Charles Herbert (Charlie) Dolson had a pioneering, lifelong career in the aviation industry most of which was accomplished as a 50+ year resident of Atlanta, GA. His career began as a Naval Aviator and concluded as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Delta Air Lines, Inc. What makes his career unique and worthy of induction is that he is the only line pilot to rise through the ranks to become the CEO of a major US airline. Charlie’s career spanned from single-seat planes of the 1920s to the first passage jet airliners of the 1960s. Charlie led Delta’s transition in jet service helping to solidify the carrier’s prominence and importance in Georgia’s economy as one of the state’s largest private employers.
Charlie learned to fly with the U.S. Navy in 1926. From 1928-1930, he flew Boeing F3Bs from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga. Received his commercial pilot’s license on November 21, 1929. He was a test pilot for Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company, until he joined American Airways in 1931 to work the mail runs: St. Louis-Omaha, Chicago-Atlanta (via Evansville, Nashville and Chattanooga).
When the U.S. Post Office Department re-awarded air mail contracts in 1934, Dolson joined Delta as a captain on June 17, one of seven pilots at Delta, flying Stinson Ts. In 1940, he became Delta’s Chief Pilot. During World War !!, Dolson was recalled to active Navy duty in 1942, and served three years as operations officer of the Naval Air Transport service in the Pacific. In October 1947, he was promoted to Delta Vice President-Operations, and then Executive Vice President-Operations in January 1959. He was elected to Delta’s Board of Directors in January 1955.
Dolson succeeded C.E. Woolman as Delta’s President on November 1, 1965. On September 14, 1966, after Woolman’s death, the Board designated Dolson as Acting Board Chairman, adding CEO duties but leaving his title as President. He was formally elected Chairman of the Board and CEO on January 22, 1970 and served in this capacity until November 1, 1971, when he retired but remained a member of the Board of Directors.
Charlie’s influence on the aviation industry, the City of Atlanta, and the state of Georgia included not only the development of Delta Air Lines as a major US corporation but also through the progressive development of Candler Field into The Atlanta Municipal Airport and later into Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. This development includes the 63-acre Delta Technical Operations Center in 1960 while he was VP of Operations. This Global Aircraft Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Operations has 9,600 employees and has become one of the best in the world providing services for over 150 airlines.