McKaughan, Richard Earl, Sr. (1909–1988)


By: Cynthia Marshall Devlin

Type: Biography

Published: April 14, 2021

Updated: May 27, 2021


Richard Earl McKaughan, Sr., aviation pioneer and founder of Trans-Texas Airways, son of Lidney Dane McKaughan and Abbie (Baty) McKaughan was born on June 26, 1909, in Lawton, Comanche County, Oklahoma. By 1920 the family had moved to Fort Worth and then eventually to Houston where his father, a teamster, operated Houston Transportation Company that hauled lumber necessary to build oil derricks. McKaughan, who went by the name of Earl, attended high school in Houston. After graduating, he worked with his father in oilfield hauling and the manufacturing of oilfield chemical additives. Eventually McKaughan became president of his father’s company.

At nineteen years of age he married his sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth Lane, on June 28, 1928; they later had three children. Also in 1928 he pursued his love of aviation and learned to fly an airplane. During his early twenties, he was a commercial pilot instructor (working at South Main Airport and later Houston Municipal Airport [now William P. Hobby International Airport]), and by the mid-1930s he determined that aircraft sales had great potential. He formed Texas Fairchild Sales Company. In 1940 McKaughan organized Aviation Enterprises, Incorporated, to facilitate the sales and service of aircraft, training pilots, and originating flight programs. The company sold more than 400 Ercoupe airplanes all over Texas.  

During World War II his company won the contract to train female pilots for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) at Avenger Field (see SWEETWATER ARMY AIR FIELD) in Sweetwater, Texas. Aviation Enterprises’s ace pilot and future vice president of Trans-Texas Airways Henry E. Erdmann directed the training of 1,074 female pilots. In addition to this training, McKaughan’s company operated an overhaul station for PT-19 trainers for the U. S. Army Air Forces, and his team put more than 400 needed aircraft into the war effort.

After the war McKaughan’s company was chosen over thirty competitors to operate an airline—the name Aviation Enterprises was officially changed by corporate charter amendment to Trans-Texas Airways (TTA) in June 1947. The airline was issued a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) that mandated the company operate under CAB statutory authority. The company flew Douglas DC-3 aircraft with a passenger capacity of twenty-one between Houston, Victoria, and San Antonio and also carried United States mail. McKaughan and his vice president, Erdmann, hired Philip S. Reid as superintendent of stations and later vice president of personnel. They finessed their business plan by sealing a fiscal relationship with Houston’s First City National Bank. Company assets totaled $538,363.87.

By the time of the first flight on October 11, 1947, ninety-eight employees had been hired by TTA, including A. J. High, who became chief pilot and later a vice president. Engineer Margaret M. Post became the director of the engineering department. In the early years of the aviation business, her hiring was a rarity for women, who typically held positions as clerks, secretaries, reservation agents, or flight hostesses. Most of the pilots, some of the mechanics, and some of the aircraft cleaners had served in the military during World War II. While TTA operated from the corporate domicile of Houston as a Texas airline, employees came from numerous states across America and even abroad. Trans-Texas Airways serviced eight cities—Houston, Victoria, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Palestine, Brownwood, and San Angelo—with two DC-3s.  

McKaughan knew that his assembled team could not address the financial and legal matters necessary to operate his airline for the long term. In 1948 he hired, as treasurer, Marion Lamar Muse (who later founded Muse Air) to develop budgets and growth strategies to enable the airline to earn profits and ensure its stability. During the early days destinations included Eagle Pass, McAllen, Harlingen, Del Rio, and Fort Stockton. Aviation routes were determined by the CAB. When the airline came close to losing its authority from the CAB, McKaughan sought the services of attorney and former Texas governor James V Allred, who defended the airline as it justified to the CAB the reasons to renew the permission to continue operation. When Allred left to become a U. S. judge, future Texas governor John B. Connally joined the airline as general counsel.

 By 1952 cabin attendants were required on all U. S. commercial aircraft for passenger safety. McKaughan and Muse hired young women as flight attendants dressed in Western-styled outfits with skirts, long-sleeved white blouses, vests, cowboy boots, and hats. These women represented the image of the corporation, the face of the airline, and were meant to project the state of Texas as an empire and as part of the greater southwestern frontier. The average tenure was about eighteen months as hostesses had to remain single to remain employed. The Lone Goose logo was retired by 1954, and the Lone Star of Texas was painted on the tail of each aircraft. A few planes were adorned with the slogan “Fly Starliners through Dixie” that reflected the new routes in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. By 1955 the CAB issued a permanent operating certificate to TTA. The airline gained new routes that allowed service from Dallas to Memphis with stops in Arkansas. Routes from Houston to Dallas, via Lufkin and Tyler were also added, among several other cities. With service to Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, TTA operated twenty aircraft and had 670 employees in 1956.

