United began operating to the Hawaiian islands during World War Two, as part of a military contract using Douglas C-54 Skymasters to connect as far as Australia. Though the beyond Hawaii services were cut after the war the Hawaiian routes would go from strength to strength using DC-6s, B-377 Stratocruisers and the new DC-8-20s. By the end of the 1960s however United was looking for something with longer reach so it could service Hawaii from the East coast. Douglas had just the thing.
United Airlines had operated its DC-8 jets to Honolulu from West Coast cities since not long after they entered operation. The March 1, 1960 timetable is the first to advertise United's exclusive DC-8 service. In fact they advertised:
"Now Hawaii is so close to New York that you can leave the east coast at 9:00 am and be in Honolulu at 4:15 pm the same day. Leave Chicago at 10:00 am and be there at 4:15 pm. Or leave the west coast at 8:45 am, be in Hawaii by noon! Red Carpet service or economical Custom Coach on the DC-8 - Best of the Jets."
By June 1960 flights to Honolulu were exclusively flown with the new DC-8s. The arrival of the new stretch DC-8-61s in early 1967 saw them quickly deployed on the old short eight routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco, which operated to both Honolulu and Hilo.
Fortunately United had been planning ahead and was able to take advantage of the more advanced members of the DC-8 Super Sixty series. By radically modifying the engine pods and pylons, plus extending the wingtips by 3ft each, a range of efficiencies were realised whilst also, thanks to extra fuel storage, increasing range to over 6,000 miles. The extra economy even allowed a pair of 40 inch plugs to be added fore and aft of the wing enabling an improved seat pitch (but no increase in capacity to over 189 passengers). The modifications were tested on a DC-8-50 in April 1964 confirming their success. This new aircraft was christened the DC-8-62 and in fact it was this type, not the 61, that launched the Super Sixty series when SAS booked 4+4 in April 1965.
The first DC-8-62 took flight on August 29, 1966. The test flight period of the 62 went reasonably smoothly, despite Douglas' escalating internal problems. The only real issue was wing flutter at over 418 knots, but this was solved by a redesign of the fuel management system, which allowed retention of reserve fuel in the outer wings increasing their stiffness. Still by December 1962 the DC-8-62 was the slowest selling of the 3 base models of the Super Sixty, with 16 sold - compared to 45 Series 61s and 29 Series 63s. The DC-8-62 entered service with launch customers SAS, Braniff and Alitalia in late 1967.
The superb long-range capability of the DC-8-62 made it a natural fit for United's new Hawaiian services and so at a time when DC-8 sales were stagnating, due to the arrival of the new widebody jets on the sales scene, it ordered 10. These new aircraft would open up Royal Hawaiian service from Chicago and New York as well as San Diego and Los Angeles. Looking at the timetables it looks like they sometimes stopped in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit also. Service began on August 1, 1969 on the 4,340 mile Chicago-Honolulu service.
The DC-8-62s were registered N8966U-N8975U with two aircraft receiving names. N8967U became Mainliner Harold Creary and N8970U became Mainliner Hilo Hattie. The latter was named for the famous Hawaiian actress, singer, hula dancer and comedian. One of the DC-8-62s, N8972U, was sold after only four years, to Air Jamaica, but the remainder continued in service into the early 1980s. During this period they wore the full range of United's liveries starting with the Mainliner, moving to the 'Stars and Bars' and ending in the 'Saul Bass Tulip'. All of the 62s would see further service with second line carriers like Arrow Air, Rich International, ONA, Zantop and ATI, with a few even seeing a return to Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines. Certainly the Super 62s served a valuable niche for United allowing it to consolidate its position on the routes to the Hawaiian islands.
Davies, R.E.G. Airlines of the United States since 1914
Waddington, T. Great Airlines Series: Volume 2 - Douglas DC-8
Cearley, G.E. United: The Main Line Airway
Aeromoe's United Fleet