• Paul Soprano

Galaxy Airlines


Galaxy Airlines DC-3, N33347, operated by the US Army Air Force, Delta Air Lines, and North Central Airlines (Ship 40), and bought by Galaxy in November 1968. (Image courtesy of John Schmidt’s website, The Rise of the Commuters Oct. 2017)

Galaxy Airlines was a short-lived intrastate air carrier based at Cuyahoga County Airport (CGF), located on Richmond Road in Richmond Heights, about 12 miles east of downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Its operations lasted less than a year, but it made quite the splash on the Ohio aviation scene in its brief existence.


Galaxy’s initial service was four daily roundtrip flights from Cuyahoga County Airport to Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), along with two flights from CGF to James M. Cox-Dayton Municipal Airport (DAY). It appears from one of Galaxy’s timetables that return flights from Dayton, at some point routed via Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), before flying an additional 20 minutes to their final destination at the county airport 22 miles away. Later, when the airline routed flights via Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL), that short distance was cut in half to about 11 miles.


Galaxy Airlines’ Origins

In May 1968, the newly formed scheduled airline announced plans to begin service on June 3 of that year, pending FAA approval. Arthur C. Schaffer, president of Ohio Loan & Discount Co, Cleveland, and CEO of Pressure Casting, Inc., Cleveland, was president of the new airline.


The company negotiated with North Central Airlines for the purchase of four used DC-3 aircraft, with options to purchase additional planes. The twin-engine propliners were scheduled to make the trip between CGF and CMH in about 50 minutes. Lowell Grossman, vice president and general manager of Galaxy, said the DC-3 was chosen because of its “exemplary record in air transportation.” The airline was impressed with North Central’s record of 20 years of safety and maintenance-free operation with the DC-3. This was a major factor in Galaxy’s final choice of aircraft and its decision to sign a maintenance contract with North Central.


Three Galaxy Airlines DC-3 parked at Cuyahoga County Airport. (Cleveland Press photo from the Special Collections at the Cleveland State University Library, via Cleveland's Legacy of Flight, Thomas G. Matowitz Jr., 2008)

Lowell Grossman brought 26 years of aviation experience to the table. He saw the surplus DC-3s that North Central Airlines was phasing out as an ideal aircraft for starting a small intrastate airline. He had the ideas and know-how, but not the money, so he approached a friend, Arthur C. Shaffer, and suggested starting an Ohio airline. Impressed with the idea, Shaffer went to his partner, Loren F. Weiss, an engineer and President of Pressure Castings, and he also liked it. The men took the 35-year-old planes that had been rebuilt and updated and put them to work.


FAA certification for the new airline, unlike commuter flying services certification, required the same standards for maintenance, equipment, pilot and stewardess training as are met by other major airlines. Galaxy touted its service as providing a considerable time savings to those who make frequent trips between Ohio’s state capital and Cleveland’s East Side commercial area.


Cuyahoga County Commissioners signed an agreement with Galaxy Airlines for use of the county airfield as the new airline’s base on May 23, 1968. Galaxy agreed to pay the county a fee of $4 ($31.44 today) per flight. The agreement with the county provided for additional fees for any heavier aircraft the new airline may acquire in the future. The deal also provided for the temporary location at the airport of a mobile trailer to house Galaxy’s office and ticket counter for no more than six months (although it lasted until the airline’s demise). The airline contracted to use the new hangar and services of Mercury Aviation Corp. under a separate agreement with Mercury. The $500,000 Mercury facilities were dedicated on May 24, 1968, in a flag-raising ceremony followed by a civic luncheon.


Galaxy Airlines began service to Columbus and Dayton on July 10, 1968, a bit later than planned. Starting with a fleet of four DC-3s, the airline ordered two more from North Central, which performed required major inspections and overhauls. Line maintenance was handled by Galaxy’s own mechanics. Each 26-seat DC-3 cost about $40,000 (about $314,000 today) versus $400,000 ($3.14 million today) for a new Beechcraft 99 Airliner, a popular 18-passenger turboprop. Galaxy saw no chance to make money on the newer, but smaller, aircraft. “The DC-3 is a proven plane with many advantages in addition to its low cost,” said Weiss in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer (February 9, 1969). “It has a galley, toilets, more room, more and larger seats and can carry a stewardess.”


The DC-3 was too heavy to qualify for interstate air taxi service, so it was decided that Galaxy would be an intrastate airline, flying only in Ohio. This made it exempt from Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) route and rate regulation, although it was subject to FAA safety standards like the major airlines.


One stewardess, Janice Mika, and several stewards were trained by North Central in Minneapolis. They served a continental breakfast of rolls, coffee and tea in the morning and soft drinks and liquor on afternoon flights.


Undated Galaxy Airlines timetable but likely from 1968. The brochure also describes the service onboard and the the DC-3 fleet. (From the collection of David Zekria via timetableimages.com)

Galaxy Airlines timetable undated but likely from 1968 before Cincinnati Lunken Airport was added, and flights from Dayton returned to Cleveland via Hopkins Airport and Cuyahoga County Airport. (From the collection of David Zekria via timetableimages.com)

Service Expansion

In November 1968, Galaxy asked the CAB for authority to provided scheduled service between Lunken Airport in Cincinnati (LUK) and Cleveland. CAB authority was required because some instrument approaches to the airport, which is on the Ohio side of the Ohio River, were to be over Kentucky, which brings it under CAB jurisdiction. The airline received permission from the CAB to use any necessary airspace in the vicinity of Lunken Field on December 23, 1968, although Galaxy added LUK to its schedule on December 15, 1968, with one morning and one evening flight daily.


In late 1968, one-way fares between Cleveland and the other three Ohio cities were: $25 ($196 today) to Cincinnati, $20.50 ($161) to Dayton, and $18 ($141) to Columbus. Students, military personnel, and clergy received a 50% discount when flying standby. These prices compare very favorably to the only current nonstop intrastate air service between Cleveland (BKL) and Cincinnati (LUK) offered by Ultimate Air Shuttle for $199 each way.


Flights from Columbus began making stops at Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL), conveniently located right downtown, on November 25, 1968. Two daily flights stopped briefly at BKL after the one-hour trip before continuing to Cuyahoga County Airport. One daily flight began in Dayton, stopped in Columbus, and flew to Burke. Midwest Airlines based at Lunken Airport, and TAG Airlines from Detroit, had operated flights from LUK to BKL in 1965, but the route was not successful.


Galaxy Airlines’ route map over the course of its very short existence. (made with Great Circle Mapper http://www.gcmap.com/)

Galaxy finally won official approval to become the fourth scheduled airline to operate out of Burke Lakefront Airport on December 18, 1968. The Cleveland Board of Control awarded Galaxy a six-month permit to establish a counter to sell tickets for flights to CMH, DAY and LUK. Galaxy’s flights had been stopping at BKL for several weeks without the needed ticket counter space. Rent was $100 ($786 today) a month for 120 square feet of lobby space. The counter was ready by January 1, 1969.


The other three airlines operating at Burke were smaller air taxis, which were not regulated by the federal government, but could fly interstate routes. As noted above, Galaxy was a regulated carrier only permitted to operate within the state of Ohio. TAG Airlines operated only between Cleveland and Detroit, Wright Airlines served Columbus and Dayton, competing with Galaxy, along with Pittsburgh and Detroit. Commuter Airlines, the largest air taxi airline in the nation at the time, had many routes throughout the Midwest, but only one to Cleveland, on the route between BKL and Chicago’s downtown lakefront airport, Meigs Field (CGX). Commuter was founded by Paul G. Delman in 1964. Originally based in Sioux City, Iowa, it moved to Chicago in 1967.


Commuter Airlines timetable from June 12, 1967, prior to the air taxi starting service from Chicaog (CGX) to Cleveland (BKL). (timetableimages.com)

Reported flying time to Cincinnati on Galaxy was two hours with stops, more than twice the time of American Airlines’ jets, which used less convenient airports (CLE & CVG). These were the type of routes the larger airlines wished to shed because their new, fast jet aircraft could not operate economically on such short routes (we will see this happen a decade later with United's first Cleveland hub). “We are competing with Interstate 71 and the long drive to Hopkins,” said Weiss. “I feel confident we can draw enough people away from their cars to make Galaxy a success.”


In late November 1968, the Cleveland Engineering Society held a panel discussion on “The Businessman and the Mini-Airline.” Speakers included Robert Shea, manager of CGF, Loren Weiss and Lowell Grossman of Galaxy Airlines, and aviation writers of both daily newspapers. Much had been said and written about airport congestion and the time it takes on the ground at either end of an air trip, complaints still raised today. The answer to this problem was thought to have been “mini-airlines,” those carriers operating small planes over relatively short routes. Instead of using major airfields like CLE, they use the smaller downtown or suburban fields. Commuter and air taxi airlines, such as TAG and Wright Airlines and Galaxy, seemed to fit the bill.


Wright Airlines de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter N369MA at BKL ca. 1968. Also visible to the right is a TAG Airlines de Havilland DH.104 Dove and a Wright de Havilland DH.114 Heron in the background. (twinotterarchive.com)

However, the small county airport was apparently in need of improvements for it to live up to its potential as a reliever for CLE, which was long overdue for a major expansion itself. Immediate expansion of CGF was thought to enable it to operate profitably by 1971, according to Robert D. Shea, airport manager, who in mid-December 1968, presented an $3.5 million capital improvement program for 1969-79 to complete the airport’s master plan. Rapid growth of all types of aviation in recent years made the expansion a necessity, said Shea. The airport showed a $12,000 deficit in 1967.


Airport needs at CGF included a control tower, more and longer runways, 80 acres of land, aircraft, and automobile parking areas, a third small hangar, a crash-fire-rescue building, maintenance building, administration building and instrument landing system. The FAA, while praising the airport’s role in relieving congestion at CLE, offered little hope of federal financial aid for the project. According to airport management, the most pressing need was for a control tower. Galaxy said the airport needed a passenger terminal and a maintenance hangar for airline operations.


Cuyahoga County Airport today is named after its former Airport Manager of 42 years, Robert D. Shea, who passed away in 2017. (author's own photo)

Galaxy Airlines appeared to be on the path to success in early 1969. A strike by mechanics and other ground service employees against American Airlines (AA) in February and March 1969, was a boon to Galaxy Airlines and Consolidated Aviation, a small Cincinnati-based air taxi, which both increased service to Cleveland during the AA strike. Consolidated did business as Cincinnati Airlines Inc. (CAI) and flew two daily roundtrip flights from LUK to BKL on “modern, all-weather, radar equipped” Cessna C-402s, a nine-seat piston engine commuter aircraft.


Little-known Cincinnati Airlines Inc. (CAI), a division of Consolidated Aviation Inc., advertisement from March 24, 1969. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Galaxy had a series of “humorous” newspaper ads featuring a cigar-smoking Fidel Castro look-alike, spoofing the hijacking to Cuba craze of that era. More conventionally, Galaxy also advertised flight to Columbus to Ohio State University Buckeyes football home games. Cleveland-based competitor, Wright Airlines, offered special half-price fares for collegiate commuters and even considered service to OSU’s own airport, Don Scott Field.


Galaxy Airlines ad from January 30, 1969, featuring “Havana no, Cleveland si!” Similar ads ran in other Ohio newspapers. (Columbus Dispatch)

Galaxy Airline’s Demise

Galaxy Airlines was very optimistic about its growth. It added executive staff, stewardesses and ticket agents at its Ohio airports. All southbound flights from CGF began scheduled stops at BKL. All northbound flights served BKL by passenger request only. Galaxy Airlines announced that it was increasing its DC-3 fleet to meet the increasing demand for charter services.


However, Galaxy Airlines suddenly ceased operations on April 23, 1969. Airline president, Arthur G. Schaffer, said shareholders would try to sell the airline because of inadequate revenue and costs “higher than anticipated.” Shaffer expressed his belief that “someone with the proper amount of money could carry the losses until the line became profitable.” He believed the routes could become profitable in about five years. “It is unfortunate this came about just as the airport (Cuyahoga County) is on the threshold of major development,” said Robert D. Shea, Cuyahoga County director of aviation.


Several companies expressed interest in Galaxy Airlines’ fleet of five DC-3 aircraft or its operation, including its valid FAA certificate. “There is a tremendous crying need for better air service between the close-in airports of Cleveland and Cincinnati,” said a Galaxy official. While passenger loads were higher than anticipated, costs of operating the airline were higher than planned. The most successful route for Galaxy was its Cincinnati run. Officials were planning to drop service to Columbus and Dayton before the decision to suspend all operations was made. Stockholders were unable to ride out the rough financial situation and were not ready to offer Galaxy stock publicly.


But ultimately, there was no future for this upstart intrastate airline. By September 30, 1969, four of Galaxy’s aircraft, six spare engines, aircraft parts, navigational and radio instruments, support equipment, office equipment and its HQ trailer were auctioned off.


Before today’s operation by Ultimate Air Shuttle begun in 2015, four attempts at commuter or air taxi service between Cleveland and Cincinnati have failed. TAG Airlines tried first with five-passenger planes offering frequent services to BKL. Its failure was blamed on the fact that it is not economically feasible to maintain service with such small aircraft. However, TAG was successful on its BKL-Detroit City Airport (DET) run for years. Wright Airlines took over the route and used larger de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft, but again the result was failure.


Ultimate Air Shuttle's ticket counter and gate area at BKL in September 2020. Despite service being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like Ultimate might be the only carrier that will make the BKL-LUK route successful, despite many attempts in the past. (author's own photo)

Galaxy was the third airline to try but it could not succeed. TAG eventually ceased operations after one of its aircraft crashed into Lake Erie in 1970 with the loss of seven lives. Wright soldiered on until July 1985, when it made its last flight on its original route from BKL to DET, after it had merged with another airline, AeroMech, and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 1984.


Another Cuyahoga County Airport-based airline attempted service to nearby cities, including Cincinnati (LUK), Detroit and Pittsburgh. That company, Central States Airlines (CSA), flew for less than a year in 1989-90. The stories of CSA, TAG and Wright Airlines will be the subject of future articles. Stay tuned.

360 views0 comments