A Brief History of the SkyVan
In 2016, we had a special visitor at Perris: the original designer of The Short SC-7 Skyvan. Nicknamed the “Flying Shoebox” for its idiosyncratically rectangular airframe, this 22-seat, twin-turboprop aircraft was manufactured by Short Brothers of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Skyvan is seldom publicly seen, but we love them at Perris– we own five of the ~40 skyvans still in existence!
The first flight of the Skyvan–“Skyvan 1”–took place on the 17th of January, 1963. The pilots and crew instantly began referring to it as “the shed,” but the airplane’s boxiness was a good thing: compared to other aircraft of a similar size, the Skyvan has an enormous rear door, which makes loading and unloading freight (and, well, skydivers) a heck of a lot easier. In fact, the plane’s distinctly rectangular shape mimics that of a railroad boxcar, making its destiny as a freight hauler apparent upon the first glance.
The Skyvan story starts in the late 1950’s. In 1958, the Shorts brothers were approached by another aviation outfit–F.G. Miles Ltd.–which was strategizing the production of an airplane design based on the H.D.M.106 Caravan. The idea was to retain the Caravan’s freight capacity while introducing a high-aspect-ratio wing (much like the similarly boxy Hurel-Dubois HD.31). After taking a hard look at the data Miles presented them, the Shorts brothers chucked the Caravan idea entirely and went all-in on their own ideas. They cooked up a unique, original design–a utility aircraft, built entirely out of metal–and they called it the Short SC-7 Skyvan.
By 1960, they were ready to rivet. They built the first Skyvan out at Belfast’s Sydenham Airport. By 1963, it was flying. Before production ended in 1986, just over 150 of them flew off the assembly line, meeting a variety of interesting destinies in the process.
The noble (if portly) Skyvans served a number of purposes in both military and civilian aviation.
Guyana and Oman have both used the Skyvan for military purposes, as has Argentina. In fact, two of them were used by the Argentine Naval Prefecture during the Falklands War in 1982. Both, unfortunately, died on the ground. One aircraft fell to naval gunfire as it sat on the Stanley racecourse, waiting for it to be put into service; the other actually saw some action at Pebble Island, but it ended up getting stuck in the soft ground and was therefore easy prey for the British assault that came after it.
You’ll see them occasionally at air shows; they’re pressed into service to carry out aerial geological surveys; they end up flying air-to-air photography missions. Our favorite place to see the Skyvan, of course, is in the skydiving context. There, it truly is a van of the sky: a high-capacity aircraft that’s comfortable to sit in on the ride to altitude and loads of fun to run out the back. It’s one of our favorite ways to get up into the wild blue yonder–and we always wave back at it when we huck a gainer from the rear exit!