The Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair was a large piston-engine transport aircraft. It began as a C-54, converted into an air ferry by Freddie Laker's Aviation Traders (Engineering) Limited (ATL), allowing it to carry 25 passengers and five cars, loaded at the front.
Design and development
The nose cone of the original aircraft was replaced with one 8 ft 8 inches longer, the cockpit being raised to allow a sideways hinged nose door. More powerful wheel brakes and an enlarged tail, often thought to be a Douglas DC-7 unit, but actually a completely new design, were added. The engines were four Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp radial engines.
The prototype conversion first flew on 21 June 1961. Twenty-one Carvairs were produced in the UK, with production of aircraft 1, 11 and 21 at Southend Airport and the balance at Stansted Airport. The final three aircraft were delivered to Ansett Australia, which supplied its own DC-4s to ATL for conversion, unlike the previous 18 aircraft that were purchased by ATL and either sold on or transferred to associate company British United Air Ferries (BUAF). One of the two aircraft still flying in June 2007 is an ex-Ansett airframe. A second Ansett aircraft was abandoned at Phnom-Penh in 1975. The first flight of the last conversion, number 21, for Ansett, was on 12 July 1968.
The Carvair was used by Aer Lingus, BUAF and British Air Ferries (BAF) among others, and was used in Congo-Kinshasa during 1960-1964, under contract to the United Nations. Aircraft for Aer Lingus were quickly convertible between 55 seats and 22 seats with five cars. Some aircraft were pure freighters with only nine seats. One aircraft had 55 high-density seats and room for three cars. British Air Ferries were the last operator in Europe of the aircraft, keeping them flying into the 1970s.
British United Carvairs made appearances in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, seen in the background as James Bond boarding an airplane for Switzerland, and in The Prisoner in the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", where it is seen loading through the nose, taking off and then landing again.
Of the 21 airframes, eight were destroyed in crashes (one each in Rotterdam, Holland 1962; Karachi, Pakistan 1967; Twin Falls, Canada 1968; Le Touquet, France 1971; and four in the USA: Miami, FL 1969; Venetie, AK 1997; Griffin, GA also in 1997; and McGrath, AK in 2007.) Perhaps the best known Carvair crash was the one at Griffin in April 1997, where on its take-off run the (5th production) Carvair suffered catastrophic engine failure, failed to become properly airborne, and crashed into a vacant Piggly Wiggly supermarket past the airport perimeter, killing both pilots.
There was just one airworthy example as of April 2008. The Zambian registered 9J-PAA, the 21st and final Carvair built was in South Africa with Phoebus Apollo Aviation, although now removed from the Zambian register the owner plans to return it to the skies for airshows. The second (N89FA / "Miss 1944", the 9th Carvair) is based in Denison, Texas, and flies with Gator Global Flying Services on ad-hoc cargo charters throughout the United States. This was the aircraft that participated in the 2005 World Freefall Convention in Rantoul, Illinois, setting the record for the largest number of people to fly in a Carvair when it carried 80 skydivers and five crew to an altitude of 10,500 feet. Piloted by Captain John Harms and Captain Chris Rice, the climb took 38 minutes. The skydivers exited the large freight door at the rear of the aircraft.
Another Carvair (N898AT, the 20th built) had been airworthy but was written off after crashing while landing on 30 May 2007 at the airstrip at Nixon Fork Mine in Alaska.
It is believed that the remains of the 7th Carvair still remain on a sand and gravel bar in the Chandalar River near Venetie, Alaska. The cockpit section of the 8th Carvair, CF-EPV remains near the former Halesworth Airfield in Suffolk, England, and the 18th Carvair, ex Aviaco / Dominicana HI-172, is rumored to still exist at the Hotel El Embajador in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, as a bar/discothèque.
Published - July 2009
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