The Legendary Lockheed Constellation

A Lockheed C-121A, the U.S. Air Force version of the L-749 Constellation, makes a picture-perfect turn (Tony Zeljeznjak).
A Lockheed C-121A, the U.S. Air Force version of the L-749 Constellation, makes a picture-perfect turn (Tony Zeljeznjak).

‘It was a source of some amusement (or terror, depending on one’s anxiety level) to Constellation passengers that the turbo compound engines spouted long tails of flame from their exhaust pipes’

The Lockheed Constellation may be the object of more misinformation and fables than any other airliner ever made.

Howard Hughes designed it. (No. He designed Jane Russell’s cantilever bra, but he only specified the range and speed parameters he wanted for a new TWA transport.)

The Constellation’s fuselage is shaped like an airfoil to add lift. (No. It curves upward at the rear to raise the triple tail out of the prop wash and slightly downward at the front so the nosegear strut didn’t have to be impossibly long. Lockheed decided that the airplane’s admittedly large propellers needed even more ground clearance than did Douglas or Boeing on their competing transports, which resulted in the Connie’s long, spindly gear legs.)

It was known as “the world’s best trimotor” because it had so many engine failures that it often flew on three. (No. Boeing 377 Stratocruisers with R-4360 “corncob” engines had far more failures in airline service. There were a number of engine fires during the Constellation’s early development, but many airline pilots flew it for years without ever feathering an engine.)

The Constellation was the first pressurized airliner. (The Boeing 307 Stratoliner in fact was.)

The Constellation was the first tricycle-gear airliner. (The award goes to the Douglas DC-4.)

One Constellation passenger got glued to a toilet seat when cabin pressurization failed. (Actually, that one’s true. Stories of this happening on modern jets are urban legends, but Connies had far more primitive potties. When the valve that emptied the toilet into the unpressurized reservoir failed on one airline flight, the poor lady who happened to be in the blue room at the time became the cork that maintained cabin pressure. She was freed when the crew depressurized the airplane.)

Still, for an airplane that was produced in relatively small numbers by civil standards; that turned out to be a failure in its briefly spectacular ultimate version, the L-1649A Starliner; and that always played second fiddle to the more profitable, more economical and more easily manufactured competition from Douglas—the DC-4, -6 and -7—the Connie has lived in legend far beyond anything that its imaginative, graceful but complex design perhaps deserves. Stiff-necked Eddie Rickenbacker, the president of Eastern Air Lines, forbade his pilots to call the airplane “Connie,” convinced it sounded effeminate. Whether Captain Eddie’s prohibition had any effect on Eastern crews isn’t known, but the rest of the aviation world, which idolized the Connie, certainly ignored it.

When the Constellation was conceived, Lockheed was not a player in the air transport business. The company made some large single-engine “airliners” based on the Vega, as well as the Lockheed 10, 12 and 14 twins, all of which were blown away by the ubiquitous Douglas DC-3. Douglas, the industry leader, was already at work on its own four-engine, triple-tail design, the DC-4E. Boeing had a substantial background in large four-engine transports—the huge 314 Pan Am Clipper flying boats and the 307 Stratoliner under development—and even Martin and Sikorsky had more experience with big multimotors, with their own four-engine flying boats.

Lockheed was developing the P-38 Lightning and the Hudson patrol bomber, a military refinement of the Model 14, when company officials decided they needed to get in on the mini-boom in domestic airline travel that took place in the mid- to late 1930s. The obvious answer was a four-engine 14, and Lockheed called it the Model 44 Excalibur. No thanks, the airlines said—not big enough, not fast enough, not enough of a leap forward.

So in the summer of 1939, Lockheed began on its own to develop the Model 49 Excalibur A, soon to be designated the L-049 Constel­lation. It had the iconic fishy fuselage shape; a scaled-up P-38 wing; nacelles intended to hold four of the most awesome power plants of the time, Wright R-3350 supercharged twin-row radials; and an array of Fowler flaps borrowed directly from the Lockheed 14. The flaps were as precedential at the time as a 747’s array of fully extended tin laundry would be in the 1960s: 10 complex slotted sections on the wings plus a pair of center-section flaps under the fuselage.

An early Constellation proposal had the big radials cooled by reverse flow: cooling air went in via leading-edge wing scoops, blew through the engines from rear to front and exited between each engine’s prop spinner and the cowling ring. It looked cool, no pun, with bullet-shaped nacelle/spinner units that presaged the turboprop designs of the 1950s, but it turned out there was no significant cooling-drag reduction.

