Retro Charlotte

Flying Tigers: First international flight to Charlotte

“Flying Tigers Line carries a variety of cargo out of Charlotte.” 1981
“Flying Tigers Line carries a variety of cargo out of Charlotte.” 1981 The Charlotte Observer

**Photo slideshows now appear at bottom of text**

April 4, 1981: a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet from Zurich arrived at then-Douglas Municipal Airport, making it the first regular international flight to touch down here. The plane was part of the Flying Tigers Line, a cargo carrier that started doing business in Charlotte in 1978.

“From now on, you can put ‘International’ into the airport’s name,” said Flying Tigers’ regional manager at the time.

Read on to learn how the carrier came to be, then click through the slideshow for some great aircraft photos.

(The airline was bought by Federal Express in 1988.)

+ + + + + + +

March 4, 1978

Tigers To Begin Serving City Tuesday

By Don Bedwell, Observer Staff Writer

An idea born high above a war-torn Asia during World War II comes to Charlotte shortly after midnight Tuesday morning with the first arrival of a Flying Tigers Line cargo jet.

California-based “Tigers,” grown into the nation’s largest all-cargo airline, plans to offer inbound and outbound service twice daily, five days a week.

Its stretched DC8s will link Charlotte shippers and receivers with Chicago and from there to the rest of a cargo network that stretches from the East Coast all the way back to Asia, where the idea of an all-cargo carrier was conceived by Robert W. Prescott.

Prescott, now the company’s president, piloted P40s for the American Volunteer Group, the so-called Flying Tigers whose menacingly painted fighter planes first challenged Japanese pilots in the Asian theater.

Many of the AVG pilots later moved to flying cargo transports over the Burma-India “Hump” of providing fighter escort for that cargo supply line.

It was over the Hump that Prescott decided he wanted to start his own cargo line, a company the 32-year-old ace launched in June 1945 with surplus Budd Conestoga transports.

Flying Tigers, one of the few lines to survive of more than 300 begun after the war, today occupies a $9 million base at Los Angeles International Airport.

It claims the largest all-cargo fleet in the Free World, 16 stretched DC8s and three jumbo Boeing 747s. Three more 747s are to join the fleet this year.

The company links cities ranging from New York and Boston in the East to Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago in the Midwest and on to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in the West. Its routes also stretch across the Pacific to Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Phillipines.

The door was opened to new route authority when President Carter signed into law a bill giving cargo carriers far greater leeway in introducing new service, weakening the Civil Aeronautics Board’s right to deny such applications.

Washington sources credit Flying Tigers lobbyists with leading the successful effort to break the industry free from the CAB’s sometimes ponderous regulator bureaucracy.

Flying Tigers and other cargo carriers, for instance, had sought for years to introduce service to Charlotte. But the board had refused to act on those petitions, even after passenger airlines withdrew their all-cargo flights during the fuel crisis.

(Passenger airlines continue to offer cargo space in the bellies of their jets. Some forwarders have tried to fill the gap in nocturnal freight service by chartering their own transports.)

Another all-cargo airline that had sought Charlotte authority for years, Airlift International, said Friday it has decided to operate into Greensboro instead.

Executives of the Miami-based carrier said it probably would begin its Greensboro operations in late summer or fall.