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TWA Lives! Quite A Few TWA Planes Still Exist

Photo by JL Johnson. CC/Flickr

For over seven decades TWA was a household name, but poor management beginning in the 1980s, multiple bankruptcies in the 90s and the tragic loss of Flight 800 and its 230 people onboard in 1996, all contributed to the eventual demise of the company in 2001.

It was sold to American Airlines (AA), and over time TWA’s fleet of planes vanished into history, but a few still remain.

AA took on a bunch of TWA’s MD-80s when they took over the company. A total of 34 still remain in active service, some of the youngest in AA’s currently active fleet of 46, but the fleet is fading into history, with AA expected to retire the last of their MD-80s in 2019, to be replaced by Boeing 737s. Most TWA MD-80s have tail numbers that end in TW.

AA also rolled out a special heritage 737-800 painted in the colors of TWA in 2015, in tribute to TWA’s long history in aviation.

American’s TWA heritage 737-800 rolls out of a paint factory in Peru, Indiana, on Nov 16, 2015. Credit: American Airlines

Former TWA jets are also flying with Delta Air Lines.  After TWA’s merger with American, American sold the Pratt & Whitney powered 757s to Delta.  American also disposed of TWA’s growing 717 fleet.  Most of the fleet ended up with AirTran.  When AirTran merged with Southwest, the 717s were leased to Delta where they still fly today.

TWA museum pieces…some are flight-worthy!

An MD-83 (SN 49575/LN 1414) known as TWA’s “Wings of Pride” still exists, which was painted in TWA’s often referred to “final livery” for a brief time; a retro white plane with double red stripes along its fuselage.

But the plane would take on a special paint job for the rest of its career with TWA, in an effort to symbolize reinventing the airline. The company flipped the original paint scheme to a red plane with double white stripes, and the aircraft flew TWA’s ceremonial final flight, Flight 220, on December 1, 2001.

AA then stripped the jet’s special livery for their standard scheme as part of their “Super 80” fleet, but was salvaged in 2014 in an effort between American, TriStar History, and a number of sponsors, to bring it back to its memorable final paint job with TWA. It’s now based at the TWA museum.  The jet is flyable and is used to support STEM education initiatives.

There is another active TWA aircraft that is housed at a museum. The National Airline History Museum also hosts TWA Constellation (Super Connie) and a DC-3.  The Connie was on the airshow circuit for 20 years but is now undergoing heavy maintenance.

Photo by Airline History Museum.

The DC-3, number NC1945 first flew in 1941.  It flew with TWA until 1952.  The aircraft then had a number of owners and operators until it was purchased by a museum in Denver and was eventually transferred to the Kansas City museum in the late 1990s.  The DC-3 has undergone a complete restoration but has not flown yet.

One classic TWA 747 rotting in the desert

As far as we can tell, this is only one intact TWA jet remaining.  That aircraft is a Boeing 747-100 in experimental TWA colors.  The jet was retired in 1997 and with the exception of its engines, the aircraft is largely intact. An interior Instagram video by “DiecastJames”.

Photo by Jeff Gilmore


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Mike Killian

Written by Mike Killian

Killian is an aerospace photographer and writer, with a primary focus on spaceflight and military and civilian aviation. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.

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