Altair Virtual Airlines Museum
The Illustrated History of Altair, it's aircraft & pilots in time
Welcome to the amazing "Illustrated History of Altair" and the first ever Virtual Airline Museum. You will see historical (virtual) documents part of our unique Collections, and know how Altair developed from it's humble beginnings to become one of the leading organizations in the (virtual) airline world. Go ahead and follow the Altair Timeline, below, all the way from the 1910s - known then as Altair Virtual Air Service - to the 21st century and the big modern jets era, or go further down to see the Altair Museum Collections.
1910s - Early aviation pioneers founded Altair Virtual Air Service
Altair Virtual Air Service Inc. was founded on October 5th, 1917, roughly a decade after mans' first powered flight happened for the very first time. Therefore Altair's history is pretty much the history of aviation itself. All major developments that affected aviation had an impact on Altair's own history.
It all began in Baltimore, MD, USA, when a visionary man named Jeffery Hoffman, formerly a steam train engineer, dreamed about having an air service that would turn the world into one single big community. The aircraft was seen as not only a means of transportation but also as an instrument to bring different people together, from all over the world and despite different languages, ideas and beliefs, and unite them around a common passion for aviation. This dream still lives on today, more than one hundred years later.
But as a true world wide community, Altair Virtual Air Service began not only in Baltimore. Other entrepreneurs, who also shared the same values as Mr. Hoffman, started their own businesses in different countries. Confident in the future of aviation, those first pioneers gathered at the small village (at the time) of Hooterville, NC, USA, and agreed to operate a joint service. Locally at first but as soon as the fast paced advancements in technology allowed it, they employed totally integrated operations. Those other visionary men were Mr.Ton van de Laar, Mr. Klaas de Kleine and Mr. Iwan de Kleine in the Netherlands, Mr. Alan McFaul and Mr. Jim Partington in the UK, Mr. Scott Braiding and Mr. Kim Martin in Australia and Mr. Paulo Carochas in Macau.
The already international community grew even further a short time later when Mr. Don Muirhead, Mr. Art Shand, Mr. Terry Blythe, Mr. Chris Anderson, Mr. Jeff Landry and Mr. Andy Williams from the US and Mr. Roberto Carvalho from Brazil, also proudly joined and estabilished Altair Virtual Air Service Inc. as one of the first true multinational company's and community.
Mr. Iwan de Kleine was the first Altair fleet manager and his contributions to the development of the Altair fleet were outstanding. Through his efforts along the first decades the newly born company was able to have only the best airplanes available at the time. The first one of those was the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. It had room for one passenger only and it's limited range restricted Altair operations to a small area. One of the biggest sources of income for US airlines at the time was a contract with the US Mail (in fact it was almost THE only viable source for income until the mid 20s). Altair was one of the US Mail pioneers flying those routes and finding new ones in order to expand the service. Also in Australia, The Netherlands, Brazil, Asia (based in Macau), England and Northern Ireland, Altair had Jennies to fly the local mail and occasional passenger routes. These were not scheduled flights at the time and were more like modern charter operations, which Altair still flies to date. It is one of the longest running services maintained by an (virtual) airline in the world.
1920s - Post Great War records era
While the First World War, or "The Great War" as it was known before World War II, took an enormous toll in lives it also allowed an incredible advance in aviation technology. Engines became more reliable and airplanes grew in size. This led to the development of the first airliners capable of carrying more passengers and allowing the airlines to establish scheduled flights. It was the era of the flying boats, like the Dornier Do X, that resembled more a ship with wings than an actual airplane. But not only seaplanes appeared in the period, Fokker was an already well established company that produced the first real series of airliners used by those early companies. Like the Fokker F.VIIb/3m used by Altair mainly in Europe, not surprisingly, from it's Amsterdam hub. In America Henry Ford developed the Ford Tri-Motor inspired by the design of the Fokkers and Altair Virtual Air Service was one of the early users of this plane. The Ford Tri-Motor saw extensive use within Altair and had an important role in South America opening the mail routes between Brazil and Argentina over the Andes to Chile. Another aircraft of the time acquired by AVAS was the Lockheed Vega 5B. It's long range made it the the ideal plane for such a vast country as Australia where it could be put to use for some low density long distance routes. Aviation technology advanced so fast at the time and pilots were willing to go even faster and farther and record after record was broken by Altair Virtual Air Service.