Another Lockheed brainstorm was a canard Constellation, a tail-first design. Not surprisingly, the airlines were entirely unreceptive to such a radical airframe.
But in any case, the L-049 was going nowhere. The winds of war were beginning to blow, and airline traffic was down. Douglas gave up on its DC-4E project—a complex and expensive-to-build prototype that had little to do with the actual DC-4/C-54 that would follow—and sold the plane to the Japanese. It would soon re-emerge briefly as the basis of the Nakajima G5N, Japan’s only long-range, four-engine bomber of World War II, an airplane that was built but never used.

It looked like the second iteration of Lockheed’s four-engine transport wouldn’t get off the drawing board either, but along came Howard Hughes with a secret order for 40 airliners, if Lockheed could meet his performance requirements. Hughes wanted to get a jump on his competition—mainly United and American—and not only demanded that the project remain quiet but stipulated that no other transcontinental airline be allowed to buy a Constellation for two years after Hughes’ TWA put them into service. American Airlines was so infuriated by being shut out that they vowed to never again buy a Lockheed airliner. Their pique lasted only until Lockheed’s next airliner, the turboprop Electra, was proposed in 1954. American ordered 40 the following year.

Much is made in some Constellation histories of Howard Hughes being a whack job, a crazy man, a weirdo. This is an exaggeration. The multimillionaire aviator’s true goofiness began with his addiction to painkillers as the result of the dreadful injuries he suffered while crash-landing the prototype Hughes XF-11 four-engine reconnaissance plane in July 1946. But he’d had his bell rung twice before in bad crashes during the late 1920s and mid-’30s, and they may well have done neurological damage that led to a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. No­body knew what OCD was in those days, but if anything, it made Hughes a detail-oriented perfectionist.

In fact, Hughes was sharp enough to borrow the number-two prototype Constellation, a C-69 owned by the U.S. Army Air Forces. He quickly repainted it in TWA colors and used it to set a west-to-east transcontinental record in April 1944 from Burbank, Calif., to over Wash­ington National in six hours and 58 minutes. His co-pilot was Jack Frye, TWA’s president, and Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson was along for the ride. (So was actress Ava Gardner, Howard’s girlfriend at the time.) Whether on this trip or another test flight, Johnson never developed any admiration for Hughes’ piloting skills. “He damned near killed us both,” Johnson once admitted.

On the return leg back to Burbank, Hughes stopped at Wright Field, outside Dayton, Ohio—today Wright-Patterson Air Force Base—and in a typically brilliant piece of PR picked up Orville Wright for Wright’s last-ever flight. Orville had been the pilot on the first true powered flight in history, and now he was given the right-seat chance to handle the controls of an airplane that, four decades later, represented some of the most advanced technology available to civil aviation—at this early point in the Connie’s life a 313-mph cruise, 2,850-mile range, 8,800 horsepower, hydraulically boosted controls and cabin pressurization. To put that into perspective, four decades ago the Boeing 707 had been in service for years, supersonic fighters were commonplace and the 747 had just made its first flight. Little is all that different today.

The Army Air Forces took over Constellation development and production in 1942, and that was, at least for awhile, the end of Howard Hughes’ grandiose plans and the unmasking of his “secret” airliner. The military needed big troop- and cargo-carrying transports, and the Constellation looked as if it would fill that bill.

The Connie’s temperamental Wright engines quickly killed the deal. Powerful but cranky and prone to pyrotechnics, the R-3350 so dismayed the Army Air Forces that it stopped C-69 production at just 13 (plus the prototype) and turned to the Douglas C-54 for its dependable airlift capability. The C-54 had Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines of not much more than half the R-3350’s horsepower, but they ran forever and the C-54 was economical to build. The USAAF preferred that Lockheed concentrate on P-38s and Hudson patrol bomber derivatives anyway, and the R-3350 needed to be optimized for the upcoming B-29, forget about getting it to run in some damn airliner.

When the war ended, TWA quickly bought back from the government all the C-69s it could, and the Constellation finally went into airline service—though with Pan Am, in a flight from New York to Bermuda in Febru­ary 1946. Three days later, TWA started Con­stellation service between New York and Paris, and a month later between New York and Los Angeles. In those days, Connies cost from $685,000 to $720,000, depending on equipment; in today’s dollars, that’s $7.6 million to $8 million—the price of a midsize bizjet. TWA and Pan Am, however, managed to buy four war surplus C-69s for $20,000 each and another two for $40,000 apiece.

Though the Boeing 307 was the first pressurized airliner, it was re­turned to service after the war with its pressurization system disabled, so for awhile only the Connie offered a high-altitude cabin. During its first two years of airline operation, however, two people were sucked out of Constellations in flight, thanks to the primitive pressurization system. One was a navigator lost when his astrodome popped off while he was taking a sextant shot; the other was an Air France passenger sitting next to a cabin window that failed. Amazingly, brave passengers continued to board Connies.

