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Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner
Small airliner and executive aircraft family by Swearingen, later Fairchild
An all-new aircraft was built and named the SA226-T Merlin III with a new nose, wings, landing gear, cruciform horizontal tail[note 1] and inverted inlet Garrett engines. Ultimately a stretch of the Merlin III was designed, sized to seat 22 passengers and called the SA226-TC Metro. Because FAA regulations limited an airliner to no more than 19 seats if no flight attendant was to be carried, the aircraft was optimized for that number of passengers. The standard engines offered were two TPE331-3UW turboprops driving three-bladed propellers. A corporate version called the SA226-AT Merlin IVA was also marketed and initially sales of this version were roughly double that of the Metro.
Prototype construction of the Metro began in 1968 and the first flight was on August 26, 1969. Swearingen Aircraft encountered financial difficulties at this stage, and late in 1971 Fairchild (which was marketing the Metro and building its wings and engine nacelles), bought 90% of Swearingen and the company was renamed Swearingen Aviation Corporation. It was at this point that the previously cash-strapped company was able to put the Metro into production.
In 1974, the original Metro models were replaced by the SA226-TC Metro II after about 20 Metros and about 30 Merlin IVAs had been built.[note 2] Among the changes made were larger, squared-oval windows and optional provision for a small Rocket-Assisted Take Off (RATO) rocket in the tail cone, this being offered to improve takeoff performance out of "hot & high" airfields in the event of an engine failure.
The Metro and Metro II were limited to a maximum weight of 12,500 pounds (5,670 kg) in the US and countries using imperial units, and 5,700 kg in countries using SI units. When this restriction was lifted the Metro II was re-certified as the Metro IIA in 1980 with a maximum weight of 13,100 pounds (5,941 kg) and the Metro II's TPE331-3 engines replaced by -10 engines of increased power.
VH-EEO, a purpose-built SA227-AT Expediter freighter (without cabin windows) in service with Pel-Air, but painted in the Australian air Express livery c. 2007
Colourful Air Chathams Fairchild Metroliner on the tarmac at Whakatane Airport in New Zealand. The aircraft is used exclusively by the airline to maintain a scheduled air service between the Bay of Plenty town and Auckland International Airport.
The SA227-AC Metro III followed, also initially certified in 1980 for up to 14,000 pounds (6,350 kg), this increasing to 14,500 pounds (6,577 kg) as engines and structures were upgraded. An option to go as high as 16,000 pounds (7,257 kg) was offered. Externally, improvements incorporated into the Metro III were a 10 ft (3.05 m) increase in wing span, four-bladed props, redesigned "quick-access" engine cowlings and numerous drag-reducing airframe modifications, including landing gear doors that closed after the gear was extended.
Once again a corporate version was offered as the Merlin IVC (the model name was chosen to align with the contemporaneous short-fuselage Merlin IIIC). A version with strengthened floors and the high gross weight option was offered as a cargo aircraft known as the Expediter. Both the Expediter and the Merlin IVC were designated the SA227-AT. Finally, due to reliability problems with Garrett engines in the second half of the 1980s, the Metro IIIA was offered with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-45R turboprops in place of the Garrett units; however none were actually delivered. A special model was the SA227-BC Metro III built for Mexican airline AeroLitoral, which took delivery of 15 of the 18 of this model that were produced.
Improvements beyond the Metro III provided better systems, more power and a further increase in takeoff weight. This design effort resulted in the SA227 CC (for Commuter Category) and SA227-DC models, initially called the Metro IV then renamed Metro 23, so named as they were designed for certification under FAR Part 23 (Amendment 34) standards. A Metro 23 EF with an external pod under the lower fuselage for greater baggage capacity was also offered as well as an Expediter 23 and Merlin 23. The SA227-CC was an interim model with TPE331-11U engines and only a handful were built.
In the 1960s Swearingen Aircraft developed a prototype SA-28T eight-seat jet aircraft with a flapless delta wing. It shared the tail and cockpit with the Merlin/Metro. The two engines were to be Garrett TFE731turbofans then in development; they were originally to be mounted on the aft fuselage, however during the course of design work their location was moved to under the high-mounted wing. Early flights were to be undertaken with General Electric CJ610 engines fitted. Development continued after Fairchild acquired the company, but the project was shut down nine weeks from first flight. It was later cut up as scrap and the fuselage used as a Metro display at trade shows.
