San Diego Through the Years
When my family migrated west in 1957, San Diego’s Lindbergh Field replaced Chicago-Midway and O’Hare as my airport domicile, providing new shooting opportunities: Bonanza Air Lines, PSA and Western Air Lines, along with more familiar carriers. These pictures are pretty much in chronological order. Click on them for a bigger image.
Image(s) added on February 2, 2017.
I began shooting pictures at SAN in 1958. Above, American DC-7B N365AA arrives in the late-day sun on August 24. I would ride this same airplane from Chicago-Midway to Phoenix a year later. Below: On September 12, three American Flagships appear together, a bit of a rarity at this airport, especially to have three varieties lined up; from left, a DC-6, DC-6B and DC-7B. Many thanks to my good friend, Geoffrey Thomas, who arranged to have these two black-and-white pictures colorized for the occasion, by his talented friend, Benoit Vienne.
The airport’s open gates offered in-your-face photography, as evidenced by American’s DC-7 Flagship Virginia, N311AA, as the pilot receives his departure clearance salute.
N90747, an American “straight” DC-6 named Flagship San Antonio, as seen from the top of the adjacent gate boarding steps.
It appears I stepped out onto the ramp for this shot of idle United DC-6 N37513, Mainliner Mt. Hood. Such a transgression was not a problem in those days.
At the same gate on a cloudy day, DC-6B N37570, Mainliner Hawaii, was one of the few remaining United airplanes still wearing the older livery in 1958. This DC-6B normally operated coach service flights on the Honolulu route from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
United scheduled several daily Convair 340 flights from San Diego, all to Los Angeles. N73120, Mainliner Merced, poses with the plant in which she was built visible in the background.
Having arrived from Phoenix, Yuma and El Centro on June 19, 1959, a sturdy Bonanza DC-3 awaits boarding passengers with No. 2 engine still running. Note the little electric golf cart under the wing, plenty large enough for light passenger traffic. Bonanza had no dedicated gates at SAN and parked wherever one was vacant.
In less than 5 minutes, N491 pulls out of the gate, headed for Los Angeles via Oceanside and Santa Ana.
Less-frequent DC-3 visits to SAN were made by Las Vegas Hacienda, Inc., offering bargain-fare junkets to Sin City. $27.50 would buy you a roundtrip ticket, hotel room, bottle of champagne, tote bag and $5 in chips. N67674 flew all over the world and wound up scrapped in Vietnam. Thanks to Ed Coates for this information; see http://www.edcoatescollection.com/
San Diego-headquartered Pacific Southwest Airlines began replacing its DC-3s with the acquisition of two ex-Capital DC-4s in 1955. From San Diego, PSA flew to San Francisco via Los Angeles or Burbank with SFO nonstops on Fridays and Sundays only. N86557 retains its former owner’s livery, including square outlines over the oval windows, a trick used to mimic a more-modern, pressurized DC-6.
Here’s the sister ship, N88747. More sensitive to its center of gravity, the DC-4s usually were stabilized during passenger boarding and deplaning with a post hanging from the tail skid. PSA acquired two more DC-4s in 1956 to complete phase-out of its DC-3s.
Seen through the open-air baggage claim area in this October 5, 1958 photo, Western’s immaculate DC-6B N93125 shines like a dime.
I took this and several other pictures from a vacant second-floor office in the terminal building (seen above in the Hacienda DC-3 picture), my secret shooting spot. Western Champagne Flight 208, dubbed The Californian, awaits passengers, bound for Phoenix, Denver and Minneapolis/St Paul.
Two Western DC-6Bs appear simultaneously, which was not the norm; one was probably operating behind schedule. Weather radar, mandated on all “large” airliners by July 1, 1960, was not yet installed on these two airplanes. N93119, in the foreground, was the 800th DC-6 built.
A closer view of the second DC-6B, N91307. It’s all coach configuration is confirmed by the small “C” next to the fleet number on the nose. A rather outdated set of boarding steps was utilized for Western’s infrequent multiple operations.
