On May 6, 1959, the Caravelle F-BHRA "Alsace" in Air France colours took off from Orly for Rome, Athens and Istanbul. 60 years ago, the illustrious career of an iconic aircraft began.
The adventure began in 1951, when the French authorities entrusted SNCASE* with the construction of the first French jet. Associated with the design of the SE 210 (renamed Caravelle, in reference to Christopher Columbus), Air France ordered 12 aircraft in 1956 and integrated it into its fleet in 1959. La Caravelle became the company's spearhead for Europe and the Mediterranean, and the pride of France during the country's "thirty glorious years" (1945-1975). General de Gaulle made it his presidential aircraft in 1958 and all the great stars travelled on it. On the tarmacs, it was easily recognizable with its ovoid windows, rear engines and retractable stairs. Pilots praised its ‘gentle touch’ and its large wings, making it easier to ensure a kiss landing.
But the Caravelle was soon replaced by the more efficient Boeing 727 and 737. Sud Aviation (which became Aerospatiale then Airbus EADS) started to focus its efforts on the Concorde and then on the first Airbus (A300).
Until 1981, the elegant Caravelle remained in service at Air France, which operated 54 of these aircraft.
*which merged with SNCASO in 1957 to form Sud Aviation
Pascale Raymond (an Air France employee) says: "I remember having to be extremely precise with the abacs (load sheets), especially on flights to Corsica because of the number/ weight of bags. The pilots who flew this aircraft were really happy, they loved flying it. Even then it was a legendary aircraft!"