Tag Archives: Transcontinental and Western Airlines

16 July 1930

A Transcontinental Air Transport Ford 5-AT-B airliner, NC9606, City of Columbus, 1930.

16 July 1930: Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Express merged to form Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA).

The new company would become one of  the most important international airlines. In 1950, it changed its name to Trans World Airlines. TWA became a part of American Airlines, 1 December 2001.

A Western Air Express Fokker F-32 airliner, NC333N, 1930.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

17 April 1944

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

17 April 1944: The first production Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, was delivered to the Air Transport Command at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia. The new transport carried the markings of Transcontinental and Western Airlines (T.W.A.), and was flown by that company’s owner, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., and T.W.A.’s president, William John (“Jack”) Frye.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 ready to depart Lockheed Air Terminal, 17 April 1944. (Image scanned from Queen of the Skies, by Claude G. Luisada. Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2014. Chapter 5, Page 76, Fig. 5–1.)

The C-69 departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 3:56:45 a.m., Pacific War Time. The other crew members were Edward T. Bolton, Navigator; R. L. Proctor, Flight Engineer; and Charles L. Glover, Radio Operator. Also on board were 12 passengers representing the Air Corps, T.W.A. and Lockheed.¹

The Dayton Herald reported:

Constellation Sets Record; To Be in Dayton Thursday

(BULLETIN)

     WASHINGTON, April 17.—(UP)—The giant transport Constellation landed at Washington National Airport at 1:59 p.m. EWT today, setting a new trans-continental airplane speed record.

     The huge four-motor transport made the crossing from Burbank, Calif., in approximately 7 hours and three minutes on the basis of unofficial timing. Howard Hughes, who set the previous record, piloted the plane here for delivery to the Army.

     The Constellation, Transcontinental and Western Airline’s (TWA) super transport, which left Burbank, Calif., today for delivery to the air transport command at Washington, will fly to Wright Field Thursday afternoon, Material Command officials said here.

Considered the largest land-based cargo plane in the country, the “Constellation” took off from Lockheed Air Terminal at 5:56 a.m., (Dayton time) today with veteran pilot Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, TWA president, co-designers of the plane, as pilot and co-pilot, respectively. It passed over Butler Mo., 50 miles south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m. (Dayton time).

     Materiel Command officials said the plane was expected to make the trip in nine hours. They estimated she could fly from Los Angeles, Calif., to Honolulu in 12 hours.

     Also aboard were Lt. Col. Clarence Shoop, resident Material Command inspector at the Lockheed Burbank plant, 17 Lockheed and TWA technical experts and a civilian air expert.

     The ship originally was designed to carry 57 passengers, TWA officials said. The airline company commissioned Lockheed to build the plane two years ago.

     Hughes described the trip as a “routine delivery mission” and would not say whether he would attempt to break any speed records or whether the flight would be non-stop.

     “It all depends on the performance of the Connie,” he said.

     The 40-ton ship, which has a cruising speed of 300 miles an hour, took off with enough gasoline for a non-stop trip. Cargo and airline planes in general use now cruise at around 180 miles an hour. Her takeoff was clocked by Larry Therkelsen, National Aeronautical Association timekeeper and official timer of the national air races before the war.

     The Constellation is powered by four, 2,000-horsepower Wright air-cooled, radial engines, with 18 cylinders each, the Materiel Command said. It has three-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers and is equipped with a pressurized cabin for stratosphere flights. Its service ceiling is from 20,000 to 35,000 feet.

The Dayton Herald, Vol. 65, No. 91, Monday, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, c/n 049-1962, was the first production airplane. It had been flown to Las Vegas, Nevada, on the previous day, where T.W.A. personnel applied the company’s livery to the Army Air Corps-owned airplane. Flown by Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Shoup, it then returned to Burbank to prepare for the transcontinental flight.

