33 Years In Production: The Story Of The Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner

For many people, the largest and fastest aircraft are the ones that most strongly evoke the majesty and romance of air travel. However, small-scale turboprop airliners also have a vital role to play in the industry, and have done so for many years. One such design is the Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner, which enjoyed a 33-year production cycle.

Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
More than 600 Metroliners have been produced. Photo: 72JanJ via Flickr

Where did it all begin?

The Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner is a classic twin-turboprop design that has seen extensive military and commercial service worldwide. Production of the type began in 1968, but the story of the Metroliner goes further back. Indeed, the aircraft had its roots in the Swearingen Merlin. This was a light business aircraft that first flew in April 1965.

The Merlin could seat up to nine passengers, but, entering the latter stages of the 1960s, Swearingen began to develop a larger twin-turboprop design. This led the US-based aircraft manufacturer to come up with a design known as the Metro.

The company had initially intended for their stretched merlin to seat 22 passengers. However, it later revised this figure to 19. It did so in order to meet an FAA regulation that deemed this to be the maximum number of passengers that an aircraft could carry without a flight attendant onboard. The first Metro took to the skies on August 26th, 1969.

Swearingen Merlin
Swearingen designed the Metro as a 19-seat stretch of the nine-seat Merlin (pictured). Photo: Alec Wilson via Flickr

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Fairchild gets involved

At the time of the type’s first flight, the aircraft was still known simply as the Swearingen Metro. However, financial troubles at the aircraft’s manufacturer led fellow US-based planemaker Fairchild to purchase 90% of Swearingen in 1971.

This was far from a random buy, as Fairchild was already responsible for marketing the Metro. The company was also involved in producing parts for the Metro, specifically its nacelles and wings. This led to the ‘Fairchild’ prefix being added to the plane’s full name.

The original Metro design was known in full as the SA226-TC Metro. This type entered service in 1972, although, after around 20 had been produced, 1974 saw these replaced by the Metro II. This version had larger windows and improved ‘hot and high‘ performance.

Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
The Metroliner entered service in 1972. Photo: Robert Frola via Wikimedia Commons

Developments of the Metro II

These first variants (Metro and Metro II) had a fairly low weight limit of around 5,700 kg.  However, following this restriction being lifted, 1980 saw the latter of these variants recertified as the Metro IIA. This version had a higher maximum weight of 5,941 kg.

It also benefitted from more powerful Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-10 engines. Contrastingly, the original Metro and Metro II had TPE-331-3s powering them. In total, 198 examples from the SA226-TC series, comprising the Metro, Metro II, and Metro IIA, were built.

The rise of the Metro III

Further developments saw a new Metroliner series, known as the SA227, gain certification in 1980. This version was significantly heavier than its predecessors, with its maximum weight ranging from 6,350 to 7,257 kg, depending on the exact variant.

Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
Metro III series aircraft are heavier than their earlier counterparts. Photo: Greg Goebel via Flickr

The SA227 series consisted specifically of three variants. Of these, the most numerous was the Metro III, of which there were a total of 291 production examples. Most of these belonged to the SA227-AC Metro III variant, although 18 SA227-BCs were also produced. Mexico’s Aeroliteral received 15 of these, with the US military taking the other three.

The Metro III’s wingspan was more than three meters wider than earlier Metroliner variants. It also boasted aerodynamic modifications, and differed further from the SA226 series by having four-bladed propellers (rather than the original three).

Two other less numerous variants made up the remainder of the SA227 series. 43 examples of these aircraft were known as the SA227-AT. This umbrella classification covered both the corporate (Merlin IVC, 21 examples) and cargo (Expediter, 22 examples) versions.

Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
The SA227-AT Expediter was a cargo version of the Metroliner. Photo: YSSYguy via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, five SA227-CCs and 110 SA227-DCs were built to comprise the Metro 23 variant. The Metro 23 had originally been known as the Metro IV, and was more powerful than the Metro III. It also boasted a greater maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) than this version.

Performance and specifications

So what exactly was the Metroliner like when it came to its performance and specifications? Let’s answer this question by taking a look at the figures for the Metro III, the family’s most numerous variant. As we have established, this aircraft, as with all Metroliners, had a maximum capacity of 19 passengers to avoid the need for a flight attendant onboard.

Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
The Metro III is barely longer than 18 meters. Photo: Ronnie Robertson via Flickr

In terms of performance, the Metro III has a maximum speed of 311 knots (576 km/h). However, it cruises at a slower rate, generally doing so at 278 knots (515 km/h). The aircraft has a range of 594 NM (1,100 km), and can fly at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet.

In terms of length, the Metro III stretches to just 18.08 meters long. This is a slightly greater measurement than its 17.37-meter wingspan, whereby the wings have an area of 29 square meters. The Metro III clocks in at just 5.08 meters when it comes to height.

Metroliner Map
The Metroliner remains in service today, with several active examples of the Metro 23 seen inflight over North America at the time of writing. Image: RadarBox.com

The military version

While the Metroliner was primarily conceived as a twin-turboprop airliner, it has also seen service in military roles around the world. Metroliners used for such purposes were given the designation of ‘C-26.’ The US, in particular, is a key market for these aircraft, as the country’s armed forces use them in its Air Force, Army, and Navy divisions.

Several other Caribbean and Central and South American countries also fly military MEtroliners. While production of the type ceased in 2001 after 33 years, it is nice to see that, 20 years later, this classic twin-turboprop design still has a role to play.

What do you make of the Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner? Have you ever flown on one of these classic turboprops? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!