Tag Archives: Transcontinental Flight

11 February 1939

Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream, New York. (Associated Press)
Wreck of the Lockheed XP-38 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Associated Press)
Benjamin Scovill Kelsey, circa 1937

11 February 1939: Barely two weeks after its first flight, First Lieutenant Benjamin Scovill (“Ben”) Kelsey, U.S. Army Air Corps, took the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on a record-breaking transcontinental flight from March Field, Riverside, California, to Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York.

Lieutenant Kelsey departed March Field at 6:32 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, (9:32 a.m., Eastern) and flew to Amarillo, Texas for the first of two refueling stops. He arrived there at 12:22 p.m., EST, and remained on the ground for 22 minutes. The XP-38 took off at 12:44 p.m., EST, and Kelsey flew on to Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio. He landed there at 3:10 p.m. EST.

Kelsey was met by Major General H.H. Arnold, and it was decided to continue to New York. The XP-38 was airborne again at 3:28 p.m., EST, on the final leg of his transcontinental flight.

The prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record flight, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
The prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, being refueled at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, during the transcontinental speed record attempt, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

Kelsey was overhead Mitchel Field, New York at 4:55 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, but his landing was delayed by other airplanes in the traffic pattern.

On approach, the XP-38 was behind several slower training planes, so Lieutenant Kelsey throttled back the engines. When he tried to throttle up, the carburetor venturis iced and the engines would not accelerate, remaining at idle. The airplane crashed on a golf course short of the airport.

Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreckage of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The total elapsed time was 7 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds but Kelsey’s actual flight time was 7 hours, 36 seconds. The prototype had averaged 340 miles per hour (547 kilometers per hour) and had reached 420 miles per hour (676 kilometers per hour) during the Wright Field-to-Mitchel Field segment.

Kelsey’s transcontinental flight failed to break the transcontinental speed record set two years earlier by Howard R. Hughes by 17 minutes, 11 seconds. It should be noted, however, that Hughes H-1 Racer flew non-stop from coast to coast, while the XP-38 required two time-consuming fuel stops.

Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)
Wreck of the prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, on the Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (Unattributed)

The XP-38 was damaged beyond repair, but its performance on the transcontinental flight was so impressive that 13 YP-38s were ordered from Lockheed by the Air Corps.

Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38 37-457 at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)
Overhead view of the wrecked prototype Lockheed XP-38, 37-457, at Cold Stream Golf Course, Hempstead, New York, 11 February 1939. (U.S. Army)

Designed by an engineering team led by Hall L. Hibbard, which included the legendary Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, the XP-38 was a single-place, twin-engine fighter designed for very high speed and long range. It was an unusual configuration with the cockpit and armament in a center nacelle, with two longitudinal booms containing the engines and propellers, turbochargers, radiators and coolers. The Lightning was equipped with tricycle landing gear. The nose strut retracted into the center nacelle and the two main gear struts retracted into bays in the booms. To reduce drag, the sheet metal used butt joints with flush rivets.

The prototype had been built built at Lockheed’s factory in Burbank, California. On the night of 31 December 1938/1 January 1939, it was transported to March Field aboard a convoy of three trucks. Once there, the components were assembled by Lockheed technicians working under tight security.

The XP-38 was 37 feet, 10 inches (11.532 meters) long with a wingspan of 52 feet (15.850 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.952 meters). Its empty weight was 11,507 pounds (5,219.5 kilograms). The gross weight was 13,904 pounds (6,306.75 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,416 pounds (6,992.6 kilograms).

