The Propeller 747 Lookalike: The Aviation Traders Carvair

When spotted, the Boeing 747 sticks out for its distinct shape. However, the Queen of the Skies wasn’t the first plane to adopt the famous hump. The Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair took off for the first time in June 1961, eight years before the jumbo. This plane wasn’t a jet like the 747, but a large transport model powered by four radial engines.

ATL-98 Carvair G-ASKN, BUAF
A British United Air Ferries (BUAF) Carvair operating at Southend, the United Kingdom, in 1967. Photo: Richard Goring via Wikimedia Commons

Meeting demand

Freddie Laker, the owner of a small aviation firm named Aviation Traders Ltd (ATL), wanted to convert surplus examples of the famous Douglas DC-4 and its military derivative, the C-54 Skymaster. This move would provide an inexpensive solution for vehicle transportation. Overall, the industry needed a successor to the increasingly aging Bristol 170 Freighter.

Roden highlights that the automobile market was continuing to rise at the end of the 1940s. Subsequently, more adequate methods to move cars between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe were needed. The Bristol Freighter had a sliding ramp in the fuselage nose, but it had a limited loading capacity. Therefore, the modern motors of the time couldn’t fit in effectively with the restricted space on board.

Therefore Laker chose to redesign an existing airplane type and enlarge its nose. This would be a useful way to meet the growing demands.

Carvair Aer Lingus
The Aviation Traders Carvair had a length of 102 ft 7 in, a wingspan of 117 ft 6 in, and a height of 29 ft 10 in. Photo: Richard Goring via Wikimedia Commons

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The right changes

The DC-4 had become outdated for deployment on passenger routes and was matched with a nose design inspired by the model of the Bristol Freighter. Notably, the cockpit was raised significantly higher compared with other aircraft. It was directly above the front of the cargo bay.

Generally, the Carvair could hold 22 passengers in a rear cabin. Meanwhile, up to five cars could be loaded at the front. The reconfigured passenger area allowed the loading setup to be adapted swiftly, according to the needs of the client. Altogether, the modification process had cost nearly £80,000 (~£1.8 million/$2.4 million today).

Channel Air Bridge, another company of Laker, introduced the Carvair on February 16th, 1962. In total, 21 units were developed, and British United Air Ferries was the largest customer with 18 deliveries. Australia’s Ansett took on the remaining three. However, it wasn’t Europe or Australia where the plane was first deployed properly. They helped the United Nations to deliver important cargo loads to Congo-Kinshasa.

Carvair On Display
Phoebus Apollo Aviation in South Africa and Gainesville Municipal Airport in Texas currently have a Cairvar on display each. Photo: Nolween via Wikimedia Commons

Across the skies

The planes could be seen across Europe from 1962. Fans of the James Bond series will have noticed one appearing in 1964’s Goldfinger!

The aircraft had a requirement of up to three crew members and was powered by four Pratt & Whitney R-2000-7M2 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engines. Its three-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers helped it to reach speeds up to 250 mph (400 km/h) and a range of 2,000 NM / 3,700 km. The aircraft made its way around the world as eventual operators included Aer Lingus, Tunisair, Eastern Provincial Airways, Falcon Airways, Aviaco, and Dominicana de Aviación.

Throughout the decades, eight units were lost due to accidents. The remaining 13 were no longer seen in Europe by the time the 1980s were in all swing. Altogether, the emergence of modern aircraft replaced the need for the Carvair.

What are your thoughts about the Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair? Did you ever spot the aircraft on your travels over the years? Let us know what you think of the plane in the comment section.