Lockheed C-69-LO Constellation 43-10310, the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The plan called for Howard Hughes to fly as pilot-in-command for the first half of the flight, with Captain Frye in the right seat. They would switch positions at the half-way point. Both men were experienced four-engine pilots but the Constellation was new to them. In the previous week, they had each made two training flights in the C-69, with Hughes flying 2.9 hours and Frye, 3.4.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962), the first production airplane. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00013)

Initially, the transport followed T.W.A.’s normal transcontinental route. It had climbed to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) by the time it reached Kingman, Arizona. The night sky was “CAVU”—ceiling and visibility unrestricted—and there was a bright last-quarter moon shining. Passing north of Winslow, Arizona, the C-69 left the T.W.A. route and turned north to pick up a Great Circle course.

Flying over northern New Mexico, they encountered turbulence and thunderclouds. Hughes climbed to 17,500 feet (5,334 meters) to remain clear of the clouds. Light ice began forming on the airplane as they crossed over Kansas. They climbed into colder, drier air at 18,500 feet (5,639 meters).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 (c/n 1962). (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company via Burbank in focus pub00019)

Over the eastern part of the state, Jack Frye took over as pilot command and he and Hughes switched places in the cockpit. The C-69 crossed over Butler, Missouri, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Kansas City, at 10:20 a.m., Central War Time (8:20 a.m., P.W.T.).

—ST. LOUIS STAR-TIMES, Vol. 58—No. 168, Monday Evening, 17 April 1944, Page 1, Columns 5 and 6

The Constellation crossed overhead Cincinnati, Ohio, at 11:48 a.m., C.W.T. Stormy weather delayed their descent until after crossing the Ohio River.

The Constellation flew overhead National Airport at 1:54 p.m., Eastern War Time (10:54 a.m., P.W.T.). They circled overhead while traffic cleared the runway, then landed four minutes later.

The Lockheed C-69 Constellation, 43-10310, flown by Howard Hughes and Jack Frye, lands at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, at 1:58 p.m., E.W.T., 17 April 1944. Image edited. (Original image: UNLV Digital Collection whh 001297).

The C-69’s log book showed the Burbank to overhead National Airport flight as having taken 6 hours, 56 minutes, 15 seconds.² The Aircraft Yearbook for 1945 gives the record time as “6 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds.” ³

Because of wartime security concerns, the Air Corps would not allow Lockheed or TWA to release specific information about the flight, other than to say that it had broken the existing transcontinental speed record. The Great Circle distance from Lockheed Air Terminal to Washington National is 2,000 nautical miles (2,302 statute miles/3,705 kilometers). Assuming that the route was flown without any deviations, the average speed of the C-69 would have been 288 knots (331 miles per hour/533 kilometers per hour).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001301)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 taxis to parking at National Airport, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001302)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310, wheels stop. National Airport, 17 April 1944. (LIFE Magazine)

At the time, the only airplanes which were larger than the C-69 were the prototype Douglas B-19 long range bomber and the Martin Mars flying boat. A large crowd watched the arrival of the new airplane. Dignitaries meeting the flight were General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, Chief the U.S. Army Air Forces, and Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones, with Oswald Ryan and Josh Lee of the Civil Aeronautics Board.

Secretary of Commerce Jesse Holman Jones, Howard Hughes and Jack Frye. “She performed perfectly marvelously,” said Frye. “She handled like a pursuit ship and flies like a dream.” (UNLV Digital Collections whh001313)
Flight crew and passengers of transcontinental flight. Howard Hughes is 8th from left.  (UNLV Digital Collection whh01324)
Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 at National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, 17 April 1944. (UNLV Digital Collections whh001317)

After the arrival ceremonies, the new Lockheed C-69 Constellation was handed over to the Air Corps Air Transport Command and taken to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to begin its military flight tests.

