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Family of four-engine propeller-driven airliners
A USAF C-69, the military version of the Constellation
The Lockheed Constellation ("Connie") is a propeller-driven, four-engine airliner built by Lockheed Corporation starting in 1943. The Constellation series was the first pressurized-cabin civil airliner series to go into widespread use. Its pressurized cabin enabled commercial passengers to fly well above most bad weather for the first time, thus significantly improving the general safety and ease of air travel.
A preserved C-121C Super Constellation, registration N73544, in flight in 2004
Development of the Constellation
The Constellation's wing design was close to that of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, differing mostly in size. The triple tail allowed the aircraft to fit into existing hangars, while features included hydraulically-boosted controls and a de-icing system used on wing and tail leading edges. The aircraft had a maximum speed of over 375 mph (600 km/h), faster than that of a Japanese Zero fighter, a cruise speed of 340 mph (550 km/h), and a service ceiling of 24,000 ft (7,300 m).
According to Anthony Sampson in Empires of the Sky, Lockheed may have undertaken the intricate design, but Hughes' intercession in the design process drove the concept, shape, capabilities, appearance, and ethos. These rumors were discredited by Johnson. Howard Hughes and Jack Frye confirmed that the rumors were false in a letter dated November 1941.
World War II
The first Lockheed Constellation on January 9, 1943
Lockheed proposed the model L-249 as a long-range bomber. It received the military designation XB-30, but the aircraft was not developed. A plan for a very long-range troop transport, the C-69B (L-349, ordered by Pan Am in 1940 as the L-149), was canceled. A single C-69C (L-549), a 43-seat VIP transport, was built in 1945 at the Lockheed-Burbank plant.
The C-69 was mostly used as a high-speed, long-distance troop transport during the war. A total of 22 C-69s were completed before the end of hostilities, but not all of these entered military service. The USAAF cancelled the remainder of the order in 1945. Some aircraft remained in USAF service into the 1960s, serving as passenger ferries for the airline that relocated military personnel, wearing the livery of the Military Air Transport Service. At least one of these airplanes had rear-facing passenger seats.
TWA L-749A Constellation at Heathrow in 1954 with an under fuselage "Speedpack" freight container
Super Constellation (C-121C) during pilot training in Epinal -- Mirecourt, France
After World War II, the Constellation came into its own as a fast civilian airliner. Aircraft already in production for the USAAF as C-69 transports were finished as civilian airliners, with TWA receiving the first on 1 October 1945. TWA's first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, D.C., on December 3, 1945, arriving in Paris on December 4 via Gander and Shannon.
TWA transatlantic service started on February 6, 1946 with a New York-Paris flight in a Constellation. On June 17, 1947, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) opened the first-ever scheduled round-the-world service with their L-749Clipper America. The famous flight "Pan Am 1" operated until 1982.
Sleek and powerful, Constellations set many records. On April 17, 1944, the second production C-69, piloted by Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye, flew from Burbank, California, to Washington, D.C., in 6 hours and 57 minutes (about 2,300 miles (3,700 km) at an average 331 miles per hour (533 km/h)). On the return trip, the aircraft stopped at Wright Field in Ohio to give Orville Wright his last flight, more than 40 years after his historic first flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He commented that the Constellation's wingspan was longer than the distance of his first flight.
On September 29, 1957, a TWA L-1649A flew from Los Angeles to London in 18 hours and 32 minutes (about 5,420 miles (8,720 km) at 292 miles per hour (470 km/h). The L-1649A holds the record for the longest-duration, non-stop passenger flight aboard a piston-powered airliner. On TWA's first London-to-San Francisco flight on October 1-2, 1957, the aircraft stayed aloft for 23 hours and 19 minutes (about 5,350 miles (8,610 km) at 229 miles per hour (369 km/h)).
A Lockheed Constellation L-049 preserved at TAM Museum
Jet airliners such as the de Havilland Comet, Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8, Convair 880, and Sud Aviation Caravelle rendered the Constellation obsolete. The first routes lost to jets were the long overseas routes, but Constellations continued to fly domestic routes. The last scheduled passenger flight of a Constellation in the lower 48 states was made by a TWA L749 on May 11, 1967, from Philadelphia to Kansas City, Missouri; the last scheduled passenger flight in North America was by Western Airlines' N86525 in Alaska, Anchorage to Yakutat to Juneau on 26 November 1968.
Constellations carried freight in later years, and were used on backup sections of Eastern Airlines' shuttle service between New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston until 1968. Prop airliners were used on overnight freight runs into the 1990s, as their low speed was not an impediment. An Eastern Air Lines Connie holds the record for a New York to Washington, D.C. flight from take off to touchdown in just over 30 minutes. The record was set prior to speed restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) below 10,000 feet (3,000 m).
