AN INSTANT HIT WITH DISCERNING PASSENGERS
Bought in September 1958 by Harold Bamberg, founder of independent airline Eagle Airways, the aircraft was delivered to his Hampshire base in January 1959. After refit to his specification it entered service on 19 March, referred to officially as “Sierra Alpha” after the last two letters of her UK registration mark ‘G-APSA’, but known to her crews thereafter simply as ‘Gappser’.
G-APSA was an instant hit with discerning passengers, operating schedules to the fashionable resorts of Innsbruck, Rimini, Nice and Bergen, and helping Eagle to develop profitable routes to Bermuda and New York in direct competition with the national carriers. Long range government contracts saw her in exotic locations across the world, breaking records for utilisation and flying over 3,500 hours in a single twelve month period. Specialist charters included transporting Hans Hermann’s BRM P25 to the 1959 German Grand Prix.
The aircraft flew in support of the “Blue Streak” rocket program – an extraordinary chapter in Britain’s short-lived attempt to develop an indigenous orbital launch capability, subsequently incorporated in the successful European Ariane launch system. G-APSA flew east on these voyages, outward via the Middle East and Maldives and back via Hawaii and San Francisco.
From 1962 she flew for the shipping line Cunard in a joint venture with Eagle, before sale to Saudi Arabian Airlines. Arriving in Jeddah in late 1964, the aircraft took on the new identity “HZ-ADA” and flew freight and passenger schedules. In 1971 she passed to Yemenia Airlines, registered as “4W-ABQ”. The aircraft is fondly remembered by staff of the time, and the official histories of these airlines recall the important role she played in developing aviation in the region.
In 1987 Instone Air Line, based in England, needed a capable long range aircraft to support its growing racehorse and exotic cargo operations, and determined that the DC-6 was the perfect solution. Discovering G-APSA still complete and essentially flyable at Sana’a, and following an epic adventure to secure her, Instone returned the aircraft to her original home.
Following an extensive refurbishment, G-APSA began 17 years of unbroken commercial operations under permanent charter to a UK based freight specialist, carrying mixed cargos to destinations all over Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean. Throughout the 1990s her long range, dependable operation and 13 tonne cargo capacity made her ideal for this market.