Lockheed XP-38 37-457. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The Lightning was the first production airplane to use the Harold Caminez-designed, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Company V-1710 single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines. When installed on the P-38, these engines rotated in opposite directions. The XP-38 used a pair of experimental C-series Allisons, with the port V-1710-C8 (V-1710-11) engine being a normal right-hand tractor configuration, while the starboard engine, the V-1710-C9 (V-1710-15), was a left-hand tractor. Through a 2:1 gear reduction, these engines drove the 11-foot (3.353 meters) diameter, three-bladed Curtiss Electric variable-pitch propellers inward to counteract the torque effect of the engines and propellers. (Viewed from the front of the airplane, the XP-38’s starboard propeller turned clockwise, the port propeller turned counter-clockwise. The direction of rotation was reversed in the YP-38 service test prototypes and production P-38 models.) The engines have long propeller gear drive sections to aid in streamlining aircraft, and are sometimes referred to as “long-nose Allisons.”

The V-1710-11 and -15 had a compression ratio of 6.65:1. They had a continuous power rating of 1,000 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,150 horsepower at 2,950 r.p.m. for takeoff. The combination of a gear-driven supercharger and an exhaust-driven General Electric B-1 turbosupercharger allowed these engines to maintain their rated power levels to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).

The -11 and -15 were 7 feet, 10.46 inches (2.399 meters) long. The -11 was 3 feet, 6.59 inches (1.082 meters) high and 2 feet, 4.93 inches (0.7348 meters) wide. It weighed 1,300 pounds (589.7 kilograms). The -15 was 3 feet, 4.71 inches (1.034 meters) high, 2 feet, 4.94 inches (0.7351 meters) wide, and weighed 1,305 pounds (591.9 kilograms).

The XP-38 had a maximum speed of 413 miles per hour (664.66 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and a service ceiling of 38,000 feet (11,582.4 meters).

The XP-38 was unarmed, but almost all production Lightnings carried a 20 mm auto cannon and four Browning .50-caliber machine guns grouped together in the nose. They could also carry bombs or rockets and jettisonable external fuel tanks.

Testing continued with thirteen YP-38A pre-production aircraft and was quickly placed in full production. The P-38 Lightning was one of the most successful combat aircraft of World War II. By the end of the war, Lockheed had built 10,037 Lightnings.

Lockheed P-38L Lightning.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 February 1960

Delta Air Lines’ Convair 880-22-M, N8802E, Delta Queen, retracting its landing gear on takeoff from Atlanta, 15 April 1972. (RuthAS)

10 February 1960: Delta Air Lines’ Superintendant of Flight Operations, Captain Thomas Prioleau Ball, Jr., made the delivery flight of Delta’s first Convair 880 jet airliner, Ship 902, named Delta Queen, FAA registration N8802E, from San Diego, California, to Miami, Florida. Other members of the flight crew were Captain James H. Longing, co-pilot, and First Officer Richard E. Tidwell, flight engineer.

Newspapers reported that Delta Queen‘s wheels started rolling on the runway at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field (SAN) at 10:11:46 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (18:11:46 UTC). The airplane took of and climbed to its cross-country cruising altitude of 33,000 feet (10,058 meters). The Convair 880 landed at Miami International Airport (MIA) at 4:42:08 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (21:42:08 UTC). The official flight time was 3 hours, 31 minutes, 54 seconds, for an average speed of 641.77 miles per hour (1,032.83 kilometers per hour) over the 2,266 mile (3,647 kilometers) route. This was a new United States National Record for Speed Over a Commercial Airline Route. The 880 cut 27 minutes, 1 second, off the time of an Eastern Air Lines Douglas DC-8B over the same route, 4 January 1960.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 10.40.18Delta Queen was placed in scheduled service 15 May 1960.

The Convair 880 was a four-engine, swept-wing turbojet-powered commercial airliner. It was operated by a flight crew of three and could carry up to 110 passengers. The Convair 880-22-M was a modified version of the standard 880-22, intended for shorter range operations. It had leading-edge slats, a higher maximum takeoff weight, stronger landing gear, a tail skid and an improved anti-lock braking system. The Convair 880 was so-named because its design top speed was 880 feet per second (600 miles per hour, or 966 kilometers per hour), faster than its Boeing 707 or Douglas DC-8 rivals.

