Convair 990 Coronado

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Convair 990 Coronado
Spantax CV-990 at Basle - June 1976.jpg
Convair CV-990A of Spantax at Basel Airport. Even at landing power the smoky engines are evident.
Role Narrow-body jet airliner
Manufacturer Convair
First flight January 24, 1961
Retired September, 1987
Primary user American Airlines
Produced 1961-1963
Number built 37
Developed from Convair 880

The Convair 990 Coronado was a narrow-body four-jet airliner produced by the Convair division of General Dynamics, a "stretched" version of their earlier Convair 880 produced in response to a request from American Airlines. The 990 was lengthened by 10 ft (3.0 m), which increased the number of passengers from between 88 and 110 in the 880, to between 96 and 121. This was still fewer than the contemporary Boeing 707 (110 to 189) or Douglas DC-8 (105 to 173), although the 990 was claimed to be 25–35 mph (40–56 km/h) faster than either in cruise.

Design and development[edit]

American Airlines asked Convair to design an aircraft for coast-to-coast flights, able to fly nonstop from New York to Los Angeles against the wind. They wanted a somewhat larger passenger capacity than the 880, which was the smallest of the first-generation U.S. jet airliners. The 990 entered production in 1961.

One change from the 880 was the large anti-shock body on the upper wings to increase the critical Mach and reduce transonic drag. Originally, there were plans to use the bulges as fuel tanks, but during test flights the extra weight caused the tanks to vibrate excessively. Instead, the inner set of bumps also served a secondary role as fuel dump for the fuel tanks in the fuselage.

The engines were also changed to the uprated General Electric CJ-805-23s, which were unique in that they used a fan stage at the rear of the engines, compared to the fan stage at the front of the engine found on the Pratt & Whitney JT3D that powered the 990's competitors. The engine was a simplified, non afterburning civil version of the J79, used in military fighters. Like the J79, the CJ805 was smoky.

Like the 880, 990s were later modified with a dorsal "raceway" added to the top of fuselage to hold wiring for additional instrumentation.

Operational history[edit]

The 990 did not meet the specifications promised and American Airlines reduced their order as a result. The 990A was developed by adding fairings to the engine nacelles, with pylons at the lower surface of the wing. Convair and GE aerodynamicists designed these modifications using a local area rule to delay the high-speed drag rise.[1] Despite the modifications, the aircraft never lived up to its promise of coast-to-coast nonstop capability from JFK to LAX. American Airlines timetables show little or no difference in scheduled times between 707 and 990A flights; AA began to dispose of their 990As in 1967.

In 1963 the 990A was reported to burn 11,750 lb/hour at Mach 0.84 (483 knots) at 35,000 ft at a weight of 200,000 lb.[2]

Swissair CV990A Coronado "St Gallen" at Manchester Airport in 1964

Swissair bought eight 990As from 1962 onwards, operating them on long-distance routes to South America, West Africa, the Middle and Far East, as well as on European routes with heavy traffic. Their fleet was withdrawn from service in 1975. Scandinavian Airlines also operated Coronados on their long-haul schedules to Tokyo and other destinations in the Far East.

The 990's market niche was soon captured entirely by the Boeing 727 and 720, a derivative of the 707. By the time the assembly line was shut down in 1963, only 37 990s had been produced, bringing General Dynamics' entire production of commercial jet airliners to 102 airframes. The failure of airlines to accept the Convair 880 and 990 led Convair to suffer what at the time were the largest corporate losses in history.

When the major airlines retired their Convair 990s, they found a second life operating for charter airlines. Spantax of Spain had a large fleet until they were gradually retired in the mid-1980s.


  • 990 : Initial production version.
  • 990A : Faster cruising speed and longer range.[3]


Interior of a Convair 990 operated by Swissair now on public display in the Swiss transport museum, the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz in Luzern.
NASA Convair 990. This aircraft has been retired, and is now on display at the entrance to the Mojave Spaceport.

*Original operators.

