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TWA Northrop Alpha 4A


Model ID#:










Alpha 4A



Model Scale:




historical significance

First Albuquerque Visit:    1931

SKU: Model-0216 Categories: ,

Additional Information:

The Northrop Alpha was an American single-engine, all-metal, seven-seat, low-wing monoplane used in the 1930s. The design of the quick mail and passenger transport aircraft was accomplished at the Avion Corporation, which in 1929, became the Northrop Aircraft Corporation based in Burbank, California.

The designer, John K. Northrop, used his experience with the Lockheed Vega to design an advanced mail and passenger transport aircraft. In addition to the all-metal construction, the Alpha design capitalized on two revolutionary aerodynamic advancements, wing fillets, and Northrop’s design for a multicellular stressed-skin wing also used successfully on the Douglas DC-2 and Douglas DC-3 aircraft. The aircraft first flew in 1930 and a total of 17 were eventually built. The Alpha was further developed into a dedicated fast transport, called the Northrop Gamma.

TWA, which was based in New York City, began operations as Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) on July 8, 1929 with a coast to coast route from Los Angeles to New York. Western Air Express (WAE), a competing air carrier, had begun service to Albuquerque two months earlier with a similar route from Los Angeles but their route continued on east to Amarillo, Wichita, and Kansas City. WAE was also operating other routes but due to the great depression and a ruling called the Watres Bill which involved awarding a new air mail contract that both carriers needed, TAT and the Los Angeles to Kansas City route of WAE were forced to merge. The merger took place on July 16, completed by July 24, 1930, and the one carrier became known as Transcontinental and Western Air, or “TWA”. In April 1945, a ticket office was opened in downtown Albuquerque at the Hilton Hotel which remained open through the 1970s.

The Alpha entered service with Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) making its inaugural flight on April 20, 1931. The trip from San Francisco to New York required 13 stops and took just over 23 hours. TWA operated 14 aircraft until 1935, flying routes with stops in San Francisco, California; Winslow, Arizona; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Amarillo, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Terre Haute, Indiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New York.

TWA’s Alpha’s were initially operated for passenger service but the aircraft were later modified at the Stearman factory in Wichita into the cargo-carrying 4A model with a new type of certification. Both Stearman and Northrop had the same parent company at the time.

TWA flew the Northrop Alphas through Albuquerque beginning in 1931. The Alphas carried mail and an occasional passenger and some of the aircraft identified were NC11Y, NC933Y, and NX13758.