Lockheed Super Constellation "Great Planes"

the Lockheed Constellation was one of the most important aircraft in the rebuilding of the airline industry after the war often described as the queen of the skies it was the most powerful and advanced airliner of its time a combination of many technical innovations came together in a true success story in addition the distinctive curves of the fuselage and the perfect balance of the design made the plane a thing of beauty and grace large for engine transports are not always aesthetic but the connie’s lines demand admiration the constellation was the pinnacle of piston-engined transport design and broke new ground in both its civil and military variants however its career overlapped into the jet age and the appearance of the new technology brought down a premature curtain on its lifespan the Lockheed company with a heritage stretching back to 1930 and painstakingly build up a reputation for constructing excellent and trustworthy passenger aircraft commencing with the Vega and following up with the Orion Lockheed’s reputation Lawson they became associated with the famous names of aviation between the world wars Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart both flew lockheed aircraft the list of record-setting lockheed planes grew rapidly the company products were not simply a successful reworking of the day’s technology they were innovative and influential Lockheed had a succession of talented designers Jack Northrop was followed by Gerald vaulty when both of these men had gone off to found their own companies Lockheed retained the services of a team led by the greatest engineering double act in aircraft history Paul Hebert and Kelly Johnson locky developed an excellent family of fast twin-engine transports in the Electra’s and the lodestar carrying between 10 and 14 passengers in what was comparatively only moderate discomfort in 1938 Howard Hughes piloted a super Electra around the northern hemisphere in just over three days and 19 hours news respect for Lockheed was cemented and later he turned to the company in trying to fulfill his aviation ambitions the flight of over fourteen thousand seven hundred miles confirmed a view held by many including Hughes that civil airliners would be the mass transit method of the future and to do this the individual plane would need to carry many more people over much longer range Lockheed had already been working towards this with their model 44 Excalibur designed to carry 36 passengers they were more than receptive when Hughes approached them on behalf of his airline TWA he had a clear idea of what sort of plane he wanted and what it would be able to do his basic specification was an aircraft that would fly a payload of six thousand pounds from New York to Los Angeles non-stop in eight to nine hours it would be a four-engined pressurized luxury airliner cruising around 300 miles per hour TWA had set the parameters for capacity and performance but it was the Lockheed team which designed and built the plane it drew on many successful elements of their earlier studies the wing was

expanded from that of the p-38 lightning fighter the triple tail originally designed by the douglas company had been tested in the model 44 project kelly johnson was intimately concerned with the new project here the wind tunnel camera catches him changing the shot board in one of the long series of model developments because the plane drew so much on the work done for the model 44 it was initially referred to as the xcalibur however it acquired a new number the model 49 and soon was given a new name as well the constellation Lockheed’s main rivals had been leap frogging each other in airline development with douglas reaping the majority of the rewards in america along the way however they did not have a client with the determination and checkbook of Howard Hughes to support them and their designs were transitional rather than attempting one giant step Lockheed had conducted a lot of relevant research and development during the 30s and this had equipped it well to approach the new design the company had been involved in pressurization experiments with the army an Electra had been modified for the tests and given the army designation of XC 35 the plane first flew on the 7th of May 1937 with the information derived from these tests Lockheed were able to devise the constellation system this maintained cabin pressure at ground level up to nine thousand feet and restricted pressure to that of eight thousand feet when the plane was at 20 the XC 35 was in effect a practical advantage that Lockheed held over their rivals in a similar way a lot of the expensive development of the wing shape had already been born in the design of the Lightning even with these advantages the cost per constellation quoted to Howard Hughes was for the day astronomical Hughes determination funded the development from his first meetings with the company in June 1939 however progress was slow many design problems needed to be overcome in reaching the stage where production could commence perhaps because the company had not built such a big aircraft before Lockheed’s team were very flexible about their approach the series of decisions that set the connie’s shape serves as an example large engines working at low revs were less likely to feel stressed and break down so a combination of such engines with large propellers were suggested the large propellers demanded absurd ground clearance and a very long forward undercarriage to shorten that wheel strut the nose