History of PANAGRA—Pan American-Grace Airways,
Juan Trippe, the CEO of Pan
Am who brought Pan Am to great heights, had begun acquiring
local airlines in Peru and Chile and tried to organize a national
airline network. W. R. Grace and Juan Trippe formed a 50/50
partnership airline, Pan American Grace Airways or Panagra
Panagra provided air transportation
for passengers, mail and cargo over a 4,251-mile network of
routes throughout Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia,
Chile and Argentina. Panagra, thus, had accomplished a pioneering
job second to none. Less than a year after its inception,
it had linked the Americas from the United States to Argentina
with a direct, regularly scheduled passenger, mail and freight
service. The trip from New York to Buenos Aires by plane could
now be made in just eleven days less, or more than half the
time it took by steamer.
Panagra carried American aviation
farther than it had ever been before. No other U. S. airline
was operating over such great distances at that time; American
aviation had barely begun to stretch its wings beyond its
territorial boundaries with a few short routes through Central
America and the Caribbean area.
The instrument landing system
and high intensity approach lights at the airport in Lima
were financed by Panagra and installed by company technicians
in 1952 for the Peruvian Airport Corporation. It also completed
a similar program in conjunction with the Argentine Aeronautical
Authorities to install VOR (visual omni-directional range)
navigation stations at seven points in Argentina to make certain
its planes would have the best navigational facilities on
Panagra was the first airline
in South America to develop and apply airways weather forecasts
- and professional meteorologists furnish today all company
planes with complete reports on the weather en-route and at
destination at all hours. It was the first to adopt the controllable
pitch propeller, first to use the revolutionary constant speed
propeller, first to deploy a fully equipped radar fleet, and
first to introduce the DC-6, DC-6B, DC-7 and DC-8 to South
During its three and a half
decades of serving the Americas, Panagra did more than carry
passengers, freight and mail. Time and again, the airline's
planes were sent on missions of mercy carrying a vial of precious
lifesaving medicine to a dying man, an iron lung to a girl's
stricken with polio, or a shipment of drugs to arrest the
spread of an epidemic.
In 1939 and 1961 in Chile,
and in 1948 in Peru, when earthquakes literally shook cities
to pieces, Panagra placed its entire facilities at the disposal
of the stricken nations, airlifting tons of medical supplies
and food to the disaster area and flying out the victims.
Panagra was an important factor in the economic and industrial
development of South America. By stimulating an increased
flow of trade and travel within the Hemisphere, the airline
helped draw South America closer economically and culturally
to the United States.
From early 1943 until the merger with Braniff 25 years later
there was only one Panagra aircraft lost in operations with
no fatalities. A non-compete clause in the agreement between
Pan American World Airways, Grace, and Panagra made Panama
the northern end of Panagra's route system.
In those early days airports
were unknown, radio facilities were nonexistent and meteorology,
as we know it today, was unheard of. As routes were expanded
and frequencies increased, the airline had to build its own
airports, equip its own overhaul and maintenance shops and
set up its radio and weather stations along the entire route.
FC-2 and Douglas DC-6
The History began on September
13, 1928, when a tiny single-engined Peruvian Airway's Fairchild
FC-2 monoplane with four passengers and a few letters took
off from a racetrack in Lima and landed 550 mile away, in
a soccer field in Talara, Peru. This was the inauspicious
beginning of scheduled commercial air transportation along
the west coast of South America and the start of Panagra (Pan
American Grace Airways).
A few months later, with the
backing of Pan American World Airways and W.R. Grace &
Co, Peruvian Airways (founded by Harold B. Harris in 1928)
became Panagra. Between 1929 and 1942, Harris held the positions
of Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer.
On October 12, 1929, a Panagra
tri-motored Ford took off from the airport in Buenos Aires,
cruised at a normal altitude over the flat pampas, and after
stopping to refuel at Mendoza, Argentina, crossed the formidable
Cordillera of the Andes through the Upsallata Pass at the
then unheard of altitude of 18,000 feet. Eight and a half
hour after leaving the Argentine capital, the little Panagra
airplane landed at Santiago's Los Cerrillos Airport making
the first commercial flight across the Andes.
