Early studies

On 12 October 1951 the Comité du Matériel Civil (civil aircraft committee) published a specification for a medium range aircraft, which was later sent to the industry by the Direction Technique et Industrielle. This called for an aircraft carrying 55 to 65 passengers and 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) of cargo on routes up to 2,000 km (1,100 nmi; 1,200 mi) with a cruise speed about 600 km/h (320 kn; 370 mph). The type and number of engines was not specified. Various design studies for aircraft in this category had been underway since 1946 by several of the leading French aircraft manufacturing organisations, but none had the financial power to start construction.   Response from the French industry was strong, with every major manufacturer sending in at least one proposal, and a total of 20 different designs were received. Most of the proposals used all-turbojet power, although Breguet entered a number of designs for both turbojet and turboprop types; among these was one for an Atar-powered tri-jet to be developed in association with the SNCA du Nord and a turboprop type, all known as Br. 978. Hurel-Dubois entered several turboprop designs based on a narrow fuselage and shoulder mounted wing similar to many regional propliners. Proposals from the SNCA du Sud-Ouest included the S.O.60 with two Rolls-Royce Avon RA.7 engines, with two smaller Turbomeca Marborés as auxiliaries. SNCA du Sud-Est (SNCASE) returned a number of designs from the X-200 to X-210, all of them pure-jet.   After studying the various entries, the Comité du Matériel Civil cut the list to three entrants on 28 March 1952: the four-engined Avon/Marbore S.0.60, the twin-Avon Hurel-Dubois project, and the three-Avon Sud-Est X-210. At this point Rolls-Royce started offering a new version of the Avon that could develop 9,000 lbf (40 kN) thrust, making the auxiliary engines on the S.O.60 and the third engine on the X-210 unnecessary.   The Committee requested SNCASE re-submit the X-210 as a twin-Avon design. In doing so they decided not to bother moving the remaining engines from their rear-mounted position; most designs mounted the engines under the wing where they can be mounted on the spar for lower overall weight, but SNCASE felt the savings were not worth the effort. This turned out to be a benefit to the design, as the cabin noise was greatly reduced. The revised X-210 design with twin Avons was re-submitted to the SGACC in July 1952.   Two months later the SNCASE received official notification that its design had been accepted.

On 6 July 1953 the SGACC ordered two prototypes and two static airframes for fatigue testing. Sud’s design licensed several fuselage features from de Havilland, a company Sud had dealings with for several earlier designs. The nose area and cockpit layout were both taken directly from the de Havilland Comet, while the rest of the plane was locally designed. A distinctive design feature were the cabin windows in the shape of a curved triangle which were smaller than conventional windows but gave the same field of view downwards.

First Flight

The first prototype of the Caravelle (F-WHHH), christened by Madame de Gaulle, was rolled out on 21 April 1955, and flew on 27 May powered by two British Rolls-Royce RA-26 Mk.522 with 4,536 kgf (44,480 N; 10,000 lbf) of unitary thrust. The crew was composed by Pierre Nadot (first officer), André Moynot (second officer), Jean Avril (mechanic), André Préneron (radio operator) and Roger Beteille. The flight duration was 41 minutes.


The second prototype flew a year later on 6 May 1956. The first prototype had a cargo door on the lower left side of the fuselage, but this was removed in the second prototype for an all-seating arrangement. The first order was from Air France in 1956, followed by SAS in 1957. That year Sud-Est merged with Sud-Ouest to become Sud Aviation, but the original SE naming was retained. More orders followed, mainly triggered by presentations on airshows and demonstrations to potential customers. The Caravelle was certified in May 1959 and shortly afterwards entered service with SAS and Air France.

One landmark in the proving programme comprised two return flights between Orly and Casablanca on 28th August, all four trips being flown on a single engine. The second prototype, F- WHHI (c/n. 02), had meanwhile made its maiden flight on 6th May 1956, flown by Nadot with Lopold Galy as co-pilot. Both prototypes were powered by 10,000 lb.s.t. (4,536 kgp.) Avon R.A.26 engines. The Caravelle 1, with Avon 522 turbojets and a fractionally longer nose than the prototypes (to house a weather radar installation), entered production late in 1956. On 1st March 1957 the Sud-Est and SudOuest concerns amalgamated to form Sud-Aviation, but so far as the Caravelle was concerned the S.E. designation was retained.

One landmark in the proving programme comprised two return flights between Orly and Casablanca on 28th August, all four trips being flown on a single engine. The second prototype, F- WHHI (c/n 02), had meanwhile made its maiden flight on 6th May 1956, flown by Nadot with Lopold Galy as co-pilot. Both prototypes were powered by 10,000 lb.s.t. (4,536 kgp.) Avon R.A.26 engines. The Caravelle 1, with Avon 522 turbojets and a fractionally longer nose than the prototypes (to house a weather radar installation), entered production late in 1956. On 1st March 1957 the Sud-Est and SudOuest concerns amalgamated to form Sud-Aviation, but so far as the Caravelle was concerned the S.E. designation was retained. The 02 was hired from Sud-Aviation to initiate a training programme which started on 1st March 1959, and on 26th April the first S.A.S. Caravelle services, to the Middle East, were inaugurated. Air France was quick to follow suit, introducing its Caravelles on the Paris – Istanbul route on 6th May; and the granting of F.A.A. type approval on 8th April opened the way for Varig to commence the first American services with the aircraft on 7th December 1959.

Pierre Satre and Pierre Nadot (right) in front of an Air France Caravelle. (Source: unknown)

Production of the Caravelle 1 ceased with c/n 20, the nineteenth aircraft having been reserved as prototype for the Series III (and, later, the Series VI). Its place was taken on the production line by the Caravelle IA, powered by Avon 522A (526) engines of similar power but otherwise virtually identical in appearance and performance to the initial model. The first Caravelle IA, c/n 21, was OH-LEA, the first of three for Finnair, delivered on l8th February 1960 and entering service on the Helsinki-Stockholm route on 1st April. The first major development of the Caravelle was the Series III, so designated because it was powered by the third-stage development of the civil R.A.29 Avon, the 11,400 lb.s.t. Mk. 527. Completed as the Series III prototype, F-WJAQ c/n 19 flew for the first time on 30th December 1959. The first production Caravelle III was c/n 33, but the first actual delivery was made on 29th April 1960 with c/n 35 I-DAXA, first of 14 aircraft ordered by Alitalia, who put the type into service Rome-London on 23rd May. This and three other Alitalia Caravelle Ill’s were later converted into Series VI-N’s, and with a total of 21 of the latter version the Italian carrier had the second largest Caravelle fleet in current operation (in 1967). All Caravelle IA’s (except c/n 14) were converted during 1960~61 to Series III standard, and the Series III remained in production alongside the later variants

