Meet The Convair 880: Delta’s Jet That Set a Speed Record

Delta Air Lines chose the Douglas DC-8 as its first-ever jet-powered aircraft. However, with the Atlanta-based carrier looking to ramp up its fleet as it entered a new era, it was also the first carrier to take delivery of the Convair 880.

Convair 880 Delta
The Convair 880 spent 14 years in Delta’s fleet. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Smart investment

The narrowbody was the fastest subsonic commercial jet at the time. It could reach speeds of 586 mph, with a range of 2,600 miles (4184 km). Additionally, it was powered by four General Electric CJ-805-3B engines and could hold 94 passengers in an all first class configuration.

Delta understood the importance of being well-equipped for the jet age that the United States was entering. Therefore, by snapping up such a powerful aircraft, the company would be in a strong position to compete against its rivals.

Delta’s founder, C.E. Woolman, said the following about the jet era, according to the Delta Flight Museum.

“Each of the many forward steps in aviation which have occurred since your company first began passenger service 30 years ago has been accompanied by its own unique problems, and the forthcoming jet era will be no exception. Delta personnel, experience, and equipment enable us to face the future with confidence, and we look forward to continuing full participation in this new chapter in aviation history.”

Delta Convair 880
Delta’s leadership didn’t underestimate the importance of getting ahead in the jet race. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Strong start

The Delta Flight Museum also shares that Miss San Diego Leona McCurdy christened this unit with a bottle of water from various rivers throughout the Mississippi Delta system, which the airline is named after. Subsequently, on February 10th, 1960, it had set off for Miami from Southern California to be delivered to the carrier.

Additionally, with this flight, the jet broke a new commercial speed record between San Diego and Miami. It performed the trip in just three hours, 31 minutes, and 54 seconds.

The first Delta Convair 880 passenger flight was on May 15th, 1960. It flew to New York City from Houston. After that, the initial regular service was to Atlanta, Houston, and New Orleans. Each of these destinations was served from New York’s Idlewild Airport, which is now JFK International.

Five years later, the aircraft ventured into international operations. In December 1965, the plane commenced operations across the Caribbean Sea to Caracas, Venezuela, and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Delta Convair 880 interior
It was a classy affair onboard Delta’s Convair 880. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Fulfilled its purpose

Af the turn of the 1970s, revolutions in aircraft engineering opened up new opportunities for airlines. With new, more cost-effective options now on the scene, the narrow, short fuselage of the Convair 880 limited potential. Moreover, Delta was looking to save money on fuel costs.

Therefore, all of Delta’s remaining units of the jet were sold to Boeing between November 1973 and January 1974. Altogether, the airline took delivery of 17 of the planes, and the type undoubtedly helped it on its way with the emergence of the jet age.

What are your thoughts on the Delta Convair 880? Did you have a chance to fly on the aircraft? Let us know what you think of the plane in the comment section.