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. North Central's headquarters were moved to Minneapolis–St. Paul in 1952.
Following a merger with Southern Airways in 1979, North Central became Republic Airlines, which merged into Northwest Airlines in 1986.
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. In 1944 company executives decided to start an airline, 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.
In 1952 the airline moved their headquarters from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and that December their name became North Central Airlines. 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.
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 a nonstop Milwaukee to New York LaGuardia in 1970. It added five Convair 340s from Continental Airlines to its fleet of DC-3s, the first entering service in 1959. In 1960 North Central hit the one million passenger mark; in May 1968 they flew to 64 airports, including two in Canada.
Convair 440 aircraft were added to the fleet as well.
Like other Local Service airlines North Central was subsidized; in 1962 its "revenue" of $27.2 million included $8.5 million "Pub. serv. rev."
The airline even worked with the U.S. government to aid troubled airlines in South America. The first of five Douglas DC-9-31 jetliners entered service in 1967 while the piston engine Convair 340s and Convair 440s were all converted to turboprop Convair 580s. The airline then acquired additional DC-9 jets and was operating 29 Convair propjets. By 1969, the last DC-3 was retired from the fleet.
In 1969 North Central Airlines moved their 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. It is now used by Delta Air Lines after their 2008 merger with Northwest.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) classified North Central as a "local service carrier," flying to cities within 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. Following federal deregulation of the airline industry, North Central continued to expand and was operating McDonnell Douglas DC-9-50 jetliners which was the largest aircraft in its fleet at the time.
North Central purchased Atlanta-based Southern Airways and the two airlines formed Republic Airlines in July 1979, the first merger following airline deregulation. Republic soon targeted San Francisco-based Hughes Airwest for acquisition, and the deal was finalized in October 1980 for $38.5 million. Saddled with debt from two acquisitions and new aircraft, the airline struggled in the early 1980s, and even introduced a human mascot version of Herman the Duck.
Republic kept North Central's hubs at Minneapolis and Detroit, and Southern's hub at Memphis. Within a few years they closed the former Hughes Airwest hub at Sky Harbor at Phoenix and also largely dismantled the Hughes Airwest route network in the western U.S.; reduced North Central's sizeable station at O'Hare at Chicago; and reduced Southern's sizeable station 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 Minneapolis and Detroit hubs.
In 1986, Republic merged with Northwest Orient Airlines, 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, finalized in early 2010. Northwest Airlines became part of the Delta name.
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.Douglas DC-3
Convair CV-340 (all converted to CV-580 turboprops)
Convair CV-440 (all converted to CV-580 turboprops)
Douglas DC-9-30 (series -31 models)
Douglas DC-9-50 (series -51 models)
June 24, 1968 - A North Central Airlines plane clipped a guy wire on the 2,032-foot (619 m) tower for KELO-TV (Sioux Falls, South Dakota). The tower in Rowena was in service less than a year and was completely destroyed. Luckily, the plane landed safely with no injuries.
August 4, 1968 – Flight 261, a Convair CV-580, collided with a Cessna 150 11.5 miles (19 km) miles southwest of Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee at 2,700 feet (820 m), as the northbound Convair from Chicago descended for an approach to runway 7. The cabin section of the northwest-bound Cessna embedded in the Convair's forward baggage compartment. The Convair lost electrical power and the right engine was shut down due to a damaged propeller, but the captain completed a successful emergency landing six minutes later. All three teenagers aboard the Cessna were killed and the first officer on the Convair had serious leg and head injuries, but the other 3 crew and 8 passengers were uninjured. Heavy accumulation of insect debris on the windshield was cited as a contributing factor.
December 27, 1968 – Flight 458, a Convair CV-580, crashed into a hangar while attempting to land at O'Hare International Airport at Chicago, Illinois, killing 27 of the 45 people on board and killing one and injuring six people on the ground.
April 23, 1970 – Flight 945, a DC-9 destined for Sault Ste. Marie Airport, was hijacked shortly after departure from Pellston Regional Airport. The hijacker demanded to be taken to Detroit. The hijacker was soon taken down, and there were no fatalities.
June 29, 1972 – All five aboard (3 crew, 2 passengers) Flight 290, a Convair CV-580, were killed when it collided with Air Wisconsin Flight 671, a de Havilland Twin Otter, with eight aboard (two crew, six passengers). Both crashed into the north end of Lake Winnebago, 3 miles (5 km) east of Neenah, Wisconsin, with no survivors from either plane. The collision occurred at 2,500 feet (760 m) on a mostly clear but hazy late morning as 290, two hours late, approached Oshkosh from Green Bay. The Air Wisconsin air taxi flight originated in Chicago and was set to arrive at Appleton from Sheboygan; both were operating under visual flight rules.
December 20, 1972 – Flight 575, a DC-9-31, was cleared by an air traffic controller for takeoff at O'Hare in Chicago, while recently arrived Delta Air Lines Flight 954, a Convair CV-880, was instructed to taxi across the runway to a holding area. The DC-9 had just started to climb in the heavy fog when it clipped the tail of the CV-880. Ten of the 45 people on board the North Central DC-9 were killed in the resulting collision and crash and 15 were injured; there were two minor injuries on the Delta CV-880.
July 25, 1978 – Flight 801 departed the Kalamazoo airport in Michigan at 7:00 am EDT in fog. The Convair 580 struck a bird immediately after lifting off from runway 17 and lost power in its left engine. It flew an additional 79 seconds, banking left, then crash-landed into a cornfield east of the airport. Of the 40 passengers and three crew on board, 2 passengers and a crewman had serious injuries, but there were no fatalities. (photo) The NTSB report attributed the cause of the crash to the captain's failure to follow proper emergency procedures.