The Lockheed Constellation was an advanced and exceptionally beautiful 4-engined airliner developed just before World War II and first flown January 9, 1943. This being the middle of the war, commercial aircraft were not allowed to be produced and so the “Connie,” as the type came to be called, was first flown as the C-69 Army transport. Only 15 Constellations were delivered to the Army by the end of the war, but Lockheed was ready to switch to civilian production and began supplying them to TWA, Pan American, and other airlines right after the war. Later, larger versions of the Constellation were purchased by the Army as the C-121 and by the Navy as POs and WVs. Altogether, 27 military Constellations and 206 civil airliners were built by the time production of the first-generation Constellation ended in 1951. Lockheed then enlarged the design into the Super Constellation, accommodating as many as 102 passengers. These were built from 1951 to 1958 and lasted in airline service until the end of the 1960s. The Super Connies were even more popular with the military services as transport and surveillance aircraft, serving in the latter capacity into the 1970s. Super Constellation production brought the total number of Constellations produced to 856.
A “constellation” is a grouping of stars as seen from Earth, usually said to trace a picture of some kind. Every ancient culture had its own different map of the heavens with different constellations representing different pictures.
The Constellation was the first widely used airliner to be pressurized for high-altitude flight. It was also the first to have trans-Atlantic range, although most models could not fly direct from New York to London or Paris without a fuel stop. It set a new standard in speed and luxury for air travel, although it was commercially outsold by the more pedestrian Douglas DC-6 family.
Constellations were used by airlines all over the world and, because of their status as the elite or prestige airliner of most airlines, stood a good chance of being preserved long enough to become museum pieces. As a result, Constellations are available for viewing all over the world. A few are intermittently flyable, although it is an expensive aircraft to keep running and does not draw airshow crowds in the way that ex-military warbirds do.
Constellation 1970, beautifully preserved in TWA colors by the Pima Air Museum, captures the original shape of the early Constellations. The fuselage with its arched back, commonly characterized as dolphin-shaped, would later be somewhat distorted by the stretching that was done to compete with higher-capacity airliners.
This C-121A, constructor’s serial 2601, was delivered to the USAF in 1948 and flew in support of the Berlin Airlift. Later it was used as a transport for Air Force VIPs, and was then sold into the civil market for use as an agricultural sprayer. Owned for a time by actor John Travolta in the 1980s, it ended up with a preservation organization that restored it and displayed it at many airshows between 1992 and 2000, during which time it was the world’s most consistently active and visible Constellation. In 2005, much to the disappointment of fans of the type in the United States, it was acquired by Korean Air Lines and ferried to South Korea, where it has been retired to static display at the airline’s training facility on Jeju Island. These photos show it during its airshow career in the United States.
C-121A 48-613 “Bataan”
Constellation 2605 is one of several surviving Constellations that have been used to transport famous historical personages. In 1950-51, it was the personal transport and airborne command post of Gen. Douglas McArthur during his tenure as supreme Allied commander in the Korean War. He named the aircraft “Bataan,” recalling the events early in World War II when he had commanded Phillippine forces . It continued as a VIP transport in Korea, carrying President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon on their tour of the war zone, and was then used by NASA in support of the Apollo space program. In 1970 it was retired to the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker, Alabama, where these photos were taken. In 1992 the museum decided that it no longer needed the aircraft and was preparing to scrap it when it was rescued by the Planes of Fame museum, which managed to get the aircraft into ferriable shape for a flight to its facility in Valle, Arizona. The aircraft has since had its VIP interior somewhat restored and the NASA paint scheme shown in these photos replaced with its original USAF colors.
C-121A 48-614 “Columbine”
The very next Constellation off the line, Lockheed number 2606, had an equally storied career. First, it participated in the Berlin Airlift. It was then used as the personal transport of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, who later would become U.S. President, in 1951-52. Eisenhower named the aircraft “Columbine,” which is the official state flower of Colorado, his home state. It was preserved as a museum piece almost immediately after its retirement in the late 1960s and has been restored by the Pima Air Museum in its 1951-52 colors.