is bent down the large area of disturbance from the propellers suggests the triple tail will not work in flight however a more efficient single tail will not fit into a hanger the solution curved the fuselage upwards and take the triple tail out of the propeller turbulence the plane that results has a straightened S for a centerline in the side view of the fuselage and it works as a bonus it’s also beautiful the first constellation went not too hard Hughes airline but to the United States Army Air Force war had swept up the US and civil aircraft production had become another arm of the war effort wartime pressures delayed the constellation further but eventually on January the 9th 1943 project 49 talked to the air for the first time the first play was the production prototype there was no transitional model existing commercial orders have been drafted even before the u.s. entry into the war and

by 1942 the army added orders for 300 of the type most with a more powerful engine now being military aircraft the first constellations were given a military number they became c69 the test series was delayed due to trouble with the engines and the first plane was not handed over to the US Army Air Force until July the 29th 1943 in the time the plane was grounded Lockheed and TWA took the opportunity to repaint it and do some publicity shots some of the testing was also conducted in TWA livery and used for publicity this was nothing compared to the publicity coup pulled off by Howard Hughes with the second machine the plane had been delayed in production and made its first flight only in 1944 it was accepted by TWA on behalf of the military on April the 16th painted in TWA s colors though showing its military serial the following day the plane took off with Hughes himself at the controls it flew nonstop from Burbank to Washington a distance of 2,300 miles in the record time of six hours 57 minutes this was an average speed of 330 miles an hour a respectable speed for a fighter of that era in addition to the successful publicity for Hughes and TWA the event spotlight of the constellation to the mutual delight of Lockheed and the Army after the record flight the plane was kept in Washington for a week of displays and inspections before being delivered to the Army over the next 18 months the c69 were to make a number of significant long distant flights and set a series of Records these included successive transatlantic records producing flight time to Paris to under 10 hours it was evident that the army had found in the constellation a valuable personnel transport the c69 could carry up to 64 fully armed troops or alternatively was capable of transporting a light tank or other medium vehicles the underworked big engines returned excellent fuel consumption figures and combined with the planes range speed and capacity to put the constellation far ahead of its competitors Wireless was not that relevant in 1945 it would be a telling advantage for Lockheed at war’s end even though there was a clear need for cargo planes the army never placed a high priority on constellation construction under army direction lockheed concentrated on production of other warplanes in addition to its own hudson and lightning designs the company was heavily involved in construction of Boeing’s b-17 most of Lockheed’s experience with four engine planes during the war was with the fortresses rather than the non-belligerent connie’s lockheed produced many thousands of aircraft during the war but only 22 of them would be c69 army orders for hundreds of c69 s were never fulfilled only 15 had been delivered when the war ended with another seven planes almost completed in addition to Lockheed’s production being directed to other types the constellation used the same engines as the b-29 Superfortress and few of the power plants were allocated to the program the engines had teething problems and a shortage curtailed production testing was disrupted with frequent groundings of all types using them at war’s end 12 of the 15 planes delivered to the army were declared redundant all military orders were canceled and Lockheed paused to consider their options the decision was made to go ahead with the constellation as the company’s primary product in the anticipated post-war expansion of commercial travel while their

competitors try to rebuild bombers into airliners or upgrade their pre-war designs Lockheed were ideally positioned with a tested and proven aircraft that was very advanced in comparison to any other type available by buying back see 69s from the air force including those partially built at the factory Lockheed were able to offer customer Airlines new aircraft almost at war’s end Pan Am were the first to receive these refurbished army planes vakani made its first commercial flight on a third of February 1946 three days later TWA introduced its constellation service first on the transatlantic route and then a month later commencing transcontinental flights in the u.s competing carriers were mostly relying on DC fours and the Connie had no problems outperforming the older Douglas plane the efficiency of the constellation was undeniable and within two years TWA rivals on the transatlantic route had been forced to change to the Lockheed plane themselves in effect the Lockheed decision gave them an 18-month lead over their competitors at Boeing Douglas and Republic this was clear to the airline operators as well within a week of the war’s end the company had orders from eight Airlines for over a hundred constellations the contracts totaled over 75 million dollars and allowed Lockheed to retain its skilled workforce as production of the connie’s was stepped up the original batch of ex-military planes was soon used up and new examples started to roll from the factory though intended for civil use they were still the basic C 69 as ordered for the army the plane had reverted from its military designation to the Lockheed project number thus the basic aircraft was referred to as the model 49 during the war Lockheed had advanced five further studies for improved constellation variants and these were given an extra numeral the first being modeled 149 second 249 and so on one of these projects had been for a long-range bomber variant of the plane but the other four were all transport versions three being improved civilian airliners there were 73 civil model 49 s including the recycled C 69 their immediate availability after the war gave Lockheed the time to refine the Conny further before releasing the first truly civilian eyes diversion for some carriers the purchase of constellations propelled them into the big league KLM was won as early as November 1946 they had transferred their transatlantic route to Lockheed model 49 s and the Connie’s served the airline well from then into the mid 50s by that time KLM was a major world airline with a massively expanded network of routes work on what was to be the first civilian production model and began in May 1945 this was the model 649 developed in conjunction with Eastern Airlines among the many developments introduced with this model was the speed pack external cargo bay this was another example of the Lockheed teams lateral thinking akane offered little cargo space when laid out for maximum passenger carriage but had power to spare to avoid cutting back on the number of passengers additional cargo space was bolted to the outside of the plane this increased goods carriage by 8,000 pounds at a penalty of only 10 miles an hour in speed the model also introduced a new and more powerful version of the engine rated up to 2,500 horsepower a 649 first flew on October the 18th 1946 it was a notable advance on the model 49 in many aspects major improvements had been made to sound proofing and cabin air conditioning giving a far more pleasant ride than any other airliner at that time Eastern began to advertise their planes as the gold-plate connie’s they began operating services in May 1947 overlapping with the deliveries of Eastern 649 s came another new version a 749 this had been developed as a long-range model for

overseas operation based closely on the Eastern aircraft the outer wings contained additional fuel tanks which added a further thousand miles to the range of the plane with this version the New York to Paris route could be flown non-stop further improvements to the 749 were recognized with the sub designation 749 a air india was the first to employ these bringing them into service beside earlier Connie’s then purchased the improvements made to this version were directed to obtaining a higher gross takeoff weight bringing an addition of nearly 5,000 pounds to the payload the weight of the Connie had grown markedly during her career to that time the initial c69 had a maximum weight of 72,000 pounds but this had been expanded to 107 thousand with the 749 a at the same time the range had increased from 2,400 miles to well over 3,000 many of the improvements made to these planes were later built into earlier models blurring the distinctions between the early versions the constellation stood at what was to be the pinnacle of propeller-driven airliners the technology of the propellers themselves was very highly advanced with it’s fully reversing blades akane could pull itself up on landing in a very short time or could back itself into a parking bay the props could also be fully feathered to reduce drag if an engine cut out extreme use of the reversing props on landing produced this sort of spectacle with the constellation not only coming to a halt in a very short strip but promptly backing up the Connie’s props had been carefully matched to the huge engines chosen for the plane the big blades caused some problems with undercarriage and hoisting the plane clear of the ground but these problems were offset by the advantages gained in flight the big engines were run at very low revs with no stress and minimum fuel consumption they were quite capable of keeping the big plane aloft even if to were to cut out and even if both of the engines on one side had to be shut down by setting the plane to demand so little of its power plants in normal operation lockheed built in an enormous reserve the 749 a specification had originally derived from renewed military interest the original C 69s had been a problem aircraft for the army due in no small part to the experimental nature of the design the army was well served by its large fleet of Douglas dc-4 derived c-54s and abandoned the Lockheed plane but when in 1948 the new US Air Force turned its attention to the Connie it was no longer a new design that pushed the state-of-the-art under wartime handicaps this time the Air Force bought a minor variant of a well proven airliner as the c-121 a2 were immediately redesignated as VIP aircraft and allocated to General MacArthur who transferred the name of his old c-54 but tan and General Eisenhower whose plane was known as column by later VIP colleagues were assigned to Eisenhower after he became president and renamed Columbine too and Columbine three the non VIP c-121 A’s were used as cargo and personnel transports and had strengthened floors and large rear fuselage cargo doors over the next few years the original Air Force order of ten aircraft were all reconfigured as VIP planes the first was delivered in December 1948 and the last in march 1949 they soldiered on for nearly 20 years of service and were not retired until the late 1960s the return of the constellation to air force service was followed by interest from the Navy and a new military role dawn for the plane the c1 21s career was

to be very long and very influential and redefined the military use of large transport aircraft by the time of Columbine 3 President Eisenhower’s plane was a much different proposition from his first constellation in the development of this new type the story of the constellation returned to its beginning to the first c69 built this had displayed its military number three one zero three zero nine however its company number have been one nine six one and it was as old 1961 that it was to gain its individual fame during the war the first constellation had served its share of army duty during this period it was re-engined with Pratt & Whitney radials as an emergency driven response to the chronic problems with the right double cyclone engines after this refurbishing the army took to calling it the xc60 9e though it was otherwise unchanged at the end of hostilities it was then put up for sale and bought by none other than Howard Hughes in 1949 he sold it back to Lockheed and a transformation began as it was turned into the prototype for model 1049 the most obvious change was that the plane was stretched to new sections of fuselage were built into it one section before the wing added 10 feet 9 inches and the second behind the wing 7 feet 8 inches the alteration was so radical that the company marketed the plane under a new name the super constellation TWA had again been involved in the development of the plane but Eastern Airlines had lodged its actual order first and so they received the first super conics in addition to the obvious lengthening there were many other improvements a better de-icing system for the wings stiffened wing surfaces increased fuel capacity and more powerful engines were all incorporated a gross takeoff weight of the plane increased by only twelve percent but such was the efficiency of a design that payload increased by forty percent seating was available to cater for between 69 and 109 passengers as Lockheed devised a variety of layouts some were designed for long-range carriers and others for commuter Airlines other plans with fewer seats catered for routes with a higher proportion of freight or allowed the removal of the fittings to use the aircraft as a part-time cargo plane when passenger traffic was light companies intent was clear the constellation had given them a captive market they did not want to lose the new planes were assembled in Lockheed’s appropriately-named all of Giants the first version had only a limited lifetime it had been intended to give it a new and revolutionary turbo compounded engine but teething problems with the new power plant had led to the use of standard though up rated radials the two thousand seven hundred horsepower delivered by these engines left the constellation slower than its rival the Douglas dc-6 and only 24 were built Lockheed were forced to persist with introduction of the more powerful but underdeveloped new engines though problems persisted the strategy paid off and sales picked up with the introduction of the new engines the plane received a further 20 percent boost in its weight arranged ratio all comparisons with the opposition were addressed and orders resumed their earlier heartening ly busy frequency this beneficial change was in part forced on the company they had had enough of unproven engines earlier in the constellations career however the military were very interested in an uprated super Connie and much less so in the underpowered original model not only did the re-engining rekindle civilian sales but the new super constellations would be the testbed for a revolution in military aviation

today the concept of aerial command posts electronic surveillance centers and radar stations is commonplace they’ve proved their worth time and again during their short career most of the experimentation that proved their effectiveness was conducted in constellations as was most of their early service again old 1961 was involved in making aviation history as with domes above and below the original plane was used to trial the installations the first cone is constructed as airborne radar pickets were built for the Navy they replaced earlier rudimentary installations aboard converted World War 2 bombers aboard the planes a crew of 22 were involved with aircrew radar operators and engineers with their long-range coupled to the search range of their extensive load of equipment these Navy WV ones proved the worth of the concept and installed it as an accepted part of naval practice soon the idea spread to the airforce the Air Force had placed orders for super connie’s for use as conventional transports but c120 ones would not be delivered as such until 1956 before any transports could be built the Air Force acknowledged their better use as airborne early warning aircraft and change the order for the first 10 – its own flying radar pickets as RC 121 seats these planes loaded with 15,000 pounds of radar equipment would cruise at 335 miles per hour for up to 24 hours on patrol the RC 121 C was similar to early Navy super connie’s with their height finding radar housed in the 8 foot tall hump and the bearing scanner located in the ventral dome the RC 121 C’s entered service in 1953 and were mostly employed in patrolling the western seaboard of the USA they were followed in 1954 by the first of an order for 72 RC 121 d warning star aircraft in addition to the passive role of detection these incorporated offensive activity as control centers for the guidance of fighter interceptors from the basis of the warning star a number of options presented themselves once the idea of putting equipment into aircraft was digested there was a rush of ideas about which equipment might be suited to the treatment advanced electronics and surveillance types multiplied as the transport planes appeared they were often pulled back to the factory for refit as one or another of the electronics versions the appetite of the services for these valuable aircraft was insatiable over 220 of the main types alone were built disregarding the one offs of the small runs most of these planes were also completely re equipped at least once in their lifetime between the Air Force and the Navy over 25 different designations were used to identify versions of the radar-equipped Connie’s and their control center brethren in addition to proving the concept and paving the way for their successes these constellations also perform very real service in an era when there was no other practical solution at the height of the Cold War and hostility and distrust often combined in equal degree to form policy a karma picture of reality was maintained by these electronic eyes in the sky in 1962 the RC designation was changed to EC and the electronics connie’s were to earn their later Vietnam Fame under that designation they were a pivotal factor in US defensive strategy and had become as important as the cargo carrying versions were dispensable despite using non-standard fuel and requiring piston engine maintenance that was an almost dead art form the Connie’s were nursed along old age and technological redundancy could not undermine their essential functions and some were to remain in service until the early 1980s their longevity was helped not only by their expert care but by the excellence of their original design and construction

the jet age was however drawing in on the constellations career it was obvious that the introduction of jet airliners would change the whole market expectation and Lockheed were determined not to be left behind aware of the limitations of early jet technology they set about refining a system of compound engines or jet props using jet engines to drive propellants that already extended the piston engine by the use of turbines driven by the exhausts these had added 20% more power to the engines and with a peak of piston engine development employing a jet and prop combination was designed to extract maximum economical efficiency from both technologies once again the test bed for an aviation milestone was old 1961 in its last major notable achievement the venerable airframe was fitted with an allison turboprop in the outboard starboard position this engine couldn’t save the Connie but it was part of the foundation of one of Lockheed’s most successful aircraft the c-130 Hercules it was also at the heart of the successful Lockheed Electra which kept the company alive in the civilian market however for the constellation its success is the pinnacle of piston engine airliners somehow active against anyone taking a jet powered version seriously even though the finest development the Starliner was yet to come with a new wing shape and other major revisions the Starliner carried Lockheed’s hopes of continued dominance of the long-range airliner market however though orders for super connie’s didn’t dry up immediately there was no flood of orders for the new plane only 44 of this vastly improved version were built and most were phased out of service relatively quickly being replaced by Jets the improvements made to the Starliner were numerous and it was undoubtedly the finest piston-engined airliner of all time but it was too late Lockheed’s enterprise imagination and innovation continued to work around the constellation and several refinements including the now-familiar revolving antenna were developed and tested with Connie’s the new development of the Starliner gave Lockheed a new proposal to put to the Air Force and the company invested considerable time and money sorting out the best package it could develop around the plane the revolving dish was only one of the systems developed for the submission with turboprops extended-range specialized layouts and a large number of new features and improvements the Starliner was being prepared for what would be the next sales opportunity by then the success of the airborne radar and control plans demanded that a fleet of such aircraft be maintained the aging c120 ones would need replacement by the time the competition was announced Lockheed knew that no matter how excellent their proposal was they didn’t really stand a chance hard on the heels of the formal call for tenders came the specifications and these confirmed Lockheed spheres time had stolen a march on the military Starliner as well as the civilian version the air force was not just in the market for a replacement for their constellations to be more precise they were in the market for a jet-powered plane the Boeing Company had the world’s best such aircraft on its catalogue developed for the Air Force as a jet tanker the kc-135 the result was a foregone conclusion however the appearance of their replacement did not signal the end of the Connie’s military career whereas the arrival of Boeing’s jet had seen the quick demise of civilian constellations the Air Force and Navy were content with the capabilities of the plane and coincidentally they had need of them the first USA FC 120 ones to be based in the Asian Theatre arrived in Thailand in April 1965 although Navy planes have been the first Connie’s involved starting with missions in August 1964 at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin incident the constellations flew throughout the war and their service was invaluable they performed in a number of functions some of which were developed and tested as response to the

