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The CV-880 was the first jet-powered airliner designed for medium-range routes, and was also General Dynamics' first American-built aircraft. In 1956, TWA president Howard Hughes sat down with the Convair division's engineers and worked out a basic specification for the plane, calling it the "Convair Skylark." Later on, it was known as the "Golden Arrow": the number 880 was eventually picked because it was the airplane's top speed in feet per second.

Speed was the 880's major selling point. Along with its sister aircraft, the Convair 990, it still holds most of the speed records for subsonic airliners: only the Concorde and Tupolev Tu-144 have been faster. The biggest obstacle to the plane's success turned out to be TWA itself: Hughes had insisted on having the only orders for the first year of the program, and by the time other airlines could place their orders, the 880 had a formidable competitor in the new Boeing 720.

The 880's first flight was in 1959, and it entered service with Delta Air Lines in 1960. Only sixty-five would be built. Alaska Airlines and Northeast Airlines flew the 880 on U.S. domestic routes, while Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways were the only overseas operators. The entire 880 and 990 program turned into the most financially disastrous product line in history, costing General Dynamics hundreds of millions of dollars.

By 1974, the Convair 880 had disappeared from airline service. Today, only six 880's are known to exist. One of them was Elvis Presley's private jet, and is now on display at Graceland. Another one has been stripped and converted into a restaurant. Today, a group of enthusiasts called "Team Convair" own two of the six, and are attempting to restore one to flyable condition. You can check on their progress at http://www.convair880.com.

Passengers: 94 to 110
Flight crew: 6 to 8
Length: 129'4" (41.7 m)
Wingspan: 120' (38.7 m)
Cruise speed: 555 mph (890 kph)
Top speed: 600 mph (960 kph)
Maximum range: 2,900 miles (4,580 km)
Service ceiling: 35,000' (11,600 m)
Takeoff weight: 380,000 lb (173,000 kg)

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