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In June 1938, Lockheed began design work on an airliner to satisfy a Transcontinental Western & Air (later Trans-World Airlines) (TWA), requirement for a non-stop transcontinental airliner with a 3,500-mile range and 6,000 lb. payload capability. Construction of a prototype began in 1940. The U.S. was soon involved in the Second World War and all transport production was directed to military needs and consequently the prototype first flew on January 9, 1943, as a military aircraft. Hydraulic-powered controls were used, full feathering and reversing propellers were also installed. First known by its civil designator as Model 049, it soon became better known during wartime by its military designation, the C-69 Constellation. Improvements were steadily made, beginning with the L-649, which was the first Constellation built as a commercial type and the L-749 which was the long-range version of the 649.
The next stage in development led to the L-1049 Super Constellation. The first prototype Super Constellation was a "stretched" version of the original Model 049 (C-69), modified by lengthening the fuselage from 95’ 2" to 113’ 7", adding more fuel capacity, more powerful engines, higher gross weight, and increasing its tourist-class seating from 69 to 92. These L-1049 aircraft were powered by four 2700 hp Wright engines. The prototype aircraft was first flown on October 13, 1950. The production version of the Model L-1049, of which fourteen were built for Eastern Airlines, and ten for TWA, ended up with a strengthened fuselage, stiffened outer wing panels and rectangular windows instead of the Constellation’s round ones. This production version was first flown on July 14, 1951, and the type entered service on December 7, 1951, with Eastern Airlines (EAL). The last Model 1049 produced was delivered in September 1952. Passenger accommodations on the 1049 varied - 88 for Eastern; 65 over water or 75 domestic for TWA, with adaptation to 102 in high density configuration. The flight crew consisted of three, with two cabin attendants.
The Model 1049 was followed by an A version (military WV-2, WV-3, and RC-121D) the B version (USN R7V-1, USAF RC-121C, the presidential VC-121E), and the C version, the first commercial transport certificated with turbo-compound engines. These Double Cyclone Wright engines had three "blow-down" turbines, which converted the heat energy of exhaust gases into additional power, with a 20% reduction in fuel consumption.
The engine produced 3,250 h.p. for take-off for which the aircraft weight had been increased to 133,000 lb. The Model 1049C, Turbo-Cyclone-powered Super Constellation began flight trials on February 17, 1953. A convertible model, the 1049D was built for Seaboard and Western Airlines in 1954. They were fitted with reinforced flooring and they had main deck cargo loading doors on the part side of the fuselage, fore and aft of the wings. They could carry either 18 tons of freight or up to 104 passengers. Maximum take—off weight was 135,400 lb. A Model 1049E was delivered between May 1954 and April 1955 which was identical to the 1049C but with the increased take-off and landing weight of the 1049D. Next on the model list was the Model 1049F, which was Lockheed’s designation for 33 C-121C cargo/personnel transports built for the USAF and fitted with stronger landing gear. The F was followed by a "G" model which was determined to be the most successful version of the Super Constellation. It was powered by 3,400 h.p. engines, it had longer range than the E, and the maximum take-off weight was increased to 137,500 lb. with some models modified to 140,000 lb. Often known as Super Gs, 42 of these aircraft were delivered to domestic carriers (20 to TWA, 10 to EAL, and 4 to NW), and 50 to foreign carriers. The final version to the Super Constellation was the Model 1049H, a combination of Model 1049D, and the convertible and improved Model 1049G.
The Super Constellation and its derivatives represent, along with the Douglas DC-7, the ultimate step in the development of longer range, more capacity and more powerful piston-engined aircraft to meet the needs of both commercial and military aviation. Eastern Air Lines, the first airline to order Super Constellations, introduced the type on its New York-Miami route on December 15, 1951. It was able to take advantage of the 1049s additional capacity to absorb an increased holiday seasonal demand. A decade later on April 30, 1961, Eastern inaugurated its revolutionary air shuttle, no-reservation service, Washington-New York-Boston with Super Constellations. Incidentally, as it turns out, the last use of the Super Constellations by a major U.S. domestic airline was a backup for the shuttle until February 1968.
TWA, a co-sponsor with EAL on the design of the Super Constellation, first used the Model 1049 on its domestic network in September 1952, and when it received the higher performance "C" version, it began scheduled non-stop transcontinental service on October 19, 1953, a first for the industry. On its trans-Atlantic routes, TWA made use of its early Super Constellation models, but on November 1, 1955, it could offer improved service, using its newer Model l049Gs which enabled it to operate non-stop most of the time, at least in the eastbound direction.
