Northeast Airlines Yellowbirds

Northeast Yellowbirds were a common site at airports from Maine to Florida in the late 1960s and early 70s. Northeast’s main routes at that time were between Boston, New York, Washington and Philadelphia to and from Florida. My father was a copilot on the 727 from 1966 until the Delta merger and as a boy the Yellowbirds fueled my imagination.

Northeast Airlines Route System

NEA’s route system expanded quite a bit in the Yellowbird era to include a Miami – Los Angeles daily non-stop operated by a 727-100, as well as flights from the northeast to the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Photo: Rob Rindt, Miami 1969 (Possibly the best NEA 727 shot ever)

A 727-200 being prepared for service at Logan Airpot in 1972.

Northeast Airlines Boston

Northeast had significant presence at Miami International, including maintenance and flight simulators.

Miami International. Credit Nadine Eichinger – Northeast Flight 22 pushes back for New York JFK in 1966.

Before going all-jet plus the 227s, NEA flew a mix of Douglas and Convair propeller airliners along with Convair jets leased from TWA and American. The 880 was the fastest airliner in service during its run. Limited to 5-abreast seating, and with 4 engines, Convair jets were not as economical to operate as the 727, DC-8, and 707. 

The pre-Yellowbird livery

The Yellowbird livery was introduced in 1966 in a major rebranding. Northeast operated Boeing 727s and Douglas DC-9s where jets made sense, and turboprop FH-227’s between small New England cities and Boston and New York LaGuardia Airport. Northeast was the first airline to operate the Boeing 727-200.

The Northeast Airlines ramp at Boston Logan in the late 1960s. Photo: Gary Schenauer

Below is a pair of FH-227s at Montpelier, VT (MVP). Walt Houghton, former station manager there (and BTV and FLL) contributed the photo and described the scene. Hard to believe that towns like New Bedford, MA and Berlin, NH were once served by a large airline.

FH-227s at Montpelier VT. Norm MacIver, VT Development Dept.

Two DC-9s at Boston Logan Airport in 1967. This photo really showcases the yellowbird livery. Note the Expo 67 decal under the first window of the closest airplane. Amazingly, this airplane is registered with the FAA as airworthy, 57 years years after delivery to NEA as N8953U. The other one flew until it was retired in late 1998 for a total of 31 years in service.

I took the 2 photos below at Miami Airport. My Dad had simulator training there and brought me along. (In the hangar was parked an air force U-2 spy plane.)

NEA 727s MIA
Northeast 727-100 Miami International

In addition to these aircraft types, the yellowbird livery was also used on Northeastʼs leased Convair 880s, and single CV-990. These were used on the Florida routes from 1962 through 1968 and the CV-990 in 1967 and 1968. They were replaced by 727s and DC-9s.

The Convair 990 sits at Boston Logan. Northeast Airlines was one of the few to simultaneously operate both the CV-990 and the CV-880.

Northeast CV-990 at Boston courtesy Gary Schenauer

Northeast operated from Terminal C at Logan Airport; today occupied by JetBlue.

Logan Airport Terminal C 1967

And the same 990 being pushed off the gate in Miami. Notice the Piper Apache twin engine private plane parked next to the 990, left of the cockpit.

Northeast CV-990 Miami International

These photos illustrate the difference between the Convair 990 and 880. The 990 was longer, had different engines and had the iconic blisters on the wing trailing edge.

Northeast-CV-880 Miami Int’l

Northeast Airlines operated in the days of airline regulation. The civil aeronautics board (CAB ) decided which airlines could fly where and how much they could charge for it. Northeast was competing mainly with Eastern Airlines and National Airlines, both of which had larger route systems, fleets, and political clout.

The airline was acquired by Delta in 1972. This provided Delta with NEA’s routes and with the 727, which would become a fleet mainstay for decades.

Airliners are delivered to each airline tweaked to that airline’s specifications. Although Northeast’s planes were less than 7 years old, they were phased out of the Delta fleet as soon as practical and replaced with jets configured to Delta standards.

Here my sister and I wave to a passing DC-9 at Manchester Airport (MHT) probably in 1972. My Dad snapped the photo from the tie-down of his airplane (a WW2 era T-6).  From MHT flights went to Boston, LaGuardia via Worcester, MA, and toward the end, Cleveland and Detroit, with a stop in Burlington if I recall.

In 1972 we also waved goodbye to the Yellowbirds with the Delta merger. Below are some former Yellowbirds at Logan airport sporting the also-iconic Delta widget.

The CV-880 below is being pushed back from NEA’s Miami concourse.

Some other interesting sites for Northeast and Delta fans.

  • The Delta Flight Museum has a Northeast Airlines section with dates and milestones.
  • A Northeast blog post written by another son of a Northeast pilot, Capt. Rand Peck and a page on his site with photos people have sent in and you probably will not find elsewhere. Check it out.
  • Fly The Widget. Delta flight attendant Perry de Vlugtʼs amazing memorabilia website and collection. Perry appears in the famous Deltalina preflight video.

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