October 1, 1980
1970 (Hughes Airwest)
Top Banana in the West
Howard Hughes (Owner) Russell V. Stephenson (President)
Hughes airwest flight 706 crash animation
Hughes Airwest (IATA: RW, ICAO: -, Call sign: Hughes-Air) was an airline in the western United States, backed by the Summa Corporation of Howard Hughes. The original name for the airline was Air West. Hughes Airwest flew routes in the western U.S. and to a few cities in Mexico and Canada; it was purchased by Republic Airlines on October 1, 1980. Its headquarters were on the grounds of San Francisco International Airport in unincorporated San Mateo County, California.
On April 17, 1968 three "local service" airlines in the western U.S. merged to form Air West:
The initial Air West fleet included Boeing 727-100s, Douglas DC-9s, Fairchild F-27s, and Piper Navajos. The first new addition to the Air West fleet was a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 which had been ordered by Bonanza Air Lines. Hughes Airwest became an all-jet airline in 1979 with Boeing 727-200s and DC-9s and was then acquired by and merged into Republic Airlines (1979–1986) in 1980.
Hungry for another adventure in the airline industry, TWA's former owner Howard Hughes sought the airline in 1968, and the deal was finalized in 1970. The airline was renamed Hughes Air West and its call sign became "Hughes Air." It expanded to several cities in the western United States, Canada and Mexico. With the new yellow paint scheme, unveiled 28 September 1971, the airline began calling itself Hughes Airwest, two words instead of the initial three word name.
The airline participated in some movies in the 1970s, most notably The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke in 1977. Eastwood's character arrives in Las Vegas from Phoenix on the airline and when he later phones the airport for flight departure times, Locke's character sarcastically called the airline, "Air Worst."
Like other local service airlines in the 1970s, Hughes Airwest eliminated many stops and opened longer routes. Service expanded to resorts in Mexico; domestic routes didn't reach east of Utah and Arizona until Denver, Des Moines, Milwaukee, and Houston Hobby Airport were added in 1978.
In September 1979 the airline was grounded for two months by a walkout by their ticket agents, reservations handlers, and office employees, who had been without a contract for over a year. During 1979 several airlines showed interest in buying Hughes Airwest, including Alaska and Allegheny, with the latter soon becoming USAir. The strike was resolved in late October and flights resumed in November. Four months later they were the target of a buyout by Republic Airlines, which was finalized on October 1, 1980, for $38.5 million. Republic had been formed in July 1979 via the merger of North Central Airlines and Southern Airways, the first under airline deregulation.
Republic was acquired by Northwest Airlines in 1986, which in turn was merged into Delta Air Lines in 2010.
The original headquarters were in two buildings in downtown San Mateo, California, on the San Francisco peninsula.
Its new headquarters were located in San Mateo. The airline scheduled the move to a new headquarters from Thursday August 25, 1973 to August 28, 1973. The complex was on a hill overlooking San Mateo and San Francisco Bay. The airline relocated two departments from the offices at San Francisco International Airport: flight control and reservations.
Hughes Airwest's planes were recognizable by their banana-yellow fuselage and tail colors. Their airplanes were often dubbed "flying bananas" and the airline launched an advertising campaign with the catchphrase "Top Banana in the West." Most nicknames given to Hughes Airwest airplanes in aviation books and magazines have to do with bananas. Apart from their all-yellow scheme, the airplanes also featured a blue logo on the vertical stabilizer (tail) that resembled three diamonds connected (possibly a reference to the initials of Howard Hughes). The name Hughes Airwest, in stylized lettering, was featured unconventionally below the front passenger windows.
This livery was devised by the southern California design firm of Mario Armond Zamparelli, following the crash of Flight 706 in June 1971, caused by a mid-air collision with a U.S. Marine Corps F-4B jet fighter near Duarte, California. In late 1971, the company launched a new marketing campaign which included new colors and repainted planes. The cabin windows also had a metallized PET film coating originally, but this proved too costly to maintain. Zamparelli also designed the uniforms of the flight attendants in the new colors, primarily in Sundance Yellow trimmed with Universe Blue.
After the sale in October 1980 the all-yellow paint scheme was gradually replaced by Republic's white with blue and green trim, and the mallard "Herman the Duck."
Two months after the celebrated hijacking by D. B. Cooper of Northwest Orient flight 305, Hughes Airwest was the target of a copycat hijacker on January 20, 1972. After boarding Flight 800 at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, a 23-year-old claimed he had a bomb while the plane was on the taxiway and demanded $50,000 cash, two parachutes, and a helmet. When these demands were met, 51 Reno-bound passengers and two flight attendants were released and the DC-9 departed eastward toward Denver, followed by two F-111s of the U.S. Air Force from nearby Nellis AFB. The parachutes were high-visibility and equipped with emergency locater devices. Without a coat and in cowboy boots, the hijacker bailed out from the lower aft door over the treeless plains of northeastern Colorado in mid-afternoon. He was apprehended a few hours later, with minor injuries and very cold. The plane, with two pilots and a flight attendant on board, landed safely at Denver's Stapleton airport at 2:55 p.m. MST. Facing potential death penalty charges for air piracy, he was sentenced to 40 years, but served less than eight and was released from a halfway house in 1979.
Air West in July 1968
This is a list of destinations taken from the Air West system timetable dated July 1, 1968 when the merger to form Air West became effective. Cities served with jets are noted in bold. Air West was operating Boeing 727-100, Douglas DC-9-10 and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 jets as well as Fairchild F-27 turboprops and small Piper Navajo twin props at this time. The majority of the destinations on this list that did not have jet service were served with F-27 twin turboprops.
Hughes Airwest in September 1980
This is a list of destinations taken from the Hughes Airwest system timetable dated September 1, 1980 shortly before the airline was merged into Republic. Hughes Airwest was an all-jet airline at this time operating Boeing 727-200s, Douglas DC-9-10s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30s.