McKaughan and Muse also operated a healthy freight business. The company advertised Air Express service on all routes across Texas. For package delivery to Mexico, passengers shipped items on TTA through the cities of Eagle Pass, Laredo, Brownsville, and El Paso on International Air Express. By 1956 McKaughan’s airline was a top producer among the other thirteen local service carries. 

By the late 1950s TTA sought to further expand its route system and competed with other airlines for twenty-seven open destinations. TTA emphasized the symbiotic relationship of the Southwest and the Southeast and pointed to the connection between the massive petro-chemical industries and the textile manufacturing plants. However TTA lost out on key destinations in the South because the airline did not have air terminal facilities in Atlanta, Georgia, and the cost to build such proved too expensive. McKaughan’s desire to penetrate the heart of Dixie was dashed, and the airline’s penetration stopped at Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, though, McKaughan became the chairman of the Conference of Local Airlines, and he continued to fight for routes in the Southwest.

In 1960 McKaughan and Muse parted ways because of differing viewpoints on the best way to negotiate the purchase of aircraft from American Airlines. By 1961 McKaughan realized that DC-3s were no longer competitive within the aviation industry while servicing more cities throughout Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. To fly the routes most efficiently, TTA purchased twenty-five pressurized Convair 240s with a seating capacity of forty passengers each. The TTA pilots were trained by American Airlines. The DC-3 drawdown was completed by 1968. With the new aircraft online, the CAB awarded TTA the nonstop route between Houston and Dallas. By December 1964 the airline netted a profit of $1 million. McKaughan and his team re-engineered the Convair-240s into hybrid aircraft. The company purchased Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops and converted the Convair-240s to Convair-600s at a cost of $15 million. Promoted as the “Silver Cloud,” the hybrid proved suitable to the varied climates of its route system.

Earl McKaughan turned the operation of Trans-Texas Airways over to his son Richard Earl (Dick) McKaughan, Jr., a licensed pilot and mechanic, who became the youngest president of any scheduled airline in history in the fall of 1967. By that time the airline was entering the jet age with the DC-9 aircraft. Massive debt forced the McKaughan family to sell the airline to Minnesota Enterprises, Incorporated (MEI) in 1967. At the time of the purchase, the airline employed approximately 2,000 people, owned forty-four aircraft, and served more than sixty U. S. cities and three cities in Mexico. The airline, then known as Texas International Airlines, was subsequently taken over by Francisco Anthony (Frank) Lorenzo and Robert J. Carney of Texas Air in the early 1970s.

Earl McKaughan laid the predicate for future travel by providing air service in a state where doing business quickly had always been prohibitive due to distance. TTA played a role in the development of many airports across Texas and facilitated the dispersion of companies throughout the state and allowed for the decentralization of major oil companies. The airline provided the transportation necessary for large corporations from other states to locate offices in Texas while remaining connected to their home offices. McKaughan’s transportation revolution contributed to post-World War II urban expansion, economic growth, and cultural development through his stated philosophy: “To provide the best possible airline service for the Great Southwestern Area of the United States.”   

After his retirement, McKaughan lived in Sugar Land, Texas. During his career, he had also served on the board of directors of the Air Transport Association of America. He died in Sugar Land on August 31, 1990, and was buried in Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery in Houston. His wife of sixty years preceded him in death in 1988.

 

Carl Brown, A History of Aviation (Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company, 1985). Morning News, October 11, 1967. Cynthia Marshall Devlin, From the Lone Goose to the Golden Tail: A History of Trans-Texas Airways (M.A. thesis, Stephen F. Austin State University, 2005). A. J. High, Interview by Cynthia Marshall Devlin, March 17, 2005, Houston, Texas. Houston Post, September 2, 1990. Lamar Muse, Interview by Cynthia Marshall Devlin, February 23, 2005, Nacogdoches, Texas. “Richard Earl McKaughan,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/60634848/richard-earl-mckaughan), accessed April 6, 2021. San Antonio Express and News, October 28, 1956. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Trans-Texas Airways).

Categories:
  • Aviation and Aerospace
  • Business
  • Transportation and Railroads
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Houston

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Cynthia Marshall Devlin, “McKaughan, Richard Earl, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mckaughan-richard-earl-sr.

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April 14, 2021
May 27, 2021

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