1930s - Between wars expansion
The 1930s saw two important developments. The creation of the Altair Flying School, that later become the Altair Academy, and the introduction of the Douglas DC-3. The DC-3 was one of the most important planes in history, if not THE most important plane. For the first time airlines could offer air services with a fast (at the time), reliable and economical plane. The fact that it is still in use today by some companies and the more than 10.000 planes manufactured say more about the importance of this plane than anything else. Altair could rapidly expand it's network during this period and the need for pilots was so huge that Altair created it's own Flying School. For that purpose Altair bought some Piper J3 Cubs that were the first official planes from our present day Academy. A venerable little bird in which many of our pilots had their first tentative steps into flying. Until then the aspiring pilots would be trained in the Curtiss JN-4D Jenny. The Jennies were retired and one of them is kept airworthy as part of our Altair Museum Aircraft Collection, offering scenic flights. It is an Altair Virtual Airline's policy that one or more of each aircraft type retired from the Altair fleet is restored to full flying condition and painted in the original livery, as when it was first introduced to the fleet. This way the company's history and also a little piece of aviation history is preserved at the same time. Another important aircraft of the time was the Grumman Goose. It was an important plane because it complemented the charter service first offered by Altair and brought it to a new level. It was largely employed also as an executive transport, that would eventually lead to another branch of Altair Virtual Air Service, the Altair Corporate. Altair pioneered aviation in many ways.
1940s - Altair Virtual Air Service consolidates after WWII
This was the "stolen decade" due to World War II. Once again, as happened in World War I, the conflict brought many advances in aviation technology. Lockheed, Douglas and Boeing competed fiercely in airplane development and this resulted in the series of newer models each one superseding the previous one: Boeing Stratocruisers (B377), Lockheed Constellations (L049), Douglas DC-6 and DC-6B, Lockheed Super Constellations (L1049), Douglas DC-7 and DC-7B, Lockheed Super G Constellation (L1049G), Douglas DC-7C (Seven Seas) and finally the Lockheed Starliner (L1649A), those two last ones delivered when the first jets, the Douglas DC-8 and the Boeing B707 were already in service. But this would only be in the late fifties... during the 40s Altair expanded again very rapidly with the surplus aircraft available at the time, notably the DC-3 and the DC-4. Newer aircraft were also acquired and one of those was the Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. This aircraft was the ultimate in comfort in the skies. It even had a bar where passengers could have their drinks in a lounge accessed by a spiral staircase down to the lower deck. It had luxurious furnishings and was used on Altair's first class flights. The Lockheed L049 Constellation was also added to the fleet. The curved fuselage and the tail gave this plane a beautiful distinct look. The Corporate and Charter segments were not left behind and Altair Virtual Air Service also bought the Aero Commander as an utility aircraft and corporate transport. It replaced the Lockheed Vega and although it did not have the same range it was the option for the smaller capacity segment. The Vega's were retired from the fleet and one is kept in our Classics Fleet. In the forties the Ford Tri-Motor also reached the end of it's useful life as a passenger aircraft and was retired from the passenger fleet. Unlike the Lockheed Vega though it would still see some active service within Altair as it was transferred to the newly created "Altair Virtual Aviation Services" which encompasses several non-passenger commercial aviation missions like geophysical surveys, civilian parachute operations, aerial photography, firefighting, surveillance (national parks, oil spills, law enforcement, borders, etc) and many others. Some Altair Virtual Aviation Services Ford Tri-Motors were converted to firefighting air tankers, some to sky diving teams missions and the rest sold to second tier operators.
1950s - Altair Virtual Air Service expands worldwide
The impressive Douglas versus Lockheed race had finally brought continents within full reach. The aircraft that were introduced in the period were the long range piston driven airliners, the so called propliners. Those were the largest piston driven aircraft developed before the introduction of the first jets late in the decade. Technology had finally advanced to the point that those early aviation pioneers that gathered at Hooterville had dared to dream of. Oceans were being traversed and countries brought together. The aircraft of Altair were the top of each model development. The Douglas DC-6B was, unlike the previous DC-4, a pressurized aircraft that allowed higher flights, and therefore also faster and more economical flights. It was more comfortable to passengers as well since it could better avoid the worst weather by flying at higher altitudes. It was a development of the DC-4 with more powerful engines. The Bristol Britannia was also a remarkable airplane with it's distinctive and noble look. It was a very long range airliner that saw service mainly in Europe and Altair operations on the Continent relied on this old veteran. The introduction of the Douglas DC-7C "Seven Seas" (a nice pun to it's designation 7C) allowed for non stop flights between Europe and North America. It was also extensively used in South America for flights to Europe, stopping en route at Dakar on the west African coast. The Lockheed L1049G was widely used in the Pacific area to and from Australia. It's curved fuselage and streamlined appearance make it one of the most beautiful planes ever built. It was during this decade that Altair changed it's name from "Altair Virtual Air Service" to "Altair Virtual Air Lines", the 'airlines' still written separately. A slight change also in the way Altair uses it's logo. For almost forty years the Altair logo was displayed inside a circle and from the 50s on, it would appear as the star and the letters only. The Grumman Goose was retired after 19 years in passenger service.