One of the reasons for the elegant appearance of the aircraft was the dolphin-shaped fuselage shape, a continuously variable profile with no two bulkheads the same shape, which was expensive to build. Manufacturers have subsequently favored tube-shaped fuselages for subsequent airliner designs, as the cylindrical cross-section design is more resistant to pressurization changes and cheaper to build.
After ending Constellation production Lockheed chose not to develop a first-generation jetliner, sticking to its military business and production of the turbopropLockheed L-188 Electra. Lockheed did not build a large passenger aircraft again until its L-1011 Tristar debuted in 1972. While a technological marvel, the L-1011 was a commercial failure, and Lockheed left the commercial airliner business permanently in 1983.
The initial military versions carried the Lockheed designation of L-049; as World War II came to a close, some were completed as civilian L-049 Constellations followed by the L-149 (L-049 modified to carry more fuel tanks).
The first purpose-built passenger Constellations were the more powerful L-649 and L-749 (which had more fuel in the outer wings),[page needed]L-849 (an unbuilt model to use the R-3350turbo-compound engines adopted for the L-1049 ), L-949 (an unbuilt, high-density seating-cum-freighter type, what would come to be called a "combi aircraft").
These were followed by the L-1049 Super Constellation (with longer fuselage), L-1149 (proposal to use Allison turbine engines) and L-1249 (similar to L-1149, built as R7V-2/YC-121F),L-1449 (unbuilt proposal for L1049G, stretched 55 in (140 cm), with new wing and turbines) and L-1549 (unbuilt project to stretch L-1449 95 in (240 cm)).
After TWA's initial order was filled following World War II, customers rapidly accumulated, with over 800 aircraft built. In military service, the U.S. Navy and Air Force operated the EC-121 Warning Star variant until 1978, nearly 40 years after work on the L-049 began. Cubana de Aviación was the first airline in Latin America to operate Super Constellations.
An abandoned Constellation display in Florida (1970s)
C/N 2072 -- parked adjacent to a flight school and cafe at Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, New Jersey. It was delivered as Air France's first Constellation in June 1946 as L-049 F-BAZA, before being sold to Frank Lembo Enterprises in May 1976 for $45,000 for use as a restaurant and lounge. It was flown to the airport in July 1977, and, along with the airport, was sold to the State of New Jersey in 2000. In 2005, the interior was refurbished for use as a flight school office.
C/N 2553 -- on display in TWA colors (although this aircraft never flew for TWA) at the Large Item Storage facility for the UK Science Museum at Wroughton, near Swindon. This aircraft was used by the Rolling Stones to transport equipment during their 1973 Australian tour. It is the only Constellation in the United Kingdom and is viewable on certain open days.
C/N 1042 -- Registered ZS-DVJ on display at Rand Airport in Germiston in Trek Airways colours. Used to be at OR Tambo International Airport, South Africa at the South African Airways Technical area. The aircraft is owned by the South African Airways Museum Society.
Under restoration or in storage
L-1049 Super Constellation
C/N 4519 -- to display by the Amicale du Super Constellation located at the Nantes Airport in Nantes, France. It was delivered to Air France on November 2, 1953, and was upgraded to a L-1049 G in 1956, serving until August 8, 1967, having totaled 24,284 hours under Air France's colors. After retirement, it was sent to Spain, to be registered EC-BEN, briefly flying humanitarian and medevac missions in Biafra. Aero Fret bought it in 1968, brought it back home to France, registered it as F-BRAD, and operated it on cargo hauls until 1974. When the Constellation landed in Nantes one last time to be scrapped, it was ultimately saved by Mr. Gaborit, who revamped it somewhat by his own modest means to finally park it near the terminal, accessible to visitors for a few years, until the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Nantes-Atlantique Airport bought it, to contract the Amicale du Super Constellation to undergo a complete restoration of the aircraft.
C/N 4830 Star of America -- to airworthiness by the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. This aircraft was originally built in 1957, stored for several years, and then delivered to cargo carrier Slick Airways. It was restored in 1986 by the Save-a-Connie, Inc. organization, later renamed as the National Airline History Museum. It was originally painted in red and white with Save-a-Connie, but was later repainted in the 1950s livery of TWA to resemble its original Star of America Constellation. The aircraft appeared at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport at the original TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the airline with the paint scheme donated by TWA in Kansas City for the occasion. The Star of America has appeared at many airshows and was even used in The Aviator, the 2004 film depicting the life of TWA's one-time owner Howard Hughes, the man often credited with helping design and develop the original Constellation series.
