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Lockheed Constellation

By Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia,


Super Constellation
C-69 / C-121
A Qantas Empire Airways L-749 Constellation.
Role Airliner
Manufacturer Lockheed
First flight January 9, 1943
Introduced 1943 with USAAF
1945 with TWA
Retired 1967, airline service
1978, military
Primary users Trans World Airlines
United States Army Air Forces
Produced 1943–1958
Number built 856
Variants EC-121 Warning Star

The Lockheed Constellation (Connie) was a four piston-engine propeller-driven airliner built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 at its Burbank, California, USA, facility. A total of 856 aircraft were produced in four models, all distinguished by a triple-tail design and dolphin-shaped fuselage. The Constellation was used as a civilian airliner and as a U.S. military air transport plane, seeing service in the Berlin Airlift. It was the presidential aircraft for U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Design and development

Initial design studies

Since 1937, Lockheed had been working on the L-044 Excalibur, a four-engine pressurized airliner. In 1939, Trans World Airlines, at the encouragement of major stockholder Howard Hughes, requested a 40-passenger transcontinental airliner with 3,500 mi (5,630 km) range - well beyond the capabilities of the Excalibur design. TWA's requirements led to the L-049 Constellation, designed by Lockheed engineers including Kelly Johnson and Hall Hibbard. Willis Hawkins, another Lockheed engineer, maintains that the Excalibur program was purely a cover for the Constellation.

The military's C-69 prototype was based on the initial L-049 design.
The military's C-69 prototype was based on the initial L-049 design.

Development of the Constellation

The Constellation's wing design was close to that of the P-38 Lightning, differing mostly in scale. The distinctive triple tail kept the aircraft's overall height low enough to fit in existing hangars, while new features included hydraulically-boosted controls and a thermal de-icing system used on wing and tail leading edges. The plane had a top speed of over 340 mph (547 km/h), a cruise speed of 300 mph (483 km/h), and a service ceiling of 24,000 ft (7,315 m).

According to Anthony Sampson in Empires of the Sky, the intricate design may have been undertaken by Lockheed, but the concept, shape, capabilities, appearance and ethos of the Constellation were driven by Hughes' intercession during the design process.

Operational history

World War II

The first Lockheed Constellation on January 9, 1943.
The first Lockheed Constellation on January 9, 1943.

With the onset of World War II, the TWA aircraft entering production were converted to an order for C-69 Constellation military transport aircraft, with 202 aircraft intended for the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF). The first prototype (civil registration NX25600) flew on January 9, 1943, a simple ferry hop from Burbank to Muroc Field for testing. Eddie Allen, on loan from Boeing, flew left seat, with Lockheed's own Milo Burcham as copilot. Rudy Thoren and Kelly Johnson were also on board.

Lockheed proposed model L-249, which was to be 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, was canceled. A single C-69C, 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. 22 C-69s were completed before the end of hostilities, and not all of those entered military service. The USAAF cancelled the remainder of the order in 1945.

Postwar Use

TWA L-749A Constellation at Heathrow in 1954 with an under fuselage
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
Super Constellation (C-121C) during pilot training in Epinal - Mirecourt, France

TWA was one of the best-known operators. Pictured is an L1049G with optional 609 US gal (2,307 l) tiptanks.
TWA was one of the best-known operators. Pictured is an L1049G with optional 609 US gal (2,307 l) tiptanks.

Super Connie at Air 04, Payerne, Switzerland
Super Connie at Air 04, Payerne, Switzerland

After World War II, the Constellation soon came into its own as a popular, 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. The first transatlantic proving flight departed Washington, DC on December 3, 1945, arriving in Paris on December 4, via Gander and Shannon.

Trans World Airlines opened post-war commercial intercontinental air service on February 6, 1946, with a New York-Paris flight in a Constellation. On June 17, 1947, Pan American World Airways opened the first ever regularly-scheduled around-the-world service with their L749 Clipper America. The famous flight Pan Am 101 operated for over 40 years.

As the first pressurized airliner in widespread use, the Constellation helped to usher in affordable and comfortable air travel. Operators of Constellations included TWA, Eastern Air Lines, Pan American World Airways, Air France, BOAC, KLM, Qantas, Lufthansa, Iberia Airlines, Panair do Brasil, TAP Portugal, Trans-Canada Airlines (later renamed Air Canada), Aer Lingus and VARIG.

Initial difficulties

The Constellation airliner had three accidents in the first ten months of service, temporarily curtailing its career as a passenger airliner. On June 18, 1946, the engine of a Pan American aircraft caught fire and fell off. The flight crew made an emergency landing with no loss of life. However, on July 11, a Transcontinental and Western Air aircraft fell victim to an in-flight fire, crashing in a field and taking the lives of five of the six on board. The accidents prompted the suspension of the Constellation's airworthiness certificate until Lockheed could modify the design. This was dramatized in the motion picture The Aviator (2004) during the scene where Howard Hughes (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) surveys numerous grounded TWA Constellations.

The Constellation proved prone to engine failures (due to her R3350s), earning the nickname "World's Finest Trimotor" in some circles.


Sleek and powerful, Constellations set a number of records. On April 17, 1944, the second production L049, piloted by Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye, flew from Burbank, California to Washington, D.C. in 6 hours and 57 minutes (c. 2,300 mi/3,701 km at an average 330.9 mph/532.5 km/h). On the return trip, the aircraft stopped at Wright Field to give Orville Wright his last plane flight, more than 40 years after his historic first flight. He commented that the Constellation's wingspan was longer than the distance of his first flight.

On September 29, 1957, a L1649A Starliner flew from Los Angeles to London in 18 hours and 32 minutes (approximately 5,420 mi/8,723 km at 292.4 mph/470.6 km/h). The L1649A holds the record for the longest-duration non-stop passenger flight — during TWA's inaugural London to San Francisco flight on October 1-2 1957, the aircraft stayed aloft for 23 hours and 19 minutes (approximately 5,350 mi/8,610 km at 229.4 mph/369.2 km/h)


The advent of jet airliners, with the de Havilland Comet, Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8 and Convair 880, rendered the piston-engined 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 four-engined piston-engined airliner in the United States was made by a TWA L749 on May 11, 1967 from Philadelphia to Kansas City, MO. However, Constellations remained in freight service for years to come, and were the mainstay of Eastern Airlines' shuttle service between New York, Washington, and Boston until 1968.

One of the reasons for the elegant appearance of the aircraft was the fuselage shape - a continuously variable profile with no two bulkheads the same shape. Unfortunately, this construction is very expensive and was replaced by the mostly tube-shape of modern airliners. The tube is more resistant to pressurization changes and cheaper to build.

With the shutdown of Constellation production, Lockheed elected not to develop a first-generation jetliner, instead sticking to its lucrative military business and production of the modest turboprop-powered Lockheed L-188 Electra airliner. Lockheed would not build a large civil 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.


Super Constellation at Charles Prince Airport, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1975. Used as a flying club headquarters.
Super Constellation at Charles Prince Airport, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1975. Used as a flying club headquarters.

The initial military versions carried the Lockheed designation of L-049; as World War II came to a close, some were completed as civil L-049 Constellations. The first purpose-built passenger Constellation was the more powerful L-649 and L-749, followed by the L-1049 Super Constellation and L-1649 Starliner. Military versions included the C-69 and C-121 for the Army Air Forces/Air Force and the R7O R7V-1 WV-1 (L-1049G) WV-2 (L-1049H) (famously Willie Victor) and many variant EC-121 designations for the Navy


After TWA's initial order was filled following World War II, customers rapidly accumulated, with over 800 aircraft built. In military service, the US Navy and Air Force operated the EC-121 Warning Star variant until 1978, nearly 40 years after work on the L-049 began. Pakistan International Airlines was the first airline from an Asian country to fly the Super Constellation.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower flew in two Constellations, named Columbine II and Columbine III.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower flew in two Constellations, named Columbine II and Columbine III.

N4257U on display at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Ks.
N4257U on display at the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, Ks.
  • The National Air and Space Museum has a Super Constellation on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport in Virginia. This aircraft flew as an Air Force C-121C and is painted in the colors of the Air National Guard.
  • Two Constellations, the VC-121E Columbine III (s/n 53-7885), used as Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential aircraft, and an EC-121 Warning Star (s/n 53-555) are fully restored and on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Columbine III was retired to the Museum in 1966, and is displayed in the Museum's Presidential gallery. The interior of the aircraft is open to the public. The EC-121 Warning Star is on display in the Museum's Modern Flight Gallery.
  • A military C-121A (Bataan) is on display at Planes of Fame in Valle, Arizona. This plane is in flying condition.
  • Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling has sponsored a restoration of a Constellation that is based in Basel and has since been featured in its ads.
  • The Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) secured and restored a former USAF C-121C Super Constellation (54-0157). The aircraft was subsequently painted in pseudo-QANTAS livery (with the usual QANTAS lettering along the fuselage replaced with the word "CONNIE") and registered in Australia as VH-EAG. The aircraft is currently based in Wollongong.
  • An L-1049H Constellation that was built originally in 1957, stored for several years and then delivered to cargo carrier Slick Airways was restored in 1986 by the Save-a-Connie, Inc. organization in Kansas City, Missouri, now known as the Airline History Museum. Originally painted in red and white with Save-a-Connie it 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 job 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. After being grounded for the past few years, Star of America is currently being returned to airworthiness and is expected to appear at 2009 airshows.
  • One Super Constellation is parked on an unused runway in the Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. It was struck by a runaway DC-4 at Aguadilla-Borinquen Airport, on February 3, 1992, resulting in damage to the right wing and main spar.
  • N4257U c/n 4336 Final registration - N4257U, delivered to USAF October 1954 as RC-121D 52-3418. Redesignated EC-121D 1962, converted to EC-121T but upper radome not removed. Reassigned to USAF Reserves at Homestead AFB, FL by July 1974, retired and flown to Davis Monthan AFB for storage on 7 April 1976. Reassigned to the Combat Air Museum, Topeka, KS, March 1981 as N4257U and ferried to Topeka, KS June 1981 with Frank Lang in command, presently on display at the Combat Air Museum, Topeka, Ks.
  • ZS-DVJ c/n 1042 (L1649A) of Trek Airways on display 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 www.saamuseum.co.za
  • The Dutch National Aviation museum Aviodrome acquired a VC-121A Constellation. It was restored to airworthy condition and ferried from Tucson, AZ to The Netherlands, where restoration continued. It is now painted in the KLM livery of the 1950s, depicting a KLM Lockheed L-749A. Thanks to a donation by Korean Air, who donated two airworthy engines, this aircraft is scheduled to be flying again in the summer of 2009. Renamed Flevoland, this is the only flying example of the "short" version of the Constellation.
  • HL4003 of former Korean National Airlines is displayed in Jeongseok Airport in Jeju island, South Korea. The current owner, Korean Air keeps this aircraft in an airworthy state. While transporting the aircraft from Seoul to its present location, it flew by itself.
  • N7777G is displayed in TWA colors (although this aircraft never flew for TWA) at the Large Item Storage facility for the UK Science Museum at Wroughton, nr Swindon. It is the only UK Constellation and is viewable on certain open days.
  • Final registration N9412H (delivered as Air France's first Constellation June 1946 as L049 F-BAZA) is parked adjacent to a flight school and cafe at Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, New Jersey. It was sold to Frank Lembo Enterprises in May 1976 for $45,000 for use as a restaurant and lounge, and flown into the airport in July 1977. It was sold to the State of New Jersey along with the airport in 2000, and the interior was refurbished and used as a flight school office in 2005.
  • Two L-1649A Super Stars N7316C c/n 1018 and N8083H c/n 1038 are parked on private land next to the Lewiston-Auburn Municipal Airport in Auburn, Maine. The two aircraft were purchased at auction by the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin Foundation. Lufthansa Technik North America has built a hanger at the airport which will used to overhaul N7316C to airworthy condition. The target date for completion of the overhaul is October 10, 2010.
  • An L-049, ex-KLM, ex-Capital Airlines, is in the museum Asas de um Sonho (Wings of a Dream), located in the TAM Airlines airfield, in Sao Carlos, SP, Brazil. Previously, it served as a children's attraction at the entrance of the Asuncion (Paraguay) International Airport.

Specifications (L-1049G Super Constellation)

Data from Great Aircraft of the World and Quest for Performance

General characteristics

  • Crew: 5 flight crew, varying cabin crew
  • Capacity: typically 62-95 passengers (109 in high-density configuration)
  • Length: 116 ft 2 in (35.42 m)
  • Wingspan: 126 ft 2 in (38.47 m)
  • Height: 24 ft 9 in (7.54 m)
  • Wing area: 1,654 ft² (153.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 79,700 lb (36,150 kg)
  • Useful load: 65,300 lb (29,620 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 137,500 lb (62,370kg)
  • Powerplant:Wright R-3350-DA3 Turbo Compound 18-cylinder supercharged radial engines, 3,250 hp (2,424 kW) each


Accidents and Incidents

L-049 and C-69

  • 18 September 1945 a USAF C-69 was damaged beyond repair after a wheels up landing following engine problems at Topeka, Kansas, United States.
  • September 1, 1950, TWA Flight 903 crashed attempting an emergency landing, killing all 55 aboard.
  • July 27, 1955, El Al Flight 402 was shot down over Bulgarian airspace, killing all aboard, seven crew and 51 passengers.
  • 1 May 1959 Capital Airlines Flight 983 ground looped and caught fire after landing at Kanawha Airport, Charleston, West Viriginia, United States, one passenger and one crew member died.
  • 8 November 1961 Imperial Airways Flight 201/8 was destroyed followed an attempted emergency landing at Byrd Airport, Richmond, Virginia, United States, 74 passengers and 2 crew died.
  • 1 March 1964 Paradise Airlines Flight 901A controlled flight into terrain following an abandoned approach to Tahoe Valley Airport, California, United States, all 85 on board killed.

L-649 Constellation

L-749 Constellation

L-1049 Super Connie

  • On September 5, 1954, KLM Flight 633 crashed on takeoff from Shannon, Ireland, killing 28 of the passengers.
  • On August 14, 1958, KLM Flight 607-E crashed on takeoff from Shannon, Ireland, killing all 99 aboard.
  • On December 16, 1960, TWA Flight 266 was struck by United Airlines Flight 826 (a Douglas DC-8) over Staten Island, New York. It broke apart and crashed, killing 44 people. Flight 826 soon crashed in Brooklyn, New York, killing 84 people on board and six on the ground.


See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


External links

Text from Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; additional terms may apply.

Published in July 2009.

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