There is wild, no doubt, and then there is World Airways wild. This company was the brainchild of Edward J. Daly, an iconoclast whose management and leadership made the corporation, based in Oakland, California, into one of the most important of the nonscheduled air carriers operating in the United States. Daly built an aggressive organization, largely on the basis of contracts with the U.S. military.
For example, in 1956 he contracted his two war-surplus C-46Es, the only aircraft World owned at the time, to assist with Operation SAFE HAVEN, the transport of refugees fleeing Hungary to the United States. A major step forward came on 15 June 1960 when World obtained a LOGAIR transcontinental contract to deliver parts and supplies between military installations. This action assured a solvent corporation and laid the groundwork for future expansion.
In May 1962 World Airways demonstrated its expansive philosophy by placing an order for three of the new Boeing 707‑320Cs. This was the first jet aircraft order from any of the supplemental carriers and it made World one of the most attractive of these carriers. World prospered during the following years, in part because of the 1962 passage of the Supplemental Air Carrier Act designed to weed out weaker and less safe carriers, steadily expanding its private charter business, but especially finding a niche as a contractor to the Department of Defense. Beginning in the mid‑1960s it became one of the principal commercial carriers airlifting military personnel between the United States and Southeast Asia. Each year the American grew there World’s profits rose.
Daly did not allow World to be solely a DOD contractor, however. Daly applied to the Civil Aeronautics Board on April 26, 1967, to move into the scheduled airlines ranks by proposing to operate a $79 transcontinental thrift fare service. Although this plan was not approved, World Airways still continued to branch into new areas. By the end of the decade of the 1960s it was operating a fleet of nine Boeing 707s and four Boeing 727s to provide both intra‑ and intercontinental jet service on a charter basis. It improved this fleet with the acquisition of Boeing 747s in 1973 and DC‑10s in 1978.
In the forced withdrawal of Americans and other refugees from South Vietnam in 1975, World Airways let its wildness show. It operated several missions into Da Nang and Saigon as North Vietnamese forces were surrounding those cities before the final capitulation of the nation.
Daly took two Boeing 727s to Da Nang to evacuate Americans as the government collapsed. It was anything but orderly. Soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children fought to climb aboard. Daly, who had gone back to assist refugees, was mauled as able-bodied men threw off those less capable of defending themselves. At one point Daly threatened some with a pistol. Almost immediately someone yelled, “We’re full,” and the pilot accelerated the 727 down the taxiway as people climbed onto the wings, and then fell off as the jet became airborne.
A distraught soldier hurled a hand grenade and badly damaged the flaps on the right side. The pilot could not retract his landing gear because several people had crawled into the wheel wells. Shortly after the 727 became airborne, the pilot of the second airplane reported seeing someone lose his grip on the landing gear and fall to his death. The saddest aspect of this flight, there were only ten women and one baby among the 268 people who jammed themselves into the airplanes and into the wheel wells. This was the last flight out of Da Nang. The next day it fell to the North Vietnamese without additional resistance.
Daly did pretty much the same thing on April 2, flying an unauthorized World Airways DC-8 flight evacuating 58 orphans and 27 adults from Saigon. Daly’s maverick approach toward these evacuation flights were implicitly sanctioned the next day when President Gerald R. Ford announced that the United States government would provide airlift for over 2,000 other Vietnamese orphans in a program called Operation BABYLIFT. Daly and World were heavily involved in this effort as well. Of the 2,894 orphans that reached the United States between April 3 and May 9, 1975, the date that the State Department officially ended the evacuation of the children, World Airways joined other privately contracted airlines to carry 1,090 of them.
Hailed as a hero by the media, Daly’s actions in the Vietnam evacuation were not always appreciated by government officials. When censured Daly sent a Telex to President Ford:
We have just been notified…that our contract with the Military Airlift Command for the supply of food to Cambodia has been terminated effective this date….There is no wonder that the peoples of the world have lost their confidence in the U.S. government and its people….With all due respect to you and your worldwide problems, Mr. President, I strongly urge that you get the incompetents out of there immediately and appoint someone with the intelligence, competency and the guts necessary to get the job done. You don’t have days or weeks—you only have minutes.”
Daly’s contracts were reinstated. He was also profiled in People magazine in 1975 for his exploits.
The fall of South Vietnam was the high point in a World Airways career laced with action and not a little adventure. Daly savored the limelight that his flights out with refugees brought him.
Thereafter, World continued to lead as a charter air carrier. While it faced severe financial difficulties during the early 1980s, in part due to the deregulation of the airline industry, it was able to weather the crisis and continue its role as the primary supplemental carrier into the last decade of the twentieth century.