FLY IN STYLE – A LOOK BACK
I still remember the day. I was a bit younger then – well, quite a bit younger. I was in middle school actually and I was excited. I was going to Europe – London, England – for the first time ever. Back in those days flying was a “dress up” event and I was appropriately attired. I walked across the tarmac and climbed the stairs into the Lockheed Constellation, the “Connie,” with it’s iconic triple rudder / tail assembly. I was in awe. The four powerful radial piston engines created a deafening roar as they rumbled to life, belching smoke as they first coughed and then throttled up. The flight was a long one. Departing from Grand Rapids, Michigan we headed northeast, landing in Gander, Newfoundland for our first refueling. From there we pushed on across the North Atlantic before landing again in Shannon, Ireland for more fuel. The final hop to London was relatively short. What a flight. What an experience.
I’ve done a bit of flying since that day back in Michigan. But my first flight in the “Connie” remains special. With fond memories of that Constellation journey floating through my mind, I drove up to Hanger 9 at Kansas City’s Downtown Airport, home of Kansas City’s Airline History Museum. This was my chance to reconnect with the Triple Tailed Constellation.
The Airline History Museum is a great organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of airline service and aircraft. Currently they have 8 different aircraft in their collection including a Boeing 727, a Lockheed L -1011 Tristar, and a Douglas DC-3. I checked them all out but the main focus of my visit was their Constellation.
Kansas City’s Lockheed L-1049 Constellation was rescued from potential junk yard demise, coming to the museum in 1986 where it underwent extensive restoration and renovation. In a way it was a bit of a homecoming for the aircraft. Constellation Airliners were the mainstays of Trans World Airlines – TWA – the airline company which had it’s world headquarters in Kansas City. Today the Constellation is a centerpiece of the museum’s collection of airliners. And it is quite a centerpiece. This Connie has a wingspan of 123 feet. Depending on configuration it could seat between 47 and 106 passengers and carried a flight crew of four. Top speed was 330 mph with a cruise speed of 304 mph, range of 5,150 miles, and a service ceiling of 25,700 feet.
Cockpit of the Constellation
The Constellation used a flight crew of five – pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, radio operator and navigator. It got a bit crowded up front. Instrumentation was all analog of course – no “glass panels” or digital screens in this bird.
Interior and seating of Kansas City’s Constellation
Seating was ample on the Constellation. Lots of legroom and generous seat width. Some sections had forward and rearward facing seats with a table in between. Full meal service was provided and several meals were served. After all, Trans-Atlantic flights took around 17 hours plus time for refueling.
Sitting in Kansas City’s Constellation I was taken back to my first flight to London. Yes, it was a long flight and a bit loud. But what an experience. The cabin atmosphere was courteous and congenial. The food was good. Seats weren’t cramped and passengers as well as cabin crew related in a comfortable, courteous and unrushed manner. Let’s face it. Flying has changed over the years. Yes, the planes are faster. But In many ways my first flight to London was far more pleasant than flying today.
Flying The Constellation ……………….What An Adventure!
WORLD WIDE DESTINATION PHOTOGRAPHY