At the same gate, on August 20, 1958, I snapped this picture of Art Linkletter and two of his daughters. I don’t recall the event, but believe it had something to do with the Fiesta del Pacifico celebration, held annually in the summertime. Linkletter lived much of his life in the San Diego area.
From that same office window I caught the unique dual colors of Continental and United on DC-6B N90961, used mainly for CO/UA interchange service; somehow it wandered into San Diego on a solely United flight. An aircraft carrier is visible in the left background, anchored across the bay at North Island.
A father and sons gaze at this United DC-7, with another in the background on an August 1959 evening. It was just about dark but still light enough to shoot with no flash. The ‘T’ forward of the aft two windows tell us this is a Custom Coach airplane. Note the coin-operated telescope at the gate!
Bonanza brought the first jet-powered service to San Diego in Spring 1959, between Los Angeles and Phoenix via Santa Ana, El Centro, Yuma and Phoenix, with Fairchild F-27A Silver Darts.
Above & Below: A rare sight was two Bonanza airplanes at SAN simultaneously, and in this case two types. A single DC-3 service was retained to serve Oceanside until Bonanza became the first all jet-powered airline in America and discontinued service there.
The Convair division of General Dynamics built 102 jetliners at Lindbergh Field, 65 Convair 880s and 37 Convair 990s. This old General Dynamics photo shows the prototype 880 gliding over the fence for landing. Look at the people lined up along the gates and on top of adjacent buildings to witness the event. This was probably taken soon after the type’s January 27, 1959 maiden flight, which ended at North Island NAS as planned. Perhaps it is its first return to Lindbergh Field. Regardless, we get a nice view of the terminal building from the front side.
Just by chance I was at the airport on August 10, 1959, to witness the first flight of N8801E, third in the 880 flight-test program. Jumping up onto a set of boarding steps, I caught a profile of the new jetliner, about to turn onto Runway 27 for its maiden sortie.
Right behind N8801E, another of three 880s painted in house colors, N803TW, taxied out for takeoff. Second to fly, on March 31, 1959, its engine nacelles were left in bare metal.
No, Continental didn’t serve San Diego when this picture was taken in August 1959, but its aircraft flew American-Continental interchange service on the L.A.-San Diego-El Paso-San Antonio-Houston route. N8210H was serviced by American, albeit with a set of United steps.
This is one of my favorite shots. The sun was just perfect on DC-6B N90757, American’s Flagship Oklahoma City, as it waited clearance for takeoff. What makes it special for me is the fact that my dad was aboard. This was the origination of American/Delta Interchange Flight 902, headed for Birmingham, Alabama via LAX, Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta.
Admittedly this is not a prize-winning photo, but it reflects the American-Delta-Interchange service, in this case flown with a National DC-6B that came through late in the evening. N8228H was written off after a ground collision with a Northeast Viscount at Boston on November 15, 1961, less than six months after I photographed her.
My early San Diego pictures were nearly all shot with 620 black & white print film. Occasionally I tossed in a roll of color as evidenced by this June 1960 image from my trusty 620 Tourister camera, of PSA’s first Electra, N171PS, with another in the background. It even shows one of the airline’s Jeep utility vehicles.
Sister ship N173PS is towed from Gate 5 with PSA’s combination power/engine start/tow truck, headed for the hangar.
The sun was breaking through a typical marine layer of low clouds as United DC-7 N6331C posed for my camera lens.
A rare visitor at the time, TWA 049 Constellation N86502 operated a charter flight up to San Francisco, carrying the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. I just happened to be at the airport to capture it on film, February 26, 1960.
Orchestra members can be seen boarding their TWA charter flight in this view looking down the ramp. DC-6s of American and United flank a PSA Electra in the background.
Not long after PSA retired its DC-4s, I took this picture of two, adjacent to the company hangar, from a Coast Rotors helicopter when the friendly pilot gave me a short ride. Sorry it’s not very sharp.
American began flying Boeing 720s to San Diego in August 1960, but occasionally a 707 would sneak in. Straight-pipe 707-123 N7518A, Flagship Tennessee, sits in the late-day sun at Gate 6.