Constellation serial 1040 was first sold to Lufthansa, where it carried passengers through the 1950s under the German registration D-ALAN. It was then converted to a cargo aircraft in the early 1960s. After some years of neglect in Florida, a restoration was attempted and two attempts at flying it were made in the 1980s, both of which quickly resulted in emergency landings. Finally in 2001, a restorer got it into ferriable condition and it flew the brief hop to what is now the Fantasy of Flight museum. After some legal disputes it ended up being purchased at auction by the museum, which plans to restore it to its original Lufthansa colors. It has been spruced up a bit since these photos were taken but remains on display outdoors.
VC-121E “Columbine III”
Preserved at the National Museum of the USAF, Constellation 4151, USAF serial 53-7885, was the third Constellation used by Dwight Eisenhower as a personal transport. This one, accordingly named “Columbine III,” served as Air Force One during Eisenhower’s second term in office, 1954-61. After a few more years as a VIP transport it was retired straight to the museum, where it shares the museum’s Presidential Gallery with other transports used by U.S. heads of state.
C-121C HB-RSC, “Breitling Super Constellation”
Built as a C-121C for the Air Force as 54-156, , this Connie, Lockheed serial 4175 served until 1972 when it was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for eventual display. The museum, however, promptly traded it for a Boeing 307, and it was converted into a sprayer in the civilian market. By the early 1980s it had reached southern California where a series of preservationists tried to restore it and finally from 1994 to 2001 it flew on the airshow circuit. These photos were taken at one of its first airshow appearances at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. In 2003 it was sold to a group in Switzerland and since then has been operated under the sponsorship of Breitling, a high-end wristwatch manufacturer that does a lot of aviation-related affinity marketing. It is currently based in Basel, Switzerland.
This stretched, early-warning platform converted Constellation is maintained by the Combat Air Museum. The interior is maintained in stock military configuration and visitors are allowed to walk through most of the aircraft, giving a unique perspective on what life as a crew member on one of these patrol aircraft was like.
This Vietnam veteran C-121 is displayed at the National Museum of the USAF.
These two rare photos show one of just four Constellations ever converted from piston to turboprop power. Starting life as an R7V-2 serial 131660 for the Navy, this Constellation was transferred to the USAF, assigned the serial 53-8157, and used to gain experience with turboprop power plants. These photos were taken at the Davis-Monthan facility in the mid-1960s, when the aircraft had been sealed up for storage. A cargo airline, Flying Tiger, later bought this and the other YC-121F and broke them up for parts to build new aircraft. The fuselage of this aircraft went into a cargo hauler registered N173W which was scrapped in 1973.
This C-121, serial 4196, served with the USAF until 1977, thenwith a succession of owners hoping to use it for tourism flights registered N1104W. Eventually it was traded to the National Air and Space Museum which restored it in the late 2000s and displays it in the West Virginia Air National Guard colors it wore in 1967-72. The aircraft is displayed in the Udvar-Hazy annex.
Constellation 53-0548, Lockheed serial 4363, was displayed for a time at Pima Air Museum after its retirement to the Davis-Monthan boneyard, as shown in this photo. Later it was acquired by a group in Camarillo, California, and ferried there for display and a hoped-for airshow career. When wing spar corrosion spoiled these plans, the aircraft was purchased by the Yanks Air Museum and ferried across the Los Angeles area to Chino in January 2012, where it is now displayed.
Constellation 4369 is the third Connie displayed by Pima Air Museum, making Pima the best single place to view the evolution of the design from the short-fuselage airliner through to the stretched airborne radar platforms for the military.
Constellation serial 4435, an example of the final surveillance configuration that served with the U.S. Navy into the 1970s, was preserved at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois, and is now displayed at the Chanute Air Museum on the former base grounds. It has since been repainted in an overall dark blue scheme that is beginning to wear.
This EC-121 is another late-model surveillance Constellation, Lockheed number 4495, preserved by the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. The first several photos show it in the outside storage yard, unrestored, some years ago. The more recent pics show the effects of damage from Hurricane Katrina.
Constellation serial 4830, registered N6937C, was a former bug sprayer rescued from storage in the desert by the Save A Connie group, which has become the Airline History Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, Restored originally to a general TWA color scheme but with “Save A Connie” titles in place of the TWA logo, this aircraft was flown on the airshow circuit throughout the 1990s. More recently it has been repainted in accurate TWA livery.