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Skyvan had trunk to be proud of

How Shorts used a baby elephant to market the cargo space of its new plane

By Eddie McIlwaine

Yes, dear reader, you are quite right. That is a picture of a baby elephant trying to hitch a ride in a Skyvan once upon a time at planemakers Short & Harland.

Now whether the tusker weighing more than half-a-ton actually got aboard the award-winning freighter, I'll leave for you to decide.

All I can tell you is that one autumn afternoon exactly 50 years ago in 1964, Shorts borrowed the elephant babe either from Bellevue Zoo or a passing circus just to check if Nellie could climb into the back of the versatile little plane.

The point they were trying to get across was that the Skyvan, winner of a Queen's Award to Industry, could carry any kind of load.

Nellie came to no harm I'm assured by aviation buff Ernie Cromie who reveals in the new book, Aircraft And Aerospace Manufacturing In Northern Ireland, which he has written with Guy Warner, that 223 Shorts freighters – the family included the Skyvan, the 330 version and the 360 type – were still flying in 2009 for 77 operators in places like South America, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Middle East. This included 50 Skyvans.

Most of them are still airworthy today.

The Skyvan, which first flew in January 1963, is a portly, kind of ugly aircraft.

Never mind its looks, this flying shoebox, as it was nicknamed, had a reputation as a rugged and reliable low cost transporter with a short take off and landing capability, which allowed it to be used in a variety of roles.

Shorts was acquired by Bombardier 25 years ago and the aerospace conglomerate became the owners of a company that was established in 1908 on the Isle of Sheppey before setting up a plant in Belfast, where a long line of innovative and successful aircraft, military and civil, was developed.

What Nellie the elephant thought of the Skyvan we shall never know – but what a picture I lay on you today.

Titanic's designer went down with ship after ignoring Gypsy's warning

If Thomas Andrews had taken the advice of an old Gypsy woman who approached him a few days before he boarded the Titanic, of which he was the chief designer, he would not have gone down with his ship.

She warned Andrews that if he sailed on the Titanic, calamity would befall him.

The Comber man chose not to heed the warning and he died with the doomed liner in April 1912.

I mention the incident today because the story is told in a book Titanic: Psychic Forewarnings Of A Tragedy by one George Behe, which was published several years ago, but has just come my way. Andrews was a much-respected figure at Harland & Wolff where the Titanic was built and if he had decided to stay home it would have been a sensation that year when she met her sad end.

Behe has researched scores of similar warnings to passengers and crew, but he can't guarantee they are all authentic.

Anyway, this is a Titanic book with a fresh look at a tragedy that will never be forgotten.

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