Although it has been nearly 20 years since TWA ceased operations on December 1, 2001, the airline and its fleet still remain in the fond memories of many, and as an era of aviation history itself. For those who flew in a TWA airliner or even watched them fly over and longed to be a part of that glamorous, exciting jet setting lifestyle one day, the TWA DC-9 PlaneTag is for you.
Ozark Air Lines origins go back to September 1943 when it was founded in Springfield, Missouri. In January 1945 they began offering service from Springfield to St. Louis using Beech 17 Staggerwing aircraft and later Cessna AT-17 Bobcats. They weren’t able to obtain their own license so they took over another airline that did have an operating license, as well as some of their DC-3s - Park Air Lines.
“We bought most of our airplanes from Parks Air Lines which was located over in east St. Louis so all we did is we painted out the P and had the A-R-K left, and put the O-Z in front of it and now we had Ozark Air Lines and that’s the true story. That’s how it all started.” - Captain Richard D. Roberts, former Vice President of Flight Operations for Ozark Airlines and former Vice President of Safety and Engineering for TWA
They opened their doors in 1950, with three DC-3s (and one additional for parts). By 1955, Ozark was operating 13 DC-3s, offering flights to over 25 destinations from their main hub at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Over the next few decades they amassed a fleet of 50 jets. By October 1978 had an all DC-9 fleet, adding DC-9-30s and 40s, and eventually MD-82s in 1984. They had also gained a significant share of operations at the airport, with 26.3 percent, sharing a duopoly with TWA who accounted for 56.6 percent.
Also around this time, due to fierce competition within the industry, airlines were scrambling to strengthen their market share and eliminate their competitors, offering lower and lower prices. On March 1, 1986, Ozark and TWA announced their merger in which TWA would pay about $242 million in cash to buy Ozark. It was approved by shareholders and the Department of Transportation shortly after, and Ozark became part of TWA in October 1986.
Enjoy an Ozark Air Lines DC-9 commercial from 1966 and imagine the excitement.
The merger gave TWA access to a fleet of smaller aircraft, including many DC-9s, which could service shorter routes to smaller cities and regional markets, previously served by prop aircraft. With the merger, TWA now held 56 of 74 gates, or about 80% of services, at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. The merger also made TWA the nation's sixth largest commercial air carrier. At the time, Ozark was serving 65 cities in 25 states, mostly in the Midwest area of the U.S., including routes to New York, Miami, and San Diego.
From 1978 to 1995, TWAs jets were painted in their iconic Twin Stripe red and white livery which also featured easy-to-read solid red block lettering. At the time of the merger, the fleet would have either worn this livery or a temporary hybrid scheme in which the lower stripes and the tail rhombus of the Ozark logo were adapted to something very similar to the Twin Stripe scheme. As with TWAs liveries over the years, the distinctive scheme was easy to spot in the sky and was featured on many commercials, and on TV shows and movies.
The Ozark-TWA merger was just one notch on the airline’s long timeline, which began nearly 100 years ago. Although the airline began operations in April 1926 as Western Air Express, it did not become TWA Inc. until April 1934, after merging with Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc. TWA went on to become one of the Big Four, along with United Airlines, American Airlines and Eastern Air Lines. Unfortunately, TWA’s alluring image and Hollywood appeal went by the wayside as financial and internal struggles plagued the airline. The airline was eventually bought by American Airlines and flew its last TWA flight on December 1, 2001, with a specially painted MD-83 called “Wings of Pride”. All TWA signage was replaced with American Airlines in airports across the country. Thus an era had ended.
This DC-9-30 began the first leg of its life as one of Ozark Air Lines’ DC-9-30s. It was delivered on February 26, 1968, and remained with the airline until the merger in 1986, when it then became a TWA DC-9.
If you blink you'll miss N976Z in its Ozark colors during its brief appearance in a 1972 TV movie called "Family Flight".
It was withdrawn from service on May 19, 2000, and then stored at Mojave Air & Space Port from May 25, 2000, until it was recovered by MotoArt in 2021.
The moderators of the MotoArt PlaneTags Collection Facebook group had joined MotoArt owner Dave Hall at the Mojave boneyard this winter. They were all thrilled to see N976Z “We knew what we were looking at the moment we saw those twin stripes,” says Hall. “We definitely wanted to preserve this piece of such an important part of aviation history.”
“At first sight it was a gorgeous cockpit, the sun was hitting the fuselage just right that it popped out from everything else in the desert. The moment I discovered it was a TWA aircraft I knew Dave had to have it! As someone who grew up in the TWA prime years, having the opportunity to see the history right in front of my eyes. Being able to touch it and climb into the cockpit was an experience I’ll never forget. TWA is such an iconic airline and has an amazing storied history, I hope with this PlaneTag the history lives on for many years to come!” - Rob Schneider, Facebook group moderator
This Spring, the MotoArt team went back to Mojave to get the fuselage skin before it was scrapped. It was taken back to MotoArt Studios in Torrance, California where it was given a new life as PlaneTags.
This series is numbered to 3,500 and will be offered in Vintage Red, Vintage White and a Vintage Red/White combination. They will make the perfect companion piece to your TWA 747-100 PlaneTag or as part of a DC-9 PlaneTags collection. They also make excellent gifts for pilots, especially when you add a custom engraving on the back. PlaneTags are eye-catching luggage tags but don’t worry if you haven’t had the opportunity to fly recently. They are truly a beautiful aviation accessory or memento just to look at and collect.
Take a look at these other DC-9-30 PlaneTags.