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.
The engine chosen was the new Wright R-3350. The Boeing B-29 was also powered by these engines and priority during the war to this bomber meant fewer numbers for the Constellation. But this fell away after the war. Wright's R-3350 engine was a twin-row, 18-cylinder, air-cooled radial engine. It was designed in 1936 and first testrun in 1937. The R-3350-35 Duplex Cyclone was capable of 2.200 horsepower at 2.800 RPM at sea level.
One more interesting detail about the speed: a W.W.2 fighter such as the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk was capable of doing 357 mph at 15.000 ft. The Connie moved at 360 mph at 20.000 ft ! Not bad for a transport, weighing some 40 tons….!
The fact that the "Connie" had to cruise "over the weather" at 20.000 ft (service ceiling of 35.000 ft), meant that a pressurization system had to be installed. The test model was tested for an altitude of 55.000 ft in a makeshift altitude chamber, made from an oil storage tank.
The original model 49s had their civilian interiors stripped and a combination of seats and benches installed, among other modifications, in order to be accepted by the Army as C-69s. At the end of WWII, Lockheed bought back from the Army as many as were available, and took those C-69s still on the production line and converted them back to model 49s and began delivering "Connies" to the airlines of the world. All model 49s were basically "dressed up" C-69s. A rash of incidents in 1945 and 1946 caused this first civilian model of the Connie to be grounded for six weeks in July/August 1946 while the government aviation experts tried to sort out the causes. Over the first few years some 486 modifications were carried out.
It was found the aircraft had no basic flaws and it was again pronounced airworthy, though engine problems continued to plague the aircraft. The Wright R-3350 Cyclone engines remained the cause for many problems, e.g. engine fires, overheating, etc.
Read a true account of travel on a Connie in those days: Consternation on a Constellation L.049 PH-TAV 'Venlo" of KLM
On Aug. 04th 1945 a C-69 42-94551 flew from New York to Paris in 14 hrs and 12 mins. A record ! The crew was from TWA. They had made an arrangement that long range flights were flown by TWA crew on the aircaft that had been destined for TWA and consequently TWA had gained considerable experience when the war came to an end.
With the end of World War II, the Constellation entered service with TWA in 1946 and was used on both transcontinental and transatlantic flights. The aircraft proved to be extremely popular and was soon bought by a number of other airlines.
A total of 88 C-69 and L-049 were produced. Fly away costs would range between us$ 685.000 and us$ 720.000, depending on interior configurations. They were initially delivered to: TWA (31), Pan American World Airways (22), KLM (6), American Overseas Airlines (7), BOAC (6), Air France (5), Capital (2), LAV (2) and El Al (4). One prototype and 2 production models crashed before their deliveries.

Lockheed L-649

In 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.

Type

DC-4

L-049

DC-6B

L-749A

Wingspan

117 ft 6 in

123 ft

117 ft 6 in

123 ft

Length

93 ft 10 in

95 ft 3 in

100 ft 7 in

97 ft 4 in

Height

27 ft 6 in

23 ft 8 in

29 ft 1 in

22 ft 5 in

Empty Weight

43.300 lbs

39.392 lbs

55.357 lbs

56.590 lbs

Gross Weight

73.000 lbs

86.250 lbs

107.000 lbs

107.000 lbs

Cruise speed

227 mph

313 mph

315 mph

305 mph

Ceiling

-

25.300 ft

29.000 ft

24.100 ft

Range

2.500 miles

2.290 miles

3.005 mls

2.600 mls

Payload

11.400 lbs

18.423 lbs

19.200 lbs

20.276 lbs

Passengers

44-86

81

54/102

81

Remarks

non-pressurized

pressurized

pressurized

pressurized

 

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-749

However, 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 One

The 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-1049

But 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.

 

Type

DC-7C

L-1049G

L-1649A

B-377 Strat

Wingspan

127 ft 6 in

123 ft 5 in

150 ft

141 ft 3 in

Length

112 ft 3 in

116 ft 2 in

116 ft 2 in

110 ft 4 in

Height

31 ft 10 in

24 ft 9 in

23 ft 4.8 in

Unknown

Empty Weight

72.763 lbs

69.326 lbs

85.262 lbs

83.500 lbs

Gross Weight

143.000 lbs

137.500 lbs

156.000 lbs

145.800 lbs

Cruise speed

355 mph

311 mph

342 mph

340 mph

Ceiling

21.700 ft

22.800 ft

23.700 ft

32.000 ft

Range

3.280 mls

3.463 mls

5.410 mls

4.600  mls

Payload

23.350 lbs

18.300 lbs

24.335 lbs

23.930 lbs

Passengers

54/102

99

99

55/100

 


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 Two

The 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).
Thirty ex/Marine Corps US Navy EC-121Ks went to the USAF for use in Vietnam; they were stuffed with the most advanced electronics. These were designated EC-121R and were used for electronic surveillance, airborne command posts but also to drop recon. units behind enemy lines and "stayed in touch". These Connies were the first to operate in camouflage colourschemes.

