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Convair CV-880

Specifications & Limitations

Length 129.3 ft
Wingspan 120.0 ft
Range 2,858 mi
Passenger Capacity 0
Freight Capacity 65,000 lbs
Cruise Speed M .84 @ FL350
Ceiling 41,000 ft (est.)
MLW 155,000 lbs
ZFW 121,500 lbs
190,000 lbs

At the 50's De Havilland Comet was a real revolution at the field of commercial airplanes as it was the first civil aircraft with jet engines. That aircraft was very good but after some time problems came up, problems that hurt its reliability. So, American manufacturers found space to move and create their own commercial jet airplanes. Boeing created the legendary 707 and Douglas the DC-8 but there was still great need in jet planes.

The passengers were able to pay something more to travel with speed and luxury. So, Howard Hughes, an eccentric shareholder of TWA, gave the idea to Convair to create a new jet plane that could carry passengers at high speeds and with comfort. Hughes also promised that TWA would buy a large number of these revolutionary aircraft.

The negotiations between Hughes and Convair were very difficult because Hughes wanted them to take place in secret locations and in strange times! Due to these peculiar factors the result of the negotiations was few aircraft sales. Despite that, Convair was convinced that with the support of Hughes, it could start the design of the Model 22 (Convair 880).

The first plans of Convair were to design an aircraft that would have golden paint instead of the classic silver. That's why the company would call this aircraft “Golden Arrow” and that would be the aircraft's trademark. Painting the aircrafts with gold paint was so difficult that Convair changed its plans without mentioning that. The new plane had 4 engines that could allow it to be one of the fastest planes.

At first, Convair 880 would use the Pratt & Whitney J57 but they were rejected and the aircraft decided to use the General Electric CJ-805, a civil version of the military engine J79 which was placed at the Convair B-58 Hustler. The new plane should be able to land and take off from small runways (about 5,000ft). Its speed was over 990km/h, making it one of the fastest planes ever. In addition, it had 5 seats at each row, instead of the 6 seats per row of the competition, one of the conditions of Hughes, something that increased the comfort but also the cost of every passenger per mile. The first delivery was done in January 1961 with 1,5 years delay.

TWA ordered about 30 aircrafts but while 18 of them were under construction, the airline announced that it couldn't pay Convair! That problem was solved and TWA obtained 27 aircrafts. The problem was that the orders were not enough and Convair was selling the aircraft at a very low price that was not able to cover the cost for its construction! Convair managed to sell only 47 aircrafts in the USA and should find new customers from abroad. Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and other airlines showed interest but finally, only 65 planes were constructed. It was then that Convair made another mistake by promising to American Airlines to develop an improved version of 880 for an order of 25 aircrafts, the Model 30 (Convair 990).

The new aircraft was using improved engines, the General Electric CJ-805-23B. Convair promised that the 990 would have maximum speed of 1,116km/h. The plane was designed with modern techniques so as to decrease the drag force. Simultaneously, measures were taken in order to increase the range of the aircraft. Despite the promised performance, only American Airlines, Swissair, SAS and Varig ordered it.

When the first 990's were completed in 1961, the results were disappointing. The aircraft didn't have the expected performance. The airlines were annoyed with that and SAS cancelled the order. The plane didn't have enough range (not even for a flight form the western coast of USA to the eastern) and speed was not the promised one. So, Convair had to urgently do something to fix the problems. So, the company did many modifications to the aircraft and informed the companies that in a year the aircraft would have the suitable performance. American Airlines used 20 aircrafts, instead of the 25 ordered, Swissair used 8 and Varig 3. Only 35 Convair 990 were constructed (including aircrafts that were not delivered) and the last commercial flight of the type was done in 1987.

Convair lost in the programme of 880/990 more than 450 million dollars in 1962 prices! That price was a quarter of the total value of the company! The damage was very big. Despite that, Convair 880/990 was included at the best planes ever created! Their comfort, high speed and reliability made them very popular and every pilot wanted to fly them.

Courtesy Dimitris Papadogiannis


Author Historic Jetliners Group

Altair Weavers & Painters Guild

Date Added

April 17, 2004

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