Juan Tripp is a pilot who understands aircraft engines, loves flying, and designs aircraft like an engineer. After Tripp graduated from college, he borrowed a small amount of money from a rich friend. Then he bought a few military planes and started a Long Island Airline.
Tripp, who founded Pan Am in 1929, hated the Spanish-sounding of his own name and used the name JT instead. His father, an investment banker in New York, came to the United States in 1663.
Tripp designed and built bigger, faster planes over and over, from three-seater taxis all the way up to the Boeing 747, which no one thought could be built before. Pan Am ushered in the jet age, making international travel increasingly popular.
In 1968, when the founder and CEO retired, Pan Am was the largest and most profitable airline in the world, a widely recognized brand after Coca-Cola.
It was the first American airline to fly across the Atlantic, the first to fly across the Pacific, the first to fly around the world, and the first to operate jets.
In the film “From Russia with Love”, James Bond was on a Pan Am flight.
On July 25, 1944, an RAF pilot was flying a British DH-98 Mosquito over Munich when he saw a new type of German aircraft coming in his direction.
The plane, which has no propellers, can travel up to 120 mph, faster than any British or American plane. After a tense fight, he managed to escape.
Seven weeks later, Bernard Browning, a 28-year-old British Army engineer, was looking for his girlfriend on Staveley Road in London when there was an explosion in the street. Thirty feet from where he was standing, the explosion left a huge crater. British officials blamed the explosion on a natural gas leak.
Journalists did not believe these official explanations. They guessed the truth: the explosion was caused by a new type of German missile.
Eighty years after the invention of the gasoline engine, the Germans invented the jet engine. RAF pilot AE Wall saw the first jet, the Messerschmitt Me 262, while Browning was killed by the first ballistic missile, a V-2 rocket.
Twenty-five years ago, American physicist Robert Goddard figured out the fundamentals of jet engines and rockets. He first described a mathematical model of rocket flight (1912), designed and built a liquid-fuel rocket (1926), and developed a gyro-stabilized rocket (1932).
His research has never been taken seriously by American scholars and the military.
An editorial in The New York Times said Goddard “appears to lack the common sense that a high school student should have,” not even understanding Newton’s laws of action and reaction. Because as long as the basic concepts are grasped, the rocket cannot fly (49 years later, on the day that Apollo II was successfully carried by the rocket and launched to the moon, the paper was withdrawn).
However, scientists in Germany took Goddard’s ideas seriously. After they read his paper, they started researching.
Years later, a German who was tortured by U.S. officials over the V-2 rocket program exclaimed, “Why not ask your Dr. Goddard?”
In the United States, a well-known aviation expert also thought seriously about rocket propulsion.
Charles Lindbergh (the first American pilot to fly across the Atlantic) had encouraged Goddard and introduced him to funders.
Lindbergh, now an Air Force colonel, was not interested in equipping the military with Goddard’s rockets, in large part because President Roosevelt made an unprecedented personal attack on Lindbergh.
The contradiction between the two public figures already existed before the war. The conflict began when Roosevelt rescinded the air transport agreement with Lindbergh to give the Army Air Corps access to postal air transport. Lindbergh publicly expressed his strong disapproval.
He found that on many routes, inexperienced pilots could not handle extreme weather. U.S. Air Force planes have crashed 66 times and killed 12 people. Roosevelt was forced to reverse his decision, a scandalous event that made headlines. The struggle “shattered the myth of Roosevelt’s invincibility,” wrote one historian. In 1939, Lindbergh began to speak out against American interference in European affairs. He spoke at mass anti-war rallies and attacked Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was a vengeful man, and he then started a campaign aimed at reducing Lindbergh’s influence. In public, he called Lindbergh a “defeatist and appeasementist.” Lindbergh was quickly abandoned by the masses: the media called him a Nazi sympathizer and traitor, and the street named after him was renamed.
Lindbergh lost all influence and inability to recommend Goddard’s rockets or any other technology to the military.
The embarrassed Lindbergh was forced to find a new job, and even though he had not officially worked for Tripp and Pan Am for many years, when he reached out to Tripp, he was greeted warmly, Tripp promised Offer him any position he wants.
A few days later, Tripp called and retracted the promise. Tripp explained that the White House angrily declared that Pan Am could not have anything to do with Lindbergh.
Roosevelt died in April 1945, a month before Germany surrendered. The government no longer hated Lindbergh, and the Navy called him to Washington. There are rumors that Germany will produce a new type of aircraft and missiles, similar to the rockets Lindbergh mentioned six years ago.
Will Lindberg join an undercover investigation into Germany?
Lindbergh was quickly approved by the U.S. Congress for a clandestine naval mission. In Europe, Lindbergh approached Willie Messerschmidt, who revealed details of the famous plane.
At the BMW factory where jet engines are built, Lindbergh was approached by a German engineer who looked “a little pale and shaky.”
