There was an airplane named the “Elmira.”
The "Elmira" was owned by American Airlines and was christened on Thursday, Sept. 6, 1948, at a big celebration at our airport. Special guests were given courtesy flights throughout the day. Ten thousand air-minded folks attended the event. Jane Strachen, daughter of Mayor and Mrs. Emory Strachen, dashed a bottle of champagne against the propeller hub of the twin-engine, 21-passenger airplane. It was designed for 40 passengers, but it was limited to 21 per flight until the runway could be lengthened. Both runways were eventually lengthened by 700 feet.
American Airways replaced its old DC-3s in use for many years with brand new Convair 240s. The "Elmira" was built in March 1948, and her tail number was NC94228. The Convairs were pressurized and air-conditioned.
240s were designed for fast travel at 300mph on short and medium-distance routes. The plane’s design allowed for a built-in ramp doing away with moveable ramps. Baggage racks inside the door allow passengers to stow their luggage for more accessible, quicker service.
The "Elmira" celebration included a luncheon at the Mark Twain Hotel at 12:15 p.m. with an address by Charles Speers, of American Airlines, titled “Elmira in the Air Age.” His speech was also broadcast on the radio.
On the day of the event, top American Airlines officials arrived here on the "Elmira” at 11 a.m. Also, here was a New York State Department of Commerce plane carrying state officials. The pilot was Charles “Chuck” O’Connor. Among items arriving in the cargo was “a shipment of fresh lobsters caught Wednesday off the New England Coast and consigned to the Mark Twain Hotel,” according to a Star-Gazette report.
Five courtesy flights ran from 2:30 to 5:15 for nearly 100 guests who had not been in an airplane before. Around 5:30 p.m., the “Elmira” made its inaugural flight to New York City.
After that, the daily schedule included four flights. Flight 523, from LaGuardia to Elmira, left at 9:35 a.m., arrived at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 10:25, Elmira at 11:21, and Buffalo at 12:03 p.m.
Flight 616 left Buffalo at 8:45 a.m., arrived in Elmira at 9:23, arrived in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 10:05, and Newark at 12:03 p.m.
Flight 617 left Newark at 2:20 p.m., arrived at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 3, Elmira at 3:46, and Buffalo at 4:30.
Flight 710 left Buffalo at 2:35 p.m., arrived at Elmira at 3:13, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 3:55, and LaGuardia at 4:44.
The inaugural flight carried its first sack of mail with commemorative stamps honoring the first flight. Elmira passengers and air cargo from local industries destined for national and international ports were also aboard.
Our airport was “one of few areas in the United States with a solid Corvair-only airplane schedule.”
Eighteen days later, the Chemung County airport’s control tower was officially commissioned and operational. For one year, the federal government gave $45,000 for equipment and 16 hours of manned staff salaries per day for the tower. The Elmira Tower would soon link via an inter-phone system to the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Landings and takeoffs will be controlled by short-wave radio communications and the use of a traffic control light gun.
Less than a month later, Robinson Airlines announced in the Star-Gazette that they would also be serving Elmira beginning on Nov. 8. Two roundtrips daily were scheduled (the article didn’t say which one or two), but the options were New York City, Ithaca, Rochester, Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Binghamton.
So, where is the “Elmira” today? Do we still have it?
No, she’s gone. American Airlines stopped serving the ELM airport in July 1955. The plane was sold to Fuji Air Lines in Japan in 1962, renamed “Isle Royale” and renumbered JA5098.
She had a fateful end. The Isle Royale departed Kagoshima-City Airport on Feb. 27, 1964, destined for Oita on Kyushu Island, about 225 miles away. While landing at the Oita Airport, Isle Royale overran the runway, collided with a pile of lumber, and skidded into the Urakawa River. There were 20 fatalities. The plane was “written off” the FAA records.
Diane Janowski is the Elmira city historian. Her column appears monthly.
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This article originally appeared on Elmira Star-Gazette: Airplane named the 'Elmira' took off in 1948 but met a fateful end