I have been known to fly an airplane every now and then. Nothing bigger than a Cessna 172 but I have a deep infatuation with flight and flying machines. I will never, and i mean never, forget the first time I saw a Lockheed Constellation in flight.. It was I believe a L-049 airliner. I was, I think, too young to know for sure. And my old mind is cloudy on where I was at the time. It was either near the tarmac at Sandia Air Force Base in New Mexico or somewhere in California. I know it was a beautiful, still, sunny day. We had seen many aircraft that day even, I think, a reproduction of the X-15.
And then we saw “The Connie”. She was so dignified sitting there on the tarmac. Like an example or the culmination of American production, of pride in quality of production. And this way when they boarded you onto the plane directly from the surface of the airfield really added to the experience! Yup, a metal stairway was moved to the doorway of the airplane and you walked up and into it, accompanied by the warm back blast of the rotor wash as the pilot warmed the engines up and the huge propellers chopped through the air.
The Constellation was long and lean. It was 97 feet 4 inches long. It was the classic postwar example for civilian use.The wingspan was 123 feet. This remarkable aircraft stood 23 feet 8 inches off the ground. She looked longer, looked huge but graceful. The tail had three ‘fins’, known as a triple-fin tail, pointing up in the air just behind a narrow belly that slightly thickened in the middle and then tapered towards a graceful cockpit. It was hard not to notice the huge growling shiny engines, examples of hand crafted engineering by, well, American people. There were four of them, two on each graceful wing. The sheer powerful noise seemed muted somehow by the glimmer and shine and overall look of this magnificent flying machine, the epitome of American ingenuity.
This wonderful airplane was the model chosen by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as his presidential plane. The Connie must have been a glaring example to the rest of the world just what the U.S.A. was about. We may have had a few shortcomings yet proved to be extremely capable and resourceful people for, well, a democracy.
The Connie had four American-made Wright R-3350-C18-BA1 Cyclone Radial piston engines rated at 2500 horsepower each. The cruising speed was about 290 miles per hour. The distance this pretty ship could travel was an astounding 2500 miles. And It only needed a crew of four. Not too bad for a design so made decades earlier. According to many passengers the Connie seemed to float through the air.
At this point I must state that I attribute American development only because at the time we provided much.Britain, France, Russia, North Korea, South Vietnam. And that today many should be more thankful for our contributions. Just a thought, make with it what you will.
Oh many of us follow the current situation of flight…the recent sad end to the Concorde, the rise of the Airbus, the decline of the historical Boeing 747. Some of these new modern designs easily eclipse the Connie in performance and huge leaps in technological advancements. Yet I firmly believe that any modern air traveler would not be put out in the least flying on this wondrous airship. The arrival time might be slower but then again so was the way of life.
Now I recall exactly where I was when I saw the Lockheed Constellation take off. I was in a fantasy world, my swim trunks were still wet, the bridge of my nose sunburned. The Connie roared up and out into the sky, a beautiful silver zephyr, she politely circled the airfield once and sailed away as only airships sail. Her engines hummed in my ears. I noticed a few old timers who were dressed as former pilots abruptly stop what they were doing to watch her take off. It was a sure sign of respect. Almost all eyes followed her departure.
I truly feel that no other airplane, helicopter, gyro copter, harrier, hang glider, or even a kite will ever look as natural and majestic as the Connie. She is just that beautiful.