In 1946 a Pan Am Connie en route from New York to London had an engine fire soon enough after takeoff that the airplane was able to return and belly-land on a 4,500-foot grass strip in Willimantic, Conn. There were no injuries to the crew or passengers, which included Laurence Olivier, his then-wife Vivian Leigh and other members of the Old Vic repertory company. The fire had burned through the engine mounts by the time the airplane was back over land, and the big radial and its prop dropped off entirely and fell onto a farm field. Fortunately for all on board, Lockheed, obviously aware of the flammability of the Wright engines, had designed the Constellation’s nacelles and stainless steel firewalls to encapsulate even a raging fire for 30 minutes.

When the airplane was repaired, it took off from the grass strip lightened as much as possible and with minimal fuel. Still on three engines, it was airborne in 2,000 feet. Back at Pan Am’s LaGuardia maintenance hangar, the re­mains of the number-three nacelle were removed, the hole in the wing was faired over and the Connie flew back to California for major work. Until the advent of the Boeing 727, it remained the world’s fastest trimotor.

By 1948, it looked like the Connie was done. Airline economics were lousy, and Lockheed didn’t have enough Constellation orders to keep the line open. Game over? Not quite.

Out of nowhere came an order from the U.S. military for C-121 multiuse transports and from the Navy for PO-1 long-range patrol planes (“Po-Boys” they were quickly dubbed). Lockheed had been saved by the bell. It had already developed the Model 649 and 749, with higher-horsepower engines, far more comfortable cabins with rubber isolation mounts between double skins for noise suppression and a number of other improvements. These were really the first true Constellation airliners, the L-049 having been essentially a military transport converted to civil use. The government order allowed the 649s and 749s to stay in production, and 131 were built for airline use. One went to Howard Hughes (he would eventually also have for his personal use two Hughes Tool Co. L-1049Gs and a TWA L-1649A Starliner), and 12 went to the military.

The Constellation was arguably more successful as a military airplane than it ever was as an airliner. The USAAF, USAF and Navy bought and used nearly 40 percent of all the Con­stellations ever manufactured, and Connies were the direct predecessors of today’s AWACS jets and pioneered just about every form of airborne electronic reconnaissance. The alphabet nearly ran out of letters to designate C-121 variants—RC, EC, NC, VC and YC, from A models right through to Js, Ks and the Navy “Willy Victors,” WV-2s. Constellations carried the first of the enormous rotating radomes—rotodomes—that preceded the flying saucers atop 707-derived Boeing E-3s that today routinely prowl Middle Eastern skies. Their early analog electronics could consume enough electricity to power an entire town of 20,000 people. Constellations remained in service with the U.S. Navy until June 1982 (six years after the Concorde went into supersonic airline service), and were operated by India’s navy until 1984.

The Navy was responsible for the complex but enormously powerful Wright R-3350 Turbo Compound engine, which led to successful development of the originally underpowered L-1049 stretched Super Constellation. The engines were initially intended for the Lockheed P2V-4 Neptune, a late version of the Navy’s primary long-range patrol bomber. They are sometimes referred to as being “turbocharged,” but in fact the power plant’s exhaust-driven turbines had nothing to do with pressurizing induction air. Each engine had three power-recovery turbines that fed power back into the engine through long lateral shafts geared directly (via a fluid coupling) to the crank­shaft. The torque of the engine’s PRTs added 150 hp, uprating it to 3,400 hp. Other than modified engines in Reno racers, the only more powerful production piston radial was the far larger, 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-4360, at 3,500 hp.

It was a source of some amusement (or terror, depending on one’s anxiety level) to L-1049H and later L-1649 passengers that because of the exhaust constriction, turbo compound engines spouted long tails of flame from their exhaust pipes, particularly at night. Indeed, Lockheed would fit stainless steel leading edges to the wings adjacent to the nacelles to prevent damage from the big blowtorches.

The ultimate Constellation is popularly considered to be the Model 1649A, though the Starliner (which is what Lockheed named it) was in fact a new design, with an entirely different, far longer wing than the true Constellation/Super Constellation line had. Oddly, the new straight-taper, high-aspect-ratio wing had not a modern laminar-flow airfoil but a thin NACA airfoil like the one on Boeing’s B-17s and 314 Clipper flying boats. The Starliner (TWA called theirs Jetstreams, perhaps to suggest it had something in common with the already-proliferating Boeing 707) was the largest American piston airliner ever produced and the fastest by far at long-range cruise power settings, but it was a failure. Just 44 were manufactured, including Lockheed’s own prototype. It was the company’s only unprofitable series in the Con­stellation/C-121/Starliner evolution.

