Convair Propliners in South Africa
A brief history of Convair and an introduction to the Convair propliners
Convair Propliners in South Africa
There is plenty of information about Convair, its history and aircraft, available in books and on the internet. However a brief introduction to the Company and the aircraft that have seen service in South Africa follows.
The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, initially known informally as Convair, was formed as a result of the merger, in 1943, between Vultee Aircraft Company and Consolidated Aircraft Company and was under the control of AVCO.
In 1953 General Dynamics, a large defence conglomerate, acquired Convair and it became the “Convair Division” of General Dynamics.
The Company was well-known for its innovative and high-tech research and produced pioneering aircraft such as the Convair B-36 bomber, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart and the first Atlas rockets including those that were used in the Project Mercury manned orbital flights.
Based in the San Diego area Convair, as a company, existed from 1943 until 1994 when General Dynamics sold off the Convair Division and other units to McDonnell Douglas.
This website is purely for the Convair propliners that have seen service in South Africa and were part of the Convair 240/340/440/540/580/600/640/5800 family.
American Airlines wanted a suitable replacement for the Douglas DC-3 and chose the Convair 240. This short haul aircraft, which first flew on 16 March 1947, was quite an advanced aircraft of the time having a fully pressurised cabin, hydraulically actuated fowler flaps, integral folding passenger airstairs either forward of the wing or ventral at the rear like the Boeing 727. The launch customer was American Airlines an entered service on 1 June 1948.
The Convair 340 was a slightly larger aircraft, the fuselage being extended by 1.37m (4 ft 6 in) and the wingspan increased to 32.1m (105ft 4in). Fitted with more powerful Pratt and Whitney engines the 340 carried 44 passengers. The 340 prototype, registered N3401 made its first flight on 5 October 1951. The option of rear ventral airstairs was discontinued with the 340.
Convair continued to refine the design and the 440 was subsequently produced, selling better in Europe than in America. In Europe the aircraft became known as the Metropolitan. European operators included Iberia, Lufthansa, Sabena, SAS and Swissair.
Dimensions were similar to the 340. Improvements to soundproofing were made and the twin exhaust system found on the 240 and 340 were replaced with a new design. Weather radar too became an option with many operators having the feature installed.
Many aircraft manufacturers have “breathed new life” into old models by converting from piston to turboprop power. Convair was one such manufacturer and eventually the 580 was developed using the Allison 501D13 power plant. First flight for the Convair 580 was 19 January 1960. Frontier Airlines was the first to operate the type with 1 June 1964 being the airlines first Convair 580 servcie.
As of January 2013 many 580s are still in service with a variety of operators, some passenger and the bulk as freighters.
The 640 was powered by the Rolls Royce R.Da.10/1 Dart Turboprops.
The 5800 was the brainchild of Kelowna Flightcraft based in British Columbia. The company spent over five years developing and certifying the Convair 5800 with the assistance of Allison and General Dynamics.
Kelowna take the proven Convair Model 340, 440, and 580 airframe and add a 14’3” stretch to provide increased capacity. Power is provided by two Allison 501-D22G (Series III) Propjet Engines, de-rated to 4300 TSHP. Payload is 22,000 pounds with a 325 mph (523 kmh) cruise speed. The 5800 has Honeywell Sperry SPZ-4500 Digital EFIS and integrated flight control system.
Many of the Convairs were built for the US Air Force as the C-131 and T-29 in a variety of versions, and for the US Navy as the R4Y. The R4Y was re-designated as C-131.
Production figures are as follows:
1076 built in total
566 240s (incl 364 T-29s and 26 C-131s)
311 340s (incl 65 C-131s)
199 440s (incl 21 C-131s)
10 turboprop 540s built by Canadair.
38 240s converted to 600s
170 340s and 440s converted to 580s
27 340s and 440s converted to 640s
As at January 2013 there are 6 Convair 5800s
The fact that the Convair propliners fly on is testimony to the sound original design.