by Paula Bosse
It’s a bowling alley. …In an airplane.
As publicity stunts go, this one was pretty good. It even had a cutesy name: Operation AstroBowl. American Airlines wanted to promote their great big Boeing 707 cargo planes, so someone came up with the idea of putting a bowling alley in one of them. Happily, a company that manufactured bowling alley equipment — American Machine and Foundry (AMF) — was keen to jump on the promotion bandwagon. They installed the regulation 79-foot lane — complete with automatic pin-setting equipment and gutters — in one of the American Airlines jet freighters. It took 4 days. Looking at the photos, it resembled a very large MRI tube.
Since they had the lane and the equipment in there, they pretty much had to get a couple of champion players on board to bowl a few mid-air frames. As luck would have it, the National All-Star Tournament (aka “The World Series of Bowling”) was — hey! — to be held in Dallas at Fair Park Coliseum a week after the stunt. Serendipity! Champions Dick Weber and Sylvia Wene were roped in to play a 5-mile-high game in the sky.
So much to promote!
Operation AstroBowl took place on January 6, 1964 at cruising altitude between New York’s Kennedy International Airport and Love Field. Sylvia won. Barely. But this story made it into countless newspapers across the country the following day, so, really, it was the publicists who won. Drinks, I’m sure, were on them.
Sources & Notes
Top photo appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook and was brought to my attention by Steve Dirkx (thanks, Steve!).
Story and photos by the Associated Press.
If you’re on Facebook, a tiny bit of film footage can we watched here.
Hold the presses! I’ve been translated! Check out this bowling post in Portuguese (!), on a Brazilian bowling site, here.
All images larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.