By 1961, even the newest Constellations were beginning to move to second-tier airlines and then to the likes of Royal Air Burundi, Slick Airways, Flying Tiger, Pakistan International and Britair East Africa. Because many Connies were low-time airframes when they were retired by the big airlines in favor of 707s and DC-8s, they were par­ticularly desirable to a variety of users. Many Constellations became freighters, crop sprayers, travel club ships, charter birds, firebombers and smugglers. One was even specially equipped to airdrop bundles of marijuana and was openly tested in Arizona with hay bales, after being given a dispensation by the FAA for “agricultural flights.” The Rolling Stones used an ex-Eastern 749 for part of their famous 1972 U.S. tour, emblazoned with big tongue-and-lips Stones logos.

The final circle of aviation hell achieved by a surprising number of Constellations was conversion into restaurants, cocktail lounges, discos and nightclubs, perhaps the best known of which, an ex-KLM bird, ended up in New Orleans as the Crash Landing Bar.

What would Orville Wright have thought of that?

For further reading, frequent contributor Stephan Wilkinson recommends: Lockheed Constellation, by Curtis K. Stringfellow and Peter M. Bowers; and Lockheed Constellation: From Excalibur to Starliner, by Dominique Breffort.

46 Responses

  1. Gene

    This article bought me fond memories of riding my bicycle out to the Tampa airport and spend hours watching the planes land and take off. There was a back way onto the airport property and we would ride through the woods and sit right by the runways. Often we would sit on the end of the rinway so that the planes would be right overhead. never gave a thought to being crushed. This was back around 1957. I always thought the Connies were the coolest thing built.

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  2. Ltcol

    In 1971 while on the Civil Air Patrol International Air Cadet Exchange I flew into Berlin in a “Connie” with the seats facing backwards. The plane was fitted with a bar and a steward…however being cadets the bar was closed to us.

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  3. Earles

    …those of us who flew in the USN versions, called R7V’s and EC-121’s, were very fond of our “Connies.” One R7V (444) made so many belly-landings due to landing gear problems that she earned the nicknames “cripple-4″ and “flying w-ore” for being on her belly so often…but they flew well and usually reliably.

    …those of us who flew in the AEW/CIC “Warning Star” versions, called WV-2’s and EC-121K, P, etc., served our country during both the ‘Cold War’ (flying Pacific and Atlantic seaward extensions of DEW Line) and Viet Nam war…as night surviellance for the 7th fleet, ECM/Countermeasures all over the far east, or as weather (“Typhoon Trackers” and “Hurricane Hunters”) reconnaissance.

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  4. Jerry

    In late ’69 or early ’70 a group of Spanish speaking gentlemen taxied up to the rear of the Capitol Airways hangar where we were beginning to dispose of our “Connies” and offered to buy one. The deal was made, the “Connie” flew off to ???? Several days later there was a news report of an “Connie airliner” bombing Fidel Castro’s palace in Havana with 55 gallon drums rigged like Molotov cocktails. Anti-aircraft fire failed to bring down the aircraft which disappeared into the night according to news reports. The ex-Capitol Connie?????? Who knows, but we were quite good at maintaining and operating the much loved “Connie”.

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  5. George Kamburoff

    We took Connies over to Southeast Asia in 1967 for Igloo White, McNamara’s Electronic Battlefield. Ours were EC-121R’s, and there were a few EC-121S models at Korat, as well as Warning Star models. Ours were festooned with antennae like porcupines.

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    • David Gunckel, Jr.

      Hello George. My dad flew Connies as a Navy Hurricane Hunter out of Roosevelt Roads NAS in Puerto Rico 1961-1963…. Later he got orders to Korat…we never knew what he did there but after discovering the book Wiring Vietnam we believe he was involved in the project you mention..

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  6. Bob Weber

    As a small boy, my family would go to the airport to meet my grandparents, when they departed or returned from a trip. TWA was the carrier at the time, and all boarding and deplaning took place using outside stairways. We could see everything, from the passengers and flight crews, to the ground crews checking out the aircraft. But the best part, was watching the Connie’s engines start, belching the smoke and fire that they were famous for, seeing the wheel chocks pulled, and then seeing her swing around as she began her taxi for takeoff. The air blast from the big props was what I lived for, and all of this occurred as I stood with my father, behind a 3 foot chain link fence. It was definitely a simpler time back then.

