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One of SAS's Caravelles in the air at 1960s.
One of SAS's Caravelles in the air at 1960s.

Aviation

1960s: Welcome to the Jet Age

Flying over the North Pole was a great way to make the world smaller, but it pales in comparison to the next big thing: the jet engine.

While SAS had opened the polar routes to Los Angeles and Tokyo between 1954 and 1957, it was also getting ready for a whole new era, the Jet Age. The new jet engines that SAS chose for the French Caravelle jetliner cut 20 minutes for each hour in the air, making a Stockholm-to-Munich journey a comfortable trip of four and a half hours, down from seven hours with the older planes.

The Caravelle flew from Oslo to Stockholm in just 45 minutes, and from Copenhagen to Helsinki in 80 minutes.Illustration of SAS Caravelle.

Each Caravelle cost SKr17 million (SKr219 million, or €24 million, in 2016 currency), so ordering 16 new jet planes (four of which were later leased to Swissair) was a major investment for SAS. A DC-8 cost almost twice as much, SKr30 million, but the Caravelle was perfect for SAS’s European and Middle Eastern routes. Its two jet engines were attached to the main body of the plane, slightly behind the wings, in order to reduce the noise level inside the cabin, so that the 72 passengers would have a pleasant travel experience.

SAS had placed its order in 1957, and Swedish media ran reports on the construction progress of the Caravelle. The first one went to Air France, but the manufacturer, Sud Aviation, was eager to win non-French clients and made SAS an offer it couldn’t refuse. In the end, SAS had 21 Caravelles in its fleet until it phased them out in 1974. Only Air France had more.

That’s probably also why so many people flying to and from Scandinavia have fond memories of the plane.

“I first flew on SAS from London to Stockholm in the summer of 1965,” Mark Anthony Passmore, a Scandinavian Traveler reader, told us in an email. “I was six years old and it was the first time I flew on a jet plane. The Caravelle was a fantastic plane and [I remember that] the seats were huge in a four-seat-across layout.”

On March 26, 1959, the first SAS jet , the Finn Viking, was taken for its first test flight, two months before the scheduled maiden voyage under SAS color

The Jet Age also inspired SAS to announce a design competition for new forks, knives, dessert spoons and teaspoons, a set that was going to highlight the new era of improved speed and class. First prize was SKr4,000 (about SKr55,000, or €6,000, in 2016).        

The winner was Sweden’s Sigurd Persson, who then got an assignment to design the tray and everything else to go with it.

Everything was going well. The Caravelle was a huge hit, and in the first two months 25,000 people had flown on the jet. Four months after the introduction of the French plane, SAS had jet connections to 21 cities in 15 countries, and the Caravelle was nearly always full.

Not everybody loved the new jets, though. People in Stockholm’s suburbs were concerned about the noise levels. According to media reports, some homeowners had seen the plastering on their houses fall off, and one car windshield had cracked exactly when a Caravelle flew overhead. At a school near the airport, the windows shook every time a Caravelle was near, and the teachers had to stop whatever they were doing.

Three months after the Caravelle joined SAS’s fleet, Swedish aviation authorities gave SAS a mandate to investigate moving its Caravelle traffic from Bromma, the downtown airport, to the new Arlanda airport that was still under construction. 

The jet engines was a hit when it comes to speed and comfort, but not everyone was that thrilled about them.

Jets were the reason that Arlanda was being built. While the Caravelle could have operated from Bromma’s two-kilometer-long landing strip, the Convair 600 that SAS had leased from Swissair was too heavy for the airport at full load. Its range was more than 6,000 kilometers, and it had seats for 96 passengers.

The DC-8s that SAS received in early 1960 could not have operated from Bromma. They were also twice as expensive as the Caravelle, but that was the price for getting the latest wonder of the world, a plane that was “close to being supersonic,” could carry 120 passengers, and could be refueled in just 20 minutes.

By 1962, when construction of the Arlanda airport was finished, SAS had seven DC-8s, two Convairs, and 12 Caravelles in its fleet. All in all, including costs for new airports – Fornebu in Norway and Kastrup in Denmark also had to be upgraded – for the planes, and for the SKr6.5 million simulator that had been purchased for Bromma to speed up the training of pilots, investments for the Jet Age cost SAS around SKr700 million, Dagens Nyheter reported in late 1959.

That’s about SKr8 billion today, or €860 million

It was worth it.                 

Last edited: April 7, 2016

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