TWA Launched Connie Flights To Europe 76 Years Ago

The Lockheed Constellation performed its first transatlantic flight with TWA 76 years ago this weekend. The aircraft and the airline would become synonymous with each other during the mid-20th century, achieving several ambitious feats.

A key player in the program

Howard Hughes put his faith in the Constellation to take TWA, which he had recently acquired a majority stake in, to greater heights. He wanted the specifics of the project to be a secret and requested that his airline would be the only transcontinental carrier to operate the aircraft until it had 35 units delivered.

Hughes had a meeting with Lockheed Corporation president Robert Gross, chief research engineer Kelly Johnson, and chief engineer Hall Hibbard. The four were keen to overhaul operations and launch a large aircraft that would fly passengers to longer distances at low prices. The aviator outlined his requests, and Lockheed came up with the finished design, including the state-of-the-art features of the time.

Lockheed Martin states the following:

“The Constellation would offer the first hydraulically boosted power controls, aviation’s equivalent of power steering. It would be faster than most World War II fighters at 350 mph. And, using award-winning technology pioneered by Lockheed a few years earlier, it would feature a pressurized cabin for 44 passengers that allowed the plane to fly faster and above 90 percent of weather disturbances, what Constellation regulars would come to call smooth sailing.”

Time to take it to the next level

Following its first flight on January 9th, 1943, the Constellation was deployed during World War II and given the designation of C-69. During the conflict years, Hughes didn’t stop experimenting with the aircraft. He broke the transcontinental speed record on a flight from Burbank to Washington DC in April 1944, averaging 331 mph (533 km/h) in six hours, 57 minutes, and 51 seconds.

Hughes was such a fan of the Constellation that after the war ended, TWA reacquired all the C-69s it could from the military. They were then converted and entered civil operations as Constellations.

BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons“>


The initial Lockheed L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 mph (504 km/h) and could reach a range of 1,990 NM (3,685 km) with max payload. Photo: BriYYZ via Wikimedia Commons

Thus, on February 5th, 1946, TWA conducted its first commercial transatlantic flight. The airline’s “Star of Paris” L-409 departed New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 2:21 PM. Registration NC96511 stopped at Gander, Newfoundland, and Shannon on the way to France. It then landed at Orly Field at 15:57 on February 6th.

This unit would go on to have an eventful life in the years to come. It was damaged after the failures of two engines after taking off from Los Angeles International on November 18th, 1950. Nevertheless, it was repaired and continued service until a crash near Hinsdale, Illinois, on September 1st, 1961, which sadly caused fatalities to all 78 people on board.

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A global entity

All in all, the Connie could be seen all around the world after TWA’s order was filled. Major carriers in the US and across the continents deployed the type on long-haul missions. TWA made sure that it continued to optimize activity with the aircraft. For instance, in October 1957, one of its L-1649As stayed in the air for 23 hours and 19 minutes on a transatlantic flight between London and San Francisco. This unit boasts the record for the longest-duration, nonstop passenger flight on a piston aircraft.

Howard Hughes Lockheed Constellation Getty

Howard Hughes was always at the forefront of his projects, as is the case here at the controls of a Constellation, demonstrating a radar warning system. Photo: Getty Images

In total, 856 units of the Lockheed Constellation were produced 1943 and 1958. There were numerous variants of the plane, spanning from the original L-049 to the Super Connie models. The aircraft has undoubtedly had a lasting legacy in the aviation industry.

What are your thoughts about the Lockheed Constellation? What do you make of TWA’s operations with the plane over the years? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its services in the comment section.

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