The CV-990 was a first-generation jet airliner
that competed with the Boeing 707
and Douglas DC-8
. (Okay, try didn't compete: only 37 were built, mostly for American Airlines
, and Varig
.) Nicknamed "Coronado
," it was originally developed by Consolidated-Vultee
, which later changed its name to Convair
and was eventually bought out by General Dynamics
. The 990 first flew in 1961
Essentially, the 990 was an upgraded version of the Convair 880, designed after United turned down the 880 and American asked for an improved aircraft to serve as the flagship of its Astrojet fleet. The resulting plane was (and still is) one of the fastest jetliners ever produced, able to cruise at 615 mph. This was accomplished by powerful engines, a narrow body, and special "shock pods" on top of the wings.
However, the 990's high performance came at a cost. The streamlined fuselage could only hold 110 passengers, compared to the 707 and DC-8's capacity of 150. The wing pods were originally intended to hold fuel, but the added weight caused them to vibrate dangerously at high speeds, so they had to be left hollow. This gave the 990 a comparatively dismal operating range (3000 miles on the outside), and made its operation a losing proposition for most airlines, killing sales. American, the largest customer, ended up replacing a $25 million down payment with 25 Douglas DC-7's, each valued at less than half a million dollars.
The 990 program ended as a write-off for General Dynamics: by some estimates, they lost over $150 million in the whole ordeal, not a small sum for a company reporting $2 billion in annual sales. Some planes were pulled off of the assembly line half-completed in a vain effort to recover costs. Convair never made another civil transport, and its defense contracts were seriously scarred for some time.