Starting with a C-54

While I was looking for some writing inspiration I picked up John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy. (By the way this is going to be a blog with a Bibliography so please feel free to check!)

The ‘Honourable Schoolboy’ is Jerry Westerby –  English journalist and sometime agent for SIS, MI6 or in John le Carré’s world, “The Circus.”  Westerby is sent to Hong Kong to track down the recipient of  large sums of money which are emanating from the Soviet Union.  At one point during a picaresque odyssey in which he seeks to maintain his journalistic cover, through the closing scenes of the Vietnam War  he is  in pursuit of a supposedly dead American pilot named Tiny Ricardo.  Westerby encounters Ricardo’s partner,  a Chinese-Corsican Opium addict called  Charlie Marshall,  flying a beaten-up Carvair around Laos and Cambodia.  It seemed such an oddly specific  choice of aircraft, but from what I remembered it seemed logical, if unlikely.

This is what a Carvair looks like:

Carvair at Christchurch, New Zealand, 1977
By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand via Wikimedia Commons

To quote and precis some Wikipedia text: “The actual conversion of the original aircraft entailed replacing the forward fuselage with one 8 feet 8 inches (2.64 m) longer, with a raised flightdeck to allow a hinged nose door to open sideways. It also entailed more powerful wheel brakes and an enlarged tail,  The four Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines were unchanged.

The prototype conversion first flew on 21 June 1961. Twenty-one Carvairs were produced in the UK. The final three aircraft were delivered to Ansett-ANA, (Australia) which supplied its own DC-4s to ATL for conversion. One of the two aircraft still flying in June 2007 was an ex-Ansett airframe. A second Ansett aircraft was abandoned at Phnom-Penh in 1975.”

John Le Carre’s research was, after all, spot on. 🙂

It seemed also that some Carvairs made their way across The Pond.  Wikipedia says:

“Of the 21 airframes, eight were destroyed in crashes

  • Rotterdam, Netherlands, 1962
  • Karachi, Pakistan, 1967
  • Twin Falls, Canada, 1968
  • Miami, Florida, 1969
  • Le Touquet, France, 1971
  • Venetie, Alaska, 1997
  • Griffin, Georgia, 1997
  • McGrath, Alaska, 2007

Perhaps the best-known Carvair crash was the one at Griffin in April 1997, where on its takeoff run the (fifth production) Carvair suffered catastrophic engine failure, failed to become properly airborne, and crashed into a vacant Piggly Wiggly supermarket past the airport perimeter, killing both pilots.”

Well not best-known to me at all, but I wanted to have a further look.  More on this in a future post.

1 thought on “Starting with a C-54

  1. Pingback: Carvair – Notes on Research | Rambles in the Air

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