By 1930 Panagra planes had
shortened the distance between New York and Buenos Aires to
seven days, and two American airmen had written another stirring
chapter in the colorful history of aviation. One of these
men was Lloyd R. "Dinty" Moore, a Panagra pilot,
who had made an "impossible" dawn to dusk flight
between Peru and Panama to deliver the mail on schedule to
another pilot who flew it from there to the U. S. The other
pilot was Charles A. Lindbergh.
Scheduled airline service
between the Americas was now an accomplished fact. Lindbergh
and Moore had proven it could be done. Panagra planes were
cruising up and down the Hemisphere on a once-a-week schedule.
With incredible speed the service was further expanded. More
planes were put into operation. New routes were inaugurated.
Other cities in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia were quickly linked
with the main trunk line along the west coast of South America.
Just before Pearl Harbor,
when war with the Axis was imminent, Panagra, with the assistance
of the respective South American governments and at the request
of our own State Department, first paralleled and then replaced
the services of German controlled SEDTA in Ecuador and Lufthansa
in Peru and Bolivia, This was designed to avert an economic
and transportation crisis and remove the Nazi threat from
In 1942, due to the need to
move heavy freight, in support of the war effort, Panagra
converted a couple of its DC-3's into freighters. Panagra
started the first all-cargo route of any American flag airline
when it inaugurated a route between the Canal Zone in Panama
and Lima. Following the war the pioneer U. S. airline was
able to obtain the larger, faster four-engined aircraft needed
to inaugurate night operations and eliminate overnight layovers
on its route.
Panagra's DC-3's, 4's and
6's featured broad yellow stripes on the wings. These stripes
were to help in locating a plane that went down in the rugged
terrain. In the first 15 years of operations the safety record
was comprable to US domestic operations under significantly
more challenging conditions. From early 1943 untill the merger
with Braniff 25 years later there was only one Panagra aircraft
lost in operations with no fatalities. Indeed as the Panagra
pilots continued their careers with Braniff and other airlines
after the merger, not one life was lost with a Panagra pilot
By 1946, elapsed time between
Panama and Buenos Aires had been shortened to less than 24
hours. With the entry of Braniff International into the Latin
American market, Panagra's started to fly to Miami and New
York in the 1950's. While this provided through plane service,
north of Panama these were actually Pan American flights using
Panagra planes and crews to Miami and National Airlines on
up to New York.
By May 1960, Panagra had introduced
DC-8, jets to cut travel time between New York and the Argentine
capital to less than 12 hours flying time. In developing air
routes where none previously existed, Panagra had to start
Its intercontinental DC-8
jet service linked Buenos Aires, Santiago, Antofagasta, La
Paz, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito, Cali and Panama City with Miami
and New York. These 585-mile-an-hour jet planes accommodated
24 first class and 94 tourist class passengers in spacious
and comfortable cabins that were equipped with bed sized berths,
a Fiesta Lounge and a snack bar.
Braniff began negotiations
to purchase Panagra during the Charles Beard administration.
Negotiations were later renewed and in December of 1965, a
deal was made for the purchase of W.R. Grace’s 50% interest.
The deal was concluded on March 17, 1966 when the remaining
50% interest held by Pan American World Airways was acquired.
This time however, the offer for the airline was raised to
$30 million from the original $8 million offer.
In July of 1966, the Civil
Aeronautics Board approved the plan and President Lyndon Johnson
allowed the merger to proceed. The merger and integration
of Panagra’s operations was completed on February 1,
1967. Braniff acquired Panagra’s fleet including DC-7’s,
DC-8-31’s and 55F’s, as well as purchase orders
for five long-range intercontinental McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62
Braniff went broke in 1982.
Apparently someone thought it a good idea to start again,
under Panagra name. So in 1996 operations were restarted from
Fort Lauderdale, FL. With Boeing 727. Panagra ceased operations
(again) in 1999.