Electra Memories

Eastern Air Lines was the launch customer and first operator of the Lockheed L-188 Electra prop-jet. They also were the U.S. domestic trunk carrier that flew them for the longest period, from 1959-77. The latter part of that time corresponded with my childhood.

Growing up in Northern New Jersey in the 1970’s often meant a trip to JFK airport in order for my family to catch a flight to our favored vacation spot of Sarasota, Florida. Newark Airport was under-served at the time and riding the most convenient non-stops often required the long ride to Queens. This invariably meant passing LaGuardia Airport on the Grand Central Expressway. As a very young airliner enthusiast the best part of that drive was seeing one or more EAL Electras parked on a ramp on the Southeast side of LGA. At the time they were still being used as back-up aircraft for Eastern’s famed “Air-Shuttle” service to Boston and Washington. I can still remember the distinctive silhouette of those airplanes, especially the airline’s two-tone “Caribbean” and “Ionosphere” blue stripes sweeping up the vertical stabilizer.

One night in July of 1977 I almost had a chance to fly one of those back-up Electra’s. My dad and I were on the way home from a whale-watching trip to Nova Scotia. At Logan it looked like the DC-9-30 we were going to ride to LaGuardia was not going to be able to accommodate the load of passengers at the gate and the possibility of rolling over an Electra parked on a nearby hardstand was discussed. Gazing at the old airplane out the terminal window My nine year-old heart wanted to be on that L-188 so badly I could taste it! Alas we were all accommodated on the ‘Nine in the end and Eastern retired their last Electra only a little less than 4 months later, on October 31st, 1977.

So near and yet so far!

(Bottom image from the collection of William Armstrong, featured in Awesome Vintage Aviation Photos: The Mid-Atlantic)

About the Author

Shea Oakley
Shea has been a commercial aviation enthusiast from childhood. He first joined the World Airline Historical Society (WAHS) in 1983 at age 15 and in 1987 was co-founder of the Tri-State Airline Historical Society. The following year Shea began the first airline collectibles show held in the New York area, “Airliners Northeast,” at Newark Airport. He has written feature articles on U.S. airline history for Airliners Magazine and is Book Review Editor for the Captain’s Log, the quarterly journal of the WAHS. Shea joined the staff of the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of NJ in 2001 and since 2006 he has been the museum’s Executive Director. His latest project is The Commercial Aviation History Consultancy, devoted to fact-checking and research for commercial aviation projects in every form of media.



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  • nbseer

    My first flight ever was on a Lockheed Electra. It must have been in the early1960s when I would have been around 11 or 12. We were big plane watchers at PHL, and my Dad , my younger brother and I flew the Electra from Philly to JFK for the day. It must have been after an Electra crashed because a wing came off.. I remember asking a stewardess if that was a possibility!

    • Kathleen Oakley

      This is the author (temporarily using my wife’s account)Two early Electra’s were lost due to structural failure of a wing, one Braniff aircraft and one Northwest. The problem was a design defect which allowed for uncontrollable oscillation of the props in the engine nacelles, that then was transferred to the wing, resulting in disintegration of the aircraft in flight. The phenomenon was known as “whirl mode” and had been corrected on all Electra’s by the time you took that flight which, btw, I envy!

  • Mark Feldman

    My very first commercial airliner flight was on the Eastern Air-Shuttle in 1972, from LGA to BOS to attend a family wedding. I remember that the airfare was $22 each for my parents and $11 each for my sister and I. The Electra made such a cool sound from the prop-jets, and I even remember laughing at the “Whisper Liner” name that I saw on the DC-9’s and 727’s at the gates and on the taxiways – those jets did anything but “whisper”!

    • Kathleen Oakley

      Glad you made it on one, Mark!

      In regards to the “Whisperjet” titles on EAL 727’s and DC-9’s, the term referred to cabin interior rather than exterior noise. These two types were the first American-made jets with the engines in the rear. This gave them comparatively quieter cabins than the earlier jets with four engines mounted on the wings (i.e. the 707 and DC-8). In the case of the later high-bypass turbofan-powered L-1011 and A-300 “Whisperliners”, the titles referred to both interior and exterior noise being lessened.

  • Shmuley Solomon

    The last EA L188 trip I remember was from JFK-RIC-ATL. The whole day was an adventure. Must have been summer of ’65. Took a New York Airways Boeing-Vertol from the Pan Am building out to JFK after a late lunch. Seated at a window seat in the last row before the lounge on the left. Not my favorite seat on a -188 but it was first class and the service on EA in that era was superb. Made a scenic circling final over RIC. Great dinner on the RIC-ATL leg and slammed it on at ATL just as the bottom fell out of a thunderstorm. Had to wait it out at the gate kibitzing with the f/a’s. What a wonderful memory! I have lots of old -188 memories and that was one of the best!

    • Shea Oakley

      Sounds like a truly wonderful memory, Shmuley.

      I remember my father telling me about a Vertol-107 NYA flight he took from Teterboro Airport in NJ to the top of the Pan Am Building (short lived scheduled service in 1967) in order to go to a business meeting in NYC. The entire trip, including the meeting, took all of 120 minutes.

      • Shmuley Solomon

        The sensation of the whole city dropping down beneath you as you passed over the edge of the building was quite attention getting. As usual, made a few circles over the massive cemeteries in Queens before landing. Always a reassuring feeling when traveling by air in those days. (“Short-lived scheduled service in 1967” leads me to believe my memory is off by a few years. In my mind that service lasted for a pretty good while, just with a change of equipment.