Sensational colour photo of American Airlines Convair 990

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August 08, 2021
American Airlines

A sensational photo of an American Airlines Convair 990 has been colourised by Frenchman Benoit Vienne.

The photo epitomizes the raw speed of what was the world’s fastest subsonic jet built by San Diego-based Convair, a division of General Dynamics.

Original colour imagery of the Convair 990 series is rare and of the American 990 even rarer.

Some years back Airline Ratings discovered and had scanned a small cache of colour factory shots of CV880s and CV990s but there was precious little of the American Airlines 990s.

This black and white photo is a classic shot of the American Airlines 990 and Mr Vienne has done a magnificent job in colourising it.

Convair, pursued American Airlines’ business by guaranteeing an enhanced 880 would beat the competition coast-to-coast by 45 minutes.

American’s chief C.R. Smith was taken by the speed. He wanted a faster jet to “beat the pants” off Texas-based Braniff Airlines, which had ordered the domestic 707 with the bigger intercontinental engines for its flights. Braniff marketed it as “The Jet with The Big Engines”.

American’s plan was to use the Convair jet for the first class only “Blue Streak” service and configure American’s 707s for all economy. American purchased 25 of what was essentially a new aircraft from Convair but the aircraft’s radical changes were not made clear to the General Dynamic’s board.

Problems with the aircraft, now called the 990, surfaced almost immediately on test flights and the aircraft was unable to meet its speed and fuel burn guarantees despite a host of modifications.

The 990 needed to gulp fuel to reach its speed guarantee.

When the production run finished with just 102 880s and 990s built, GD had written off $4.16 million per plane – more than they sold for.

Any possibility of further sales of the Convair jets was dashed when Boeing announced its three-engine 727 tri-jet in 1959.

Suddenly a three-engine jet would basically do the same mission as a four-engine model and be far cheaper per passenger on fuel burn.