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.

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…


Electric power holds promise of a new era

Propeller-driven aircraft, the focus of this blog, have been roaring their way across the skies for more than a hundred years. Elegant, useful and amazing pieces of engineering they might be, but it has to be admitted that they are also noisy and spew pollutants wherever they fly.

But help may be at hand, as a pioneering experiment starts to bear fruit.

Those flying pickup trucks

As featured in a previous column, De Havilland Canada built a tough, dependable and versatile series of floatplanes that still dominate airborne commerce in many parts of the world, especially Canada’s remote northern reaches. …


Propliners guest column continues…

It was the summer of 1971and a war was brewing in South Asia. Pakistan had been created as a Muslim majority country when British India gained independence in 1947, but it was a bifurcated state. East and West Pakistan, though one country, was geographically divided with a large swath of Indian territory between the two halves.That summer, our guest correspondent Ejaz ul Haq had been flying Fokker F27 Friendship twin-turboprop airliners for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), in the Karakoram mountains of West Pakistan. …


Propliner Guest column

The ‘Great Game’ popularized by Rudyard Kipling in his 1901 novel Kim, was the complicated tussle for control played out on the ‘roof of the world’, where the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Himalayan mountain ranges meet in northern India, and the British Empire’s border with Afghanistan and Tibet was demarcated. The area is still disputed, with Pakistan, India and China all laying claim to parts of the territory.

The Roof of the World. Courtesy nybooks.com

Flying in this forbidding region calls for courage, skill and good planning; unforgiving conditions of high terrain and fickle weather lie in wait for the unwary. …


The airline industry as we know it today began in 1925 when a piece of legislation known as the US Air Mail Act was approved by the United States Congress, permitting private contractors to carry airmail for the US Postal Service. The primitive, frail aircraft of the time could barely transport a handful of passengers but, with a guaranteed source of revenue, a landmark period of innovation began.

de Havilland DH-4 used by early US Air Mail flight. Courtesy Smithsonian.

In less than ten years’ time, US designers had built efficient passenger aircraft such as the Boeing Model 247 and the immortal Douglas DC-3, thus creating an entirely new business: the passenger…


BRICS and aviation

Jim O’Neill, chief economist of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that is the epitome of capitalism (and some would say corruption), coined the phrase ‘BRIC’ in 2001 to denote the four emerging economies that would reshape the world’s economy. Brazil, Russia, India and China were poised to dominate the world, with Europe and the USA, the latter in a recession after the ‘dot-com bubble’ burst, about to lose their places at the top of the ladder.

BRICS countries

For a decade or so the premise held, with South Africa added to make the grouping ‘BRICS’, now growing from less than 20% share…


Propeller-driven aircraft changed the world

The Douglas DC-3 is the aircraft that changed the world. Known by a variety of sub-types and nicknames, most popularly ‘Dakota’ in Britain and her colonies, and ‘Gooney Bird’ in the US, Donald Douglas’s peerless creation is still the most-produced airliner in the world. The vast numbers of surplus military C-47s available after the Second World War, meant that practically every start-up airline (including Air Ceylon in 1947) began life with Dakotas providing the lift.

KLM DC-2. Courtesy KLM.

The US Army’s transport command (the independent US Air Force wasn’t formed until 1947) selected the C-47 as the backbone of its inventory because of…


The Arabian Gulf, known for its torrid summer heat, is at its best during the short winter. December is particularly lovely, with warm daytime temperatures, cool nights, light winds and calm seas. Perfect vacation weather compared to northern Europe, dank and gloomy and throttled by lockdowns and COVID-induced travel bans. What better time to start reopening Dubai for mass tourism after months of lockdowns than the December holiday season?

The United Arab Emirates is technically one nation, but in some areas the seven individual, constituent states have sufficient autonomy to behave differently. …


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.

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.

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

Years of neglect and poor decisions…

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.

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