Miss San Diego, Leona McCurdy, christens Convair 880 Delta Queen with river water collected from around the Delta Air Lines system. (Delta)
Miss San Diego, Leona McCurdy, christens Delta Queen with water collected from rivers around the Delta Air Lines system. (Delta Air Lines)

The airplane was 129 feet, 4 inches (39.421 meters) long with a wingspan of 120 feet (36.576 meters) and overall height of 36 feet, 3.75 inches (11.068 meters). The 880 had an empty weight of 94,000 pounds (42,638 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 191,000 pounds (86,636 kilograms).

The Convair 880-22-M was powered by four General Electric CJ805-3B turbojet engines. The CJ805-3B is a single-shaft, axial-flow turbojet with a 17-stage compressor section and 3-stage turbine, based on the military J79. The engine has a maximum continuous power rating of 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 11,650 pounds (51.822 kilonewtons) for Takeoff. The CJ805-3B is 9 feet, 2.4 inches (2.804 meters) long, 3 feet, 3.9 inches (1.013 meters) wide and 4 feet, 0.8 inches (1.240 meters) high. It weighs 2,875 pounds (1,304 kilograms).

The 880-22-M had a cruise speed of 0.82 Mach (556 miles per hour/895 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 41,000 feet (12,497 meters). Maximum range was 5,056 miles (8,137 kilometers).

The Convair Division of General Dynamics built 65 Convair 880 airliners at San Diego, California, between 1959 and 1962. Delta Air Lines retired its last one in January 1974.

Delta Queen, Convair 880-22-M N8802E. (Delta Air Lines)
Delta Queen, Convair 880-22-M N8802E. (Delta Air Lines)
Captain Thomas P. Ball

Thomas Prioleau (“Pre”) Ball, Jr., was a legendary airline captain. He was born 6 September 1906 at Norfolk, Virginia, the second son of Thomas Prioleau Ball, a bookkeeper, and Agnes Mae Bell Ball. He grew up in Florida. Ball learned to fly in 1928, soloing in a World War I Curtiss “Jenny” biplane.

Thomas P. Ball, Jr., married Miss Theresa Augusta Daniel at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Jacksonville, Florida, 27 December 1930. They would have to sons, Thomas Prioleaux Ball III and Espy Daniel Ball.

Ball worked as a station manager for Delta Air Lines at Charleston, South Carolina, and was hired as a copilot by the airline in 1936.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, Ball was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of colonel, serving as the Chief of the Prevention and Investigation Division of the Army’s Office of Flying Safety.

After the War, Ball returned to Delta Air Lines as a captain and soon became the chief pilot, dedicated to the meticulous training of the company’s pilots. In 1969, Ball became Delta’s Vice President of Flight Operations. On 25 May 1970, Ball was aboard Delta Flight 199, a Convair 880 under the command of Captain Harris B. Wynn, when it was hijacked to Cuba.

Four U.S. National Speed Records which were set by Captain Ball remain current. In addition to the record set with the Convair 880, on 6 November 1948, Ball flew a Delta Air Lines Douglas DC-6 from Los Angeles, California, to Charleston, South Carolina, in 6 hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds, at an average speed of 344.19 miles per hour (553.92 kilometers per hour). On 18 March 1954, he flew a Douglas DC-7 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, in 05:29:33, averaging 392.25 miles per hour (631.27 kilometers per hour). Finally, on 24 February 1962, Captain Ball flew a Douglas DC-8 from Miami, Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, in 01:28:11, for an average of 406.1 miles per hour (653.56 kilometers per hour).

After making the delivery flight of the company’s first Boeing 747, Ball grounded himself when he noticed a deterioration in his eyesight. Thomas Prioleau Ball retired from Delta in 1971. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 99 years.

