North Central Airlines was a midwestern regional airline for executives born in 1944 as Wisconsin Central Airlines by Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD). It aimed to provide better connections from Wisconsin to Chicago with two Cessna UC-78 cranes. The regional airline would grow far beyond these modest aspirations.

Central Wisconsin to North Central

But regular flight operations would require upgrading to a mid-size aircraft – the 9-passenger Lockheed Model 10A Electras. Three were purchased and, yes, the Lockheed Electra was made famous by the late Amelia Earhart’s ill-fated global circumnavigation attempt. The Three Electras would begin operations from Wisconsin Central on February 24, 1948.


Initially, 19 cities on a 1,028-mile route network would be served. Thus, the three Electras should be supplemented by three more and $150,000 in navigational aids. According to a company history from April 1973, without navigational aids, flights were conducted under visual flight rules/VFR only. This would lead to unreliable schedules, low aircraft utilization, discouraging operating results and heavy financial losses.

The DC-3 era

A North Central Airlines Douglas DC-3 in flight.

Photo: Getty Images

By 1950 it was becoming clear that Lockheed Model 10A Electras were not suitable for an airline that had flown over 48,000 passengers and 2,177,000 miles of route. The airline’s management therefore opted for a fleet of Douglas DC-3s, all capable of carrying 26 passengers on a flight beginning March 1, 1951. At the end of May 1951, the Lockheed Electras were withdrawn from the North Central fleet. Another change was to change the brand to North Central Airlines and the headquarters city to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., in 1952.

North Central Airlines’ DC-3 era would bring a sense of professionalism. As Dick Brown explained in an article published on, a website dedicated to the history of North Central Airlines, he said:

I would fly with several new captains. But due to a strong emphasis on STANDARDIZING procedures, we very rarely encountered conflicts. The company set the standards and we had to follow the procedures OR OTHERWISE find work elsewhere. For the most part, I’d say it was like that.

This de facto This era would see North Central Airlines grow to a point where, in 1956, it would carry 551,775 passengers and have a base of 976 employees to serve a 3,240-mile route system. North Central Airlines has also evolved to break down gender barriers, with accompanying male cabin crew to help with baggage and speed the turn of the aircraft.

Eventually, its fleet of 32 Douglas DC-3s would be insufficient. According to highly experienced pilot Randy Sohn in “A Simpler Day and Time”, DC-3s would fly low because they were an unpressurized aircraft – sometimes as low as 1,000 feet above Minnesota farms. The DC-3s would fly at around 145 knots (167 miles per hour or 269 kilometers per hour) on North Central Airlines routes.

Reading a story by Captain Dick Brown published on, Captain Brown remarked that the DC-3 was a very simple machine, designed to provide safe and economical air transport to the public who used to travel in noisy, drafty airliners that the DC-3 soon replaced.

The 1960s forced North Central Airlines to evolve

But ultimately, aviation – and North Central Airlines – should evolve. Especially with 1,035,076 passengers, 2,152 employees and 14,628,000 miles scheduled according to the company’s historical brochure from April 1973. So North Central Airlines decided to buy five Convair 440s. radial that flew 250 miles per hour as pressurized airliners – no more flying 1,000 feet above the ground.

On December 11, 1964, North Central Airlines carried its 10 millionth passenger. After noble beginnings and a difficult financial history, North Central Airlines was growing. Eventually North Central Airlines would acquire turboprops, and in April 1967 two Convair 580s would fly for the airline.

Jets for North Central Airlines

In July 1967, 100-passenger Douglas DC-9 jets joined the North Central Airlines fleet. Eventually, the first 15 would be ordered to serve an airline with 9,900 route miles, 90 cities, 13 US states and two Canadian provinces.

To commemorate this progress, on February 24, 1968, a formation flight led by a Lockheed Model 10A Electra, Douglas DC-3, Convair 440, Convair 580 and Douglas DC-9 would be flown. All models except the Lockheed Electra still flew for North Central Airlines. According to,

Flying the Lockheed 10A, Douglas DC-3, Convair 440 and 580 turboprop as well as the new Douglas DC-9 fanjet in close proximity presented quite a challenge for the crew. The Lockheed’s speed regime relative to the DC-9 jet required the small 10A to fly at full power while the “nine” had to fly with its leading edge slats and a few trailing edge flaps extended at speed. approach in order to stay together in good formation.

The flight would be conducted by the slowest aircraft (the Lockheed) at 145 knots. However, photographic evidence would show a successful and safe formation flyover.

Two years later, in 1970, North Central Airlines would serve 3,753,000 passengers and fly 806,165,000 passenger miles. The airline has also attempted to be “mindful of its responsibility as a corporate citizen” and to hire for diversity. Additionally, all DC-9 jets would be configured to a more emissions-friendly standard and for reduced takeoff noise. In 1973, North Central Airlines would have 20 DC-9s—both 100-passenger DC-9-30s and 130-passenger DC-9-50s—in the fleet.

US airline industry deregulation fades North Central Airlines

Republic Airlines would support all North Central Airlines DC-9s.

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by Flickr

When deregulation of the American airline industry came in 1978, North Central Airlines tried to maneuver by buying Southern Airways in 1979. This made a new airline into Republic Airlines – not to be confused with the current regional carrier Republic Airways . Republic Airlines then purchased Hughes Airwest in 1980, to become the largest US airline by airports served and largest fleet of DC-9s. Republic also flew Convair 580s.

But debt from mergers and new planes — including the Boeing 727s and 757s — has caught up with Republic Airlines. With United Airlines buying Pacific routes from Pan Am, Northwest Airlines saw an opportunity and seized Republic Airlines for $884 million in 1986.

It should be noted that Northwest Airlines got its name from when the American Midwest was considered the Northwest Territory, not the Pacific Northwest. So, in a way, it was the airlines of the Midwest coming together.

But that was not to last. Delta Air Lines in a 2008-2010 process absorbed Northwest Airlines. The North Central Airlines culture would no longer fly.

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Sources:; TheAirchive.Net”Brochure The History of North Central AirlinesApril 1973