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  7. Del Mitchell

    As one who has restored, flown, and performed maintenance on a Connie, I can truthfully tell you what a magnificient airplane it is. Back in the early 90’s, I was involved with a group of volunteers who restored a very sorrowful eye sore that was stored at the Camarillo Airport in Camarillo, CA. The group was the Constellation Historical Society, and how we transformed this airplane to flying status is a true testimony to the hard work of its members, and after five years of this hard work, N73544, Lockheed c/n 4175, took to the air again in June of 1994. It was a very emotional thing to watch pilot Frank Butorac and Flight Engineer Jimmy Jones put Connie through her paces that day, and I still get emotional when I think of that flight. Afterwards, we put N73544 on the air show circuit where she was always a welcome sight, and we did that for almost eight years. I’ll never forget that time, and it became a family affair with my wife and I associated with Jerry Steele, Flight Engineer and his wife Joyce, John and Cheryl Arp, pilots Chuck Grant and Pat Farrell. Today, N73544 flies the European skies for the Swiss group Super Constellation Flyers Association as HB-RSC, and she still looks as beautiful as she did when we flew her in the United States.

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  8. Jim Swift

    I flew Connies with AEWBARRONPAC out of NAS Barbers Pt Hi and NS Midway Island from 1962 to 1965.

    We used R7V’s (straight Connies) for training flights. My favorite story is when I made a ONE engine landing. We were downwind to Runway 4 at BBP simulating 2 engines out (3 & 4 at idle or “zero-thrust” ). Just prior to the “180” “brrrrrp” “Fire Warning No. 1″ OK “Feather No.1, execute fire emergency procedures,. “Checkpool 07 cleared to land R/W 4″ .

    We fx’d #1, held the gear until lined up, and landed…but forgot to bring up 3 & 4!

    R7V’s were very sweet. The Wv-2″s on the other hand were another story. As one instructor pilot told me in the landing pattern… ” It’s like a helping a sweet old lady to cross the street…just don’t be rough on the controls or she’ll lean back…hard.” Those 300 gallon wingtip tanks made her quite slugish in roll and the flow around the upper radome required you to use “top rudder” in turns.

    Nice article…brought back lots of memories.

    Jim Swift

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    • Ron Lucas

      They were great planes and tough as a surface ship. Who was that LCDR who was landing us at Midway one rainy night and when he got about 15 feet over the end of the runway and cut the power to all four engines?
      Guess he thought he was back on a carrier or something. How many times did we bounce before we stayed down and amazingly the landing gear struts didn’t go thru the wings. You and Mr. Smedal were both pretty good drivers though. Thanks!

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  9. J Dahlem

    Came across this in a Nov, 1956 Popular Mechanics mag:

    Quieter Airline Flights
    Tests on the Lockheed Super Constellation have shown that the position of the plane’s propellers as they spin has a serious effect on the noise level in the cabin. During the tests it was found that the two right engines running together at the same speed made less noise when they were 60 degrees out of phase. Under ideal phasing conditions, the noise level in the cabin can be cut by 15.5 decibels, mostly in the low tones which are difficult to muffle.

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  10. Harald A. Smedal

    As a LtJg in 1963/64 I commanded the EC121K(wv2) out of Midway Island for fourteen hour patrols up to just south of the Aleutians Umnak Isle. My crew were four ‘Jg’s, three Ensigns, eight EM’s and two Chiefs who rode the panel. The Navy is not stupid. They sent along those two chiefs to keep an eye on me.

    The Connie was a rugged airplane. I remember ploughing through weather so rough the instrument panel shook so hard I could not read anything except the attitude gyro and it was rollocking so violently that I could not keep up with its motions/airplane attitude. Usually we came back to Midway with less airplane that we had at TO. Some part was resting on the bottom of the North Pacific. Harald A. Smedal

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    • Ron Lucas

      “…I remember ploughing through weather so rough the instrument panel shook so hard I could not read anything except the attitude gyro…”

      Couldn’t have been because the stupid AT on the radar scope in the back couldn’t tell the difference between a ‘big round cloud’ and the top of a large waterspout. Going through the clear hole in the middle seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I think I was the 2nd Class P.O. who did that to you. At least Ens. Akita thought so. Sorry Sir!!

      Didn’t enjoy watching the wing tip tanks flap thru a 3 or 4 foot arc. Loved that big bird though ….Tough as they come.

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    • Ray Haynes

      As a flight electrician stationed at Midway in 1993/1995 I remember flying an entire 14 hour barrier with a Gooney Bird sticking out of the port leading edge that we had hit on takeoff. A tough bird (the Connie not the Gooney) indeed.

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      • Agent Orange

        WHAT?! You were flying all that time with A WHOLE DC-3 stuck in your Connie’s port leading edge? Please clarify.