armed combat raging below and in the air around them the big planes commodious fuselages saw many reef it’s the variety of constellations deployed to Vietnam illustrates the way the big planes had taken on so many roles for the services their main work was as airborne early warning aircraft but they were also used for a number of other missions a few cargo versions were used primarily for aeromedical evacuation and as passenger planes however beyond that the specialist electronics planes filled a number of roles one of these was the relay of data from sensors scattered along the North Vietnamese supply routes as part of Operation igloo white to have diverted the Jets to these tasks when they were needed as refueling tankers would have been highly impractical and the Connie’s available and reliable soldiered on the constellations original deployment of Vietnam was essentially defensive they were to be used to provide a radar picket to guard against North Vietnamese bombers attacking targets in the south however this proved to be a short-lived need and the duties that kept them in the theater were over a broad spectrum one of the most unusual roles the Connie was called on to perform fell to this claim an NC 121 J at the Navy’s development squadron px8 the designation was given to a group of planes that were variously modified to secret specifications there was no conformity within the designation it was effectively a grab-bag for various one-off Conny versions this plane for example had its own special fit at its own special mission the equipment fitted to this plane was definitely non-standard in military terms these two inch tape players were the ultimate in professional television formats at the time the duty of the aircraft were to serve as a television and radio broadcaster for the Armed Services networks by hauling the transmission aloft the service was taken out of range of Vietcong interference ground-based transmission would have required infrastructure which as a tempting target would have needed constant guard the quietly plotting constellation transmitting from on high made the maintenance of service broadcasts practical of course most of the constellation activity in Vietnam was far more actively involved in the conflict with the most important work being performed in monitoring the North Vietnamese as soon as operations over the north began the constellations became essential factors in the struggle as the war went on their role gradually evolved from passive to active involvement operating over their own ground the North Vietnamese MiG’s were given very accurate information about the whereabouts of US aircraft in their airspace this advantage was at first simply countered by the operations of the u.s. radar planes which were able to relay similar information about mega activity to the American strike aircraft as the war went on the connie’s increasingly assumed a more active role making direct contact with American fighters and guiding them in attack on any North Vietnamese activity when the North became better equipped with missiles the connie’s were able to fix the location of any Sam site radars that were operating this served two purposes it warned aircraft in the area to expect trouble and it made the ironhand weasels to attack the sites the last constellation operations in the theater were flown in May 1974 well after the last operational strikes by US forces the big observers continued their monitoring by then it was 25 years after the first electronics refitted Connie and so impressed the Navy it was also 31 years after the first constellation flight when the constellation was at its peak the axe fell they were forcibly retired from service long before they wore out the major airlines were forced partially for reasons of prestige to abandon prompts the colleagues had been the key to the establishment of long distance

civil traffic after the war but business has no place for soft sentiment and they were abandoned quickly by the early 60s the civil career of the constellation that moved to small airlines and lesser routes there they continued to work for many years gradually they became relegated to cargo and then lingered further as isolated crop dusters and fire tankers the military career lasted much longer with the last Navy constellation being retired in June 1982 the last constellation built had been delivered in 1958 856 colonies were made in 16 years of production the career stretches from world war ii to the space shuttle they were throughout their career used as test beds for a multitude of developments the results of this service are still seen in use in both military and civil aviation today one of the most beautiful aircraft ever produced time reduced their worth to their weight in metal very few escaped the scrap merchants and now their treasured museum pieces