Airwest began to stir and visits were held with Irv Teague, President, and Terry Ashton, V.P. Planning, at Irvs home in San Carlos, California, about 60 miles South of San Francisco. It was located up on the hill overlooking San Francisco Bay. This was his favorite place to meet which was understandable. This way he could relax at home in comfortable surroundings.
They wanted a 150 passenger aircraft that could operate out of high altitude airports such as Reno and Mexico City. The Series 50 DC-9, which was now available, could not fit the performance requirements that Airwest needed, despite even the use of Jato bottles (Jet assisted takeoff). On a commercial aircraft this was unacceptable.
I liked and respected Irv and understood what he was trying to do in growing the airline. I also felt that he was working hard to do business with Douglas, but we did not have a solution in hand.
I reviewed the happenings at Airwest with Gerry Thomas. He gave me a set of blueprints which showed a stretched DC-9 of approximately 150 seats powered by the General Electric CFM-56 engine. This was a next generation engine with substantially reduced fuel flows and noise. It would also provide the performance characteristics required at Airwest. When I showed it to Irv, he smiled and said that if Douglas would build the aircraft, he would buy it. He was very excited about the aircraft.
Upon my return to Long beach and report to Gerry on Irvs comments, Gerry said to put the drawing in my drawer and to not show it to anyone or mention it again. For me, that was the beginning of the end of the Douglas Company, and the last shot at getting back our pre-eminence in the industry.
With the DC-8 tooling gone and leaving the door open for Boeing to utilize the CFM-56 engine, we had abbrogated ourselves to second best for now; then to third, when Airbus International used the engine on the A-320. Needless to say, Airwest ordered the 727-200 Advanced.
Douglas launched the DC-9-50 with an order from Swissair. This aircraft was a patch up of the DC-9-40 with a slight increase in thrust for the engine and similar increase in the wing area. The aircraft was also touted to be a new generation of quiet airplanes and would meet Stage Two Noise Levels; when in fact, the aircraft became the second noisiest airplane in airline operation. Earlier 727 aircraft held the distinction of being the noisiest.
The aircraft was a marginal performer, and the total sold to all airlines was 90 aircraft. It was a desperation attempt to provide a new aircraft at minimum cost to Douglas. It took up valuable time from developing the right aircraft, but it was done.
The aircraft met the requirements of two of my airlines, not for performance efficiency, but because of the economics of a Stretch at little cost increase. Jack Magoon, of Hawaiian, had a habit of giving in to his Unions, and the cost of operating aircraft became a marginal situation in the Islands. With Aloha operating 737s with 10 more seats than Hawaiian in each aircraft, Hawaiian was susceptible to the Series 50. Kona airport had been extended so the performance of the -50 was adequate. We negotiated, which included several trips to Hawaii. Then we concluded with a Letter of Intent, which Long Beach management accepted. Hawaiian would purchase (10)-50s to ultimately replace the -30 fleet.
This was my introduction to Hawaiian Airlines tradition of "Blessing" the aircraft. When they received delivery of the first of their DC-9-50, they had a "Blessing" of the aircraft by the local Hawaiian Priest. It was a very serious and meaningful ceremony for the people of Hawaii. Each and every aircraft delivered to Hawaiian has had this ceremony. They have a very good safety track record.
North Central took a little longer, but the conclusion was the same. The major restriction was out of Denver. The aircraft was severely limited, but useable throughout the rest of the system. During this negotiation, we became friends with the people of North Central, and over the next few years and numerous visits they purchased (28) -50 aircraft, and they continued to suffer through my golf game.
The trip in June included obtaining the Letter of Intent and was an exceptional experience. Accompanying me were a team of Engineers to assist in the Spec Review, which defined and priced the aircraft, a total of five persons from the Golden State of California.
The first thing we accomplished was to hold a brief meeting with Dan May and reviewed our position, and held the spec review with the personnel from North Central defining the aircraft. Prior to these meetings we played golf in the a.m.
The following day, we met with Dan again to discuss the progress of the previous day, excluding the golf game. We returned to the hotel and began writing the Letter of Intent. As the day progressed, it became progressively darker outside and strange for two in the afternoon in June. Soon it was pitch black. The wind was blowing very hard and flashes occurred as transformer boxes exploded throughout the city. We all stared at this phenomena through the windows wondering what was going on. Soon it became lighter, and we went over to the North Central offices to discuss the Letter of Intent.
We asked Dan what was going on, and he stated that they had a tornado pass through Minneapolis and that 50,000 people were without power. He said that they evacuated the people from North Central to the basement away from the glass windows. Of course, we from California enjoyed watching the event from our room through the windows. Strange weather - the Minnesota Twins played baseball that night. The next day we obtained the Letter of Intent for the DC-9-50.
Prior to completing the deal with North Central, we had the opportunity to play another round of golf. This sticks in my mind as a funny moment in time. Standing on the tee looking across a stream down the fairway, which had to be reached by driving the ball between a set of trees. Golfing in Minneapolis always meant you were confronted with trees. Driving the ball, it proceeded to hit one of the trees across the creek with a mighty "Crack" and swiftly came back towards the tee and ever closer to the stream separating me from the ball. Ever and ever closer as if in slow motion, with me hoping for the best, it stopped one foot from the stream, a lucky week.
The likes of Dan May and Jim Nixon of North Central, Jess Dudley of Hawaiian Airlines and Bob Clifford of Air California and many others bore the brunt of my eradic golf, but it was a great excuse to escape the office. If I provided that to them also, then my game was successful. Many a time I stood in the middle of the golf course when nothing else was in view but trees, grass and sky, and all the problems of the world disappeared - nothing but me and that little white ball. That is what golf meant to me and the competitive spirit of trying to improve.