At the 1987 Paris Air Show, Fairchild released details of proposed developments of the Metro designated the Metro V and Metro VI. These versions would have featured a longer fuselage with a taller "stand-up" cabin providing 69 in (180 cm) of interior height for passengers; a redesigned, longer wing; engines moved further out on the wing from the fuselage; a "T-tail" and various system improvements. A Merlin V corporate version of the Metro V was also planned. The Metro V was to be fitted with the same engines as the Metro 23 and the Metro VI was to be fitted with more powerful TPE331-14 engines. The Metro VI was shelved within months of being announced due to a lack of customer interest, but Fairchild did not proceed with the Metro V either.
One version that did see the light of day was the Metro 25, which featured an increased passenger capacity of 25 at the expense of the baggage space found in earlier models; the deletion of the left rear cargo door, the addition of a passenger door on the right-hand rear fuselage, and a belly pod for baggage. A Metro III was converted as a Metro 25 demonstrator, it flew in this configuration in October 1989. Also mooted but not built was the Metro 25J, which would have been another jet-powered aircraft with TFE731s in over-wing pods.
The type certificates for Metro and Merlin aircraft are currently held by M7 Aerospace.
One of the advantages of the Perimeter Aviation modifications was using a four-bladed propeller that was less susceptible to stone chips on gravel runways
Two of the original Metro model were delivered in 1972 to Societe Miniere de Bakwanga (MIBA) in Kinshasa, Zaire, the first customer to put the Metro into service. The first airline to put them into service was Commuter Airlines in January 1973, followed shortly after by Air Wisconsin.
In service with Perimeter Aviation in Canada, this long-term operator of the Metro II and III made a number of modifications to suit its use in northern and remote Canadian sites where rudimentary gravel "strips" were common. Some of the many innovative changes to the design of the Metro allowed the aircraft to fly more efficiently as well as cutting down on the "noise factor" that was attributed to the early models. The airline installed Garrett engines with quieter and more efficient four-bladed Hartzell propellers. More recently in 2016, 5 blade composite propellers are being installed, further enhancing performance and reducing noise levels. Their Metros are also all equipped with modern avionics suites including recent installation of Garmin 950 glass cockpits and GPS satellite tracking.
Many of the improvements resulting in the Metro 23 came about during work to produce the military C-26B model for the United States Air Force.
A Metro III aircraft was modified for the Colombian Air Force for counternarcotics reconnaissance purposes. The Colombian National Police also operates several Metro 23 aircraft for counternarcotics reconnaissance purposes. In addition, the Peruvian Air Force operates a Metro 23 and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard operates a Metro III, both similarly configured. A "Regional Security System" Metro III with a large belly radome has been seen in the Caribbean.
In civilian service the type has proved to be popular, with sales in the 19-seat airliner market rivalled only by the Beechcraft 1900.[note 3] It is especially popular in Australia. Since the first example (a Merlin IVA) arrived in 1975, almost 20% of the fleet has operated in that country. As of December 2008, 61 Metros and Expediters are registered in Australia, more than all of its market rivals combined.
Metro production ended in 1998; however by this time Regional Jets were in vogue and turboprop types were out of favour with airlines, and several airframes remained unsold at the factory. The final aircraft, Metro 23 c/n DC-904B, was not delivered (to air charter company National Jet Aviation Services of Zelienople, Pennsylvania) until 2001. A total of 703 Metro, Expediter, Merlin IV series and C-26 series aircraft were built. In addition, 158 other SA226 and SA227 series aircraft were built as short-fuselage Merlin IIIs, IIIAs and IIIBs.[note 4]
TP 88 - Metro III (two aircraft) delivered to the Swedish Air Force for use as a VIP transports. The first was delivered in 1984, and this was replaced by the second (TP 88B) in 1986 and remained in use until 1993. A third dubbed TP 88C, was acquired in 1987 and was used for Erieye/FS-890 AEW trials.
In July 2016, 225 Metroliners were in airline service; airline operators with six or more aircraft were:
On June 12, 1980, a Metro II operating as Air Wisconsin Flight 965 suffered engine failure following massive water ingestion during a thunderstorm; the crew lost control and crashed near Valley, Nebraska. Both crew members and 11 passengers died; two passengers survived with serious injuries.
On January 30, 1984, a Metro II operated by Britt Airways crashed shortly after takeoff from Terre Haute, Indiana, on a repositioning flight to Evansville, Indiana. Three Britt employees, including its Director of Operations and Chief Pilot, were killed. The plane, N63Z, was destroyed. The cause was undetermined.
On February 8, 1988, a Metro III operating as Nürnberger Flugdienst Flight 108 suffered a lightning strike, following which the electrical system failed. The right wing separated from the aircraft during an uncontrolled descent and the aircraft disintegrated and crashed near Kettwig, Germany. Both crew members and all 19 passengers died.
