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Before Concorde defined what it meant to fly fast, there was another airliner that tried to push the speed of air travel. With outside the box engineering, the Convair 990A cruised faster than any airliner before it. The Convair 990A is still the fastest non-supersonic commercial transport to have ever been produced.
While the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 are recognized as the first American jetliners, Convair had also introduced a jetliner, the 880 around the same time. While Convair’s jet looked similar to its rivals, the company tried to capture a different segment of the market, betting that there was a market niche for a medium ranged, smaller, faster and more luxurious jet. Yet, airlines showed very little interest in the Convair 880.
But in 1958, Convair had another opportunity to try to establish itself in the jet airliner market. The company would work American Airlines to modify the 880 into an even faster jet, one that could cross the country at least 45 minutes quicker than its Boeing and Douglas rivals. But this proved to be a huge technical challenge, as airliners like the Boeing 707 were already flying near the limit of subsonic speeds. Between subsonic and supersonic is a speed regime called transonic. In this middle ground, drag on an aircraft dramatically increases. So Convair and its partner General Electric would innovate to produce the world’s first turbofan powered airliner and the first airliner with anti-shock bodies integrated into the trailing edges of its wings.
After numerous development setbacks, Convair engineer’s had built the world’s fastest subsonic airliner. However, by the time it took the skies, Boeing and Douglas were firmly established as leaders in the new jet age. Convair’s airliners, with their little bit of extra speed and luxury, at the cost of practicality, range and efficiency wasn’t what the market wanted. Reportedly, the company lost nearly half a billion dollars building their 880 and 990 jetliners, and they’d never build another one again. #Convair #990 Coronado #Airplanes #NotQuiteSupersonic
Special thanks to Major Kong for allowing us to draw inspiration (and a couple genius one liners) from his fascinating article:
‘Great Might Have Beens - Convair 880’ https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2015/1/12/1357004/-Great-Might-Have-Beens-Convair-880
For an authoritative resource on the Convair 990 development, see:
Kutney, John T. (2007) “The Inside Story of the Convair 990: The Fastest Subsonic Airliner in the World”, 43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit
For a comprehensive history of the 880 and 990 development see:
Proctor, John (1996) “Convair 880 & 990 (Great Airliners Series, Vol. 1)”, World Transport Press
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