The Junkers were the Prussian German-speaking aristocracy who controlled vast estates in what is now Eastern Europe. The story of that unhappy chapter of European history and how it got that way, is best to left to other writers on Medium.

Image for post
Image for post
Junkers J 1. Photo by Peter Grosz

In this case, we are talking about a long line of innovative aircraft produced by an engineer named Hugo Junkers, whose original aircraft the J 1 was the world’s first flyable all-metal aircraft, and one of the fastest machines of its day in 1915. The firm went on to produce a limited number of other types during the Great…


The disappearance of the Boeing 777— has the mystery been solved?

Seven years have passed since a Boeing 777–200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines, using the call sign MH370, disappeared without trace. The fate of that hitherto routine flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China on the night of March 8, 2014, has become the most enduring puzzle in aviation history since pioneering aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean between Lae, New Guinea and Hawaii in 1937.

Image for post
Image for post
The missing aircraft 9M-MRO photographed at Melbourne airport in 2005. Courtesy David Thiedeman

The mystery of MH370 soon gripped the world, with one 24-hour news channel devoting almost an entire year to the story — with no resolution, of course…


The aftermath

The tragic crash of Flight LL001,(Part 1 of this story is here) a Douglas DC-8–63CF operated by Icelandic Airlines and chartered by Garuda Indonesia, in November 1978 sent shock waves through Sri Lanka. The island was just emerging from a long period of self-imposed isolation, with a new government determined to open the country to outside investment. Building an export-based industrial base was a priority. Expanding the country’s nascent tourist industry was also a goal, and to that end a brand-new airline was to be founded to take over from the ailing Air Ceylon.

Image for post
Image for post
Colombo airport circa 1978. It was not exactly busy. DP collection

Years of neglect and poor decisions…


The crash of Icelandic Airlines flight LL-001

In 1978 Sri Lanka was emerging from a long period of economic isolation. A landmark election the year before had ushered in a change of government, with a mandate to open up the economy. Rebuilding ties with the West, long-ignored during a period of austerity and socialist policies, was a priority for the new regime.

Four years earlier, on December 4, 1974, the tragic crash of Martinair 138, a chartered McDonnell Douglas DC-8–55CF (see Daily FT Sri Lanka’s worst air disaster), had shocked the entire world, as it was the worst aviation disaster (by death toll) at the time. That…


Nord Aviation

In the late 1940s, France was trying to rebuild its industrial base after the near-destruction caused by the Second World War. Part of that effort was to re-establish aircraft manufacturing.

The French government compelled many small firms to join forces, the impetus that led to the formation of Sud Aviation (Southern Aviation) of Toulouse, which in turn spawned many innovative aircraft and the giant Airbus Group of today. The same forces formed Nord Aviation, which was based at Bourges airport in central France.

The need for a new aircraft

Post-WW2 the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) was wholly reliant for transport on ex-Luftwaffe Junkers Ju…


Anthony Fokker is another of those brilliant but almost forgotten pioneers of flight. He was born in 1890 in Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where his father was a coffee planter. After the family returned to the Netherlands, Wilbur Wright’s demonstration flights in Paris, France inspired young Anthony to become an aircraft designer .

Fokker produced his own aircraft named de Spin (spider in Dutch) that was the first Dutch-built aircraft to fly in that country. …


De Havilland Canada’s ‘flying pick-up trucks’ had made the company and its products a household name in the frozen north of Canada, and the then-new US state of Alaska, by the 1960s. Many isolated communities were almost entirely dependent on transport links provided by the DHC-2 Beaver and its larger sibling the DHC-3 Otter. When Pratt & Whitney Canada, maker of the Wasp radial (piston) engine on the Beaver and Otter, began producing a small turbine engine, named the PT6, the designers at DHC recognized an opportunity. …


Geoffrey de Havilland’s eponymous company was thriving in the ‘Roaring 20s’ as the world entered a heady period of growth, following the carnage of what was being called the Great War. A number of innovative designs were produced, and de Havilland finally hit pay dirt with the D.H.82 Tiger Moth. In 1931 the Royal Air Force adopted this wood-and-fabric biplane, with its benign handling characteristics, as the basic trainer for its pilots.

Image for post
Image for post
A D.H. 82 Tiger Moth at Ratmalana airport in Ceylon. DP collection

This led to a surge in orders as the Tiger Moth (not to be confused with the preceding D.H.60 Moth/Gypsy Moth) was acquired by many other air forces…


Alliot Verdon Roe was another of the world’s almost-forgotten aviation pioneers. In 1909, only six years after the Wright brothers first flew in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, young Roe designed, built and flew the first British aircraft in Hackney, near London.

Image for post
Image for post
Avro 504 at Duxford. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

A.V. Roe and his brother Humphrey formed the Avro aircraft company in 1910. Their first successful model was the Avro 504 biplane that served in the First World War. The type was very popular for its benign handling characteristics, and served post-WW1 as a trainer, with almost 9,000 being built; a record for its time. …


The Ukraine is a huge expanse of fertile steppe in Eastern Europe. This land with a long and turbulent history has been fought over for millennia. It is known as the breadbasket of the region, and possibly because of this has suffered two devastating famines in recent history. The Russian Famine in 1921 after the Revolution led to the deaths of an estimated 5 million and another caused by the collectivization of agriculture under Stalin in 1932, known as the Holodomor, killed up to 12 million more.

Neither these tragedies, nor the turbulent recent history of the region, is however…

Suren Ratwatte

I love airplanes. As an airline captain I flew many including the A380 and Boeing 777. But wish I’d had the opportunity to fly some of these old propliners.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store