Apr 9 2021 - Apr 9 2021

Lockheed L-049 Constellation


Efficient Elegance - Pan Am Joins the Club

Juan Trippe had been accustomed to sponsoring new generations of aircraft, and it must have been quite a shock to his system to see Hughes and T.W.A. not only taking over such leadership, but also receiving extensive international route awards from the Civil Aeronautics Board, enthusiastically supported by the President, and now challenging the Chosen Instrument, as Pan American was unofficially dubbed, on the lucrative North Atlantic route. However, Trippe knew a good thing when he saw one, and did not hesitate to purchase Constellations, at $750,000 each.

The first of the Lockheed airliners, with 54 seats in Pan Am's layout, was delivered on 5 January 1946 and christened Mayflower. A second arrived one week later and Pan American opened North Atlantic Constellation service on 14 January 1946. This was a measure of Pan Am's considerable organizational strength as T.W A. itself did not start scheduled transatlantic service until 5 February. Today the World's Most Experienced Airline, as it liked to call itself, can look back with pride on such actions.

Pan American took delivery of 22 Model 049 Constellations before the end of May 1946. Two went directly to Panair do Brasil, still very much a Pan Am subsidiary, and which was the fortunate recipient of eleven more during the 1950s as they were retired from the parent company's routes. On 17 June 1947 a Constellation Model 749, an advanced version, one of four delivered to Pan Am, made the first round-the-world airline inaugural flight, from New York to San Francisco (Pan American was not permitted to fly trans-continentally to make the final link). Later, with the purchase of American Overseas Airlines (A.O.A.), seven more of the 049 Model were added, for a total Connie fleet of 33.

The Might-Have-Beens

The Constellation story was not Pan American's first encounter with Lockheed. On 14 November 1939 it had signed a contract for three Model 44 Excalibur, designed to carry 30 passengers at 262 mph in pressurized comfort over a 1,600-mile range. Delivery was to have been in the summer of 1941 but the project was cancelled.

Another impressive-looking contender was the Republic Rainbow. This was a commercial adaptation of the XF-12, built experimentally for the Army Air Forces, to a 1943 specification for long range, high speed reconnaissance, at very high altitudes. The XF-12 first flew on 4 February 1946. With a design cruising altitude of 40,000 feet ó the same as the jets fly at todayóand a speed of 400 mph, it looked to be another winner. Pan American and American Airlines placed provisional orders, but cancellation of the military contracts forced the abandonment of the project.

The Secret Weapon

British aviation writer Peter Brooks described the Lockheed Constellation as "the secret weapon of American air transport." The description was almost literally true, as it was produced, if not clandestinely, certainly behind locked doors. It was the inspired result of close cooperation between Lockheed's design staff, headed by the redoubtable Kelly Johnson, and the leadership of Howard Hughes, now actively in charge of T.W.A. Discussions were first held in 1939, T.W.A. ordered nine in 1940, and the Model 049, as Lockheed engineers always called it, first flew on 9 January 1943. All concerned must have known they had a winner, even if the C-54s were piling up the hours across the conflict-stricken oceans.

On 19 April 1944 Hughes and T.W.A. president Jack Frye flew the "Connie" nonstop from Burbank, Lockheed's plant location in California, to Washington, D.C. in three minutes less than seven hours, an air journey which normally took between 12 and 14 hours, including stops. The aircraft was immediately handed over to the Government for military use, and Howard Hughes no doubt made a considerable impression on the assembled bureaucratic multitude as he demonstrated it (illegally) in T.W.A.'s colors.

A New Class

The Lockheed 049 Constellation was in a class of its own. It was at least 70 mph faster then the Douglas DC-4; it was pressurized at a higher equivalent altitude than the Boeing 307 had been; it was larger, with 60 seats against the DC-4's 44 at the same seat pitch; and it had the range to fly across the North Atlantic with only one stop. It sent all the Douglas design staff back to the drawing board in a hurry, to develop the unpressurized Four into something bigger and faster and higher-flying. For the path which the airlines had beaten to Santa Monica was superseded by one to Burbank, because when T.W.A. put the Constellation into service, it quickly became evident that there were two classes of airline, those with Connies and those without them.
  • Apr 9 2021 - Apr 9 2021

  • Pressurized Planes

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