1960s - Altair Virtual Airlines enters the Jet Age
And now comes The Jet Age. And with the jet age Altair also has a new fleet manager, Mr. Don Muirhead. The newer jets demanded new knowledge and Mr. Muirhead, an aeronautical engineer himself, continued the tradition initiated decades ago in selecting and maintaining only the best aircraft for Altair. The first jets were introduced to the fleet under the supervision of Mr. Muirhead. Always in the forefront of aviation developments Altair had placed orders for the world's first commercial jet, the De Havilland Comet, but unfortunately the initial design problems with the new plane forced Mr. Muirhead to look for substitutes. One of those was the Sud Aviation SE210 Caravelle III. It was a short range airplane that was employed on the shorter routes in Europe mainly. The two other planes introduced in the period that are still active within Altair are the Boeing B707-200 and the Douglas DC-8-54. Those planes represented another leap forward in the aviation industry and their long range capabilities consolidated Altair's position on the international routes. The Convair CV-880 was an aircraft that began development with high expectations and ended up being below the airlines expectations. One of it's main disadvantages was it's range. It was however a very nice and an especially fast aircraft and It saw limited use with Altair and with the better Boeing B707s and the Douglas DC-8s already in use, it was the first Altair jet aircraft to be transferred to cargo operations in the 70's. The DC-9 was used by Altair mainly as a feeder for the main international routes while the older propliners were maintained in our domestic lines. Altair's first turboprop was the Lockheed L188 Electra. It was employed to slowly replace the piston engine planes on domestic routes. Another prop, the De Havilland DHC6-300 Twin Otter was introduced late in the period and is still in use in Altair for it's passenger service. It's STOL characteristics make it an ideal aircraft for short unpaved airfields like those in the mountains and in northern Alaska and Canada. It was an important aircraft as it marked the first Altair step into the "bush flying" segment that culminated with the creation of the Altair Global Logistics Anchorage hub. The Douglas DC-4 retires from the passenger fleet and is converted to fire fighting missions replacing the ancient Ford Tri-Motors and Fokkers. The last Ford Tri-Motors and Fokkers still in use by the Altair Virtual Aviation Services division are finally retired after more than 30 continuous years in service for Altair. One of them is kept in flying condition as part of our Museum Collection. The Boeing B377 is converted to Altair Aviation after 20 years in passenger service. Another model converted to freight operations was the Douglas DC-3.
1970s - The first heavies arrive
Some important milestones for Altair occurred during the seventies. The start of Altair cargo operations and also the arrival of our first heavies. Other important new aircraft were introduced to Altair service, the Boeing B727-200 and the Boeing B737-200, which slowly started to take on the domestic lines. Those routes were still being flown by the venerable propliners but they also replaced the jet Caravelles that were retired and transferred to the Classics Fleet. Those new jet aircraft, along with the DC-9, eventually replaced the props in almost all of those shorter routes. The Altair Flying School was officially turned into the Academy as we know it today. The newer Raytheon Beechcraft 58 Baron was acquired to replace the aging Piper J3 Cubs. Full IFR instrumentation allowed Altair pilot trainees a training second to none in the (virtual) aviation world (and real too...). It was also used for the corporate branch of Altair complementing the Aero Commanders and in some missions also the De Havilland DHC6-300. In the early seventies Altair also began investing more in it's cargo business with the Altair Cargo section. It was not yet a formal separate cargo company and accounted for a segment of the Altair operations. A number of aircraft were bought to that use, including the Lockheed L100 Hercules, the De Havilland DHC7 and the Boeing B747-200F. Altair was one of the first companies to employ the newly developed B747-200 as a freighter. It was also the first "heavy" at Altair. The 'F' cargo version followed the full passenger model introduced a year before in 1972. Along with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 they started replacing the Boeing B707-200 and Douglas DC-8-54 in high density routes. In the seventies Altair said goodbye to the Bristol 175 Britannia. It was retired for good after 14 years as there was no further use for it in our fleet. Another veteran was converted for the new cargo section, the DC-6B ended it's career as passenger transport within Altair.