Lockheed C-69 Constellation 43-10310 after rollout at Lockheed Burbank, August 1943. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

As stated above, 43-10310, c/n 1962, was the first production C-69 Constellation, following the XC-69 prototype, 43-10309, c/n 1961. It had been designed and built by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation at Burbank, California, for Transcontinental and Western Airlines. The C-69 made its first flight in August 1943, and remained with Lockheed for manufacturer’s tests.

The Constellation was operated by a flight crew of five: two pilots, a navigator, flight engineer and radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Lockheed C-69 Constellation. (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company)

The C-69 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter), Wright Aeronautical Division R3500–35 (Cyclone 18 711C18BA2) engines. Also known as the Duplex Cyclone, these were a two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.85:1, which required 100/130-octane aviation gasoline. They were rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff (five minute limit), The 745C18BA2 was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,707 pounds (1,228 kilograms). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. Wright produced 58 of these engines between August 1942 and October 1944.

The C-69 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (504 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

During the War, Lockheed Constellations were operated for the War Department by T.W.A. and Pan American Airways.

On 31 March 1947,  War Assets Administration sold 43-10310 for spare parts. It was salvaged to repair other C-69 and L-049 airplanes.

In 1952, Lockheed rebuilt -310 for Inter-National Airways, Inc., which leased it to Flying Tiger Line. It was assigned civil registration NC38936.

NC38936 was destroyed by fire after landing accident during training/certification flight at Burbank, 22 January 1953.

Lockheed Martin C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Fire Destroys Huge Plane on L.A. Test Hop

     A rebuilt, four-engine Constellation was destroyed by fire last night seconds after it landed at Lockheed Air Terminal. Ten persons aboard the aircraft escaped without injury.

     The huge craft, owned by Inter-Continental Airways, Inc., had made its second test landing for two Civil Aeronautics Authority inspectors when the main landing-gear section burst into flames which quickly spread to the fuselage and other parts of the ship, according to airport tower observers.

     The plane’s landing gear apparently failed to function properly as the ship touched down and caused the plane to skid on its belly with the propellers scraping the runway, according to the observers.

Changes in Plane

     The Constellation was the second in the C-69 series built by Lockheed Aircraft and during the last two years had undergone changes in construction prior to being chartered by Flying Tiger Lines from the Inter-Continental Airways, according to William Sosnow, purchasing agent for the latter company.

     Burbank and Lockheed Fire Departments fought the fire and kept the flames from spreading to nearby hangars and other aircraft. Fire officials said the plane, valued at $1,000,000, was a total loss.

Final Checkout

     Sosnow said the plane had received CAA partial approval Wednesday and that last night’s pilot training flight was to complete the inspection routine. It was to have flown to Oakland today for its first pay passengers, he said.

     Aboard the plane, Lockheed officials said, were CAA Inspectors M.H. Griffith and Sam Chandler, Senior Pilot C.G. Fredericks, Pilots Lawrence Raab, Sheldon Eichel, August Martin and Leo Gardner; Flight Engineers Frank Lutomski and Robert R. Jackson and Radioman Morris H. Sherry.

     All the crewmen were employed by Inter-Continental.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LXXI, Friday Morning, 23 January 1953, Part 1, Page 1, Column 3

The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives, (BAAA, or B3A) data base states:

“The crew was engaged in a local test flight. On final approach, during the last segment, the crew inadvertently raised the gears. The four engine aircraft belly landed and slid for dozen yards before coming to rest in flames. While all five crew members were unhurt, the aircraft was lost.”

Lockheed C-69-1-LO Constellation 43-10314. (Lockheed Martin)

¹ LCOL Clarence A. Shoop USAAC. TWA: Lawrence J. Chiappino, Test Pilot; Leo Baron, Robert L. Loomis, pilot; Ed J. Minser, Chief Meteorologist; Orville R. Olson, ch clerk, KC traffic department; Lee Spruill, Richard De Campo, Flight Engineer. Lockheed: Rudy L. Thoren, Chief Flight Test Engineer; Richard Stanton; Thomas Watkins. S.J. Solomon, Chairman, Airlines Committee for Aviation Policy

² TDiA checked with the National Aeronautic Association, which does not have any information about this flight.