  11. Phil Faidley

    The initial tone of this article is somewhat dismissive towards Connie and I really resented that. The full article is only slightly less dismissive, but is most notable for its almost entire concentration on the Connie’s deployment in the USA.
    In the context of the time when Constellation was conceived and developed, the ideas were all there. These ideas are not that different to todays motivation for aircraft design and airliner operation – Points of difference for long-distance travel that include comfort, efficiency, and a wee bit of glamour.
    The Connie was conceived from the ground up, going through a conception, gestation and birth like no other airline hard. Yes, elements were “borrowed” from previous Lockheed aircraft, but through need and the understanding that these things “worked”. Contract this with Boeing and Douglas who just re-engineered their prop aircraft (then their jets) because of laziness more than anything else.
    My Grandfather – Capt K. G. Jackson – flew some pretty spectacular inaugurals, flying incredibly long distances in the Connie, across parts of the world that had only really been navigated by boats (Indian and Pacific Oceans) in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. His recollecations of Connie were that she (yes SHE) was a “gentle mistress with a bad temper, but treat her nice and she will do the same to you…”
    I am a wee bit disappointed about the insular and isolated view portrayed in this article. While fundamentally factual, it fails to describe the heart and soul and passion that was airliner-based aviation in the pre- and post WWII environment. It fails to recognise the imagination and the “can do – will do” spirit of aviation industry pioneers and visionaries that was the glory of these times.

    Mr Wilkinson, you can do much better. 4/10

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  12. mark

    anyone know how much lift the body did contribute percent wise?

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    • marvin

      We were told in TWA Flight Engineer training that the fuselage lift was over 6,000 pounds @ cruise speed.

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  13. Stephan Wilkinson

    Mr. Faidley, I’m amused that you find my article “dismissive,” since, of the 115 types I’ve flown, it’s my all-time favorite. You should be glad didn’t write about any of the other 114…

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  14. Ed Stroup

    I want to build a ¼ scale WillyVictor 121. I am having a difficult time getting anything that will help me with the top and bottom radar blisters. Anyone have an idea about where I can get the data on these domes?
    I was aircrew for VR-21 and had an opportunity to take a short taxi ride in one (WV121). I loved it.

    Ed

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  15. Mark Bell

    Super Constellation:
    Brings back vivid memories.
    Had to get home for Christmas. Never had flown before. eighteen years old and very naive (and scared) in 1957. TCA (Trans Canada Airlines)
    Most vivid memory. The huge white hot exhaust pipes spurting long orange flames for the 12+ hour flight to Shannon.
    Awesome!!!!!!

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  16. Stephan Wilkinson

    The memory plays tricks when you’re as old as we are. (I was 21 in 1957.) Those flames had to be blue, else the flight engineer had the mixture so rich that you’d never have made Shannon….

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  17. Steven Rudin

    There is a great youtube video called “Letter from an Airline Pilot” which is about TWA and features the Constellation. There seems to be a version from 1947 and a re-edited one from 1950 The premise in both movies is that a TWA Captain is answering a letter from a passenger about the operation of an airline. There is also a later movie featuring Arthur Godrey flying a Constellation. That may be an Eastern Airlines plane. I haven’t seen that one in a long time.

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  18. Maggie Brown

    OMG, how I loved the Connies. I was hooked from my very first flt which was a Connie ride to KC compliments of TWA for my second interview for “Air Hostess” in 1960. It was hard to imagine really getting paid to fly around in the beautiful Constellation when I got the job. The pilots were great. On Ferry Flights they let me sit in the jump seat for the best view and to lower the gear and flaps . I was in heaven. What a fantastic airplane. Not only was she the most beautiful, she could also perform. What a thrill to hear and see those fire breathing oil spewing 18 cylinder engine start ups. And no matter what adventures of close calls and storms she pulled through. And not always with four engines. I can testify to some engine outs which didn’t phase her. But, of course, TWA had those great pilots to help her. Decades later after I had my own private lic. and had long ago left TWA. I stood under the Save A Connie Super G at Oshkosh. It was the first time I had seen a Connie since TWA. I felt my throat tightened up and my eyes tearing. I turned around hoping to still be alone and found a man not far behind me. He looked at me and nodded, “yeah, me too”. We just stood there with our blurry red eyes sharing the moment of beautiful memories with the elegant Connie.

