 mph, 1958-1963
Boeing 707 135 passengers, 600 mph, 1959-1961
Convair 880 98 passengers, 600 mph, 1960-1968
Boeing 727-95 (NE's 727-100) 96 passengers, 600 mph, Dec 15, 1965-Aug 1, 1972 (merger with Delta)
Fairchild Hiller 227C 44 passengers, 220 mph, Sept 1966-Aug 1, 1972 (merger with Delta)
Convair 990A 98 passengers, 650 mph, Jan 1967-Apr 1968 (leased)
Douglas DC-9-31 92 passengers, 600 mph, 1967-Aug 1, 1972 (merger with Delta)
Boeing 727-295 130 passengers, 600 mph, Jan 1968-Aug 1, 1972 (merger with Delta)

 

Northeast Airlines' History of Service

First Experiment

Northeast Airlines' roots go back to the first attempt at establishing airline service in the New England states north of Boston, Massachusetts. Local railroads were seeking to participate in this new, growing form of transport. Boston and Maine Railroad, in partnership with the Maine Central Railroads, formed a subsidiary called the Boston-Maine Airways in July 1931.

Entire airline operated under contract by Pan American Airways, or "Pan Am". Beginning on August 1, 1931, Pan Am Fokker F-10A planes flew between Boston and Bangor, Maine. From Bangor, Pan Am flew Sikorsky S-41B flying boats to Halifax, Nova Scotia, due to the lack of suitable landing fields.

Just two months later, on September 30, the airline ceased operations. One of the Sikorsky planes had crashed in Massachusetts Bay on August 27, 1931, closing this experimental chapter of Northeast's history.

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Northeast Airlines

In 1933, Boston and Maine Railroad again formed a Boston-Maine Airways subsidiary, which started service on August 11, 1933, from Boston to Portland and Bangor, Maine, using eight-passenger Stinson T planes. The fare from Boston to Bangor cost $23 round-trip.

The carrier's early flights were operated under contract by National Airways, whose founders included Paul Collins, one of the country's first airmail pilots; Samuel J. Solomon, a pioneer airport operator; Eugene Vidal, a West Point graduate; and Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

National Airways made a similar operating agreement on October 27, 1933, with Central Vermont Airways, founded by the Central Vermont Railroad (owned by Canadian National Railway). National Airways coordinated the two railroad-sponsored airlines as one, hyphenating the two railroad names and issuing joint timetables and fares. Central Vermont's route extended from Boston to New Hampshire and Vermont, and on March 20, 1934, to Montreal, Canada.

In 1937, Boston and Maine purchased National Airways' assets, including its airmail contract, and in November 1940, renamed it Northeast Airlines.

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Wartime Service

Boston-Maine Airways established one of the first pilot training courses in U.S. in 1939. Excellent reputation of this program resulted in federal government requesting Northeast to operate a wartime national defense program for training advanced flight instructors.

During World War II, Northeast's experiences with frigid weather flying also proved invaluable. Northeast pilots were the first to explore the Arctic airways as they made Air Transport Command flights to Labrador, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.

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Expansion

Through mergers and route awards, Northeast rapidly expanded in the post-war period. In July 1944, it took over a route from Newark, New Jersey (serving New York) to Springfield, Massachusetts, previously operated by Airline Feeder System. In August 1944, Northeast acquired small Mayflower Airlines and began service to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Employees cheered when Northeast was certified to serve New York from Boston in 1945. An "Every Hour on the Hour" shuttle service between the two cities started in 1946.

Service to Florida started in the mid 1950s, after Northeast was awarded a temporary certificate to operate to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale from Boston, via Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida.

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Jet Age

The Jet Age was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows for Northeast!

Among the highs…Northeast was one of the first U.S. carriers to offer Boeing 707 jet service, initially between New York and Miami in 1959. Northeast was also the first airline in the world to operate the Boeing 727-200, on December 14, 1967. 

In 1966 the carrier acquired a new image as Northeast planes became known as "Yellowbirds" because of their new yellow-and-white painted exteriors. "Yellowbird" would become a household word in the areas served by Northeast.

In spite of initial setbacks, Northeast experienced significant route expansion. Late in 1962, the Civil Aeronautics Board decided to terminate Northeast's temporary certificate to fly to Miami. After years of legal appeals and an unprecedented display of local support from the New England community, Northeast was finally granted a permanent certificate for Florida service in 1967. Service quickly expanded to the Bahamas in 1968, to Bermuda in 1969, and coast-to-coast with a new Miami-Los Angeles route on October 1, 1969.

Persistence financial difficulties and changes in ownership were also part of the 1960s. On May 8, 1962, the Hughes Tool Company, led by famous billionaire Howard Hughes, acquired controlling interest in Northeast Airlines from the Atlas Corporation, which had owned the company since 1938. After the CAB denied renewal of Northeast's Florida route, Hughes announced that he would no longer cover further operating losses. His 55% of the stock was temporarily acquired by trustee L.J. Hector in 1964, then by the Storer Broadcasting Company in 1965.


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Merger with Delta

Despite the new routes added in the late 1960s, Northeast's financial problems failed to improve. It was these difficulties that led to the search for a merger partner, and on August 1, 1972, the merger between Delta and Northeast Airlines became effective. 

The acquisition made Delta the fifth largest airline in the U.S. at the time, with routes spanning 33,300 miles. Delta added new international destinations to Canada, Bahamas and Bermuda, and frequent service between the Northeast and Florida.

Northeast Delta merger

More Information

  • Delta Blog: 80 Years of Service to Boston and Maine
  • YouTube: Northeast Airlines DC-4 at Boston film clip shows deplaning in 1950.
  • Ad*Access: Duke University's collection of Northeast ads
  • Airline Timetable Images: Northeast timetables (covers-only and complete issues) and baggage labels
  • PlanesViz: Northeast Yellowbird aircraft photos taken by Northeast pilot and his son from 1969 to 1973.
  • Book: Adventures of a Yellowbird: The Biography of an Airline, by Robert W. Mudge, 1969. History of the airline, written by Northeast captain hired in 1941.
  • Book: Delta: An Airline and Its Aircraft: An Illustrated History of a Major U.S. Airline and the People Who Made It, by R.E.G. Davies, 1990. Includes Northeast aircraft photos, route maps and fleet lists.
  • Book: Island in the Sky, by Ernest Gann, 1944. First book to be written about the Army Air Transport Command during World War II. Based on true story of search and rescue of downed transport plane and crew in sub-arctic conditions in Labrador. Making rescue attempt, Northeast Airlines crew also ended up stuck in snow. Book made into movie starring John Wayne in 1953, but left out the Northeast story.