“This is the captain speaking”

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November 11, 2015

Although this somewhat formal announcement has been replaced today with “Hi folks, from the flight deck…,” the Captain of an airliner is still Commander of the ship. Years of experience and being ‘best-of-the-best’ leads to that coveted left seat in the cockpit, and in this ad we hearken back to an era when airline captains started their careers in the barnstorming era before World War II. It is amazing to think these dedicated airmen began flying in open-cockpit biplanes, yet retired flying 600-mph jet airliners!

This beautifully illustrated and compelling ad ran in national newspapers and magazines in 1962 after American Airlines inaugurated their ‘Astrojet’ trademark denoting introduction of the turbofan-powered Boeing 707 and Convair 990 – the world’s fastest commercial airliner at the time. The turbofan engine was a significant technological breakthrough that improved power, reduced noise levels, and increased fuel efficiency as well as safety, and American’s ad campaign celebrated this new generation of aircraft.

By highlighting the career of Captain Jim Boyd, American paid well-deserved tribute to all airline captains – many of whom flew combat missions during World War II as fighter, bomber, or transport pilots, and then made the successful transition to commercial airliners. As an American Airlines pilot in the War effort, Boyd was responsible for training Army aviators to fly the C-47 Skytrain, military version of the venerable Douglas DC-3 airliner.

Before WWII, Boyd flew as an Air Mail pilot, and was hired by American when that airline was flying the twin-engine biplane Curtiss Condor whose performance could best be described as “stately.” Graduating from the 145-mph Condor to the faster, sleeker, and more powerful DC-3 was quite a big step for pilots and passengers alike, and after the War, Captain Boyd flew American’s 300-mph Douglas DC-6 and 350-mph DC-7 Flagships from coast-to coast.

In 1959, American became the first airline to fly turbine-powered airliners in commercial service in the United States with both the turbojet Boeing 707 and turboprop Lockheed Electra. Captain Boyd got in on the ground floor of the Jet Age flying Electras on American’s short and medium-range routes, and then moved-up to the 615-mph Convair 990 Astrojet which represented the pinnacle of his career. This ad points out that “It took Jim Boyd seven million miles to get to the Astrojet. (Which is as far as you can go.)”

Although both the airline industry and commercial airliners have changed dramatically since 1962, one thing hasn’t. It still takes years of experience and the highest levels of proficiency for a pilot to qualify to sit in the left seat of an airliner cockpit, whether it’s a 100-seat regional jet or a 600-passenger Airbus A380. When you do hear that announcement from the flight deck, you can rest assured your Captain has earned his way to that left seat and still represents the very best in airmanship today.