By Henry M. Holden
Ozark Airlines was first certified on Sept. 1, 1943. Their first aircraft were single engine Beechcraft Staggerwings. Their first flight occurred on June 10, 1945. Twin engine Cessna UC-78s followed the Beechcraft aircraft. Following a suspension of service in the late 1940s, Ozark, named for the Missouri region from which it came, restarted its company on Sept, 25, 1950, using surplus WW II DC-3s obtained from a defunct operator called Parks Airlines.
Ozark’s first revenue flight carried one passenger from Lambert field in St. Louis, Missouri to Chicago’s Midway Airport a distance of 258 miles.
In its rush to get started, the Dc-3s were repainted quickly. Ozark employees painted out the “P” and the “S” of “Parks” and painted an “OZ” in front of the ARK of the Parks name, In great haste, one employee left out the “Z: on one DC-3. This one DC-3 flew for a time with the company name reading, “OARK AIRLINES.” The misspelling and mismatched paint scheme was left intact to let customers know that Ozark had more than one airplane. They actually had four DC-3 and 40 employees.
Using the reliable DC-3 Ozark Air Lines grew quickly, and with just two months in the air, they had flown 4,000 passengers and had grown to 165 employees.
By early 1951, Ozark Air Lines was rapidly expanding, reaching out to ten states. With dozens of stops along its route system, the DC-3s spent almost as much time taking off and landing as they did in flying at altitude.
Ozark continued to grow using the reliable Dc-3s and through a combination of creativeness and innovation Ozark found itself by the end of 1951 boarding its 50,000th passenger. In an attempt to act like a mature and well financed airline, Ozark meteorologists, for example, made their own weather maps. Workers in the “Ozark Advertising Dept.” sawed boards from which they made and painted roadside signs telling motorists to, “FLY OZARK.” These same employees took the signs out into the countryside and made deals with farmers to erect them on their property for an annual rental of $40 for each one. Newspaper advertising, meanwhile, promoted. “Ozark – The Businessman’s Airline.”
Innovation occurred everywhere in the company including the cockpit of the DC-3s. Pilots faced weekly written tests on all aspects of flying, including the identification of low frequency approach signals, drawing from memory maps of approaches to every airport used by Ozark. Before qualifying as a pilot for Ozark Air Lines, each candidate had to draw from memory between 1SO and 200 approach maps. In some pilot classes the failure rate was as high as two-thirds of all candidates.
Like many airlines in the 1950s, Ozark took advantage of the government’s surplus C-47 inventory, and never bought a new DC-3. However, the company took each used airplane and refitted it so dramatically that passengers thought they were boarding a new DC-3 each time.
Eventually, Ozark’s fleet of DC-3s grew to 26. The oldest was #6, and built in 1936, flew more than 30 years and about nine million miles (approximately 360 times around the world).
By 1955, Ozark had a route system of 5,273 miles joining 56 cities in 10 states, A year later they began an air freight service using DC-3, of course. In December of that year, the national Safety Council awarded them a certificate for having flown more than 162 million passenger miles (all in DC-3s) without a single accident.
Challenged by the growth, Ozark began refurbishing the 21-seat cabins on the DC-3s into 28 seats to address the much needed carrying capacity without the purchase of new aircraft. In 1957, Ozark announced its one millionth passenger, and by the end of the year had doubled that figure to two million passengers.
Nineteen fifty nine saw two long lasting changes to Ozark Airlines. The first was the adoption of the company logo of three swallows, signifying safe travel, good luck, and scheduled flight, The other change was the purchase of its first Fairchild Hiller propjet. It was clear that the DC-3’s days were numbered, and about to be replaced by bigger, faster airplanes. By 1964, Ozark Air Lines had celebrated its 15th anniversary and had a fleet of 43 aircraft, 20 of which were still the old reliable DC-3s. Ozark Air Lines flew its last DC-3 flight on October 26, 1968, two years after they had introduced the first DC-9 jets to the fleet.
Ozark Airlines PP 1 25-slides
Reprinted from the Winter 1995/96 DC-3/Dakota Journal photos were graciously provided by William Borne
Copyright Henry M. Holden, 1995, 2013
For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see: “The Legacy of the DC-3″