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • May 30, 1963 — An American Airlines Convair 990 was destroyed by fire at Newark International Airport, New Jersey, USA.
  • May 28, 1968 — A Garuda Indonesia Airways Convair 990 crashed in a nearly vertical attitude, some 4–5 minutes after takeoff from Bombay-Santacruz Airport outside Mumbai, India, killing all 14 crew and 15 passengers.
  • January 5, 1970 — A Spantax Convair 990 crashed near Stockholm-Arlanda Airport outside Stockholm, Sweden while taking off on a three-engine ferry flight to Zürich, Switzerland, killing five crew.
  • February 21, 1970 — Swissair Flight 330 crashed near Würenlingen, Switzerland while trying to return to the airport after a bomb detonated in the aft cargo compartment, killing all nine crew and 38 passengers.
  • August 8, 1970 — A Modern Air Transport Convair 990 crashed on approach to Alvarez International Airport, Mexico, killing one crew.
  • December 3, 1972 — A Spantax Convair 990 crashed at Los Rodeos Airport on the island of Tenerife while taking off in almost zero visibility, killing all seven crew and 148 passengers.[5]
  • March 5, 1973 — A Spantax Convair 990 on a flight from Madrid to London was involved in a midair collision with an Iberia McDonnell Douglas DC-9 over Nantes. The Spantax aircraft lost part of its left wing, but its pilots managed to land safely at Nantes Airport. The Iberia DC-9 crashed killing all 68 passengers and crew on board.
  • April 12, 1973 — A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C (157332) operating from NAS Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California collided with a Convair CV-990 (N711NA) operated by NASA during approach to runway 32R. The aircraft crashed on the Sunnyvale Municipal Golf Course, half a mile short of the runway, resulting in the destruction of both aircraft and the deaths of all aboard except for one Navy crewman.[6][N 1]
  • September 10, 1973 — A California Airmotive Corporation Convair 990 (registration N7876) on delivery from Garuda veered to the left and collided with a GCA unit after landing in heavy rain at Agana Airport, Guam.
  • July 17, 1985 — A NASA Convair 990 suffered a blown tire during takeoff and caught fire at Riverside-March AFB, California, USA

Aircraft on display[edit]

Several 990s have survived. A former Swissair Convair 990 is on display in the Swiss transportation museum, the Verkehrshaus in Luzern, while two are owned by the Mojave Spaceport. Of these, one is on display at the airport's entrance, and the other is used for movie and television filming projects.

Specifications (Convair 990A)[edit]

Data from Macdonald Aircraft Handbook[7]

General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: 621 mph (540 kts, 1,000 km/h) at 21,200 ft (6,460 m)
  • Cruise speed: 557 mph (484 kts, 896 km/h) at 35,000 ft (10,668 m)
  • Range: 3,595 mi (3,124 nm, 5,785 km)

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ One Navy crewman in the P-3 did survive the crash. He was in the P-3's tail section, which broke off the aircraft as the 990 collided from above. He fell out of the broken tail section and survived with massive injuries. People at the golf course who witnessed the crash, tried to break open windows on the wreckage with golf clubs in a futile attempt to pull the injured out before fire consumed the crews.
  1. ^ Kutney, John T. and Stanley P. Piszkin. "Reduction of Drag Rise on the Convair 990 Airplane". AIAA Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 1 No. 1, January–February 1964, pp. 8–12.
  2. ^ Flight 31 Jan 1963 p150
  3. ^ "The Might-Have-Beens: Convair 880 and 990." Retrieved: August 20, 2011.
  4. ^ "World Airline Survey Flight International, April 14, 1966, p. 595. Retrieved: December 23, 2011.
  5. ^ Gero 1997, p. 111.
  6. ^ "Accident description: 12 APR 1973." Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved: August 20, 2011.
  7. ^ Green 1964, p. 225.
  • Gero, David. Aviation Disasters. Yeovil, Somerset, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd (Haynes Publishing), 1997. ISBN 1-85260-526-X.
  • Green, William. Macdonald Aircraft Handbook. London. Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1964.
  • Proctor, Jon. Convair 880 & 990. Miami, Florida: World Transport Press, 1996. ISBN 0-9626730-4-8.
  • Taylor, John W. R. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1965-66. London: Samson Low, Marston, 1965.
  • Wegg, John. General Dynamic Aircraft and their Predecessors. London: Putnam, 1990. ISBN 0-85177-833-X.

External links[edit]