Over the Atlantic and other long distance routes, the Super Constellation was also operated by several former Constellation operators, until Lockheed was again challenged by Douglas and its DC-7C, the first aircraft capable of flying non-stop in both directions over the North Atlantic. To compete, Lockheed responded by mating the Super Constellation’s fuselage and tail surfaces with an entirely new wing, resulting in a major redesign. The outcome, the Model 1649A Starliner, which entered service on June 1, 1957, it was the most attractive of the Constellation series, but its success was short lived for in six months it was overtaken in 1958 by the faster, turbine-powered (Bristol Britannia) and jet aircraft (the Boeing 707-120) which finally made all propeller-driven aircraft obsolescent in October 1958. A total of 44 Lockheed L-1649As were built, 29 went to TWA, 10 to Air France, 4 to Lufthansa.
When the age of piston-powered passenger transport aircraft was coming to a close, Lockheed offered to carriers a convertible Model 1049H, suggesting that when they were no longer competitive in the passenger market they could convert to carrying cargo. This second hand market did materialize briefly with the H model but the market for 1049s soon dried up as they were becoming too expensive to operate and maintain. The engines were giving problems not only in the Lockheed Super Connies, but also in the Douglas DC-7s, and the aircraft were becoming known as the "world’s best trimotors." A total of 579 Super Constellations were built but by the end of 1980 only four Super Constellations remained in airline service..
The Museum’s Lockheed C-121C (1049F-55-96), with former Air Force serial number 54-177, and now registered N-1104W, is one of the thirty-three C-l2lCs delivered to the USAF and the Atlantic Division of the Military Air Transport Service at Charleston AFB, South Carolina. This airplane arrived there in March 1956 and was assigned to the 1608th Air Transport Wing. Its original configuration was that of an over-water cargo/passenger transport, having eight crew members and accommodations for up to 80 passengers.
While with the 1608th ATW, the "Super Connies" flew throughout the Caribbean, made crossings of the North and South Atlantic to Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and as far east as India. They participated in the Hungarian airlift during 1956-57, carrying refugees from Eastern Europe to the U.S. and flew troops to Lebanon during the crisis there in 1958. In general, this "Connie" and others of the unit flew a variety of transport missions including cargo, passenger, medical evacuation, and humanitarian support.
On October 30, 1962, the Museum’s C-121C left the regular USAF and was transferred to the 183rd Air Transport Squadron of the Mississippi Air National Guard. This unit was re-designated the 183rd Military Airlift Squadron as of January 1, 1966. While with the 183rd, it flew transport, evacuation, and support missions across the North Atlantic. It remained with the Guard unit until April 19, 1967, at which time it was transferred to the West Virginia ANG and the 167th Military Airlift Squadron. This and other C-l2lCs of this unit flew across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Caribbean, and to South America, taking part in operation "Creek Guardlift" in Europe from June 1971 to March 1972.
This Super Constellation served with the 167th until 1972 and was again transferred, this time to the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare (TEW) Squadron, Pennsylvania ANG, at Olmstead AFB, Middletown, Pennsylvania. This squadron had one other C-121, an electronic countermeasure configured aircraft. Together they took part in many exercises and training missions such as "Reforger VI," "Flintlock" and "Northern Merger" in 1974. While operating out of Ramey AFB in Puerto Rico, they took part in "Gallant Shield" and "Solid Shield," both in 1975.
This "Connie" remained with the 193rd and operations with the ANG until November 1977, when it was retired after 21½ years of military service, thousands of flying hours, and countless ocean crossings, which for propeller driven aircraft were long endurance flights often exceeding 12 or 14 hours. When taken out of service, it was transferred to the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC), at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, for storage. It remained there until August 1981, at which time it was sold at auction to Ascher Ward of Classic Air Inc., and flown to Van Nuys Airport, California, where the new company was forming. As a civil aircraft in a hoped-for new career, it was assigned FAA registration number Nll04W. It retained its 193rd TEW paint scheme of a royal blue cheat-line outlined in gold, with a white cabin roof and empennage, and pale blue under surfaces. It carried its small serial number on the left side under the stabilizer and a U.S. flag on the center fin.
The newly formed company Classic Air Inc., which intended to operate two or three passenger—carrying "Connies" between Los Angeles and Reno, Nevada, failed to receive FAA approval and the airplanes remained dormant. At this time the National Air and Space Museum was seeking a Super Constellation. Mr. Darryl Greenameyer soon became a party to this transaction as he had acquired two of the Constellations from Air Classics. He negotiated a trade with NASM a C-121C, NllO4W in exchange for two Grumman HU-16 Albatrosses drawn from the remaining holdings of spare Albatross belonging to the Smithsonian, and which had been used in support of one Albatross that was operated by the Museum of Natural History.