³ The AIRCRAFT YEAR BOOK For 1945, Howard Mingos, Editor. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc., Lanciar Publishers, Inc., New York. Chapter IV, Page 123.

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

5–6 February 1946

A TWA Lockheed Constellation over Paris. (Unattributed)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation over Paris, France. (Unattributed)

5–6 February 1946: Transcontinental and Western Airlines—TWA—”The Trans World Airline,” flew its first revenue international passengers on a scheduled transatlantic flight from La Guardia Field, New York (LGA) to Aéroport de Paris-Orly, Paris (ORY).

The airplane was a Lockheed L-049 Constellation, serial number 2035, NC86511, named Star of Paris, under the command of Captain Harold F.  Blackburn. Captains Jack Hermann and John M. Calder, Navigator M. Chrisman and Flight Engineers Art Ruhanen, Ray McBride and Jack Rouge completed the flight crew. Purser Don Shiemwell and Hostess Ruth Schmidt were in the cabin along with 36 passengers.

Star of Paris departed LaGuardia at 2:21 p.m., EST, 5 February. The flight made brief stops at Gander, Newfoundland (YQX) and Shannon, Ireland (SNN), and arrived at Orly Field, at 3:57 p.m., February 6. The elapsed time was 16 hours, 21 minutes.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 22.48.30
Photograph from TWA Skyliner Magazine, 9 February 1961, at Page 4

Confusion exists over which TWA Constellation made the first scheduled flight from LGA to ORY. This is probably because two days earlier, 3 February, another L-049, Paris Sky Chief, NC86505, s/n 2026, also commanded by Hal Blackburn, flew from Washington National Airport (DCA) to Paris Orly as a trial. On that flight, the Constellation averaged 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour). This non-scheduled trip took 14 hours, 47 minutes, total elapsed time, with 12 hours 57 minutes actual flight time. Paris Sky Chief‘s TWA fleet number was 505, while Star of Paris was number 555.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 19.40.37
Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-049, Paris Sky Chief, NC86505. (www.sedonalegendhelenfrye.com)
Harold F. Blackburn, ca. 1945 (Flying Magazine)
Harold F. Blackburn, ca. 1945 (Flying Magazine)

Harold F. Blackburn was born in 1901 at Urbana, Illinois. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1928, and studied aviation at the University of Southern California. He received his Air Corps pilot’s wings in 1930.

In 1932, Blackburn participated in the relief of the Native American reservations near Winslow, Arizona, which had been cut off by a winter storm. His entire unit, the 11th Bombardment Squadron, based at March Field, Riverside, California, was awarded the Mackay Trophy.

Lieutenant Blackburn married Miss Martha Bondurant in 1932. They would have a son Robert, and daughters Beverly, Bonnie and Betty. Beverly died in infancy 1 December 1943. Blackburn would later marry Helen Jones.

Hal Blackburn began flying with TWA in 1934 and remained with the company for over 25 years. During World War II, he flew Boeing 377s across the South Atlantic for the airline’s Intercontinental Division, of which he would become the manager.  In addition to the New York-Paris flight in 1946, Blackburn flew TWA’s first Boeing 707 from New York to Paris in 1961.

“Blackie,” as he is known to his friends, has been an active pilot since 1919. His air time equals three years spent above the earth’s surface during which he has logged more than six and a half million miles . . . The Washington Post named him the “Ideal Father” in 1946. Capt. Blackburn also assisted with the formation of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and Deutsche-Lufthansa. Viewed by the news media as the ideal model pilot, Capt. Blackburn has been the subject of two lengthy profiles in the New Yorker magazine . . .  In 26,800 hours of flying, Capt. Blackburn never injured a passenger, nor damaged an aircraft, and was never late for a flight. Married for 32 years, he is the father of four children and three times a grandfather. He resides in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. He retired from flying in 1962. His last flight, in command of a TWA SuperJet [the company’s name for the Boeing 707 or Convair 880] from Rome to New York, was the subject of an hour-long television documentary.