He said he had obtained drawings for one of the jet engines and had been ordered to destroy them before U.S. troops arrived. But he secretly buried them under a large pine tree just a short walk away.
Will Lindbergh like these documents? The two drove under the tree, parked the car, and started digging. Before long, the shovel hit a metal box. Lindbergh finally got the German jet engine drawings.
When Lindbergh returned to the United States, he filed a report and immediately called Tripp. Tripp rehired Lindbergh on the spot.
It’s time to build a new type of aircraft.
Tripp was soon in talks with Boeing. Boeing at the time was a maker of military aircraft but was looking to enter the commercial aircraft market, which was dominated by rivals Lockheed and Douglas.
Boeing told Tripp it would develop commercial jets for Pan Am as long as there were firm orders. But Boeing’s estimated range and fuel consumption failed to meet Tripp’s requirements.
Tripp excluded Boeing from the list.
Lindbergh and Tripp found that Britain was far ahead of the United States in the manufacture of jet aircraft. British National Airways (BOAC) has ordered a commercial jet from British manufacturer Havilland Aircraft.
In 1952, De Havilland’s Comet entered service, symbolizing Britain’s triumph in commercial aircraft.
The CEO of British Airways declared: “In Elizabeth I we ruled the seas, and in Elizabeth II we will rule the skies.” The
celebration lasted nearly two years. In 1953 and 1954, three Comet-type airliners exploded in mid-air for unknown reasons, killing all passengers on board. The government ordered all Comet-type airliners to be grounded.
The explosion of the Comet has terrified most airlines.
In an effort to give these airlines a break, the RAND Corporation filed a report saying it was not economically viable to use jets for commercial use (British National Airways jets are still operating at a loss). The presidents of American Airlines and TWA announced they would no longer consider jets.
As the saying goes, there is no way out of the sky.
Then, things took a turn.
After numerous discussions with engineers and an analysis of the Comet’s data, Tripp concluded that the safety and loss-making problems of the Comet jetliner can be solved. The explosion of the Comet was a tragic failure.
It’s a “false failure,” Tripp and Lindberg, on the jetliner problem, offer a contrarian approach.
A U.K. government investigation finally confirmed Tripp’s safety analysis: The unique window shape caused metal fatigue, which ultimately contributed to these accidents. Metal fatigue is a solvable engineering problem.
Economic problems can be solved by redesigning the plane: the Comet’s range is too short, its passenger capacity (44 seats) is too small, and its fuel consumption is too high.
Tripp went back to Boeing, which developed a prototype commercial aircraft called the “707.”
He discovered immediately that the 707 had the same shortcomings as the Comet.
Tripp wanted a jet that could fly directly across the Atlantic. He politely offered to redesign the plane, but Boeing refused to budge, and it had invested millions in building the plane and was reluctant to give up.
Tripp and his team traveled to Santa Monica, hoping to persuade Boeing’s arch-rival Donald Douglas to build the plane Tripp wanted, but Douglas refused. Every other airline ordered the DC-7, the market-leading propeller plane, here, so Douglas saw no reason to make jets any more. Tripp persisted, eventually persuading Douglas to submit a proposal.
The design, similar to Boeing’s, is still not good enough.
The problem, Tripp realized, was the engine: The industry’s best Pratt & Whitney J-57 couldn’t support the nonstop transatlantic flight either. Tripp sent his team, including Lindberg, to continue work at Pratt & Whitney.
At the engine manufacturer, they learned of an experimental engine that uses a new high-compression technology that delivers 50 percent more power than a propeller engine, greatly improving fuel efficiency. It complies with Tripp’s request, is far from ready, and is a military secret.
Tripp asked Derek Rentersler (founder and president of Pratt & Whitney) to declassify the new engine, while Tripp went to the military to lobby.
The military gave a clear answer: No! The engine is still in the experimental stage, and Rentesler’s company already has a number of orders for existing engines.
During this time, Tripp created a small business miracle that was the last, and possibly the greatest, of his career: three of the world’s most successful manufacturing companies, led by legendary entrepreneurs and businessmen All rejected him.
But he changed their decision.
First, Tripp began negotiations with British engine maker Rolls-Royce. The British company is secretly working on the next generation of jet engines.
As Tripp envisioned, Pratt & Whitney’s Rentersler convened an internal meeting as soon as they heard about their negotiating plan. Can Pratt & Whitney afford to lose Pan Am business? If so, can the company grow rapidly?
Before long, Tripp called. He gave Rentersler a new opportunity: Pan Am would buy its engines outright. An airline buys engines and doesn’t have a plane to put them in?
To be precise, Tripp placed an order for 120 jet engines for $40 million, a huge sum at the time, four times Pan Am’s annual revenue.
Rentersler made the final call – yes, Tripp could use its new engine.
Tripp then flew to Seattle.
Already having the engine, will Boeing make the plane he wants? If he still hits a wall, he will have to look elsewhere.
