Today in Aviation: Maiden Flight of the Convair 990 Coronado
Today in Aviation

Today in Aviation: Maiden Flight of the Convair 990 Coronado

DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the American-built, narrow-body, four-engined Convair 990 ‘Coronado’ took to the skies for the first time in 1961.

The manufacturer developed the 990 after a request from American Airlines (AA). Although not a Convair 880 operator, the airline had studied the airliner on numerous occasions.

However, its capacity meant that it would not be profitable on its transcontinental routes. As a result, AA requested a larger airframe with transcon capabilities.

AA wanted a jet that would be able to fly coast-to-coast 45 minutes faster than its rivals the 707 and DC-8. (Photo: Bill Larkins, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Numerous Upgrades


Convair came up with the 990 ‘Coronado’ named after the San Diego city. The jet was stretched by 10 feet to carry between 110 and 149 passengers. Developments to the aircraft’s wings, fuselage and avionics. General Electric also upgraded the engines creating the CJ805-23B powerplant.

However, the 990s performance did not live up to the promises made by Convair. AA was unhappy and significantly reduced its original order for 25 jets with options on 25 more. Despite introducing the type in 1962, it began to retire its 990s in 1967.

In an attempt to turn around its fortunes, Convair developed the 990A. Various upgrades were made, but AA did not take up the variant, opting for the rival Boeing 707/720. Swissair (SR) introduced the type in 1962 and put it into service on its long-range flights to South America, West Africa and the Middle and Far East.

Flamboyant Spantax owner Captain Rudolfo Bay loved the Convair 990 saying: “Once you fly a Coronado, you don’t want to fly anything else”. (Photo: Richard Vandervord, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A New Lease of Life


Another major operator of the Coronado was the Spanish charter carrier Spantax (BX). It purchased four 990s from AA in May 1967, eight more by 1972 and four from SR in 1975. This led BX to become the largest Convair 990 operator, flying the type well into the mid-1980s.

Sadly, the aircraft wasn’t as successful as Convair had hoped. When production ceased in 1963, just 37 had been built. For many years, the 990 did, however, hold the record for being the fastest subsonic airliner. It had a maximum speed of 540 knots at 20,000 feet and a standard cruise speed of 484 knots at 35,000 feet.


Featured image: Swissair was actually the only airline ever to refer to the airliner as the ‘Coronado.’ (Photo: Lars Söderström, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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