Lockheed Constellation: background information
The Lockheed L-049 Constellation.......later affectionally known as: "the Connie", was designed in 1939 to meet TWA's specifications for a long-range commercial transport. Or should I say: "... to meet Howard Hughes specifications"? As major stockholder of struggling TWA (at that time called Trans Continental & Western Air) , his drive and insight was instrumental. Other key figures in the "hush hush" development of Project 1961 were Lockheed's Chief Aerodynamicist C.L. "Kelly" Johnson (later famous for the Skunk Works' products U-2 and SR-71) and TWA's President Jack Frye. The design called for an aircraft capable of carrying 20 passengers in sleeping berths (or 44 in normal seating arrangement) and 6.000 pounds of cargo, at speeds of 250-300 mph at 20.000 ft. It was now dubbed as "Model 049" and Hughes demanded development in total secrecy.
Model 049 was a leap forward in technology and design. Hughes wanted to stay ahead of the competition. Focke Wulf was closest in specifications with the 26-passenger FW-200 Condor. This aircraft was first flown in 1937 and was capable of cruising at 230 mph. A modified prototype flew from Berlin to New York in just under 25 hours !
The prototype Constellation NX25800 (msn1961) completed its maiden flight in January 1943. Although both TWA and Pan American had placed orders for the aircraft, the small number (22) then produced were quickly pressed into military service, as the C-69, for the war effort Also, its existence could no longer be denied and the world learned about the Connie. The C-69 could accommodate 63 military men and with a full load its range was 3685 kms.
Lockheed L-649In late 1946, the model 49 was succeeded by the model 649 Constellation. Lockheed designated 149, 249, 349, 449 and 459 for new versions of the Constellation, but none of these variants were built.
The model 649 was essentially a "beefed-up" 49, with strengthening in the internal wing structure, landing gear and many other improvements. The 47-gallon integral wing oil tanks were replaced by 56-gallon oil tanks, which were installed in the engine nacelles. At 94,000 lbs (42,638 kg), the 649 represented a 7,500 lb (3,515 kg) increase in maximum takeoff weight and an 1,850 lb (839 kg) increase in payload over the model 49. The 649s cruise speed was boosted to 327 mph (526 kph), or 14 mph (23 kph) faster than the model 49. Dimensions remained the same.
The L-649 (NX101A, msn2518) made its first flight on Oct. 18th 1946. Lockheed had to face the competition of Douglas (DC-6) and Boeing (B-377 Stratocruiser). The heavier L-649 improved Connie's speed, range and payload thanks to the new R-3350-C18D-1 engines, each good for 2.500 horsepower. Improvements were also made on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Engine noise was reduced by better cabin insulation.
Lockheed L-749However, Lockheed was already working on the L-749. It was an L-649 with added fuel capacity in the wings. Range increased by some 1600 kms compared to the L-649. Lockheed offered up to 10 different interior configurations on the 649/749 series; anywhere between 44 and 64 passengers could be accommodated in mixed arrangements of seats and berths. Further modifications added 2268 kgs to the payload, these aircraft were designated L-749A (max. take off weight 48535 kgs). An L-649 would cost us$ 850.000 (1947). The few produced L-649s were modified to L-749s. Total production of the L-649/L749 was 59 and L-749A also 59. Customers were KLM, TWA, Air France, Eastern Airlines. Aerlinte Eiremann, Pan Am, Qantas, Air India, LAV-Venezuela, Chicago & Southern, Air India, South Africa and Avianca.
Military versions, part OneThe USAF placed an order in 1948 for 10 Model 749, designated C-121A, for use as cargo transports. It had been quiet on the productionline, so short after the war, so the order came at an opportune moment. The C-121A featured a strengthened cargofloor, 2 large cargodoors and Wright Cyclone R-3350 BD1 engines.Six were later reconfigured to VIP-transports, replacing aging C-54s (Douglas DC-4s), with designation VC-121A. General Eisenhower, NATO's Chief of Staff, used one and named it "Columbine". When he became President of the United States, he received another VC-121A, even more richly decorated and he named this one "Columbine II".
The USAF decommisioned the Connies in 1968, one stayed on for a year with NASA.
In fact the first C-121A (48-0608) was produced quite different from the others and was intended from the start for VIP transportation; this one was designated VC-121B and was also phased out in 1969.
The US Navy ordered 2 Model 749As and these were designated PO-1W (P for Patrol); they were fitted with (a.o.) a radardome. The designation was changed to WV-1 in 1952. These 2 aircraft were handed over to the FAA in 1958 & 1959 as N119 & N120, but without the surveillance equipment.
The Lockheed L-1049But the airlines wanted more speed, more payload and more range. Time to introduce the Super Constellation ! In 1951 the fuselage was extended by 18 ft 4.75 in and its passenger capacity increased to 69 upto 92 passengers. The first flight was on July 14th 1951 and 24 (or 34, depending on the source) were built. With auxiliary wing-tip fuel tanks, the new Super Constellation, as the enlarged L-1049 was known, could fly nonstop between New York and Los Angeles. But the new Turbo-Compound engines had not yet come available and the R-3350-956C18CA (2.700hp) were used; this made the Douglas DC-6B faster.
The L-1049C saw the use of the Turbo-Compound R-3350-872TCC18DA-1 engines, which could deliver a staggering 3.250 hp ! Now it outperformed the Douglas DC-6B again ! The L-1049C first flew on Feb.17th 1953.
But the engines kept giving problems and earned it the nickname: "the best 3-engined transport". This in itself wasn't unique: the 4-engined Douglas C-124 ("Old Shaky") was nicknamed the "Douglas tri-motor"....
Oct. 19th 1953 saw TWA's inaugural flight between Los Angeles and New York. The Super Connie could stay in the air for long periods of time and flight crews began to complain about the length of their duty days.
Customers for the L-1049C were eastern Airlines (16), Air France (10), KLM (9), Trans Canada A/l (5), Qantas (4), Pakistan Int'l (3) and Air India (2). A total of 49. But…. On July 27th 1949 the deHavilland Comet made its first flight in England. This marked the beginning of the end of the piston-engined airliners.
Four L-1049Ds cargo planes were produced for Seaboard & Western with a cargodoor forward and one aft of the wing.
The L-1049E featured some further structural improvements and saw orders by Qantas (9), KLM (4), Air India (3), Avianca (3), Iberia (3), Trans Canada A/l (3), LAV-Venzuela (2) and Compania Cubana (1); making a total of 28.
The Douglas DC-7 cruised a little faster than the L-1049C, but the improved L-1049G featured fueltanks on the wingtips. Thus the range was increased by 700 miles. The L-1049G featured some 100 design improvements over the L-1049E model, working to get things better and better. TWA named them "Super G's" and they could fly 4.140 miles (6.625 kms) with an 18.300 pound payload (with reduced payload and 8.500 lbs more fuel, range increased to 5.250 miles or 8.400 kms). The L-1049G received orders by Air France (14), Air India (5), Avianca (1), Compania Cubana (3), Eastern A/l (10), Howard Hughes (1), Iberia (2), KLM (6), LAV (2), Lufthansa (8), Northwest A/l (4), Qantas (2), TAP (3), Thai Airways (3), Trans Canada A/l (4), TWA (28) and Varig (6); making a total of 102 !
The model L-1049H was basically a convertible "Super G" : in a matter of a few hours the aircraft could be converted from a passenger plane to a cargo plane. The protoype made its first flight on Sep.20th 1956. The 'H model was ordered by Air Finance Corp.(3), California Eastern (5), Dollar (1), Flying Tiger Line (13), Gulf Eastern (5), KLM (3), National A/l (4), Pakistan Int'l (2), REAL (4), Resort A/l (2), Seaboard Western (5), Slick Airways (3), Trans Canada A/l (2), Transocean A/l (1), TWA (4) and Qantas (2).A total of 59 L-1049Hs were produced.
Military versions, part TwoThe US Navy found the WV-1s short of endurance; so in november 1950 6 of the Super Connies were ordered and they were designated PO-2W (later WV-2).They were delivered in 1954. Production numbered 142 aircraft. The WV-2 had fueltiptanks on the wings. Large radomes were fitted on top of the fuselage as well as underneath. It really is an amazing sight !
These "Warning Stars" had a crew of 24-26 working the surveillance equipment. Ships at sea had a limited radar capability and these "Warning Stars" could provide cover for them. They could also direct fighters to a target. But they also tracked hurricanes and provided data for weather research.
