ROBERT SIX: THE AVIATION REVOLUTIONARY

Discover the incredible story of Robert Six, the pioneering aviation revolutionary who opened up the world of air travel. Learn more about his impressive journey through the world of aviation and the lasting legacy he left behind.

Although Robert Six’s name has mostly been forgotten by time, the airline he founded has not. Robert Six, who led Continental Airlines for the better part of four decades, used little more than his strong will and ambition to transform a three-route, low-budget airline into a global empire.

Valley Flying Service

At the age of seventeen, Robert quit school and found work as a bill collector with a San Francisco utility company. At the age of 22, Robert earned his pilot’s license, purchased a two-seat Travel Air directly from Walter Beech, the other co-founder of the company, and started his own business, Valley Flying Service, which featured leisure flights and racing on the side.

New Potential

The Great Depression caused Robert’s airline to collapse, leading to his becoming a junior pilot for China National Aviation. Robert then returned to the United States to hear about Varney Speed Lines, founded by Walter Varney and Louis Mueller. Varney had ceded control of the company to Mueller by the end of 1934 to focus on another venture called Lockheed.

Robert recognized the potential of Lockheed Vegas and borrowed money from his father-in-law, Charles Pfizer & Co., to expand the airline. He changed the company’s name to Continental Air Lines and was named its new president, moving the company headquarters to Denver, Colorado.

WWII

The US Army Air Forces (USAAF) hired Continental to transport US soldiers to the European Theatre as well as maintain aircraft like the P-51, B-17, and B-29. Robert Six devised new, more affordable routes from Europe to the US. When World War II came to a close, Continental claimed record earnings and had plenty of resources to grow.

The Jet Era

Robert was a driven individual who actively followed the advancement of commercial jet engine technology. He was overjoyed to see the Boeing 707 debut in 1954. He requested new routes from the CAB so that Continental Airlines, a regional carrier, could compete with major carriers like United, Pan Am, and TWA. One of the first commercial jet airliners, the 707, distinguished Continental Airlines from its rivals and helped it grow while still being a small company. Robert advocated the establishment of additional lines since he was not satisfied with the comfort of jet travel in a world of turboprops.

Robert Six, with CAB permission, was able to cut ticket prices on his Chicago-Los Angeles route, allowing him to slash ticket prices by 20% with CAB permission which was later matched by the other airlines. This cost cut boosted Continental’s profit and made it the most luxurious airline regulated by the CAB. He also introduced innovative innovations such as serving champagne to passengers for breakfast, offering a selection of meals for passengers, and having a designated crew member to make hotel reservations, which led to a long relationship between airlines and hotel chains.

Marketing

Robert Six, the husband of a famous actress, met numerous Hollywood legends, including James Stewart, John Wayne, Bob Hope, and Henry Fonda, all of whom were regular passengers with Continental Airlines. Whenever these stars flew, they would always make the Continental logo visible in the background, almost like an unofficial celebrity endorsement. This made Continental one of the most requested airlines to fly on by travel agents across the Western seaboard and Midwest.

Legacy

Robert Six was an ardent supporter of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, leading to Continental’s rapid expansion and loss of profitability due to his cavalier style of management and approach to expansion.

Continental International was one of the largest airlines in the country and merged with United Airlines in 2011. Robert received numerous accolades for his work at Continental. In 1971, Robert was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame for his development of Continental in Denver, followed by his induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1980.

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Treesa Meera Joseph
Treesa Meera Joseph
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