Convair 880 N55NW in Bahama Air livery, circa 1976. (Captain Charles Lindberg)
The world record-setting Convair 880-22-M, c/n 7, now registered N55NW, in Bahamas World livery, circa 1976. (Captain Charles Lindberg)

Convair 880-22-M N8802E, Delta Queen, (c/n 7) remained in service with Delta Air Lines until 1973 when it was sold to Boeing as part of exchange for an order of new Boeing 727-200 airliners. It was then sold to Transexecutive Aviation in 1974 and reregistered as N55NW. In 1976, the 880 flew as a charter airliner for Bahama World. It was then converted to a cargo freighter operating in the Caribbean. In 1979 the Convair was transferred to Groth Air Service, Inc., Castalia, Iowa, and assigned a new FAA registration, N880SR. The record-setting airliner was damaged beyond repair in a fire at Licenciado Benito Juarez International Airport, Mexico City, in May 1983.

Converted Convair 880 N880SR. (Captain Charles Lindberg)
Former Delta Air Lines Convair 880, N880SR. (Captain Charles Lindberg)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 February 1949

Eastern Air Lines' Lockheed Constellation NX101A (Eastern Air Lines)
Eastern Air Lines’ Lockheed L-749A-79 Constellation NX101A (Ed Coates Collection)

5 February 1949: An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-749A Constellation, serial number 2610, N115A, flew from Los Angeles to LaGuardia Airport, New York, in 6 hours, 17 minutes, 39-2/5 seconds, setting a new West-to-East transcontinental speed record for transport aircraft.

Captain Fred E. Davis was in command, with First Officer M.L. Jordan and Flight Engineer E. L. Graham, Eastern’s Chief Flight Engineer. The flight was timed by officials of the National Aeronautic Association.

The Constellation took off from Lockheed Air Terminal at Burbank, California, at 7:51:21 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (15:51:21 UTC), and passed over La Guardia at 5:08:02 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (22:08:02 UTC). The Constellation averaged 392 miles per hour over the 2,455 mile flight.

The following day, 6 February, Eddie Rickenbacker, Eastern Air Lines’ president and general manager, announced that that the company had ordered an additional seven Lockheed Constellations at a cost of more that $1,000,000 each, with the first one to be delivered to Miami, Florida, the following week.

The Lockheed L-749A Constellation was a longer-range development of the L-649, with fuel capacity increased by 1,130 gallons (4,278 liters).  It was operated by a flight crew of four, with two to four flight attendants. It could carry up to 81 passengers.

The airplane was 97 feet, 4 inches (29.667 meters) long with a wingspan of 123 feet (37.49 meters) and an overall height of 22 feet, 5 inches (6.833 meters). It had an empty weight of 56,590 pounds (25,668 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 107,000 pounds (48,534.4 kilograms).

Three view illustration of the Lockheed L-749 Constellation.

The L-749A was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 745C18BD1 (R-3350-75), two-row 18-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. This engine, also known as the Duplex-Cyclone, featured “jet stacks” which converted the piston engines’ exhaust to usable jet thrust, adding about 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour) to the airplane’s speed. They had a normal power rating of 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,500 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 43E60 constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 745C18BD1 was 6 feet, 6.52 inches (1.994 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.62 inches (1.413 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,915 pounds (1,322 kilograms).

The L-749 had a cruise speed of 345 miles per hour (555.22 kilometers per hour) and a range of 4,995 miles (8,038.7 kilometers). Its service ceiling was 24,100 feet (7,346 meters).

N115A was leased to California Hawaiian Airlines, 1961–1962. It was purchased by Rutas Internacionales Peruanas SA (RIPSA) in 1966 and re-registered OB-R-833. In 1968 it was withdrawn from service and was scrapped in 1981. Photographs of the derelict record-setting airplane parked at Lima, Peru, in 1980, are just to sad to publish here.

An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-749 Constellation, N108A. (LIFE Magazine)
An Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-749 Constellation, N108A. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 February 1929

Frank Hawks with the red and silver Lockheed Air Express, NR7955. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4–5 February 1929: At 5:37:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday, Frank Monroe Hawks took off from Metropolitan Field, Los Angeles, California, (now known as Van Nuys Airport, VNY) in a new Lockheed Model 3 Air Express transport, NR7955, serial number EX-2. Also on board was Oscar Edwin Grubb, the final assembly superintendent for Lockheed. The pair flew non-stop to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, arriving there at 2:59:29 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday. The duration of the flight was 18 hours, 21 minutes, 59 seconds.

Oscar Edwin Grubb and Frank Monroe Hawks, shortly before departing for New York, 4 February 1929. (Getty Images)

The only previous non-stop West-to-East flight had been flown during August 1928 by Arthur C. Goebel, Jr., and Harry Tucker with their Lockheed Vega, Yankee Doodle, NX4769. Hawks cut 36 minutes off of Goebel’s time.

Lockheed Model 3 Air Express NR7955, photographed 1 February 1929. The Air Express was the first production airplane to use the new NACA cowling design. (Crane/NACA)

Hawks was a technical adviser to The Texas Company (“Texaco”), a manufacturer and distributor of petroleum products which sponsored the flight. On his recommendation, the company purchased the Air Express from Lockheed for use as a company transport.

On 17 January 1930, “Pilot Frank Hawks attempted a takeoff from a soggy field in West Palm Beach, Florida, destroying the aircraft christened ‘Texaco Five’ in a spectacular crash that catapulted it into a row of three parked aircraft. All three occupants were unhurt while the aircraft was destroyed.” —Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

NC7955’s Department of Commerce registration was cancelled 31 January 1930.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane transport, flown by a single pilot in an open aft cockpit, and capable of carrying 4 to 6 passengers in its enclosed cabin. The airplane was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and John Knudsen Northrop. It used the Lockheed Vega’s molded plywood monocoque fuselage.

The Model 3 received Approved Type Certificate No. 102 from the Aeronautic Branch, U. S. Department of Commerce.

The Lockheed Air Express was the first production airplane to use the “NACA Cowl,” an engine cowling for radial engines which had been designed by a team led by Fred Ernest Weick of the the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The new cowling design tightly enclosed the engine and used baffles to control air flow around the hottest parts of the engines. The exit slots were designed to allow the air to exit the cowling at a higher speed than it had entered the intake. The new cowling design provided better engine cooling and caused significantly less aerodynamic drag. The addition of the NACA cowling increased the Air Express’s maximum speed from 157 to 177 miles per hour (253 to 285 kilometers per hour).

The day following Hawks’ transcontinental flight, Vultee sent a telegram to NACA:

COOLING CAREFULLY CHECKED AND OK. RECORD IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT NEW COWLING. ALL CREDIT DUE TO NACA FOR PAINSTAKING AND ACCURATE RESEARCH. GERRY VULTEE, LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT CO.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wing span of 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4½ inches (2.553 meters). The wing area was 288 square feet (26.756 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The airplane had an empty weight of 2,533 pounds (1,149 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1,984 kilograms).

The Model 3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The Air Express had a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour). It’s service ceiling was 17,250 feet (5,258 meters).

Frank Hawks, 1930. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

Francis Monroe Hawks was born at Marshalltown, Iowa, 28 March 1897. He was the son of Charles Monroe Hawks, a barber, and Ida Mae Woodruff Hawks. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California, graduating in 1916. He then studied at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. Hawks transferred to the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His date of rank 27 May 1932.

His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mysterious Pilot.”

Poster advertising Episode 5 of the movie serial, “The Mysterious Pilot.” (Columbia Pictures)
Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)

On 28 December 1920, Miss Amelia Earhart took her first ride in an airplane at Long Beach Airport in California. The ten-minute flight began her life-long involvement in aviation. The airplane’s pilot was Frank Monroe Hawks.

Francis M. Hawks married Miss Newell Lane at Lewiston, Montana, 7 August 1918. They had a daughter, Dolly. They later divorced. He next married Mrs. Edith Bowie Fouts at St. John’s Church, Houston, Texas, 26 October 1926.

Frank Hawks was killed in an aircraft accident at East Aurora, New York, 23 August 1938. He was buried at Redding Ridge Cemetery, Redding, Connecticut.

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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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

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