NORTHWEST AIRLINES CREW WINGS
by Stan Baumwald
Stan has inserted images of numerous wings into his article, so it may
take some time for all of them to load.
The predecessor airline to
Northwest Airlines was formed by Charles Dickinson and operated as CAM
9. This company got off to an inauspicious start on June 7, 1926, which
saw the inaugural flight crash on takeoff (killing the pilot), and two
other flights make emergency landings due to weather or mechanical factors.
CAM 9 never recovered from these setbacks, and went out of business shortly
thereafter. Northwest Airlines was formed and took over the routes of the
defunct company on October 1, 1926, and holds the distinction of operating
under their current name longer than any other airline.
Initially, the pilots did
not wear uniforms. After all, they only carried mail and there were no
passengers to impress. But like all other airlines that started by carrying
the mail, Northwest began carrying passengers to generate additional revenue.
In 1927 the airline carried a mere 106 passengers, but by 1929, this business
had increased so that Col. Brittin, Vice President and General Manager
of Northwest Airways, not only put his pilots in uniforms, he also designed
wings for the pilots. This design was submitted to the Post Office for
approval. The Post Office was so taken by the design, they requested and
received permission from Col. Britton to adopt the insignia as the official
emblem to be worn by air mail pilots. For this reason, the very first pilots
of American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and several
other companies wore this wing in the very beginning. The design also shows
up on several stamps issued by the U.S. Post Office.
first wing had a metal center with the words "U.S. Air Mail" in raised
letters. The center piece was fitted into a bullion background of wings.
This design was worn by the NWA pilots from about 1929 to 1934 when the
airline changed to a all metal wing.
1934 wing has the Equator going thorough the word "AIR" and the reverse
is most likely hallmarked "Pat. Pending" and "Rolled Gold". This wing was
used until the beginning of World War II when the airline discontinued
the use of gold in favor of a gold look on a base metal.
this time the wing style changed ever so slightly in that the Equator was
below the word "Air". This was probably the result of the airline changing
manufacturers and the new manufacturer inadvertently made this design change.
This wing is the same wing as worn by the pilots of Northwest Airline to
this day. There are several variations such as feathering and pin back
vs clutch back but they are only noticeable to the student of this wing.
|An interesting sidelight
is that, through a series of mergers, one airline which started in 1946
took the NWA wing design as its own. That airline was Empire Airlines in
Washington state and they used this wing in a silver and gold color. Had
a person not had to worry about age restrictions as imposed by the General
Quesada, the pilot would have retired wearing the same wing that he started
with but in the process going through six other wings via West Coast Airlines,
Hughes Air West, Republic and then finally to Northwest.
|Navigator / Flight Engineer
long as we are on the subject of flight crew wings for Northwest Airlines,
there are three more that should be mentioned. In 1946, after WW II, NWA
was the pioneer airline on the North Pacific route to Japan. At that time,
navigators were required and the company hired quite a few. Their wing
was a plain gold color with a sextant in the center. Navigators were phased
out when Doppler navigation came into widespread use in the early 1960's.
last group is Flight Engineers. The first Flight Engineers were hired when
the airline acquired B-377 Stratocruisers and wore a wing that was gold
colored and said "FLIGHT ENGINEER" in the field surrounding the letters
thereafter, a field of blue was added in the outside ring. Flight Engineers
who could qualify as pilots were added on to the pilots seniority list
with the advent of the jets and the last ones flew until the Lockheed L-188
Electra was phased out.
|Cabin crew insignia
likely, the first flight attendant insignia worn by Northwest Airlines
personnel is this half wing with a blue enamel center and the word "STEWARD"
on the top. This wing is not in my collection (therefore a poor scan) but
I have seen the actual item and I believe it to be NWA for two reasons;
1) the color is correct for NWA insignia and 2) it was acquired from an
estate where the other piece was the second issue NWA hat badge. Most of
the people who would have worn this wing are people have gone west and
like so many of the early pieces, it is hard to do anything but make educated
an early STEWARD wing, let us continue with a PURSER wing. Although the
airline is not identified, I know this to be a Northwest Airlines wing,
as I flew with these people back in the late 1950's and early 1960's. It
was worn by male personal on international flights which, at that time,
meant flights to Asia.
