How the Grand Canyon Gave Rise to the FAA

This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham,

Two planes departed LAX, one a DC-7 and the other a Super Constellation, about three minutes apart from one another. It was Saturday, June 30 in 1956 and both planes were climbing to their authorized altitudes. One of the planes was even flying 31 minutes behind schedule as both left controlled airspace in California.

Today we believe that a passing cloud formation may have obstructed the pilots’ views of one another, but both planes were headed over the canyon to give passengers a view of the landscape.

The crash took mere seconds, and investigators now believe that both pilots took evasive maneuvers as they realized what would happen. The DC-7 tried to raise its left wing and bank out of the way. It collided with the Super Constellation’s vertical stabilizer, knocking the plane’s tail section out into space.

The pilots of the constellation immediately lost control and began to plunge toward the earth. The DC-7 spiraled into the canyon wall while the Constellation plunged head strong into the ground at a speed of 700 feet per second.

This tragedy was an important moment in aviation, as it marked the need for a governing authority to review air traffic. The Federal Aviation Act was passed in 1958 and was signed into law by Dwight Eisenhower. Today’s air traffic controllers man their posts in large part due to the sacrifice of these crews. This accident, while part of America’s proud tradition of aviation, also marked the country’s first sobered look at how to regulate itself.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Samuel Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Samuel Phineas Upham on his Twitter page.