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The Lockheed Constellation ("Connie") was a four engine (each with 18 pistons of Radial design, the Wright R-3350) propeller-driven airliner built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 at its Burbank, Californiamarker, 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.

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.

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 Fieldmarker 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

Super Constellation (C-121C) during pilot training in Epinal - Mirecourt, France

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, Lufthansamarker, 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 R3350), 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, Californiamarker to Washington, D.C.marker 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 Fieldmarker to give Orville Wright his last 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, an 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.


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.


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 Centermarker 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 Forcemarker at Wright-Patterson Air Force Basemarker near Dayton, Ohiomarker. 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 Famemarker in Valle, Arizona. This plane is in flying condition.
  • Swissmarker 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, Missourimarker, now known as the Airline History Museummarker. 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 air shows.
  • An L-1049G Super-Constellation in Lufthansamarker livery and with historic D-ALEM call letters is on display on the Munich International Airportmarker, Munichmarker, Germanymarker, representing Lufthansa's first long-haul aircraft of 1955.
  • One Super Constellation is parked on an unused runway in the Rafael Hernández Airportmarker in Aguadilla, Puerto Ricomarker. 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.
  • The Dutch National Aviation museum Aviodromemarker acquired a VC-121A Constellation. It was restored to airworthy condition and ferried from Tucson, AZ to The Netherlandsmarker, 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.
  • IN315, an Indian Navy L1049G (former Air India L1049E VT-DHM 'Rani of Ellora') Super Constellation is on display at the Naval Aviation Museum at Dabolim in Goamarker, Indiamarker.
  • HL4003 of former Korean National Airlines is displayed in Jeongseok Airport in Jeju islandmarker, 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.
  • EC-121T Serial Number: 53-0554 Markings: 79th Airborne Warning and Control Squadron, Homestead AFB, Florida, 1974 - displayed in outdoor exhibit at Pima Air & Space Museummarker, Tucson, Arizona.
  • EC-121A Serial Number: 48-0614 Markings: 7167th Special Air Missions Squadron, Wiesbaden Air Base, Germany, 1951 - One of Dwight D. Eisenhower personal transports - displayed in outdoor exhibit at Pima Air & Space Museummarker, Tucson, Arizona.
  • L-049 Serial Number: 42-94549 Registration: N90831 Markings: Trans World Airlines, 1950 - displayed in outdoor exhibit at Pima Air & Space Museummarker, Tucson, Arizona.
  • 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.
  • L-749 c/n 2503 is in the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espacemarker (The Museum of Air and Space) located in Le Bourget Airport, 10 km north of Paris. Parked in museum storage area since 1975 in good condition with minimal corrosion. Ex-Pan American « Clipper America » del. 06/06/1947 reg. N C86520; to Aerovias Guest Mexico (XA-GOQ 01/1948), Air France from 01/1949 to 10/1960 as F-BAZR; CGTM (Compagnie Générale des Turbo-Machines) as F-ZVMV for use as flying engine test until 12/1974.

Specifications (L-1049G Super Constellation)

Accidents and Incidents

L-049 and C-69

  • September 18, 1945, a USAF C-69 was damaged beyond repair after a wheels up landing following engine problems at Topeka, Kansas, United States.

  • July 28, 1950. Panair do Brasil aircraft registration NC88862, tail number PP-PCG crashed on the Chapéu Hill ( ) after an aborted landing, killing 46 passengers and 10 crew.

  • 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.

  • May 1, 1959, Capital Airlines Flight 983 ground looped and caught fire after landing at Kanawha Airport, Charleston, West Virginia, United States, one passenger and one crew member died.

  • November 8, 1961, Imperial Airlines Flight 201/8marker was destroyed followed an attempted emergency landing at Byrd Airport, Richmond, Virginia, United States, 74 passengers and two crew died.

  • March 1, 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

  • On October 28, 1949 Air France Lockheed L-749 Constellation crashed into the Monte Redondo (São Miguel Island, Azores), killing all 11 crew members and 37 passengers on board, including French boxer Marcel Cerdan and the famous French violinist Ginette Neveu, while approaching the intermediate stop airport at Santa Maria.

  • On November 3, 1950 Air India Flight 245 "Malabar Princess" (VT- CQP) carrying 40 passengers and 8 crew was flying on the Bombay-Cairo-Geneva-London route when it crashed into Mont Blancmarker, the highest mountain in Western Europe, killing all on board.

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 266marker was struck by United Airlines Flight 826marker (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


  1. Taylor 1993, pp. 606–607.
  2. Yenne 1987, pp. 44–46.
  3. Boyne 1998, pp. 135–137.
  4. Johnson, Clarence L. "Kelly". Kelly: More Than My Share of it All. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1985. ISBN 0-87474-491-1.
  5. "Lockheed C-69 Constellation.", May 25, 2009. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  6. Sampson 1985
  7. Pace 2003, p. 17.
  8. "The Star of Lisbon." Time, June 22, 1946.
  9. Stringfellow and Bowers 1992, p. 120 caption.
  10. Germain 1998, p. 89.
  11. Swanborough, Gordon and Peter M. Bowers. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911. Annapolis, Marylan: Naval Institute Press, 1976. ISBN 0-87021-968-5.
  12. Fahey, James C. The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, volumes 1-4, 1939-45. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1965.
  13. "Lockheed EC-121D Constellation.", National Museum of the Air Force. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  14. Pettersen, Ralph M. "Breitling Super Constellation.", May 2004. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  15. "Historical Aircraft Restoration Society Super Constellation." July 18, 2009.
  16. "N6937C Lockheed Super Constellation "Star of America." Airline History Museum at Kansas City.Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  17. Denning, Larry. "Connie at the Movies." Airline History Museum at Kansas City. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  18. "Lockheed L-1049 G Super Constellation" Munich Airport Retrieved: August 31, 2009.
  19. "Lockheed L1649A Starliner, ZS-DVJ, c/n 1042.", The South African Airways Museum Society. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  20. Hayles, John. "Science Museum Swindon: Constellation N7777G.", July 4, 2009. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  21. "Lockheed EC-121T Constellation.", Pima Air & Space Museum. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  22. "Lockheed EC-121A Constellation.", Pima Air & Space Museum. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  23. "Lockheed L-049 Constellation.", Pima Air & Space Museum. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  24. , "Lockheed Constellation, A majestade dos ares (in Portuguese). Museum Asas de um Sonho (Portugal). Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  25. "F-ZVMV c/n 2503." Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  26. Aviation Safety Network "Accident description: Lockheed Constellation 42-94551.", Aviation Safety Network, January 3, 2009. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  27. " Constellation, o acidente aéreo que matou 51 (in Portugese)." Panair do Brasil, October 19, 2008. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  28. "Accident description: Lockheed Constellation N2735A.", Aviation Safety Network, July 18, 2009. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  29. "Accident description: Lockheed Constellation N3737A.", Aviation Safety Network, November 11, 2008. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  30. "Accident description: Lockheed Constellation N86504.", Aviation Safety Network, November 10, 2008. Retrieved: July 18, 2009.
  31. "From Avianca to CanJet: MoBay Airport at Centre of J'can Aviation History." Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2009. Retrieved: April 25, 2009.


  • Boyne, Walter J. Beyond the Horizons: The Lockheed Story. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. ISBN 0-31224-438-X.
  • Cacutt, Len, ed. “Lockheed Constellation.” Great Aircraft of the World. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1989. ISBN 1-85435-250-4.
  • Germain, Scott E. Lockheed Constellation and Super Constellation. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 1998. ISBN 1-58007-000-0.
  • Marson, Peter J. The Lockheed Constellation Series. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians), 1982. ISBN 0-85130-100-2.
  • Pace, Steve. X-Planes: Pushing the Envelope of Flight. Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Imprint, 2003. ISBN 978-0760315842.
  • Sampson, Anthony. Empires of the Sky: The Politics, Contest and Cartels of World Airlines. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985. ISBN 0-340-37668-6.
  • Smith, M.J. Jr. Passenger Airliners of the United States, 1926-1991. Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1986. ISBN 0-933126-72-7.
  • Stringfellow, Curtis K. and Peter M. Bowers. Lockheed Constellation: A Pictorial History. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks, 1992. ISBN 0-87938-379-8.
  • Taylor, Michael J.H., ed. “Lockheed Constellation and Super Constellation.” Jane’s Encyclopedia of Aviation. New York: Crescent, 1993. ISBN 0-517-10316-8.
  • United States Air Force Museum Guidebook. Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: Air Force Museum Foundation, 1975.
  • Yenne, Bill, Lockheed. Greenwich, Connecticut: Bison Books, 1987. ISBN 0-51760-471-X.

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