Museum History

Houston's Aviation History Timeline


The year is 1940. Houston's two airlines, Eastern and Braniff, both now serve the City with the sleek new Douglas DC-3. The DC-3 is the first airplane to allow its owners to make a profit flying passengers. The City of Houston opens a grand art moderne air terminal, to welcome the wealthy and powerful who can afford to travel by this very exclusive means of transportation. Passengers on Eastern's Douglas Sleeper Transport flight to New York board at the Terminal in the early evening.

They are served dinner in route and then retire to Pullman-style berths for the evening. The next morning, still in flight, the passengers awake and are treated to breakfast over the Nation's Capitol. A few hours later, they arrive at Newark Airport. Major companies in Houston use fast ships like the Spartan Executive, the Northrop Delta and the Fairchild 45, along with surplus airliners like the Lockheed 12 and the Boeing 247 to speed executives throughout the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma.

Local flight schools, like the Cliff Hyde Flying Service, are training an ever-increasing number of new pilots under the Government-sponsored Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program. Houston fixed base operators like the Cliff Hyde Flying Service and Aviation Enterprises, recently formed by former Houston Transportation Company corporate pilot Earl McKaughn and former Republic Oil Company corporate pilot Henry Erdman, sell and service new Stinsons, Fairchilds and Spartans to local oil industry companies. The Southern Aircraft Company plans to open a Houston plant to build training planes for the military.

February 3, 1940:

Braniff Airways adds Douglas DC-3 "Super B-Liners" to its routes.

March, 1940:

Eastern Airlines inaugurates Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST) sleeper flights from Houston to New York.

July, 1940:

Tony McKay becomes Houston's first air traffic controller.

September 28, 1940:

The 1940 Air Terminal is dedicated, along with a new hangar. A public ceremony features an Eastern Airlines Douglas DC-2, along with a Braniff Airways DC-3 and Douglas DC-2, along with private and corporate aircraft based at Houston Municipal Airport. The public tours the gleaming airliners on the ground and some win chances to take a local flight.

Designed by architect Joseph Finger, the Terminal serves as the administration building for the airport and supports airlines operations and air traffic control functions. The airline tenants are Eastern Airlines and Braniff Airways. The hangar is leased to Aviation Enterprises, a fixed base operator run by Earl McKaughn and Henry Erdman.


Ellington Field is reopened as an Army Air Field.

May, 1941:

Chicago & Southern inaugurates service to Houston using Douglas DC-3s.


Houston's Aviation Enterprises FBO successfully bids to organize the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) for the US Government. The first three classes of women aviators are trained at Aviation Enterprises' hangar at Houston Municipal.

February, 1943:

Paul Koonce becomes the manager of Houston Municipal Airport.

November, 1943:

Essair wins the Civil Aeronautics Board appeal filed by Braniff Airways in 1939.


Howard Hughes' 1938 Sikorsky S-43 flying boat is sent to the Hughes Tool Company hangar at Houston Municipal Airport. It has just been rebuilt after it was crashed in Nevada's Lake Mead, and Hughes orders it kept ready for flight at a moment's notice. The flying boat does not fly again until after Hughes dies in 1976.


7,335 airline flights to and from Houston carry 85,167 passengers.

August 1, 1945:

Essair resumes service from Houston to Amarillo with stops at San Angelo, Abilene, and Lubbock using Lockheed L-10A Electras.


12,977 airline flights to and from Houston carry 136,059 passengers.

January 1946:

Eastern Airlines inaugurates Douglas DC-4 service on its routes.

May 15, 1946:

Essair changes its name to Pioneer Airlines.

June, 1946:

Eastern Airlines inaugurates Lockheed L649 Constellation service on its routes.

June 15, 1946:

Braniff Airways inaugurates Douglas DC-4 service to Houston from Chicago.

June 18, 1946:

Chicago & Southern Airlines attempts Houston to Chicago speed record with Douglas DC-4 flown by Jimmy Doolittle.

October 24, 1946:

Mercury Airlines is founded in Houston by Temple Bowen's successful Trailways Bus Company using Douglas DC-3s. Bowen, who has twice before lost money in the airline industry, sees mercury as a means of absorbing Trailways' profits which would otherwise be subject to the wartime Federal Excess Profits Tax. Mercury caters to newly discharged servicemen returning home after the war. When the Excess Profits Tax is abolished in 1947, Bowen immediately dissolves Mercury, which had been ironically profitable.

November 1946:

Chicago & Southern Airlines inaugurates service from Houston to Havana and San Juan using Douglas DC-4s.

December 15, 1946:

Pan American World Airways inaugurates international service from Houston to Mexico City, Mexico using Douglas DC-4s.


22,353 airline flights to and from Houston carry 246,456 passengers.

February 1, 1947:

Mid-Continent Airlines inaugurates service to Houston from Tyler, Texas as an extension of Air Mail Route 80 using Douglas DC-3s and Lockheed L-18 Lodestars.

March 1947:

Pioneer Airlines inaugurates DC-3 service on its routes with an airplane named David Crockett.

October 11, 1947:

Houston FBO Aviation Enterprises starts Trans-Texas Airways using Douglas DC-3s.

November 5, 1947:

Braniff International Airways inaugurates Douglas DC-6 service to Houston from Chicago and Dallas.


Ellington Army Air Field becomes Ellington Air Force Base. 7,086 airline flights to and from Houston carry 382,667 passengers.

June 4, 1948:

Braniff International Airways inaugurates service from Houston to Habana (Havana), Cuba and Balboa, Canal Zone, and Guayaquil, Ecuador on Foreign Air Mail Route 34 with the Douglas DC-6.

June 18, 1948:

Braniff International Airways extends service from Houston to Lima, Peru along Foreign Air Mail Route 34.

August, 1948:

Chicago & Southern Airlines extends service from Houston to Caracas, Venezuela through Havana and San Juan using Douglas DC-4s.

October, 1948:

Chicago & Southern Airlines inaugurates Lockheed L649 Constellation service on its routes.


The new Instrument landing System is commissioned in Houston, which provides pilots with both vertical and horizontal precision guidance towards the runway in instrument conditions. 34,518 airline flights to and from Houston carry 417,344 passengers.

March, 1949:

Houston oilman Glenn McCarthy buys Howard Hughes' Boeing 307 Stratoliner corporate airplane and uses it to fly celebrities from Hollywood to Houston Municipal Airport for the opening of McCarthy's new luxury hotel, the Shamrock. The $1 million grand opening party became the inspiration for the novel and movie Giant.

June 3, 1949:

Pan American World Airways inaugurates Boeing 377 Stratocruiser service.


Pioneer Airlines moves its headquarters from Houston to Dallas after losing the use of the National Guard hangar. Houston adds an international wing to the 1940 Air Terminal, along with a new fourth floor, containing air traffic control offices and a new, larger control tower cab, which are designed by architect Roy W. Leibsle. The 1940 Air Terminal is retrofitted with air conditioning. 41,989 airline flights to and from Houston carry 464,719 passengers.