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Convair CV-880


Convair CV-880

Convair 880
A Delta Air Lines 880 in flight shortly after delivery. Delta was a customer of the type, and had the second largest fleet, behind TWA.
Role Narrow-body jet airliner
Manufacturer Convair
First flight January 27, 1959
Primary users Trans World Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Japan Airlines
Cathay Pacific
Produced 1959-1962
Number built 65
Variants Convair 990

The Convair 880 was a narrow-body jet airliner produced by the Convair division of General Dynamics. It was designed to compete with the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 by being smaller and faster, a niche that failed to create demand. When it was first introduced some aviation circles claimed that at 615 mph it was the fastest jet transport in the world.[1] Only 65 Convair 880s were produced over the lifetime of the production run from 1959 to 1962, and General Dynamics eventually withdrew from the airliner market after considering the 880 project a failure. The Convair 990 was a stretched and faster variant of the 880.

Design and development

Convair began development of a medium-range commercial jet in April 1956, to compete with announced products from Boeing and Douglas. Initially the design was called the Skylark but the name was later changed to the Golden Arrow, then Convair 600 and then finally the 880, both numbers referring to its top speed of 600 mph (970 km/h) or 880 ft/s (268 m/s). It was powered by General Electric CJ-805-3 turbojets, a civilian version of the J79 which powered the F-104 Starfighter and F-4 Phantom.[2]

The first example of the initial production version, the Model 22, made its maiden flight on January 27, 1959;[3] there was no prototype. After production started the FAA mandated additional instrumentation, which Convair added by placing a "raceway" hump on the top of the fuselage, rather than ripping apart the interiors over the wing area. The final assembly of the 880 and 990 took place at the Convair facilities in San Diego, California.[4]

The airliner never became widely used and the production line shut down after only three years. The 880's five-abreast seating made it unattractive to airlines, while Boeing was able to out-compete it with the Boeing 720, which could be sold much more cheaply as it was a minimal modification of the existing 707. In addition, the General Electric engines had a higher specific fuel consumption than the Boeing's Pratt & Whitney JT3Cs.

General Dynamics lost around $185 million over the lifetime of the project, although some sources estimate much higher losses. It is generally agreed that the losses incurred in the Convair 880/990 were the largest losses incurred by a corporation up to that time. The aircraft was involved in 17 accidents and five hijackings.

A modified version of the 880 became the Convair 990 Coronado, produced in parallel between 1961 and 1963.

Operational history

The design entered service with Delta Air Lines just over a year later, in May 1960, slightly modified as the 880-22m, having newer version 805-3B engines. 880s were flown by Cathay Pacific, Delta, Japan, Northeast, Swissair, TWA and VIASA. One of Elvis Presley's private jets was an 880, formerly in commercial service with Delta and nicknamed "the Lisa Marie".[5] The last aircraft was withdrawn from commercial service by major operators in 1975.

As they left commercial service, many 880s were bought by American Jet Industries for various uses. One example was converted to freighter use in 1974, and flew until 1982 with various companies. Another was used to train FAA flight examiners until it was destroyed in a minor explosion in the cargo hold in 1995. Most of the remaining examples were scrapped by 2000. One was used as a movie prop for the Amazing Stories television program.

The United States Navy purchased one 880 which was modified as an in-flight tanker. Unofficially designated UC-880, it was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, and employed in Tomahawk cruise missile testing and aircraft refueling procedures.[6] The UC-880 was destroyed in a cargo hold explosion test at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland in 1995.[7]


♠ original operators

Civil operators

Military operators

 United States


According to author Niall Booth, there were only nine airframes left in the world as of December 2005 — five in the United States, and one each in Haiti, Portugal, Venezuela and South Africa. None are airworthy, and only one is properly preserved: Elvis Presley's Lisa Marie (named after his daughter), at Graceland in Memphis. One of the other four U.S. aircraft was subsequently cut up for scrap in April 2007, although the forward fuselage is being saved for use in a museum. The one existing in Portugal was placed near the Lisbon Airport and converted into a strip club until being sold for scrap. It was destroyed on April 28, 2008.[8] In addition, the forward fuselage of former TWA Convair 880 N803TW (MSN 3) is being restored at the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey for eventual display.[9]

Ex Japan Airlines Convair 880 MSN 22-7-6-58 (58th produced) was converted into a business jet in the 1970s (registration N88CH). It was purchased by the Ciskei government in 1987 intended for use by president Lennox Sebe, however it remained at Bhisho Airport for several years due to a lack of funds for making it airworthy. In 1992 it was purchased by Billy Nel (now Eastern Cape Provincial Finance MEC), who had it transported to his private residence north of East London, South Africa. The 1970s VIP interior with couches, beds and a bar remain intact and it is used for private functions. One of the engines was donated to the Stutterheim Engine Museum.[7][10][11][12]

Accidents and incidents

  • On May 23, 1960, a Delta Air Lines Convair 880 N8804E crashed on takeoff at Atlanta Municipal Airport (now Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International) resulting in all four crew as fatalities. This flight was to be a training sortie for two Delta captains who were being type-rated on the 880. At rotation the aircraft pitched nose up, rolled left and then back more steeply to the right at which time it struck the ground, broke apart and was consumed by a post-crash fire.[13]
  • On November 20, 1967, TWA Flight 128 crashed on approach to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. 70 people were killed and 12 survived.[14]
  • On June 15, 1972, a bomb exploded on board Cathay Pacific Flight 700Z killing 81 passengers and crew.[15]
  • On December 20, 1972, North Central Airlines Flight 575, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-31, collided during its takeoff roll with Delta Air Lines Flight 954, Convair 880 N8807E, as the Convair 880 taxied across the runway at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. Only two people on the Convair 880 were injured, and 10 people died and 15 were injured on board the DC-9.[16]

Specifications (880 Model 22-M)

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1965-66 [17]

General characteristics
  • Crew: 3
  • Capacity: 110 passengers
  • Payload: 24,000 lb (10,900 kg)
  • Length: 129 ft 4 in (39.42 m)
  • Wingspan: 120 ft 0 in (36.58 m)
  • Height: 36 ft 3¾ in (11.00 m)
  • Wing area: 2,000 sq ft (185.8 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 7.2
  • Empty weight: 94,000 lb (42,730 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 193,000 lb (87,730 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × General Electric CJ-805-3B turbojet, 11,650 lbf (51.95 kN) each


See also

Related development
  • Convair 990
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  • Proctor, Jon. Convair 880 & 990. Miami, FL: World Transport Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9626730-4-8.
  • Taylor, John W. R. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1965-66. London: Samson Low, Marston, 1965.
  • Wegg, John. General Dynamic Aircraft and their Predecessors. London:Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-833-X.
  • Wilson, Stewart. Airliners of the World. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd., 1999. ISBN 1-875671-44-7.

External links

  • Aerofiles — Data and photos of Convair aircraft
  • Goleta Air and Space Museum — Information and pictures of various Convair 880s.
  • — An organization focused on preserving several Convair 880s.
  • — Convair 880 Accident Database.
  • Aviation History Online — Convair CV880
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