Boeing President Bill Allen unsurprisingly gave a negative answer. So Tripp flew to Santa Monica. Tripp already has an engine, will Douglas help him build a plane?
Douglas realized that with the engine, Tripp had everything, and he would probably find a manufacturer somewhere to make the best airplane in the world.
It caved in and built a DC-8 according to Tripp’s vision. Tripp promised to order 25 planes, but asked Douglas not to announce it for the time being.
Tripp flew back to Seattle, met with Boeing, and agreed to buy 20 of its smaller planes, the Boeing 707, a model that couldn’t fly across the Atlantic. He didn’t tell Boeing about the order he placed with Douglas. The Boeing team cheered: They managed to convince the notoriously stubborn Tripp to keep him sane.
Tripp set a time for a news release together.
On October 14, 1955, Allen and Douglas learned of each other’s order in The Wall Street Journal. The Boeing president later said he “felt like an earthquake.” After his company made a bet on a new plane, it immediately became obsolete. The message is clear to anyone who reads the paper: Douglas has 25 orders for its premium planes, while Boeing has 20 orders for its second-class planes.
Allen called Tripp and admitted the mistake. He told Tripp that Boeing could redesign because it couldn’t accept being a second-rate aircraft maker.
As Tripp planned, the two manufacturers resumed the race to make the best plane. Other airlines have also abandoned contracts for propeller planes in order to order new planes.
Tripp got ahead of them, however, playing poker with the highest bet in company history — ordering 45 commercial jets for $269 million, and eventually pocketing it bowl full.
When the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 served together on Pan Am, the way people traveled changed. This has enabled middle-class families for the first time to afford cheap, time-saving international or intercontinental travel.
Pan Am and Tripp, in the midst of the jet age, are turning the wheels of the franchise faster and faster. By 1965, seven years after the Boeing 707 first flew, passenger traffic had grown by 400% and net income had grown by 1,000%.
Tripp has also added a hotel division, InterContinental Hotels and a business jet division within the company. He commissioned the construction of one of the largest office buildings in the world.
The U.S. Air Force issued a tender for long-range missiles, so Tripp added a missile division to the company, and soon an aerospace division to support the Apollo moon landing program. From 1968 to 1971, Pan Am also accepted 93,005 reservations for moon landing services.
On the surface, Pan Am’s operating rights have reached the moon.
Later, Tripp heard of another new type of engine.
This technology will increase the maximum take-off weight of the engine to four times the level at the time. A passenger plane with the large front-engined aircraft can carry 500 passengers, 2.5 times the capacity of a Boeing 707. The “Jet Age” melody continued.
Aviation technology is constantly moving forward, and Tripp has mastered that rhythm.
In August 1965, 10 years after the historic deal, Tripp and Bill Allen (then president of Boeing) took their wives to Alaska to fish for salmon. Tripp described to Allen the engine and plane he wanted.
”As long as you can make it,” he said, “I’ll make an order.”
”As long as you make an order, I can make it,” Alan replied.
So they worked together again, signing a new deal on December 22 of that year — Tripp buying 25 brand-new, state-of-the-art large aircraft for $525 million. Allen gave it a name: Boeing 747.
To fill seats 2.5 times the size of previous planes, airlines need 2.5 times as many passengers. However, Pan Am’s share of international travel has been shrinking.
In the 1950s, Congress launched an antitrust investigation into Pan Am’s monopoly on foreign routes. Populists protested that regulators were protecting industry giants, not consumers. The strongest protests came from start-ups Texas Air, Braniff, and Southwest Airlines.
These startups also bring new thinking to the industry – hubs and spokes. Flying to secondary airports reduces turnaround time to 20 minutes. Like Sam Walton’s megastore far outside the city, the ideas are small changes in strategy, not new technology, that no one thinks will make much of a difference.
Boeing delivered the first 747s in 1969. This year, Pan Am announced its first loss.
The outlook was bleak, and Pan Am was completely unnoticed. It placed an additional $200 million order for eight 747s. The company then spent $100 million to build a new terminal at JFK Airport in New York.
Before oil regulation, small changes that could improve efficiency and reduce costs were not attractive. After regulation, these small changes suddenly became the key to survival. These fantasies, nurtured by startups like Southwest Airlines or major airlines like American Airlines, quickly spread across the industry.
They beat all the airlines that weren’t ready.
Pan Am’s business began to gradually decline, and has never recovered since. After deregulation, Pan Am lost money for eight straight years.
Pan Am survived by selling only some of its assets—office buildings in New York, a hotel business, a promising China business, a new terminal at JFK. Until the end, there was nothing left to sell.
Tripp announced his retirement abruptly in the spring of 1968, before the Boeing 747 was delivered. Perhaps, at 68, he is already tired. Perhaps, he has taken his eyes off the engine, realizing that the movie he starred in for 41 years is coming to an end.
He died in 1981, having witnessed the decline of Pan Am, and luckily, did not see its demise.