United Air Lines began Jet Mainliner service to SAN with 720-022s on September 13, 1960 over a curious pattern at the beginning, one-way from LAX, then nonstop to San Francisco, northbound only. N7205U is seen at Gate 1 on July 1, in town for ground crew familiarization and a gate fit-check.
By May 1961, United was operating DC-8s from San Diego to Los Angeles, which is how I got my first ride on a Douglas jet. Unlike some of the early deliveries, N8020U flew out its career without an upgrade to turbofan engines.
Newly formed non-sked Northern Express acquired this ex-American Convair 240 from F.B. Ayer, not long before I photographed her on May 29, 1961. The upstart reportedly acquired two more Convairs before ceasing operations barely a year later. With the high sunlight I didn’t get a very good picture, but recognized N94238 as the former Flagship Lake Erie.
National Airlines began serving San Diego on June 11, 1961, with Lockheed 188 Electras. One of my early color photos shows N5009K that day, departing for LAX in the late afternoon, after having been delayed along the way because of various inaugural ceremonies.
A year later, National upgraded its service to DC-8-21s. N6573C appears ready for engine start at Gate 1.
Seen on June 18, 1961, the fourth Convair 990 off the assembly line was the first to be painted in an airline livery, although it never went to American Airlines, which received all of its airplanes in bare-metal colors. This one wore N5604 for only a short time, and later went to Garuda. The registration was finally assigned to the 36th 990 and delivered to American nearly two years later.
Brother Bob took this picture in July 1961, out the window of an American 720 as it climbed away from Runway 27. That’s Harbor Island out there, at the beginning of its commercial development; you would not recognize it today from this shot. Across the water is a hangar at North Island NAS.
My notes say this is a Skycoach DC-4, seen on May 30, 1961, as it pulls to a stop and an agent runs from his tug to install the tail post; perhaps PSA did the ground handling. That livery looks just like Great Lakes Airlines, also controlled or owned by former Pan Am pilot Irving E Herman, who swapped his airplanes between numerous “ghost” airlines.
Formerly N322AA with American Airlines, this DC-7 was acquired by Overseas National Airways and pressed into service with minimal livery changes. I caught her on a typical overcast morning at Lindbergh Field in August 1961.
VIASA’s first Convair 880M. YV-C-VIA, receives finishing work, shortly before its August 1, 1961 delivery. Later sold to Cathay Pacific, it was destroyed by sabotage over Pleiku, South Vietnam 12 years later.
An example of the bare-metal American livery is seen on N5614, awaiting delivery adjacent to the assembly factory in March 1962.
I got what would turn out to be my only Convair 340 ride when United’s Mainliner Omaha, N73102, took me up to Los Angeles on June 30, 1962. Second off the assembly line and delivered in 1952, it survives today as a turbine-powered Convair 580 with Honeywell. Click here for an update on this workhorse.
Pacific Air Lines was authorized to serve San Diego in 1962 and operated up to Los Angeles and points north, but could not carry LAX passengers; go figure. N40438 is seen on the south side of the field. I caught a ride on her in 1964, from San Jose to San Francisco. Look closely; there’s the prototype Convair 990 in the background.
Operated for Logair by Zantop, this vintage C-46 was almost certainly operating some kind of military cargo charter when I photographed it on March 24, 1962, completing an engine run-up, .
For an enthusiast like me, one of the benefits of living in the San Diego area was the ability to ride a variety of aircraft types on short flights to and from Los Angeles at reasonable prices. I got my first Convair 880 ride on April 17, 1962 aboard Delta’s N8801E, the same airplane I earlier photographed about to depart on its maiden flight. It is seen here disembarking passengers before I headed north on Golden Crown Flight 895.
United was still serving San Diego with DC-7s in June 1962, as evidenced by N6354C, another Custom Coach example. Talk about a short-timer, it only served six years with United. After briefly flying with another carrier, the Seven was retired at Burbank in 1966 and broken up.
On June 26, Continental brought a brand-new 720B to San Diego for a demonstration flight, giving city officials and travel agents a one-hour aerial tour of Southern California. Still working summers at La Jolla Travel, I was able to talk my way on board.
Seen on Independence Day 1962, 720-023B Astrojet N7531A is parked on the north side, just off Harbor Drive, no doubt idled due to holiday scheduling. The tail number could use a little touchup.
