Photo Album Outtake: 1957 Sud Aviation Caravelle—Dawn of the Modern Commercial Jet

(first posted 1/5/2013)     I never knew my paternal grandfather—he died when my Dad was just 16, but from the stories I’ve heard, he was instrumental in setting up the Air Mail Service back in 1926 at Candler Field (known today as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport). One of my uncles still has the letter Grandfather sent Grandmother on the first Air Mail flight to the airport. Two uncles as well as my Mom worked out at the airport from the 1940s through ’70s, and this photo shot by one of them is of particular interest because of the aircraft shown.


The Caravelle was the end result of a specification, published by the French Civil Aircraft Committee in 1951, for an aircraft carrying 55 to 65 passengers and 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of cargo on routes up to 1,200 miles (1,930 km) with a cruise speed of about 320 knots (370 mph). The nose and cockpit area design were taken directly from the DeHavilland Comet, as Sud already had contractual arrangements with the company. Sud’s original proposal utilized two Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets, along with two auxiliary Turbomeca Marborés jet engines. When Rolls-Royce uprated the Avon engines, Sud was able to drop the auxiliary engines and decided it wasn’t worth the effort to relocate the Avons under the wings as was typically done. The rear-mounted design turned out to greatly reduce cabin noise, which was a happy side benefit.

After winning the competition, the prototype flew in May 1955, and orders for production aircraft were placed by Air France and SAS in 1956 and 1957, respectively. Caravelles were sent out to airshows and on demonstration flights for potential customers and, after certification in 1959, were placed in active service.

This specimen is likely a demonstrator flown in to pitch airlines at the Atlanta Municipal Airport (as it was then named), which had become the busiest in the USA by 1957, serving over 2 million passengers annually. United Airlines was the first US-based operation to purchase Caravelles, putting them in service in 1961.

The Caravelle had distinctive triangle-shaped windows, which remained consistent throughout its production run. The overall layout of the Caravelle—swept wings with rear, pod-mounted twin engines—would become the standard for medium-range commercial aircraft. 282 copies (including all variants) were produced through its production run. Sud then turned its attention to a supersonic aircraft design proposed to be called the Super-Caravelle. This work would be merged with a design from the Bristol Aeroplane Company to eventually become the Concorde.