Carvair Info & Specs

Carvairs FB

A Brief History…

To this day, former Southend airlines retain the honour of being amongst the small number of companies that once carried both cars and their occupants across the English Channel, a task that was initially achieved by the ubiquitous, if somewhat undersized Bristol Freighter during the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. However, having only room for three cars and a handful of passengers, profit margins were often extremely tight and it was not uncommon for these B170s to rumble back and forth between the U.K. and the Continent at a financial loss so, an alternative had to be found.

Enter Freddy Laker, a larger than life entrepreneur who had for many years been running Southend based ATEL (Aviation Traders) a company that had previously manufactured as many as 50 centre wing sections for the aforementioned Bristol 170. His idea was of course a simple one. Buy cheap, piston engined aircraft that the airlines no longer wanted and were now disposing of en-masse, then cut off the front end and replace it with a purpose built, cavernous nose, replete with large cargo door to facilitate vehicle loading.

Indeed, it was this huge, bulbous addition that gave these reconditioned aircraft a new lease of life, a rather distinctive look and a new name ‘Carvair’ that was taken from the term ‘car via air’. C-54s were chosen as the donor aircraft and soon they became almost unrecognisable as the cockpit itself was raised up above the main cargo deck, while the brand new nose itself was extended forward a further 8ft or so. Finally a new, taller vertical stabiliser was designed as the plane’s extra forward fuselage height would have no doubt affected the flight characteristics had the smaller, original C-54 stabiliser remained.

A total of 21 aircraft were eventually converted (3 at SEN and 18 at STN) while 14 became regulars at Southend during the ’60s and ’70s. The first three Carvairs flew with Channel Air Bridge which started out as a branch of Air Charter (also run by Laker) and later changed its name to British United Air Ferries who eventually expanded their fleet to nine aircraft as more became available. With yet another name change in 1967, BUAF became British Air Ferries who continued Carvair operations, although by the early ’70s, the fleet had been reduced to six aircraft due to a crash and a couple of scrappings. However, it wasn’t long before two more aircraft arrived to bolster their numbers.

As the ’70s went on, ferry and hovercraft services to Holland and France really began to take their toll on this unique service and as a result, the Carvairs were slowly converted to the freight role after which, they were sold off to cargo companies in the U.S. Indeed by 1977, the car-ferry era was over and only one Carvair remained at Southend where she was WFU only to be cut up 6 years later in 1983. Today, two Carvairs survive: c/n 21 – an ex-Ansett aircraft which currently resides in South Africa and c/n 9 – the only remaining ex-BAF aircraft which is in the U.S. While both are complete, neither is presently airworthy although it is believed that the latter aircraft will once again take to the air in the near future.

If you would like more information about the other non-SEN Carvairs, then do check out the informative site below:


Carvair Production List


Carvair Variants


Standard freight conversion


Car ferry conversion with 2 x 250lb lead, wing-tip stabilisation weights

While not a variant as such, two Carvairs (G-ASKG & G-AXAI) were informally known as ‘long-range’ aircraft being as they were capable of carrying more oil for their engines and as a result more fuel. Other, unrealised conversions were to involve the modification of larger, DC-6 airframes and a ‘Super Carvair’ variant that was to be powered by more efficient Rolls Royce Dart turboprops. However, nothing came of these designs.



Number Built



Mixed Pax/Cargo


102ft 7in (31.27m)


117ft 6in (35.82m)


23 pax and 5 cars

34 pax and 4 cars

55 pax and 3 cars

65 pax and cargo

85 pax or 8.5 tons of cargo

Cruise Speed

205kt – 185mph (298km/h)


18,700ft (5,700m)


2,400nm with a 5 ton payload or 1,250nm fully loaded (8.5 tons)


4 x 1,450hp – Pratt and Whitney R-2000 7M2 Twin Wasp radials