Mid-Continent Airlines, The Chief Route North and South

By Michael Bushnell

In today’s world of multi-billion dollar airline mergers and acquisitions, it’s difficult to conceive of a small regional carrier with seven or eight aircrafts with scheduled and charter flights to a whopping three regional cities, but that’s exactly what Mid-Continent Airlines was and did successfully for almost 25 years before merging with Braniff International in 1952.

The company was founded in 1928 at Rickenbacker Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, as a small flight school by Arthur S. Hanford Sr. and his son Arthur S. Hanford Jr. Offering charter and scheduled flights to Omaha, Minneapolis and Bismarck, the company became known as Hanford’s Tri-State Airlines. It was an offshoot of the Hanford Produce Company, also based in Sioux City, operating at the time the largest creamery in the United States.

In 1936, following a tragic plane crash that killed Arthur Hanford Jr., the airline was acquired by Thomas Ryan III, and moved to the Fairfax Flying Field in Kansas City, Kan. Two years later, the company officially changed its name from Hanford Airlines to Mid-Continent Air Lines after adding flight destinations in the Oklahoma oil fields to its growing destination list, flying mostly Lockheed equipment.

During WWII, Mid-Continent flew cargo routes for the Army Air Transport Command carrying critical war materials. The company also contracted with the Army Air Corps to train pilots and mechanics on modified military aircraft.

After the war, Mid-Continent purchased 21 luxurious Douglas DC-3’s (pictured in this linen era postcard), which increased passenger capacity by over 200% over the previous Lockheed Lodestars, allowing the airline to greatly expand its flight schedule and adding a number of destinations along the Gulf Coast to its growing service area. By 1950, Mid-Continent serviced over 30 cities out of its Kansas City headquarters, mostly to destinations in the states bordering the Mississippi River Valley from Minnesota to Louisiana.

Following the devastating flood of 1951 in Kansas City, the company, along with TWA, sought out ground away from the river to establish a new airport. At the time, TWA’s overhaul base was located in the old Mitchell Aircraft B-25 manufacturing facility at Fairfax. Ground was secured in Platte County and the new base was christened Mid-Continent Airport to honor the roots of Mid-Continent Airlines.

In August of 1952, Mid-Continent was acquired by Braniff Airways, which at the time operated over 6,200 route miles serving 35 cities mostly in the Midwest.

The logo seen on the side of the Douglas DC-3 is that of Chief Wapello, chief of the Meskwaki – or Fox Tribe – that occupied lands primarily in MCA’s Midwestern Service area.

The airframe number on the DC-3 shown, NC 34950, was acquired by MCA in 1946. After being transferred to Braniff in 1952, it was sold to Lake Central Air Lines in 1959. In 1965 it was sold to Houston Aviation Products, then to an airfreight company in New Orleans in 1966. In 1974, Houston Aviation Products purchased the plane back, where its airframe designation and civil registration was cancelled in 1975, filling out a 32-year service career.

This postcard was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. T. W. Lusk of Cohasset, Minn., from Kansas City’s Air Mail Field on January 18, 1950. The personal message reads: “Dear ones and all, The sun is just setting and the sky is a beautiful golden red. We are between Omaha and Kansas City. No snow at all in Omaha but windy. Very little snow over Iowa. Love to all, Marguerite and Mommy.” 

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