May 23, 2017
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First In Flight

Interstate Airlines propelled Evansville’s earliest airline service

Long lines, cramped seating, and screaming babies are common complaints for modern-day airline passengers. Things were quite different in the fall of 1928 when Interstate Airlines began flights in Evansville. Earlier that year, Evansville was located on the airmail route from Chicago to Atlanta, with connections to Louisville, Kentucky, and St. Louis. In addition to mail, airlines also provided passenger service.

When the first passenger flight left Evansville for Chicago on Nov. 10, 1928, there were six passengers and a pilot on board — they were all the plane could carry. There were no flight attendants or copilots, and on most planes, passengers sat behind the pilot. Planes were unpressurized and noisy. The cabins were unheated. It was not uncommon for passengers to wear helmets and goggles. In flight, the pilot always kept the ground in sight so he could spot landmarks along the route.

In 1928, Evansville’s airport — dedicated in 1930 as Evansville Municipal Airport and now called Evansville Regional Airport — was less than impressive. Permanent buildings were in the planning or construction phases, and like most airports, runways were grass. At this time, air travel still was rare. Postcards with pictures of the Fairchild and Stearman planes were handed out to passengers and signed by the pilot to prove they had flown. On Dec. 1, 1928, airline service from Evansville to Atlanta was inaugurated. After an auspicious beginning, passenger service came to a screeching halt Dec. 23 when the southbound flight crashed during takeoff from the airport in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four of the five people on board. In the aftermath of the accident, all passenger service in Evansville was cancelled.

By 1932, Interstate Airlines had become part of the much larger American Airlines system. Passenger service using the new Fairchild Pilgrim airplane was reestablished in Evansville on May 1, 1932, connecting the city with Louisville and St. Louis.

In 1934, a change in airmail contracts temporarily left Evansville off national air routes. On Sept. 3, 1935, Columbia Airlines resumed passenger service through Evansville. The city now was connected to St. Louis and Detroit. Unlike many of the earlier planes, their Stinson trimotors were designed to carry passengers. There were two rows of seats, restroom facilities, a stewardess, radio, and even a copilot. Passenger service continued into May 1936, when the deepening Great Depression forced Columbia Airlines to suspend its operations. Evansville was forced to wait until the 1940 arrival of Eastern Airlines for passenger service to resume.

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