Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair

By the early 1960s, Aviation Traders had already made a name for itself within the aviation industry as a company that could provide engineering solutions for almost any aircraft that could fly in and out of Southend or Stansted. While it may have failed in its one, single attempt to develop and market a medium sized turboprop airliner in the form of the ATL.90 Accountant, its engineering department was still kept busy with contracts that provided maintenance and a wide range of aircraft conversions to some of the largest aircraft manufacturers and airlines that were operating at the time. However, it was to be within the realm of the increasingly popular, cross-Channel car ferry services where Freddy Laker’s and thus ATEL’s forward thinking would eventually come to the fore. While ferry flights were already proceeding well from airports such as Southend, Lydd and Hurn with the Bristol 170 Freighter, profit margins were exceedingly tight and if one car or family failed to show then flights would often just about break even and in some cases, would even operate at a loss. Naturally, something had to be done about this and it didn’t take long before Laker came up with the Carvair proposal.

The idea was a simple one! Purchase cheap, piston engined airliners that the major airlines no longer wanted and convert them into freighters that were more cost effective by virtue of being able to carry a larger number of cars and passengers across the Channel than the venerable Bristol 170. By the time a Carvair model had been built, it was envisioned that the standard, post conversion configuration would be able to ferry 5 medium sized carsCarvair Cabin 1963 and 22 passengers to the Continent without any issues, although other cabin configurations would eventually be made available, such as a 34 seat, 3 car cabin (on the right) for Aer Lingus. A Dutch C-54 ‘PH-DBZ’ was initially used as a non-flying prototype to help iron out any problems or issues before construction began on the first aircraft. By October 1st 1960, production had swung into action with work beginning on a former Air Charter C-54 carrying the registration G-ANYB. The process would involve the removal of the entire front section of the aircraft back to the leading edge of the wings although parts of the forward fuselage would be reused. The vertical stabiliser was also removed for reworking and the outer sections of the wings were dismantled to permit the aircraft to fit within its jigs.

A good number of interior modifications would be made too, especially at the rear of the aircraft where the passengers would sit. A cranked bulkhead would separate the passenger area from the cargo hold, the space at the bottom being large enough to accommodate a car bonnet while the top would look at life 4be utilised as shelving or storage on the passenger’s side. On entering the aircraft, the passengers would be guided to the right down a small corridor which housed a small toilet and galley area. This then led into the rear cabin which was described as being on the cosy side although for short hops, the close proximity of the seating arrangements didn’t cause too much in the way of problems. While retaining the original cockpit from the donor aircraft which had been perched atop the now familiar, bulbous Carvair nose, G-ANYB was now all but unrecognisable in her new form. A large, side opening nose door had been fitted to enable cars to be driven straight into her cavernous hold, while several other modifications were undertaken such as the strengthening of the cargo hold floor and the addition of DC-6 brakes that would provide more stopping power. Finally, the new rudder which was later frequently mistaken for that of the DC-7 was fitted and by the 17th of June, she was ready to leave the hangar.

Five days later, she would take to the air for the first time in her new guise and over the next month and a half, she would complete 25 flights and 46Lift hours of trials which included a wide range of CoG and stability tests using varying loads of water ballast. Somewhat surprisingly, the aircraft was found to be pleasant to fly, the new nose having no detrimental affects on flight characteristics whatsoever, while fully loaded take off trials were described as being ‘most impressive’. By February 1962 she was ready to go to her new owner – Channel Air Bridge, an airline that would ultimately purchase three aircraft for its cross Channel routes to the Continent. Yet, despite the increased hold capacity of this aircraft, one problem still remained – that of getting cars in and out of the aircraft, the cargo floor begin around 9ft off of the ground. Eventually, ATEL solved this issue by coming up with the scissor lift or ‘Hylo’, a design that is still used at airports around the world to this very day.

super carvairBetween 1960 and 1968, ATEL constructed a total of 21 Carvairs at its Southend and Stansted facilities. Aircraft c/n 1, 11 and 21 were built at Southend while the rest were converted at Stansted. However, all Carvair noses were constructed at the former location and a good number of aircraft were generally flown there to finalise their conversions and in some cases undergo refinishing. Thirteen Carvairs initially went to SEN based airlines, while the other eight were destined to serve with airlines abroad. Further designs were considered including conversions of the larger DC-6 and 7 and a Super Carvair, powered by Rolls Royce Dart turboprops. A conversion of the pressurised Canadair DC-4M was also looked at too, although sadly nothing ever came of these ideas.

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