JUAN TRIPPE: Pilot Of The Jet Age

Though he made flying seem glamorous, Pan Am's founder really helped the rest of us get onboard

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

Trippe bought too many 747s in the early 1970s. A world oil crisis hit airline travel hard, and his business never recovered. Boeing itself almost went belly-up because of the cost of launching the 747.

Trippe had been a continuous innovator, but the sad irony is that he failed to re-invent his company for the leaner, far more competitive age he had done so much to shape: the age of travel for Everyman. A decade after his death, his airline, substantially dismembered, finally expired in 1991.

Throughout his career, Juan Trippe had been driven by the great American instinct for seeing a market before it happened--and then making it happen. In a real sense, he fathered the international airline business. To do so, he took on the entire airline industry, and risked his company to see his vision through. You've just got to admire a guy like that.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, knows a bit about airline renegades

Giving Airlines Their Wings

Donald Douglas was 17 when he saw Orville Wright fly a new biplane. Three decades later, his Douglas Aircraft DC-3, the famous Gooney Bird, would help create the commercial-airline industry and serve as the backbone of U.S. air operations in World War II. An M.I.T. engineer, the young Douglas worked on the Navy's first dirigible and the Army's first twin-engine bomber. He started his firm with $600 in the back of a barbershop in Santa Monica, Calif.

By 1925 Douglas Aircraft was building everything from Army observation aircraft to cargo transports. In 1932, when Trans World Airlines sought bids for a metal-body aircraft that could fly 12 passengers at 145 m.p.h., Douglas created the DC-1. The twin-engine prototype had soundproofing and cabin heaters.

Its successor, the DC-3, at one point carried 95% of all domestic air traffic. More than 10,000 were built. The DC-3 led to four-engine models like the DC-6 and, later, to such workhorse jetliners as the DC-9 and DC-10. Less competitive in recent years, Douglas merged with McDonnell Aircraft and was later bought by its bigger rival, Boeing.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page