The Indiana Gazette, Monday, 14 October 1963, Page 5 at Columns 2–4

Captain Blackburn was the subject of Like a Homesick Angel, a biography by John Bainbridge, Houghton Mifflin, 1964. He died at Oakland, California, 4 August 1989, at the age of 87 years.

A TWA Lockheed L-049 Lockheed L-049 Constellation, NC86517. (Ed Coates Collection)

Star of Paris (serial number 2035), a Lockheed Model L-049-46 Constellation, had been built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California, plant and delivered to Transcontinental and Western in December 1945. The airliner remained in service with TWA until 1 September 1961. During that time it was also named Star of  Dublin.

The Lockheed Constellation first flew in 1942, and was produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps as the C-69. With the end of World War II, commercial airlines needed new airliners for the post-war boom. The Constellation had transoceanic range and a pressurized cabin for passenger comfort.

The Lockheed L-049 Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Trans World Airlines’ Lockheed L-049 Constellation NC86515, Star of the Red Sea, at San Francisco, California, 10 June 1948.. (Bill Larkins/Wikimedia)

The L-049 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 ¹ 745C18BA3 two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The -BA3 was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff, (five minute limit). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289.11 kilograms).

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (503.72 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429.3 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

22 C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were built. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

"TWA Lockheed Constellation at Paris-Orly" by Lucio Perinotto. For more striking paintings by the artist, please visit his web site at http://www.lucioperinotto.com/
“TWA Lockheed Constellation at Paris-Orly” by Lucio Perinotto. For more striking paintings by the artist, please visit his web site at http://www.lucioperinotto.com/

On 18 November 1950, TWA’s Constellation NC86511 suffered failures of the two inboard  engines while taking off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The airliner was diverted to nearby Long Beach Airport (LGB) for an emergency landing. The crew made an instrument approach and could not see the runway until the last moment, touching down at approximately midway. The runway was wet and the airplane could not be stopped before running off the end. The right main landing gear collapsed. The Constellation was damaged but repaired and returned to service. It was later renamed Star of Dublin.

TWA Lockheed Constellation after landing accident at Long Beach, California, 18 November 1950. (Aviation Safety Network)
TWA Lockheed Constellation after landing accident at Long Beach, California, 18 November 1950. (Aviation Safety Network)

On 1 September 1961, NC86511 was operating as TWA Flight 529 from Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) to Los Angeles, California. Shortly after takeoff a mechanical failure caused to airplane to pitch up and stall. The flight crew was unable to regain control of the Constellation and it crashed in a field near Hinsdale, Illinois. All 78 persons on board were killed.

The crash site of Trans World Airlines' Flight 529, Lockheed L-049 Constellation s/n 2035, NC86511, Star of Dublin.
The crash site of Trans World Airlines’ Flight 529, Lockheed L-049 Constellation s/n 2035, NC86511, Star of Dublin.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

3 February 1946

Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)
A Transcontinental and Western Airlines Lockheed L-049 Constellation. (TWA)

3 February 1946: Transcontinental and Western Airlines (“The Trans World Airline”) inaugurated non-stop passenger service from Los Angeles to New York with it’s Lockheed L-049A Constellation, Navajo Skychief, NC86503.

Captain William John (“Jack”) Frye, president of the airline, and his co-pilot, Captain Lee Flanagin, T&WA’s Western Region Operations Manager, were at the controls with Captain Paul S. Frederickson and Captain A.O. Lundin aboard as relief pilots. Flight Engineers Paul Henry and E.T. Greene completed the flight crew. In the passenger cabin were flight attendants Dorraine Strole and Rita P. Crooks. The 44 passengers were primarily news reporters.