The US Navy was working hard in the 1950s on the DEW-line: Distant Early Warning. It became operational in 1956 and consisted of a large number of radar stations, starting in Alaska, through Canada, and all the way up to Hawaii. No more surprise attacks ! The Warning Stars provided an airborne capacity to this DEW-line.
In 1962 the task of enemy submarines "detect & destroy" was added and the aircraft updated to this task were designated C-121P; in 1962 the WV-2 was redesignated C-121K, during a process of massive redesignations in the American Air Force, Navy & Marine Corps.
The Weather Reconnaissance task was recognized as a special task and squadron VW-4 received a revised model WV-2, later redesignated WV-3 (WC-121N). Eight new WV-3s were assigned and another 12 WV-2s were rebuilt to WV-3 standard.
The USAF placed an order for 33 Super Constellations, designated C-121C, in 1951. The USMC followed in 1952 with an order for 51 (designated R7V-1); 32 of these were transferred to the USAF in 1958, as C-121Gs, recognizing the USAF's Military Air Transport Service (MATS) as the "airline" of the armed forces.
A VC-121C replaced the Presidential VC-121B and was named "Columbine III".
The C-121Cs and -Gs were handed over to 5 squadrons of the Air National Guard in 1963, later followed by another 2 squadrons. Five C-121Cs were rebuilt for electronic warfare and were designated EC-121S; these were 54-0155, 54-0159, 54-0164, 54-0170 and 54-0173.
Deliveries to the USAF started in 1953 of Radar Early Warning versions, almost similar to the R7V-1 of the Marine Corps; these (10) were designated RC-121C and operated for Air Defense Command. An improved version, similar to the L-1049G (including tiptanks), was designated RC-121D; 72 were built and delivered.
In 1962 42 EC-121Ds were reconfigured to EC-121H; they featured advanced electronic equipment and a computer that was linked to the system of NORAD (North American Air Defense Command).
Lockheed L-1449Lockheed produced an L-1449 to beat the DC-7C. It featured Pratt & Whitney T-34 turboprops, delivering a stunning 6.000 hp ! The military were the driving force behind this project. But P&W cancelled the project after development delays and information that Lockheed intended to stretch the L-1449 with 108 inches, feeling the capabilities of the T-34s would be overreached.
Lockheed L-1649AFinally, in 1957, the L-1649A Starliner version of the Super Constellation was introduced. No plain L-1649s were produced. TWA named them Jetstreams. Featuring a one-piece 150-foot wing, the Starliner was powered by four 3,400 horsepower Curtiss-Wright turbo-compound engines and remained in service until the introduction of jetpowered passenger planes. It featured a new, longer, narrower wing which provided for nearly double the fuel capacity of the first Connie, to 9.728 gallons (36.966 liters) and well over twice the range with maximum payload, to over 5,400 miles (8,690 km).
First flight was in Oct.10th 1956. It had a better range performance than the DC-7C. 19-hour non-stop eastbound flights from Los Angeles to London could be made over the polar route !!
The Starliner could reach any European capitol non-stop from any major airport in the US. The Starliner could fly New York to Paris in 3 hours less time, with the same payload, than the DC-7C. It was the fastest piston engined airliner at ranges over 4,000 miles (6,437 km) ever built.
The production line closed on Feb.12th 1958 when the last Starliner was delivered to Lufthansa, after a production run of 16 years. In 1960 6 TWA Starliners were converted to "freighters" by Lockheed Aircraft Services, later followed by another 6, replacing L-1049Hs on trans-atlantic cargo routes.
Lockheed built a total of 856 Constellations (331 of these were for the military). In their later life, some were used to smuggle arms, aliens and drugs. More than one Connie has been used as a restaurant or cocktail lounge. They were used for spraying, for developing aerial electronic surveillance from its infancy to an "art form". But they were also used to carry thousands of tons of food to starving nations: remember the Biafra Airlift.
Propliner Magazine, published 4x a year. Publications ceased in 2015.
Lockheed Constellation & Super Constellation, Airliner Tech Series Vol.1, by Scott E. Germain (Specialty Press, 1998; ISBN 1-58007-000-0).
De Lockheed Constellation, Een Legende van Schoonheid (Dutch), by Giesbert Oskam & Dr. Roger Soupart (All Media Productions, 2001; ISBN 90-9015068-4)
See also my page A STARLINER BEING RESTORED FOR LUFTHANSA
Henk Geerlings made this copy of a Ferry Permit available, of KLM's PH-LKM.