Sign in

The last airworthy Connie in flight — photo courtesy Roger Thiedeman

Lockheed’s Super Constellation, officially designated the Model 1049, is aviation’s equivalent of the clipper ship. Like one of those magnificent vessels in full sail, the triple-finned ‘Super Connie’ was a beautiful, high-performing craft — unbelievably graceful in flight and adored by its crew. But like the Cutty Sark, the Constellation too was ultimately doomed to obsolescence by advances in technology.

The ‘Connie’ as it was generically known universally, would come to epitomize the word ‘airliner’. At a time when passenger aviation was still in its adolescence, the Connie flew, literally, all over the world. …

Airline travel, as enthusiasts know and passengers accept unthinkingly, is the safest means of transportation in the history of mankind. But almost every type of aircraft has met with accidents; even the legendary Boeing 747 was involved in many, especially during its early years.

To find a type that has never been in an accident that resulted in passenger fatalities while in commercial service, one has to search long and hard. One recent standout is the Airbus four-engine A340 family of airliners. There have only been a handful of accidents involving the A340 in airline service, none of which resulted…

Air Ceylon DC-3 — courtesy daily News

Call it the DC-3, C-47, Dakota, Gooney Bird, Old Fatso or simply Doug. Nakajima of Japan produced it under license as the L2D - code-named ‘Tabby’ by the Allies. Even the Soviets built them and rather prosaically, called it the Passazhirskiy Samolyot -84.

It flew on every continent and with pretty much every airline that could get one, through the 1950s and ’60s. The DC-3 and its variants is still the most produced aircraft in the world, with more than 16,000 built in the USA alone, plus many more overseas. It still flies in commercial service in some parts of…

The aircraft that changed the world

The Douglas DC-3 is the aircraft that changed the world. Known by a variety of sub-types and nicknames, most popularly ‘Dakota’ in Britain and her colonies, and ‘Gooney Bird’ in the US, Donald Douglas’s peerless creation is still the most-produced airliner in the world. The vast numbers of surplus military C-47s available after the Second World War, meant that practically every start-up airline (including Air Ceylon in 1947) began life with Dakotas providing the lift.

KLM DC-2. Courtesy KLM.

The US Army’s transport command (the independent US Air Force wasn’t formed until 1947) selected the C-47 as the backbone of its inventory because of…

Nord Aviation

In the late 1940s, France was trying to rebuild its industrial base after the near-destruction caused by the Second World War. Part of that effort was to re-establish aircraft manufacturing.

The French government compelled many small firms to join forces, the impetus that led to the formation of Sud Aviation (Southern Aviation) of Toulouse, which in turn spawned many innovative aircraft and the giant Airbus Group of today. The same forces formed Nord Aviation, which was based at Bourges airport in central France.

The need for a new aircraft

Post-WW2 the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) was wholly reliant for transport on ex-Luftwaffe Junkers Ju…

Anthony Fokker is another of those brilliant but almost forgotten pioneers of flight. He was born in 1890 in Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where his father was a coffee planter. After the family returned to the Netherlands, Wilbur Wright’s demonstration flights in Paris, France inspired young Anthony to become an aircraft designer .

Fokker produced his own aircraft named de Spin (spider in Dutch) that was the first Dutch-built aircraft to fly in that country. …

De Havilland Canada’s ‘flying pick-up trucks’ had made the company and its products a household name in the frozen north of Canada, and the then-new US state of Alaska, by the 1960s. Many isolated communities were almost entirely dependent on transport links provided by the DHC-2 Beaver and its larger sibling the DHC-3 Otter. When Pratt & Whitney Canada, maker of the Wasp radial (piston) engine on the Beaver and Otter, began producing a small turbine engine, named the PT6, the designers at DHC recognized an opportunity. …

Geoffrey de Havilland’s eponymous company was thriving in the ‘Roaring 20s’ as the world entered a heady period of growth, following the carnage of what was being called the Great War. A number of innovative designs were produced, and de Havilland finally hit pay dirt with the D.H.82 Tiger Moth. In 1931 the Royal Air Force adopted this wood-and-fabric biplane, with its benign handling characteristics, as the basic trainer for its pilots.

A D.H. 82 Tiger Moth at Ratmalana airport in Ceylon. DP collection

This led to a surge in orders as the Tiger Moth (not to be confused with the preceding D.H.60 Moth/Gypsy Moth) was acquired by many other air forces…

Alliot Verdon Roe was another of the world’s almost-forgotten aviation pioneers. In 1909, only six years after the Wright brothers first flew in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, young Roe designed, built and flew the first British aircraft in Hackney, near London.

Avro 504 at Duxford. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

A.V. Roe and his brother Humphrey formed the Avro aircraft company in 1910. Their first successful model was the Avro 504 biplane that served in the First World War. The type was very popular for its benign handling characteristics, and served post-WW1 as a trainer, with almost 9,000 being built; a record for its time. …

The Ukraine is a huge expanse of fertile steppe in Eastern Europe. This land with a long and turbulent history has been fought over for millennia. It is known as the breadbasket of the region, and possibly because of this has suffered two devastating famines in recent history. The Russian Famine in 1921 after the Revolution led to the deaths of an estimated 5 million and another caused by the collectivization of agriculture under Stalin in 1932, known as the Holodomor, killed up to 12 million more.

Neither these tragedies, nor the turbulent recent history of the region, is however…


The magnificent propeller aircraft that started the airline business

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store