An ‘Anglo-French’ airliner – ‘un mouton anglo-francais’, perhaps?

A Gallic jetliner with a British twist?  Or, as John Cleese said in the classic Monty Python sketch, ‘Bonsoir – ici nous avons les diagrammes modernes d’un mouton anglo-français……‘ The flying sheep joke was aimed at the Anglo-French Concorde, but, in reality, there has been quite a bit of British/French cross-pollination, in aviation terms, some good, some bad. The Wolseley Viper engine which powered the rugged WW1 fighter, the SE5a, was just a license-built French Hispano Suiza HS-8, and the highly successful Sud Aviation SA341 Gazelle was part of an Anglo-French helicopter agreement which also included the Sud Aviation SA330 Puma and the Westland Lynx. However, over the years, it has come to be recognized that if you co-operate with the French, you end up with a French-optimized design (the SEPECAT Jaguar is a good example here). Sometimes though, the French have little choice but to ask for help.

French ideas for their first attempt at a jet airliner coalesced in the early 1950s around a design from SNCASE for a 55/65 seat short to medium range aircraft with two rear-mounted engines, the SE210. No French jet engine of sufficient power existed at this stage, so Rolls-Royce were asked to supply two Avon turbojets of around 10,000 pounds static trust for the first production examples. As well as this, the most unusual step was taken of negotiating with De Havilland to obtain a licence to produce the nose-section and flightdeck of the DH 106 Comet, COMPLETE, and graft it onto the new fuselage. This was a fairly radical step – but it worked.

The SE210 (now named Caravelle, by  Madame Yvonne De Gaulle, the wife of the then President of France, Charles De Gaulle) was an instant commercial success. Initial customers included Air France (of course) and the Scandanavian airline SAS. Variants of progressive higher weight and greater capacity enabled the Caravelle to break into the US market, with United Airlines taking delivery of the aircraft you see here, in 1961, as N1003U. It is a Caravelle VI R (the R standing for RR Avons with thrust reversing). The last versions of the Caravelle ( Series VII onwards) attempted to garner more sales by fitting American engines, principally the Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan – they lost out to the newer DC-9 from Douglas.

United sold ‘Three Uniform’ back to a European operator in 1971; Sterling Airways of Denmark named the aircraft ‘City of Copenhagen’ and flew it as OY-SAH until 1978. By the later part of 1978, this Caravelle had been converted to freighter configuration, and was back in the USA once again with Midwest Air Charter (later renamed Airborne Express). Eventually, Airborne Express, having flown the N902MW long and hard until 1982, donated her to the New England Air Museum at Windsor Locks, Connecticut, where you can see her today. Close to her 50th birthday, but a Gallic lady of great charm!

Strangely, her sister aircraft N901MW was also preserved, this time at Columbus, Ohio with the Ohio Museum of Flight. This SHOULD have meant a happy ending for all but the Ohio Museum of Flight closed for good in 1995, and the Caravelle was given to the Port Authority of Columbus, who began using N901MW for training fire fighters soon afterwards.

One little wrinkle on the Caravelle story. Sud Aviation had, in the 1960s, begun work an a supersonic, 70-seat airliner called the ‘Super Caravelle’. This work was merged with that of the Bristol design team to give a less than optimal 99-seat supersonic gem, the Anglo-French Concorde. Once again, a case of ‘un mouton anglo-francais’ as John Cleese would say. Ah, yes, and there was a tribute to a famous Concorde test pilot in the Monty Python sketch, too ‘….dans la tête, le cabine. Ici, on se trouve le petit capitaine Anglais, Monsieur Trubshaw.’ ! I’m sure that Brian Trubshaw – the famous test pilot, and the first Briton to fly the Concorde – appreciated the joke!

2 comments on “An ‘Anglo-French’ airliner – ‘un mouton anglo-francais’, perhaps?”

  1. Thank you for this article about a famous plane in which I had the pleasure to travel formerly, in particular on a flight Toulouse the Canary Islands


    • My pleasure! I always liked the Caravelle. I used to see those from Sterling Airways, when I worked at East Midlands International (EGNX). More about airliners to follow!


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