"Jetmania" Hits Cleveland: 1960-65
Updated: Jan 21
Cleveland Hopkins International airport just celebrated a milestone anniversary on July 1, 2020, its 95th birthday. In a previous article (located here or here in its original version), we examined a series of Cleveland airport “firsts.” In this article, we will look at the dawn of the jet age at CLE, celebrating its 60th anniversary on July 24, 2020. “Jetmania” hit Northeast Ohio, much like "Beatlemania" did a few years later.
Turbine-Powered Flight Comes to CLE
Turboprop service was initiated at Cleveland Hopkins Municipal Airport (CLE) on June 23, 1955, by Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) with 60-minute flights to and from Toronto, Canada, followed by Capital Airlines in autumn 1955, both on British-made Vickers Viscount aircraft. TCA extensively promoted its new “hushed, restful flight of the Viscount” in the Cleveland market, including offering six demonstration flights on April 28 to 200 lucky guests, as well as setting up a cabin mock-up and engine cutaway model display in the downtown Cleveland Halle’s department store May 2-5, 1955.
The First Jets Take Off
Just about in time for the airport’s 35th birthday, Cleveland entered the jet age unofficially at 8:42 p.m. on December 26, 1959, with the arrival of a Delta Airlines DC-8 that made an unscheduled landing at Hopkins after fog closed Detroit Willow Run Airport. The jet from Miami carried only 23 passenger and had no difficulty landing on CLE's short runways. All but one of the passengers elected to take a bus to Detroit, rather than wait for the plane to leave. The virtually empty four-engined jetliner finally took off the next morning without incident on the quick 17-minute flight across Lake Erie.
On May 8, 1960, a TWA Boeing 707 en route from San Francisco to New York that diverted to CLE due to air traffic congestion on the East Coast. Airport operations personnel remarked that “the landing was made without any difficulty” (on the airport’s shorter 6,412- and 6,242-foot runways). The airport’s new main jet runway, 5-Right/23-Left (now 6-Right/24-Left), originally constructed in 1942 to accommodate B-29 bombers being built on-site for the war effort, was stretched from 6,000 feet to 8,999 feet, and opened on December 6, 1960 to accommodate with ease most of the new aircraft just entering service.
Regularly scheduled jet service began on July 24, 1960, with United Air Lines offering Boeing 707-720 “Jet Mainliner” service on a route from Cleveland to Los Angeles via Chicago and Denver. The intermediate-range B720 jet was likely selected due to the relatively short runways at CLE. Passengers could also connect at Chicago for nonstop flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco aboard United DC-8 jets.
On the day of the inaugural flight, a bright Sunday morning, a group of about 1,000 people crowded the observation deck atop the West Concourse to witness the mayor’s wife, Anne Celebrezze, douse the $4.5 million Boeing plane with a silver bucket of champagne and hear brief remarks from the mayor, Anthony J. Celebrezze. The jetliner had arrived from Chicago at 8:30 a.m. and left for Chicago and points west at 9:40 a.m. for a total flying time of six hours and ten minutes, compared with nine hours and 40 minutes on the older piston-engine planes.
The occasion caused Mayor Celebreeze to declare “Jetarama Week” in Cleveland. The following weekend, United brought its jet fair spectacle, Jetarama, to CLE, one of several stops in the United Air Lines system. A B720 was displayed (although it appears, UA used DC-8s in other cities) along with three tents of exhibits related to jet technology and travel to huge crowds, reportedly over 135,000 on July 31 alone. About 1,000 special guests received one-hour “courtesy” flights on the new jet.
American Airlines was quick to catch up with its rival on July 31, 1960, with the inauguration of B720 service aboard Flagship Connecticut from Cleveland to Los Angeles via St. Louis. The American flights, even with the stop, had a total elapsed flight time of five hours westbound, and were two hours and 30 minutes faster than its DC-7 nonstop “Mercury Service” that it had initiated in April 1957. American had actually announced jet service first but was beat out by a week by United. Cleveland Port Director, William J. Rogers, expressed surprise at American’s announcement on June 30, 1960, that the airport would be gaining regular jet service so soon, expecting it to commence early the next year after the new jet runway was completed.
At a “Jet Gateway Civic Luncheon” on July 29, 1961, sponsored by the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, legendary American Airlines President, C. R. Smith quipped, “Talk about cooperation! As soon as we announced our jet service from Cleveland to California, United thought it was a good idea and put in jets of their own!”
American boasted in ads from the time that its flights were one hour faster than the rival ones offered by United (that made two stops instead of one). It also offered “first class Mercury or economical Royal Coachmen service” (for only $108.55 plus tax to Los Angeles, a not so “economical” $904 in today’s dollars!).
American Airlines also displayed its B720 jet aircraft at Gate 26 on the North Concourse during the Jetarama weekend and offered excursion flights toward Buffalo and Detroit for about 500 lucky passengers. Reportedly, roads were jammed with spectators watching the jet take off and land for several hours.
On November 17, 1960, Pan American World Airways actually brought a new DC-8C Jet Clipper to Cleveland for a familiarization flight, the first DC-8 flight at CLE. A 500-mile, one hour roundtrip to Niagara Falls (the original destination was Chicago, but poor weather caused the route change) was flown by 113 passengers and seven bi-lingual “hostesses.” The cockpit door was kept open throughout the flight and the crew answered the many questions of the mostly first-time jet flyers about altitude (33,000 ft.), speed (560 MPH) and outside temperature (-45F) in the stratosphere. Although Pan Am was not a regular carrier at CLE, it had applied to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) for international route authority to Europe once the airport’s jet runway was completed. This service did not actually occur until summer of 1991 when Pan Am started a direct flight to London-Gatwick via Detroit from Cleveland (later assumed by Delta and flown until June 1, 1993).
Over 2.1 million passengers used CLE in 1960, while total flight operations declined, as larger planes, including the new jets, replaced smaller aircraft (CLE dropped from the 11th busiest airport in the United States in operations in 1959 to 13th in 1960).
Early Expansion of Jet Service
Additional jet routes soon followed. Capital Airlines started jet service on B720 aircraft leased from United (in full United colors and in anticipation of their upcoming merger) from Cleveland to Miami twice daily starting on January 8, 1961, shaving two hours off the flying time of piston-engine planes. United began nonstop service to Los Angeles on February 14, 1961, also on a B720, with the flight originating in Hartford and continuing on to San Francisco.
Again, American Airlines kept up with its arch-rival and began nonstop Astrojet passenger service, as well as the city's first all-cargo jet freighter service to LAX, on April 30, 1961. Northwest Orient Airlines also started Lockheed Electra prop-jet service to Washington, DC and to Minneapolis around that same time. The Mayor of Cleveland declared “Jet Air Progress Week,” from April 30 to May 6, 1961 in recognition of these new jet-powered flights at CLE.
United inaugurated jet service to New York City and added a second nonstop to Chicago on April 30, 1961 (replaced with brand new French Sud Aviation SE 210 VI-R Caravelle jets on August 15, 1961). United soon added more Cararvelle service to Milwaukee, followed by Atlanta and Philadelphia by the end of October 1961. It also started service to Los Angeles and San Francisco on DC-8s on April 29, 1962, ironically enough on the fifth anniversary of nonstop service to LAX by American. With its recently completed merger with Capital Airlines, United solidified its position as the dominant air carrier in Cleveland and a major station in the United system with about 80 daily flights, second only to Chicago-O’Hare in number of UA flights.
In October 1961, CLE saw what was billed as the largest overseas passenger load in its history when a charted DC-8 jet from Italian carrier, Alitalia, took 132 passengers to and from Rome, mainly Ohio’s delegation to Boys Town in Italy. Eastern Airlines also began B720 service to Miami and Tampa on December 20, 1961, supplementing its low-cost “air-bus” flights on Super Constellations.
Perhaps the most interesting route of the early jet era was Trans-Canada’s direct DC-8 service from Cleveland to London, England with a stop in Toronto (and Prestwick, Scotland, some days) that commenced on May 5, 1961 with one weekly flight, increasing to four weekly rotations on June 2 for the busy summer season. The DC-8s were configured with only 127 seats as well as a stand-up bar! The evening of the inaugural flight, a red ribbon was tied (instead of cut) signifying the new link to Europe, to the cheers of 2,000 people on the spectator deck watching the festivities take place at Gate 7. Even then, the airport’s inadequate customs facilities were decried, much as they are today, as inadequate for the new larger planes! It is unclear to the author how long this Air Canada direct service to Cleveland lasted beyond 1965.
The year 1962 saw the addition of several more jet routes at CLE. For example, TWA added a nonstop jet flight to its new TWA Flight Center at New York-Idlewild (IDL) starting April 29, 1962, giving Clevelanders a new one-stop option to about a dozen key destinations in Europe. Not to be outdone, Eastern airlines added twice weekly direct service to San Juan with a stop in Pittsburgh effective May 2, 1962 on DC-8s with 134 seats (20 in first, 114 in “tourist” class).
Another name change to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport was made in 1964. This was reflective of the only regularly scheduled international service at that time, Air Canada’s flights to and from Canada (London, Ontario and Toronto), as well as the airline’s direct service from London, England, and occasional charter flights overseas.
Cleveland Hopkins made continuous progress and improvements during the first half of the decade. The airport installed a new instrument landing system (ILS) on its jet runway 23L in August 1964. By 1965, the airport boasted 354 daily flights by five trunk carriers (American, Eastern, Northwest Orient, TWA, and United), four local service carriers (Allegheny, Lake Central, Mohawk, and North Central), one international flag carrier (TCA-Air Canada), and three all-cargo airlines (The Flying Tiger Line, Airlift International, and Zantop Air Transport). The first emergency medical technician (EMT) program located at an airport was also established in 1965. And almost 3.5 million passengers were handled by the airport that year,
Please stay tuned for future articles about the colorful history of aviation in Cleveland.