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  19. joe van lierde

    I came across Erik Eriksson site because I am an aviation enthusiast (propeller era).
    I emigrated to South Africa from Belgium in Jan 1967.
    I was to depart from Luxembourg with Trek Airways round about 27 Jan 1967.
    For some reason, there was a lengthy delay and eventually we were bused to Dusseldorf where we were put up in hotels for the night.
    We took off from a misty Dusseldorf the next morning (I didn’t have a good look at the aircraft because it was still dark – winter in Europe).
    We landed at what I believe were the Canary Islands (I don’t think it was Madeira, but I could be mistaken) for a refueling stop.
    It was a balmy warm day and, setting foot on the tarmac, I had my first good look at the aircraft. A Constellation!
    Man, was she sexy, on her tall landing gear, with the massive props of over 5 m dia and the glorious smell of warm aviation lube oil!
    We took off the same evening for Luanda.
    On our way, in the early morning the next day when I woke up, I looked out of the window. I had a window seat starboard (R/H) side directly facing the bulkhead dividing the front passenger compartment (non-smokers, I presume – or was it \business\ class?). I had a good view of both engines. I noticed then that the outboard engine was stopped with its propeller feathered. We were overland (not over water).
    I do not recall any announcement from the pilot (the engine could have been stopped during the night while everyone was still asleep).
    We landed at Luanda round about lunchtime and were told that the aircraft had suffered an engine malfunction and we would rest at the airport cafeteria while the technicians were inspecting the engine.
    We could see the men bent over the open engine, in the blazing sun.
    After a couple of hours, we were told that the engine could not be repaired immediately and that a replacement aircraft (another Super Constellation) was being flown in from Jan Smuts.
    We were put up in hotels again and eventually took off very late in the evening. We landed in Joburg early the next morning (Monday 30 January 1967) in overcast weather (the pilot did some nice banking – must have had someone down there to impress).
    I have read that the Wright Cyclones had some reliability problems, but no one was really too worried along our trip.
    Joe van Lierde
    Cape Town
    South Africa

    Reply
  20. Eric Johnson

    Great article but short on facts as related to the Connie’s early development. Specifically the leaving out of JACK FRYE, president of TWA being the originator of its concept with Lockheed before Howard Hughes was the prime shareholder of TWA. Howard knew how to fly and design but he didn’t know airliners or the airline business. That was Frye’s job who since 1925 with Aero Corp on to Standard Airlines sent Donald Douglas the spec’s for the DC-1 which became the spectacularly successful DC-3. Same thing with the Boeing 307 Stratoliner. That was a product where again, JACK FRYE and his engineering group with Tommy Tomlinson were able to forward Boeing their test data flying above the clouds before anybody ever did, and worked with Boeing to introduce the worlds first pressurized airliner cabin.

    To read the facts about the Constellation and the aforementioned, you can go to the Jack Frye blog at http://jack-frye.blogspot.com.

    Reply
  21. David Gunckel dgu1566@gmail.com

    My dad flew Connies into the eye of hurricanes from Roosevelt Roads NAS 1961-1963. Later on in Korat AFB 1967. Anybody else at the same time/place?

    Reply
  22. Tony Vlasak

    1200 hours in EC121’s. I was in love with her even before my Navy days. She took us into and out of many typhoons as well as Da Nang. Now, three of my girls are in museums. I’m proud to have been a crew member on her. It is with deep respect that I walk along side them when I see them. Yes, I sometime even whisper to them and thank them for weathering the storms. By gone days to be sure. I’m glad some were saved.

    While flying from the US to South Africa in 1989, we landed in São Tomé off the coast of Africa. There were a pair of 1049’s out in the grass. Put out to pasture. I believe they are still there in retirement.

    Reply
  23. Cheryl Davis

    My dad did the conversion of the Super Connie Tail #143196. It was a Navy plane they modified for the AF in the 1960s. They put a special door in it. It had a track on the floor and would slide right out into the air stream with a camera. Missiles being tested off the coast of Africa, downrange from Cape Canaveral were fired and when they re-entered, they would take pictures and run tests on them. My dad is 84 now. I am writing his life story and will include his experiences and love affair with the Connie! He loves that plane and is so proud of the years spent working with the Connie. He would love to talk to any one interested in what he did.

    Reply
  24. kathryn eaton

    I recently acquired a hand-drawn picture of the L-749 with written descriptions of the plane and some history. I cannot read the artist’s name but it is something like this: -mronstorey. Can you give me any information on this?

    Thank you,
    Kathy

    Reply
    • kathryn eaton

      I recently acquired a hand-drawn picture of the L-749 with hand written descriptions of the plane and some history. I cannot read the artist’s name but some of the letters are as follows: -Mronstorey. Can you give me any information on this drawing?

      Thank you,
      Kathy

      Reply
    • Stephan Wilkinson

      You posted your question at 12:58 and again four minutes later, now EIGHT minutes later you’re demanding an answer? Wow.

      An Internet search for M Ron Storey and for Ron Storey turns up nothing of use, so no, I cannot give you any information on this drawing. Sorry.

      Reply
  25. Warren Collmer

    My very first ride in an airplane occurred in the summer of 1961 when my mother took me on a day trip from Columbus to Dayton Ohio and back on a TWA Super G. That experience left an indelible impression on me at the age of 10 and I have been obsessed with Connies ever since.

