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Armstrong-Whitworth AW650-222 Argosy & Crash

The "Merchant Enterprise" is an AW-650 Series 222 Argosy aircraft built by the Armstrong Whitworth company at Baginton, near Coventry, England. This unique twin-boomer first flew on 10 March 1965 and was operated by BEA on their European cargo routes. It then did several years service with TransAir in Canada and Alaska before arriving in New Zealand in July 1974. The aircraft is now on permanent display near Blenheim Airport in New Zealand.

The giant aircraft sits alongside the "Argosy Café", a specially built aviation-theme Café complete with a display room of artifacts, paintings and photographs.  Photo: © 2007 Les Bushell (Image Supplied)

Registered as ZK-SAE, "Merchant Enterprise" was operated by Safe Air Limited from the mid-197-'s until 1990, from the company's base at Woodbourne, near Blenheim. Along with its sister aircraft ZK-SAF "Merchant Pioneer", ZK-SAE flew the main trunk air routes of New Zealand as a general purpose cargo carrier and also flew the unique Chatham Islands service, using a specially-built pressurised passenger capsule fitted inside the freight hold.

The pressurised passenger capsule for the Chatham Island route was relatively luxurious.   Copyright © Paul Davidson (Image Supplied)

In December 1978 the Argosy was the subject of much media attention when a series of "UFOs" were seen and filmed from it whilst flying along the Kaikoura Coast. The "UFOs" were also tracked on radar and seen by other air and ground observers. What they were is still a matter of much debate.

On April 1st 1990, ZK-SAF "Merchant Pioneer" crash landed at Woodbourne Airport and was damaged beyond economic repair. A third Argosy was leased from Australia for five months as a replacement, but SAFE Air made the decision to retire all the aircraft and the last flight by a New Zealand Argosy was made in September 1990. "Merchant Enterprise" made this last flight back to Woodbourne commanded by long-serving SAFE Captains Allan Graham and Ian Pirie. It was then stripped of engines and instruments in preparation for scrapping. However at the last minute the aircraft was purchased by the Argosy Trust and moved to a nearby farm where it remained for some years awaiting restoration.

Moving the Argosy by road, to its final home opposite Blenheim Airport.   Copyright © Paul Davidson (Image Supplied)

In November 1999 the aircraft was moved down Highway 6 to its present home as the centre-piece of the Argosy Museum and Café, immediately adjacent to its former base on Woodbourne airfield. It has been progressively restored to full static display standard but is unlikely to ever fly again. Check out the Trust's website at:

  Photo © Les Bushell, 2007 (Image Supplied)


Overall Length: 26.44 m / 86ft 9in

Wingspan: 35.50 m / 115ft 0in

Height (Tail): 8.91 m / 29ft 3in

Fuselage Length: 18.74 m / 60ft 7in

Fuselage Width: 3.81 m / 12ft 6in

Weight Empty: 21,000kg / 46,000 lbs (20 tons)

Max Weight: 40,000kg / 88,000 lbs (39 tons)

Max Payload: 12,000kg / 28,000 lbs (12.5 tons)

Cruising Speed: 210 knots

Ceiling : 25,000 ft

On April 1st 1990, "Merchant Pioneer" crash landed at Woodbourne Airport in Blenheim. This video was filmed on the day and shows the crash landing, along with some of the subsequent efforts to recover the aircraft. Copyright © Paul Davidson, Bytesize Productions, and The Argosy Trust. Used with permission.

ZK-SAE ("Merchant Enterprise") was one of just seven civilian 200 Series Argosies built. This aircraft is the sole survivor as all others eventually crashed or were scrapped. Another 56 military Argosies (100 Series) were built for the RAF and served with Transport Command through the 1960's. Most of these were also scrapped, but one can still be seen at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford in the United Kingdom.

Sadly, there are no Argosies left flying anywhere in the world.

SAFE Air Armstrong Whitworth Argosy in Nelson (NZ) - Mid 1980's . This footage was originally shot by M. Clarkson on 8mm film stock.

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