Today in Aviation: American Airlines Introduces the Convair CV-990
Today in Aviation

Today in Aviation: American Airlines Introduces the Convair CV-990

DALLAS – Today in Aviation, American Airlines’ (AA) maiden Convair CV-990 Astrojet entered service between New York (JFK) and Chicago (ORD) in 1958.

As airlines like TWA (TW) and United Airlines (UA) introduced the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 onto their transcontinental routes, AA chief C.R. Smith wanted an aircraft to “beat the pants” off its rivals.

American became the launch customer of the Convair CV-990, placing an order for 25 aircraft, with options for a further 25 in November 1958.

N5619 joined the AA fleet in June 1962. It would go on to fly for Lebanese International Airways before being destroyed by a military raid at Beirut International Airport in 1968. (Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons)

Bigger, But Not Necessarily Better

The speed of the Convair 880 had caught Smith’s attention. But the airliner was too small. As a result, the manufacturer decided to design the 880s bigger brother, the CV-990. Convair promised that the jet would fly over 100mph faster than its rivals, 635mph to be precise. 

The deal was a win-win for AA. The first 25 jets would cost the airline a mere US$100m. Convair would also accept 25 of AA’s Douglas DC-7s as a US$22.8m down payment. This immediately left the plane-maker at a financial disadvantage, as it would need to sell many more aircraft to make a profit. 

The Astrojet was configured with 42 first-class and 57 coach seats, with a small four-seat lounge. (Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons)

Revised Order

After initial tests highlighted the CV-990’s performance flaws, AA decided to revise its order to just 20 airframes and cancel the options. The airline also stated that it would walk away from the deal if CV-990 could not meet the promised speeds. The new agreement was signed on September 21, 1961.

In a vain attempt to try and win more orders from AA, Convair developed the CV-990A. But an order was not forthcoming. In total, AA would operate the twenty Astrojets, as the carrier named the CV-990 in the revised order. These would all be upgraded to the -990A at the airline’s Tulsa engineering base. 

American Airlines would begin to retire the type as early as 1965, at the time the Boeing 727 arrived. The carrier’s final CV-990 left the fleet in October 1968.

Featured image: Despite the type’s flaws, the additional airframes proved incredibly useful for AA at a time of expansion. (Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 ), via Wikimedia Commons)

Writer, aviation fanatic, plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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