    Now into my mid sixties, I will retire next year after a 30+ year career piloting corporate jets but still remember the sights, sounds, and smells of those wonderful airliners like it was yesterday. Would have loved to fly a Connie during that golden age of commercial aviation but I was born a generation late. Glad to know that there is still interest out there in this great airplane.

    Reply
  26. Chip Beaudette

    Spent 3 years flying as a radio operator on the Willy Victor (EC-121M) with VQ-2 out of Rota, Spain from 1968 through 1970. Lots of good (and some bad) memories! Blown engines, a no nose-gear landing, flying touch-and-gos for 4 hours with new pilots (scared to death!!), actually getting to fly the plane (thank-you plane commander!), getting to stand behind the left seat for t-o’s and landings, the crazy pilot who looked for thunder storms to fly through, the duty-officer who told our waiting wives (we were on our way back from a deployment) that we weren’t coming back ’cause the plane had crashed – fortunately not true, but a whole bunch of REALLY PO’ed women just about killed the d-o. What memories! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!! I do miss the Connie!!!

    Reply
  27. Norm Shafer

    Arthur Godfrey was supposed to be the Eastern pilot. The copilot for this information film was the owner of Eastern Airlines at the time, Mr. Eddie Rickenbacher sitting in the right seat. A lot of history was riding in that cockpit. Cannot recall who was the flight engineer or if he was even mentioned. Mr. Godfrey was giving instruction to the viewer of how to cross check the airplane’s position using the ADF radio to take bearing readings from two different adf stations. He drew a line on his map from each of the two stations. Where the lines crossed each other indicated the position of the aircraft on the map. This was high tech at that time (1950s).

    Reply
  28. Norm Shafer

    Also on that flight the pilots shut down engines 1, 2 and 3 to demonstrate the connie could maintain flight on only one engine and an outboard one at that. I would love to have seen that done in real life as this supposedly was. It would be “interesting”.

    Reply
  29. Don Williams

    Hi Maggie,
    I love your story about your love affair with the Connie and TWA. I get a tear every time I read it. I grew up under V-4 between KC and STL, where a Connie would go by every hour or less. In the evening, sometimes they were low enough to see every window lit up. What a magical sight! I was just a kid on a farm, but that was my dream to fly for TWA and on a Connie. When I was in school near STL we would go to the airport to see the Connies and try to get a glimpse of a TWA stewardess, which we considered to be an unapproachable earth angel!! As it turned out, I missed the Connies, I was a pilot for Delta for 27 years, but I still have a soft spot for the Connies and for the TWA Stewardess. Love you!! Don

    Reply
  30. Nina Clark

    Mr Wilkinson, Did your Grandfather fly out of Guam between 1955 and 1958? If so, is he still alive? My father flew a Connie in those years. Just curious if they knew each other? Those were tough planes and tough guys that flew them!!

    Reply
  31. Nina Clark

    So Sorry Phil, My question should have been directed to you.

    Reply
  32. Frank Rivas

    I was a 6 y.o. kid when I watched the Connies at Madrid Airport.back in early 50s.
    I loved that planes,the gasoline smells,
    By those days,the planes just parked so near the terminal terrrace that we could even feel the breeze of the proppellers in the face…
    later on,I had some friends captains of D-C8s,Coronados,D-C10S,747S…and some times,I could flew with them inside the cockpits…
    Amazing days when you could do those kind of things a no terrorism or things like that…I allways dreamed of owning a Connie…

    Reply
  33. Maggie Brown

    Hey Don,

    Always great to hear another Connie love story. Its funny that you mentioned the leg between KC and STL as it was a memorable one. The short distance meant a relatively low cruise alt. over the summer rising heat from Kansas farmland always providing a ride between jarring and Hellish. To be sure in the summer we were strapped in with the pax. I remember one time in particular as I sat belted in heads together with my flying partner trying to hear each other over the engine noise as the Connie was being tossed around more severely than usual on that infamous KC-STL leg. Suddenly our eyes locked speechless and breathless the silence was surreal. Before reality could actually register we were again struggling to hear each other over the Connie’s ‘heartbeat. Later as we piled into the taxi with the three guys, I offered up my astute observation, It got awfully quiet there for a sec or two, didn’t it? The answer was a rollicking Oh Yeah!! We were then reassured the Connie would be getting an extra bit of looking over before we took off again in the morning just to make sure she was OK. The ride to the hotel was then filled with their traded bits of engine out Connie stories.

    Its fun to know TWA Air Hostesses (as TWA insisted on calling us) also had some fans as well as the beautiful Connie and that young boys loved us too. Sorry you were too young to ever experience the Connie but sounds like you have been true to your ‘first Love. She was and still is the most beautiful and exciting airliner and until reading in this site did I realize that the military made up such a significant part of her history.

    .
    Thank you for the reply and the love.
    Maggie

    Reply

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