Later that year, American Royal Coachman DC-7B N349AA sits at the same location, undergoing an engine change.
That night I returned with a tripod for this shot, with a reflection of the Moon atop the fuselage. It looks like the engine change had been completed by then.
I took this shot moments after getting off Western Electra N7136C, on July 8, 1962, following a ride down from Los Angeles. Note that military truck and all the B-4 bags being unloaded; there was a large contingent of military personnel on board with me.
DC-7Cs never operated in scheduled service at Lindbergh Field, which is why N2281, belonging to charter specialist Paramount Airlines (another Irving Herman-controlled company), quickly caught my attention in July 1962. First delivered to Mexicana, it wound up as a disco in Valencia, Spain in the 1980s.
Another shot of a United 720-022, this time N7218U, departing on August 17, 1962.
American took travel agents up for a ride aboard Convair 990 N5608 on October 27. Once again I snuck aboard for the ride. The type’s unique anti-shock bodies on the wings are visible in this picture.
American DC-7B N339AA, Flagship Wyoming, taxis to the gate on Christmas Day 1962. My mother, dad and I boarded her that morning for a short flight up to LAX to attend a wedding reception the following day.
Shortly after takeoff on that crystal-clear Christmas morning, I took this shot of La Jolla. Miramar NAS is visible at the top of the picture, but no I-5 Interstate, which had not yet been constructed. It was a 4-hour drive up to L.A. in those days. By now I was shooting more 35mm color slides but still kept my old Tourister at the ready. A roll of Kodachrome with processing represented more than a week’s allowance!
United was still operating Convair 340s into SAN, for short hops up to LAX. N73154 sports an updated oval logo ahead of the boarding door. Ground personnel appear to be looking for something small on the ramp in this picture; a nut or washer?
Trans California was an intra-state carrier that tried, unsuccessfully, to compete with PSA. Its five aircraft were probably the only Constellations to fly regularly scheduled flights into San Diego, and just for a year or less. N102A, a model 749A, awaits customers in this February 1963 photo.
That year Western was operating DC-6Bs between San Diego and Mexico City, as evidenced by N93131, sitting at Customs & Immigration on the Harbor Drive side of the field.
I rode an American Convair 990 nonstop to Chicago on January 28, 1963, setting a speed record on the route, of 2 hours, 48 minutes. We took off to the east, allowing this brief glimpse of the terminal building. The enclosed concourse is partially visible on the left, built to accommodate ticket counters for Delta, National and the relocation of Bonanza. Check out Budget Rent-A-Car’s $3-a-day rental rates on the billboard below. Incidentally, the SAN-ORD record only stood 24 hours, eclipsed by the same flight just a day later: 2 hours, 41 minutes.
American’s DC-7B Royal Coachman flights were still passing through SAN in February 1963. N343AA pulls into Gate 6. Originally N348AA, it was repossessed from Vias Internacionale de Panama in October 1962 and given a new tail number.
On the field’s south side, Flying Tigers 1049H Constellation N6918C roars to life on June 19, about to depart on a military charter.
Originally built for Capital Airlines, PSA’s sixth and final factory-delivered Electra sits at the company hangar just a day after its May 1963 delivery flight from Burbank. Having received upgrade modifications following early Electra accidents, it wears “SUPER Electra JET” titles.
I don’t have an exact date for this picture, but know it was taken in 1963, probably springtime. American Airlines Ford Tri-Motor NC9683, which now hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, was flown by my father while it was in service with the airline back in the early 1930s. Before the handover ceremony, it toured North America for various displays and functions. My parents were invited to tour the airplane when it stopped at Lindbergh Field. Dad was offered a ride in the airplane that day but declined, having had enough hours in the Tin Goose! Originally in back & white, the image was meticulously colorized by Benoit Vienne and given to me as a gift, for which I am grateful beyond words.
707-123B N7503A was Flagship California before conversion to turbofan power. It inaugurated jet service across the USA, from Los Angeles to New York, on January 25, 1959. Using Kodachrome 25 film, I must have had a tripod set up.