C/N 1018 -- returned to airworthiness by Lufthansa Technik North America in Auburn, Maine. This aircraft was purchased at auction in 2007, along with C/N 1038, by the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Foundation. Lufthansa has built a hangar at the airport, which will allow the aircraft to be restored indoors. Lufthansa announced in March 2018 that it will be transported back to Germany and further restoration decisions will be made after it arrives. As of the end of 2019 the plan is to restore the aircraft for static display in a museum. According to reports from the USA, the aircraft was dismantled (as apparently was the Ju-52 D-AQUI) without the requisite documentation that would have allowed the return-to-flight work to continue.
C/N 1038 -- This aircraft was purchased at auction in 2007, along with C/N 1018, by the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Foundation, and stripped of all usable spares to support the restoration of C/N 1018. The aircraft was subsequently sold and transported to JFK International Airport to become a cocktail bar in the TWA Hotel, a retro-aviation themed hotel built on the former TWA Flight Center.
The Breitling Super Constellation
S/N 54-0156 -- Flies with the Super Constellation Flyers Association out of Basel, as The Breitling Super Constellation. Its restoration was sponsored by Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling, and is now registered in the Swiss Aircraft registry as HB-RSC. This Constellation is one of two flying in the world.
S/N 54-0157 -- Flies with the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) out of Illawarra Regional Airport near Wollongong, Australia. Following its restoration, it was painted in pseudo-Qantas livery including the Qantas logo on the tail, (with the usual Qantas lettering along the fuselage and on the wing-end fuel tanks replaced with the word "CONNIE") and registered as VH-EAG. This Constellation is one of two flying in the world.
S/N 48-0609 -- on display at Jeongseok Airport on Jeju Island, South Korea. It was donated to Korean Air in 2005, and restored to airworthy condition at Tucson, Arizona. It was then ferried to South Korea, where it made its final flight, under its own power, from Seoul to its current location for static display. It has been repainted in 1950s Korean Air colors, and rendered unable to fly by the presence of unserviceable engines.
L-749A restored at Aviodrome
S/N 48-0612 -- on display at the Dutch National Aviation Museum Aviodrome. It was restored to airworthy condition and ferried from Tucson, Arizona, to the Netherlands, where restoration continued. It is now painted in the KLM livery of the 1950s, depicting a KLM Lockheed L-749A. Renamed Flevoland, this is the only airworthy example of the "short" version of the Constellation. However, thanks to Korean Air, which donated two airworthy engines from S/N 48-0609 (see above), this aircraft was scheduled to be flying again, but the flights were cancelled. As of 2016[update], the aircraft is on display in the Aviodrome museum.
N4257U on display at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka
S/N 52-3418 -- on display at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Kansas. This aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in October 1954. It served an additional 22 years, until it was retired and flown to Davis Monthan AFB for storage on April 7, 1976. It June 1981, it was ferried to Topeka, Kansas, with Frank Lang in command.
BuNo 124438 -- to airworthiness by Gordon Cole at Salina, Kansas. This aircraft was the first of two WV-1s delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1949. Essentially, it was a prototype for the EC-121 Warning Star that followed. Retired from the Navy in 1957, it served the FAA from 1958 to 1966, before being flown to Salina in 1967 for retirement. It remains parked there, and was last flown in 1992.
S/N 48-0610 Columbine II -- to airworthiness by Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia. This aircraft served as the first Air Force One, during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, before it was replaced by Columbine III as Eisenhower's primary presidential aircraft in 1954. After a long period of storage at Marana Regional Airport, near Tucson, Arizona, this aircraft made its first flight, since 2003, in March 2016, when it was ferried to Bridgewater for additional restoration.
S/N 48-0613 Bataan -- to airworthiness by Lewis Air Legends in San Antonio, Texas. This aircraft was used as a personal transport by General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War, and later by other Army general officers until 1966, when it was transferred to NASA. Following its permanent retirement in 1970, it was placed on display at a museum at Fort Rucker near Daleville, Alabama. It was acquired by the Planes of Fame Air Museum at Chino, California in 1992, and overhauled into airworthy condition for a flight to Dothan, Alabama, where it received additional work. After a thorough restoration back to its original configuration with a "VIP interior", it was placed on display at the Planes of Fame secondary location in Valle, Arizona. Then, in 2015, it was sold to Lewis Air Legends, and prepped for a ferry flight to Chino, arriving there on January 14, 2016.
^Buck, Bob (10 September 2014). "From The Archives: Bob Buck Flies A Connie From LA To London". Air Facts Journal. Cincinnati, Ohio: Original publisher: Leighton Collins; relaunch: Sporty's Pilot Shop. Retrieved 2021. Editor's Note: Bob Buck was one of Air Facts' most popular writers in the 1950s and 60s, beloved for his first-hand accounts of the changing airline world... In our latest trip through the Air Facts archives, we fly from Los Angeles to London via the polar route, as told from the left seat of a Connie.