National Airlines was one of the best-run airlines in the nation, and when it merged into Pan Am in 1980, one of the great airline brands disappeared. If we are making comparisons, it was the Apple Computer of the airline industry; each piece of the airline was designed to the nth detail, and every function of the airline’s graphics and design added up to a consistent whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.
It needed to be a slick operation; it billed itself as the Airline of the Stars and ran routes between California, Florida and the Atlantic Coast. The airline, when it was purchased, was debt free.
Thankfully, a half-hour video of the airline has surfaced that shows what the airline looked like. While the color is faded and the upload is with a freebie app (words appear on the screen), the film shows the complete operations of National across the U.S. Even more interesting, it has each person mentioned in the film introduce themselves. Unless you worked for National, you wouldn’t know them, though some were slightly well known in their time, such as pilot Skeeter Royal, who did stunts at airshows and was best known for flying a 747 across Miami for the Miami Air Show. Royal was National’s Chief Pilot, and he is midway in the video in half glasses. (Frankly, it’s a cool idea that airlines used to promote individual pilots.)
Back to the video. Quite illuminating is the introduction of the London staff of National. National flew DC-10’s to Europe, and a number of the staff there are introduced. It also show’s the airline’s first flight to Paris in 1977. It also shows the marketing construction of the “Watch us Shine” campaign.
The airline brand resurfaced, but it went bankrupt. The airline’s Sun King logo was also brought back by a charter carrier named Key; I have not seen it used for decades.
The Sun King was designed by Tom Courtos in 1968 and created by the firm Papert, Koenig and Lois, the ad firm that made Maypo famous. Courtos was the designer of the Mello Yello package, and apparently worked for Tom Golden of CBS during the legendary years. The airline’s JFK Terminal, the Sundrome, is seen in the video. The Sundrome, designed by I.M. Pei, was destroyed by the Port Authority. It sat next door to the TWA Flight Center, and two terminals down from the Pan Am WorldPort, which is under threat of demolition.