On September 26, 1989, Skylink Airlines Flight 070, a Fairchild Metro III was on a scheduled flight from Vancouver(YVR) to Terrace (YXT), British Columbia with two pilots and five passengers on board. The aircraft crashed one quarter mile to the west of Terrace Airport while the crew was attempting to carry out a missed approach in IFR conditions. The aircraft was destroyed by the impact and a post-crash fire. All seven occupants were fatally injured in the crash.
On February 1, 1991, SkyWest Airlines Flight 5569, operated with a Metro III, was waiting on a runway when USAir Flight 1493 collided with it, resulting in the death of the ten passengers and two crew members on board the Metro.
On May 1, 1995, a Metro 23 operating as Bearskin Airlines Flight 362 (with a crew of two and one passenger on board) collided at 4,500 feet above sea level with an Air Sandy Piper PA-31 Navajo (with one pilot and four passengers on board) while on approach to Sioux Lookout Airport, destroying both aircraft and killing all persons on both aircraft.
On September 16, 1995, a Tamair Metro III, VH-NEJ, crashed shortly after takeoff from Tamworth, NSW, Australia, killing all three on board. The crash occurred following a "V1 cut" at night and raised many questions regarding the safety of asymmetric training operations at night.
On June 18, 1998, Propair Flight 420, a Metro II flying from Dorval International Airport (now Montreal-Trudeau International Airport) to Peterborough Airport in Peterborough, Ontario, experienced a left wheel well fire when the overheated brake and wheel assembly was retracted into the enclosed wheel well. The heat dissipated to the tire and the surrounding structures, eventually causing a fire. During the attempted emergency landing at Mirabel Airport, the landing gear was extended on short final and when the aircraft was over the runway, the left wing broke upwards, the fuselage pivoted to the left and struck the ground. All 11 occupants were fatally injured.
On June 6, 2012, a SA227-C metro en route from Montevideo Carrasco, MVD to Buenos Aires Ezeiza (EZE) crashed into the Rio de la Plata close to the coast of Montevideo south of Flores Island. It was registered as CX-LAS operating a freight flight on behalf of DHL.
On November 3, 2013, a Metro III, CP-2477 Aerocon airliner crashed when it was trying to land at the airport in Riberalta Airport (northern Bolivia) that killed eight people.
On November 10, 2013 a Metroliner operated by Bearskin Airlines under flight number JV311, crashed on final approach to its destination of Red Lake, Ontario, Canada en route from Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The aircraft experienced a near total failure of the left engine at 500 ft AGL which, combined with the aircraft being in the landing configuration, caused a loss of airspeed resulting in an unrecoverable situation. Safety systems to assist in the handling with one engine out did not activate since the engine did not completely shut down; the scenario gave conflicting information to the pilots who did not have time to identify the nature of the failure. Two crew members and three passengers were killed in the crash. Two passengers sustained injuries but survived.
On June 2, 2015, a Aeronaves TSM Fairchild (Swearingen) SA226TC Metro II, registration XA-UKP (msn TC-376 built 1980) crashed shortly after take-off from Querétaro international airport, Querétaro State, Mexico.
On December 6, 2016, a Swearingen SA227-AC Metro III cargo plane, operating as Key Lime Air flight LYM308, crashed north of Pelham, Georgia, USA, on a flight from Panama City, Florida to Albany, Georgia. The pilot, the sole occupant, were killed. Weather in the area was poor, with a thunderstorm in the vicinity of the destination airport.
^This and subsequent Merlin and Metro models have a trimmable horizontal stabilizer (THS) usually used on jet aircraft, one of only a small number of turboprop aircraft to have this design feature (the competing Beechcraft Model 99 being another).
^The article "Final Metro Delivery" in Airways magazine Issue 64 states that Metro deliveries totalled 18. The Metro production list shows that by the end of 1974, 22 Merlins had been built.
^The long-fuselage SA226/SA227 series has slightly outsold the Beechcraft 1900 series but many were built as Merlin corporate aircraft. The similarly-sized de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter has outsold both types but is a different class of aircraft.
^123 SA226-Ts (of which 31 were Merlin IIIBs built with assigned C/Ns intermingled with those of Metro IIs), and Merlin IIICs and 300s (35 SA227-TTs, of which 25 were IIICs and 10 were 300s; again with assigned C/Ns intermingled with Metros, in this case Metro III/Merlin IVCs). In addition, three SA226-ATs were converted on the production line as SA226-TCs; four SA226-TCs were similarly converted as SA226-ATs; and one short-fuselage SA227-TT was converted as a long-fuselage SA227-AC. These eight aircraft each had two different constructor's numbers of various model names.
^The 14500 model may be modified to a max weight of 15,000 pounds, but the landing weight for that model remains at 14,000 pounds.
^-11U-601G, -611G or -612G depending on propeller fitted