Caravelle VI

Both versions of the Caravelle VI have the main structures and landing gear reinforced in order to reap full benefit from the extra thrust of their higher-powered Avon engines. The first production Series VI-N (cm. 64 OO-SRA) was delivered to Sabena on 20th January 1961, two days after the first VI-R (c/n. 86 N1001U) was accepted by U.A.L. Services were started respectively by Sabena (Brussels-Nice) on I8th February 1961, and by United (following F.A.A. type approval of the Series VI-R on 5th June) between New York and Chicago on l4th July. Since that time the Caravelle VI-R has proved itself second only to the Series III in popularity, and has been ordered by operators in Europe, the Middle East, North and South America. On l3th May 1963, Caravelle III c/n. 141 was assigned to the Groupe de Liaisons Aeriennes Ministerielles of the Armee de l’Air as a presidential transport, and has carried President de Gaulle and other senior government officials on many official visits both inside and outside Europe. The interior layout of this aircraft includes a forward saloon-cum-conference room, with seating for eight people, and a 38-seat rear cabin. A well deserved tribute, both to the Caravelle and to the design team headed by Pierre Satre, came in 1964 when the famous Credit Lyonnais banking concern celebrated its l00th anniversary by establishing a prize of F150,000 to be awarded annually for ten years for outstanding contributions to French industry and trade. On l4th December 1964, at the Academie des Sciences, the first of these awards was accepted by representatives of Sud-Aviation on behalf of the Caravelle. A further landmark was passed on 20th June 1965 when a new contract, appropriately from Air France, took the Caravelle order book past the two hundred mark. Apart from the separate line of development involving the use of turbofan engines, the most significant advance in the Caravelle story in all the years had been the perfection of automatic landing equipment. The 01 prototype was the first to be used for such trials, making its first automatic landing on 29th September 1962 Joint trials by officials of the C.E.V. and the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency were carried out with this aircraft at Toulouse early in December 1962, using a system based on the Lear 102autopilot; comparative trials of Smiths’ Autoland were carried out with c/n. 143 (F- WJSO). The Lear system was chosen for further development, and was installed in c/n. 136 (F-BLHY) to carry, out the certification programme for production Caravelles. During the first nine months of 1964, acceptance trials were conducted up to Phase II weather standards, certification being granted on 25th September. The first airline authorised to operate its Caravelles in accordance with these standards was Alitalia, which introduced the system in the spring of 1966. Development of the Sud-Lear equipment up to Phase IIIA weather standards continued during 1965-66; and early in 1967, when Phase lIlA certification was granted, some ten thousand automatic approaches had been carried out, including 3,500 actual touchdowns at 75 different airports. The first Caravelle to be delivered new with built-in Sud-Lear Phase IIIA automatic landing equipment was a Series III aircraft, F-BNKC (c/n. 211), handed over to Air Inter on 24th February 1967. (Air Inter’s Caravelles, incidentally, had an all-tourist interior with an additional five seats, raising the maximum passenger capacity to 99. Its first services began on 6th March 1967, from Paris to Marseilles and Lyons, with two aircraft leased from Air France.) The order book included, in addition to the original batch of 32 Caravelle I/IA’s, 66 Caravelle Ill’s, 49 Caravelle VI-N’s and 55 Caravelle VI-R’s. In September 1960 TWA placed an order for 20 Caravelles 10As – a new, longer, faster model powered by GE engines. The 1m longer fuselage allowed the airplane to carry 68 first-class or up to 94 economy-class passengers. However, due to financial problems, TWA had to cancel the order in 1962. The carrier later ordered DC 9’s that are still operated ! What seems very interesting in this case is thta Douglas signed an exclusive agreement with Sud Aviation in early 1962 to market the French airliner in North America. For a very short period of time Douglas considered building Caravelles under license in the United States. However, Douglas didn’t sold a single Caravelle. Sud Aviation continued to improve the Caravelle. In Europe Caravelles were now flying for : Sabena, Air France Alitalia, JAT, SAS, Swissair, TAP and Austrian Airlines. In 1964 Sud Aviation built the Caravelle 10A (with CJ-805 engines)which was delivered to Sterling, Finnair and Syrian Arab Airlines. The major change of this Caravelle is the extension of the wing leading edge at the roof as well as the bullet at the intersection of the rudders and the tailplane. Starting with United order of the Caravelle all Caravelles had the larger cockpit windows.

Later models

In 1965 Sud offered the series 10R – very similar to the 6R but using Pratt &Whitney engines JT8D-7 (same powerplant used for the 737, 727, DC 9). The series 10R also incorporated structural changes. The cabin windows were raised several centimetres resulting in more room for the underfloor cargo compartments. The Caravelle 10R made its first flight on January 18, 1965 followed by the Caravelle 11R which had a large cargo door on its right side, just ahead of the wing. This was a combi Caravelle carrying passengers and cargo at the same time. The 11R made her first flight on April 21, 1967 and flew with Air Afrique, Air Congo and Transeuropa. Finally Sud Est became part of Aerospatiale in 1970. Now Aerospatiale built the last Caravelle version – the Caravelle 12 with a very long fuselage (38,23m). This version could carry up to 140 passengers and included a auxiliary power unit (APU) and more powerful Pratt & Whitney engines JT8D-9. It made her first flight in 1970 and was built for 3 years until the whole Caravelle construction line was abandoned. The 12 was flown by Air Inter, Sterling and later Air Provence. A total of 282 Caravelles were built in Toulouse and the Caravelle paved the way for the modern Airbus types. The last European Caravelle operator was Air Provence which operated the Caravelle 12 until late 1996. The Caravelle prototype was scrapped on 29. October 1986 using a bulldozer.

The French “Centre d’essaies en vol” operated their Caravelle III until February 1998. The Swedish Government retired its Caravelles in April 1999 with the last ever Caravelle III ferry flight to Stockholm Arlanda. It is now kept in running condition by “Le Caravelle Club“.

The last Caravelle was retired from service in 2005.