Airline that pioneered service to Worcester and Fitchburg airports to hold 50-year reunion

It’s been 50 years since the “Yellowbirds” could be seen flying through the sky, but a half-century later, passion for Northeast Airlines remains.

But with the help of the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, the airline, which once provided service to Fitchburg and Worcester, won’t fade away like a contrail. An event on Sunday, July 31, will see over 250 artifacts on display and former employees, family members and passengers reunite for The Return of the Yellowbirds 50th anniversary celebration.

The event will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Downtown Manchester, 700 Elm St., Manchester, NH, from 4 to 8 pm Tickets are $ 75 per person and all proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Aviation Museum’s youth education programs.

As part of the event, attendees can also enjoy the classic “Yellowbird Cocktail” which was a staple on Northeast Airlines flights, enjoy a buffet-style dinner and take in live music by The Yellowbirds, a five-person combo assembled especially for the reunion .

“This summer’s reunion is a chance for Northeast veterans, as well as family, friends and the airline’s many fans, to celebrate a special company, renew old friendships, and also carry the Yellowbird legacy into the future,” said Jeff Rapsis, executive director of the Aviation Museum of NH, in a press release.

Rapsis’ father was a Northeast Airlines pilot from 1957 to 1968 and he said the passion for the airline that had the “Yellowbird” jingle and eye-catching yellow and white livery remains sky-high.

“You still hear it today – people who worked for Northeast loved the airline. They thought of it as one big family, ”Rapsis said.

Northeast Airlines brought the first passenger air service to New England in the 1930s and played a crucial role in World War II, operating a wartime national defense program for training advanced flight instructors at the request of the federal government.

The airline’s experience flying in frigid weather conditions also proved useful, with Northeast pilots being the first to explore arctic airways as they made Air Transport Command flights to Labrador, Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland.

After World War II, Northeast started its service to Fitchburg and Worcester with 21-passenger DC-3 twin-engine propeller aircraft and later with 40-passenger Convair 240 airplanes.

In the Aviation Museum’s collection is a timetable from June 1955, showing Northeast running seven daily nonstop flights between Worcester and LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Passengers could depart Worcester at 11:45 am and land in New York City at 12:49 pm Journey time was 1 hour, 4 minutes. In the other direction, passengers could leave New York at 3:05 pm and arrive in Worcester at 4:09 pm

“In the era following World War II, the airlines were regulated by the federal government,” Rapsis said. “Service to smaller communities such as Worcester and Fitchburg was subsidized in order to build a national air transportation network.”

Fitchburg boasted two daily flights to New York City.

Airlines were deregulated in 1978, leading to the discontinuance of passenger service at many smaller airports around the nation, Rapsis said.

In the 1960s, Northeast’s iconic “Yellowbird” reputation came about with pop art marketing, promoting service to Florida and the Caribbean.

Tickets for Return of the Yellowbirds can be purchased by calling 603-669-4877 or by visiting www.aviationmuseumofnh.org. The event is sponsored by Delta Airlines, with major support from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

The Aviation Museum of NH, at 27 Navigator Road, Londonderry, NH, is a nonprofit 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt organization.

Based in the 1937 art deco passenger terminal at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the Aviation Museum is dedicated to preserving the region’s rich aviation past, and also inspiring today’s young people to become the aerospace pioneers of tomorrow.

For more information about the Aviation Museum, visit www.aviationmuseumofnh.org or call 603-669-4820. Follow the Aviation Museum on social media at www.facebook.com/nhahs.

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