North Central Airlines — History

NCA Team

North Central Airlines was founded as Wisconsin Central Airlines in 1944 by the executives of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company (FWD), a major manufacturer of four-wheel transmissions and heavy-duty trucks in Clintonville, Wisconsin.  Flight service began between six Wisconsin cities, using two, twin-engine Cessna UC-78 Bobcat aircraft. Within three years the airline added three Lockheed Electra 10As and served 19 cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

In October 1950, Wisconsin Central bought six Douglas DC-3 aircraft from Trans World Airlines (TWA). These larger, 21 passenger aircraft cost $450,000, nearly a quarter of the airline’s total revenues for that year.  DC-3 service was inaugurated in 1951 and lasted until 1969, making the DC-3 the longest serving aircraft in company history. 

North Central BrochureIn 1949, the familiar logo of "Herman the Duck" was created by Karl Brocken, a Milwaukee industrial design consultant. The flying mallard, silhouetted against the sun by day and the moon at night, symbolized the frequent and quick flights of Wisconsin Central's aircraft.

In 1959, the airline added 4 Convair 340 aircraft purchased from Continental Airlines. The pressurized, 44 passenger aircraft cruised at 284 mph and were a significant improvement over the aging DC-3s.

In 1954, Hal N. Carr was named president. Carr maintained the airline’s solvency and guided its significant expansion through the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Beloved by all who worked for him, Carr turned North Central Airlines into a highly respected national air carrier.

In 1967, the 48 passenger Convair 580 joined the fleet.  The sleek upgraded Convairs, with turboprop engines, added speed and reliability to North Central’s expanding regional routes.

In July 1965 North Central joined the jet age and ordered five Douglas DC-9 aircraft. By 1974, the airline operated 20 DC-9 aircraft and added service to major cities across the nation including Washington, New York, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Tucson. 

In July 1979, North Central acquired regional carrier Southern Airways and the company was renamed Republic Airlines.  This merger ended the proud legacy of North Central Airlines and Herman the Duck. Thereafter, North Central Airlines aircraft quietly disappeared from airport ramps across the nation.   

From its start in small-town Clintonville, Wisconsin, North Central Airlines grew into a major regional and national air carrier. In its 35 year history the airline carried nearly 6 million passengers, served 96 cities, employed 3,400 people, earned $140 million and flew seven different types of aircraft.

North Central Airlines is one of Wisconsin’s major contributions to commercial aviation. The company’s fascinating history needs to be preserved and displayed via a comprehensive exhibit that will commemorate its story into perpetuity for future generations.  This is the goal of the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Central DC-3 WHS-53871

(Left Photo) North Central Airlines began as Wisconsin Central Airlines in the 1944.
Pictured is a passenger disembarking a Wisconsin Central DC-3 in the early 1950s.
(Right Photo) Margaret McGuire, Alice in Dairyland, (left), christens the "Northliner Alice in Dairyland" with a bottle of milk at the Madison municipal airport, with North Central Airlines pilot Robert Baker (center) and Girl Scout Norma Trindle (right) looking on. This photo was taken in 1948. (Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin)

WHS-10309   WHS-1922

(Left Photo) To celebrate the addition of DC-3s to their fleet, North Central Airlines sponsored several special promotional events. One such activity was a special flight for handicapped
World War II veterans, with the food served by airline president and co-founder,
Francis Higgins.
(Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin)
(Right Photo) In 1952, a North Central Airlines DC-3 airplane flies over the Madison, Wisconsin isthmus. Clearly visible are the Wisconsin State Capitol, the 1 West Wilson Street State Office Building, and Lakes Monona and Mendota.
(Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin)

North Central   Douglas DC-3

(Left Photo) In the early 1960s, the 44 passenger Convair 440 joined the North Central Airlines fleet. The sleek Convairs added speed to North Central’s expanding regional routes.

North Central Fleet   North Central Crew

(Left Photo) A history of Wisconsin Central and North Central Airlines aircraft, from top to bottom: Cessna UC-70 Bobcat, Lockheed 10A, Douglas DC-3, Convair 440, Convair 580,
Douglas DC-9, Douglas DC-9, Douglas DC-9 Series 30.

WHS-1922

July 1965 North Central joined the jet age and ordered five Douglas DC-9 aircraft.
By 1974, the airline operated 20 DC-9 aircraft and added service to major cities across the nation including Washington, New York, Denver, Atlanta, Boston and Tucson.

WHS-10309   WHS-1922

(Left Photo) In 1954, Hal N. Carr was named president of North Central Airlines.
Carr maintained the airline’s solvency and guided its significant expansion through the late 1950s and early 1960s.
(Right Photo) President Hal Carr assists Miss Erika Faulkenberry, North Central’s one millionth passenger, after presenting her with roses. Miss Faulkenberry, a University of Wisconsin student, flew the "Route of the Northliners" on June 17, 1955.