It’s been awhile since we opened the Southwest archives vault, but we have some goodies for you today. We found these large format black and white air-to-air photos of our very first aircraft, N20SW.
At first glance, the scenery below the aircraft looks like a typical North Texas landscape. However, a closer look at the photo of the aircraft banking to the left reveals mountains and heavily wooded areas. It appears that all three photos were taken during the same photo sortie. Could these scenes be in eastern Washington? In the banking photo a small town appears under the big white cloud, and it looks like a big river or lake is at the top of the cloud. This may have to remain another mystery from the early years.
Airline geeks will notice that the airplane wears our very first livery: The word “Southwest” appears on the rear of the left fuselage while “Airlines” is placed on the vertical stabilizer. On the right side of the aircraft, “Southwest” runs down the tail as it does today, and “Airlines” appears above the rear windows.
As to the aircraft, N20SW, Boeing serial number 20369, was a Boeing 737-214, which identifies that it was built to PSA’s (Pacific Southwest Airlines–no relation to us) specifications. PSA didn’t take delivery on this aircraft, and it was one of the trio offered to Southwest by Boeing to provide our initial service. It was delivered to us prior to beginning service on June 18, 1971. I flew on this aircraft in July 1971, and I remember that inside, it still had the PSA sidewall decorations consisting of the Theme Building at Los Angeles International, a movie set, and others that I can’t remember. Ironically, it was this aircraft that led to Southwest’s famous ten-minute turns. In 1972, Southwest had acquired a fourth aircraft to operate both scheduled service and charters. The Civil Aeronautics Board ruled that we weren’t certified to operate interstate charters, so we had to sell one of the four aircraft. N20SW was that aircraft, and it was sold to the original Frontier Airlines and became N7381F (I originally had the wrong number here). When Continental acquired Frontier, the aircraft moved into Continental’s fleet. After N20SW left Southwest, we faced the problem of operating a schedule designed for three and one-half airplanes with just three airplanes. The ten-minute turns allowed us to accomplish this, and the rest is, as they say, “history.”
Incidentally, in 1977, Southwest acquired a second, N20SW, Boeing serial number 21337, and this airframe was a 737-2H4, built to our specifications. The second N20SW had a long and productive Southwest career. As far as I can tell, this is the only example of our reusing an N-number. Photo and slide collectors who think they may have a photo of our first aircraft need to be careful with their identification. Unless the shot was taken between June 1971 and June 1972, it will be the second N20SW.