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The Origins of Consolidated Vultee Aircraft and Convair

The Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, whose name was in the course of time changed to Convair the Convair Corporation and similar names, was an American aircraft, rocket, and spacecraft company for the design, development, and manufacturing of such high-technology aerospace products, and/or sub-units of them, or else a subsidiary of a larger corporation. It existed as a company from 1943 until 1994, and of course, its best-known predecessor the Consolidated Aircraft company had existed before that, and had produced aircraft that were important in the early years of World War II, especially the PBY Catalina for the U.S. Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the British flying forces, and some others. The Catalina remained in production though May 1945, and a total of over 4.000 of them were built. What was soon to be called "Convair" (first unofficially, and then officially), was created in 1943 by the merger of the Consolidated Aircraft Company and the Vultee Aircraft Company. This merger produced a large airplane company of that time period, though still smaller than the giants like Douglas Aircraft, Boeing, and Lockheed. Convair always had most of its research, design, and manufacturing operations in San Diego Countymarker of Southern California, and nearby counties, though other locations were involved, as well.

Convair in the Jet Age, the Cold War, and the Space Age

In March 1953, all of the Convair company was bought by the General Dynamics Corporation, a conglomerate of military and high-technology companies, and it became officially the Convair Division within General Dynamics.

After the beginning of the jet age of military fighters and bombers, Convair was a pioneer of the delta-winged aircraft design, along with the French Dassault aircraft company, which designed and built the Mirage figher plane.

Some of Convair's most famous products were the gigantic 10 Engined Convair B-36 strategic bomber, burning 4 turbojets & turning 6 backward props driven by huge Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radial piston engines. Convair B-36is the largest landbased piston engined bomber in the world. the Atlas missile, the F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart delta-winged interceptors, and the delta-winged B-58 Hustler supersonic intercontinental nuclear bomber. For a period of time in the 1960s, Convair manufactured its own line of jet commercial airliners, but this did not turn out to be a profitable business. However, Convair found that it was profitable to become an aviation subcontractor and to manufacture large subsections of airliners, such as fuselages for the larger airliner companies, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and Lockheed.

The Convair Division produced its own airplane designs, such as several airliners, until 1965, when it shifted from these to airframe/aerostructure subcontracting projects for other companies. Convair also shifted more money and effort into its outer space products, especially rocket boosters. The Convair-made and cryogenically-fueled Atlas missile ICBM for the U.S. Air Force had within just a handful of years become obsolete, and had been replaced by the room-temperature liquid-fueled Titan II missile and the solid-fueled Minuteman missile.

Convair worked hard to make its Atlas rocket product into an very reliable space booster rocket, especially when combined with the Centaur upper stage to form the Atlas-Centaur rocket for launching geosynchronous communication satellites and space probes. The Centaur rocket was also designed, developed, and produced by Convair, and it was the first widely-used outer space rocket to use the all-cryogenic fuel-oxidizer combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The use of this liquid hydrogen - liquid oxygen combination in the Centaur was an important direct precursor to the use of the same fuel-oxidizer combination in the Saturn S-II second stage and the Saturn S-IVB third stage of the gigantic Saturn V moon rocket of the Apollo project. The S-IVB had earlier also been used as the second stage of the smaller Saturn IB rocket, such as the one which was used to launch Apollo 7. The Centaur upper stage was first designed and developed for launching the Surveyor lunar landers, beginning in 1966, to augment the delta-V of the Atlas rockets and give them enough payload capability to deliver the required mass of the Surveyors to the Moon.

Well-over 100 Convair-produced Atlas-Centaur rockets (including those with their successor designations) were used to successfully launch over 100 satellites, and among their many other outer space missions, they launched the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 space probes, the first two to be launched on trajectories that carried them out of the Solar System.

The End of the Road for Convair and All Its Predecessors

In 1994, the General Dynamics Corporation dismembered and sold the original Convair Division, along with other General Dynamics aerospace units that had been swept into it over the decades. The airframe/aerostructures manufacturing company and the space boosters company (both mostly in California) were sold to the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Then, there were Fort Worth, Texasmarker, factory, and its associated engineering locations, laboratories, etc. These had been used to manufacture hundreds of F-111 Aardvark fighter-bombers and thousands of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter planes, which were not Convair products (but rather "General Dynamics" products), for the U.S. Air Force, and dozens of smaller projects. Everything there, including all intellectual property and the legal rights to the products that were being designed and built there, were sold to the Lockheed Corporation. In 1996, General Dynamics deactivated all of the remaining legal entities of the Convair Division.

In addition to aircraft, missiles and space vehicles, Convair developed the large Charactron vacuum tubes, which were the precursors of modern cathode ray tube (CRT) computer displays, and to give an example of a minor product, the CORDIC algorithms, which is widely used today to calculate trigonometric functions in calculators, field-programmable gate arrays, and other small electronic systems.



Note that Air Force and U.S. Navy aircraft designations that begin with "X" are merely experimental models of aircraft that are only made in small numbers, including one, two, or three. Examples of those, above, are the XB-46, XF-92, and the X-6. Military aircraft designations that begin with "Y" are just developmental models made in small numbers tht might or might not have lead to large-scale production. An examples of that, above, is the YB-60, where the B-60 never went into mass production. In the airplane business, ones that never went into mass production are far more common than those that did.On the other hand, in the former designation system that they Navy and the Marine Corps used, a final letter of "Y" meant that the airplane was a Convair or a Consolidated Aircraft product, for example, the Consolidated PBY-5 "Catalina" flying boat.

Missiles and rockets


"Convair Drive" at the Toronto Pearson International Airportmarker is believed to be named for the Convair company.


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