Douglas DC-6 serial number 45497, completed by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Santa Monica on 13 June 1958. Registered G-APSA she has flown almost continuously since completion and is currently operated by a specialist division of Air Atlantique under the brand name The Six.
On 13 June 1958 Douglas DC-6 serial number 45497 was delivered to her first owner Maritime Central Airways in Moncton, New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. She flew a total of 200 hours for this company before being bought by Eagle Aviation Ltd, (later known as British Eagle) and flown to Blackbushe in the United Kingdom in January 1959.
Following several modifications she completed an air test for the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority on 18 March 1959. She was in service the following day. Throughout the following months the aircraft was heavily involved in the clean-up operation on Christmas Island (Kiritimati) following the first series of British nuclear tests, known as Operation Grapple. During this period G-APSA flew several very long flights, including services from Kiritimati to Honolulu and San Fransisco. In 1959, before the advent of meaningful automatic long range navigation systems, these flights would have relied upon celestial navigation and dead reckoning until within a few hundred miles of their destination.
Later, G-APSA brought men and materials to Woomera, Australia in support of the British Black Knight rocket program, usually stopping at Adelaide and occasionally routing home via Tokyo HanedaJapan and the United States.
Between these epic flights and various trooping contracts which took the aircraft to Aden and beyond, G-APSA was in regular use carrying the first package tourists to destinations in Europe and occasionally North America. The sum of these activities was to give G-APSA a very important place in post war British Aviation. However, the loss of military contracts and failure to obtain route licences for longer passenger journeys forced what had become British Eagle to reassess its fleet needs
The Arabian GulfEdit
In 1963 G-APSA was traded with Saudi Arabian Airlines in exchange for Douglas DC-4s which British Eagle felt were better suited to the shorter European routes that now formed the bulk of its work. G-APSA was operated only briefly by Saudi before being gifted to Yemen Airways as 4W-ABQ who based it at San'a. Little else is known about its time in the region.
Returning to the UKEdit
The aircraft was bought by Instone airline in 1987 and flown to Southend. The flight itself was problematic, with only one radio, limited navigational equipment and sever fuel leaks that reportedly caused one crew member to abandon the flight before it reached the UK. After a comprehensive rebuild and repainting in the Instone house livery the aircraft was put into service as a pure freighter. All the ]]pressurisation]] equipment and most of the cabin lining had been removed and the aircraft was able to carry up to 13.5 tonnes of cargo - usually race horses.
The aircraft was operated almost exclusively by Air Atlantique, then fast becoming a major niche operator using mostly Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Air Atlantique had previously experimented with the operation of two Douglas DC-6B aircraft, G-SIXA and G-SIXB, previously owned by Greenlandair, but these aircraft were not fitted with the large freight doors of G-APSA and consequently had limited value in the specialist freight market. Finding success with the suitably equipped G-APSA, Air Atlantique entered into a formal agreement to lease G-APSA for a peppercorn rent - an arrangement that is believed to exist to this day.
In 2004, against a backdrop of intense competition from new accession countries to the European Union, Air Atlantique found it incresingly difficult to persuade the market to use what was now a clearly obsolete transport aircraft. Her flexibility of operation and excellent reliability were no match for the cheaper, faster Soviet era turboprop aircraft that were becoming available. The last commercial flight of a DC-6 in Europe took place on 13 October 2004.
The aircraft continued to fly sporadically, particularly at airshows and for crew currency. In 2006 she won the Battle of Britain Memorial Sword for her part in that year's Biggin Hill Air Fair. A cameo appearance in the film remake of Casino Royale also hepled to raise her profile, so that in 2007 the decision was taken to operate her as a dedicated air show and sponsorship vehicle. Several shows, including at Blenheim Palace, Jersey, the Aviodrome and Hamburg cemented her place on the airshow circuit. According the The Six, the future of this important airaft is now secure. G-APSA is currently painted to represent a DC-6A of KLM for a film about the 1953 London to Christchurch air race, due to be released in 2008.
- ↑ Check Six, Ruud Leeuw - lots of images and information
- ↑ British Eagle - photos and information from G-APSA's time at Eagle
- ↑ Airshows.org review
- ↑ Airways Museum
- ↑ Bride Flight
- ↑ Flight International
Oldprops DC6 page - Information on current DC-6 fleet