1980s - First glass cockpits
The eighties brought newer planes and new concepts. Cockpits were now getting modern avionics and the medium range, medium capacity jets were introduced. The Boeing B757-200 and the Boeing B767-300 replaced those routes still being flown by the Douglas DC-8-54 and the Boeing B707-200. Those veterans were converted to freighters. The newer Boeing B737-400 also started in the short to medium range routes. However the most notable development of Altair during this time was the regional segment. Another market opportunity taken by Altair with the introduction of newer aircraft to explore this segment in all aspects. Two jets and two turboprops were bought. The BAe RJ85 and the Fokker 100 in one end and the SAAB 340 and the Raytheon Beechcraft B1900D in the other. Those aircraft combined allowed Altair to introduce it's newer "Express" service into the regional market. The Raytheon Beechcraft B1900D had the advantage that it could also be used in the corporate segment. The Convair CV-880, Douglas DC-8, Boeing B707-200 and the Lockheed L188 Electra are converted to cargo. The DC-7C replaces the DC-6B in cargo operations, which in turn is transferred to the Aviation Services division where it replaces the DC-4, that is finally retired after long 44 years in service with Altair.
1990s - Fly by wire, winglets and full glass cockpits
A whole new generation of airplanes is introduced in the nineties. Full glass cockpits and fly by wire are some of the latest developments. It also marks the entry of a new big player in the big passenger aircraft market, the Airbus Corporation. Many new types of aircraft are made available during this decade. Altair incorporates many new planes and also retires many models. The first one is the Boeing B747-400 that comes to replace the Boeing B747-200 in passenger operations. They live alongside for a couple of years until being finally converted to cargo with the arrival of the Airbus A330-300 and later the Boeing B777-200ER that takes some of their passenger routes. The same happens to the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 that is converted to cargo. The Boeing B747-400F also arrives to complement the cargo fleet with the Boeing B767-300F. The Airbus A321-100 is another new arrival and with it the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 goes into retirement after 26 years of service. In the regional market Altair has invested heavily again in this decade. This time four new jets and one turboprop are added to the fleet. The Fokker 70 comes to complement the Fokker 100 already in our fleet. The same sized Embraer ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 are added too. The Canadair CRJ-200LR is the fourth jet to the regional "Express" fleet. The turboprop is the short range ATR 72-500, a nice plane for short range and high density routes. Another important acquisition for Altair is the Dassault Falcon 2000. A big long range executive jet that is a significant step forward in the Corporate segment.
2000s - The future now
One of the major developments in the Altair history is the creation of Altair Global Logistics. It concentrates all the cargo operations of Altair and constitutes a separate division within the Altair Virtual Airlines Group. All the existing cargo aircraft are repainted in the AGL livery. Altair continued to incorporate newer aircraft to it's fleet, and in the 2000s there were additions for each one of the major Altair Virtual Airlines divisions. "Altair Global Logistics" itself received the small Maule M-7-260 in the amphibian, tricycle, taildragger and ski versions. The newly opened Anchorage hub and the Alaskan and Canadian operations demanded an airplane capable of performing missions in a variety of conditions. Continuing the tradition initiated back in the sixties when the Twin Otters were incorporated, the Maule was the choice for our "bush flights" into the wild. The "Altair Virtual Express" regional segment had the brand new Embraer ERJ-170 added to their fleet. A big player in this market that will boost Altair investments in this area. The other segment, "Altair Virtual Corporate" had another Embraer jet, the Legacy, and also the long range Boeing Business Jet, added to it's fleet. Those luxurious aircraft allow Altair to reach another part of the executive market by the added range and capacity. The last aircraft affected two other segments at the same time. "Altair Virtual Airlines" saw not only the Airbus A340-313E but also the Boeing B737-700 into their fleet. While the Airbus will complement the international long range routes with the Boeing B777-200 and the Boeing B747-400, the newer Boeing jet will be used to replaced the older domestic jets. The Boeings 727-200 and 737-200 are aging and will soon have to be converted to freight operations. Both have now more than 30 years of active service with Altair and the time has taken it's toll. The B737-200 already started this process. It is being converted to cargo operations with AGL. With this new addition to the AGL fleet some of the Douglas DC-7C and the Lockheed L188 Electras can be moved to the other segment of the Group, the "Altair Virtual Aviation Services" where they will be used for firefighting purposes. Some more planes will be made available for other general operations within the Aviation Services division as the Boeings B737-200 and B727-200 are being converted to cargo. The Douglas DC-6B in turn will be retired after remarkable 53 years in active duty, loosing only to the DC-3 (67 years and still counting) as the longest living aircraft of the fleet.
2005 - Shifting gears
2005 brings some changes in our fleet. The first one of those is the retirement of two "Altair Virtual Express" planes. The ifrst one is the BAE RJ85. It is no longer in production and according to the Altair Airlines, Altair Express and Altair Corporate policies of only having in production models this old bird is being retired. The newer Bombardier CRJ-900 will be incorporated in the fleet to replace this venerable aircraft. Another plane being retired is the SAAB 340. His replacement is yet undefined.
Our collections and permanent exhibitions
You might also want to check the evolution of the Altair liveries in the Altair Virtual Airlines Liveries Collection.
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individuals and organizations for their invaluable support on this project.
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