NWA had male flight attendants on domestic flights where a Purser was not
required. At that time, male personnel (for some strange reason)
were afforded a higher position than stewardesses, so the company called
these male stewards "Flight Service Attendants". This meant that, regardless
of seniority, the male was the lead attendant. This system lasted until
the stewardesses filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination (there were pay
differences as well as choice of flights differences). This lawsuit was
successful. The first stewardess was hired around 1938 or 1939. The insignia
worn by this first group was a embroider name sewn on the jacket and this
said "NWA STEWARDESS". I have a picture of this in my archives someplace
but cannot put my finger on it.
next insignia, which was the first stewardess wing, was probably a half
wing with a blue center. This wing I acquired in a trade with a European
collector. When he sent me the Xerox copy, it looked just like the red,
white and blue wing displayed below. I never realized what I was getting
until it arrived in the mail. Nobody that I have ever talked to has been
able to substantiate my theory about this being the first wing but again,
there is nobody around to help out.
first stewardess wing (above) must have been short lived as most of the
surviving photos show the gold toned half-wing, with the red, white and
blue colors used by NWA. In the beginning, there were very few, if any,
color pictures, but this wing is seen in color in photos as late as the
early 1950's. Note also that this wing is often confused with newer wings
(below), with the difference being that the newer version has a small wing
through the center.
there is no way to know the exact dates other than to make an educated
guess, it appears that NWA experimented with four different wing styles
from roughly 1958 until 1963. Of these four wings, two were gold colored
and two were silver colored. And to make matters more difficult, one of
the gold wings had a red center and the other gold wing had a blue center.
Same holds true of the silver wings.
in about 1964, the company settled on a wing which was used until about
1989. This wing is like the very early issues except it has a small wing
in the center.
is the wing that is worn presently. In 2000, the company changed their
lead flight attendant to a Purser and came up with a wing which is the
same as the current F/A wing except that it has a star and a wreath. (Sorry,
but I do not have a picture of this wing as it is not presently in my collection.)
Interestingly, the company wanted to change the pilot wings at the same
time using the same logo but having a star and wreath for the Check Captain
and a star for a Captain and the plain wing for the First Officer. The
company allowed pilot input into this selection and the pilots, after a
bit of education, voted overwhelmingly for the tradition of being the only
pilot group with the original US AIR MAIL wings.
About Stan ...
A self-described "pack rat",
Stan started by collecting stamps and coins. About 25 years ago, he attended
his first World Airline Historical Association convention and got hooked
on collecting airline memorabilia. After 40 years of flying and 31 years
with an airline, the hobby turned out to be a perfect fit!. While Stan
was employed he traveled the world, making lots of friends and visiting
many different airline companies which helped him add to his collection.
Now, in retirement, Stan can devote even more time to collecting. And when
he goes to that "big hanger in the sky", the collection is slated to go
to U.S. Airline Industry Museum Foundation of which he is a board member.
Stan's specialty (and what
he enjoys the most) is flight crew insignia. No one person or organization
has a complete collection of all of the U.S. wings and hat badges, not
even the Smithsonian. However, Stan has a fairly comprehensive collection
and is always looking to add to it. He is always willing to help any collector
identify insignia, seeing this as an opportunity to learn something, in
addition to aiding others in the enjoyment of their pursuits.
Having spent most of his
working life with Northwest Airlines, Stan collects just about anything
from NWA. In addition, he also collects junior flight crew wings and has
written a book on this subject, which is updated annually, and therefore
is the most current book on the subject.
Stan may be contacted at
This category will cover
items such as wings, hat badges, patches, buttons, service pins, hats,
uniforms, and any other items which may have been worn by airline personnel.