|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, United States|
Flying Tiger Line, also known as Flying Tigers, was the first scheduled cargo airline in the United States and a major military charter operator during the Cold War era for both cargo and personnel (the latter with leased aircraft). The company was started by Robert William Prescott. It was headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
The airline was named after the Flying Tigers fighter unit of World War II, officially the 1st American Volunteer Group. Ten former AVG pilots formed the Flying Tiger Line (originally called National Skyway Freight) after returning to the United States in 1945, using a small fleet of Budd Company C-93 Conestoga freighters purchased as war surplus from the United States Navy. For the next four years, Flying Tiger Line carried air freight on contract.
In 1949, the Civil Aeronautics Board awarded Flying Tiger Line the first commercial air cargo route in the U.S., a transcontinental route from Los Angeles and San Francisco, California to Boston, Massachusetts. Shortly afterward, the company began chartering passenger aircraft for group travel as well; its Lockheed Super Constellation, Douglas DC-4 and DC-6 fleet comprised the largest trans-Atlantic charter operation through the 1950s.
During the Korean War, Flying Tiger aircraft were chartered to transport troops and supplies from the United States to Asia; Flying Tigers later received a cargo route award to Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. The airline also played a major role in the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line, flying equipment to remote outposts in northern Canada and Alaska.
Flying Tiger Line adopted the Canadair CL-44 swing-tail aircraft in 1961, becoming one of the first carriers in the world to offer aerial pallet shipping service. In 1965, Flying Tiger Line began operating jet aircraft (the Boeing 707); in 1974, the airline took delivery of its first Boeing 747.
The Flying Tiger Line then put in orders for brand new B-747-200F freighters designated the B747-249F, which at the time were among the heaviest commercial airplanes flying, weighing in at 823,000 pounds. These aircraft had the powerful "Q" P&W JT9D engines and heavy landing gear and could simultaneously carry both 250,000 pounds of fuel and 250,000 pounds of cargo loaded through both the nose door and the side door at the same time. Aircraft loaders had earlier refused to work at the extreme 30 foot height necessary for putting freight on the upper deck, so the "supernumerary area" or "hump" was configured with 19 first class seats instead which were used to transport livestock handlers, charter agents and mechanics as well as dead-heading pilots and flight attendants. Tiger's Ad Hock Charter livestock flights provided airlift for exotic animals. Two examples were thoroughbred racehorses and show animals from Stansted, England to the Melbourne Cup, as well as breeding stock cattle (milk supply) to nations such as Japan and Thailand. Covert flights for DOD were not uncommon throughout the airline's history, since its roots were from Civil Air Transport (CAT), just as was its sister airline Air America (airline) which was owned by General Claire Lee Chennault commander of the Flying Tigers fighter squadron in Southeast Asia.
By the mid-1980s, Flying Tigers operated scheduled cargo service to six continents and served 58 countries. It surpassed Pan American World Airways in 1980 as the world's largest air cargo carrier after acquiring its rival cargo airline Seaboard World Airlines on 1 October, 1980.
It also operated military contract services, most notably Douglas DC-8 routes between Travis Air Force Base, California and Japan in the 1970s, followed by weekly Boeing 747 passenger service between Clark Air Base, Philippines, and St. Louis, Missouri via Japan, Alaska, and Los Angeles during the 1980s. Tigers employed approximately 251 flight attendants and carried up to a record 594 passengers and crew on its MAC all coach passenger flights. Approximately 998 pilots worked for the airline based throughout the country. Large crew bases were primarily Los Angeles, New York and Lockborn, Ohio. Headquartered at LAX, Tigers was a large employer at the airport with its own engine shop and jet maintenance business.
Federal Express purchased Flying Tigers in December 1988. On August 7, 1989 Federal Express merged Flying Tigers into its operations.
Flying Tigers operated a recording company subsidiary, Happy Tiger Records, from 1969 to 1971. Flying Tigers also made livestock carriers for airplanes. They often made animal carriers that were comparable in external size and shape to the standard AMJ container used in the FedEx flight operations.
At the time of its sale Flying Tigers was operating the following aircraft: