North Central Airlines

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North Central Airlines
North Central Airlines Logo, April 1979.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded1944 as Wisconsin Central Airlines
Ceased operationsJuly 1, 1979 (merged with Southern Airways to become Republic Airlines)
Fleet size50
Headquarters Minneapolis, Minnesota
Madison, Wisconsin
Clintonville, Wisconsin
Key peopleFrancis Higgins (President)
Hal Carr (Vice President)
Wisconsin Central Airlines Douglas DC-3 Douglas DC-3, Wisconsin Central Airlines JP6994441.jpg
Wisconsin Central Airlines Douglas DC-3

North Central Airlines was a regional airline in the midwestern United States. Founded as Wisconsin Central Airlines in 1944 in Clintonville, Wisconsin, the company moved to Madison in 1947. This is also when the "Herman the duck" logo was born on Wisconsin Central's first Lockheed Electra 10A, NC14262, in 1948. [1] North Central's headquarters were moved to Minneapolis–St. Paul in 1952. [2]


Following a merger with Southern Airways in 1979, North Central became Republic Airlines, which in turn was merged into Northwest Airlines in 1986. Northwest Airlines was then merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010.


Wisconsin Central Airlines

In 1939 the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD), a major manufacturer of four-wheel transmissions and heavy-duty trucks based in Clintonville, Wisconsin, opened a flight department and traded a company truck for a Waco biplane for their company's use. [3] In 1944 company executives decided to start an airline named Wisconsin Central Airlines, and service started between six Wisconsin cities in 1946. This led the company to buy two Cessna UC-78 Bobcats, and, soon after, three Lockheed Electra 10As. Certificated flights started with Electras to 19 airports on 25 February 1948; more revenue allowed three more Electra 10As, then six Douglas DC-3s.

Post Wisconsin Central history

In 1952 the airline moved their headquarters from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota; that December their name became North Central Airlines. [4] [5] Soon the airline ran into financial trouble when President Francis Higgins left, making Hal Carr the president. Carr quickly got the company out of debt and made it more reliable. Over time the company expanded their fleet to 32 DC-3s.

A growing airline

Revenue passenger traffic, in millions of passenger-miles (scheduled flights only) [6]

In October 1952 Wisconsin Central scheduled flights to 28 airports, all west of Lake Michigan, from Chicago to Fargo and Grand Forks. It added Detroit in 1953, Omaha, and the Dakotas in 1959, Denver in 1969, and nonstop flights from Milwaukee to New York LaGuardia in 1970. It added five Convair 340s from Continental Airlines to its fleet of DC-3s, the first ones entering service in 1959. In 1960 North Central hit the one million passenger mark; in May 1968, it flew to 64 airports, including two in Canada. Turbine flights (Convair 580s) started in April 1967. [7]

North Central DC-9-31 at Toronto's Malton Airport in 1971 Douglas DC-9-31 N960N N.Central TOR 26.03.71l edited-2.jpg
North Central DC-9-31 at Toronto's Malton Airport in 1971

Like other local service airlines, North Central was subsidized; in 1962 its "revenue" of $27.2 million included $8.5 million "Pub. serv. rev." [8]

The airline worked with the U.S. government to aid troubled airlines in South America. The first of five Douglas DC-9-31s entered service in September 1967 and the Convair 340s and Convair 440s were all converted to 580s; the airline acquired more DC-9s and had 29 580s. [9] The last DC-3 flight was early 1969; NC was the last local service carrier to use it.

In 1969 North Central Airlines moved its headquarters to the south side of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport; in 2009 the building was the Building C Maintenance and Administrative Facility of Northwest Airlines. [10] It is now used by Delta Air Lines after its 2008 merger with Northwest.

The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) classified North Central as a "local service carrier," flying to cities in one region and feeding passengers to larger "trunk airlines" that flew nationwide. North Central eventually was allowed a few routes outside the Midwest: to Washington, D.C.-National, New York-LaGuardia, Boston, Denver, and Tucson. After deregulation of the airline industry, North Central expanded and got McDonnell Douglas DC-9-50s, its largest aircraft.


North Central purchased Atlanta-based Southern Airways and the two airlines formed Republic Airlines in July 1979, the first merger following airline deregulation. [11] Republic soon targeted San Francisco-based Hughes Airwest for acquisition, [12] and the deal was finalized in October 1980 for $38.5 million. [13] Saddled with debt from two acquisitions and new aircraft, the airline struggled in the early 1980s, [14] and even introduced a human mascot version of Herman the Duck. [15] [16]

Republic kept North Central's hubs at Detroit and Minneapolis, and Southern's hub at Memphis. Within a few years, they closed the former Hughes Airwest hub at Phoenix and also largely dismantled the Hughes Airwest route network in the western U.S.; they also reduced North Central's sizeable station at Chicago-O'Hare. Southern's sizeable station was also reduced at Hartsfield at Atlanta. Republic also quickly downsized North Central's operations to and among smaller airports in the upper Midwest, concentrating their fleet at the Detroit and Minneapolis hubs.

In 1986, Republic merged with Northwest Orient Airlines, [17] which was also headquartered at Minneapolis and had a large operation at Detroit, which ended the legacy of Wisconsin Central and North Central. Following the merger, the new airline became Northwest Airlines (dropping the "Orient"), which merged into Delta Air Lines in 2008. Once the merger was finalized in early 2010, the Northwest Airlines brand fully retired with the Delta Air Lines name surviving as the successor to North Central Airlines.


When North Central Airlines started operations, the company's ICAO code was "NOR"; this was later changed to "NCA". When ICAO went from 3 to 2 characters, North Central became "NC", the same as its IATA code.[ citation needed ]


Two North Central CV-580 aircraft at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1973. North Central Airlines CV-580 N4825C.jpg
Two North Central CV-580 aircraft at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1973.
North Central Airlines historical fleet
Cessna UC-78 Bobcat 219461946NC51401, NC63662
operated by Wisconsin Central Airlines [18]
Lockheed Model 10 Electra 619481951operated by Wisconsin Central Airlines [19]
Douglas DC-3 3219511969 [20]
Convair CV-440 341959196932 aircraft were converted to Convair CV-580 [21]
Convair CV-580 3519671979 [22]
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31 2219671979 [23]
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51 1919761979 [24]

Accidents and incidents

See also

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On December 27, 1968, North Central Airlines Flight 458 crashed into a hangar while attempting a night landing in poor weather at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. Of the 41 passengers and four crew members, only 17 passengers and one crew member survived. One person was killed and six were injured on the ground.

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On June 29, 1972, North Central Airlines Flight 290 collided in mid-air with Air Wisconsin Flight 671 over Lake Winnebago near Appleton, Wisconsin, in the United States. Both aircraft crashed into the lake, killing all 13 people on board.

1972 Chicago–OHare runway collision 1972 aviation accident

On December 20, 1972, North Central Airlines Flight 575 and Delta Air Lines Flight 954 collided on a runway at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, in the United States. Ten people died – all on the North Central aircraft – and 17 were injured in the accident. This was the second major airliner accident to happen in Chicago in December 1972; the other was United Airlines Flight 553, which crashed twelve days earlier on approach to Midway Airport.


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