Today in Aviation – A United Airlines Sud Aviation Caravelle Made The First Automatic Landing In The United States

On this day in aviation history, a United Airlines (UA) Sud Aviation Caravelle jet made the first completely computerised controlled landing in the United States in 1964. The aircraft touched down at Washington Dulles Airport (IAD). 

The Sud Aviation Caravelle is a twin-engined, short to medium-range airliner developed by the French manufacturer SNCASE. The prototype (F-WHHH) took its maiden flight on May 27, 1955 and entered revenue service with Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) on April 26, 1959. The aircraft was named after the fleet of sailing ships under the command of Christopher Columbus, in anticipation of conquering the aviation world. 

SAS introduced the type in to revenue service on April 26, 1959. (Photo: SAS Scandinavian Airlines)

Early automatic landing trials began in 1962 under the leadership of test pilot Andrè Turcat. It made its first auto-landing on September 29, 1962 at Toulouse (TLS). 

US Breakthrough

Despite its popularity in Europe, with the type being ordered by numerous operators including Air France (AF), Alitalia (AZ), Iberia (IB) and Swissair (SR), American success was slow to take-off. But in February 1960, United placed a $68 million order for 20 of the Caravelle VI-R.

This variant was the first to have thrust reversers added to its Avon Ra-229 MK. 533 and 535 engines. It also featured more powerful brakes and added wing spoilers to meet US operating requirements. Cabin windows were also enlarged but retained the distinctive teardrop shape. The flight deck was made bigger and the glass area redesigned to conform as much as possible with United’s Douglas DC-8 fleet. 

Entry in to Service

The first (N1001U) named ‘Ville de Toulouse was delivered on June 12, 1961. It was put in to revenue service on July 14 between New York (EWR) and Chicago (ORD). Indeed the type became the first jet-powered airliner to launch operations at EWR, beating TWA with its Boeing 707 services and Eastern’s (EA) DC-8s.

The Caravelle would go on to be replaced by Boeing 720s, 727s and 737s. (Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons)

The Caravelle proved popular with UA and would fly the type on its high-density routes within the United States and surrounding countries. Inside the airliners French décor was retained and the aircraft was referred to as “La Belle Caravelle.” It was eventually retired in October 1970. 

© Jet Back In Time by Lee Cross

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