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The Caravelle set out to conquer America 60 years ago

Published on 10/06/2015 01:00 - By

The history of the Caravelle literally took off 60 years ago. To be precise, it was on 27 May 1955, that one of the world’s first commercial jet aircraft undertook its maiden flight. The name of the French jet referred to the type of ships that Christopher Columbus sailed in, and reflected the manufacturer's ambitions to conquer the US market.

One of the main features of the aircraft were its aft-mounted engines which reduced cabin noise and vibration. Matthew Lord, Aeroscopia museum guide: "Part of the history of this ‘plane was the initial idea to use three French jet engines. Finally, they adopted the British, Rolls Royce Avon engine (twin-jet configuration), but they kept the location of the engines to the rear of the plane."

Assembled in Toulouse (south western France), the Caravelle entered service in 1959. At that time, apart from a few aircraft like the Boeing 707, the De Havilland Comet, or the Tupolev 104, the French medium-haul was almost the only one of its type on the market. With its 130 seating capacity and 3,400 kilometres (2,100 miles) range, the twin-jet was initially highly successful. Matthew Lord, Aeroscopia museum guide: "It sold a little on every continent, include in Europe to Air France and SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System), and found buyers quite quickly in South America, Argentina, Brazil, and with one new aircraft customer in the United States, United Airlines."

Although it became the flagship of the French aviation industry, the Caravelle was not the commercial success expected. Its small baggage hold volume of 16 m3 (565 ft.3), together with the arrival of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and Boeing 727, hastened its fall from favour, leading to the production line stopping in 1973. Thirty years on, the Caravelle has become a museum piece.

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