Flight crew of Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049 Constellation, Navajo Chieftain, at LaGuardia Airport, New York, 3 February 1946. Front row, left to right, Paul Henry, Flight Engineer; Captain William John (“Jack”) Frye, Pilot; E.T. Greene, Flight Engineer. Second row, Captain Paul S. Frederickson, Relief Pilot; and First Officer Lee Flanigin, Co-Pilot. Top, Stewardess Dorraine Strole, and Stewardess Rita P. Crooks (Unattributed. This internet image appears to have been cropped from a larger photograph at https://www.sedonalegendhelenfrye.com/1946.html)

Navajo Skychief departed Lockheed Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 12:59:12 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, and flew across the North American continet at an altitude of 15,000–17,000 feet (4,572–5,182 meters), taking advantage of tailwinds throughout the flight. The Constellation crossed over LaGuardia Airport, New York, at 1,500 feet (457.2 meters) at 11:27 a.m., Eastern Standard Time.

Route of Navajo Skychief, 3 February 1946. (Daily News, Vol. 27, No. 192, Monday, 4 February 1946, Page 3, Columns 7 and 8)

The 2,474-mile (3,954.2 kilometer) Great Circle flight took 7 hours, 27 minutes, 48 seconds, averaging 329 miles per hour (529.5 kilometers per hour), setting a National Aeronautic Association transcontinental speed record for transport aircraft.

With 52 persons aboard, this was the largest number carried in commercial passenger service up to that time.

TWA Lockheed L-049 Constellation NC86511, Star of Paris, sister ship of Navajo Skychief. (Sedona legend Helen Frye)

The four Duplex-Cyclone engines burned 450 gallons (1,703.4 liters) of gasoline per hour. On landing, 610 gallons (2,309.1 liters) of fuel remained.

A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)
A TWA stewardess. (LIFE Magazine)

Navajo Skychief (serial number 2024), a Lockheed Model L-049-46 Constellation, had been built at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s Burbank, California, plant and delivered to Transcontinental and Western on 20 December 1945. The airliner remained in service with TWA until March 1962. During that time it was also named Star of the Nile and Star of California. The Constellation was scrapped in May 1964.

The Lockheed Constellation first flew in 1942, and was produced for the U.S. Army Air Corps as the C-69. With the end of World War II, commercial airlines needed new airliners for the post-war boom. The Constellation had transoceanic range and a pressurized cabin for passenger comfort.

Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049A Constellation, NC 86503, Navajo Skychief. (Unattributed)

The Lockheed L-049 Constellation was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 81 passengers. The airplane was 95 feet, 1 316 inches (28.986 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet, 0 inches (37.490 meters), and overall height of 23 feet, 7⅞ inches (7.210 meters). It had an empty weight of 49,392 pounds (22,403.8 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 86,250 pounds (39,122.3 kilograms).

Navajo Skychief, Transcontinental and Western Airlines’ Lockheed L-049A Constellation, NC 86503. (Ed Coates Collection)

The L-049 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged and fuel-injected, 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 ¹ 745C18BA3 two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The -BA3 was rated at 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., or 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., for takeoff, (five minute limit). The engines drove 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter, three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BA3 was 6 feet, 4.13 inches (1.934 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,842 pounds (1,289.11 kilograms).

The L-049 had a cruise speed of 313 miles per hour (503.72 kilometers per hour) and a range of 3,995 miles (6,429.3 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 25,300 feet (7,711 meters).

22 C-69s and 856 Constellations of all types were built. Designed by the famous Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed Constellation was in production from 1943–1958 in both civilian airliner and military transport versions. It is the classic propeller-driven transcontinental and transoceanic airliner.

TWA Lockheed Constellation.
TWA Lockheed Constellation.

Jack Frye had founded the Aero Corporation of California, which would later become Transcontinental and Western, on 3 February 1926. He died at Tucson, Arizona, on 3 February 1959 at the age of 55 years.

¹ The Cyclone 18 series was also known as the Duplex Cyclone.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes