Home Classic Airliners Classic Airline Fleets – TWA’s Lockheed Constellations

Classic Airline Fleets – TWA’s Lockheed Constellations

by Matt Falcus

Trans World Airlines (or TWA) and the Lockheed Constellation go hand in hand.

Despite its popularity the world over through the 1940s to 1960s, this large piston passenger airliner was actually developed through working closely with the famous owner of the airline.

Hughes wanted a long-range airliner to replace older types like the Boeing 307 Stratoliner which would offer unrivalled comfort, range and economics that would drive his airline forward against its competition.

As such, through the late 1930s and early 1940s the two companies worked together to perfect the design. It ultimately led to an order for 40 aircraft for TWA.

Interestingly, as well as its capabilities – 3,500 mile range, 40 passenger capacity, and four powerful engines – Hughes was also thought to be instrumental in developing the way the Constellation looked, adding elegant curved lines which were evocative of the Art Deco style and unseen in other passenger airliners to date.

 

War Takes Over

Constellation Lockheed C-69 NX25600 Burbank

As the first Lockheed Constellation aircraft were built, World War II was raging and these aircraft – originally destined for TWA – were requisitioned for war use, given the C-69 designation.

Just under 30 had been built by the end of the war. The surviving examples were then converted back to civilian use, and the remainder of the order completed, with deliveries to TWA beginning in October 1945.

 

TWA and the Constellation

TWA Constellation

With the Constellation now in service with TWA, its capabilities could shine.

Not only was it able to make long-distance trips with a decent passenger load – for example across the Atlantic between the USA and Europe, or transcontinental between east and west coasts – but it also offered unrivalled style and comfort.

Thanks to this elegant new airliner, and the appeal and contacts of the enigmatic Hughes, soon celebrities and wealthy businessmen were regularly travelling on the type, propelling TWA into an “airline of the stars”.

In fact, Hughes made a big deal of the Constellation when the first one was delivered by breaking a record for the coast-to-coast crossing between Los Angeles and Washington DC, completing the journey in six hours and 57 minutes.

Despite other airlines ordering the Constellation, including rivals Pan American, TWA had the edge thanks to it early adoption of the type.

 

Later Constellations

Chicago Midway Airport - TWA - Lockheed Constellations

As Lockheed continued to develop the Constellation with new variants, TWA continued to order the type, allowing it to replace older aircraft and expand its services.

It ordered 20 L-749 Constellations in 1947, 20 L-749A’s in 1949, ten L-1049 Super Constellations in 1950, and 20 L-1049E’s in 1953.

In December 1954 TWA ordered 25 of the new turboprop-powered L-1449 Constellations. This design soon evolved into the L-1649 Starliner, with deliveries starting in 1957.

 

Where Did TWA’s Constellations Fly?

The intention of TWA in adding the Constellation was to provide a modern, comfortable and elegant airliner which could offer long-distance journeys for its passengers.

As a result, the Constellation fleet was mostly used on transcontinental and transatlantic routes.

Typically you would find them on routes between the north eastern United States, for example New York Idlewild/JFK and points in Europe like London and Paris.

It was not uncommon to also find them throughout the United States.

 

 

The End of TWA’s Constellations

RuthAS, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

With L-1649 Starliners still being delivered into the 1960s, TWA was faced with a need to catch up with its competition which were now ordering the all-new jet aircraft types.

Aircraft like the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 were not only capable of long distances at higher speeds, with greater capacities for passengers, but they were also considered modern by passengers who increasingly felt propeller-driven aircraft were outdated.

As a result, TWA began ordering Boeing 707s in 1956, and also opted for 30 Convair 880s in 1957. The latter was a gamble on a less popular airliner which ultimately proved expensive and unpopular, and resulted in Howard Hughes losing control of the airline.

TWA finally became an all-jet airline in 1967 when the last of the Lockheed L-749A and L-1649 Constellations were retired (other Constellations as well as the Martin 4-0-4 fleet had been retired by now).

 

What Happened to TWA’s Constellations?

Many of the Constellations operated by TWA were sold on to other airlines, often ending up being converted to freighters.

Early models were retired and scrapped.

 

Today there are a number of Constellation survivors (although only one is thought to be airworthy). Of these, four are authentic former TWA aircraft.

 

TWA Constellation Survivors

Matthew Anderson, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

N90831, L-749 Constellation (c/n 1970)

One of the early models operated by the USAF as a C-69, this aircraft briefly operated with TWA between August 1945 and March 1946. It is now preserved at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ, wearing TWA livery.

 

Lockheed 049 Constellation Flight Deck Panorama (N9412H)

N9412H, L-749 Constellation (c/n 2072)

This aircraft is used as an office for a flying school at Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, NJ. It flew with TWA from 1950-1959.

Photo (c) Martyn Cartledge

N8083H, L-1649 Starliner (c/n 1038)

Built for TWA in 1958, this aircraft was sold to Alaska Airlines in 1961 as a freighter. It was retied in 1975, and in 2018 it was transported to New York JFK airport and preserved in TWA livery outside the TWA Hotel, and used as a cocktail lounge.

 

N7777G | L749

N7777G, L-749A Constellation (c/n 2553)

This particular airframe never flew for TWA, but is preserved today resplendent in the airline’s livery and so has been included. This particular aircraft actually flew for KLM and Wien Air Alaska among some smaller carriers, before retiring to the Science Museum Store at Wroughton, Wiltshire in the UK. Sadly it is rarely open to the public.

 

N6937C, MKC

N6937C, L-1049 Super Constellation (c/n 4830)

This aircraft never actually flew with TWA, but is preserved today resplendent in their 1950s livery. It was restored by the Save-A-Connie venture, and is now at Kansas City Downtown Airport. It last flew in 2005, and it is hoped to get it airworthy again.

 

N7316C, L1649A Starliner (c/n 1018)

One of TWA’s 1957 Starliners, this aircraft flew with the airline until 1962 (the last two years as a freighter). It has since been the subject of much controversy, with Lufthansa beginning a long process of restoring and returning the aircraft to flight. It was transported in sections to Germany in 2019, but the project has since been put on hold indefinitely. The sections are stored at Paderborn.

(with thanks to http://www.conniesurvivors.com/)

 

Did you ever see or fly on a TWA Constellation? Leave a comment below!

 

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1 comment

Victor June 4, 2021 - 6:27 pm

When I lived in Chelsea as a young man we always looked out on a Friday night to see a TWA constellation which came to LHR from USA we all know it was coming because of the sound of the engines.

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