Remember back when traveling by the airlines was something really special? Everyone dressed in their very best to “take a flight” somewhere. Passengers were well mannered, the food was good, the airline employees were happy, and massive radial engines made by Pratt & Whitney powered the huge airliners. And TSA stood for something other than the Transportation Security Administration.
Back in those days my favorite airliner was the triple-tailed Lockheed Constellation. The “Connie,” as many who flew as both crew and passengers referred to her, was truly a magnificent aircraft. Lockheed dates the initial design back to 1937. The company made the first flight of the aircraft on January 9, 1943.
Four P&W Wright R-3350 18-cylinder radial engines powered the Connie with a total of 13,000 horsepower. This gave the airliner a maximum speed of 377 mph, or 327 knots. At altitude, she could cruise at 295 knots. She had a maximum range of 5400 miles, or 4700 nautical miles. This airplane was no slouch and she was way ahead of her time.
From the first flight of 1943, the airplanes flew in airline service until 1967. The military kept her on until 1978. Several organizations operated the airplane; she flew in the livery of Trans World Airlines (TWA), Eastern Airlines (EAL), Pan American World Airways (PA), the United States Navy and Air Force. Several foreign flagged airlines also operated the Connie, the most notable being Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, and Trans-Canada Airlines (the predecessor to Air Canada).
The normal complement of crew members on the flight deck included the pilot, the first officer, a flight engineer, navigator, and radio operator. The number of cabinet attendants depended on the passenger load for the flight.
Concerning loads, a passenger load usually ranged from 60 to 95; with higher density seating, the total passenger capacity exceeded 100. The empty weight of the aircraft was approximately 79,000 to 80,000 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 137,500 pounds.
When the Connie came off the line she did so in spectacular fashion. This extremely powerful and gorgeously sleek airplane set numerous records on a routine basis. In April of 1944 the second production aircraft flew from Burbank, CA to Washington, DC in 3 minutes less than 7 hours. The president of TWA, Jack Frye, and the legendary Howard Hughes flew the aircraft. On the flight back to California, the two stopped at Wright Field in Ohio. They had the privilege of flying Orville Wright on his last flight more than 40 years after his historic first flight on December 17, 1903.
For the Connie, jets came just a little too soon. When the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8 began taking over the market share of airline travel in the early sixties, many airline companies put the Connies out to pasture.
When they did, it was a shame.
There remains no more an elegant and beautiful airliner than the Connie.
© 2010 J. Clark