Saturday, 22 May 2010

Familiar shape in the sky

One of my favourite regulars at Warsaw Okęcie airport is airBaltic's Fokker F50 (below). This twin turboprop is a development of the Fokker F27 Friendship, which first flew in November 1955 and has been in continuous service since 1958.

The F50 (originally designated F27 Mk 50) shares the same basic airframe as the F27, the only major external differences being the smaller, more numerous passenger windows on the F50, and its six-bladed propellers. The fuselage, wings and tail are largely unchanged.

Aeronautical technology has plateaued. It would be unthinkable to see, half a century ago in 1960, an aircraft in regular revenue-earning service whose airframe dates back to before WWI*. Yet its not unusual to see aircraft that were designed and first flew in the 1950s over our skies today. Here are four (first flights in brackets): Lockheed Hercules (Aug '55), Boeing 707 (Dec '57), Antonov An-12 (Dec '57). The Douglas DC-8 (Dec '58) also flies into Okęcie (as a freighter) from time to time - I've seen it but not yet snapped it.

Growing up under the flightpath to London's Heathrow Airport, the Fokker Friendship was a regular sight in the skies over West London, along with sadly departed shapes such as the Vickers Viscount, Vanguard and VC10 and De Havilland Comet and Trident.

Below: Another Fokker F50 inbound to land at Okęcie, two weeks ago. After snapping it, I was astonished to see the Icelandic flag and registration (TF-JFM); could it have flown to Warsaw all the way from Reykjavik? No - this plane has been leased by Flugfelag Airlines of Iceland to Latvia's airBaltic. Both shots taken just after midday, the same Riga-Warsaw flight, BT461. The journey takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.

* The record holder back in 1960 would have been the Douglas DC-3, which first flew in 1935, a mere quarter of a century earlier; examples are still flying today.

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