In Nov.2005 I received the following email from Scott Bates:
Just a matter of correction on your nice site. The Marines never fielded an EC or WC Connie. The few they ever operated were passenger or cargo versions only.
The real operators of all non- Air Force early warning Connies were the US Navy. I include the follwing web site as proof. http://home.comcast.net/~elmccaul/WVRoster/index.html
Additionally, I consider the fact that my Father served in both VW-1 and VW-3, flying this beautiful airplane as qualification to make this statement. In contrast to your website which only mentions VW-4, you should check out these other two squadrons, as they managed a far better safety and tracking record of Tropical systems than VW-4 did. No offense to VW-4 is intended, as until NOAA got their L-188's and the Air Force organized the 53WRS at Keesler AFB, VW-4 was alone on the East Coast tracking these hurricanes. But comparing the Atlantic to the Pacific is really no contest, and VW-4 only had the Atlantic to deal with (and the Gulf of Mexico) whereas the Pacific was covered by VW-1 and VW-3. At least until VW-1 absorbed VW-3 in 1960.

Steve Miller came to the rescue with following confirmation and added details:
The 30 EC-121R's were former US Navy (not Marine) airplanes. Initially produced as WV-2's and subsequently modified to other AEW configurations (EC-121K, EC-121P, etc).
They were transferred to the USAF (serials 67-21471/21500) for the Igloo White program, dropping seismic and sound sensors along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to monitor North Vietnamese traffic.

Thanks Steve!

In April 2006 John Lameck wrote me with the following:
" The ANG units that flew C-121C and G's were primarily all transport units, originally designated Aeromedical Transport Squadrons; later Military Airlift Squadrons.
ANG units known to have flown the C-121C/G are:
140 ATS PA ANG (1962/67) which became the 193rd TEWS
147 ATS PA ANG (1963/72) which now fly KC-135Es
150 ATS NJ ANG (1961/73) which now fly KC-135Es
167 ATS WV ANG (1963/72) which now fly C-130Hs
183 ATS MS ANG (1961/67) whch now fly C-141B/C
187 ATS WY ANG (1963/72) which now fly C-130Hs
193 TEWS PA ANG (1967/77) which now fly EC-130E/Js
NOTE: the 140 Sqdn designator is not currently in use by any ANG unit.
The only ANG unit to fly EC-121s was the 193rd TEWS (Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron) of the Pennsylvania ANG. They only used EC-121S' and then only of the 1954 serial year. They did have one C-121G. Aircraft they used are listed below:
54-0155 EC-121S
54-0157 EC-121S
54-0170 EC-121S
54-0173 EC-121S
54-4073 C-121G"

Lockheed L-1449

Lockheed 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-1649A

Finally, 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 L-1649 was ordered by TWA (25), Air France (10), Lufthansa (to TWA, 4), LAI (4) and 1 prototype.
But 121 Douglas DC-7s were produced compared to 44 Starliners. The Constellations were considered to be heavy on the controls, more difficult to fly than the Douglas airliners because they were larger, heavier aircraft. The DC-7C was also earlier available to airline companies, explaining in part why more were produced.
The Starliner holds the record for the longest piston-engine airliner flight: 23 hours and 20 minutes, set in October 1957.
Stefan Bailis wrote me in Dec.2005:
"From my experience flying the DC-7 versus the Super Connie and Starliner, the controls were harder--not easier--on the DC-7 ! Remember the Connies had hydraulically boosted surfaces. Also, the yoke itself was a bit more comfortable on the Connie than on the DC-6/7. The differences are not huge, but they are there. Certainly the controls are easier on the jets. Aircraft like the 727 can be flown pretty easily with one hand, while the DC-6/7 and Connies are best flown with two hands when making rapid changes in roll."
Thanks Stef !

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.
1958 was also the year that more passengers crossed the Atlantic by air than over sea.....

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.
In the end, the Connie was brought down by the fast developing technology of the jet engine, and in particular the Boeing 707 jet airliner. Larger, faster, and more profitable aircraft have come and gone in the intervening fifty-odd years, but the "Connie" remains to this day one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built.

Here are 2 images from a SPAR Supermarket / KLM add campaign, dating from the early 1950s, titles (translated) "For the housewife: The SPAR - for Travel: KLM . The image at top of the page, of PH-TAV, is from the same campaign.
Passenger boarding the KLM flight, a Lockheed Constellation
Engines start up

Source:
Propliner Magazine, published 4x a year.
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)

My report on Aviodrome's Lockheed Constellation N749NL "Dutch Connie" at Lelystad,NL on Sept.28th 2002: Connie's Comeback !
Here is a tale about a Connie: Truth is often stranger than fiction...

External links:
Ralph Pettersen's: Surviving Lockheed Constellations
Here is a nice website with a list of KLM's Connies
Lockheed Constellation info on Wikipedia.org
Wikipedia: Lockheed Constellation variants
Stefan Bailis provided the following links (Acrobat Reader files):
For 1049 series see Aircraft Spec 6A5
For 1649A see Aircraft Spec 4A17

See also my page A STARLINER BEING RESTORED FOR LUFTHANSA


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