My AA ramp buddies let me aboard for a few shots. Archaic by today’s standards, the 707 cockpit featured a myriad of round dials.
Just behind the front boarding door, a cozy 6-seat first-class lounge reflects the relative luxury of flying aboard the early jets.
Plenty of seats in the main first-class cabin; how times have changed.
Even coach wasn’t all that uncomfortable. Not readily apparent in this picture is the much-more generous legroom than we enjoy these days.
Just a month after delivery to American, turbofan-powered 720-023B N7543A catches the first rays of sunlight as it is prepared for departure in April 1961 with a pilot heading up the steps to his front office.
With the updated “Super” titles, N172PS climbs from Runway 27. A soon-to-be delivered Garuda Convar 990A is visible in the background, at the Convair plant.
These were the days, when you could walk right out onto the ramp in order to grab a picture. An American DC-6 receives attention on its transit stop. In the background, a PSA billboard advertises 75-minute flights to San Francisco for $19.85 plus tax.
By June 1963 Western had become the third jet operator at San Diego. I caught 720-047B N93141 pushing back. Later sold to Avianca, it was written off after the nose gear collapsed on landing at Mexico city on August 16, 1976.
American Convair 990 Astrojet N5618 waits to line up behind the 720B for takeoff on Runway 27. It still has not been converted to ‘A’ standards with the lengthened engine nacelles.
On June 6, 1963, President John Kennedy visited San Diego. I caught Air Force One about to land on Runway 27.
The President leaves from the terminal entrance after his motorcade passed between Air Force One and that point inside the airport boundary. Sitting to his right and facing him is California Governor Pat Brown. A demonstrator on the left holds up a “Free Cuba Now!” sign but the crowd otherwise looks friendly. I was not using a telephoto lens when taking these pictures. We all know what happened barely five months later.
Turning final onboard a PSA Electra July 28, I caught a bit of the San Diego skyline and Coronado Island in the background. In the center is the El Cortez Hotel, which was the city’s tallest building when I moved there only six years earlier.
By comparison, here’s another picture taken April 13, 1964, again from a PSA Electra. More skyscrapers alter the skyline. An aircraft carrier can be seen tied up at North Island.
AFA – American Flyers Airline operated numerous military charter flights into and out of Lindbergh Field. This August 1963 shot also shows PSA’s home office and hangar in the background.
At the same parking spot, Saturn Airways DC-6B N90772 awaits a load of soldiers or sailors. Originally American’s Flagship Rhode Island, it joined Saturn in 1960 with the same tail number.
Pulling away from the gate, the Douglas reveals is registration. It later went to the Chilean Air Force, then Gomes & Warra Aircraft Corp, and was ditched near Exuma Point, Bahamas on December 2, 1989.
That same summer, Braniff El Dorado DC-7C N5906 operated some kind of charter flight into SAN. Based on the steps and battery cart, it appears United took care of the ground handling.
On November 26, I hopped a PSA Electra up to LAX, and caught American 720-023B N7545A as we turned onto the departure runway.
A month later, in the late-day sun, a United 720 is visible in the background, behind American 707-123B N7522A.
My Lindbergh Field photo ops were few and far between after I moved up the coast, but on June 6, 1966, I came though on my way to Orlando (that’s another story), and caught 727-22 N7015U on the ramp, still in its original colors. Delivered two years earlier, N7015U flew with United for 27 years and was retired in 1991.
A year later, I caught PSA 727-14 N973PS at the then-new terminal complex.
Fast-forward 26 years! I visited San Diego In January 2003 while working on a story for Airliners Magazine. From the roof of the Sheraton Hotel on Harbor Island, a friendly security guard granted me the opportunity to capture this sweeping view of Lindbergh Field’s now-massive terminal complex. In fact, part of it is cut off on the right-hand side. What a stark contrast to the old facility on the opposite corner of the airport, where I spent so much time.
Taken from the same spot where I photographed Air Force One landing 40 years earlier, I caught Southwest 737-3H4 N644SW coming over the fence, then got on the Interstate, seen at the bottom of the picture, and headed back up the coast to Hermosa Beach. Farewell, SAN!