Charles “Charlie” Herbert Dolson was born May 13, 1906, in St. Louis, MO. Charlie had a pioneering, 45-year career in the aviation industry, most of which was accomplished as a 50+ year resident of Georgia. He is still one of the only line pilots to rise through the ranks to become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a major US airline. While Charlie’s achievements as the head of a major US corporation are impressive, his career as a pilot is equally as important and contributed much to his and Delta’s success. Charlie’s career spanned from single-seat planes of the 1920s, to the earliest passenger planes, and to the first passenger jet airliners of the 1960s. Charlie led Delta’s transition to jet service helping to solidify the carrier’s prominence and importance to Georgia’s economy as one of the state’s largest private employers.
Charlie learned to fly with the U.S. Navy in 1926 (Naval Aviator #4436). From 1928-1930, he flew Boeing F3Bs from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Saratoga. He received his commercial pilot's license on November 21, 1929. He was then hired as a test pilot for the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company. He subsequently joined American Airways in 1931 and worked the early US Mail runs between St. Louis-Omaha, Chicago-Atlanta (via Evansville, Nashville, and Chattanooga).
Charlie joined the Delta Air Corporation, then located in Monroe, LA, as a captain on June 17, 1934. He was one of seven pilots at Delta, flying Stinson Ts. He piloted the inaugural mail routes from Candler Field, now Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to Charlotte, NC, Columbus, SC, and other cities. He piloted a Stinson Tri-Motor to Charleston, SC, to announce passenger service to Monroe, LA. In 1934, Dolson survived the crash in a Stinson T Trimotor due to mechanical failure. Shortly afterwards, he is a key figure in unionizing Delta pilots and is a co-founder of Air Lines Pilots Association (ALPA) at Delta in 1935. In 1940, he became Delta's Chief Pilot and one year later, Delta moved its headquarters to Atlanta. On February 22, 1954, Capt. Dolson piloted the inaugural flight of Delta’s first DC-7 from Jacksonville, FL, to Santa Monica, CA, in six hours at an average speed of 371 miles per hour. Just 5 years later Delta is the first airline to purchase the Douglas DC-8 passenger jet.
While serving in the Naval Reserves, Charlie survived a crash in a Stinson-A in 1936, while taking off on a test flight from Atlanta Naval Air Station. During World War II, Charlie was recalled to active Navy duty and served three years as operations officer of the Naval Air Transport service in the Pacific. On October 4, 1941, Lt. Dolson survived a crash in a GH-2 Nightingale in Honolulu, HI. He would retire from the United States Naval Reserve Force as Lieutenant Commander.
In October 1947, he was promoted to Delta Vice President-Operations, and then Executive Vice President-Operations in January 1959. He had already been elected to Delta's Board of Directors in January 1955. Charlie succeeded C.E. Woolman as Delta's second President on November 1, 1965. On September 14, 1966, after Woolman's death, the Board designated him as Acting Board Chairman. Although CEO duties were added, his title remained President. In 1967, he attended an US Industrial Payroll Savings Committee meeting at the White House with President Lyndon B. Johnson. Charlie was formally elected as Delta’s Chairman of the Board and CEO on January 22, 1970. He 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 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 then Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. This development included the 63-acre Delta Technical Operation Center in 1960 while he was VP of Operations.
During his distinguished career, Charlie received these selected recognitions: Secretary of the Navy Commendation with ribbon (1945), the Alumni Award from Washington University, St. Louis, MO (1967), and the Gold medal for extraordinary service from the FAA (1972). He also received other rewards during his illustrious career. Charlie passed away on September 4, 1992, at the Georgia Baptist Medical Center of Atlanta, GA.
*This biographical sketch is taken from the Delta Flight Museum with additional notes and dates added by the family.